Originally, I planned to see Schonnbrun Palace, the ornate summer palace of the Hapsburgs, located on the outskirts of the city. But I had a change of plans. I was tired of palaces and luxurious rooms, and wanted to just wander around, seeing what took my fancy on my last day in Vienna.
Since it was early, I walked down through the Stephansplatz area and picked up a cappuccino to go. Caffeine in hand, my next step was the clock at Hoher Markt. This must be my trip for seeing clocks – the Astronomical Clock in Prague, the clock at Marianplatz in Munich and now this. The clock at Hoher Markt is very large and gold and shows the time by famous figures who pass across. All of them go through at noon, but since I wasn’t going to be here then, I had to be content with the 9 am viewing, which showed just one figure parading across.
From there, I tried to find the Niehardt frescoes, which are supposed to be very interesting and are at the Wien Museum. I thought I found the right place and paid my four Euros to get in, but found out it was a clock museum. The clocks (mostly cuckoo and grandfather clock types) were very old and quite lovely, but they weren’t what I wanted to see. Finally, I found the correct building and rang the buzzer to get in. I was admitted but then wandered around for several minutes looking for the inside entrance to the museum.
Sadly, I never found it, and when I tried to buzz again, no one answered. I figured it was not to be and made my way towards Ruprechtskirche (St. Rupert’s Church), the oldest church in Vienna. It was only a few blocks from the museum, but hard to find as it was tucked into a little corner and up some stone steps. I looked all around and couldn’t find it. It was only when I looked up that I saw it.
This church had none of the glamor and grandeur of the other Vienna churches – it was very small and all stone and plaster with some dark statues tucked away in alcoves. But the sheer age of it was enough to warrant a visit. Although the exact date is unknown, it is believed to have been founded between 796 and 829, although most of the building was rebuilt after a fire in the 13th century. One of the stained glass windows dates from 1270.
There was no admission charge but I stuffed a few Euros in the collection basket. On the way out, I noticed a statue in a small outside alcove. It was St. Rupert, dark and partially covered over with ivy and other greenery, who was the patron saint of the salt merchants of Vienna. After I left the church, I passed down a side street and saw a beauty salon, and a dog sitting in a basket outside. Evidently, a customer had an appointment and brought his or her dog along. I have noticed that Vienna is VERY dog-friendly. People bring dogs on the subways, trams, into restaurants and shops. Most of the dogs I’ve seen have been very well-trained.
Next was the one museum I decided to visit – the Austrian Museum of Applied and Contemporary Art, otherwise known as the MAK. This houses a very eclectic collection of pieces – ancient Oriental porcelain, modern furniture like Biedermeier and others, textiles and other decorative items. The building alone was worth the price of admission as it was absolutely exquisite. It was built in 1871 as the Imperial and Royal Austrian Museum of Art and Industry, and gradually evolved into what it is today.
The color and design were beautiful. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to take photos of the building (I was sure that I couldn’t photograph the exhibits themselves) but decided to sneak a couple without the flash. No one said anything, but one docent started following me around for a while, so I’m sure they were suspicious that I would go crazy with my camera.
I was glad that I had bought a 24 hour public transportation pass, because my next stop was out of the city. Ever since I found out that Beethoven was buried here, I had been wanting to visit Zentralfriedhof, or the Central Cemetery; the largest and most ornate of Vienna’s more than 50 cemeteries. Many other great musicians are here — Johann Strauss, Brahms and Schubert. I also thought it would be nice to see a bit of green.
I took the U-bahn to Simmering (the end of the line) then waited for a number 6 or 71 tram to Tor 2 (Gate 2) of the cemetery. Tram 6 came first and I jumped on. About 5 minutes later, we were at the right gate. There were two huge white stone structures on either side of the gate. I walked right in and kept going straight, past two brick arcades on either side of the path. The musicians’ graves are in one area all together to the left past the arcades in Group 32A.
As I walked, I noticed a group of people who had been on the tram with me. They were talking as they wandered around and it was obvious that they were looking for the same graves I was. I told them to follow me and led them to the graves, which were were right where they were supposed to be. There was even a little side off the sidewalk that said “Musiker” (German for “Musician”). The first grave I found was Ludvig von Beethoven’s. He is one of my favorite composers (I have the third movement of the Eroica Symphony as a ring tone on my cell) and I really wanted to see his grave.
The group of people who rode the tram with me (who turned out to be from Ottowa) had tagged along so I asked them to take a picture of me with his grave. Plus I planned to send the photo to an old college friend of mine. During college, my friends used to call me “Beethoven” (it’s a long story).
After Beethoven, I checked out the graves of Brahms, Strauss and Schubert. There is also a memorial stone for Mozart, but he is not actually buried there. He was buried in a pauper’s grave at St. Marx Cemetery in Vienna, and no one knows where his bones really lie. In fact, several of the above composers were not originally buried in this cemetery, but were moved here later when this cemetery was built.
There were many other attractive graves around – some quite plain and others very ornate. Most of Vienna’s (and Austria’s) major politicians are here, along with other local celebrities. I wandered around for a bit, enjoying the sun and trees and marble stones. I like cemeteries – they’re quiet and peaceful and are a nice respite from sightseeing.
When I had my fill, I took the tram/U-bahn combo back to the city center. I was done with major sightseeing and wanted to get in a little shopping. As I headed towards the shopping district, I passed the Hotel Sacher, a very old and famous Vienna hotel known for creating the “Sacher Torte.” They still make the torte today, but I didn’t relish fighting the multitude of tourists who were standing in line to buy.
I was hungry by this time, though, so I stopped into Trzesniewski, another old establishment that is known for their open-faced little sandwiches. They have an array of items, such as grated carrot on egg, mushroom, ground liver, etc., that are served on small pieces of bread. You go through, pick the ones you want, pay for them, and grab a table and eat (or order them to go). I got three “bites” and a small beer and they were delicious.
For the next hour or so, I wandered through the streets. At one point, I passed the Staatsoper (State Opera), which is world-renowned. I would have liked to attend a performance, and briefly thought about queuing up for standing-room only tickets (regular tickets are astronomically priced), but just couldn’t face the thought of spending that much time and energy. For that matter, I would have loved to see the Spanish Lipizzaner stallions or the Vienna Boy’s Choir perform, but that only takes place on Sunday and I would be gone by then.
I did find my way to Julius Meinl, a large gourmet grocery store in Stephansplatz (I later found out they have several locations in Chicago). They have everything here – a huge selection of meats, cheeses, dairy, prepared foods, coffee, chocolate, wine and beer. I bought some chocolate and a few other items to take home with me. I would have loved to buy some sausage (especially my beloved Landjager), but U.S. Customs is stringent about bringing in meat, so I figured it was a lost cause.
After heading back to my room to rest and recoup, I decided to go out for a nice dinner to celebrate my final night in Vienna. And I did, although I wound up celebrating with Italian food rather than Austrian at Fratelli’s, an Italian cafe near Stephansplatz. The service was great, and the waiter recommended a glass of a terrific red wine (that I cannot remember the name of, unfortunately) to go with my pasta and salad. The evening was perfect as I sat at my outdoor table, eating and sipping my wine and watching all of Vienna walk by.
I hated to leave, but all things must come to an end. Soon, I headed back to my hotel and my last night here.
Tomorrow – back to Prague and then home