Tag Archives: Vienna

Vienna and Budapest

Schoenbrunn Palace

You might be wondering why I’m including two major cities in one post. The fact is, I didn’t get to see much of either of them. I developed a sore throat that interrupted my sleep during the voyage to Vienna. With an eye on the bus trip through Eastern Europe, starting in three days’ time, I worked on getting better by staying on the ship. Pete went on the tour to Schoenbrunn Palace (no photos allowed), but neither of us attended the concert, which by all reports, was very good.

Pete was very interested in the Empress Maria Therese (she of Schoenbrunn Palace) and bought a book for us to look at. It’s rare to find powerful females in history and this one (unlike Elizabeth 1 of England) was a fecund mother as well as a ruler. I suppose you could compare her to Queen Victoria. The last of the Habsburgs, she managed to fend off all the boys who tried to take her dominions.

All is not lost, though. You can read the Vienna blog from the 2015 tour for more insights into the capital of Austria.

Then it was off to Budapest, last port of the river trip. I was feeling a bit better and the weather was fine, so I thought joining the bus tour of the city might be okay. Wrong. Outside the bus, walking around in the fresh air, I was pretty good. But on the air-conditioned bus it was all I could do to control the coughing fits with throat lozenges.

That said, it was nice to walk around the Imperial areas of Buda, overlooking the river and Pest.

The Danube flows through Budapest


Our guide told us a wonderful story about the Soviet statuary, which is always rather ugly. The statue of freedom, high on the hill in Buda, is a case in point (see pic above). The Hungarians have come to terms with that one, acknowledging it’s a part of their history. But many of the Soviet era monuments were taken down. They weren’t destroyed, though. They have been placed into Memento Park, and visitors can go and see them in all their grotesque glory. It’s kind of like a cemetery for statues. (HaHa).

Monument to those who died in the independence wars

On Buda Hill our guide showed us a statue to the soldiers killed in the independence wars against the Habsburgs, commemorating the bravery of soldiers who fought in battles they lost.

On the drive through the city we passed the Jewish temple – the Dohany Street synagogue. It’s a magnificent building with Moorish influences, but it has a darker history, in keeping with the Holocaust elements of our trip to Europe. Rather than try to explain myself, this is a quote from the article about the building in Wikipedia.

“In 1944, the Dohány Street Synagogue was part of the Jewish Ghetto for the city Jews and served as shelter for many hundreds. Over two thousand of those who died in the ghetto from hunger and cold during the winter 1944-1945 are buried in the courtyard of the synagogue.

It is not customary to have a cemetery next to a synagogue, and the establishment of the 3,000 m2 cemetery was only the result of historical circumstances. In 1944, as a part of the Eichmann-plan, 70,000 Jews were relocated to the Ghetto of Pest. Until January 18, 1945, when the Russians liberated the ghetto, around 8,000 to 10,000 people had died, although, one part of the deceased were transferred to the Kozma Street Cemetery, but 2,000 people were buried in the makeshift cemetery. In memory of those who had died, there is a memorial by the sculptor, Imre Varga, depicting a weeping willow with the names and tattoo numbers of the dead and disappeared just behind the Synagogue, in the Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park.”

Many of the Hungarian Jews were taken to Auschwitz – but that’s a story for another day.

Chiefs of the tribes

We made a brief stop at Hero Square to admire the tribute to the founders of the nation. I must say it does amuse me how the leaders of these tribes, who were without a doubt blood-thirsty warriors, ended up becoming saints after they converted to Christianity. St Stephen (Stephen 1) is one such. But his comrades in arms weren’t really convinced. After the king died, they stuffed his bishop into a barrel and threw it down the mountain in Budapest, thereby killing him. The place is now known as Gellert Hill.

Anyway, the monuments to the chieftains seems to be popular with the local lads, who climb up there to be photographed with one or other of the horsemen.

That evening my throat was on fire, and I didn’t go on deck to see Budapest by night. Pete did, though, and took some pretty reasonable photos with his trusty tablet. This trip showed us a few features of Budapest we didn’t see last time. That’s (of course) a trade-off. We drove past the opera house, but didn’t see inside. That’s all in the previous trip blog.

The following morning we would disembark and start the next phase of our tour, into Eastern Europe.





Day Three: Vienna

Golden mist at dawn

Golden mist at dawn

MS Amavenita cruised up the Danube overnight and we woke to a cold, misty morning that nevertheless gave notice of another lovely day. After cruising through countryside for a few more hours we tied up at our next destination.

Vienna. Capital of the Austro Hungarian Empire from 1806 until 1918. Born in war, and died in war but is remembered for its stunning architecture and for music. It was here that Beethoven lived, where Mozart and Strauss left their mark. And the home of Wiener schnitzel and apfel strudel.

If I were to summarise our visit to Vienna in a few words, it was all about wealth and culture. This was how the upper crust lived – although of course there’s much more to the city than that. Later in the tour we had a chance to look at the circumstances of the ordinary folk in the little towns along the rivers.

IMG_1202 IMG_1213As usual, our tour started with a bus ride around the city, beginning with the fabulous Ringstrasse. The city walls were torn down in 1857 and the well-heeled took the chance to build their summer palaces on the ensuing open space close to the heart of Vienna. I have to confess that though I can admire the architecture, all that pomp and circumstance stuff leaves me cold. That wealth is built on the labour of others. However, more of that later.

Having admired the Ringstrasse we alighted from the buses for the obligatory walking tour of the old city. The oldest buildings stand in cobblestoned squares connected by narrow laneways, not accessible by a bus. Besides, you’d miss the detail you notice when walking. We had five groups – the usual red, blue, green and yellow factions for the more able-bodied, and another group tour director Cherie referred to as “gentle walkers” (pink). This was for the people who used walking aids like frames or sticks, those with a physical impediment, or maybe those not feeling the best that day. Joining that group was a choice made by each individual on each day. The tour would be less physically demanding – but on the other hand you wouldn’t see as much because access to the attractions would be modified to suit. One other option was always available – do your own thing. That’s tempting for introverts like me, but the tour guides provided interesting factoids as well as pointing out the major sites, so I found it was usually worth the cringeworthy business of following a lollipop-wielding local.

Horse-drawn tour of the city

Horse-drawn tour of the city

At least we didn’t need to do a group huddle to hear what the guide was saying. Each of us had a headset which could be tuned into a device carried by the guide. That meant you could dawdle along some distance from the lollipop and still hear what was being said. Unless you got too close to another group’s guide, in which case you could find yourself tuning into the wrong group. So – keep your coloured lollipop in view.

The heart of the city is the square around St Stephan’s cathedral. We walked past the Albertina museum, the great library, and admired some of the green spaces. Everybody but me went down for a quick look at the stallions in the Spanish Riding School stables. The tour guide had the sense to ask if anyone was allergic to horses before he took the group down there, and I am – violently allergic. Even the smell of the carriage horses waiting to take tourists on a city tour was enough to have me backing off. Then there was free time. Pete and I went for a wander, checking out the souvenir shops for T shirts.

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Note the man with the lollipop (red faction)

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Art is a big thing in Vienna. We came across these sculptures on short term display. Apparently they  depict a soldier and his horse taking a break (!). The little kid obviously enjoyed the encounter.

That evening some of the people on the tour faced a dilemma. APT had organised for us to attend a concert at the newly refurbished LiechtensteinPalace. (Yes, that Liechtenstein) But the Rugby World Cup final was on that very night – Oz versus the All Blacks. What to do, what to do. In the end, all but six attended the concert. The die-hards stayed on board the Amavenita and watched the Kiwis slaughter our boys. Yes, one of those was my Petey.


Loved this little detail of the cherub with the trumpet


All that glitters is probably very thin gold leaf


The chamber orchestra had a ball

The Liechtenstein renovation wasn’t completely finished but the inner rooms where the concert was held were magnificent, as the pictures attest. The concert was fabulous. The chamber orchestra played well-known favourites from Strauss and Mozart, including a few choices from operettas sung by members of the palace company. I sat in the front row. There’s nothing quite so personal as being close enough to almost touch the performers. The thing that struck me was how much they enjoyed playing their music – possibly as much as we enjoyed listening to them. I should add that tickets to concerts are extremely expensive, so having this performance as part of the tour was a real cherry on top of the cake.

Then it was back to the boat to commiserate with the disappointed sports fans. Oh well. Had they really expected anything different?