The last day of our perfect holiday together was in Vienna. We flew from Corfu to Vienna via Athens,
where they managed to lose our posters (luckily after the conference and not
before). Catching the bus from the airport through the city we could see what a
beautiful and charming city it was, with the streets lined with elegant old
buildings. Since the population was at its peak in 1918, in the final years of
the capital of the Austro-Hungary Empire, and dwindled in the following years
due to the loss of the Empire, the annexation by the Germans, the deportation
of the Viennese Jews and the massive damage from Allied bombing (the population
today is still only 1.6 million), there are few modern buildings. When we found
our apartment it was in a six story building, with an ancient cage-lift built
in the centre, and the room was a subdivision of an old apartment, shared with
half a dozen other tourists. We quickly caught a tram into town to explore the
Our tram stopped at Parliament House, and beautiful old building built in 1874
using the inspiration of the ancient Greek acropolis to emphasize the origin of
democracy in Greece.
The building front looked just like the Parthenon, complete with columns
supporting a triangular front piece, and out the front was the Fountain of
Pallas Athena. In the fountain Athena holds Nike in her hand, and to her right
sits a woman holding law tablets, and to her left a woman holding the sword of
Walking down the road every building was a historical monument, the Town Hall
(1883), University (1873) and National Theatre (1874).
We continued our
political theme by passing a political rally, which turned out to be the
celebrations of the centre-left Social Democrats, who in that day’s election
won government by a slender margin.
We meandered through the city, hand in hand, peering down alleys with beautiful
old buildings and expensive European brand-name stores, to reach the centre of
the town, St Stephen’s Cathedral. The Cathedral is breathtaking, an enormous
gothic edifice with a dazzling tower, and an oddly modern looking titled roof,
the pattern of which makes it shimmer and shift in your gaze. The Cathedral was
started in 1156 and built over a period of 400 years. Inside it is magnificent
and ornate, with marble sculptures and elegant arches supporting the roof. It
was lucky to survive WWII intact, as the commandant in charge ordered the
troops to "fire a hundred shells and leave it in just debris and
ashes", but the Captain ignored the order.
Stock im Eisen
In the square around the Cathedral are cafés and ice-cream stores, and on the
corner of one building is Stock im Eisen.
old tree trunk bound with a lock and solid with nails hammered into it, now
encased in glass on a marble pedestal. The tale behind the tree is of a young
locksmith called Martin who made a pact with the devil to learn all the secrets
of his trade. He became the perfect locksmith, making a lock for an old tree
that only he could open, until he broke his side of the deal and was carried
away. Due to the story, all locksmiths in the city hammered a nail into the
trunk for luck. Also in the square is Hass House, one of the few modern
buildings, built to replace a destroyed warehouse, which reflects the image of
the Cathedral around the square. From the Cathedral we walked down Graben
once the moat delineating the periphery of the city, now the most expensive
boulevard in Vienna
filled with exclusive shops. On the streets is the Plague Column, built in
thanks for the end of the 1679 plague (what shear fear people must have felt
from their God to provoke a mindset that builds statues of thanks when a few
are still alive at the end of a plague), St Joseph’s Fountain, and the Fountain
of St Leopold.
We visited St Peter’s Church, founded in 792 by Charlemagne.
So peculiar inside
to see preserved corpses dressed up and propped so as to lounging back in their
glasses boxes, facing those who worship them as Saints. Near St Peter’s is Am
square, with the Church of the Nine Choirs of Angles (built in 1386,
and the location of the declaration of the end of the Holy Roman Empire in
1806) and St Mary’s column (where angles slaughter the basilisk, lion, dragon
and serpent, to combat plague, war, famine and heresy). We meandered past the
Church of the Friars Minor on our way to St Michael’s Square.
The Square is beautiful, the massive entrance to the Hofburg. The first
building is lined with magnificent statues, where Greek heroes fight a hydra,
leviathan, Pluto and a griffon. The main domes, with its stunning patina, leads
to a courtyard with a monument to Emperor Francisco I. Past the palace
buildings we reached the Natural History Museum and the Art History Building,
two symmetrical buildings facing each other across a park, built in 1872, with
a monument to the Empress Maria Theresa (in which she values her doctors, academics
and artists, as well as her generals). The Natural History Museum had an iron
elephant statue out the front, with a sign telling us either to feel free to
climb on it, or to absolutely not climb on it. Since every child that walked
past went up (in one case against their will), and the statue was surrounded by
a rubber mat, my dearest also climbed up on the elephant.
After out site-seeing we wandered back to Parliament House, passing the
People’s Theatre on the way (built in 1889, with the mandate to have a large
capacity of cheap tickets to allow commoners to enjoy the pastime of nobles).
We ate pizza and gnocchi, then walked back into our romantic city cloaked in
night, anticipating a horse-drawn carriage ride through the city. When that was
unrealistic we enjoyed instead After Eight ice-cream in Graben, and
found our way home on our second attempt.
My final morning we spent quietly together, until my beloved and I had to part.
My beautiful fiancée stayed for a few extra days in Vienna, while I flew out on a tiny plane,
with only fifteen passengers and a hostess who dropped a bottle of water on the
passenger next to me and couldn’t stop giggling.
I miss my dearest.