Tuesday, April 14, 2015


During the summer war with Gaza, Hamas made numerous threats to attack Ben Gurion Airport.  As flights were cancelled and various airlines temporarily suspended service to Israel's primary international airport, the cost of airfare plummeted.  Ever willing to turn lemons into lemonade, TJ planned ahead and, after reviewing the upcoming holiday calendar, scored two pairs of cheap tickets for future use.  By summer's end, the airport had emerged from the war unscathed, and we had a couple of  trips to look forward to.  And that is how, not even two full week after returning from the UK, we found ourselves spending Rosh Hashanah 2014 in Vienna, Austria.

Our flight landed in the early afternoon hours of Thursday, September 25th.  After checking into our hotel and familiarizing ourselves with the area, it was time for an early dinner.  And what better place than Werner Welser's Heuriger?  Okay, perhaps there are better places.  We still throughly enjoyed this one and would recommend it to anyone that asks. 

A heuriger is an Eastern-Austrian wine tavern in which only wine produced by the establishment itself can be served.  Generally, the wine is served with a selection of meats and cold salads, though prior to the 20th century it was customary for guests to simply bring their own food to pair with the available selection of wine.  Pre-recorded music is taboo at a heuriger; Music is usually performed live by two Heurigensänger, who accompany themselves on the guitar and accordion.  

After dinner, we took a relaxing stroll around the city, ultimately finding ourselves at The Wurstelprater, an amusement park located in Wiener Prater, a city park.  It is said to be the oldest amusement park in the world and was first mentioned in an 1162 document written during the reign of Emperor Friedrich I.  The land was donated to the people of Vienna in 1766 by Emperor Josef II.  The park is open 24 hours a day and entrance is free of charge.  Restaurants, attractions, and bars are open at varying times of day and night.

The park's main attraction is the Wiener Riesenrad.  Built in 1897 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I, this 64.75-meter tall behemoth held the title of world's tallest extant Ferris wheel from 1920 to 1985.  One must conclude that tragedy befell whatever contraption held the title from 1897 to 1920...

Having missed multiple opportunities to ride the London Eye earlier that month, this was indeed a treat for me...as were the funhouses, carnival rides, and haunted houses that filled the remainder of the evening.

Friday morning, we began our day at Schönbrunn Palace, commissioned by Emperor Leopold I at the end of the 17th century to act as a palatial hunting lodge.  The palace became the focus of court life half  century later under the rule of Maria Theresa.  

The Neptune Fountain sits at the foot of Schönbrunn Hill and is the crowning element of the surrounding garden. 

Atop the hill sits the Gloriette, from which a stunning view of the palace below can be enjoyed.  

Our afternoon concluded at The Belvedere, an 18th century palace that acted as the summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy.  The palace grounds, which consist of an Upper and Lower Belvedere separated by an impressive garden space, are considered home to one of the world’s finest examples of Baroque architecture.

Construction on the Lower Belvedere (left) ran from 1712 to 1716.  It served as the residential palace and home to the prince’s private art collections.  Construction on the Upper Belvedere (right) began in 1717 and lasted for six years.  This palace served a representative function while under the prince’s domain but found renewed life as an art gallery in the mid 1770s. 

Approximately halfway through the garden, we stumbled upon a framed mirror labeled as “The Perfect Tourist Takes the Perfect Picture.”

This art installation by Hubertus von Hohenlohe invites guests to capture the perfect vacation photo and then put their cameras away so that they can “enjoy the beauty and power of the moment.”  As you can see, we didn’t exactly capture the perfect photo, but we certainly appreciated the beauty that surrounded us.  

In lieu of taking a generic, perfectly straight/framed photo of  our reflection and the frame, , TJ wanted to capture the reflection of the Upper Belvedere while also getting a glimpe of the Lower Belvedere and gardens in the background.  Remembering that detail, I think he did a fantastic job...but I must admit that when I was first going through our photo album, my initial thought was "Why is this thing so crooked?

We began our Saturday with a visit to Vienna's most important religions building:  Stephansdom.  St. Stephen's Cathedral is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna.  

Today's cathedral stands on the ruins of two earlier churches.  Heavily damaged during World War II, the church was rebuilt in its original splendor thanks to the donations and support of city residents.    

There are tickets available to explore the catacombs and the bell towers, but we just opted for the freebie peek through the front door.

Our day continued at Hofburg Palace, which served as the political center of the monarchy until 1918.  Photography was permitted within the palace walls, but there just wasn't much that inspired me to point and click.  The place was filled to bursting with silverware, fine china, and various knickknacks of the well-to-do that make up the Imperial Silver Collection.  The site also includes the customary royal apartments and a museum dedicated to the troubled life and tragic death of Empress Elisabeth.  Known as Sissi by her subjects, Elisabeth became the wife of Emperor Franz Josef I at the tender age of 16 and never forgave the world for stealing away her youth and destiny.  She was assassinated at age 60 while visiting Geneva.

Peterskirche (St. Peter's Church) is another beautiful Christian house of worship in Vienna.  This Baroque Roman Catholic parish church was transferred in 1970 by the Archbishop of Vienna to the priests of the Opus Dei (which you've probably only heard of because of "The DaVinci Code").

Saturday night was spent in the most relaxing and wonderfully unexpected manner possible.  The Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper), located in the city center, is an opera house and company dating back to the mid-19th century.

From April to June and in September, opera and ballet fans are invited to enjoy first-class performances in the open air and for free in Krajan-Platz (Karajan Plaza), where a 50 m2  LED video wall mounted onto the side of the opera house projects a live video feed of the performance occurring inside.  We camped out early to get the best seats.  TJ ran down the street and scored a couple of Whoppers at Burger King.  A nearby Starbucks provided bathroom support.  We curled up on that chilly fall evening and enjoyed our first ever ballet.  It was Swan Lake.  It was perfect.  

We made a brief stop at Café Central on Sunday morning to share coffee, croissants, and long overdue conversation with our old friend and colleague Monica, who is currently on assignment in Vienna with her husband Chris.  Café Central is a traditional Viennese café that occupies the ground floor of the former Bank and Stockmarket Building.  Opening its doors in 1876, the café became a key meting place for the likes of Theodor Herzl, Leon Trotsky, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, and Adolf Hitler. 

Monica surprised us by showing up with a big ol' pregnant belly!  This blog is so far behind that the happy couple has, of course, already announced the arrival of their beautiful baby boy.  We spent an all-to-brief hour gossiping about old times and catching up on what has happened in the interim.    

After breakfast, we reluctantly parted ways;  Monica and Chris had an early afternoon meeting to attend to, and TJ and I had a flight to catch. 

Our wonderful, relaxing weekend had ended much too quickly and without our permission.   

Who can complain, though?  Two weeks later, we found ourselves celebrating Columbus Day by using the second pair of discount plane tickets...but that's a story for next time.