Vienna, Austria. 28th - 30th December 2016
Arriving by Train
Fed and watered we hopped back on a tourist bus to Schonbrunn. We knew we were losing time, it was 3pm and we intended to get the last bus back to the city. However, if there is one thing we learned about Vienna in high season, it is impossible to do anything in a hurry (be prepared to queue). When we arrived, the throngs of tourists were lined up at the ticket station. With our passes we had free entry but needed a ticket anyway.
There was also a Strudle show which we felt obliged to attend – for all of you I mean, not for the free struddle! A young male pastry chef enthusiastically showed us the steps involved in making the perfect Apple struddle, the secret being that the pastry must be soaked in olive oil to make it extra pliable for stretching super thin, not to mention getting all those extra calories in there. We enjoyed a slice which listening to some lame jokes in German, we were also glad of the warmth.
The Albertina Gallery
Lucky for us, we arrived in Vienna on a Wednesday, the only day that the Albertina opens late each week. After escaping the queues in Schonbrunn we were happy to have some space and peace to wander around some of the best art work in the world. We made our way through the great impressionists - Monet, Van Gogh and Degas, to pre-expressionists Munch and Picasso and finally to more contemporary works of Warhol and Katz. There was a separate film stills section and the largest print room in the world. We also got to walk undisturbed around the state rooms (or the residence of the archdukes of the Habsburgs). We were kicked out a 9pm after a couple of hours but it was well worth the visit.
The Spanish Riding School
The riding school is the located in the Habsburg palace grounds and is the traditional riding school of Vienna’s famous Lipizzaner stallions who perform regularly. The school was first named in 1572 making it the oldest in the world. The horses are bred especially for the school in Western Austria. The morning session that we attended was not a performance but rather the public pays for admission to watch the riders in training with their horses. Each rider oversees one horse and they must ensure that the horse trains specific muscles to be able to perform certain moves (watch the video here). We watched the riders gently encourage the horses to keep their necks bent and shift their weight to their hind legs. It is said that the movements were originally developed to strengthen the horses body for battle. In 1918, the school opened performances to the public to help to pay for the upkeep of the school. Today riders come from all over the world to try to pass the entrance exam and become Lipizzaner riders in the school.
Austrian National Library
The room, although not that long is highly decorative. The ceilings are covered in 1730 frescos that would give the Sistine chapel a run for it's money. The walls are clad in rich wooden bookshelves which stretch from the ground up onto a first-floor balcony. Behind the walls of symmetrical books are secret doorways which reveal spiral stone staircases to the upper floors. Standing proudly in the centre of the room is a marbel statue surrounded by 4 baroque globes. Lining the parquet floor are glass cases displaying the most treasured books for visitors to admire.
While the crowns were incredible, two more interesting items were on display in the treasury. Firstly, a unicorn horn! Given as a gift to the Habsburgs, it was believed that the twisted tusk of a narwhal (whale) was a unicorn horn which would bring great luck. The second item was a large Agate (stone) bowl which was thought to be the holy grail. The bowl is carved from one piece of agate and is the largest of its kind in the world. The Habsburgs must have thought they were so sorted - the greatest luck in the world and eternal life…nice one.
Identified by the giant red banner saying FREUD that hangs outside the building, we buzzed ourselves into the stairwell of the Freud museum. Making our way up the stone staircase to apartment number 5 which was Dr. Freud’s home and office, we were again greeted by a queue! Up and up we went, past the apartment, winding up the stairs the queue continued. The museum had decided that due to overcrowding it was admitting just 4 people at a time and there were at least 40 ahead of us! With time pushing on we decided to wait it out. The line moved pretty fast and it was worth the wait. The small but perfectly formed apartment was filled within information.