Birthday celebration in Vienna – September 25, 2012

I woke this morning to tons of birthday wishes on Facebook from all my family and friends!  What a wonderful way to start the day. Plus, talking to my family last night made it the start of a great celebration!

My little apartment is right off from, Mariahilfer Strabe, a major shopping street here in Vienna that takes you right to the center of town.  I walked along this bustling street full of stores, cafes and shoppers.  At 10:30, it was a beautiful, sunny and warm day and  people were out enjoying it.  As I walked along, I passed the L’Occitane store.  I just love their lemon scented products.  A year ago, I decided that I have always loved lemon scented products and from that point on, I was going to indulge in them.  I have enjoyed lemon scented soap and creams over the past year.  One thing that I have wanted for quite awhile is a lemon scented fragrant.   I just love the L’Occitane product and stopped in the store to just squirt on a sample.  I have been waiting to get back to London to buy a bottle as I didn’t want to carry it around on this trip.  Well, lo and behold, they had a small bottle….yipppeeee and Happy Birthday to me!!

As I got closer to the Ringstrasse, the road that circles the old town area, I began to smile.  I got my first glimpse of the Vienna that I remember from 35 years ago. The majestic, large palace buildings from the Hapsburg era.   Crossing over Ringstrasse, I walked to Theresien-Platz, a lovely park area flanked by two large, palatial structures.  One is the Kunsthistorisches Museum which is the Art History museum with a picture gallery, Egyptian and near Eastern Collection and Roman and Greek antiquities.  On the opposite side of the plaza is the Natural History Museum.

 Continuing on, you come into the Heldenplatz (Hero’s Square).  To my right was a beautiful building, the New Berg (New Palace) which was built in the early 1900s and was meant to be the new Hapsburg living quarters.   It was supposed to have a matching building built facing it.  However, none of this happened due to the fact that the heir-in-line, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo sparking World War I.  The World War ultimately led to the end of the eight centuries of Hapsburg rule.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures because the plaza was full of tents, bleachers, tractor trailer trucks and people dismantling everything.  Hopefully, it will be cleared out in the next couple of days so I can get a good picture of this magnificent building.

Eventually, I came to a beautiful rotunda in the main courtyard of the Hofburg – which is the name of the complex of palaces where the Hapsburg emperors lived….Hofburg/Hapsburg it can be confusing, no?  Anyway, the area where the rotunda is, is the entrance to the Imperial Apartment where the Hapsburg family lived in sheer elegance.  These can be toured, as well as the Shonbrunn Palace.  This palace on the outskirts of Vienna and is where the Hapsburgs moved to during the summer.  My guidebook suggest that if you have limited time to visit one or the other. I have decided to go to Schonbrunn, just to get outside of the major city and to enjoy the beautiful grounds as well as the opulent decorations of the palace.

As I walked toward the information center, I walked past the stables for the Lipizzaner horses – the famous horses associated with Spanish Riding school of Vienna.  These horses were breed for military use and for the popular riding schools that were becoming popular for the nobility in central Europe.  At the Information Center, I got a ticket to see them practice which I will probably go to on Thursday.  I think I will also go on a tour of the Opera House that day as well.

Right across the street and near the horse stables, is the Albertina Museum.  This museum was recommended to me by a friend when she heard I was coming to Vienna.  Since I was right there, I decided that it would be a good time to go and see it.  I thought I would just zip in, do a quick tour of the galleries and zip out.  Who was I kidding????  Me – do a museum quickly….I don’t think so!  Three hours later, I walked back outside.

The Albertina Museum is part of the Hofburg complex that once was the home of Maria Christian, the favorite daughter of Empress Maria Theresa, who had 16 children, 13 of who survived.  Maria Christina was allowed to marry for love and not for politics.  Part of the museums exhibit is the state rooms that Maria Christina and her husband, Albert of Saxony, lived. As one would expect, the rooms were beautiful and elegant.  One room, the Albertina Gold room had beautiful golden colored walls that were actually covered with a mixture that totalled 23 karats of gold, 1/2 karat of silver and 1/2 karat of copper.  Albert was a great collector of sketches and amassed a collection of over 13,000 sketches.  This was later added to by other family members and today, the collection has over 1 million pieces which belong to the museum today.

In another room in the royal apartments, they explained how Princess Henrietta who was married to Arch Duke Charles, was a Calvinist – very unusual amongst the Catholic Hapsburg family, introduced the custom of Christmas trees to Austria.  The Wedgewood Room had plates of Wedgewood installed in the wooden panels.  The frescos in this room were influenced by the Free Masons with Duke Albert belonged to.  Each panel had art representing earth, wind, fire and air, which is what the masons believe that a person who is a seeker of humanity must pass through.  It is all very symbolic; the earth is the physical, the wind is spiritual, fire and air represent the differences between man and woman.

The rest of the museum is devoted to exhibits of art work.  One wing is from the collection of Herbert and Rita Batliner who collected art throughout their lives.  They donated their amazing collection to the Albertina in 2007.  This collection began with the Impressionist up through to more modern art.  I was introduced to several new artist that I wasn’t familiar with…just for my notes, I am going to mention them here:  Emil Nolde, Kazimir Malewitsch (1878-1935), Birch Grove; Theo Van Rysselberghe (1862-1926) Seated Nude; Alexej Jawlensky (1864-1941) Cornfield near Carantec; Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) Train Station and Cattle at Sunset.  Fauvism – 1905, gave an exhibit and were referred to as the “wild ones” (fauvist) – I really love this style!  They used bright colors to object to the impressionistic movement.  They believed that items didn’t have to be exact colors and they outlined their objects in dark colors – Georges Braque, Maurice de Vlaminck, Andre Derain and Robert Delaunay. 1911-The Blue Riders were organized.  The combined Cubism and Fauvism.  Jawlensky and Kandinsky were the founders in Munich, Germany. 1920 – Suprematism – A Russian movement that was introduced in a 1914 exhibit.  It was influenced by Cubism and Impressionism – Kasimir Malevich was the leading artist with this movement.  Karel Appel (1921-2006) – painted in the dark.  Face in the landscape, at first glance, it just looks like a swirl of black, blue, orange, yellow and white paint thrown on a canvas.  However, upon closer inspection, you can actually see a face among the swirl. He painted this in the dark as well!  I liked Chagall’s painting Sleeping Woman with Flowers from 1972.

There were many amazing artist in this collection from Monet to Picasso…who knew that Picasso went through a ceramic period??? I didn’t!! Oh, the things you learn when traveling!
It was a wonderful and informative time spent at the Albertina.

Next to the Albertina is Burggarten (Palace Garden).  It used to be the backyard to the Hofburg Palace but is now a park.  The back of the New Palace, which now houses the library and a museum is a very impressive structure.  Also, near this park is a large iron and glass pavilion that houses a butterfly exhibit and a cafe.

At this point, it was time to start thinking about getting something to eat.  I was just going to go to a cafe and have a coffee and a dessert to celebrate my birthday.  The “cafe culture” is alive and strong in Vienna.  Everywhere are these wonderful coffee shops, many which have been around for years.  People go to have a cup of coffee and relax reading the paper, visiting with friends.  Like Rick Steves said, it is like having your living room down the street.

He recommended several in his book and I decided on Central Cafe as it had music piano music after 5:00.  It was a cozy room with large marble columns, rich wood and upholstered chairs and benches in a rose colored fabric.  After sitting down and looking at the menu, I realized that I was more hungry than I originally thought and decided I was going to have a “birthday dinner”.  I had a glass of red wine, a delicious salad with cucumbers, potato and tomato followed with pumpkin flavored, cheese stuffed dumplings and a side dish of lentils.  All was wonderful…those carbs tasted soooo good…not to mention the bread that I had!  I was too full to have my coffee and dessert!!!  It was an enjoyable meal with great ambience, especially with the piano music in the background!

It was a warm evening and I thought it would be a good time to do Rick Steve’s self-guided walk through Vienna and see the sights all lit up at night.  The walk started at the opera house, by the Albertina museum and down the street to Karntner Strasse.  This is a pedestrian mall, several blocks full of all kinds of stores – department, souvenir, Venetian glass – cafes, restaurants, hotels and even a casino!  At 7:00 at night, the stores were still open and people were strolling along.

I passed the Stephansplatz which houses St Stephen’s Cathedral, the central point of Vienna.  I went inside, there was a church service going on and I was kind of surprised at how dingy the church appeared.  Outside, it is a beautiful gothic church with an impressive 450 ft tower!

My walk took me pass the Holy Trinity Plague Column.  It is 60 feet tall and was erected by Emperor Leopold as thanks for his prayers being heard to end the horrible bubonic plague that hit Vienna in 1679.  He also erected the nearby St Peter’s Church as a thank you for his surviving the plague.

Demel was pointed out as the ultimate Viennese chocolate shop.  I totally missed the edible display in the window that Rick Steves talks about but did see the kitchen where they prepared the delectable goodies!  It was crowded and I was still full from my dinner.

I continued wandering through the streets, clicking pictures of the buildings lit up.  Turning corners to see what was down a new street.  Right before me, was a beautiful building lit up with warm, inviting lights. I had to know what it was…it was Cafe Central, where I had eaten earlier.  I thought “oh heck, I need a piece of cake for my birthday” and went in.  Can you believe that as I walked in, the piano player played “Happy Birthday”????  I am certain it was for someone in the cafe but I just had to smile and feel that the universe was speaking to me.

I ordered a decadent white, dark, milk chocolate torte and a black cup of coffee.  It was yummy and the perfect way to end a very special birthday!

It was a special day…it would have been wonderful to have shared it all with my sweetie! He called as did my brother, Perry.  So nice to hear from them today!

I wonder where in the world I will be next year for my birthday month?  It will take quite some doing to top this one!!!

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