Eighteen years ago I went on my first trip around Western Europe; it was an activities-packed bus tour, where we would hop from destination to destination in five different countries for a period of two weeks. We didn’t miss a popular site: cathedrals, castles, palaces, galleries, and there were lots of them. By the end of the trip, I had already seen the tallest, the biggest, the oldest and the one with the largest church organ… I was culturally enriched beyond capacity.
Ever since then I had been trying to steer away from the regimen of the typical tourist. Walking around, soaking in the atmosphere and watching the people go by became our sort of experience of cities along our way.
But this past weekend culturally rich Vienna brought me back to my tourist beginnings. The Austrian capital has always been a vital spot for European history, offering an abundance of world-class galleries and museums, religious monuments and architectural treasures. It could take weeks for one to explore in depth the city’s many attractions but we only had a couple of days to take in the essence.
I didn’t have a plan as to what I wanted to see so I did a quick and dirty itinerary when we arrived at the hotel, using the map provided at check-in and Vienna’s excellent tourism website. We were staying in the Landstrasser area, which is slightly outside of the city’s center. Due to Vienna’s compact size that meant only about a 30 min brisk, but straightforward walk to the borders of the Old Town (Innere Stadt), where the majority of the attractions are located.
I decided to skip the nearby Belvedere Palace and Gardens, as the complex could easily take a half day to explore, and instead planned to visit a few museums, all conveniently located next to each other in an area self-descriptively called the ‘Museums Quartier’.
My route passed through Schwarzenbergplatz, where among other things, one can see the Soviet War Memorial (formerly called Monument of the Red Army), erected back in 1945 in remembrance of the 17,000 soldiers who fell in the ‘battle for Vienna’ of WWII or as stated more poetically “in battle against the German fascist invaders for the freedom and Independence of the peoples of Europe”.A less subjective version of history, however, tells us that this battle was Stalin’s attempt to occupy Vienna for strategic military purposes and the monument ironically commemorates those who helped him succeed.Karlskirche (or St. Charles’ church), one of Vienna’s best known religious landmarks, is only a five minute walk from Schwarzbergplatz. The church’s most notable aspect is its creative exterior design – an unusual combination of elements taken from ancient Greece (the columned portico), ancient Rome (the two columns of bas-reliefs) and Viennese Baroque (the dome and the towers). The interior of the church is much more conventional than the exterior, but nevertheless a fine example of Baroque architectural style. Every Saturday between March and December it becomes a mystical setting where Mozart’s last work – the Requiem gets performed by more than 40 musicians on stage. Concert tickets can be purchased online with prices ranging from 35 euros to 53 euros.
Karlsplatz is just on the outside of Ringstrasse, a circular road which defines the borders of Vienna’s Innere Stadt. The street has become a cluster for the city’s most opulent and significant buildings, among them the Parliament, the Town Hall (Ratthaus) and the twin buildings of Naturhistorisches and Kunsthistorisches museums. The two Ringstrasse museums, simultaneously opened in1891, were commissioned by emperor Franz-Joseph I in order to find a suitable shelter for the formidable art collection and to make it accessible to the general public. The inside of the building is lavishly decorated with marble, stucco ornamentations, gold-leaf, and paintings.An additional elegant feature is the circular opening in the ceiling of the entrance hall that offers visitors their first glimpse of the cupola hall. Kunsthistorisches museum is a home of culturally significant artworks from seven millennia – from Ancient Egypt to the late 18th century. On display at the main building are an expansive Picture Gallery, occupying the entire second floor, as well as the Greek and Roman Antiquities, the Egyptian and Near Eastern collection and the Coin collection. The museum is open from 10am – 6pm (9pm on Thursdays, closed on Mondays) and I only managed to go in an hour and a half before closing time. I decided to spend whatever time had left touring the rooms of the Picture Gallery and quietly admiring the stunning art that decorated the high walls. Unfortunately, Miss Z. had already taken her afternoon nap on the way here and she was adamantly displaying her obvious discontent with being tied up in a stroller. The slow-paced walk I imagined turned into a quick run around the museum and I am sad to say, I didn’t get much out of the visit. Apart from its permanent collections, Kunsthistorisches museum is also holding an exhibition (14 February 2012 until 6 May 2012) of art by Gustav Klimt, Austria’s most prominent Symbolist painter, whose 150th anniversary is being celebrated by displays of his work at various venues in Vienna. Regretfully, the area where Klimt’s art could be seen was not stroller accessible, plus there was a line of visitors waiting for their turn, so Miss Z. and I had to skip this exhibition as well.
To those other enthusiasts that would like to visit the museum alone with a baby, I would suggest – get a baby carrier. I didn’t see an obvious way to climb the steps just outside the entrance other than carrying the stroller. Opening and getting past the heavy doors was nothing short of an arduous exercise, too. Inside the building there is an elevator which can take mobility impaired visitors up and down, but there are still areas left practically inaccessible to those who cannot walk (such as the Klimt exhibition).Museums Quartier (MQ), home to a range of art museums and contemporary exhibitions, is located right across Kunsthistorisches museum. Formerly the imperial riding stables, the MQ’s transformation was completed in 2001 and is now embracing a wide mix of cultural institutions, restaurants, cafés and shops. As the city’s epicenter of cultural consumption as well as a great place for people-watching, many people pass every day through its vast courtyards and art-filled buildings. I had planned to see ‘Mice in the mumok’, an MUMOK installation exhibition of American Pop Art from the Sixties, as well as ‘Vanity’, a Kunsthalle display of exemplary fashion photography since the 1920s through today, but I was hard pressed for time.Theoretically, I could still see at least one of the exhibitions before their close at 7pm, but Miss Z was not cooperating and I headed back to the hotel instead.