Vienna Day 1

St. Stephan's Church

St. Stephan’s Church

It’s the first day for us here in Vienna, and we love it so far.  The city is very similar to Munich, but has a nostalgic feeling of old baroque architecture, churches, water fountains, and adornments on buildings.  It’s certainly a classical city, with a east and western European feel.

We got off the train, at you guessed it, the exact time that it was scheduled to arrive, 1:26pm.  With our U-bahn map in hand, we knew exactly where to go.  We boarded the U3, and were delighted to be serenaded by an Accordion player as we rushed through the underground tunnels, and promptly arrived at 2:00pm at our hotel.  I kindly asked, “Spechen Sie Englisch?”  We checked into our hotel and found our way to the room to discover that it was probably the best hotel we have stayed at in Europe, for the least amount of money.  It’s very modern.  When I say modern, I mean that it has a LCD TV, digital safe, and mini-fridge.  I know, not uber modern, but compared to most of the historic hotels that we have stayed in, this one is at the top of the list (so far, at least).

Around Vienna

Around Vienna

After dropping our bags, we were off to see the sights.  We had a plan, and we pretty much stuck to it.  We first headed to the city center to see St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  It was very impressive, ornate, and crowded.  The amount of work that is put into these churches is absolutely amazing, especially considering that most of them were built in the 12th century.  Just thinking about the hours and hours of manual labor that went into building these churches is a true testament to the value of the Christian faith here in Austria (and elsewhere).  Bonnie had done some research and wanted to see the crypts below the church.  I was a little wary about it, but heck, why not.  So, we checked it out, and saw that the next tour was in half an hour.  We roamed around the square and waited for the tour to start.

Inside Augustinian Church

Inside Augustinian Church

It was definitely worth the wait.  It was pretty cool to see the old crypts beneath the church.  I know.  It sound morbid, but it was really neat to see the old coffins of bishops and kings buried centuries before our time.  My stomach was certainly uneasy when we saw the piles of bones and skulls in the rooms where they had piled bodies in wooden coffins that had long since deteriorated.  The most gruesome of all the sights was the room where they had a mass grave for those that died in Vienna during the black plague.  They guess that there were 800 to 1,000 bodies buried in a single room.  It was truly a sight to see, though, as the guidebooks said, not very family friendly.

On to happier experiences, we decided to jump back on the U-bahn and head to the state opera house.  We thought about taking a tour to see the inside, but we arrived too late.  It was still very cool to see the historic area around the state theater, and to see the architecture of the building.  I can only imagine was it must look like in the inside.  There was a line of a hundred plus people waiting to get standing tickets for tonight’s performance.  We thought about it, but decided it wasn’t for us; so we ventured on.

We also visited the Augustinian Church, which is located right next to the state opera.  It was not quite as impressive at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, but was less crowded and well worth a couple of minutes to peek in and take a look around.  We wondered where the crypts were in this church, as the tour guide in St. Stephen’s Cathedral told us that the royal family’s hearts were located in silver urns in the Augustinian Church.  You might be asking yourself, wait, why were the hearts located here?  Well, it turns out that the heart is returned to this Church since this is where the royal family got married, and hence, where their heart belonged…. The rest of their organs were in urns at St. Stephan’s and the bodies at another church.  During our tour of the crypts at St. Stephan’s we didn’t notice that someone in our tour had poked one of the organ urns and as we walked by it was rocking back and forth as if the organs were trying to get out- definitely spooky.

Papyrus map of Europe

Papyrus map of Europe

We walked out of the Augustinian Church and noted that we were in the square where the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek (Austrian State Library) is located, so we decided to take a look.  It was incredible.  They have over 7 million books and historical artifacts, some of which date back to the 6th century.  We spent almost 2-hours browsing and reading about the various artifacts and books.  What I thought was really cool is that they are undertaking a massive project to digitize all of the book and artifacts in the library so that they are easily and freely accessible for generations to come.  One of the artifacts that we saw was a 12th century replicate of a 5th century map of the roads of Europe, all of which lead to Roma (Rome, Italy).  We also discovered that Austrians (at least modern-day Austrians, perhaps more accurately, Germans) were the first to publish a newspaper.  The history located in the Austrian State Library is amazing, and was well worth the visit.  We were glad to have stumbled upon this gem, even though it wasn’t on our itinerary today.

After our fill of European history, and staring at millions of books that were hundreds of years old, we decided we were done for the day.  Time to grab a beer and head back to our comfortable hotel room.  What a day, and what a city.  We are very excited to further explore this historic (and UNESCO world heritage centre) city tomorrow after a good night’s rest.

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