I have always been a huge fan of the movie The Sound of Music; the movie is spectacular not just for the songs and the story but also for its great location, Austria. I had the great privilege of seeing its lovely capital city Vienna last summer of 2012 when my fiancé Kurt surprised me with two plane tickets and tour itineraries to this beautiful city. I used my Easter holiday vacation from the American music school where I work as a music teacher and immediately packed my bags to explore this historic yet modern city for six days. I fell in love with the city while I loved him more for making my dreams come true.
My heart was thumping with excitement the moment we landed at the Vienna International Airport. Our tour guide welcomed us at the airport and briefed us about out tour schedules. After a five hour rest at our hotel, we met six other tourists in the lobby and boarded the shuttle bus of our tour operator. We started our Vienna tour with a visit to the Kunsthistorisches Museum / Museum of Fine Arts. This museum is divided into different sections to showcase the Roman, Egyptian, and Greek ancient artifacts and collections. My favorite section was the musical box collections; each piece was very intricate and elaborate. The building has three huge wooden doorways and two wide staircases in old Baroque style architecture. I could not contain my heartfelt admiration as I view the paintings of Rembrandt, Titian, and Rubens. They were all exceptional! We saw more interesting archaeological, weapons, and medal collections at the second level of the museum. I was surprised to learn that they allow photographs to be taken inside the exhibit halls. Lots of iconic sculptures stand on every corner giving the impression of how much Vienna prioritizes art in every structure they construct.
From here we visited the nearby Schonbrunn Palace (Schloss Schonbrunn). It is an elegant castle with audio guides to explain the history of the castle. The mirror hall was impressive and charming! I felt being transported in the old times the minute I stepped on this castle. We held hands as we walked along its enormous ballroom while we view the huge paintings displayed on its walls. I keep looking up and could not help but be awed by the gorgeously painted ceilings. The surrounding area was equally impressive; the well maintained garden was so captivating! We took lots of photographs together at the romantic arbor area and at the fountain place. We availed of the grand tour and it was good to learn about how the Habsburgs used to live an opulent life on this palace grounds. We had a great time exploring all of its public viewing rooms, the maze, and the courtyard. We stayed longer at The Gloriette and watch the lovely sunset with a great view of the city from the top. We had a dinner of dumplings and Chicken soup at a local restaurant before heading back to our hotel to rest after a tiring day.
On our third day, we left early morning to check out the Rathaus (New City Hall), this building has an old façade but with modern interiors. There was nothing much to see inside the halls of this structure. Right outside the building is an ice skating rink and a nice selection of shops to buy souvenirs and clothing. The small park across this building serves as venues for national events and music concerts. We rented skates and tried the rink, it was fun as we kept laughing and falling down as it’s the first time we tried skating. We certainly enjoyed it along with our foreign tour mates. We were one in our observation that Vienna has loads of impressive architectural buildings, lots of fountains, and ornate statues were virtually everywhere. Our tour guide further explained that this was because most of the buildings were formerly used as palaces during the olden times. I could not agree more. Everywhere was clear signs of extreme love for art and opulence. We all agree too that everything in Vienna was quite expensive, from entrance tickets to attractions and mostly food. There were lots of food stalls that serve a nice selection of international cuisine. I noticed Austrians are sumptuous eaters. Before the day ended we watched a great performance of The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro) at the Vienna State Opera House. We had a brief tour of the lobby and the opera house prior to the performance. The interiors were so elegantly illuminated. After the performance we enjoyed meeting the stars and the conductor at the backstage. The music and the performers were all superb!
The next day we visited the Tiergarten Schoenbrunn (Vienna Zoo), where we saw wildlife animals in their well kept glass enclosures. The zoological garden also houses a bat cave and an aviary with colorful birds in captivity. I especially adore the two pandas Yang and Fu that keep nibbling on some bamboo twigs, they looked so cute! All the rare animals look well tended on this properly maintained zoo. I was startled when a bat swooped over my head. There is an adjacent children’s zoo and play area to keep the little kids amused. They had a wide variety of animals in this huge zoo. We saw a wide range of bear cats, koalas, wolves, rhinos, lions, tigers, and penguins. What I find amusing is the zoo was very clean and their pens were so close to people. The terrarium and aquarium area were equally interesting as well. After going around the zoo, we availed of our free packed lunch at its zoo café. The yellow tin train ride completes the family friendly ambience of this attraction. Best zoo I have ever seen!
On our fourth day, we took time to meditate and admire the architectural beauty of the Kirche Am Steinhof. This church is amazing and unique in its design and features. The façade is built of white marble topped with a golden dome. Picture taking and touring the church is allowed as long as there is no ongoing mess. We were welcomed by bronzed angel statues at the entrance. I photographed the intricately designed stained glass windows and the gold encrusted chandelier on its main altar. The interior and exterior complement each other; it has also become a perfect example of the Viennese art nouveau. Even if it is located within the outskirts of Vienna, the church was crowded with tourists when we visited. The church was really stunning even from afar.
The next day we visited another famous attraction called the Imperial Palace (Hofburg). The beautiful columns and pillars outside this museum totally impressed me. The silverware collections were astounding! Each piece tells so much about how rich Viennese culture is. It holds factual history about the family who once ruled Vienna, the Hapsburgs. I marveled at their royal treasury, silver and porcelain tableware collections. We were both amused at the Imperial Apartments and the Spanish Horse Show. Afterwards we checked out the St. Peter’s Church (Peterskirsche) just across from this museum. The structure is an architectural marvel on itself. This old church was built on a graveyard and ornate headstones are still remarkable on its walls. The copper domed church has interesting frescoes, paintings, sculptures, statues, and artistic columns and pillars. The relic of St. Benedict is inside this church. After Lunch we checked out the Kunsthaus Wien, it is a museum that features most of Hundertwasser’s works. I was amused of his art style as it borders on the astounding and philosophical. This quaint art gallery has a small gift shop and restaurant. Everything inside was simply amazing! From across here is the main shopping square where we dined and shop for souvenirs.
Vienna truly exemplifies the heart of Europe; there was so much to see but so little time. It is a huge city rich in culture and tradition. It is a great romantic city that I look forward to coming back for more.