Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Best City in the World

According to September's National Geographic, again this year the best city to live in this world is Vienna. To understand what this means, the highest ranked American city is Honolulu, at number 29. The Economist uses a different scale and rates Vienna a close second, after Melbourne. This wasn't our reason to come here, we came to meet with Alina and Victor. For nine years now, my children knew they have a cousin and wanted to meet with him, but unfortunately they had to wait this long.

So we stayed with family for four nights, we were spoiled with luxurious accommodation and the best food, mostly Romanian recipes. When we went out one night at a typical Viennese garden we had a hard time choosing from all the options and left too full and sorry that we don't have a second stomach. We didn't try the famous Viennese desserts, it just didn't work out, but we had to leave something for next time. It was hard to divide time between family and touristic and historic destinations, but we worked it out. After a couple of days, without yet knowing the above statistics, I felt the difference, "this is an amazing city, I had no idea how awesome it is. We were here 21 years ago, changing trains for Paris, we had fond memories but nothing to prepare us for this." Alina didn't agree entirely with me, apparently there are some annoying powerful winds in the winter, she must know, she lives here all year long. But we had four gorgeous days and a load of great experiences.

At two million people Vienna is a pretty big European city and it's history is like no other. The capital of the Holy Roman Empire for a few hundred years and then the capital of the Habsburgs and the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of the first world war, this was one of the capitals where the fate of many european nations was decided. Then it became the capital of a small negligible nation, swallowed by fascist Germany and after being destroyed in the second world war it was divided, much like Berlin, among the four winning nations. It was only in 1955, after the soviets decided to withdraw, that Vienna and Austria finally got their independence. It remained a hot spot throughout the cold war and after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe it became the gate to the West for the liberated people and the gate to the East for many western businesses. Building on its historical and cultural legacy and heading for the future, Vienna became one of the headquarters of UN and many other organizations, it is the main destination for international congresses and conventions and it welcomes about 5 million visitors per year. In 2001 the city center was declared a World Heritage Site. As a significant part of Romania was under Austrian occupation for a few hundred years, it had a bad connotation for us, this is where the oppression started. Much older and with a much more open mind, I came ready to learn the other side of the story.

We went on a walk on Kärntner Strasse, a beautiful pedestrian avenue that took us to the St. Stephen's cathedral, a 700 year old gothic church that is the symbol of Vienna. For good measure we then went to the nearby St. Peter Cathedral, only 400 years old and built in a quite different baroque style.

Ileana and the parents enjoyed a few hours in the Haus der Musik, a fun interactive museum that could be built in any place in the world but it's only right here, in the City of Music.

There are two imperial palaces here, the winter one, Hofburg and the summer one, Schönbrunn. We decided to visit just one, Maria, Ileana and Ileana Ruxandra wrote about it. The palace complex is huge and it's mostly occupied by governmental institutions, but nearby it has several amazing museums.

There are 5000 government workers here every day

All over, it is the story of the Habsburgs intertwined with the history of Europe through the centuries. We learned quite a lot and got primed to follow it later in Prague and Berlin. Maria Theresa was the evil empress from my childhood, who, being told that her Romanian subjects have no bread, suggested that they eat cake instead. In Vienna we learned about a pretty smart lady who reigned for 40 years, avoided wars and promoted peace. Kind of. She had 16 children and married most of them away to other royal houses in Europe in an effort to foster good diplomatic relationships. She ended slavery in her Empire and banned torture 230 years before President Obama stopped it in America. Now that's impressive!

We also learned about the Emperor Franz Josef. He reigned for 68 years during a tumultuous era in Europe. He might have been an workaholic, but he took his job very serious. We visited his apartment, saw his office and his desk, learned about his daily schedule. And about his unhappy wife.

After Hofburg my family went home but I was allowed to go on.

Kunsthistorisches Museum, the museum of art history, was built especially for this purpose by the Emperor Franz Josef and inaugurated in 1891. It was designed to house part of the phenomenal art collections of the Habsburg emperors and make it available to the general public. The monumental building is absolutely stunning and the exhibits are invaluable.

This huge room is just a display of paintings that would normally be kept in storage; it is used to show how paintings were displayed in the old times

Who doesn't know this painting of the Babel tower?

The largest collection of Bruegel the Elder anywhere in the world, indecent loads of Rubens and Italian masters and four paintings by Giuseppe Arcimboldo!!!

credit wikipedia
In the main hallway there was scaffolding built to allow people to see up close some of the ceiling paintings, some of them by Gustav Klimt and some by his brother. No pictures allowed, but here is a poster in the street advertising the special exhibit:

I couldn't have enough. I got a combined ticket allowing me to visit the next morning the Hofburg Treasury and I spent hours marveling at the jewels exposed there. Here is the the crown made for Otto in 960, the first king to call himself Holy Roman emperor. Nearby, the 11th century Imperial Cross, with a special opening in the back where they put a piece of the "true" cross on which Jesus was crucified, considered of special value because it has the mark of one one the nails, and the Holy Lance, used by one of the soldiers to pierce his side. The Roman Emperors carried this lance in battles as it was believed to give them special powers and protection. Nearby, a 500 year old unicorn tusk and countless other holy relics and jewelry pieces.

The crown


The holy Gospel of Charlemagne (AD 800)

Imperial Cross, flanked by the Holy Lance and a piece of the true cross

The mark of one of the nails

500-year old unicorn tusk

Since I had free entrance, I stopped at the Ephesus museum and the Museum of Ancient Musical instruments. They were both only in German, I didn't understand much of what I've seen, but it was nice to wander alone through the halls of the magnificent Hofburg palace. There were hardly any other tourists around and almost no guards.

That last evening it was a night at the Opera. All seven of us went, another magical experience. I like classical opera, but I never knew that it can sound so good.

On the side of the opera, on a giant screen they project the performance free and live

People take seats hours in advance to see the opera

The interior of the Viennese Opera

And next day, after a quick tour of the Klimt exhibition at the Belvedere Palace, we left for Prague...

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