Sailing fairly late from Bratislava on Tuesday evening, the Beatrice arrived in Vienna at 6 am. Although Bratislava and Vienna are not that far apart by road, it took much longer to get there by boat even though we passed through no locks that night. Again it was a cold and rainy morning with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees. Sunset is about 4 pm in early December, but on a cloudy day it is dark by 3:30. This is something to consider if you are thinking of a Christmas Market cruise.
Uniworld offered two morning tours in Vienna, one for the active folks which included lots of walking , and left at 8:30 am, while everyone else would leave at 9, including the gentle walkers who were instructed to board bus three. On this tour, we were all to visit the National Library and then have free time to visit the Christmas Markets by the landmark Vienna Rathaus or city hall.
In the afternoon, there would be one of the few optional tours offered, to the Schonbrunn Palace, the home of the Hapsburg’s. We didn’t inquire as to the cost, since we had already visited Versailles, the model for all European baroque palaces including the Schonbrunn. Finally, there would be afternoon shuttles available for those who wanted to to return to the Christmas Market at the city hall.
All in all, this was one of the busier touring days on the cruise, especially since we also had an opportunity to attend a special Vienna music ( featuring Mozart and Strauss) concert at 7:30 pm that evening.
After boarding our bus, we were soon rolling along the famous ring
road, or ringstrasse. It was built in the late 19th century on the site of the original medieval city walls. Ironically, they were built with the ransom money Richard the Lion heart’s captors received for his release.
The ringstrasse circles the inner, romantic Vienna as many beautiful buildings., both public and private, border the ringstrasse. Even in the rain, it was a wonderful drive. Our destination, the Austrian National Library is part of the Hofburg Palace complex and it would take days to see it all. We were glad the cruise director chose it as our stop in a city with many museums and historic sites as it was excellent.
The Library was amazing, not only because of its wonderful 18th century interior but because of its marvelous collection of rare books, parchments and other artifacts. Needless to say, several tour groups from other boats had also assembled in the courtyard we got there. Waiting to enter, we craned our necks to see the sculpture on the roof which included a statue of Atlas holding up a golden globe, The sculpture groups were very difficult to see from the ground. As I found out later, the Library was a true working archives as well as being perhaps the most beautiful library in the world.
As soon as we stepped inside the main hall, I could smell the familiar scent of old leather bindings, paper and parchment which is familiar to any historian. If you are interested in the holdings of the National Library, it has an up-to-date website which can help you locate both books and documents. I was interested learn that it has an extensive collection of incunabula (hand copied books) as well.
Of course we didn’t have time to see everything, but our guide, a professor, pointed out some of the highlights. Because there were many tourists milling around inside, it was difficult to see everything.
Evidently there was an exhibit of medieval angels somewhere, and I really wanted a copy of that poster you see in the photo. Unfortunately we didn’t stop at the gift shop and it would have been difficult to transport on an airplane.
The gold embossed bindings of the old leather books glowed in the soft lighting and the ceilings were decorated beautifully featuring an an impressive fresco in the center of the main gallery.
Even better, the library had an elevator which was imperative for several of the gentle walkers who were unable to climb the two long sweeping marble staircases that led to the main gallery.
I was struggling to take a good photo of the ceiling fresco when the senior Rambler suggested I hold the camera over my head and point it up at the ceiling.
The photo you see was taken with this difficult technique. LOL Surprisingly it works fairly well, if you can get the camera to focus while holding it above your head. We saw a lot of ceiling frescoes on this trip and this was a useful trick.
After leaving the building,
I turned back as we were queuing up to board the bus and noticed something unusual about the staircase we had just walked down. If you look at the picture , you can see that the steps are disguised as a poster advertising a Miro exhibit.
Next, on to the Vienna Christmas market at City Hall.