Needless to say, we didn’t jump out of the comfortable beds in our room at the Ritz at 6 AM. Our scheduled tour of the city and the Winter Palace wouldn’t leave the hotel until 10:15, so there was no need to rush. Breakfast was included in our stay so we headed to the Melounge, the first floor dining area, around 8:30. On our way, we took some time to admire the comfortable but elegant design of the Ritz.
The hotel, like many other buildings in Vienna in the area, had been put together from four 19th century palais many years ago.Elements of 19th century decor had been incorporated into the modern building very successfully.
We noticed a number of our fellow passengers were already in the dining area intermingled with the other guests when we arrived. The Ritz is a large hotel, with more than two hundred rooms so it was able to accommodate the 100 plus passengers of the Maria Theresa fairly easily, especially since most were couples who would stay in the same room. We enjoyed an excellent breakfast in the Melounge which offered a variety of choices, however by this time, we were eating less and less for breakfast and lunch. Our bodies were telling us it was time to return to the simple breakfasts and lunches we ate at home.
Uniworld offered a lecture on European Art and Architecture before the city tour, but I find that I really don’t have much enthusiasm for lectures at this stage of my life. Too many years spent giving rather than listening to lectures, I guess, especially on history and art. I did make an exception and went to the program on the construction of the locks on the Rhine Main canal, and it did not disappoint. The senior Rambler was only too happy to skip this lecture as he is not a lecture fan. He had found his friend from New Zealand, a fellow smoker at the Ritz. They again got together in one of the smoking-allowed spots and enjoyed both cigarettes and conversation instead.
One good thing about the upcoming Vienna City Tour was that we wouldn’t spend much time on the bus. The Ritz was centrally located along the Ringstrasse, so on the first part of the tour,
we enjoyed a driving tour of central Vienna and its major landmarks. After an hour or so, we disembarked near the Stephensdom to meet our guides for the tour of the Winter Palace.
The Ramblers haven’t minded the time we spent on busses on our cruise excursions. The bus time usually wasn’t very long and it did give us a chance to see some of the non-touristy towns and the often beautiful countryside. It was pleasant to be driven around the Ringstrasse on a sunny day and we enjoyed the scenery, Vienna has lots greenery mixed in with beautiful buildings, many attractive landscapes, and even a large woodland. In an odd way it reminded me of Atlanta, and is very unlike my birthplace Chicago. In Chicago, once you leave Lake Michigan’s shores, the landscapes become mostly brick and mortar. An infestation of Dutch Elm disease which killed the columnar elm trees that shaded Chicago streets and boulevards didn’t help.
Since the Danube is a fair distance from the Ringstrasse and the historic center of Vienna, we were now much closer to the sights, shops and cafes at the Ritz then we would have been if we were still on the MT.
The last time we visited Vienna, on the Uniworld Christmas Markets tour described in some of my earlier posts, we were bussed into the City Center and toured the wonderful National Library. After the tour was over, we had free time to visit the Christmas Market at the City Hall. Because the weather was cold and rainy that day, we didn’t stay long . For those who wanted to spend time in Vienna and browse the Christmas Markets, Uniworld ran shuttle busses every hour at an agreed upon stop. We and some of our friends waited anxiously for the first shuttle back to the boat, while others didn’t return until much later. Those who missed the last shuttle took taxis or public transportation back to the Beatrice.
This time, we would have a different kind of tour. We now had two cruise directors on board( figuratively speaking) to sort out the logistics of our new destinations. Today, Jan, from the Netherlands, who had just joined us, would ride on our bus. He was a very interesting guy who had a more European point of view than Chad ( who was Canadian). The Uniworld tour directors had to not only make new arrangements for the last 3 days of our tour but do the same for the next group of river cruisers who would be arriving in Budapest on September X. The Maria Theresa was still trapped in Regensburg as the Danube was still too low.
Our starting point for the city tour was the Winter Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy. Then we would tour the surrounding area, taking a look into the Spanish Riding School which was not in session, and eventually wind our way back to the bus
I don’t have much of a sense of direction and had only spent a little time in Vienna, so I was glad we would have a guided tour and then would get a ride back to the Ritz. The streets were filled with both locals and tour groups enjoying the pleasant day. We saw several fiakers (carriages) filled with happy tourists carefully winding their way through the crowded streets.
We were with the Gentle Walkers again, our old friends from the MT. Our guide was a Viennese lady who was very proud of her city. Touring the the inside of the Stephensdom, the magnificent cathedral which dominates the skyline of Vienna, was not on our schedule. although the cathedral was visible from our bus stop.
However our guide felt we should get a closer view of the church as it was such an important part of Vienna’s history… even tho it was’t part of the tour.
While the other groups moved off, we learned about the cathedral’s history. Archaeologists have found that a church has stood on this spot since the 4th or 5th century, The building we saw before us was constructed between 1300 and 1450, enlarging on an existing structure. The massive 450 ft. south tower was added at this time and the smaller north tower, 233 ft. was supposed to match it. However its construction was abandoned around 1500 as the money was need to repel the Turks, It is possible to climb to the top of both towers, but only the north tower has an elevator.
There aren’t any tall buildings in this part of Vienna and the Stephensdom’s tile roof and two towers dominate the skyline. The cathedral was heavily damaged during WWII but it wasn’t until last-ditch fighting between the Nazi’s and the Soviet’s in 1945, resulted in setting the original Gothic wooden roof ablaze. The great bell Pummern, made from melted Turkish cannons, plummeted to the ground.
There was much internal damage as the fire burned for two days. However, the civic pride of the Viennese had in their cathedral resulted in an outpouring of funds making it possible to completely restore the building by 1952. This at a time when much of the city was in ruins and money was scarce. The multi-colored tiles that now make up its roof were financed by the citizens of Vienna. Alte Steffi , as the Viennese call the cathedral, unlike most churches of its importance, is surrounded by buildings which makes it difficult to photograph.
I think many of us would also have enjoyed seeing the equally impressive interior, but we had to stick to the schedule.
Even so, we had been left behind by the other groups. This meant the Gentle Walkers had to move more briskly through the rest of the tour than they would have chosen. We didn’t mind the extra information, you couldn’t help appreciating the enthusiasm of our guide.
Fortunately our destination, the Winter Palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy was not far from the Stephensdom. Although born in France in 1663, Prince Eugene served the Habsburg emperors for 60 years. He was a very able commander who made possible the Habsburg dominance of Central Europe and the Netherlands. Prince Eugene was awarded many honors and grew wealthy because of his military prowess.
He spend much of his fortune building the Belvedere Palace complex ( which includes the Winter Palace) and collecting fine art. We got to tour the state apartments which were opened to the public for the first time in centuries in 2013. Throughout his life he was noted not just for his skill as a general but for his honesty, loyalty, bravery and sense of personal honor. Unfortunately he was not blessed with good looks or an impressive physique and he never married. After his death, at 72,
Maria Theresa bought his palace at auction for the use of the imperial court, and it housed many government departments until the empire was dissolved in 1918.
The palace that we toured was renovated between 2007 and 2013, and is today a magnificent example of Baroque architecture, “one of the most magnificent in Vienna,” according to the experts.
After leaving the palace, we walked along Kärntner Strasse, a pedestrian boulevard that links the Stephensdom with the Vienna State Opera. Incidentally, the operas and the concerts are always the hottest tickets in Vienna, a city that loves opera, ballet and music of all kinds.
We walked along a street that was lined with a melange of historic buildings inviting shops and cafes, including the ubiquitous Starbucks. I had to go into Steiff Vienna. I have always loved their stuffed bears and have gotten several for our children over the years. As we were late, there was no time to shop but I did get my photo taken with the gigantic bear they have on display.