On our way back to the bus after our city tour, I glimpsed what looked like an amazing group of statuary around a column visible at the end of a narrow street. As we drew closer, its details became more distinct. The figures surrounding the column were amazing; angels and saints near the top where dwelled the Trinity while at the bottom, piteous figures held out their hands. The Ramblers learned that this was the famous Pestsäule, or Plague Column that was built in the 17th century to commemorate both the end of the Great Plague, and the impact it had on Vienna.
The plague came late to Vienna. The Black Death, as it was called, had already resulted in the deaths of millions of Europeans, depopulating whole areas of Europe, beginning in the 14th century. This feared “Black Death” was carried by migrant black rats who lived in the filthy conditions of cities without sewers and garbage collection Vienna, in 1679, was just as filthy as any other city of the time, perhaps more so. Although the plague was still deadly, 200 years later, religious men and women who ran most of the hospitals at the time, had learned a little about the disease. The Brotherhood of the Holy Trinity, a Catholic religious order, created special hospitals to care for plague victims. The simple nursing care they provided was far better than any other Viennese medical facilities of the time, Thus the Viennese plague was not as deadly as it could have been. The 69 ft. high Pestsäule was built to commemorate those who died and those who worked to save plague victims.
We saw yet another uniquely Viennese building on the way back to the bus.
This was the Kaisergruft or the Imperial Crypt. In this modest Capuchin Church dedicated in 1633, lie the bones of 145 members of Hapsburg royalty along with a few urns containing ashes and hearts of others.
The Capuchin friars still care for the crypt which is open to the public. FYI The Capuchin’s got their name from the hood which is part of their brown Franciscan habit. The latest Hapsburg family member was entombed in 2011. Needless to say, this is just the kind of weird exhibit that would intrigue the Rambler, but it was not to be. The Kaisergruft was not on our schedule. It became just one of the many fascinating spots in Vienna we had no time to explore.
Dinner that night would be on our own, and we decided to go back to the Cafe Schwarzenberg. We had enjoyed the atmosphere, it was close and the food was tasty. However, before eating, the Ramblers wanted to change some of their Euros into Forints. We would be traveling to Budapest by bus tomorrow, and our schedule seemed a busy one. Might as well take advantage of some free time to visit a bank. First we checked with the Ritz concierge, but we learned they did not exchange currency in the hotel. She suggested visiting the Bank of Austria which had a branch nearby. So we did, only to find that the Bank of Austria had no Forints to exchange. To complicate matters, it was Friday afternoon and many banks had closed early. Fortunately, we found another bank that was open, don’t remember its name, but they had lots of Forints and were happy to make the exchange.
Mission accomplished, we enjoyed an early dinner in the delightful wood-paneled cafe which first opened in 1861. It is considered a concert cafe, as a musician plays the grand piano prominently displayed in the middle of the cafe in the evenings. We were too early for the music, but I would be going to another kind of concert later that evening. The senior Rambler took a pass, as he is not a fan of concerts of any kind.
Several river cruise lines including Uniworld offer a chamber music concert for their passengers on the evening their boats are docked in Vienna. On the Christmas Markets cruise, the concert was one of the included tours, however on European Jewels, it was an option. I had decided not to attend, since I had gone to the Christmas one, and it was fairly expensive, 75 Euros. Uniworld changed my mind for me. Because we had to leave the Maria Theresa due to low water, they made the concert to an included event. I was only too happy to take advantage of this special option. It is really a treat to hear a chamber orchestra of talented musicians play in a small hall with excellent acoustics. The program was, as before composed of Mozart and Strauss music performed with much skill and enthusiasm by less than a dozen fine musicians. Uniworld has a contract with Waltz in Vienna which provides these programs which include musicians and dancers for a number of occasions.
. The concerts are held in the beautiful 19th century hall of the Austrian Engineers and Architects which was recently renovated and has wonderful acoustics in an intimate setting. It isn’t often that one gets to attend a private concert and it was a fitting end to our stay in Vienna. Of course, the final encore was a stirring rendition of the Radetsky March, which is traditionally played at the end of classical music concerts in Vienna and involves much clapping to the stirring march.
Back at the Ritz, the Ramblers packed their bags, since we would be leaving early the next morning for Budapest. Unfortunately we would be able to spend only a long Saturday in Budapest as we had to be at the Budapest Airport at 4 AM Sunday morning. All along we had been hearing news stories about the Syrian refugees who were trying to get into Austria but didn’t realize that we would tangentially get caught up in this unfortunate situation.
After breakfast, we boarded our busses and headed out for Budapest. We had little time to hang out with our friends from the cruise as we were going to be staying at different hotels once we got to Budapest. Although the Hungarian capital has many excellent hotels, none was able to take in so many people at such short notice. The Ramblers were staying at the Sofitel Chain Bridge, which seemed to be an excellent location. However we wouldn’t get there until much later in the day.
Since Austria and Hungary are both members of the European Union, there would be no check when we reached the border. However, when we got there, we were startled by what we saw on the highway going towards Austria.
There was a gigantic back-up of cars, trucks and busses, and dozens of people milling about. We learned that the police were checking the credentials of everyone trying to cross the border on the interstate-like highway. They had brought in extra personnel, but they were not having much success in keeping the traffic moving. The Ramblers could see busses from other cruise and tour lines caught up in the mess on the other side of the road, along with other busses which seemed to be filled with refugees. Our bus did not stop and we were able to move along quickly. I would have liked to take some photos of this historic event but unfortunately I was sitting on the curb side, not the street side.
After trying a shot or two, I decided to give up the attempt and just observe history in the making. We later saw a number of groups of refugees, mostly young men, marching along towards the border for miles after we crossed it. The traffic jam extended for miles as well.
There were several people who probably got good photos but none I knew well enough to ask if they would send them to me. I did, however, get a picture of the Hungarian rest area where we stopped briefly.
It featured a McDonald’s’ and you can be sure some of our bunch stopped for a snack.
On to Budapest!