Danube Odyssey, Part 8

Vienna's Schonbrunn Palace and museums

 

1.Flights from Memphis to Budapest, Hungary

7. Vienna's Schonbrunn Palace and museums

2. Budapest Hilton

8.  Cruise on Danube River and Durnstein

3. Visit to Holloko Farming Village

9.  Mozart and Trapp family home of Salzburg

4. Budapest area attraction of Szentendre

10. Weltenburg Monastery near Kelheim

5. Visit to 13th Century Cathedral, Synagogue

11. Nuremberg and Nazi monuments

6. Dreary Bratislava and visit to painters' home

12. Flights from Nuremberg to Memphis

 

Index to Photos / Page Updated Jan. 19, 2008 - (More than 200 additional photos taken on the Nolans' two-week cruise through parts of Austria, Germany, Hungary and Slovakia are posted in several Lewis Nolan albums at www.ritzpix.com, a website that requires sign-in)

 

By LEWIS NOLAN

 

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Nov. 19, 2007, Monday - In Vienna, Austria

 

Betty and I have toured several fabulous homes of the ultra rich and famous in the United States, including the Vanderbilt estate in Asheville, N.C. and the sprawling California spread built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.  But none

Max and Sonia Mittleman by Danube River

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compare to the colossal Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, home of such European rulers as the Empress Maria Theresa, Napoleon and Emperor Franz Josef. Schonbrunn has 1,400 rooms, of which 40 are open to tour.

 

TV's Rick Steves' guidebook says Schonbrunn is the best tour palace on the continent. It is located in the central part of Vienna in an area once reserved for royal hunting. The Hapsburg family was a dynasty that ruled much of central Europe from the 1700s until the end of World War I, when Austria was on the losing side and the family gave up its castles, titles and much of its wealth. Ironically, the family is still rich and  thrives in Austria, where it is heavily involved in international diplomacy. The Hapsburg name is still golden and the family is afforded many privileges by governments.

 

Here is what Steves has to say about Schonbrunn: "While the exterior is Baroque, the interior was finished under Maria Theresa (who became a beautiful, young empress after a political struggle) in let-them-choke Rococca. The chandeliers are either of hand-carved wood with gold-leaf gilding or of Bohemian crystal (the biggest room of the palace reminded me of the Venetian Room at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis on steroids). Thick walls hid the servants as they ran around stoking the ceramic stoves from the back and attending to other, behind-the-scenes matters. Most of the public rooms are decorated in neo-Europe, as they were under Franz Josef (reigned 1848-1916). When World War II bombs rained on the city and the palace grounds, the palace itself took only one direct hit, thankfully. That bomb, which crashed through three floors including the sumptuous central ballroom, was a dud. . ."

 

Walking through the front grounds of the palace from our tour bus gave me a sense of the long-gone royalty that once ruled Austria and

Betty by outdoor vegetable stand in Salzburg

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other European countries before the 20th Century Democracy movement pushed them into the dustbin of history. Maria Theresa had 16 children. One of them married a son of Napoleon. Her taste dominates the elegant style of the palace interior.

 

We were told about some of the oddities of the day. The royal guests were signaled the length of their welcome by the length of the hundreds of candles placed on chandeliers. The highest honor one could receive was for the monarch to walk precisely 21 steps to greet a visitor. Of course, the dozens (sometimes hundreds) of courtiers would carefully count the steps to ascertain the visitor's all-important status.

 

The "rules" were said to be well-known to the royalty and hangers-on, making it possible to tell if a visitor was "one of us" or a hick from the sticks.

 

After our tour, we had a nice lunch back at the boat. I went for a hot tuna sandwich with French fries, which helped satisfy an inner urge for American food.

 

We rode a shuttle bus from the boat's dock in an industrial area to central Vienna. The shuttle appeared after one of our fellow passengers squawked loudly about its surprise cancellation. We walked a short distance from the drop-off point to the Jewish Museum with a delightful, Jewish couple from Southern California, Max and Sonia Mittleman.

 

The museum's show, "Sex! Wilhelm Pol! Reich Energy!" was an interesting display about the work of Sigmond Freud's compatriot, William Reich. The star of Vienna's psychoanalysis community was born in 1897 and died in an American jail in 1957. A brochure said ". . .among the 1960's generation he enjoyed cult status as the father of the sexual revolution."

 

Also on display at the small museum were a series of poster-sized holographs about Jewish history and a big display of a collection of Judiaca that included 10,000 religious items assembled by a benefactor. Many had been recovered from synagogues burned by the Nazis during the 1930s and 1940s. Included were silver pieces that held candles, incense, torch crowns, Kiddush cups, Chanuka lamps and other ritual materials. I was surprised to learn that the Nazis didn't melt them down as they did a lot of European silver they expropriated.

 

We walked a few blocks to the ghostly, historic Judenplatz, a town square rich with history. An art gallery there featured the colorful paintings of a onetime inmate of the Auschwitz death camp. In the center of the square is a blockish, stone Holocaust Memorial in a place that was once occupied by a synagogue. Described by Steves as "a library turned inside out," the memorial symbolizes the murdered Jews as "people of the book." It is an attribute to the 65,000 Austrian Jews killed by the Nazis.

 

The Judenplatz Museum was founded with the help of the European Community government, global banks and American donors. It was built to look like a high-security, bank vault, with heavy, steel doors and arched concrete walkways. At its downstairs center are the excavated ruins of what are said to be the oldest synagogue in Europe that dates to 1221.

 

Since Christians were not allowed by early church doctrine to lend money, Jews became Europe's money lenders. As Steves quips, "When Viennese Christians fell too deeply into debt, they found a convenient cause to wipe out the ghetto - and their debts at the same time." There were a series of pograms over the centuries that killed thousands of Jews and served as a gruesome warmup to the Nazi horrors.

 

After our tour, we rode a taxi back to the boat for a little over 12 Euros. I had some very good broiled salmon for dinner and Betty had quiche Lorraine, which she judged to be the least pleasing meal of the trip.

 

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