Saturday, March 30, 2013


0309_4387-1 Otherwise known as Vienna.

The city's true name (in German) is Wien, which is pronounced like VEEN.  Say it in a loud, deep voice. We did, and continue to do so when we refer to our stop there.

Vienna sounds so pretty.  But VEEN?  Considerably less so.  It's just so... abrupt.  Matter of fact.  No nonsense.  Gold star to the Anglicized version of the city's name.


After leaving Salzburg we loaded up our rental car with our suitcases, our children, and 5,000 snacks for Caroline, and headed down the road to VEEN.  It should take a couple of hours, but we thought we'd go the scenic route through the Alps.  The backseat was not impressed.  But we did get to see this town, which was totally charming.

A few memorable things about Vienna:

I could die a happy person if I never left a Viennese coffee shop.  Most of them have a stately (if slightly shabby and comfortable) grandeur about them, with marble topped tables and high ceilings.  The atmospheres are low key and the servers expect you to stay awhile and enjoy your treats.  And they know what to do with espresso and milk.  Big time.  And the CAKE.  Sachertorte is the best known kind... chocolate sponge cake layered with apricot jam, and covered with dark chocolate icing.  And then you get a big dollop of whipped cream on the side.  So yes, I'd die a fat and happy person if I never left one of those shops.

Vienna is grand.  Old and grand and historic, and it's obvious that it was once the seat of major power and prestige.  After Austria found itself on the losing side of WW1, the city no longer holds the kind of status it once did.  But the incredible buildings and palaces and squares and churches remain.  They're incredible.

The Hapsburgs (former Holy Roman Emperors and rulers of Spain and Austria) are fascinating.  We so enjoyed learning a bit of their history, with the scandals and the wealth and the extraordinary power throughout Europe.  Their former home in central Vienna, Hofburg Palace, continues on for forever.  Building after impressive building.  I think many of them are museums and libraries now, in addition to government-related purposes.  What else do you do with such massive and amazing structures when your ruling family gets kicked out?

And when those Hapsburgs tired of city life each summer?  They'd head out to their summer palace, Schonbrunn.  With "only" 1441 rooms, it was the smaller of the two palaces, and has really incredible gardens.  It's often compared to Versailles in France.  But what's funny about it is that it's only a couple of miles away from The Hofburg, still very much in Vienna.

I just can't handle city life any more.  So I'm going to walk 20 minutes to my other palace.  In the same city.

Aside from power and prestige, the Hapsburgs are also widely known for inbreeding as a way to keep their positions secure.  Cousin to cousin.  Uncle to niece.  And the like.  Obviously, over time that can lead to some significant genetic problems. 

Rabbit trail alert: The most serious case of Hapsburg inbreeding came to a head with Carlos II of Spain in the 1700s.  I find his story fascinating, and I do realize it has very little to do with Vienna.  All eight of his great-grandparents were actually descendents of the same two people, leaving him physically and mentally disabled, and significantly disfigured.  His tongue was so big that his speech was difficult to decipher, and he had a major drooling problem to boot!  Not surprisingly, that strain of the Hapsburg line ended there. 

All of that to say, we felt that the family symbol, the double-headed eagle, was well chosen. 

Caroline is so young that the historical significance of the Hapsburgs, the grandeur of the palaces, and the various architectural styles around town are completely lost on her.  Yes, she's getting these fabulous European experiences.  But her priorities are stroller snacks, Hello Kitty gloves, Happy Meal toys, and open space to romp around.  To her, the incredible gardens of Schonbrunn are simply another park with grass, pigeons, and the opportunity to get out of the stroller to run around.  And she can enjoy Sachertorte with the best of 'em.

We love that.

We loved VEEN.


No comments: