Vienna: St. Stephens, Belvedere & Wandering Aimlessly

Add another city to the list of places I’ve been. Vienna.

I arrived today after an overnight flight from Toronto. Fortunately, my hotel room was ready for me when I arrived because “freshening up” was definitely in order.

Being in somewhat of a daze, I started off by doing my favourite thing to do in cities, wandering around aimlessly. My hotel is in the inner ring of the city, which is composed of mostly older buildings. (Older relative to Toronto, but they don’t seem to me to be particularly old for a European city.)

Judengasse
Judengasse

My rambling started on a disconcerting note. I found that the name of the street running alongside my hotel is “Judengasse.” That’s a picture of a street sign on the right.

I know that the “S”s look like “f”s and it looks like two words—Juden Gasse—but it’s not. According to my map it is Judengasse.

I was thrown into a a bit of a panic until I consulted Google Translate. It tells me that “gasse” is German for “alley.”

Gasse apparently has nothing to do with what I feared it meant, gas. That’s fortunate because the only translation Google Translate provides for “Juden” is the one you expect, Jews.

A Mix of Street Types

The streets in the inner ring of Vienna are a mixture of both narrow and wide pedestrian-only streets, wide vehicular thoroughfares with average-sized sidewalks, and a few streets where cars, cyclists and pedestrians each have their own generous realms. I saw many streets with segregated bicycle lanes, but, surprisingly, not a lot of bicycles.

The following are a few pictures from my aimless wandering. I’m not sure if it’s obvious, but the second-last one is a clock. It’s mounted on a connecting bridge between two buildings. The hour appears in roman numerals and it points to the minute. Very cool.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

I visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a huge gothic church. The tour book I’m using (Rick Steves Vienna, Salzburg &Tirol) said that one of its highlights was its “impressive exterior.” My impression of the exterior was meh. That might be because there was some scaffolding up in a few sections. And much of the stonework could do with a good cleaning. A few of the stones were a light grey, but most were almost jet black.

Banners hid much of the scaffolding. It appears that Samsung is the official sponsor of St. Stephen. Or of god. The signage didn’t say. But there were some big Samsung ads hung on the church, and a couple of electronic displays inside that proudly proclaimed that Samsung provided the technology.

While I wasn’t thrilled with the exterior, the interior of St. Stephen’s Cathedral is gorgeous. I’m not very skilled at describing these sorts of things, so look at the pictures below.

A temporary art installation called “Sky of Stones” adorned the interior of the church. The exhibit consisted of what looked like hundreds of rocks suspended from the ceiling, spanning almost half the cathedral. The rocks hung from wires thin enough to be difficult to be seen.

There were seats under the rocks, but not for heathen tourists, such as me. The seats were reserved for worshippers. There was a service going on when I was there, so some worshippers sat under rocks.

I hope, rather than real rocks, they were replicas made from something light like styrofoam because, did I mention they were hung by what looked like little more than threads? In the off-chance that they were indeed real, heavy rocks, the only way I’d sit under them is if I:

  1. believed in god,
  2. thought praying works, and
  3. believed that, if god exists, he isn’t out to get me.

None of those are true for me.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral has two towers. The shorter north tower has an elevator to get you to the top. The taller south tower has 343 steps and no elevator. I chose the south tower. My Fitbit, which counts only ascents, not descents, tells me I’ve already climbed 49 flights of stairs today.

My impression of the view from the top of the south tower is that Vienna looks much better from street level than from up high.

Here are some pictures of the exterior, interior and a view from the tower:

Belvedere Palace

I also went to Belvedere Palace. Actually, it’s a compound that includes two palaces. There’s a grand upper palace and a smaller, but still fairly grand lower palace, with a large garden between them.

Belvedere Palace originally belonged to Prince Eugene of Savoy, who was born in 1663 and died in 1736. According to Rick Steves, Prince Eugene was “considered too short and too ugly to be in the service of Louis XIV.” (None of my former bosses had the standards of Louis XIV. If they did, they obviously wouldn’t have hired me.)

Because he couldn’t work for Louis XIV, Prince Eugene offered his services to the Hapsburgs, for whom he conquered the Ottomans. Considering the grandeur of the palaces, conquering cities seems to be a very lucrative job, not that I’d recommend it as a career path for today’s youth.

The two palaces now house art galleries. The lower palace hosts temporary exhibits, while the upper palace houses the permanent exhibits. The lower palace also has a couple of historical rooms decorated as they would have been at the time of Prince Eugene. The dude really knew how to live. I guess he needed a place to relax and put up his feet after conquering cities.

I’m not an art gallery kind of guy, but I went in because they offered a seniors’ discount. How could I refuse?

The garden between the two palaces is quite large. There’s no charge to enter it.

Here are some pictures of the lower palace, the historical rooms, the gardens and the upper palace.

A Tangential Aside

In German, Vienna is Wien. This reminds me of something I’ve never understood. (Just to be clear, there are an astronomical to the power of a gazillion number of things I don’t understand, but one is salient at the moment. Why do some cities have different names in their native language than in other languages that use the same alphabet? (Yes, I know Vienna isn’t the only city where this is the case—Venezia, Roma and Firenze come quickly to mind.)

My anglo tongue can pronounce Wien. Why don’t we call it the same as the locals? It seems respectful to me to call their city what they call it.

I could understand if we used phonetic spelling rather than the local spelling. That way, us foreigners would be less likely to butcher the pronunciation beyond recognition (I’m an expert butchering foreign language pronunciation beyond recognition). So Wien might be Veen in English. Although, if we follow that rule, we’d have to spell Paris “Paree.”

Never mind. Sometimes weird thoughts occupy my mind and hold it hostage.

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