The Hapsburg Empire, that is. We just returned from a trip to the land of Austrians, Slovaks and Hungarians, each of whom claimed the center of power at one time or another in centuries past. Each is very proud of their place in history, and some are still reconstructing their former glory after decades of Nazi and Soviet occupation.
We began our journey in Vienna, where we were pleasantly surprised to find this view of Stephansplatz Cathedral out our hotel window! Chock full of history, it is now the modern city central, with the convergence of the entire Ubahn system steps from our door.
It turned out all kinds of things happen outside our door, including this unexpected parade for Corpus Christi, featuring the Bishop, a brass band, and…shhhhhhhhh! The “secret people,” members of the Knight’s Templar. The band played on rotary trumpets and European style rotary euphoniums.
And then there were these clever electric bicycle taxis that scurried around the Platz like a bunch of bugs, competing for crumbs from the tourists.
Our master plan was to meet up with Mike Hankins, somewhere on the vast Haspburg estate of Schonbrunn Palace for an outdoor concert of the Vienna Philharmonic. Amazingly, we found him amongst about 140,000 other music lovers. Yo was thrilled to hear the incredible flute solo in Ravel’s Daphne and Chloe and we were captivated by the Labeque sisters who played a mean Poulenc double piano concerto, with gusto.
You are constantly reminded of the grandeur of old in the stately architecture and museums, of which there are many. We spent a day checking out the Secessionists at the Leopold Museum, where we were pleased to discover Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka in the midst of the more familiar Gustav Klimt.
Yo had a special interest in the architecture of the period so we sought out some of the prime examples of Jugendstil, the Austrian version of Art Nouveau.
Fast forward to the modern world. We discovered a gem in the Haus Der Musik Museum, a contrasting combination of techno sound exhibits and experiences and special rooms devoted to the Vienna Philharmonic and old world masters who lived or played in Wein.
But the best of all was the interactive exhibit where you can conduct the Vienna Philharmonic! You select from 1 of 4 pieces, and a video/audio tape of the orchestra is synchronized with the baton. You control the tempo and dynamics with your movements, in what seems like real time. If you mess up too badly, the orchestra will stop and give you tongue-lashing (in German, with subtitles), which happened to me on the first round.
The Austrians love their music, art and architecture, all of which could take years to explore properly, but it was time for us to move on. We headed to the train station, a very clean, modern shopping mall with trains, where all of my luggage was promptly STOLEN.
Stay tuned…for Episode 2!