Vienna is an awe-inspiring city. It is comparable to Paris in its importance to the culture and in its size. It is also Paris-like in its numbers of bronze monuments. It does not, however, have a tall iron tower dominating the skyline.
I arrived in Vienna and was just amazed. I walked down to the old city from the pension I was staying in and just could not believe what I saw. The Habsburgs were the Holy Roman Emperors for nearly a thousand years before Napoleon wiped out the HRE with a stroke of the pen in 1806. After that, Francis II submitted his resume and became Francis I of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which is where the Habsburgs hung their hat until the end of that messy business we now call WWI. See, they lost a war in 1806 and then in 1918, but the skills they had in 1918 didn't really match the market. But because of the long-running musical "Those Wacky Emperors" that played in Vienna, the Habsburgs were able to construct an absolutely huge "Hofburg" (palace) right smack dab in the middle of town. I mean, this thing is just enormous. The Austrian Republic now operates out of there. The president of Austria has his office there and the government seems to fit inside it with room to spare. The original 1285 fortress still exists as a part of the central structure, too. Amazing. The Hofburg contains the crown jewels, too, which are stunning. Nothing like the British crown jewels, but pretty bitchin', anyway.
As old as Vienna is, though, the Roman settlement upon which the foundations rest is older, but not much is left of that. There is a very interesting exhibit right outside one of the gates of the burg that shows, all in about 1000 sq ft, the roman, medieval and enlightenment ages settlements, including sewage and wells and a bunch of other stuff.
To me, the most amazing thing about this is how matter-of-factly this is handled. "And here are the foundations of a Roman house", like it's not a big deal. Maybe it isn't...
Easily the most impressive structures in this part of the city are the matching pair of buildings that house the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History) and the Naturhistorisches (Natural History) Museum. These two buildings are, well, huge and in the middle is a, well, huge bronze memorial to Maria Theresa, the patron saint, mother of all emperors and the original Viennese and Austro-Hungarian Empire pop culture icon, who also happens to be the mother of Marie Antoinette. Maria Theresa is surrounded by all sorts of fauning men and women (in bronze) who are mounted on great steeds and seem to look down at you and proclaim, "Ha! Mere pleb! Out of the way, you unworthy cur!!!"
The Kunst is a great museum, since, afterall, they inherited all of this crap from the various royal families the Habsburgs married into. Maria Theresa had 16 kids, all but 2 or 3 survived into adulthood. Can you imagine what the courts of Europe thought every time she got pregnant? "Oh, Jesus! Now we have to marry another Habsburg!!!"
But, without a doubt, the greatest thing about Vienna is the Summer Festival they have every summer in the Rathausplatz (you know what that means, check my Munich letter). The platz is used for food stands and a huge movie screen upon which they show laser disc movies of operas and symphonies. When I was there they showed "Rigoletto" one night and Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Phil in Beethoven's 4th and 5th Symphonies the next.
This isn't for just a week, nor for a few weeks; it goes on all summer! The food stands are open for 6 or 7 hours every night and they show movies every night, rain or shine for 2 months.
How cool is that, eh?
Food was not really an experience for me; I wasn't there very long and so I had dinner at the food stands. I had a wienerschnitzel one night and lasagne the other. Lunch was out of my backpack. Beer was in existence at the food stands and so I had a pint (well, .5 liter) of various beers.
The Schoenbrunn is the summer palace on the outskirts of town and is, well, huge. It is gorgeous and definitely worth the money for the tour. It sits on an enormous grounds, all perfectly manicured and fountained. It reminded me of Versailles.
I also walked all over the city, through the alleyways and backstreets, guided by my trusty Let's Go. I saw the only remaining synagogue (the others were destroyed during Kristallnacht) as well as some very charming churches, squares and monuments.
One would need at least 3 days to really take all of it in. I mean, I wasn't even able to walk past Freud's house, let alone lay on the couch for a while.
I think the outstanding memory I have of Vienna is the college girls in their panties. Oh wait, that was Munich. Never mind!