Friday, June 7, 2013

Vienna: Castle Day

Upper Belvedere Palace
Germany and Austria are home to many castles and palaces that were once home to royalty and dignitaries.  Many of these exquisite buildings are now museums (none of which we went inside because we were in a hurry to see as much as we possibly could).  We dubbed our second, and last, full day in Vienna: Castle Day.

Before heading out to see the castles, we went up to Kahlenberg, a mountain located in the 19th district of Vienna, for a view of the entire city.  Kahlenberg is 484 meters high and lies in the northeastern foothills of the Eastern Alps.  The mountain lies in the Vienna Forest (Wienerwald), and was once home to numerous wild pigs (at one point it was actually called Schweinsberg, or Pig Mountain).

View of Austria from Kahlenberg on a Foggy Morning
The first castle that we visited, Schloss Schonbrunn (Schonbrunn Palace), is one of the most important monuments in all of Austria.  It boasts 1,441 rooms, and was once a Rococo summer residence.

Schonbrunn Palace from the Front.  As is the case with many of the palaces, the Schonbrunn's true beauty lies behind the castle, in the garden.

There are many sculptures in the Schonbrunn Garden, but none more magnificent than the Neptune Fountain, the crowning jewel of the Great Parterre (Schonbrunn Garden).  At the time we visited, the Garden had only been partially planted for the summer season.  Standing at the back of the palace and looking across the garden, visitors can see the Neptune Fountain at the bottom of a 60 meter hill, capped by the Gloriette (originally the palace was to be built on top of the hill).  From the fountain, visitors can see the view of the Great Parterre looking back towards the palace or the view of the Gloriette looking up the hill.

View of the Palace and Garden
Palace View from Hill

The hill up to the Gloriette was very steep (see photo above, looking towards the palace from halfway up the hill).  Maria Theresa wanted the Gloriette to be built to glorify the Habsburg Power and the Just War, and to use "otherwise useless stone" left over from the partial demolition of Schloss Neugebaude. Today Gloriette offers a cafe and a beautiful view of Vienna from it's highest point.

View from the Top of Gloriette:  Schonbrunn with the City of Vienna in the Background.
The Schonbrunn may be the biggest tourist attraction in the City of Vienna, but I actually preferred the second castle that we visited, Belvedere Palace.  The Belvedere actually consists of two Baroque palaces, the upper and lower Belvedere.

Upper Belvedere
Garden overlooking the Lower Belvedere, with the city in the background.
Prince Eugene of Savoy purchased the plot of the land that the Lower Belvedere was built on in 1697.  He was later able to purchase more of the surrounding land to add to the garden and build the Upper Belvedere.  Records indicate that construction on the upper palace began as early as 1712.

Foutain in the Belvedere Garden
Upper Belvedere
Looking toward Lower Belvedere

That evening, we went to the Wiener Philharmoniker (Vienna Philharmonic) to see the Muncher Symphoniker (Munich Symphony).


After the concert, we took the train back to Stephansplatz for ice cream on our last night in Vienna.

If you're planning a trip to Vienna, the trains are a great way to get around.  Our hotel, Hotel Lenas, was directly across the street from the Alser Strasse Station.  Hotel Lenas was not a 5-star experience, but it was decent, budget-friendly hotel (I read some negative reviews, but it seems that those reviewers were expecting to receive more than they paid for).

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