A Stroll in Old Town

Wednesday, March 28, 2018 Road Junkies 0 Comments


Balkans & Beyond, Day 3:  Vienna, Austria.  When we awoke this morning just after 7:00, our bodies rebelled at being deprived of the opportunity to catch up a bit more rest after being awake and on the go for 36 hours.  So we turned over and slept another couple of hours, with the deadline for breakfast service overriding any inclination to linger longer.

By the time we got organized for the day and finished blogging yesterday's adventure, it was a leisurely 1:30 pm before we left the hotel.  Walking east on Schottenring, we soon stumbled upon the Bionista restaurant.  Their streetside sign promising healthy food lured us inside for lunch.  Focusing on flavorful dishes created from organic ingredients, the menu was much to our liking, as was the service and food.  Pots of aromatic herbs in the dining room enhanced the ambiance.
Light rain was falling when we left the restaurant in search of a special address on a nearby street called Esslinggasse (Esslingen Alley).  Though it is now in Vienna's central city, the region was considered suburban in the Middle Ages.  Yes, Vienna has been around for a while.  In fact, the city was first mentioned in historical documents in 881 AD.  In the 13th century, city walls were built around what was then Vienna, and what later became Esslinggasse lay beneath a section of the fortification.

By the middle of the 19th century, the walls had become obsolete and the growing city desperately needed room to expand.  In 1857, Emperor Franz Josef I ordered the demolition of city walls and moats.  A grand boulevard was to replace the walls, and adjacent areas were leveled and divided into lots for building.
Esslinggasse in 1870  (photo from Vienna Wiki  www.wien.gv.at)
In 1869, the street called Esslinggasse was established and named for the 1809 Battle of Aspern and Essling in which the Austrian army handed Napoleon a stunning defeat.  This lane was only a few decades old when Ken's paternal grandparents bought an apartment in one of its stately buildings shortly before they welcomed their only son into the world.
Esslinggasse in 2018
Today the building houses businesses rather than families, and visitors must be buzzed in by an occupant to enter.  Since we were unsure which business made its home in what used to be the family apartment, we did not have an opportunity to explore the interior.

After visiting the old homestead, we strolled through the Innere Stadt (inner city), Vienna's 1st Municipal District, bounded by the Ringstrasse, Franz Josef's wide tree-lined avenue which replaced the old city walls.  Eventually our wanderings led us to St. Stephen's Cathedral at the heart of the old city.  Towering above the streets of the city center since the twelfth century, Stephansdom (as it is known in German) was consecrated in 1147.  In 1359, the ruling monarch ordered the complete restructuring of the church in the Gothic style.    
A proud symbol of both Vienna and Austria, Stephansdom has survived numerous sieges and attacks and served as location for many important events in Austrian history.  Mozart's funeral was held there in 1791, and some remains of Austria's royal family members are sheltered in the catacombs below the church.
Imperial crypt with royal entrails
Though millions visit Stephansdom annually, few make the pilgrimage down the narrow, dimly lit tunnels to the vast crypt hidden below the cathedral.  According to our subterranean tour guide, Max, the remains of more than 11,000 people lie beneath the sanctuary's stone floors.  Two special crypts house members of Austria's Hapsburg royal family and Vienna's bishops and archbishops.  Though the clerics were buried in tact, the Hapsburgs preferred to spread themselves around.  Their bodies were mummified after internal organs were removed.  The royal hearts reside at the local Church of the Augustin Friars, and the bodies in burial vaults below the Capuchin Church.  Other organs rest in bronze urns stored in the barred niches in the Stephansdom crypt (in the photo above).
Also on the tour was a dungeon-like chamber with the skeletal remains of 600 victims of the Great Plague.  Deaths were so numerous and rapid that one large pit was opened and used as a shared grave.  Later, when the stench of so many decomposing corpses threatened to disrupt services in the cathedral, prisoners were sent below to divide the skeletons into manageable pieces, clean the bones and stack them neatly, a task which was never completed.
Above all the gloom and doom sits the magnificent baroque interior of the cathedral.  The main section houses six chapels and 18 altars, much of which has been lovingly restored in a major project completed last year.
An elevator lift to the viewing platform of the north tower led to impressive views over the central city. The loveliest vistas included parts of the cathedral itself.  Back at ground level, we walked the mile or so to our hotel and called it a day.

Tomorrow we'll visit Vienna's misnamed Central Cemetery, seven miles outside the city center.

    •  Started in:  Vienna, Austria
    •  Ended in:  Vienna
    •  Miles walked:  5.8
    •  Weather:  32° to 50°, overcast to light rain
St. Stephen's Stats  
    •  Height:  448 ft
    •  Length:  351 ft.
    •  Width:  230 ft.
    •  Towers:  4
    •  Bells:  13
    •  Annual visitors:  3 million
    •  Tiles on roof:  230,000

Loved:  Being able to walk down the street where Ken's father strolled as a boy more than 100 years ago.

Lacking:  More time to explore after a late start.

Learned:  That being a prisoner in medieval Vienna could lead to some really noxious punishment.

More Photos from Today
At his dad's old home in Vienna
Journaling while waiting for lunch
With Easter coming up, tulips are everywhere in Vienna too.
The majestic Stephansdom 
Neatly stacked in back, not so much in front 
On Stephansdom observation deck
Sweeping views of the city from the observation deck
Love locks are no respecters of history, here on the cathedral observation deck.