The day started nice and early when our alarm clock for reasons known only to itself, decided to go off at midnight. It is a rather strange clock and so I could not figure out how to make it shut off. I could also not make the little light over the bed work so I could see enough without my contacts in to figure out how to turn it off. I finally figured out how to turn on the light, but still couldn’t turn off the alarm. I just started hitting buttons and finally was able to turn it off.

During the night, we moved from one docking space to another and we woke to a different port of call. This one is closer to the center of the city. At least it is closer to the UN. Yes, I said the UN. The UN has four points of presence in the world. There is the one in New York City, one in Switzerland, one in Nairobi, and one here in Vienna. The Viennese built the building and rent it to the United Nations. They signed a lease for 99 years back in the 1970s so there is still time on it. They rent it out for a symbolic 1 shilling per year. However, there are no longer any shillings and so the rent is 0,13 Euro per year.

Some funny stuff about being here. Instead of a decimal point between the Euro and the cents, there is a comma. So something that is $1.50 in America would be written as €1,50 here (assuming an even exchange rate – so just work with me here). This is very disconcerting when you are asking for a couple hundred Euro from the ATM. €200,00 just looks too much like $20,000 to these old eyes and yet is such a huge difference.

The electricity is different and we expected that. To turn on a light, you push down on the switch and to turn it off, you push up. Didn’t expect that part.

Vienna is known for its coffee shops and all things coffee and yet, they have a lot of instant coffee around here and my American sensibilities aren’t quite all that pleased. I do have the ability to make my own coffee using real coffee and my travel mug French press. Thank goodness I brought this along.

After breakfast today we met together as our larger group and we are the red group on this tour. We then boarded a bus and took a bus tour of the city along the Ring Road, where the city walls used to be and is now the ring encasing the center of the city. There are many “historic” buildings here, but they aren’t as old as the building in the center of town because the city walls were only torn down about 150 years ago.

Greek style building. The builder became so famous for his work, he eventually could afford a mansion on the road here for himself.

Greek style building. The builder became so famous for his work, he eventually could afford a mansion on the road here for himself.


Even though there are more than 365 churches in Vienna, this is not one of them. This is the town hall.

Even though there are more than 365 churches in Vienna, this is not one of them. This is the town hall.

This was the place to be and many of these large buildings now housing entire hotels were where the aristocracy once lived. They are fabulous building elaborately decorated and massive. There are enough churches in Vienna to visit a different one each day. The city is 70% nominally Roman Catholic although not that many actual practitioners. There are over 350 Catholic churches here and about 25 more Protestant ones.

We drove around Ring Road and then wended our place back to the cathedral. It was crappy weather out there, snowing, cloudy, cold. Our pictures from yesterday were much nicer. We began there and slowly walked for about an hour. We saw the church, the fancy monument I took pictures of yesterday were commemorating the 16 waves of plague that took about ¼ of the city’s population in just a matter of weeks.

We were shown the actual palace and many of the buildings accreted as time and power increased. We were lucky enough to see some of the famous horses kept at the palace. We saw the opera house in there, too. I wish I could remember more of the stories, but they are already fading.

Part of the Winter Palace complex consisting of many, many buildings - each more lovely than the one before.

Part of the Winter Palace complex consisting of many, many buildings – each more lovely than the one before.

This is one of the special horses that are coddled and trained and we weren't supposed to be able to see, but we were there at the exact perfect time to see them walked out of their stalls.

This is one of the special horses that are coddled and trained and we weren’t supposed to be able to see, but we were there at the exact perfect time to see them walked out of their stalls.

After an hour of walking, we were once again in the bus and able to warm up. We drove the 3.5 miles from the winter palace to the summer palace – a distance that was too far for the help to travel back when they were both being built. We also saw the Belvedere Castle, a third Habsburg  castle.

We learned a great bit of Viennese history as well as the history of the Habsburg  family, legitimate and illegitimate alike.

Maria Teresa was a Habsburg  daughter and her father had no sons. So he had to make a new rule that his daughter would be good enough to follow him in his rule. She was not, however, permitted to be called Empress because it still took a man to lead. Her husband was the leader, but he wasn’t allowed to rule and she was the de facto ruler. She did call herself Empress, but it was an affectation beloved by the populace as well as herself.

Statue of Maria Teresa

Statue of Maria Teresa

She had sixteen children who spread out across Europe, marrying into families of wealth and power. Back then, pregnant women were off limits for conjugal visits so it was common for the husbands/fathers to find a girlfriend during this time because for the love of all that is holy, they surely could not abstain. So Mr. Maria Teresa had about fifty kids. That is counting all of Maria Teresa’s children as his offspring but apparently there was a lot more bed hopping back then and who can tell for sure?

When Napoleon was rampaging through Europe, he was unsuccessful in Vienna due to the skill and power of the Habsburg  family, but he was encroaching on the region. His own wife, Josephine, was too old to bear him children and he needed a legitimate heir. It is supposed, at least by me, that he had the other kind of offspring elsewhere. But he ended up marrying one of the Habsburg  clan and the wedding was held here at the Habsburg  winter palace church – which has its own name but I have no idea what it is right now.

Anyway, the bride was 15 years old and had grown up calling Napoleon the Antichrist and having nothing in the way of fondness for the ruler. Now, in an effort to garner favor with man, she was given to him in order to give him a legitimate heir. Napoleon was a bit too busy to show up here in Vienna for something as frivolous as a wedding so a proxy was used. This was not abnormal.

However, the bride’s cousin was chosen as the proxy. He was the man who had led the armies against Napoleon and bested the man in war. Therefore, the two people standing at the altar were not in any way feeling at all benevolent toward the missing groom.

The daughter went off, met Napoleon enough to produce a son. The child was only a toddler when Daddy ended up exiled. Napoleon thought his loving family should go off to exile with him. Mother and child returned to Vienna and were apparently much happier away from Antichrist Napoleon.

During World War II, most of the bridges were destroyed as the war was coming to an end. That meant that there were lots of bombs dropped near the Danube. That also meant that many of the historic buildings near the river were damaged in the bombings. St. Stephen’s Cathedral was not hit by bombs but the reason there are newer buildings across the street is because some of them were hit.

That did not protect the cathedral completely. Sparks from the fires from the bombed buildings moved in the wind and roof of the cathedral caught fire. The roof was completely destroyed, but sandstone does not burn and the cathedral itself was saved. Most of the stained glass windows, however, were also lost at the time. A famous local glass maker donated the replacement windows which is why the many windows are made of pastel crystal – beautiful but not like the old few remaining stained glass windows that were not destroyed up near the altar.

Also kind of freaky, beneath the altar are vessels containing some of the vital organs of the Habsburg  family members are stored. There are relics of the true cross there, as well.

Cool story from the Schonbrunn castle. During World War II, the castle grounds were hit by many bombs, only 20% of which actually exploded. I’m not sure who was dropping the bombs as that was never mentioned. Anyway, only one bomb hit the castle itself (now no longer a regal dwelling as the aristocracy was dissolved at the end of World War I in 1918). It hit the roof and did not explode.

We were in the rooms where the bomb had lodged in the roof. There are huge ceiling frescos of magnificent artwork. This is the only place in the entire castle of over 1000 rooms where there is a military theme in the art. And this is where the bomb hit.

Belvedere Castle was built by a Frenchman who game to help the Habsburg  defeat the Turks. He was not a powerful man in France and yet may have been the illegitimate son of the king. He met up with the Habsburg s who needed any help they could get. Even though the man was small, sickly, slightly built and with a humpback, he was welcomed aboard. He arrived at the age of 18 and without any money. By the time he died, he was still ugly and hunchbacked, still just five feet tall and not beautiful, but he was rich and had eight castles to his name. He had never married (apparently there are some things money can’t buy) and left his holdings to his unmarried 52 year old ugly cousin.

She was luckier (or maybe straighter) than her cousin and it wasn’t long before a young man “fell in love” with her and married her (money). He was a gambler and within a few short years, she was selling off castles to pay his gambling debts. That is how Belvedere Castle came into the possession of the Habsburg family.

Another story: There was only one bridge in all of Vienna that was not damaged or destroyed during the World War II bombings. A few years after the war, the bridge collapsed. Fortunately, it was in the middle of the night and only one car and one bus were on the bridge. The water was not too high at the time. The driver of the car was killed in the disaster, but the bus survived and was not submerged by the water. When the bus driver was rescued after the wreck, he was found on top of his bus smoking a cigarette, becoming a famous person for his unflappable demeanor.

Tonight was the Captain’s Dinner and they plied us with champagne to meet the captain and the crew and then served us a five course dinner. I’m stuffed and can hardly move.