At just before midnight on May 4, I boarded an Austrian Airlines flight to Vienna along with 60 colleagues, dealers, and their family members. We spent seven days and six nights in Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary enjoying the sights and sampling some of their best wines and foods.
Our flight landed at Flughafen Wien-Schwechat, the Vienna International Airport (point A on map below), around 6 a.m. on Sunday. After clearing customs and gathering our luggage, we boarded the largest bus in Hungary — a double-decker that seats 77 people — for a short-ride to the Ambassador Hotel in the Neuer Markt section of Vienna, less than a quarter of a mile from the Hofburg Palace. Although we arrived too early to check in to our rooms, the hotel provided a marvelous breakfast for the group in one of its function rooms.
After breakfast we had about 90 minutes to wander through central Vienna before we reboarded the bus for a one-hour ride south to Eisenstadt (B). Here, we first toured the Esterházy Palace and then ended the day at the Esterházy Winery.
On Monday, our itinerary took us to the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna (C) and then to Vrakúň, Slovakia (D) where we had dinner and spent the night. On Tuesday, we made our first stop in Hungary at the Pannonhalma Archabbey (E). After a traditional Hungarian lunch in Pannonhalma, we rode down to Tihany, a peninsula in Lake Balaton, where a ferry took us across the largest lake in Central Europe. Our destination was the Konyári Winery (F) located in the hills above the southern shore of Lake Balaton. János Konyári, the owner of the vineyard and Hungary’s winemaker of the year in 2008, hosted a dinner and wine tasting and we then proceeded to Hertelendy Kastély (G) where we stayed through mid-afternoon on Wednesday.
On Wednesday afternoon, our gigantic motorcoach made its way to the small wine-making town of Villány (H) in far southern Hungary, about 10 miles north of Croatia, where we stayed at the Gere Hotel and Wine Spa and toured Attila Gere’s Winery. After breakfast on Thursday, we headed north to Eytek (I) and ultimately to central Budapest (J) where we took a nearly three-hour dinner cruise on the Danube. On Friday, we began the day with a walking/shopping tour in Budapest before going to the Lázár Equestarian Park (K) where we ate lunch and then watched a fascinating display of Hungarian horsemanship. Later that evening, we went to the Torley winery where we had a tour of its cellars and then dinner. Along the way to the airport on Saturday, we had another Hungarian lunch at Sari Csárda (L) and then stopped at an outlet mall in Parndorf, Austria (M) for even more shopping.
Vienna, the capital of Austria and its largest city, is simply stunning from historical, cultural, and architectural perspectives. As home to Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Bruckner, Brahms, and Mahler, Vienna’s musical heritage is second to none. The buildings are generally low-rise — most under eight stories — but richly designed and highly ornate, while the streets and gardens are replete with statues and fountains.
The Kärntner Straße is a half-mile pedestrian walkway from Vienna’s State Opera House (Wiener Staatsoper) at the southern end to St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) on the northern end. Construction of the Noe-Renaissance-style opera house began in 1863 and the first performance, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, took place in 1869 with Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife, the Empress Elizabeth (Sisi), in attendance. Although the building suffered extensive damage from Allied bombs near the end of World War II, it was rebuilt and reopened in 1955.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the mother church of Austria and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. The first church on this site was built in 1137, but much of it was destroyed by a fire in 1258. A second church was built after the fire and additions were added for the next 250 years. The cathedral was also damaged during the war, not by bombs but instead by fires that were set by looters as the Germans retreated and the Russians entered the city.
The limestone cathedral is 350 feet long and 131 feet wide. The 445 foot tall south tower and the multi-colored tile roof make this one of Vienna’s most recognizable landmarks. Catacombs with the remains of over 11,000 people are located at the northern edge of the church.
The cathedral’s original pulpit, called the Capistran Chancel, is now located outside at the entrance to the underground tombs. It was from this pulpit that Giovanni da Capistrano, a Franciscan friar, and János Hunyadi, a Hungarian general, preached a crusade in 1456 to raise an army to assist Belgrade in repelling the siege by the Ottoman Turks. Above the pulpit is an 18th century statue of St. Francis standing atop a defeated Muslim Turk.
One of the most prominent pieces of sculpture in the city is the plague column, or Pestsäule, on Graben, a high-end pedestrian mall near Stephansdom. In 1679, Emperor Leopold I vowed to build a mercy column if God would end the epidemic afflicting the city. The Baroque sculpture, inaugurated in 1693, depicts a tower of angels in clouds above the coat of arms of the Hungarian Empire.
From 1279 through 1918, the Hofburg Palace was the center of the House of Habsburg, the dynasty that included the Holy Roman Emperors; the Kings of Romans, Hungary, Bohemia, Spain, Portugal, and Galicia and Lodomeria; the Dukes and Archdukes of Austria; and the Grand Prince of Transylvania. In 1938, Hitler proclaimed the political annexation of Austria into the Third Reich from the palace’s New Castle wing. The palace is currently the official residence of the president of Austria as well as home to several museums, the Spanish Riding School and its famed Lipizzaner stallions, churches, the national library, and a convention center. It would take the better part of a day, which unfortunately we did not have, to tour these large and magnificent buildings and gardens.
The remains of 145 members of the Habsburg dynasty, including those of Franz Joseph, Maria Theresa, Sisi, and 11 other emperors and 16 other empresses, are entombed in the crypt beneath the modest-looking Capuchin Church in nearby Neuer Markt Square.
While walking in Sala Daeng the other day, I came upon an interesting, retro-looking, two-door convertible that I had never seen before. The car turned out to be a Nissan Figaro; Nissan made only 20,000 of these in 1991 and all were initially sold in Japan but then exported as used vehicles to other right-hand drive countries such as the UK and, evidently, Thailand.
The Figaro was built on the Nissan Micra platform with a one liter engine that produces 75 horsepower, 78 lb.-feet of torque, and a top speed of 106 mph. The 1,800 pound vehicle came equipped with a 3 speed automatic transmission, leather seating, air conditioning, two cup holders, and a CD player. The middle-section of car’s top retracts into the trunk while the side sections around the windows remain in place. Surprisingly, the car has four seats — two in the front and two in the rear that are apparently for small children, midgets, or double amputees.
Leviathan: Incompetent or Corrupt? Yes.
For those of you who remember the late 1960’s television show Hogan’s Heroes, we now seem to have the Sgt. Schultz Administration! Unfortunately, this is not a comedy but a tragedy, not just for the four Americans killed in Benghazi but also for the American people.
Kop Khun Krab, Danke, Ďakujem, and Köszönöm.
© 2013 Kurt Brown. All rights reserved.