Tag Archives: churches

St. Stephan’s Cathedral

St. Stephan’s Cathedral, aka Stephansdom, is the seat of the Roman Catholic diocese of Vienna and an important historical landmark. The cathedral is open for visitation throughout the day, but guided tours are only offered between services. The visitor can choose an all-inclusive tour (warning: the only English-language cathedral tour is Monday-Saturday at 10:3o), or can pick and choose which parts of the cathedral they want to see a la carte.

We visited the cathedral today and chose to do the tour of the catacombs (Euro 5 per adult) and climb to the top of the south tower (Euro 5 per adult). The catacomb tour was in both English and German, and handouts in additional languages were available at the beginning of the tour. The tour lasted about 30 minutes and shed some light on the more macabre parts of Vienna’s history: for example, visitors view a room where the walls are made of skeletal remains that were cleaned and stacked by inmates as part of their prison sentence.

Photography was not allowed during this tour, as the catacombs continue to be used primarily as a cemetery. The tour guide was very enthusiastic about the topic and was willing to answer any questions, so if you are shameless about asking questions (as I am) you can learn a lot beyond the canned spiel. The tour was well worth the price.

Next for us was the 343-stair climb to the top of the cathedral’s south tower. The staircase was very narrow (and two-way), made of stone, and spiraled the entire way to the top. I personally would not have attempted to do this climb with either my young children or parents, and it is definitely not handicap-accessible. (There is an elevator to the top of the bell tower, though, so stroller- or wheelchair-bound people can still get to the top of the cathedral.)

View from the top

View from the top

When you get to the top of the tower, you are rewarded with amazing panorama views of the city. There are signs over the windows orienting you to the compass points, and each window has a telescope to enhance viewing (Euro 0,50). There are also German-language signs that give additional history of the tower itself, as well as a somewhat tacky souvenir stand. Again, I thought this experience was well worth the price.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

  • Visit the cathedral’s website for complete details of the guided tours.
  • Read the Wikipedia article on the cathedral for additional background on the building and its history.

 

A Weekend in Krakow

Last weekend we made a quick trip to Krakow, Poland. By “quick,” I mean with several detours!

So, my first piece of advice if you are thinking about driving up is to check the route carefully. Don’t depend on GPS. While ours did function in Poland, it seemed pretty confused!  But, the main problem was in Austria. There is a big piece of highway missing between Vienna and the Czech border, which means a lengthy detour on local roads. Once we got into the Czech Republic, the roads were great. Then, soon after crossing the Polish border, we got diverted again, and the roads were not all in good shape. I would say the trip took  at least an hour longer than Google Maps had predicted.

On the way back, we headed due south at Brno toward Bratislava, then jogged over to the main highway on local Austrian roads. This worked much better: though we couldn’t do highway speeds, the roads were smooth, there were no traffic lights, and the scenery was beautiful. So, I’d recommend that route rather than going straight north. And, invest in a map!

Anyway, we stayed two nights in Krakow at the lovely Hotel Senacki. It is not the cheapest place, but very comfortable with a good breakfast (included) and right in the middle of the old town. And, there was a fully-functional air conditioner in the room.  Parking is not available at the hotel, but there is a discount at a Radisson parking lot about three blocks away. Once you leave your car, you won’t need it again. The tourist areas are very walkable.

Krakow is really cool. It reminds me very much of Prague before it got all fixed up. Beautifully renovated buildings are interspersed with shabby older ones. Because of the tourist economy there is also lot of good food and drink around. In fact, it’s a bit of a party town, like Prague, with some groups of Brits and Germans who were clearly there for the cheap beer. But this is not too out of control (yet). Cracovians are also very friendly.

Nightlife in the market square.

Nightlife in the market square.

In general, while we were not actually seeking out kids’ activities, since ours are grown, I’d say it’s a destination more for adults and older kids than for small children. While there is plenty of park space, I did not see one playground the entire time I was there, for example. In fact, I didn’t see very many kids at all! Only a few streets are pedestrian-only, and even those have a lot of horses and bikes on them. The market square would be a good place to hang out with kids, but that would depend on the weather, of course! And even then they’d have to be content with ice cream and people-watching. There was no entertainment specifically for kids that I saw.

Wawel hill from the castle tower

Wawel hill from the castle tower.

Wawel Castle has a large open plaza and a cafe serving sandwiches, hot dogs and ice cream in the middle, but the rest of it is not stroller-friendly at all. There are lots and lots of stairs and things that can’t be touched. In fact, children under 14 are banned on some tours–which is just as well, because they’d be very bored on them!  (Check with the castle staff ahead of time as to which tours allow children and which do not.) Also, most exhibits have timed entry, which could be a problem if your rugrats need to eat, sleep, poop, scream, or whatever at the wrong moment.

The tower--worth the climb for the view!

The tower–worth the climb for the view!

That said, older kids–maybe 6 and up–might like the castle a lot.  There is a big tower to climb up (no elevator), probably the most interesting exhibit of medieval armor and weaponry I have ever seen (no, really, this is very cool!), an underground part where you can see the original foundations of the castle, and a tiny, spooky spiral staircase that leads from the castle down to a rather damp and nasty “grotto” called the Dragon’s Den.

For adults, I’d recommend the tour of the state rooms and especially the guided tour of the private apartments. We had a very knowledgeable and entertaining guide who told us lots of fun facts about Polish history and the castle. I usually avoid guided tours because they can be tedious, but this one was really interesting.

Allow most of a day for the castle and the adjoining Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus.

Musicians on the market square playing Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on the accordion. They were good!

Musicians on the market square playing Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on the accordion. They were good!

The 13th century market square is lots of fun. We just happened to be there on what was probably the nicest day of the year, and there was so much going on! There are cafes all around, food and drink vendors in the square, and also lots of stalls selling not only the standard tourist goods, but flowers, and some pretty nice crafts at good prices. Street musicians and performers of various kinds provide entertainment.  Inside the Draper’s Hall, there are yet more souvenir stalls, and a city museum which we were not able to visit because the tickets are also timed entry (this seems to be a thing in Krakow).  Maybe next time.

Pierogies at Miod Malina. YUM.

Pierogies at Miod Malina. YUM.

We had two excellent dinners on Grodska street in the old town. Pod Aniolami is a very traditional places with lots of hearty meat dishes. The staff is very proud of their “traditional homemade lard.” I was not a big fan of the lard, but everything else was very good. Miod Malina is more upscale, and serves both Polish and Italian food. We ordered salads and a big plate of assorted pierogies to share and left stuffed and happy. Definitely make a reservation well in advance at Miod Malina. It is very popular and was jammed by 7:30 p.m.

Chedar (prayer house) in Kazimierz.

Chedar (prayer house) in Kazimierz.

The last morning, before driving back to Vienna, we visited Kazimierz, the old Jewish Quarter. This was really interesting. Krakow’s Jewish population was basically wiped out by the Nazis, but the diaspora–primarily American–have poured resources into preserving the history of the place. There is a Jewish museum in the Old Synagogue, another medieval (still active) synagogue with a partially restored cemetery, and a nice square with restaurants serving Jewish food. Kazimierz is also home to a Jewish cultural center and an international Jewish festival. It is clearly an important part of Krakow’s history. Check out jewishkrakow.net for more information about Kazimierz.

This area is stroller-friendly, although probably not very interesting for young children. Older children may get something out of the visit, though, if you are prepared to explain the Holocaust to them and they are prepared to be properly respectful in the synagogues and cemetery. The Holocaust is not the entire focus of the area, but of course it is a large part of it, with plaques and memorials everywhere, and Nazi destruction still clearly in evidence. The presentation is very forthright (and entirely in both Polish and English, which is helpful). After the relative silence of the Austrians on this subject, we thought this was very interesting.

Interior of the Remuh Synagogue.

Interior of the Remuh Synagogue.

Note that the synagogues are conservative. Women must cover shoulders and legs (my capri pants were apparently OK, though) and men must wear yarmulkes. Definitely do go inside, though, they are very different from Baroque churches!

We finished up with a lovely lunch at Klezmer Hois, a Jewish hotel and restaurant on the square, very happy that we made it to Kazimierz before leaving town.  My only regret is that we didn’t schedule a longer visit, because there is more that I would like to see!

Day trip: Stift Melk & Wachau Valley

Stift (Abbey) Melk dates back about 1,000 years and is easily reachable from Vienna along the A1 highway (exit 80, Melk, follow the signs). The Abbey is a world cultural site located in a beautiful setting; aside from the cathedral, there are gardens, cafes, and beautiful views of the Wachau Valley.

During the summer months, visitors can explore the Abbey and gardens alone without a guided tour but during the winter months (November-March), visitors must participate in a guided tour to enter the Abbey. Regular admission without the guided tour is also part of the Niederösterreich Card. The Abbey is also very accommodating to younger visitors; upon purchasing our tickets, my kids received post cards and treats from the ticket vendors and the employees  went out of their way to open doors to allow our stroller entry.

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Beautiful view of the Wachau valley

Beautiful view of the Wachau valley

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There are a few cafes serving lunch and snacks but we opted to drive a bit further to the small city of Dürnstein to enjoy a nice meal in the beautiful garden of a local Heuriger, Loibnerhof (a bit more pricey but delicious food and wine!).

Gastgarten Loibnerhof

Gastgarten Loibnerhof

For more information:

It’s all song (and some) dance in Vienna!

Vienna is the birthplace of many great composers (Schubert and both Strauss to name a few) and a great many others who spent a significant amount of time here like Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. So it should come to no surprise that there are countless classical music performance options and venues around the city.

Even if classical music is not entirely your thing, I highly suggest checking out at least one of them while you spend some time in Vienna! It’s an amazing experience and a wonderful (date) night.

My favorite performance (yet) was the “dinner and concert” show my husband and I attended at Schloss Schönbrunn right before New Year’s last year. The dinner might not be to everyone’s liking (Tafelspitz – boiled beef – it is literally everywhere here!) but you cannot beat the atmosphere of eating in the palace and then strolling over to the ‘Orangerie’ to listen to compositions by Mozart and Strauss. This particular concert also features singers and two ballet dancers (there are other concert packages offered, check the website for details).

In January, I treated my husband for his birthday to a church concert at the beautiful St. Anna Church downtown (close to the Opera House). We heard Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and really enjoyed it despite the fact that it was utterly cold inside the church (apparently the church is heated now according to the website!).

Just last night, we visited Karlskirche to listen to Mozart’s Requiem. I hadn’t been inside the church before but it was a beautiful location with terrific acoustics (just remember when the temperature drops, dress warm!).

And, if you’re in the mood for a lighter and less classical night (and one that involves wine!), check out the Heuriger Show in the 19th district! This is a fun, very local experience with uplifting classical songs (and some folk/polka!), singers, and dancers …. and wine! You can choose to eat from a set menu while you listen to the show.

For more information:

 

Religious Services in English

More information coming soon!  Meanwhile, please refer to our Links Page for Religious Services.