Schönbrunn & Stephansdom

The Schönbrunn Palace is the most extravagant palace in Vienna. At 1,441 rooms, the scale of the palace and its grounds is incomprehensible. Palaces of the day (this one was completed in 1700) sprawled out over the landscape, but were only a few stories.

This palace was home to the Habsburgs, who ruled vast swaths of Europe until the First World War, after which it became a museum. The British used it during World War II and the postwar occupation, and the palace was host to Kennedy and Khrushchev in 1961.

The sheer scale of the palace is eclipsed by the ostentatious interior, which, at times, borders on gaudy. Unfortunately, photos are prohibited inside the palace. Among the tour highlights: a large painting in the Hall of Mirrors depicting Mozart's first royal concert for Maria Theresia in 1762 (Mozart was six years old), the gold- and silver-embroidered bed that Maria Theresia used during her many pregnancies (of which there were 16), phosphorescent wallpaper, as well as the apartments of Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth.

After the palace tour, we strolled around the gardens, where my underwhelming feelings for formal gardens were reaffirmed. These, in particular, are a bunch of grass lots with shrubs and flowers that are prevented from growing over a half-foot high. I don't understand the appeal—for me, the proportions are all wrong.

Schönbrunn Palace

Schönbrunn Palace

Schloss Schonbrunn

Schloss Schonbrunn

Neptune Fountain and the Gloriette

Neptune Fountain and the Gloriette

Neptune Fountain

Neptune Fountain

Schönbrunn Clock

Schönbrunn Clock

Trees at Schonbrunn

Trees at Schonbrunn

In the afternoon, we decided to tour the glorious Stephansdom, or Steffl (little Stephen) as the locals call it. Take it from me, there's nothing little about it. Unlike most cathedrals, St. Stephen's remains the center of Vienna, around which everything revolves. It is the heart and soul of the city.

The cathedral was consecrated in 1147, and various sections of the cathedral were built from that time until 1511. The cathedral was saved when retreating German officers decided not to carry out their orders to destroy Austria's mother church.

Its towers dominate the Vienna skyline, just as they had in the Middle Ages. At its tallest, it reaches 445 feet (136 m), about one-third the height of the Empire State Building. Mozart was appointed its adjunct music director. He was married here, two of his children were baptized here, and his funeral was held in the cathedral. Beethoven would come to recognize his deafness after he saw birds fly from the bell tower, but failed to hear the bells. The cathedral is steeped in history.

Vienna's Cathedral

Vienna's Cathedral

Cathedral Roof

Cathedral Roof

St. Stephen's Steeple

St. Stephen's Steeple

Pulpit of John Capistrano

Pulpit of John Capistrano

Pigeon Smasher

Pigeon Smasher

Playtime

Playtime

St. Stephen Cathedral

St. Stephen Cathedral

Stephansdom's Altar

Stephansdom's Altar

Roaming around town we came across a Greek church, a beautiful Byzantine building buried down a narrow street. We ventured in, but one could not go into the church proper. We wandered around town for the rest of the afternoon, it was quite lovely.

Vienna's Greek Church

Vienna's Greek Church

Inside Vienna's Greek Church

Inside Vienna's Greek Church

Johann Strauss

Johann Strauss