Once the capitol of the sprawling Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna still retains the cultivated air of royalty and luxury even if it no longer commands the same territory it once did.
The seat of the Hapsburg dynasty, Vienna controlled Austria as well as Hungary and much more in the Empire’s prime. It was often referred to as the Dual Monarchy since it contained two kingdoms.
Every building in the city center still appears to be a palace, even after the dissolution and fall of the Empire. The pastels, the details and the décor all hark back to the time when Vienna truly was the Capitol of Europe. After visiting 10 countries and 25 cities, Vienna is the prettiest.
Austro-Hungarian Empire: The Dual Monarchy
The famous Hapsburg Family ruled from this political center and spun their web of complex intermarriages among the European royals of the time. At the outbreak of the first world war most European monarchs were related via this extended family. The far reaching royalty once even briefly counted Mexico as it’s territory.
Still known for its cultural and musical prowess today, Vienna is a city you must hear to fully experience. From the concert halls and opera stage, Viennese culture brings us some of the most outstanding classical music to ever grace our ears.
We were enthralled by a nighttime concert in a palatial theater. Jamie and I were incredibly moved by the beauty of the pieces as well as the remarkable talent of the musicians. Flurries of perfectly arpeggiated notes delighted our ears. The passion of the performers added even more to the beautiful atmosphere. My personal favorites were the Marriage of Figaro and the Blue Danube. These songs will always remind me of the glory of Vienna.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire formed a bulwark against the Ottoman Empire. At one time Vienna itself was surrounded by Turkish Armies, but the Austrians managed to survive and eventually expand into the European territory that had been conquered by the Ottomans. The Hapsburg military eventually pushed the Ottomans back, and even liberated Budapest from Turkish rule, thus creating the Dual Monarchy.
As the Ottoman Empire collapsed inward, the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarians expanded into former Ottoman territory of Central and Eastern Europe.
The composition of the Austro-Hungarians was multiethnic and multilingual, comprising of the nations of Austria, Hungary, The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bosnia among many countless others.
The forces and horrors of modernity eventually began to tear at the fabric of the monarchy. Nationalism and racism emerged in the 19th and early 20th centuries as powerful factors that drove each individual nation within Vienna’s control to desire their own independent status.
The spark that lit the powderkeg was a Serbian Nationalist assassinating the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
After the assassination the Austro-Hungarians presented a list of unreasonable demands to Serbia. Russia declared they would back the Serbs. Germany declared for the Hapsburgs and essentially told the Empire it could do whatever necessary to keep the Balkan part of it’s territory in tact.
Following this “blank check” underwritten by the industrial power of Germany, the Empire invaded Serbia. This act triggered Russia to intervene. One by one the safeguards against all out European war fell as nation after nation became entangled in the growing conflict.
Germany feared being surrounded by two enemies, France and Russia, so they invaded France through Belgium to quickly knock the French out of the war. The invasion of Belgium triggered a response by the UK, who had promised to defend Belgium at all costs.
Starting as a nationalist movement in Austro-Hungary, this conflict quickly spiraled into a world affair, involving not only Europe but also the many far flung colonies from Africa to India, and eventually the United States in the waning years of the war.
The tolling bell of World War 1 struck the final chord of death to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and finally ended Hapsburg rule. The losing Austro-Hungarian Empire was destroyed, mostly split up into its component states. Vienna was left as a somewhat oversized Capitol to the new nation of Austria.
What We Did in Vienna
We were lucky to visit Prater Park on Halloween night. Although not a traditional European holiday we got to see tons of young people dressed up in costumes and embracing the new tradition. We rode some fun and scary rides, including a haunted house and a rollercoaster. It was a brief taste of home, something we had been sorely missing up until now. This was the first major holiday we spent abroad.
Nasch Market was a fantastic outdoor market with plenty of food and ingredient options. It was pricier than it initially looked but seemed well worth it. You must visit this spot to get a feel of local Vienna and taste the fresh new wines, made just in time for the holidays, plus glüwein. We had wonderful traditional Vienna foods here to fully taste the city.
Strolling the streets and avenues of Vienna today one is not reminded much of the World Wars that tore apart the empire. Instead we see horse drawn carriages and hear classical masters play gorgeous music. On every corner is a coffee shop and pastries, cakes and chocolates. It is delightful.
We took a horse and carriage ride through the avenues and marvelled at the striking beauty of each individual building. Our driver told us that most had been palaces or apartments for royals, hence the regal appearance.
In fact Vienna may be the prettiest city we have ever been to, this trip or others. The streets are clean, buildings glitter with former glory and the coffee house culture that promoted such amazing artists and thinkers in the 19th century is celebrated above all other time periods.
The intellectual movements of the 1800s were centered here. Freud did his thinking while sipping coffee and tasting cakes, as did Leon Trotsky. I can see how inspired they all must have been.
The glory and grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian height is appreciated and diefied here. We took in every moment of it.
We visited a fantastic art museum in the Belvedere Palace. This is the very place that Austria became a sovereign country again following the Allied and Soviet joint occupation after World War II. It marks an important moment in Austrian history: gaining their independent nation back from the ruins of Empire. The art spans several periods, not just the medieval and Renaissance eras. Modern and interpretive pieces were also represented here, making it a full experience.
One of the absolute highlights was our visit to the Spanish Riding School. Here horses are trained to the tunes of classical music as onlookers peer over the balcony to admire the animals and trainers skills. This is peak royal Vienna. I’ve never felt so cultured in my life!
Vienna is a city of music and culture, of history and thought. It has been the Capitol of empires and the emergence of Austrian freedom. You must visit this beautiful city.
P.S. we’ve booked our flight home!
Jamie and I return on the 15th. We have now been to 10 countries and 25 cities in over 90 days!
Although we have absolutely loved our time on the road both of us are excited to return back to California for some consistency, family time and Christmas!
See you soon,
Jamie & Austin
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