Pritam Rohila Travels

Reports of my travels along with some pictures

Feb 29, 2008

2007 Austria, Vienna
September 27-October 14, 2007

October 12

Sometime after leaving Maribor, Slovenia, we took a toll highway to our final destination, Vienna, Austria.

Close to our destination we went over a suspension bridge across the Blue Danube River to enter
the city.

We reached Nh Danube City, our hotel in Vienna, late in the afternoon. After freshening up, I went out exploring the area around the hotel, located in the city’s newest districts city across the Danube River.

The Austria Center was established here in 1970’s. I met an Indian Sikh gentleman there. He was selling magazines.

The Austria Center is adorned with some unusual sculptures by Bruno Gironcoli, a reputable native sculptor.

Since the establishment of the Austria Center, UN Complex has been built. It houses several international organizations such as the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency, and Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
October 13

Next morning we started our guided tour of Vienna.

Vienna has been a capital for a very long time. It was the capital of the Austrian Empire in 1804, of the enlarged Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867, of the First Austrian Republic in 1918, and of the German Empire after Adolf Hitler’s triumphant entry here in 1938. It again became capital of Austria, following its fall to the Soviets.

Now with a population of 1.7 million, Vienna is the largest city of Austria. Also it is the country’s political, economic and cultural capital.

First we went to the Schonbrunn Palace and its beautiful gardens. Originally built at the end of the 17th century, the Palace was gifted to Maria Theresa by her father. She was a reigning Archduchess of Austria, a Queen of Hungary, Croatia, and Bohemia, and Empress of the Holy Empire. A mother of 16 children, she ruled for 40 years (1740-1780).

Until the abdication of Charles I of Austria, it continued to the imperial summer residence, except during the life of Franz Josef of Austria, who spent most of his life - since his birth till his death in 1916 – in this palace. In 1996, the Palace and the Garden got listed as UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage Site.

After her coronation, Maria Theresa had the palace heavily modified and used it as her summer residence.

We posed for a group picture in front of the Palace. Roman, our Tour Directors, patiently photographed with the cameras of each one of us.

Then we were ready for an escorted tour of some of the rooms of the Palace. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the Palace.

The Palace has a vast complex of gardens. The sculpted garden behind the Palace is the most popular of all.

This garden extends to the Neptune Well.

Behind the Neptune Well is 200-ft high hill, which is crowned with the Gloriette. Maria Theresa had it built to glorify Habsburg’s power and the Just War! Today it houses a café.

Thirty-two sculptures line the garden on both sides. They symbolize various deities and virtues.

Because of many important monuments located there, Vienna’s city center has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001. Some of the monuments - the Town Hall (Rathaus), the Austrian Parliament, the State Opera House, the former imperial palace of Hofburg, and the Museums of Natural History and Fine Arts - are located along the Ringstrate, Vienna’s main boulevard.

Since we had seen some of them on a previous trip, we limited ourselves to a few of them. Some from our group went for a tour of the Imperial Treasury, which has on display the imperial crowns, regal robes, crown jewels, and other treasures.

The exterior of the Austrian Parliament, especially the statue and fountain of Athena were designed by Baron Hansen in the neo-Greek style, as homage to ancient Greece as the cradle of democracy.

Almost completely destroyed in the World War II, the State Opera House was rebuilt, and reopened in 1955.

Others like Albertina, Jesuit Church are in Old Town (Innere Stadt), the area surrounded by the Ringstrate.

The Jesuit Church, also known as the University Church, is located near the old University of Vienna buildings. It was originally built between 1623 and 1627. In 1703, twin towers were added, the façade was reworked and the church was rededicated to Assumption of Mary.

Nearby is the Albertina. Originally a palace, it now houses one of the largest collection graphic arts – about 65,000 drawings and about one million old master prints, including those by Albrecht Durer. Also included are works by Rembrandt and Michelangelo.

Located in the Stephansplatz, at the heart of the Old Town Vienna, is Stephansdom, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna. A partially constructed church at this site was dedicated in 1147 to St. Stephen in the presence of Bishop Otto of Freising, Conrad III of Germany, and other German nobles, who were about to embark on the Second Crusade. It construction and expansion continued until 1511.

Built of limestone, the church is 445-ft high. Discolored by soot and air pollution, it is now being restored to its original white. Its colorful, ornate roof is covered by 230,000 glazed tiles.

Nearby is the Plague Memorial.

Between the State Opera House and Stephansdom is the city’s main pedestrian shopping area.

In the afternoon, we visited the Prater. The Prater is Vienna’s major amusement park. A giant Ferris wheel is the most prominent feature of this popular tourist attraction of Vienna. The Ferris wheel was originally set up in 1897 to celebrate golden jubilee of Emperor Franz Josef I.

There are many other rides also.

From the Prater we proceeded for dinner to Marchfelderhof Restaurant, in the rural community of Deutsch-Wagram. We were told that some famous people like the Greek king Constantin, Farooq of Egypt, the Shah of Persia, and film stars like Liz Taylor, and Clark Gable have dined at this restaurant.

We were greeted with a welcome sign and a red carpet.

Inside the restaurant was decorated with hodgepodge of many things as well as photographs of many dignitaries. Walls of the men’s restroom were covered with pictures of various beauties. But I liked the one below of some boys at a pissing contest.

With unlimited drinks, our group enjoyed the dinner, our last time together before our flights home the next day.

Feb 24, 2008

2007 Slovenia, Maribor

September 27-October 14, 2007

October 11

“If suddenly you have a strong urge to do something, sit down, relax and it will pass,” is the Croatian motto, someone told us. So after spending the morning wandering around in Zagreb, we returned to our hotel, and spent the afternoon relaxing. And lo, and behold it took care of all the urges we had to visit any other place in Zagreb!

October 12

Next morning we left for Vienna, Austria. To get there, we had to go through Slovenia.
As we crossed the Croatia-Slovenia border, our driver, a Slovene, was greeted by his wife.

Many trucks were lined up besides the road awaiting clearance by the Croatian Customs.

A large part of Slovenia is covered with forests, fields and pastures. Therefore it is aptly called, “A Green Piece of Europe.”

On the way we stopped for a sightseeing break at Maribor, Slovenia.

Located near the Austrian border, Maribor was the biggest industrial city in former Yugoslavia. After Slovenia’s secession from Yugoslavia in 991, it lost its usual market and Maribor suffered substantial economic strain. One of the results was unemployment of almost 25%. Following entry of Slovenia in NATO & EU and adoption of Euro, things have gotten better, but unemployment is still 11.5%.

Drava River runs through the city. The picturesque waterfront, called the Lent, hosts Festival Lent in June.

Bridges over the river connect the newer settlement with the Old Town.

Proceeding north on the bridge we came to the Main (Glavni) Square. The Plague Column is the centerpiece of this Square. The column was erected in 1681 in grateful appreciation of the cessation of the plague epidemic, which the previous year had decimated a third of the town’s inhabitants. Atop the column was an image of Virgin Mary.

In 1743 it was replaced by the present memorial, sculpted by Jozef Straub. He added figures of St. Francis of Assissi, Bostjan, Jacob the Eider, Anton Padovanski, Rok, and St. Francis Xavier, the saints invoked against the plague, around the pedestal of the column.

On the north side of the square is the Town Hall, which was built in the 16th century. A Venetian Renaissance balcony is the most prominent feature of its facade. Since 1967 the building has housed an exhibition hall and has functioned as the centre of several cultural institutions, including weddings.

The Main Square is lined with buildings with interesting facades and architectural ornamentations.

Also there are some cafes and vendors.

A couple of streets from the Main Square lead to the Castle (Grad) Square. In its northeastern corner is the Castle, which was built by Emperor Friedrich III, in 1478. It has gone major changes since then. It was last renovated in 1938. Since then it has housed the Regional Museum.

In front of the Castle is a column topped with the statue of Josip Jurcic (1844-1881), a Slovene novelist, and editor of the political paper “Slovene Nation.”

In the southwestern corner of the Castle Square is the McDonald’s. Apparently most visitors go there to use restrooms. An employee told us that we needed to buy something to get the code to unlock the restroom door. Fortunately, a young customer, who overheard our conversation with the employee, took pity on us and punched the code to open the restroom door for us.

To the north of the Castle is the General Maister Square. Built on filled-in gravel pits outside the town wall, it was named after the Slovene general and poet Rudolf Maister (1874 1934). During the World War I, Maister organized local Slovenian volunteers and defeated German designs by taking control of the city of Maribor. The monument was designed by the sculptor Vlasta Zorko and unveiled on October 10, 1987.

To the west of the General Maister Square, and across the stone fountain, is the Secondary Humanistic School as well as the Elementary School of the Polancic Brothers.

To the East of the Castle is the Liberty (Svobode) Square, which was built on the protective ditch that once surrounded the Castle. The National Liberation Monument dominates the square. Sculpted by Slavko Tihec in 1975, this bronze monument bears the facial images of the Maribor heroes. On its base is an engraved announcement of the shooting of the 667 hostages and partisans by the German occupation forces during World War II. Also it bears the farewell letter of Joze Fluks, who was condemned to death. The locals call the monument ''Kodžak'', since it reminds them of the bald-headed detective Kojak, of the once popular US television show.

The Liberty Square is used for outdoor meetings, cultural events, and memorials, when it is not being used as an open-air market.

Also it is a popular place for tourists and children to hang out.

To the east of the Liberty Square is the 12th-century Gothic cathedral.
On the conclusion of our visit, we boarded our bus and left for Vienna, Austria.