A Travellerspoint blog

Day at the Hofburg

Vienna


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Saturday 8th February (yesterday)

I had a lovely day yesterday (except for waking up with worse back and side pain than usual). My main destination was the Hofburg, the former Habsburg palace complex. There are so many museums and other attractions there that I could never hope to see them all in one day, so although I really liked the sound of the Butterfly House, Palm House, Fine Art Museum, the Armoury and some other places, I decided to get the ticket that would get me into three of the main places I wanted to visit; the Nationalbibliothek Prunksaal, the Papyrus Museum and the Globe Museum. Should I have the time and energy during the coming week, it also allows me entrance to the Esperanto Museum, Literature Museum and House of Austrian History until next Friday.

I started off at the Nationalbibliothek Prunksaal, though before entering the Hofburg I admired the strip of Roman and 18th century remains in the Michaelerplatz in front.

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Words fail me when it comes to describing the Prunksaal, one of the most historic and atmospheric libraries in the world. It was breathtaking! The tiered, ornate wooden bookcases, beautiful leather-bound books, colourful Baroque murals, globes... Even the stepladders, although modern and made of plastic or metal, are painted to fit in perfectly with their surroundings.

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There was a special exhibition on Ludwig van Beethoven, as 2020 is the 250th anniversary of his birth. It had a fascinating display of facsimiles and originals of documents relating to nearly every stage and aspect of his life and his relationships with various people, within both his professional and personal life. Pride of place was the original manuscript of his 9th symphony, open at part of the 'Ode to Joy' section. It also had two audios of it which I could listen to with headphones; one a normal recording, and the other a special recording of the same piece but changed to sound how it does to someone with significant hearing loss of the kind that Beethoven had at the time he composed it. Listening to that really made me realise again what a genius he was.

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There were also some separate texts unrelated to Beethoven, such as a richly decorated 16th century copy of the Persian cosmographical text The Wonders of Creation and a facsimile of the Vienna Dioscurides, one of the most famous manuscripts of late antiquity. The main part of it contains a series of images of alphabetically-arranged medicinal plants, with text alongside each one describing it, its medicinal uses and how to prepare it as medicine.

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From the Prunksaal I headed to the Papyrus Museum. This was also very interesting, with a greater variety of artefacts than one might potentially imagine. It ranged from scrolls containing the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Coptic and Islamic amulets intended to protect the carrier against scorpion stings, a spell for the return of a bronze vessel (and curse upon the thief), a scroll containing mathematical exercises, and a set of examples of different languages and writing systems used over the years (e.g, hieroglyphs, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Coptic and Arabic)...

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...to Coptic textile clothing, mummy cartonnages (a type of mask similar to papier maché style, originally made from waste-papyrus but later from linen or plaster), realistic Roman mummy portraits on thin wooden boards, and an extremely rare papyrus contract relating to a Roman Empire trade voyage to India in the 2nd century AD (expeditions to India often left from Egyptian ports on the Red Sea).

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On leaving there I used up some small change on an iced coffee from a handily-placed vending machine and went on an ice cream hunt in the streets surrounding the Hofburg. Amazingly, I was unsuccessful, but as I got a bit further away I made a interesting discovery...

I'd given up on ice cream at this point and was just enjoying wandering the historic streets for a bit before going on to the Globe Museum.

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I suddenly saw the word 'Schotten' on a street sign and this brought to mind the name of the area where I worked in Vienna last year. A beautiful yellow church appeared, I went in to have a look, and it turned out to be part of a working Benedictine monastery. Most of it was closed off behind a metal grid, but through it I still got a good view of the stunning, colourful Baroque interior.

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On reading the blurb they had on display, I found out why it was called the Schottenkirche, or the Church of the Scots - it was founded by Irish Benedictine monks, and apparently the Irish were known as Scots at the time. The blurb mentioned some of the good works the monks are involved in within the Schotten parish, including education.

After lighting a candle in a tiny side chapel and continuing on to the end of the street, I could see that I was indeed back in the area I remembered from April last year. That made me remember the Indian restaurant I went to a couple of times with my colleagues, where you only pay how much you think the food was worth, or you don't have to pay at all if you can't afford it. Since I remembered having a very tasty main dish with rice there, plus a really nice dessert, I thought I'd go there for a late lunch before retracing my steps to the Globe Museum.

The only problem was, I couldn't find it! I'd forgotten what the name was, but knew I'd remember it when I saw it. I thought I remembered seeing it on the edge of the big square I was in, but no sign of it. Either I misremembered the location (always possible) or they've closed down. So I began retracing my steps, taking on my way a picture of the cathedral-like Votivkirche, which overlooks the square. It's named that because it was built in 1879 in thanks for the Emperor's survival of an assassination attempt.

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I stopped at a Billa supermarket and bought a tabbouleh salad instead. Then it was time for the Globe Museum! It was absolutely fascinating. My favourites were the globe from 1492 which naturally doesn't have the Americas or Australasia on it, Mercator's celestial and terrestrial globes from 1542 (and accompanying screen with a virtual copy of the terrestrial one on it which I could move around, zoom in and out of, etc.), a set of very cute 18th century English-made 'pocket globes', massive and richly decorated 17th century Coronelli globes, paper or cloth collapsible globes the user could extend or inflate a bit like an umbrella, and a miniature child's globe, probably Victorian or Edwardian, with an accompanying multi folded paper showing pictures of the world's inhabitants, including a Sandwich Islander, an Esquimaux (sic), an Iroquese (sic), a Scotchman and a Peruvian, dressed according to what Westerners of the time believed was the case.

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It was also very interesting in general to see so many historic terrestrial globes at different points in history, reflecting the current state of geographical knowledge of the world at each stage. The moon globes and globes of different planets were good to see as well.

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I went (almost) straight back to the hostel after that as my back, left side and hip were all protesting, and I was running low on energy again. I did stop at a supermarket and buy a couple of twisty rolls with tomato, cheese and ham on top to have for dinner a bit later, however.

I enjoyed the rolls for dinner and spent time following the BBC Sport live text of the England vs Scotland Six Nations rugby match.

Sunday 9th February (today)

Earlier today I transferred to Hotel Admiral, relaxed, met my colleagues for the coming week and got ready for work tomorrow. For dinner we went to a Mexican place - not a place I would have chosen to go to, but actually I ended up being very glad we'd come. I had a bowl of Crema de Elote (delicious sweetcorn soup), some potato wedges with sour cream, and for pudding Crema de Semola, or semolina pudding in a glass with strawberry sauce on top. Lovely!

Edit from May 2023: I realised a lot later, after having returned from Austria, that the Indian restaurant I was thinking of is actually the Pakistani pay-what-you-can-afford restaurant Der Wiener Deewan - very much still around! If only I'd had a smartphone at the time, I would have found it easily - I wasn't to get one for another six weeks though...

Posted by 3Traveller 19:04 Archived in Austria Tagged churches vienna palace austria museum explorations roman_remains unesco_world_heritage_site

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Comments

A great post, as ever! I’m so glad you got to visit the Prunksaal, the papyrus museum and the globe museum - they’re so amazing, aren’t they? I loved them too.

by TravelLover3

Thanks! Yes, they were wonderful! I really hope I'll be able to return to the Hofburg at some point and visit the other interesting places in it, too.

by 3Traveller

Thanks for sharing your great story and excellent photographs!

by Vic_IV

Thanks Vic!

by 3Traveller

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