Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Travel Tuesday: Vienna for beginners, Part 2

Last week in "Vienna for Beginners," we began a tour of the heart of Vienna in three streets and three squares, going from Karlsplatz down Kärtnerstrasse to Stephansplatz. This is the heart of Vienna--the most central section, with historical landmarks leading up and down the shopping streets from the Stephansdom Cathedral to the Hofburg Quartier, the former home of the emperors.

Last time, we left off the tour at Stephansplatz, seen above. You've got the Haas Haus on the left and Stephansdom straight ahead. Now, if you have Kärtnerstrasse at your back, take a left onto Graben to continue on our journey!

One of the first things you'll see as you start down Graben is a big, weird statue. Ignore that for the time being, because on your left is an H&M. This is the only H&M I've ever been in that has chandeliers and wood paneling inside. See below.

Now, how fancy does that look? Unbelievable. It used to be an upscale men's suit store, but then it went out of business. H&M moved in, but it kept the beautiful decor. There's even a grand staircase inside.Totally worth looking inside, even if you don't need a pair of sunglasses for 5 euros.

And now there's no avoiding the enormous statue in the middle of the all-pedestrian street. It's the Pestsäule (German for "Plague Column"--clearly marketing was not a high priority back in 17th century...), and it commemorates the end of the plague in Vienna. It looks like a big, crazy, imposing mess.

Apparently, the figures in the statue tell the story of the plague and of Vienna's redemption, but I'm not necessarily buying it. I need an art historian or something to stand next to me and explain it all to me. Anyway... just past the statue on your right is a church. It doesn't look that impressive, but do not be fooled by its humble exterior. The inside is amazing.

Everything is covered in gold, and there are two complete skeletons encrusted in jewels with swords and scabbards and everything!!! They were early martyrs, and they're kept in glass coffins on either side of the altar. AMAZING!!! I can't believe how cool it was.

You can barely see the details in this picture, but take my word for it: amazingness. This church was also erected to commemorate the end of the plague, but several centuries earlier. Different plagues, different times, same imperial impulse: build something big and then God won't be mad and punish us all with the plague. And hey--no plague now! It must have worked.

At the end of the street, you'll be looking straight at a building with a big Julius Meinl sign on it--this is an incredible gourmet grocery store, cafe, and restaurant complex. If you go to the second floor, you can sit by the cafe windows and look out over the Graben and watch the people walk by for hours. It's a little pricey, but you only need to buy a cup of coffee to be able to sit there for as long as you want.

If you turn left at Meinl, you'll be heading down our last street--Kohlmarkt. We have one street and two squares left, so stick with us until next week when we finish the tour of the heart of Vienna's inner city!

Kate Wiseman is an expat and a travel blogger.
You can find her blog at www.transatlanticsketches.com.
You can email her at kate@transatlanticsketches.com.
Care packages and frequent flyer miles always welcome.


  1. That skeleton creeps me out and fascinates me at the same time!! It's amazing how they have preserved it for so long!

  2. Who wouldn't love to visit Vienna? with its unique architecture and rich history, I can say that Vienna is one of the most romantic or should I say best place to travel..