For the Vienna segment of this trip, I've decided to break it up into several blog posts. Our itinerary was extensive and each day was filled with so many activities. Breaking it up into 'bite-size" features, seems like a more practical way to describe this memorable journey and more enjoyable to the you, the reader.
We traveled to Vienna by rail from Prague on a 4-1/2 hour, relaxing and scenic train ride. Our apartment host in Prague, Dominik, drove us to the Prague train station, and gave us a friendly send off. Throughout our train ride, we enjoyed lovely views of both the Czech and Viennese countrysides. When we crossed into Vienna, I took special note of the bright yellow blanket of flowers that covered the fields and was so grateful for a sunshiny day, which accentuated their color. As with Prague, I booked a private apartment in Vienna through Airbnb.com, and once again, we were very happy with our accommodations. As always, I did my best to plan an itinerary that combined historic sites, fun activities and sporadic blocks of free time to be spontaneous (or rest, which is often necessary for the kids!) Traveling abroad with young children can be challenging, and there is no guarantee that the plans you make with them in mind will be received as well as you had hoped. But keeping their ages and specific interests in mind when planning has always proven to be a step in the right direction for me. During our family trip to Ireland in August 2012, my daughters went horseback riding for the first time and since then, they have had a love affair with the sport and everything horse-related and have also become avid riders. Knowing my daughters' passion for all things equine, I decided to plan a visit to The Spanish Riding School while in Vienna.
The Spanish Riding School's Winter School is located at the Hofburg Palace, in the heart of Vienna. If you are not familiar with this world-renown place and the famous Lipizzaner Horses, allow me to enlighten you about the oldest riding school of its kind in the world. It is believed to date back as far as 1565 when a wooden riding arena was first commissioned. In 1729, Emperor Charles VI commissioned the building of the "plain" riding hall that is still used today. I say "plain" because, as we learned during our visit, this is precisely how architect Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach, was told how to design the riding hall. I can attest to the fact that it is anything but plain, for it is elegant and full of architectural details! But you be the judge from the photos featured.
Prior to visiting Vienna, I was remotely familiar with the Lipizzaner Horses, but not the riding school. I knew of these beautiful regal-looking "white" horses that prance and dance gracefully, but, that was the extent of my knowledge. After some research and armed with the fact that my girls LOVED horses, I decided to buy tickets to both the Morning Exercises and The Spanish Riding School Tour. I figured I would learn a thing or two and so would the girls! Excitedly, I told my daughters about the visit I had planned and some particulars about the Lipizzaners and was corrected, (quite snippy, I might add) with my pronunciation of the word Dressage, having placed the emphasis on the wrong syllable. Dressage is the highly controlled and stylized movements (or what I like to call "dancing"), for which the Lipizzaner horses are famous. Apparently, my kids knew more about this than I did and let me know it! Interestingly enough, I picked up a piece of scientific knowledge from my veterinarian, who told us that there is no such thing as a "white" horse; they are all gray, even though they may look white - just a little trivia for the next time you are among equine aficionados!
Upon our arrival, we were promptly ushered along with our group of about a dozen, down an outdoor stairway to an area filled with stalls, and then through a tunnel that led to another part of the building, where the horses and the riding hall were located. All along this walk, we were imparted with a great deal of information about why The Spanish Riding School was created and what remains the key characteristics of it today. The walls of the entranceway to the school were garnered with posters and newspaper clippings, one of which featured U.S. General George Patton on a Lipizzaner horse during a visit.
The next day, we returned early for the Morning Exercises. If you do visit, it is wise to get there early so you can get a seat around the riding arena. The view is fine from anywhere, but you may be standing. It is probably also wise to get your tickets in advance. For me, it was something out of a movie as the beautiful Lipizzaners enter the hall while watching from above in the gallery. With such grace and as if weightless, these magnificent horses with their skilled riders captivated the audience with each move they made. The atmosphere is further enhanced as the music of Mozart, Strauss and Schubert filled the air.
The morning exercises are from 10am-12noon daily and you are free to stay for as little or as long as you like. The visit would not be complete without stopping into to the gift shop (which we certainly did!) for a memory of this extra special place! The Spanish Riding School was definitely a good choice for a family day in Vienna.