Thursday most of the group traveled to Vienna (Wien in Austria). Despite a long bus ride and rainy weather, the trip was great. Our travel from Budapest took us through the agricultural region of Hungary. We drove through mile-after-mile (kilometer-after-kilometer) of fertile fields planted with corn (for ethanol), sunflowers (for sunflower oil), and grains (what appeared to be wheat). As far as the eye could see in any direction there were alternating fields of green, yellow, and brown. It was easy to understand why Hungary's major industry until just a few years ago was agriculture.
In Vienna, the old city lies within the modern ring road, so seeing many historical sites is an easy walk. Two of the most impressive sites are St. Stevens Cathedral and the Imperial Palace. St. Stevens sits on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first dating to 1147. The original church was largely destroyed by fire in 1258. The church was reconstructed and several additions and expansions occurred over the next three centuries. In 1469 with the creation of the Diocese of Vienna, St. Stevens became its mother church.
The Imperial Palace was the winter home of the ruling Habsburg family. The Habsburg's controlled large areas of central Europe beginning in the 10th century. Their control over many areas dimished in the 1800s, but they still maintained the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary. But there was a desire by many citizens to have their own countries and this created tensions with the Habsburgs. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, in Sarajevo in 1914 caused the Habsburgs to declare war on Serbia, an event that led to World War I in Europe.
The Imperial Palace is HUGE, similar in size to the Habsburg palace in Budapest. Each contains approximately 200 rooms and occupies what are the equivalent of several city blocks. But it is not the sheer size that is most impressive -- it is their luxuriousness. The State Hall, which is now part of the State Library, is a stunningly beautiful room. Calling it a room is misleading; it is the length of a football field and its ceiling is five stories high. The murals, stautues, and collection of old books are beyond description.