Interior of Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna)
Among the top attractions in Venice has got to be the Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral). It sits in the very center of the old city, dominates the skyline and has a tower that can be seen all over Vienna. It's cornerstone was laid in 1359 and it became one of the greatest examples of Gothic architecture in Europe. It survived some of the darkest days of Vienna's history from military threats to natural disasters but during the last days of World War II, in April of 1945, it caught fire when sparks from another fire ignited its roof. It contained one of the largest bells in the world in its north tower. In the fire it plummeted to the stone floor and broke into smithereens. 40% of the entire structure of the church was destroyed. It has since been rebuilt and the bell has been recast. It can be heard today all over Vienna. When we read that an organ concert would be held this week Kathy and I immediately got tickets. The church possesses a "giant" organ composed of four manuals, 125 registers and nearly 10,000 pipes (information given only for you pipe organ enthusiasts out there). The concert was on Wednesday evening and it was spectacular. The organist was Svetlana Berezhnaya, a Russian and a master of the keyboard. Neither of us are experts on organ technology but let me say that when she opened that instrument up it sent chills down our spines--the combination of a great instrument in a wonderful acoustical setting combined with great artistry and beautiful selections of music from Bach to several Russian composers made the event unforgettable.
We also took the opportunity to tour the Spanish Riding School which features the famous Lipizzaner stallions. Horse lovers all marvel at these exquisite animals. If you have ever seen them on TV or film you will remember them as being all white and ridden in an elegant style by well-trained horsemen (but now, after 400 years of tradition, we can no longer call them "horsemen." About six women are presently riding or in training. I'm sure THAT change did not come about easily!). As I mentioned, they are all white in performance but they weren't born that way. They are almost always born gray and as they mature they eventually turn white--most of them, that is. But as genetics would have it there are also some black and brown horses that come out of the breed that do not turn color. They hold on to these as "good luck charms," so says the tour guide.
Kid's Corner: Would you like to become a Chief Rider of a performing Lipizanner? You can start training when you are 16. They prefer you have no training in riding horses so that you don't bring any bad riding habits with you. You start as an "eleve" and work your way up to "Riding Candidate," then "Rider," then "Chief Rider." The top position is "First Chief Rider." This Rider is in charge of all the Riders and the performances. These men and women make this a life long career. The stage where the Lipizanners perform is a huge area that people say looks like a wedding cake. It is all white with very fancy decorations. When I saw it, that is exactly how it looks. We didn't get to see a performance because they only are held on weekends. I guess we'll have to come back again some time!