So here we are finally in Vienna. This city has been on the dream list for over fifty years - wow can you believe that!!!!! When we think back to some of our very earliest of dreams or wishes this has to be close to one of the first I can remember. So the years of dreaming about seeing the majestic Lipizzaner stallions perform at the Spanish Riding School has finally come to fruition. Tickets are booked for Saturdays performance so we can now relax and discover what the rest of this wonderful city offers.
Sadly we are a month early otherwise we could have enjoyed one of Vienna’s true spectacles when the famous Vienna Boys Choir and The Spanish Riding School come together to perform. Probably the best known boys choir in the world, established more than 500 years ago, along with the Riding School the only institution of its kind that has continued to practise for nearly 450 years, are combining to perform “A Tribute to Vienna”. What a treat that would have been!!
This capital of Austria with its 2.5 million people, has some of the largest, grandest, most opulent palaces we've seen on our European travels. One of the most musical cities in the world, with a vast number of great composers and musicans who were either born here or lived and worked for many years. …………….
Described as Europe's cultural capital way back in the 1400’s, it was known for its arts, science, music and fine cuisine. Home to the Habsburg Monarchy it later became the centre of the Holy Roman Empire for over 300 years. Later in the 1800’s Vienna would become the capital of the Austro - Hungarian Empire and would play a major roll in European and world politics.
It has a vibrancey, even though I'd never describe the Austrian's in that way, and a flair with its own unique charm. Its a romatic imperial city which we soaked up as we strolled along the narrow medievil alleyways, grand imperial coutyards, admired the impressive Baroque architecture and wandered through some of the huge Palaces.
There seems to be a quaility of life higher than most or at least the feeling that the majority people live well. We didn’t see the Romanian beggars that had been so prevalent in Salzburg. Prices are higher than we've come across but still fine compared to London. It has a grandeur to it but also a warmth, not austere like some other European city’s. Its safe, clean and had a good public transport system that we soon picked up on but the majority of attractions are all in the old city and well within walking distance.
The people seem more formal and polite than Salzburg and its refreshing to see a number of people dressed in traditional styled clothing made in the varying shades of green, grey and brown. Just subtle differences to the cut of your classic jackets and coats, and hats but distinctly Austrian. The styles are also in a number of the shops.
Our appartment turns out to be very close to the old town so David and Jude lead the way as they discovered more about the city than they bargained for last night after a frustrating time trying to drop off the rental car. Within a few minutes we are indulging in the famous Vienna Cafe lifestyle and fit right in immediately - we'd been practising for this moment for a long time!!!
Its high on the tourist route so they are very used to having their glorious elegant city being taken over by the masses. But the main streets are very generous and traffic free so it never felt too overcrowded.
Austria dose not allow the Free walking tours that we often take so we did our own this time, with trusty leader David Lines. And the beauty is that except for a couple of the big palaces almost everything else is within walking distance.
St Stephens Cathedral was the first stop. Described as the symbol of Vienna, we could hardly miss it as it almost right in middle of tourist mecca!!!!! It was built in the 12th century and is a pretty impressive Gothic masterpiece .
The glorious big Opera House is only a few minutes down the street and is built in an Italian Renaissance style. Built in 1861-1869, it is well known its first class performances and the wonderful Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra which is housed here. With its big scene out the front, they will sometimes project the concert outside to a lucky audience free of charge. Sadly we didn’t get to enjoy this its only peak tourist season July and August.
Behind it is the Imperial Butterfly House inside a rather beautiful Art Nouveau Palm,(Glass) House.
This is all part of the magnificent Hofburg Royal Palace, a focal point of Vienna. This huge Imperial Palace was home to the Habsburg's Empire for over six centuries, and is made up of a variety of architectural masterpieces now housing the official residence and offices of the President of Austria, National Library, Imperial Treasury, Museums, glorious gardens, courtyards, medieval chapel (where you’ll hear the Vienna boys choir perform most Sundays ) and of course the stables and the Spanish riding School. You really could spend days just here.
Then onwards to the Museums Quartier and some more impressive pieces of architecture. This is one of the largest cultural complexes in the world where various disciplines of art are all pulled together. To me just the glorious Baroque buildings of the Leopold Museum and are enough, complimented by the Mumok, Museum of Modern Art, which focuses on art of the 20th and 21st century with works by Andy Warhol, Picasso and Yoko Ono.
The next day we took the underground out to the impressive Schonbrunn Palace, summer residence of the former imperial family. This is one of Europe’s best Baroque Palace complexes, consisting of many surrounding buildings, stunning park like grounds and gardens and one of the oldest zoos in the world. The castle was built to compare with the famous French Versaillies but sadly came up short.
But in saying that it is a magnificent Palace with over 1441 rooms and well worth the tour and the time to wander the gardens and view it from the hill.
We took the glass elevator up the top of the Steffl department store to the cafe which provides a glorious view over the city. Found a great cafe down by the University and tasted the Sacha Torte. Sadly after a big build up it turned out to be just a chocolate cake but it was the environment and company that made it special.
Time to try the local cuisine. David and Judy had been out the night before to listen to a concert so David and I had checked out the local area. Its on the other side of the river and a whole different environment to the old town. So dinner out was hardly traditional Austrian, instead owned and run by an Israeli and a Russian Jew, but we did hit the jackpot and drank local beer and wine!!!! The best hummus ever!!
On our last day we soaked up the atmosphere of this romantic city, enjoyed another coffee or two and a few hours of bliss being inside the famous Spanish Riding school. Founded in 1572, the name is derived from the fact that the Lipizzaner originated from Spain but today there is a stud close to Graz where they are bred. The years of training that goes into these wonderful grey stallions and riders alike is elaborate, but the results are truly like equine ballet performed to classical music in the most beautiful riding hall in the world.
Our last afternoon in Vienna and we saw a far more relaxed side of the city as we came upon a rowdy beer festival. Plenty of sunshine, good music, lashings of good wholesome tucker e.g. bread and meat and endless quantities of beer. And if its all too much you just stop and find a place to put your feet up. Or even better take advantage of some of the newly created 'beach loungers' - who needs sand anyway???