Vienna - beyond schnitzels

Vienna is such a gracious city, that it's hard to realise that 28 percent was destroyed in WWII. We take a tour with Rudy, a proud resident who guides walking tours of the capital. He is so fit, it's more like a 'sprinting tour' (he laments I don't ride a bike!) but we keep up with him. Just.

For forty euros we could have taken a 20-minute ride in a fiacre a horse-drawn carriage which takes 2-4 people, or tour in a tram for 9 euros. Or even buy a 5.70 euro ticket that would last us 12 hours on the underground rail network.

Instead, we walk. Our hotel is the small but beautiful Das Tyrol, near the city's major buildings of tourist interest so we don't go far before the first stop.

This place is steeped in history and culture. We poke our noses into Cafe Frauenhuber, the oldest coffee shop in Vienna, where Mozart would play his music. Imagine that as a background to your long black!


We'd been too late in correlating our tour times with performances by the famous Spanish Riding School, but we did manage to squeeze in to the morning exercises to which public are allowed. It was quite a sight to see white and dapple-grey horses cantering, trotting and high stepping on the earthen floor of the academy, under crystal chandeliers and to a background of Viennese waltz music. No photos allowed inside, but we caught up with them again as they crossed to their stables.





We cram in all the must-sees: Naturhistorisches Museum at Maria-Theresa-Square, the 15C Hofburg Palace, the 12C St Stephen's Cathedral, the State Opera (Staatsoper), the Hotel Sacher, birthplace of that chocolatey delight, sachertorte.Nearby we watch as people fill the square watching on large screens the opera that was being performed inside the opera house. It was a wonderfully relaxing scene and people would come and go, pause and watch, or stayed glued to the screen, depending on  their interest in the performance.



St Stephen's is built in the flamboyant gothic style. It was half-destroyed during the last war and took seven years to rebuild. The side windows are immensely high and filled with pale-coloured oblong panes. Outside the cathedral's roof has that distinctive herringbone pattern of coloured tiles seen in Beaune, in France, and other places in Europe. Sadly the restorers were not able to exactly replicate all the colours used originally as sometime over the centuries, as the exact materials needed and the know-how have been lost.


A thoroughly modern city with all the accoutrements of 21st-century life, we found Vienna a delightful mix of old and new.


There are the anchors of history here, heavy important powerful buildings made to last through anything, erected on behalf of heavy, powerful dynasties such as the Habsburgs.


But then there are the confections of sugar and fruit and chocolate that reflect the other side of this city - the one that loves beauty and music and art and flavour – and a good coffee.

It's such a cultured, elegant city but there seems no other way to leave, except as we had arrived – on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express bound for London.







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