We started off with Vienna, a city which has an infinite wealth of architectural grandeur, a rich artistic legacy and some of the finest museums in the world. It has always enticed its visitors with its lavish old world charm, gothic cathedrals overlooking richly ornamented buildings. Reaching in the afternoon after catching an early morning flight from London we were all excited to explore the city but our bodies were desperately requesting for some rest. Thus after a restful afternoon the first thing we started with was going for a classical music concert in the evening. After all we were visiting the city of Mozart, Schubert, Strauss and Beethoven, the classical musical capital of Europe. Not being into classical music as such, we were really just going along for the experience, but the Musikverein Golden hall seemed to be perfect for an intimate recital of classical music. The walls were intricately painted in red and golden tones which made it look magnificent along with the cosy seating arranged so that everyone had a fantastic view of the stage. The musicians performed a combination of orchestra and opera and recited some of the works of Mozart. We thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and would recommend it to anyone holidaying in Austria who wants to experience an essential part of the culture of Vienna.
From a sightseeing point of view Vienna has plenty to explore. The city is scattered with Art Nouveau and early modern buildings. Our sightseeing started off with a walk around the first district of Vienna with the first stop at the Stephansdom (more popularly known as St, Stephen’s Cathedral)- an impressive Gothic cathedral known for its interesting colourful dragon scales roof and a tower 136.7 meters high. As we stepped inside the Cathedral the stain glass windows illuminated the whole space creating a sense of divineness. It was one of the most beautiful cathedrals I had seen.
Walking a bit further on Graben Street is St. Peter’s Church. This church is dedicated to the Holy Trinity even though it’s called St. Peter’s Church. This is one of the oldest churches in Vienna.
Continuing with the walk we reached the Spanish Riding School or Spanische Hofreitschule which has been training horses and riders since it was established by the Habsburgs back in the 1500s. The buildings form a part of the Hofburg Palace (which I will get to later on in the blog). Neither the school nor its riders are Spanish but the horses are; they are all Lipizzaners, a breed which mixes Spanish, Arabian and Berber ancestry. As we entered the arena we could imagine the grandeur of the hall during Austrian royalty with its huge crystal chandeliers and a decorative vaulted ceiling. It was quite a delight to watch steeds’ and riders’ mastery of classical horsemanship.
After the performance we moved on to the Hofburg Palace – the ground zero of Habsburg royal family. Six centuries of Habsburgs ruled from Vienna, including Maria Theresa in the late 1700s. Today’s Hofburg Palace is furnished as it was in the 19th century from the age of Maria’s great-great-grandson, Emperor Franz Josef. He ruled for 68 years and was the final epitome of the Habsburg Empire and also well known for his Empress Elizabeth (‘’Sisi’’). With a wistful and fascinating legacy, Sisi still retains an enthusiastic fan following among Austrians. Today inside the palace there are various museums such as the Sisi Museum, Papyrus Museum, National Library and Imperial Treasury. We chose to visit the Imperial treasury. Exploring the treasury inside the Palace was a treat to the eyes as the visitors could ruminate on the glitter of 20 rooms filled with precious stones and jewels. The power and glory of the Habsburg Empire was clear from the astonishing treasures that they had left behind.
Finishing off the day the day we decided to visit Prater where there is a Giant Ferris Wheel and other amusements. When we reached there we saw that there were huge queues and to be honest after getting up on the London Eye the Vienna Ferris Wheel really didn’t appeal that much. We captured some nice photos of the wheel from the ground and then moved on.
Now although I feel I am bit old to be mad about any actor or singer but I swear I could feel a tinge of excitement while walking up to the former residence of Sigmund Freud. For me he is true icon of the last century because he left us an ever lasting legacy about the way we observe the world around us. Thus a visit to Vienna without going to his museum would be kind of incomplete for me. Although he lived in Vienna for most of his life, he had to flee from the Nazis in 1938 and moved to London. Stepping into the apartment where he wrote his works was a fantastic feeling where one could see all his personal possessions, books and drawings.
Next we were off again to get some more dose of the Habsburg history. We started by visiting the Schönbrunn Palace – one of the most famous and visited sights in Vienna. The first look of it made me remind of Palace of Versailles in France (although the France one is much bigger and grander). It was originally built as hunting lodge which was then redesigned by Maria Theresa into a grand palace consisting of 1441 rooms and 400 acres of gardens. The most famous residents of this place was Emperor Franz Josef and his Empress Elizabeth (‘’Sisi’’). Entering the palace one can see that the emperor adopted a very simple life with his no-frills iron bed and portable washstand on display. One can also see reflections of Empress Elizabeth in the palace. Hugely loved by the Austrian people she was like the Austrian version of Princess Diana with plenty of similarities between them like going beyond the social protocols surrounding them, dedicated social causes etc. Although the interiors were beautiful it didn’t leave too much of an impression on us, maybe because we were not allowed to take photographs inside which made me grumpy. After the tour we visited the gardens which were divided into various parts and also had a palm house.
After spending almost half a day here we moved on to Belvedere Palace – complex of Baroque palaces built for the Austrian Price Eugene of Savoy. It actually consists 3 Palaces (the Upper Belvedere, the Lower Belvedere and the Winter Palace) that are somewhat spread throughout a large area, and several smaller museums in the vicinity. We decided to check out the upper Belvedere famous for the world’s largest Gustav Klimt collection.
Top Tip : We bought the Vienna Pass which gives you entry into most of the attractions without having to queue at each one for tickets, unlimited entry onto the hop off hop on buses and walking tours. We found to this pass highly useful.
Having loved the concert so much the next day we decided to visit Salzburg for a day – the birth place of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Relying mainly on tourism Salzburg is the storybook of Austria. Standing beside the Salzach River this little town is sure to steal your heart with its old world charm and spectacular architecture. During medieval times it was salt that financed Salzburg but now there are two big money-spinners – Mozart and The Sound of Music; they hide a city with a flourishing arts scene, wonderful food, beautiful parks and concert halls that uphold musical tradition 365 days a year. Everywhere you go, the scenery, the skyline, the music and the history soothe your holiday spirits.
After making a brief stop at the Mirabell Gardens we made our way into the Old Town of Salzburg. We started by heading towards the Salzburg Fortress, the largest and best-preserved fortress in Central Europe is quite an impressive sight. After a period of serving as military barracks, the fortress was finally opened to the public in the 1860s. Today, it dominates Salzburg’s skyline and offers impressive views.
Descending from the fortress we reached the Salzburg’s Cathedral. The interior decor of Salzburg Cathedral is beyond words but the biggest touristic interest is attracted by fact that in 1756 Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized here. We also saw the house of another famous inhabitant of Salzburg–the confectioner, Paul Fuerst, the creator of the rounded chocolates called “Mozartkugel” which now are well known all over the world as Mozart balls.
While wandering the streets we made stops at various beautiful squares for photo stops. Finishing our tour we finally visited Mozart’s Birthplace (Geburtshaus) in Old Town, where he learned to play piano and violin and composed his first boy-genius works.
Thus came to an end our holiday in Austria. With everyone leading such busy lives when you visit Vienna it truly feels like that soothing place where art has become the life interest for people. One can find art in every corner of Vienna; you can find it dancing in the streets, whistling in the winds and in the heart of each and every person in Vienna. But I feel the thing that we both will miss most about Vienna is the long walks through the courtyards of the historic centre and sipping endless ‘melanges’ in the coffee houses.
Have you been to Vienna? Share your thoughts with us….