… and so is Maggie but there is no sign of Inspector Rex! Never mind, there is much to see and do in Vienna, once you acclimatise to the monumental scale of the built landscape; and the street layout, based on the famous ring of wide boulevards.
After we had found our hotel – Mercure Secession – and freshened up, we walked the short distance to the Naschmarkt, once Vienna’s main fresh food market, now given over to bars, cafés and restaurants. These operate for long hours and by 5pm they are crowded with locals and visitors. We had a tasty, if expensive fish meal then explored a little more, identifying some other places we might patronise on a return visit.
From Wednesday morning until late on Friday, we worked our way through our Vienna wish list and more. We began with the morning training session at the Spanish Riding School, a long-held ambition of Maggie’s. Next, a stroll around the heart of the old city, including a brief look at St Stephen’s Cathedral – I think we’ve had our fill of churches. Lunch was taken away from the crowds at a small restaurant which served a high quality Wiener Schnitzel at a reasonable price.
After lunch, we visited the Albertina, a remarkable art museum built around the vast collection assembled by Duke Albert, husband of the favourite daughter of Empress Maria Theresa. More recent private gifts of artwork have enhanced the Albertina’s renown with notable paintings by leading C19 and C20 artists. It was, for us, an unforeseen pleasure.
We returned to our hotel to freshen up for the evening. It began with a dinner at a Greek taverna – is there a more relaxed way to eat? Then a short walk to Musikverein, for a concert of Mozart music, including songs from some of his popular operas. The conductor, musicians and singers were all excellent and the program was diverse with a balance of earnest and entertaining pieces.
On Thursday morning, we walked to the Belvedere, two palaces either end of an elaborate garden, built as the home of a Savoy Prince who endeared himself to the Hapsburg empire by leading its army to major victories in the late C17. For us and the majority of visitors, the main attraction of Belvedere is the painting known popularly as ‘The kiss’ by Gustav Klimnt. You can choose from at least 100 souvenirs emblazoned with this famous image! Seriously though, there are many other interesting works of art to view and the upper palace is quite a eyeful in its own right.
After a one-course lunch, we returned briefly to our hotel to soak our feet in readiness for a guided tour of the State Opera House. It is difficult to find the right words to convey the many majestic qualities and the grand extent of this famous cultural edifice. Try this statistic: the backstage workforce numbers 270. The tour itself was comprehensive, informative and efficient; money well spent.
After another foot-bathe, we returned to the Naschmarkt, where we treated our digestive systems to a generous salad with flavoursome pieces of grilled chicken breast. A glass of wine at the hotel bar then an early night – we had plans for Friday!
The morning brought mild, dry weather. We took the underground to Schwedenplatz, now the sole stop of the Ring Tram. After a light breakfast at a nearby cafe, we boarded the yellow tram for a tour of the boulevards that make up the ring that encompasses the old heart of Vienna. The audio guide was quite informative without being intrusive.
Another underground ride took us out to the Prater, the original Viennese amusement park. We chose a slow circuit on the older ferris wheel; it was a bit tame compared with its modern imitators but a pleasant interlude just the same.
By now, our feet were in need of salvation but a deadline loomed – the 2pm guided tour of the Imperial apartments of the Hofburg palace. This proved to be another high quality experience at a fair price. Yes, it was a little crowded – the world is in love with old Europe – but there was much to appreciate, both visually and cerebrally.
We took in some refreshment in the form of mineral water and one of Austria’s many fine white wines before obliging our feet to bear us back to our hotel room. We rested, wrote emails and postcards then took our feet on their final outing of the day to a nearby Italian restaurant. It was a classic experience of Italian hospitality, with a world-class Limoncello conclusion.
Saturday morning’s generous breakfast at our hotel was a fitting end to a wonderful visit to Austria. Next stop Budapest!