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A peek into the land brimming over with culture, music, palaces and a fine aristocratic edge to living: Vienna. By Divya Ananth

Nestled in the foothills of the Alps, on the banks of the great Danube River, sits Vienna, the capital of Austria. Sigmund Freud interpreted dreams here. Mozart’s music still wafts through the breeze. Monuments and palaces that adorn the city’s architecture are steeped in history. All enough to take away your breath, at the very sight of them! Stroll through the streets of Wien, and savour every square inch of the city, replete with the finer facets of life!

Vienna lies in the north eastern corner of Austria. It stretches across the Danube River on one side, and merges into the Vienna woods. Austria, that beautiful country, south of Germany, seems to be still alive with the sound of music. Verdant glades, jagged alpine peaks, sparkling streams and fine culture… the country carries on unmindful of its bloody past.

How to get there
There are regular daily flights from major European destinations. Reputable regional carriers and low cost airlines flying in and out of Vienna include Lufthansa, Air Berlin, Air France, Ryanair, Austrian Airways and British Airways, to name a few. The main rail services connect Vienna’s Westbahnhof (Railway station-west) to most of Western Europe and Western Austria. The Sudbahnhof (Railway station-south) connects Vienna to Italy, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and Southern Austria. There are also buses that ply to the Netherlands, England, Germany and Switzerland. Eurolines is a service that is worth making a note of.

Vienna offers a beautiful Mediterranean climate, with an average of 25 degree Centigrade during summer. The Wiener Wald – the Vienna Woods act as a barrier from extreme cold from the Alps. Temperatures dip considerably by end of November.

Best time to visit
Most tourists and Austrians themselves head for the Alps when the ski season begins. December is therefore a much anticipated time of the year for skiing fanatics. For the average tourist, April to August offer the ideal vacation, with longer days and balmy weather.

Must see, must do
For starters, take in the spirit of the city. Hop on to tram 1 or 2, which says “Ring Kai Ring”, around the Ring Strasse – the road circling the city centre. You will catch a glimpse of the Rathaus – the City hall, the Parliament, the 19th century Burg Theatre, among other striking monuments.

Stephansdom – The St. Stephan’s Cathedral, a gothic masterpiece, towers over the innenstadt – inner city – with tales to tell, right from the 13th century. The geometric pattern of its roof tiles is worthy of a gaze for just a couple of minutes more! You can take the lift up the north tower, or take the stairs to the South tower.

Hofburg – Hofburg was the seat of power for the Hapsburg dynasty for more than 600 years. Today, it hosts the office of the president of Austria. Empress Elisabeth, fondly called Sisi, lived in Hofburg during the 19th century. The Imperial Apartments, the Silberkammer – Silver Chamber, and Sisi Museum are a must see inside Hofburg. Sisi’s personal gym and dressing room are particularly fascinating. Wander around a bit, and take in the architectural splendour of Hofburg.

Spanish Riding School – About five centuries old, the Spanish Riding School trains the magnificent Lipizzaner stallions. It is situated just behind the Hofburg. Performances are sold out months ahead. So it is a good idea to write to the Spanische Reitschule to get details about performances. One can also gain entry to watch the stallions train. Approximately, 15 Euros are collected as entry fee.

Vienna Boys’ Choir – Listen to them singing, and you would simply say, “Move aside, boy bands!” The Vienna Boys’ Choir established way back in 1498 occupies a dear place in every Austrian’s heart. Young lads in sailor suits have the audience spellbound at the Royal Chapel at Hofburg every Sunday morning. Tickets are priced at 5 euro 50 cents approximately, and are sold on Friday and Sunday.

Mozarthaus (Mozart’s Residence) – To come face to face with the violin that the genius played, to behold his writing, to enter the house where Mozart lived… are you getting goose bumps already? Mozarthaus, situated in the old Vienna Town, in Domgasse, close to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, is his only surviving Viennese residence. The house was built in the 1720s. And Mozart rented rooms here since 1784. Scraps of paper with scribbled writing on them, musings, and musical notes are all preserved till day, just like his violin. A mould of the man’s original face looks at you from the other side of the glass. As you gaze on, you wonder if you are part of
a beautiful dream…

Schloss Schoenbrunn – One of the World Heritage Sites, the Schoenbrunn palace is the most visited site in Austria. The summer palace of the Hapsburgs, the palace is breathtakingly beautiful, adorned with fountains, and vast stretches of gardens. The 1440 imperial rooms are all not accessible. Nevertheless, a guided tour takes you through 40 grand rooms. The grounds have plenty to offer, with mazes to lose your way, the world’s oldest zoo – the Tiergarten, and the Palmenhaus – the greenhouse. There is also a children’s palace, which is definitely a must see. A time wheel represents how the royal children lived then. Step into one of the rooms, and your little ones can play with ancient imperial toys. They can even lay out a table for a meal fit for the king, or pretend to take the throne, with a tiara and a robe. Take home a picture of the little princes and princesses of the erstwhile Hapsburg Dynasty! Schloss Schoenbrunn, although tiring to negotiate in a day, will leave you spellbound, with its sheer grandeur.

Shop for
Austrian delights that include local confectionary, wine, fruits that are in season. Bring home a souvenir of the violin, as a remembrance of musical Vienna. Other knick knacks to look out for are handmade dolls and antique articles like lamps and wrought ironware.

Eat here
For the tourist on the go, there is no dearth of Macs. For the discerning foodie waiting to savour the local cuisine, do not miss out on the Wiener Schnitzel - a veal or pork cutlet coated in bread crumbs and Apfel Strudel. These are easily available at any local joint, which are almost always clean and inviting. Vienna takes pride in its coffee. Sip on the Viennese Melange, a coffee that is divine to relish. Bite into The Sacher Torte – The Sacher pastry – at the Sacher café, one of Vienna’s oldest coffee houses. If there is any place close to heaven, it is that feel of the delicious chocolate pastry in your mouth. If you would like to pack one, you could bring home a fine wooden case with “Sacher” inscribed on it – for keeps!

We recommend
A cruise on the Danube Canal which joins the river. The water level rises along with the ship. Right in front of your eyes, the gates are opened, and you are ferried to the river. The whole process is gentle and slow, but an experience to remember!

A visit to Kunsthaus Wien, designed by the architect Hundertwasser who believed in irregularity. Kunsthaus has uneven floors, misshaped windows and panes, a playful combination of glass, steel, metal, brick and ceramic edifices. KunstHaus stands in stark contrast to the medieval splendour that Vienna is steeped in.

As you wind up your visit over a cup of coffee, you will realize that Vienna is a city where time seems to have rested a while. Step out of Vienna, and you will find yourself in the 21st century – a far cry from stallions, violins, cobbled roads, spires, gothic structures, palaces and most of all, that air of aristocracy that the city breathes.


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