A Valentine from Vienna

Patricia Sands

Love is always in the air in Vienna, the City of Music!  My husband graduated from the University of Vienna, and every year, on our way to the south of France, he needs his Mozart and schnitzel fix! However, those are just two of many good reasons to spend time in this elegant, welcoming city where music and the arts blend seamlessly with beautiful parks, expansive gardens and the outdoor life.

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lahe-Vienna19Climb into a stately horse-drawn fiaker (carriage) like the one below. From the Fiaker website: “The term “fiaker” became a standard name for this type of carriage almost thirty years after the first fiaker was licensed (1693), and was adopted from the type of horse-drawn hackney carriages in Paris run by an innkeeper who lived in the Rue de Saint Fiacre in 1662. Around 1790 there were approximately 700 in Vienna, in their heyday between 1860-1908 there were over 1,000 fiakers.” Let me show you around.

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We will start here by going past Kärntner Strasse, one of the main pedestrian arteries in the heart of the city. This has been a vital connection from the city centre to the ancient walls since Roman times. Sadly many of the noble buildings were destroyed in WWII, but some remain, and most of the new construction tastefully blends.

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At Am Graben, the area is alive with shopping, dining, and entertaining buskers. Outdoor cafés abound to pass time people-watching while you enjoy a cold Austrian beer or strong espresso. Our fiaker can cross this street but not go on it.

A stunning route begins at the popular Karlsplatz square. Before we leave we’ll visit the outstanding Baroque Karlskirche/St. Charles Church , begun in 1716.

lahe-Vienna4This primary pedestrian zone begins at the prestigious Vienna State Opera building. The performances of the opera season in Vienna are world renowned. Dating back to the mid-19th C, click here for a virtual tour of this historic building.

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Right across the street, we will stop at the Hotel Sacher, a former palace, to enjoy a slice of the world-famous, dense chocolate Sacher torte … with schlagobers, of course! (whipped cream)

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Sufficiently fortified, we’re ready to pass through a maze of newly refurbished shopping streets in the old town, with simple benches, stunning sculptures, and water fountains. Our carriage is restricted to certain streets but gives you an excellent overview so you can return and browse at leisure.

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Our next stop is the spectacular Hofburg Palace which was the centre of the Habsburg empire for centuries. Today, three museum attractions provide historically accurate insights into the tradition and daily life at court. The Imperial Apartments, Sisi Museum and the Silver Collection are amongst Vienna’s top sights. This was the winter palace while the royal family spent summers at the 1441-room Schönbrunn Palace, a short distance outside the city. Easily reachable by public transit, this stunning palace and gardens (including a maze and labyrinth) deserve a separate article.

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lahe-Vienna10Excavations of Roman ruins can be seen just outside the main entrance to the Palace.

lahe-Vienna18 While here, let’s hop out and take a look at the most elegant (I know I keep using that word, but that’s the reality of Vienna!) horse stables I’ve ever seen. The famous Lippizan horses of the Spanish Riding School live here in the baroque former Imperial Stables.

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The Spanish Riding School in Vienna is the only institution in the world which has practiced for over 440 years and continues to cultivate classical equitation in the Renaissance tradition of the haute école. If you can’t take in a performance, it’s possible to watch practices that are also fascinating. Click here to watch an excellent video performance.

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Just a few minutes’ walk in another wing of the Palace is the Austrian National Library. The first time I entered this building, I was speechless. I think you will agree. There are over 7.4 million items in the collections here, including everything from ancient texts written on papyrus, maps, paintings, manuscripts, ancient and rare books, photographs (yay!) and even works in Esperanto.

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Lunchtime! Let’s stop at the classic Konzert Café Schwarzenberg, a favourite of ours. The Viennese coffee house has been a stronghold of Austrian culinary tradition for centuries. Since it opened in the 19th century, Café Schwarzenberg has been popular with locals and tourists. Along with fine cuisine, there are often exhibitions, concerts, or readings presented, and a wide range of international newspapers are available.

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Back in our fiaker, our next stop is the Judenplatz, a pretty square lined with Baroque and 19th C buildings. This was the heart of the Jewish ghetto from the 13th to the 15th centuries.

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lahe-Vienna27At one end of the square is the sombre and touching Holocaust Memorial, designed to look like a stack of books in a library which represent the untold stories of Holocaust victims.

Throughout the city there are impressive sculptures and plaques onlahe-Vienna28 buildings noting illustrious citizens who have lived at certain addresses through the ages. Adler, Freud, Klimt, Mozart, Mahler, Strauss, Schubert, Wagner, Weininger, to name just a few.

Music fills the air in all areas of the city. From street musicians to jazz cafés to grand concert halls, there is something for everyone.

We’ll say goodbye to our carriage driver at Stephensplatz, the geographical centre of the city. The breathtaking Stephansdom, Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, holds centre stage here. Severely damaged by fire in the last days of the Second World War, it was virtually reduced to rubble. But with seemingly everyone lending a hand, the cathedral was rebuilt in perfect detail in just seven years: the emblem of Austria and symbol of Austrian identity had risen once more from the ashes. Restoration continues.

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You can’t help but notice the ultramodern glass and steel building directly across from the Cathedral. It was tricky for me to get a photo with both buildings in the frame, but I think you can get the picture. Haas House, in stark contrast to the historic buildings of the old city, was one of the most disputed building projects in Vienna of the late 20th century.

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Today it is considered one of the most exciting structures. The square of Stefansplatz is opened up by the glass facade and images of the Cathedral are reflected in it. I was shocked the first time I saw it, but I’ve come to learn this is a perfect example of how the old and new combine in this exciting city.

We’ve only begun to discover all this refined city has to offer and there are links at the bottom of the page for even more information. A visit is highly recommended.

Before we say “auf wiedersehen” to Vienna, we’ll take a half-hour ride onlahe-Vienna36 the #39 streetcar to the village of Grinzing. Now a suburb of Vienna, the area’s reputation is based on its vineyards and numerous Heurigen—the traditional cafes serving schnitzel, wurst, wine, and must (grape juice), which remain a tourist attraction to this day. It’s a lively way to end a busy day. Ein prosit!

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To plan your trip to Vienna, visit Welcome To Vienna!

For more information on side trips from Vienna and throughout this beautiful country, click right here.

All photography in this post is the copyright of Patricia Sands.

Patricia Sands lives in Toronto, Canada, and calls the south of France her second home. I Promise You This, Book #3 in her award-winning Love in Provence series, will be published in May 2016. Find Patricia at her Facebook  page, Amazon Author Page or her website.

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