Crazy house and a bit of Strauss, that's Vienna!!!


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Europe » Austria » Vienna
January 16th 2016
Published: June 26th 2017
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After a comfortable night in a very spacious room we headed down to the restaurant where we had a satisfying breakfast. It was buffet style and had a wide variety of items, ample to suit our needs for the busy day we had planned for today.

Vienna. Our first glimpse of this most imperial of cities in the cold (quite literally!!) light of day. Vienna, the capital city of Austria since only 1804 when the Austrian Empire was officially proclaimed. 2.6 million inhabitants reside in or around the metropolitan area. That's nearly one third of the entire population of the country.

Rewinding back a few years the English name Vienna is borrowed from the Italian name Vienna!! Vienna and the official German name Wien, are thought to derive from the Celtic word windo, meaning bright or fair.

Our first stop was to purchase a Vienna Card. This is a must for anyone who is intending to spend a few days in the Austrian capital. The card can be purchase for either 48 or 72 hours. Only having two full days to explore, we both invested in the 48 hour card. The card costs €19.80 and entitles the holder
The Court yard in Hapsberg palaceThe Court yard in Hapsberg palaceThe Court yard in Hapsberg palace

A monument to Kaiser Franz I
to unlimited travel on the u-bahn or tram as well as discounts at nearly 200 attractions.

We had already decided on our first stop, the Spanish riding school. Yes, I know, it confused the bejeebus out of me as well!! It is a riding school in Vienna so shouldn't it be the Austrian riding School? Apparently not. The school gets its name from the Spanish horses that formed one of the bases of the Lipizzan breed

The Spanish Riding School is a traditional riding school where the world famous Lipizzaner horses are taken through their paces and trained to ‘prance around' in perfect synchronisation in a high class dressage routine.

The Winter Riding School arena is open to the public where performances are given daily. Unfortunately, the horses and riders don't perform in the winter (despite having an arena in which the name suggests otherwise!!) However, unlike soccer players in the close season, the horses don't get the chance to spend it on a beach in Barbados!! The horses still have daily exercises, open to the public…10am until noon… €10… €8 with the Vienna card!!

Walking past the Opera House we strolled up the narrow thoroughfare that is Augustinsetrasse leading on to Josefsplatz whilst passing numerous palatial building that in centuries past have likely held the courts of kings and emperors.

On entering the Winter Riding School foyer there was already a considerable queue. There is no reserved seating for the morning exercises so it's on a first come first served basis. Shortly before 10am the doors opened and we all filed out across a court yard, up a few steps and into the arena. From the outside, the structure could easily pass for just another wing of a palace where Josephine or the little Corporal himself may have held a lavish reception to celebrate his alliance with the Austrians but our first glimpse showed the inside was of a purpose built arena with a sand covered sunken floor. The seats on the lower level were cushioned but reserved for show time so we were lead up several flights of stairs to the gallery where we spread out to take our place at any unoccupied wooden bench! An announcement was made in English and German that specified strictly no photos.

I'm a great believer in the adage of: ‘you get what you pay for'. We're not too sure what we expected for €8 but as a performance costs between €50-92 and today was advertised as ‘exercises', after the first twenty minutes of the riders guiding these splendid equine specimens around the edge of the arena in single file, the routine was getting very samey. The horses occasionally did that sort of dance movement where they lift their legs in a kind of marching stance which looked promising but they never broke rank and soon reverted to the trotting associated with ‘normal' horses!!. After twenty five minutes the seven horses that had been exercising left the arena to be replaced by another seven horses who continued where the previous troop left off!!

People were coming and going all the time so after forty five minutes Roisin and I decided to leave the horses to their exercises. On reflection I suppose I expected a rehearsal or a demonstration but then wouldn't that just be a show??

Outside the sun was just reappearing from behind a cloud. Despite this bright winters day, there was still a distinct, if not refreshing chill, in the air as we passed through the Hofburg palace complex.

The Hofburg Palace was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire which was continuously occupied by one of the most influential royal dynasties Europe has ever seen, the Habsburgs who ruled between 1438 and 1740. Today it is the official seat of the Austrian Federal president. Originally built in the 13th century each ruler has added a wing to the palace. From the Swiss wing to the Leopold wing. The Imperial Chancellery wing to the Augustin wing. The Hofburg palace now has more wings than a Kentucky Fried Chicken mega bucket!!

We passed through the entrance to the State apartments which then opened up to a spacious court yard known as ‘In der Berg'. With the entrance to the treasury behind Roisin as we stopped to take a few photos we didn't want to linger as it might look like we're casing the joint à la Oceans 11!!

Swiftly exiting the court yard we weaved our way through the gravelled paths of the Volksgarten, a well-manicured and topiaried park area that forms the gardens of the Hofberg Palace. On the periphery of these gardens stands the Parliament building and the Town Hall.

We took the u-bahn U3 to Schwedenplatz changing at Stefansplatz to the U1. Back at street level we found ourselves alongside the Donaukanal, not as you would think a manmade canal but s small tributary of the river Danube that flows through a suburb of Vienna, a few kilometres further on. Taking a No 1 tram we alighted at the Lowengasse and crossing the road we were soon looking up at our next attraction, Hundertwasser House.

Attraction is probably too strong a word as this is just a building with an arcade of shops on the ground level. However, the definition of ‘attraction' in the English Oxford dictionary is:' A quality or feature of something or someone that evokes interest, liking, or desire'. I certainly don't desire this excuse for an architectural disaster although I can't help feeling that by seeing this quirky apartment block my interest has never been so evoked!!

"Architectural disaster?' quizzed Roisin. ‘I think it's meant to be like that!!'

Hundertwasser House was the idea and concept of Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Herr Hundertwsser was first and foremost an artist. You know when someone says, ‘Don't give up your day job'? Well on this occasion no one said it!!! He probably had a very doting mother who encouraged his ‘creativity' at every opportunity:

‘Ooh! That's a nice picture dear! Such a big shiny car! No, of course I can see it is a house! You'll make a lovely architect one day'

Hundertwasser House is different. We like different. The apartment block is painted in very bold colours; blues, reds, golds. The unusual fact about the building is that there are no straight lines. Something you don't notice until it is brought to your attention.

Within the house there are 53 apartments, 4 offices, 16 private terraces and 3 communal terraces, and a total of 250 trees and bushes. Joking apart, the Hundertwasser House is one of Vienna's most visited buildings and has become part of Austria's cultural heritage.

The arcade of shops on the ground floor are collectively known as the Hundertwasser House village. After browsing in a few high end souvenir shops I noticed that the few people who were milling around were all dark haired. That made me the only ‘grey' in the village!! Then I chuckled to myself as I had a thought. If Ronnie came here without Reggie, would he be the only Kray in the village??!!!

We stopped for well-earned coffee and cake then headed back to Schwedenplatz where we continued on our journey on the U1 to Kaisermühlen.

The Donauturn or Danube Tower lies just over 4 miles from the centre of Vienna on the north bank of the Danube in an area surprisingly called Donaustadt. It is the tallest structure in Austria and stands 827ft high. We found the tower at the far edge of the originally named Donaupark. Passing through the concourse that opens out in front of the United National building complex with its modern portico and countless flags. Well actually that's not quite true. I counted 193 flag. I have it on good authority that these represent 192 member states and the U.N flag!!

Once inside the base of the tower one of us elected to check out the observation deck whilst one of us decided to wait in the café adjacent to the tower.

There are two high-speed elevators in the Donauturn. Both take a maximum of 14 passengers. Leaving Roisin cupping her hot chocolate in ‘Spoons', I disappeared in to one of the elevators, the doors closed and 35 second later I was stepping out on to the viewing platform150 metres (490 ft) above street level. This comprised of an open-air platform and a two-storey glass-paned inside section. The vista awaiting me offered a varied view over the Austrian capital and the Danube River below.

As with most towers there are only so many photos you can take. Why is there always a good side and a shit side when looking out from a tower? From the observation platform atop the Donauturn, on one side the city of Vienna spread out in the shadow of the foothills of the eastern Alps and on the other side, the residential suburbs with the flatness of the plains of Bohemia beyond.

Back on terra firma I had a shock whilst walking around the souvenir store. My eyes fixed on a box of biros that said ‘I PENS'. For one swift moment I misread the sign! I blame Countdown for my ability to solve anagrams!!

After an early tea at a very busy TGI Fridays (we could only get a 5:30 slot) we headed to our entertainment for the evening. Where better when in the home of the Viennese waltz to experience the delights of a Strauss Gala. The Kursalon stands in the grounds of the Stadtpark, a few hundred metres from our hotel.

Built in 1865 in the Renaissance style, the Kursalon comprises of four ballrooms on three floors, a 1,000 square metre large terrace and a restaurant.

We were a little early so, after passing our jackets to the cloakroom attendant we spent time watching guests arrive for what we later learned was a gala ball. The guests walked across the marble inlaid foyer floor before handing an invitation card to an assistant behind a makeshift counter. The ladies all wore full bodied ball gowns whilst the gentlemen looked very ‘Downton Abbey' in their tails, waistcoats and bow ties. Some of the guests entered the ground floor ballroom directly but others were content to stand around the foyer chatting. All this visible finery certainly made even the best cruise ship gala evening look like supper with the Clampetts!!! Ellie Mae and I felt a little underdressed in a mixture of Matalan and Primark!!

We were soon directed to the first floor where we were instructed to wait at the top of the stairs as the concert hall wasn't quite ready. Whilst waiting a door opened and a mass of youths donned in the famous blue and white sailor suits trundled out. The Vienna Boys' Choir is one of the oldest boys' choirs in the world. For nearly five hundred years it has been one of the enduring symbols of Austria and Vienna. It was all go in the Kursalon tonight!!

One more flight up and we were shown in to a compact concert hall of pink and magnolia décor with fine crystal chandeliers suspended from the highly decorative corniced ceiling.

Out of about an audience of a hundred and fifty, two thirds must have been either Korean or Japanese. One of which even entered the concert hall wearing a surgical mask! Austria, despite being in a city, still has some of the purest air in Europe. Unless of course she was the secretary of the Seoul branch of the Phantom of the Opera Appreciation Society!! Well she was going to be disappointed as there is no Andrew Lloyd Weber on the programme tonight!! There's always one!!! Make that two as thirty seconds later an elderly lady, with a slight frame and standing no taller than five feet entered the room wearing an oversized sparkly top and baggy jeans!!

We were entertained by the Alt Wien Salon Orchestra who re-created the melodies of Vienna's golden age through the music of Messrs. Strauss, Mozart and Schubert. Opera singers and ballet soloists contributed to the highlights of this most enjoyable concert. Just as in the times of Johann Strauss et al, the orchestra played without a conductor. The principal violinist led the orchestra supposedly achieving a historically accurate performance of Viennese music. However, unlike his historical predecessors, they probably didn't introduce each piece of music in English complete with a Yorkshire accent!!

Encores completed, the lights came up and the great double doors opened, we all filed out. Roisin and I were sat on the end of a row near the exit so we led the exodus down the stairs to the main foyer. I handed my ticket in to the cloakroom attendant.

‘Was möchten Sie?' ‘What do you want?'

‘Coats?' I answered rather abruptly taken somewhat by surprise to be questioned about my actions.

‘Ah you want to take them?' the attendant asked.

I felt like saying, ‘No, I want to know if they've been dry cleaned!!' but I couldn't find the right German words without the use of a few expletives!!

Today has been a very full day. Tomorrow we have planned much the same…but different!!


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