Vienna is such a beautiful city. We quickly made ourselves at home staying at Mercure Wien City Hotel on Hollandstrasse 3 which is located in a great area. As we opted not to stay in the heart of Vienna, preferring to be away from the nightlife, but a short walk away, this location suited us perfectly. It was a very quiet with a cosy atmosphere and provided the perfect setting for the next five days.
There was a bakery on the corner where we had a very traditional breakfast. Funny because not speaking the language we couldn’t read the menu so just pointed at what we hoped we’d enjoy. Steve was bought a whole canister of muesli to help himself and some yoghurt to top it off. I had hardboiled eggs, Viennese rolls, slices of soft cheese and ham. We were both also served croissants and coffee, good coffee.
Our hotel was conveniently only a ten minute walk from Stephansplatz, the central part of the city and well served by public transport with trams and underground stations also within a short walk. Across the Salztorbrucke bridge were all the famous sights of St Stephen’s cathedral, Hofburg Imperial Palace, State Opera House and Albertina.
First on our list was a visit to the mighty St Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom) originally built in 1147 and later destroyed in a fire. The surviving two towers were incorporated into the new building and much of what stands today results from 1359. Further expansions continued throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The crowning piece of Stephansdom is the south tower, fondly known as Steffl (little Stephen) where a tight spiral staircase of 418 steps leads to the tall Gothic tower’s spire.
In the Tower’s spire is the watchman’s lookout 137 metres above street level to an observation point. Surprising something built in the fifteenth century still dominates the city skyline. The facade facing Stephansplatz is the only surviving part from the thirteenth century. The cathedral is mix of gothic and renaissance styles and the altar is baroque. The tower houses a huge bell cast in 1711, one of the largest is Europe. The roof is decorated in two hundred thousand glazed tiles that form a mosaic. The coloured mosaic forms an enormous double headed eagle. The interior has a huge gothic vaulted ceiling which reaches 27 metres, a stone pulpit adorned with statues and stairs leading down to the catacombs.
Outside Stephansdom one day we were stopped by a man in traditional period costume and wig who seemed to be spruiking tickets for the Opera. Against my better judgement, between his poor English and our vague understanding, I allowed Steve to be talked into these tickets for the following evening. It was quite entertaining listening to him humming the music, gesturing the movements of the conductor, familiarising us with tunes. As soon as Steve agreed the guy revealed his own mobile eftpos so we could pay for the tickets on the spot. This concerned me! No second chance to rethink. Phew. The guy had hard work convincing us and after the deal was finalised he said we should seal it with a kiss… so Steve lunged forward and surprised the man with a Kiss!
Wandering around Stephansplatz we came across this insignificant church, St Peter’s (Peterskirche) and decided to go inside. The façade was undergoing renovation so appeared uninteresting, except for the monumental verdigris dome overshadowing the churches’ two towers. To our amazement when we entered we were overwhelmed by the sumptuously decorated interior. Complete with an abundance of marble pillar, gilded sculptures, intricate stucco, ornate pews and lavish works of art on the ceilings this is one of the most beautifully ornate churches we saw in Europe complete with a jewel encrusted skeleton.
The pulpit is particularly excessive with its numerous gilded sculptures. St Peter’s is the first building in Vienna to have a dome and the design was inspired by St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. This church may be on a smaller scale than many of those in Europe, but it lacks nothing in grandeur. There were only a few other people inside which made is even more appealing, no crowds, no noisy tour groups.
The following evening we made our way to on foot to Musikverein for the Vienna Mozart Orchestra concert. The Musikverein is renowned worldwide for it’s acoustics and is considered one of the finest concert halls in the world. I was still a little uncertain whether we had in fact purchased legitimate tickets into this neoclassical building. Inside is housed the Golden hall which seats 1744 and a smaller chamber music hall Brahms Hall seating 600.
Still cautious that we may not have valid tickets we apprehensively handed in over tickets and we were surprised to be directed to front row balcony seats. Wow, that was impressive. Not only had we made it inside this beautiful building, but were so lucky to actually have such good seats. We felt like we needed to pinch ourselves to check we were not dreaming. The evening was an absolute delight, the Viennese orchestra performed various chamber music ensembles in 18th century costume. The repertoire, elaborate setting, authentic costumes and wigs and the musicians’ enthusiasm all contributed to wonderful ambience which made us feel like we had truly stepped back in time.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at our favourite, Artur’s for a hot dog and grabbed a hot chocolate from Starbuck’s. What an amazing evening. Over the five days we were there we found Vienna was packed with culture, lively atmosphere, imperial history and surprising corners to explore.
We came across an Australian Pub called Crossfield’s which made me giggle when I read the menu. Grilled Grasshoppers, in fact 8 fair dinkum grilled Australian grasshoppers, without wings, of course, served with salad, mashed potatoes and tomato salsa. Now I know some people think we Aussies are a little strange eating Vegemite, but I promise you I have never, ever seen or even heard of grasshoppers being eaten in Australia.
I had another giggle outside Hofburg Palace looking at the figures on the outside of the building. Tell me, am I the only one who wonders if this was the world’s first selfie?
One of my favourite photos of our time in Vienna is a bronze statue that forms part of the massive monument in the courtyard square at Hofburg Palace. The monument is a bronze statue of Emperor Francis I, on the corner of the base are four statues depicting the imperial virtues, religion, peace, justice and strength. The pedestal is octagonal and on each side shows Science, Trade, Industrial production, Mining, Agriculture, Livestock, Art and the art of War. The one that I am drawn to is the statue depicting Religion, a sitting woman with her hands across her chest. I love the pose, the expression and the patina.
Have you been to Vienna? Was it love at first sight for you? What did you do there? Please leave a comment below and let us know below.
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