It’s easy to see why so many people fall in love with Vienna and declare it to be their most favourite city in the world. It is simply a beautiful, charming city.
The first impression that one gets of this city are of the grand palaces and impressive buildings along the ring road which are surrounded by gardens and parks. The centre of the city is based around Stephensplatz – a central square in front of St Stephens Cathedral with streets radiating away with grand buildings, large entrance ways and high profile shops. The centre of the city has, quite rightly, been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Our hotel is at the Intercontinental, opposite Stadt Park. We are not quite in the centre of town, although our location is very handy to public transport. Vienna is well served by a network of underground trains, trams and buses. A day pass from anywhere to anywhere costs a little over 5 Euros. I must say, that while very comfortable, the architectural design of this building (a square Stalinist 1960’s block shape) does nothing to add to the otherwise attractive and ornate street scape of Vienna. We found exactly the same thing in Prague – perhaps it is common to Intercontinental Hotels?
Yesterday, we walked along the ring road, a broad boulevard called the Ringstraße which was built, along with its imposing public and private buildings, monuments, and parks that were created until the start of the 20th century. My first task was to find a pharmacy. I had managed to leave my blood pressure medication at home, but fortunately, I was able to buy enough for this trip without a prescription. Just past the pharmacy was the superb, and very large, State Opera building. A grand place, but unfortunately it’s seating is designed only for midgets and there would be no hope at all of me being able to sit through a concert there.
A little further along the way, we came across the enormous Hofburg Palace. This has housed some of the most powerful people in European and Austrian history, including the Habsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire. It currently serves as the official residence of the President of Austria. It was the Habsburgs’ principal winter residence, as the Schönbrunn Palace was their preferred summer residence. The Hofburg area has been the documented seat of government since 1279 for various empires and republics. Most of its buildings are now used as museums. Our first view of the palace was across the Burgartten park. It was an enormously impressive building and it wasn’t until we walked along a little further that we realised that we had been looking at the back of the building. The front view with its curved colonnade and enormous entrance was far more impressive.
It seems that Vienna has, for a long time, been a wealthy city. I assume that its geographic location, control of trade and subsequent political power is why it now has so many grand buildings and is such a centre for classical music. There are dozens of old palaces which now seem to serve as concert halls. During the Napoleonic Wars. Vienna became the capital of the Austrian Empire. Until almost the outbreak of WW1, Vienna remained the capital of what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a joint venture with Hungary, that controlled much of SE Europe from Croatia to the Ukraine.
By early afternoon, we had found one of the city’s Christmas Markets. These markets were one of our main motivators to come here at this time of year. They are exciting markets – full,of stalls selling everything from Christmas decorations to clothing to snacks. We wandered around for a long time, enjoying the stalls and a glass of mulled wine. By mid afternoon, it was getting dark and our jet lag was overcoming our ability to stay on ur feet much longer, so we we retreated to our hotel room and caught up with our guide books and travel knowledge.