To visit Vienna is to taste history. So let me take you there. Just for a day. But what a day!
We will start by taking breakfast at Schönbrunn Palace, with Empress MariaTheresa, in the 1740’s. She created much of the palace as it appears today and she bore sixteen children, so we are privileged that such a busy woman has time for breakfast. This spectacular palace’s lavish interior is only matched by its beautiful grounds and it is not surprising that the Hapsburg dynasty enjoyed it as their summer residence for so many years. Gaze out of one of the windows at the back, down through pristine lawns, to the Gloriette, an ornate stone edifice on a small hilltop. It was used as viewing platform by the Hapsburgs but now houses a café. Sorry about that, Your Imperial Majesty.
Now we must hop into our horse drawn carriage, our Fiaker, and be whisked along to Café Landtmann, established in 1873. Landtmann’s is the epitome of a Viennese coffee house. Lush, velvet clad seating with impressive looking chandeliers and mirrors inlaid with polished wood. It has served coffee to may famous figures over the years – Stalin, Trotsky, Mahler. Should we try to sit next to one of them so that we can overhear their conversations? Maybe a plot or two, a revolutionary idea or the beginnings of a new symphony being hummed over coffee. But no, we are here in the 1930’s to have a drink with Sigmund Freud, who loved to take coffee and read the papers here. We are lucky to catch him before he fled Austria in 1938 to escape the Nazis, at risk because of his Jewish heritage. Before he leaves, he persuades us to have an Apfelstrudel, that sweet, warm, apple, cinnamon and raisin filled dessert. Layers of filo pastry, covered with warm custard.
We might have to walk that one off.
And to do that, we head all the way over to the Prater Park in the 1950’s. Remember the ferris wheel in that wonderful film The Third Man? Well it is still here in the twenty first century but in addition, there is a new wheel and a high viewing tower with a bungee jumping platform. I wonder what Harry Lime would have thought of that.
After our walk around Prater Park, let’s sit down for a while and read. The National Library at the Hofburg Palace is just the place. Walnut cases from floor to ceiling, filled with those finest of treasures – books. If you were multilingual, you could stay in this room forever and never finish all it has to offer. It is one of my favourite rooms in the whole world. And if you tire of reading, there are globes, sculptures, maps, prints and drawings. Twelve million items in all.
When you see a restaurant with a queue outside all day and evening, you know there is something good on the menu. So for dinner, it has to be Figlmüller’s, the home of Wienerschnitzel. Thin cutlets of veal fried in breadcrumbs, with a wedge of lemon and a potato salad on the side, washed down with a Stiegl beer. Delicious! Not the healthiest of meals, especially when the schnitzel is so big that it hangs off the side of the plate. But one has to try it. Unless you are vegetarian, of course.
To round off our day, there must be music and dancing. And for that, it’s back to the nineteenth century to begin with, for a waltz – Viennese of course. To the music of Johann Strauss, naturally. Mozart wrote most of his best works whilst living in Vienna in the eighteenth century. Beethoven lived here too. And Haydn sang in the Stephansdom cathedral as a boy. If you listen carefully, you will hear notes from all of these wonderful composers seeping out of every stone in this magnificent city and floating out to every ear. But my favourite musical venue would be the Staatsoper, the State Opera House, in the twenty first century, to hear Placido Domingo sing. What a treat.
We have had a long day – over two hundred years long, in fact. So we’ll retire to bed. Maybe at the luxurious Hotel Sacher, so we can have an indulgent slice of their Sachertorte, the chocolate cake to end all chocolate cakes. On this day of days.