Vienna, St Stephens Cathedral, Austrian Tourist Office
From our Viking riverboat, the Baldur, we set off on a half-day tour of Wien, Austria, aka Vienna, one of Europe's most elegant and romantic cities and Austria's capital. The historic old town was named a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO, and Vienna has been named the world's most livable city several times, half of its total area consisting of gardens, parks, woods and agricultural land. Unfortunately, a half day barely touches the surface of this inviting city.
An early stop is at the
Hofburg Palace, a magnificent jewel among the collection of diverse architecture that was home to the mighty Hapsburgs from the first emperor Rudolf I in 1273 to the last, Karl I in 1918.
In 1729, Emperor Charles VI commissioned the building of the magnificent Winter Riding School in the Hofburg Palace where the
Spanish Riding School, the oldest riding academy in the world, trains their famous
Lipizzaner stallions. I walk by the lavish stalls and observe several of these prized horses.
As a result of the Hapsburg influence, today the city is one of the world's greatest centers of art, music and architecture. The beautiful
Vienna State Opera is the most famous opera house in the world, and everyone has heard of the esteemed
Vienna Boys Choir.
Vienna boasts enough museums alone to keep a tourist occupied for weeks. The Museums Quartier, a short walk from the Hofburg Palace, is a remarkable collection of museums, cafés, restaurants and bars located inside former imperial stables designed by Fischer von Erlach. The
Kunsthistorisches Museum is home to one of the best art collections in Europe.
Klimt, Schiele, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Mahler and Strauss all practiced their artistic talents here. You can see and hear their work in the city's museums and palaces. For example, in the
Belvedere Museum, one can view
Klimt's most famous painting The Kiss. It was Gustav Klimt who epitomized the Art Nouveau movement, and posters of his impressive work hang in households worldwide.
During the 19th century, when the empire reached its peak of power, an impressive selection of buildings was added along the
Ringstrasse, the fine boulevard which encircles the medieval city center. We view imposing palaces and residences, and we marvel at Vienna's stunning architecture, a glittering array whose highlights include Otto Wagner's Postsparkasse, the Museum of Applied Art, Stadtpark, State Opera, Hofburg, Kunsthistorisches Museum and Natural History Museum, the parliament building, the Burgtheater, the university and the former stock exchange.
In the city center, we step inside magnificent
St. Stephan's Cathedral with its gleaming spire. The Gothic masterpiece is called Steffi or little Stephan by the locals, and it's the most famous structure in Vienna, witness to Vienna's status in the Middle Ages. Dedicated to St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, the church was declared the seat of the Bishop of Vienna in 1469 and that of the Archbishop of Vienna in 1722.
A nearby McDonald's Hamburger restaurant set amidst all of this architectural splendour makes for a handy washroom respite, but in contrast, it does seem rather gauche indeed.
Coffeehouses in Vienna are much more than just places to drink coffee. They are a way of life. The city boasts 150 classic coffeehouses, waiters dressed in black, and the décor as unpretentious as in the 'good old days' - wooden floors, marble-topped tables, and seating that is simple yet plush.
We skip a ride on a traditional horse-drawn fiaker, but we eagerly sample the famous
Sachertorte Viennese pastry at a sidewalk café. The original Sachertorte has been the most famous cake in the world since 1832, the recipe a well-kept secret of the Hotel Sacher. It's produced according to this recipe, a chocolate cake, thinly coated by hand with the best-quality apricot jam, the chocolate icing on top, the crowning glory. It tastes best with a portion of unsweetened whipped cream. Yum!
Sigmund Freud who wrote The Interpretation of Dreams, was born in Moravia in 1856, but moved his family to Vienna in 1860 and he used the term "psychoanalysis" for the first time here in 1896.
Vienna is one of the four UN headquarters cities and the seat of numerous international organizations, including the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
A brief introduction to a terrific city thanks to Viking, but much too short a visit, we vow to return soon to wonderful Wien!
Besides writing for the five Niagara Postmedia newspapers, Mike has been published in every major newspaper across Canada including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Toronto Sun. He has been published in National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City, Seniors Review and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. With hundreds of reviews, photos and helpful votes, he has earned Trip Advisor's "Top Contributor Badge" and is considered an "Expert" in both Hotels and Restaurant reviews. Mike posts photos to Pinterest where he has a following of four thousand viewers.