We’re in Vienna! Capital of modern-day Austria and the last great imperial capital of Europe. We’ve both been really looking forward to our 4 day sojourn here in Vienna as this is a city rich in history and with enough museums, palaces and stately buildings to keep us busy for months if we wanted to extend our stay.
We caught the train from Salzburg today and spent 4 hours watching the grand mountains of the Austrian Alps giving way to hills and, eventually, to flat fields. Vienna lies in the flat part of Austria – two thirds of the country is mountainous, with only a third of it being flat enough to sustain large farms, industry and a big city like Vienna. We arrived in Vienna around lunchtime, found our hotel, checked in and settled in for a heart meal of Wiener schnitzel (what else?!) and goulash (the Hungarian influence is quite strong here in terms of cuisine – a legacy from the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire no doubt).
After lunch we caught the metro into the centre of town and decided to fortify ourselves with some caffeine from an authentic Wiener kaffeehaus (translation = Viennese coffee house). The Wiener kaffeehaus is a typical institution of Vienna that played an important role in shaping Viennese culture; it was in these cafes that poets, writers, philosophers and men of influence met to discuss important things, and to ponder great thoughts. Unlike some other cafe traditions around the world, here in Vienna it is completely normal for a customer to linger alone for hours and study the omnipresent newspaper. The place we chose had the typical marble table tops, stuffed chairs, newspapers and waiters in bow ties that you would expect from a Wiener kaffeehaus. It was great! We spent so long in the coffee house that it didn’t leave us much time for sightseeing, so we decided to do a quick tour around the old town and just check out a couple of the major sights. We’ve got 3 more days to see the city, so no need to rush!
Located in the South-Eastern corner of Austria, at the very heart of Central Europe, Vienna is built along the banks of the mighty Danube. Due to its strategic position this has been an important trade city and a cultural crossroads for millennia. There has been a city here since about 500BC, with the Celts first settling in the area and then the Romans establishing a fortified frontier city called Vindobona in 15BC to guard the Roman Empire against Germanic tribes to the North. It remains today a melting pot, where Eastern Europe meets Western Europe and a third of the population claims Hungarian, Czech, Slovakian and/or Turkish heritage.
Modern-day Vienna has a population of about 3 million (around 38% of Austria’s total population of 8 million live in the greater Vienna metropolitan area), and often ranks in the Top 10 of the World’s Most Liveable Cities. Certainly from what we saw today this seems to be a wonderful city – clean, safe, easy to navigate, with lots wide boulevards, parks and beautiful historical buildings.
The innere stadt (translation = inner city) of Vienna is the geographical and historical centre of the city; it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site – listed in 2001 to protect its unique cityscape. Home of the Hapsburg Dynasty* for 600 years, Vienna was the political centre of the Holy Roman Empire from the 15th to 18th century, as well as the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This incredible history has left the city with a rich architectural and cultural heritage that we are keen to sample – just like the the 5 million other tourists that visit Vienna every year!
*The House of Hapsburg was one of the most important royal houses of Europe. The throne of the Holy Roman Empire was continuously occupied by the Hapsburgs between 1438 and 1740. The house also produced kings of Bohemia, England, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Ireland, Portugal and Spain; as well as rulers of several Dutch and Italian regions. The House of Hapsburg became extinct in the 18th century, leaving behind a rich cultural, arts and music legacy.
Thanks to the Hapsburg’s passionate investment in the arts and music, Vienna played an essential role as a leading European music centre, from the great age of Viennese Classicism through to the early part of the 20th century. Music is one of Vienna’s legacies – the evidence is everywhere in the city. Musical prodigies including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler and Arnold Schoenberg all came to this magnificent city to be inspired and ply their trade. To this day theatre, opera, classical music and fine arts are still highly prized here and there are classical music concertos, operas and ballets on virtually every night. They also have lots of balls here – that’s right: balls (think big poofy dresses, cummberbunds and bow ties, and lots of champagne). Apparently there are more than 200 balls held in Vienna every year! Unfortunately we didn’t bring our formal attire with us, otherwise we might have signed up for one of those…
As well as being a city of music, of art, and of balls, Vienna is also a city of Churches. The fact that the head of the Holy Roman Empire was a Hapsburg for 300 years obviously meant lots of churches had to be built here in their home town! We chose the 3 most epic churches to visit today (Karlskirche, Stephansdom and Votivkirsche), and left the palaces and museums for tomorrow and Saturday.
You may have heard that Vienna has some of the best museums and art collections in Europe; well it turns out that Vienna’s Museumsquartier is the eighth largest cultural area in the world. So for our adventures tomorrow we are going to go exploring the museums of Vienna. Tune in tomorrow night for another update….