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Vienna, City of Dreams

Ronita Mohan

There is an unshakeable sense of romance connected to the city of Vienna. Whether it’s the stunning architecture, the numerous museums or the history, Vienna is a magical city you must visit at least once in your life.

For me, Vienna held special significance as my grandparents visited the city many years ago. Needless to say, I was eager to retrace their footsteps in the City of Music and Dreams.

Accommodation

It is, as always, best to research hotels when planning your trip to an unfamiliar city. We stayed at Schottenring, in the city center, with convenient transport links to the tram and metro. The area is beautiful and comfortable to walk around, not too crowded or isolated.

Of course, your choice of accommodation depends on your needs. You may want to stay closer to specific attractions or in the Museum Quarter but I strongly recommend the city center for easy access to transport.

Transport

The public transport system in Vienna is incredibly convenient. The trams are very frequent and well-connected. The metro is much faster than we expected. The bus system is fairly easy to understand, as well. Vienna’s transportation is definitely up there with the best in the world.

To make your visit to Vienna more convenient, get the Vienna card, available at a number of train stations and online. The Vienna card gives you free transport access along with discounts on a number of attractions.

Attractions

Vienna is famously known as the City of Music, being the birthplace of composers such as Johann Strauss I and II and Franz Schubert, among others and having nurtured such greats as Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt and Brahms. Our flyby visit didn’t give us time to check out an opera or concert but I strongly recommend a stop at the awe-inspiring State Opera House for an opera.

There are a number of palaces in Vienna and it’s almost impossible to see them all. The highlight of our visit was Schönbrunn Palace, a splendid Baroque palace that was formerly an imperial residence. One is immediately struck by the size of the palace and the unusual yellow color of the buildings. This color gives Schönbrunn a distinctive look that sets it apart from most other palaces in Europe.

There is plenty to see at Schönbrunn and one day may not be enough to see it all. There are several different tours you can take which give you access to different areas of the palace. We decided to take the Imperial Tour as it included the rooms pertaining to Franz Joseph and Empress Sisi, who we were particularly interested in.

Almost every inch of the interiors is lined with gold gilding. The Great Gallery is a study in opulence, adorned by huge frescoes. Stop by at the ‘Million’ Room, it lives up to its name! A personal favorite of mine, though, was the Persian-themed room, resplendent in Persian paintings.

With a magnificent palace comes equally magnificent gardens. You will need your energy to walk through the Schönbrunn gardens because they are enormous. There are 32 sculptures to see so get your camera out and start clicking. But first, take a short detour to the Gloriette for a breath-taking view of the palace and gardens.

At the very end of the garden are a maze and a labyrinth. Though designed mostly for young children, this is a fun little area to spend some time. My grandparents had got lost in the maze, which was much larger before, when they had visited Vienna and we followed in their footsteps, getting lost ourselves before finding our way out. The labyrinth is full of fun games and activities but, in all honesty, after a full day spent at the palace, the games really only appealed to energetic children.

The next palace on our agenda was the Hofburg Palace. Another former imperial palace, part of the Hofburg Palace is still used as the President’s residence and workplace. Located in the center of Vienna, the Hofburg Palace is impressive and regal.

The collections of crockery, art and household items at Hofburg are magnificent and stunning but the main attraction of the palace is the Sisi Museum. Empress Sisi wasn’t the happiest of rulers and her story is certainly a sad one but the exhibition is extremely comprehensive, giving a detailed account of her life as Empress and the state of Vienna in context to European politics during that era.

Our tour of palaces ended with Belvedere Palace, home to the Belvedere Museum which contains works by some of the greatest European artists, particularly Gustav Klimt. Belvedere, another stunning Baroque palace that we couldn’t stop taking pictures of, is divided into two distinct buildings, Lower and Upper Belvedere. Lower Belvedere houses a series of sculptures, including a large collection of ‘grotesques’.

But our interest was mainly in Upper Belvedere and we concentrated our efforts there. The lower floor of the building houses a number of biblical paintings and sculptures, all quite stunning to look at. On the upper floors are paintings by Schiele, a contemporary of Klimt’s, and the Klimt gallery. Gustav Klimt’s earlier painting style was vastly different from the gold-hued paintings he has come to be associated with now. The gallery shows his progression in painting styles with one entire wall dedicated to Klimt’s seminal ‘Lovers’, popularly known as ‘The Kiss’.

The upper galleries also include works by van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Munch and Rubell. Despite the size of the art collection on offer, it doesn’t take a very long time to see everything at Belvedere. For any art-lover, this is the place to be.

Experiences

Vienna in summer is ideal for walking. The pavements are large and easy to walk on and the beauty of the buildings will have you stopping every few minutes to take photographs.

Rathausplatz is great for pictures, especially the Parliament building with its intricate carvings and sculptures. Stop by at the University for another example of beautiful Viennese architecture.

However, the area that struck me most was Belvedere. Walking around Belvedere is heaven, so keep an afternoon aside just for that.

Shopping

Take a little of Vienna back home with a Tyrolean hat, the typical Viennese hat draped in a cord with a feather on the side.

For those with a sweet-tooth, take back a box of the world-famous Viennese chocolate cake, the Sacher Torte.

And, speaking of chocolate, you must buy some Viennese chocolates, available at most stores and attractions.

Food

For a real taste of Vienna, don’t miss the Wiener Schnitzel, breaded and fried veal, one of the specialties of Viennese cuisine.

You can’t go to Vienna and not try their world-famous Apple Strudel. At Schönbrunn Palace, Strudel takes pride of place with a special strudel show held at the cafe. You get an in depth look at the process of strudel-making while you enjoy a slice of the strudel with coffee.

Of course, your trip will not be complete without Vienna’s famous sacher torte, a must-eat. A short walk from Hofburg Palace is the Hotel Sacher Wien, one of the oldest bakers of sacher torte, and the ideal place to spend a leisurely evening in Vienna.

With glorious food, beautiful architecture and a great sense of art and culture, Vienna is quite the perfect place to spend a holiday. The city has so much to offer tourists and welcomes them with open arms. Whether you are there for a handful of days or a few months, I can guarantee that you will lose your heart to Vienna. I certainly did and I can’t wait to go back to this city of dreams.

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