Vienna embraces the gravitas you would expect from a city that was once capital of an enormous empire – but not everywhere!
“Have you noticed that the Viennese are rather introverted?” said my hostess.We were dining at Do & Co – the hotel overlooking the Stephansdom (the iconic cathedral in the centre of Vienna) – when this rather outré statement was made. It hadn’t occurred to me, and probably wouldn’t have, given that my experiences in Vienna were confined to just three days, but coming from a local, it made me consider – how had I found the people I’d met? Well, to be truthful, rather introverted …
I’d have to say though that the very formal, very grand scale and architecture of the city make this quite appropriate. It suits Vienna to be rather sober … the streets are serious, lined with serious buildings, and the memories are there, on the streets, of Vienna’s past status as the capital city of a thriving empire.
All the more surprising then to find the bold and outrageous, the proud and out there, on the city’s streets. In the cobbled streets of the old town is the coyly pretty shop of Lena Hoschek – fifties lover and tattoo adorned, buxom and ever so naughty, her fashion references the polished cotton florals and full skirts, the ultra feminine nipped in waist (don’t worry about comfort!) that your mothers and grandmothers wore, and throws into this conservative mix a dash of sauciness which is hard to resist.
We visited the Lena Hoschek boutique as part of a fashion and accessories tour organised by 7tm (7tm.at) which took us through the seventh and second districts – it’s a totally different Vienna from the imperial grandeur of the first district but it was energising to walk the streets and visit the various workshops and retail outlets of some of the city’s more individual shops – one of which would have to be Tiberius … fashion and fetish go hand in hand in a black Biedermeier building where the fit-out is as fantastic as the goods on sale. Spotlights illuminate the black interior – it has that gallery feel – but it also has very comfortable sofas for the footsore and weary! Well worth a visit.
Walking is the way to go in Vienna but the trams that run frequently along the ring road are quick and easy to use. Buy a Vienna Card which is valid for 72 hours, and you’re good to go on buses, trams and the underground.The ring road is on the site of the defensive walls which protected Vienna through its turbulent histor y, and which were pulled down to allow the city to grow in the mid 19th century.A reaction to the architecturally stultifying styles in the period of rebuilding led to an explosion of creative responses in architecture, sculpture, fashion, art and crafts known as the Secessionist Movement. One of the best expressions of this style is the Post Office Building, designed by Otto Wagner and still in use today as a working bank – if you have even a passing interest in architecture, take the time to have a look at this building – it’s gorgeous.
The coffee houses of Vienna are well documented, so I’ll leave you to find your favourite amongst the many you’ll pass as you explore the city, but if you are looking for somewhere to have lunch, one of my favourites was the Palmenhaus in Burggarten, the glasshouse originally in the Hofberg Palace gardens. On a delightfully sunny spring day, the dilemma is whether to dine inside among the rich green vegetation or outside on the terrace – ummm, perhaps a drink inside, then eat outside? Also on the ‘must do’ list is lunch at Do & Co – if the day is sunny, get there early and grab a table on the terrace. Perched above the city heart, and looking at the steeply sloping roof of the Stephansdom I finally saddled up to try that icon of Austrian cuisine, the Wiener Schnitzel, and although it was the size of a small car twheel, it was so light and delicious that in spite of my protestations to myself that I couldn’t possibly eat all that – I did.
Vienna is home to museum after museum – consult your guide book to find the ones of most interest – my suggestion here is the MAK Museum, home to a wonderful collection of objects and art from the Secessionist period in a well laid out and very interesting purpose designed building. It’s a great place to wander through and the restaurant is well worth a visit if all that culture has made you hungry. And no visit to Vienna would be complete without entering the enchanting world of confectionery and cake that flourishes throughout the city … be sure to visit Altmann & Kuhne where miniature books and chests house an amazing assortment of totally, mind numbingly wonderful chocolate and sweets …. aaahhhhh Vienna!
GETTING THERE: Austrian Airlines fly to Vienna on a codeshare arrangement with Thai Airways.
STAY: We stayed at the Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom – handy to everything and a haven of comfort.
DO: Take yourself off to a concert in one of the wonderful concert halls.
MORE INFORMATION: For all further information, head to Vienna’s tourism website.
Related articles: Vienna Unmasked: Laced With History Yet Cosmopolitan to its Core, The Wonders of Vienna.