In Vienna, Austria the sound of music accompanies one everywhere. My trip started with an incredible deal from the Marriott hotel which I saw online. Frankly, I never thought I’d ever stay at Marriott, but here I was, in Vienna, or Wien as they call it in German. The service is wonderful, and  breakfast with a huge variety of dishes is a must before one embarks on exploring the city. Marriott is located in a very nice area, right across the park where one can see a monument to Johann Strauss, whose gilded statue seems to be flying in mid-air, together with his famous violin. The city center is five minutes walk away, just turn right, go behind the hotel and follow the street. On the left-hand side of the street, you will see a large British Book Store, where you can browse at your leisure and find some treasures, or just something to read in bed.

Vienna is an old city which is justly famous for its architecture, beautifully laid-out streets and squares, cathedrals and churches, its theaters and museums, the royal palaces. Its name is firmly associated with the names of several celebrated composers, whose names can be seen everywhere in the city. Mozart is probably the first name that comes to mind. Many houses have memorial plaques on them, and practically every evening one can find a concert or an event held at one of those historical places. Imagine going to a Mozart concert held at Mozart House, right there in the music chamber, with a small orchestra dressed up in the 18th century costumes, with prosecco in tall champagne flutes served outside in a small yard during a short intermission. In a church, organ music is played continuously, it seems, and one can hear the sound of music anywhere every day. Strauss is another name firmly associated with Vienna. The King of Waltz is fondly remembered by the city. One can go to a concert in Strauss House in the park; I would advise anyone to splurge on full-scale tickets, which include dinner, and CD. I have been to many concerts and heard all the musical pieces played innumerable times, but never before have I heard such amazing performance, never in my wildest dreams could I imagine such a high level of playing… It was understandable when the audience went absolutely wild at the end. Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert all left their mark on this lovely city.

Another name which can be seen in any souvenir shop and in many public places is Empress Elizabeth, known to the world since the 19th century by her family nickname Sissi. She was very tall for her era, very slim, and extremely beautiful. Her unhappy marriage, the tragic death of her son, and her own murder by an anarchist all contributed to the legend. Her celebrated portrait with stars in her long hair is seen on cards and chocolate boxes, on souvenir mugs and calendars, on concert posters and books. She is also depicted or mentioned in numerous films and TV shows.  

Five minutes walk away from the hotel is the famous Stephansdom, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which was begun in 1135. It is illuminated at night, and during the day it is reflected in the modern glass front buildings which line the square in front of it. One can go up in a tiny elevator, get outside to the small observation deck, and take pictures of the city. All around the square there are little cafes, bakeries, restaurants where one can have a nice lunch or dinner, or get a cup of hot chocolate and some wonderful Vienna pastry. There are several large churches in various districts where you can visit a museum and go up to see the city panorama. The Belvedere, a huge museum complex, was begun at the end of the 17th century. Its two palaces house one of the greatest collections of art in the world. The Opera holds regular excursions, one can go inside the building, see the world behind the wings and curtains, listen to the guide talk about the history of the theater.

The Opera is the venue for the annual Vienna Ball. I happened to spend those few days in the capital of Austria the weekend before the ball in February. When I asked in a store why they had no evening gowns, the clerks stared: “The Ball, madam, the Ball, no dresses left!” But not to worry, there are plenty of shops all around town, and one can spend an enjoyable time trying on fashionable shoes and clothes. Though it is possible to walk anywhere, some of the distances may be a bit too much. Vienna has a wonderful transportation system, with the subway and trams circling all over the place. We took a tram to Rathaus, the City Hall, which is a beautiful building, with a skating-rink in front of it in winter, and gorgeous flower beds in summer. I knew that Vienna suffered greatly during the war, and many buildings were destroyed. One can only marvel at the patience and love of its citizens, who managed to rebuild it and turn it into a thing of beauty, which proudly stands on the Danube River, with the strains of music constantly floating in the air.

©gretag 2012

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