Sunday, August 24, 2008

Imperial Vienna

Imperial Palace ViennaIt was still dark when my Austrian Airlines flight landed in Vienna. At five in the morning, the airport was almost empty, and it only took 15 minutes to cross immigration and get my bags. A car was waiting for me, and after a short ride I was at my hotel.

Austrian Airlines was not too bad. While they lack the frills of, say, Singapore Air (no amenity kits and priority luggage scan for business class, etc.), the food and service overall was good. Most importantly, they had the shortest route to Vienna from Mumbai!

Streets of ViennaStreets of ViennaStreets of ViennaThe Hilton at Stadtpark is a nice hotel with an excellent location, a fairly good restaurant, and well-appointed rooms. After a hearty breakfast, I strolled out into the streets of the First District. Like London, much of Vienna’s history is written in its buildings. Old churches, palaces, mansions, and even office buildings convey a great deal about its rich history. Vienna’s long history has been primarily influenced by the Hapsburg dynasty which ruled from here for over six hundred years.

Streets of ViennaStreets of ViennaStreets of ViennaI walked the narrow cobblestoned streets, clearly built during the medieval times, stopping to admire the frescos and elaborate facades on the old Baroque buildings that lined these roads. As the morning progressed, other tourist began pouring in too – mostly European, but also some American and Middle Eastern. From what I could see, hair in shocking pink, orange or red seems to be very much in vogue among European girls!

St. Stephens ViennaI emerged into Stephansplatz where the majestic St. Stephen’s Cathedral rose into the sky. This is probably Vienna’s most recognizable landmark and among the chief Gothic buildings in Europe. Horse-drawn carriages and costumed ticket-sellers gave this place an old-world charm. The cathedral looks black and charred; it has indeed been in perpetual re-construction as it survived invasions and fire through the years.

St Stephens ViennaI continued walking and found myself in front of the Hofburg Imperial Palace. This massive palace complex was the chief residence of the royal family for many years until the monarchy ended with World War I. Incidentally, after the union of Austria and Nazi Germany in 1938, Hitler addressed a large gathering from a balcony of this Palace. He knew this city well, having spent some of his formative years here.

Imperial Palace ViennaImperial Palace ViennaImperial Palace ViennaIt was a cloudy day and there was a cold wind blowing, but the crowds were out in large numbers. A band played at the Heroes Square in the middle of the Palace grounds and the atmosphere was festive. Cafes lined the streets. I had already heard about Vienna’s evolved coffee culture, and was particularly delighted to note they love their sweets too. A variety of cakes, pastries and ice-creams were on display – and they tasted as good as they looked! Vienna is not a good place for those watching their calories. :)

Imperial Palace in ViennaImperial Palace in ViennaIt was very evident that Vienna is the Mecca of western classical music. Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, and Brahms: they hailed from Austria and composed their music in this city. Even Beethoven, wanting to study with Mozart, moved to Vienna and lived there until his death. There are numerous monuments and operas that bring to life their genius once again.

Baroque costumes in ViennaStreet Performer in ViennaBy now I was tired; this had been a rather long walk. On my way back to the hotel, I ran into a person who wanted directions. He claimed to be a Slovak. Even before I could reply, another guy comes up claiming to be a cop and asks for identification. The Slovak showed him an ID and walked away. I didn’t have my passport with me, and so he wanted to check out my credit cards. When he asked me for the PIN, I began to suspect there was something wrong. Thankfully, when I refused to part with the PIN, he quickly walked away!

Viennese Veal GoulashViennese Apple StrudelFor dinner, I ordered a traditional Viennese Veal Goulash with small buttered dumplings and green salad on the side. I also tried the famous Wiener Apple Strudel served with a dollop of whipped cream and a scoop of ice-cream. Absolutely delicious stuff!

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your description of Vienna is very luring :) I love places that have still retained their old charm and Vienna seems to be one of those. Have a great stay and time. :)

cheers,
Romi

Sank said...

Sounds fantastic. Also sounds like you need to keep both hands on your wallet at all times.

Shantanu said...

@romi: Thank you.

@sank: That was an interesting experience. Unexpected because crime rate here is very low.

HAREKRISHNAJI said...

Excellent photograps and description of the charming place.

Priyank said...

Pictures lead nicely to the city. Please tell me your PIN numbers ASAP.... lol

Shantanu said...

@harekrishnaji: Thank you for being a regular here.

@priyank: Heh! It didn't feel all that funny then. :)

beaverboosh said...

shantanu - you should be the CNBC travel correspondent!

HAREKRISHNAJI said...

I read your views in today's TOI

Shantanu said...

@beaverboosh: I will keep that in mind, if I ever lose my current job. :)

@harekrishnaji: I haven't seen it myself, since I have been outside of the country.

Deepti said...

wonderful pictures, the old world charm is hard to resist :)

Shantanu said...

@deepti: Thank you. That's what I like most about Europe.

indicaspecies said...

You should have said your PIN number is four stars (****)..haha!

Nice to catch up on your blog.:)

Shantanu said...

@indicaspecies: Thankfully, I can laugh at it now! And thanks.