Trafalgar Tours – Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 6

A Viennese whirl

Next day – 9.30 am and another glorious sunny day. We were in the museum quarter of this UNESCO listed city centre. Two identical museums face each other. The Natural History museum is full of ‘stones and bones’. Today as a group we were visiting its mirror image.

The Kunsthisorisches Museum houses the personal art treasures of the Habsburgs. Art for art’s sake. Why did they collect it all? Probably because they could. Opened in 1891 it has become one of the world greatest and richest collections of fine art. Too much to see in one visit. Our private guided tour of the Kunstkammer was excellent. Free from crowds too as Trafalgar had been given privileged early access.

Gold salt cellar by CelliniWe were all captivated by a gold salt cellar by Cellini – sumptuous and exquisite and very expensive. My favourite was an automaton gold ship. Its final flourish cannons that fire.

After the tour we had free time for a wander. The great staircase, all marbled out was stunning. Upstairs there were some amazing paintings by some amazing people – van Dyke, Klimt, Bruegel and Rubens to name a few. In room 6 ‘Water’ by Guiseppe Arcimboldo (never heard of him) was memorable because it was a painting of a face which looked like a bad case of shingles. His other painting ‘Summer’ was even worse. A juxtaposition of fruits found during the season. Peaches, onions, garlic, cherries. An opened pea pod is supposed to resemble a row of teeth. I personally wonder why he even bothered – if his ‘Water’ looked like a face full of Herpes then ‘Summer’ looked like a face full of impetigo! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – apparently.

Next a drive around The Ring with Gabor and our guide Trudi. In the 19th century Emperor Franz Josef created the famous Ring – The Ringstrasse –  Vienna’s ring of confidence. Ancient ramparts and walls surrounding the inner core of the city were dismantled to create this wide and wonderful boulevard. The Ring houses the most impressive monumental buildings in Vienna. Most things happen here, so it’s natural to head here and start exploring. You can get the same experience as we did by taking the Ring Tram. It too is informative and the views are superb. A 3D architectural display from your window as the tram trundles along.

Spanish riding schoolBack again to the museum quarter and across the road to the opulent Hofburg Palace. This was home to the Habsburg monarchy an empire strengthened and expanded by strategic marriages. A 640-year rule.

Hard to believe, looking at it now, that it started out as a small 50 square metre insignificant fortress. Each ruler added a new palatial wing to demonstrate and celebrate their hold on power. It has become one of the largest imperial residences in Europe. 2600 rooms. And like Prague castle, a city within a city. Now spread over 47 acres it houses the President of Austria’s office – at present vacant.

It is home to the famous Spanish Riding School, and we were lucky to catch a glimpse of the Lipizzaner stallions as we strolled through the stables. Probably the most pampered horses in the world.

Prater sounds like an alien in Doctor Who. No it is Vienna’s wonderful amusement park home of the giant ferris wheel immortalised in the movie ‘The Third Man’. Looking like a large bike wheel, with very big stabilisers, with wooden sheds attached it has been doing the rounds since 1897. The view from 200 feet up is superb.

Vienna street sceneThere are almost 2000 coffee shops in Vienna and if I had the time I would visit each and every one. Famous ones include  Aida, Cafe Central, Hotel Sacher, Cafe Mozart, Cafe Sperl and Cafe Landtmann. The cafe culture is wonderful. Cafes full of laughter, voices filling the rooms. Full of joy, full of life, full of cake. Sit all day if you wish, you will never be asked to move on. It’s like stepping back in time. Let’s do the time warp. Marble clad, polished wood, mirrored reflections, coiffured hair, rustling of newspapers. Pop in for your caffeine fix. Our waiter in Aida had so much gel on his head that he looked like a walking advert for WD40.

If you are ordering coffee, and you must, then here are a few to try:

Fiaker – coffee refined with rum.
Einspanner – strong coffee with whipped cream on top.
Grosser Brauner – black coffee with a jug of coffee flavoured cream.
Mélange – half expresso, half frothy milk.
Franziskaner – mélange topped with whipped cream.
Verlangerter – as close to an Americano as you can get.

Back to the hotel to prepare for the highlight of our stay here. A night of music and dance and dinner and champagne. A chance to get dressed up, well some did, and mix with the great people of this wonderful city.

The Viennese have a lot of balls! It is not called the city of the waltz for nothing. It is a big business. There is at least one ball for each profession. The pharmacists ball, the doctors ball, the teachers ball. A ball for dentists for civil servants. I wonder if jugglers have more than one?

See also

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Dave Harcombe

Travelling pharmacist

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