Trafalgar Tours – Prague, Vienna and Budapest: Chapter 7

Having a ball

Destination for our concert – Italian style The Kursalon – at the end of city park, next to the famous golden Strauss statue. Concerts have been held here for many years. Many were conducted by the Big Daddy of the waltz Johann Strauss and his brother Eduard. A very enjoyable 4-course meal and coffee. Good conversation with many laughs too. Rajiv, Uma and Vandana from America and Irene from Saskatoon were great company.

The lady attendant sat outside the toilet looked as though she had been there since Johann’s productive years. Her companion looked even older – surely not her mum?. Her name was Heidi. Should have been called Hide her away – unsmiling, unkempt hair and a chin worthy of an Olympic ski jump!

‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ always makes me smile and reminisce. It was the first piece of classical music I ever studied at Armthorpe High School. And for a brief moment – two crotchets and a quaver – I felt myself back in 1A1 being taught by Ms Dewse our music teacher. A Little Night music was truly apt on this night of big music.

Schonbrunn Palace The singers were excellent with great voices and great personalities. ‘On the Beautiful Blue Danube’ is my favourite waltz. Spectacularly danced. And was that, maybe a slight tear of joy trickling down my left cheek? Oh yes, music can be so moving.

A truly wonderful evening. Once again Trafalgar and Paul had excelled. The best seats in the house, champagne in the interval and door to door travel courtesy of the amazing Gabor. A night to remember forever.

Schonbrunn Palace is the former imperial summer palace of the Habsburg dynasty. Originally a shooting lodge it was named after a spring found on the site. It was commissioned by Emperor Leopold for son Josef. Paris has Versailles, Schonbrunn is Vienna’s answer. Just as magnificent, 20 minutes drive from the city, 435 acres in total and 10,000 visitors each day – we arrived early to beat the crowds.

Schonbrunn yellow is a lovely colour, a light yellow ochre. This big yellow palace is a gorgeous, 574 feet / 175 metres wide. The Great Gallery is superb, a fine setting for state banquets. Don’t forget to look at the ceiling. The Bohemian crystal chandeliers light up the paintings on the wall. Delicate golf leaf is everywhere as is Rococo style, Chinoisere lacquer and ceilings frescoed to within an inch.

Mozart, him again, gave a concert here at the tender age of 6 in the Mirror Room – a clear reflection of what was to come from this genius.

The public can visit 40 out of the 1441 rooms on the Grand Tour. 22 on the Imperial tour included in our Trafalgar trip. The gardens are spectacular. Floral patterns everywhere.

The Gloriette sits as the crowning glory on a hill overlooking the palace and gardens. It’s a bit of a hike up the hill but worth it.

Schonbrunn Palace Emperor Franz Joseph was born here in 1830 and died here at the age of 86. Hatched  and dispatched at Schonbrunn. He was the longest ruling emperor in the Habsburg dynasty. He was a bit of a lad. 15 grandchildren, 55 great-grandchildren and these were the legitimate ones. 68 years on the throne and by the look of it plenty of time in bed too.

Vineyards grow in and around the heart of the city. In the days of old Schonbrunn’s gardens were used to produce wine. The famous Vienna Woods are well known too for producing superb wines. And today’s optional excursion – Vienna Woods.

A visit to the scene of a double tragedy. Crown Prince Rudolf and his lover, 17-year-old Mary committed suicide at Mayerling hunting lodge. It is now a convent.

Then onto Baden – so good they named it only once – a hot springs destination since Roman times. Wallow in mud and smelly sulphur-tinged water. Rheumatics leave rejuvenated and our group returned to Vienna having had a very good excursion.

Tram 71 took us from our hotel into the city centre. All the trams are being replaced by more modern energy efficient trams designed by Porsche, and it was nice to travel in comfort.

An afternoon of leisure. Cake, coffee, more cake and shopping. The main shopping is known as The Golden Quarter or Golden U. Close to the Hofburg Palace we strolled through the fully pedestrianised Karntner Strasse, Kohlmarket and Graben.

Demel was once confectioner and cake maker to the Imperial court. The cafe has been here since 1888. Lovely elegant and ornate and full of cake. The ever-changing window display is good enough to eat. Edible art, surely the best type of art, and so much better than ‘Summer’ and ‘Water’ yesterday.

Demel window display Demel employ only female staff dressed in smart black and white uniforms. Our waitress looked like Rosa Klebb, the Bond villain. I, half expected her to cut our cake with the blade hidden in her shoe! Nice cake and a nice smile, when she did smile.

Gothic St Stephen’s Cathedral is probably Vienna’s most well-known landmark. Almost slap bang in the centre of the Old Town. Entry is free through the left door, 7 euros if you enter through the right. A quarter of a million coloured tiles cover the roof.

Head for the 7th floor of the department store Steffl and its Sky bar for an amazing view of the roof. Well worth the price of a drink.

The night before we left home we heard about the death of a wonderful friend. Inside the cathedral we both lit candles and said a prayer for our wonderful time together. Ironically Joan died of heart failure. But Joan you had a big heart which never failed you. You gave generously and this chapter is dedicated to you. God Bless. It has been a true privilege to have shared your company through many happy years.

Trzesniewski is a wonderful sandwich shop. Very popular with the locals. A bit of a squeeze to get in and find a table but the food, canapés style sandwiches are excellent. Not far from the Cathedral.

The coffee at Cafe Mozart was exquisite. A great place to chill and people watch. Welcome to the world of apple strudel. Taste buds in harmony. A cafe has been on this spot since 1794. Family run now. Linger here and while away time. Delicate and delicious coffee smell – roasted to perfection.

Johann Strauss monument Around the corner is the five-star Sacher Hotel, home of Sacher Torte. Chocolate cake so rich and stuffed with apricot jam – a winning but slightly sickly combo. The cake at Demel was lighter.

360,000 pieces of Sacher Torte are hand-made each year – too much for even this diabetic. It is still made using the 1832 recipe. Apparently the secret to its success is in the combination of different chocolates used in the icing though I still prefer a big bar of Galaxy (other chocolate is available).

Paul gave us a wonderful tip which I pass onto you, but do keep it secret. The Sacher hotel is really fabulous. Pop in for a look and a bit of a wander. Head for the Blue Room. It is beautiful. Unknown by the tourists. Babs and I spent 30 minutes listening to classical music, eating cake and drinking tea and coffee brought by a lovely girl. We had the room to ourselves and felt like royalty and were treated as though we were. Personal attention in an exquisite room.  Outside thousands of tourists milling around, in here quiet only slightly broken by the music in the background. One of my favourite songs came on. ‘Time to Say Goodbye’ sung by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. A fitting end to our visit to this wonderful city.

We have loved our time here in Vienna. You could say we have had a ball. A perfect city. Perfect weather too has added to our enjoyment. We are sad to leave this beautiful place, return we surely will one day, but reluctantly we must leave.

Budapest beckons, and you know what they say “If you are hungry head for Hungary”. Not that we are.

Danke Vienna. Auf wiedersehen pet.

See also

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Dave Harcombe

Travelling pharmacist

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