CAROLINE HURRY explores the city steeped in imperial nostalgia, art, music and cool cafes – one of the major notes of the Amacerto’s Melodies of the Danube cruise
Vienna’s skyline of slender spires, sculptures and Aztec-style roofs looks much the same as in Haydn’s day. Famous for symphonies, opera, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Liszt and Klimt, take off in any direction and you’ll collide with history.
After docking, we set off on the bus through the city as our guide pointed out various landmarks. My husband and I opted to walk around on our own as he is knows the city well, having worked here for some months. We visited for The Hoffburg, a hotchpotch of a palace that belonged to the Hapsburg dynasty. It is also the venue of the Spanish Riding School (Spanische Reitschule) home to prancing white Lipizzaners. Sunlight danced across the cobbles, flirting with the bold Gothic decoration, statues and giddy rococo architecture.
The copper-domed palace edged in gold lattice with winged beasts on its roof, houses the Imperial Apartments, the former in-town digs of Empress Elisabeth and Emperor Franz Joseph, a boorish Mummy’s boy who frequented brothels during their honeymoon, while Elisabeth – Sisi – won people’s hearts with her beauty and charm. Their only son Rudolph committed suicide and an Italian anarchist assassinated Sisi in 1897.
The Sisi Museum’s displays begin with the Empress Elisabeth’s death mask. One of her lavish ball gowns dominates a room and there are half-sized plaster statues of the royal couple through the decades, rather like a set of imperial garden gnomes.
Vienna is famous for its café society. Whether you sip your java from a velvet chair in an austere, dark-wooded establishment or from a pavement bistro as we did, lingering at a coffee shop is a great way to soak up the culture of this city of symphonies.
Afterwards we strolled down the shopping streets of Graben and Kohlmarkt, past store windows filled with designer frocks, and jackets sharp enough to cut a dash in the highest societies. Everything costs a fortune – just coffee and cake cost around in excess of R400 – but Vienna oozes wealth and taste.
If you’re a fan of Friedensreich “No Straight Lines” Hundertwasser (1928-2000), famous for lecturing naked about uneven floors, then the KunstHaus museum is a must.
In 1983 Hundertwasser redesigned a dour council apartment block into a higgledy-piggledy jumble of colourful mosaics, ceramic pillars, gilded onion dome and roof gardens. The residents at Hundertwasserhaus – seemingly unfazed by the tourist hordes – can decorate the façade around their windows as they choose.
If you didn’t take Amawaterway’s optional excursion to the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace and surrounds, the Prater park, a former royal hunting reserve includes acres of forest, a miniature railway, trade-fair centre, amusement park and Vienna’s giant ferris wheel, built in 1898. Praterfahrts (horse-drawn carriages) are available for hire but nothing beats the fun of hiring a canopied two-seater pedal carriage and racing other commuters down the wide avenue!
Once you visit Vienna, you’ll find yourself vowing like Arnold Schwarzenegger – another famous Austrian citizen – ”I’ll to be back!”
Next destination: the marvellous Amacerto sets sail for Dürnstein and Melk. Onward ho!