Nowhere else in Europe can claim to have so many connections to great composers, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and the waltz king Johann Strauss lived here and wrote some of their finest music in a city of coffee bars and empire which today call’s itself old school but not old fashioned.
Watch Jamie’s video of Vienna HERE
As I spend a good deal of my time playing the great composers who lived here on my Classic FM programme I was excited to see where they lived, where Beethoven broke the mould of symphonic writing with his great third symphony, originally dedicated to Napoleon until he declared himself Emperor then the dedication scratched out in dramatic Beethoven style and where Mozart vied for Imperial attention with Salieri. The city that inspired much of the classical music we enjoy today.
So I arrived expecting grand imperial palaces, the city has160 of them, imperial history and well to be honest a rather staid and stuffy place. However scratch the surface and there is a side to Vienna that is modern and at ease with it’s grand past as the capital of the Austro Hungarian Empire whilst embracing a future at the centre of Europe and a gateway to the emerging countries of the East.
It is a city surrounded by wineries and with restaurants that effortlessly fuse traditional Viennese dishes like wiener schnitzel with cuisine from across the continent.
It is a city easy to walk around where you’re often rewarded with fine local cafes serving the best coffee I’ve tasted in a while and amazing pastries and cakes, you may need to forget your no-carb diet while you’re there or you’ll miss out on a real treat…or two.
The Viennese are very proud of their ring – the ‘ringstrasse’ circles the city with a road and tram lines which makes it very easy to get everywhere. Inside The Ring is old Vienna, the centre of which is a listed World Heritage site, outside striking buildings like the countries Parliament are deceptively old, built in a Grecian style it was actually only constructed in the 19th Century, the same is true for the Flemish Style Vienna City Hall.
You’re never far from beautiful architecture here and there’s a rich diversity of styles and era’s with the baroque living comfortably alongside the Avant Garde everything from Neo Classicism to Art Nouveau and many buildings which come from the time of Empire, there are 27 castles in Vienna, 280 imperial parks and gardens and 160 Palaces!
If you get bored of imperial grandeur try The Museums Quarter. It’s built into the old imperial stables building, they must have been some stables because the complex houses a huge collection of different museums, cafes and is a great place to while away a sunny afternoon with locals lounging about in the sunshine outside the galleries as buskers perform here and there or you can have a leisurely game of boule with your beer.
The story of how Vienna fell in Love with coffee is an interesting one…in 1682 the city was besieged by the Turks. They nearly breached the walls but just in time the Polish King sent his army to support the the city and the Turks were routed. They left behind bags and bags of coffee which were used to begin the cities first coffee houses, a love affair that had lasted over 300 years and the cafe I went into offered 20 different type of coffee from basic simple ‘coffee with milk’ to ‘grandmothers coffee’ which I think involves boiling it for ages and ages – nice!
Down around the Nachtsmark, the giant food market full of stalls selling everything from fruit and veg to yet more coffee and pastries is where you find gay bars and clubs, new designers and an ever changing range of new shops selling everything from designer homewares to pastries – some of the gay bars are more like the traditional cafes with beautiful interiors and outdoor seats to watch the world go by but there are clubs, ‘Sling’ is a great place to take the weight off your feet and it is right next to the house where Schubert died…of syphilis.
If you like to wander round stately homes they don’t come much grander than the Schonbrunn Palace, the summer house of the Emperors, where Marie Antoinette lived… and Austria’s most visited tourist attraction. A few underground stops from the city centre it has hundreds of exquisitely decorated rooms to wander and huge, beautiful gardens.
My favourite Palace by far was The Belvedere. It was built by Prince Eugene of Savoy who successfully commanded Austrian troops against the Ottoman Empire and was by the way gay. There are two palaces, the lower where he lived and the upper which is immense and served largely as a party venue. Now it is home to a great art collection including Klimt’s The Kiss, for me the highlight of the city.
Vienna is a city to aimlessly wander taking in the history and culture. A place to drink Viennese wines from the vineyards surrounding , or grab coffee and watch others wandering by, a city of good food which is old school but not old fashioned.