Thursday, December 16


A five minute walk along the Ringstrasse quickly reminds you that Vienna was once the capital of large and wealthy empire. The Habsburg dynasty ruled from here for an incredible 640 years; from 1278 until 1916. The empire’s wealth remains visible everywhere. Vienna is simply piled high with classic stone buildings dating back hundreds of years. Even our hotel, located on the Opernring, was contained in a grand old building just a stone’s throw away from the truly impressive State Opera House.

We spent our first full day in town making a leisurely circuit through the Innere Stadt, the city’s old town. Our walking tour started at the Burgtor, a series of triumphal arches that guard the entrance to the Hofburg, the Habsburg’s former imperial residence. The newest wing of this sprawling complex, the Neue Hofburg, was completed only few months before the outbreak of the First World War and the end of Habsburg rule.

An archway at the base of the Hofburg then takes you through into the complex’s main courtyard. A second arch leads to the Michaeltor, a stunning and dramatic grand entrance into the Imperial Apartments. Visitors were left in no doubt who was in charge as they entered this gate. We stood under its soaring dome for several minutes simply marvelling at the majesty of the entire scene. The experience was neatly rounded off by the regular passage of horse and carriage rides clattering along the cobblestones.

We then wandered through the old town’s main boulevard, the Garben, which is dominated by a towering and ornately carved monument to the Great Plague. At the foot of the monument was a stall selling the most perfect Christmas trees we’ve ever seen. We found at least one we wanted but were reluctant to fork over 365 euros. We returned here later in the day to see the Christmas lights. This year’s display was a series of grand chandeliers strung along the gently curving street.

St Stephen’s Cathedral was our next stop. Like all European cathedrals it’s an impressive building. Its roof is clad in yellow, green and black tiles laid out as a series of chevrons; and a bold double-headed eagle (the insignia of the Hapsburg empire). Its main gothic spire soars an impressive 90 metres into the sky. The interior is rather less lavishly decorated but its soaring vaulted roof is everything you’d expect it to be.

We then wandered through a series of narrow laneways where Mozart himself once strolled. In the heart of this district you can still see the lodgings where he wrote The Marriage of Figaro. Today’s the building is a museum. Nearby we stumbled across a restaurant, Zum Basilisken, housed in an old stone building. We were sufficiently taken with its medieval charm that we returned later in the evening for dinner. Garry played it safe with a classic Weiner Schnitzel while I tried the wild boar stew. My meal was simply divine.

As dusk began to fall we finished our touring with a visit to the nearby Kapuzinergruft. This crypt is the final resting place for the bodies of more than 138 members of the Habsburg family. Most bodies were placed in ornate metal coffins, many embellished with gruesome skulls and some rather sinister, shrouded mourners. Some of the coffins were rather simple while others were simply ostentatious in the extreme; none more so than the double tomb of Franz Stephan and Maria Theresa which fills an entire vault.

I'll post more photos shortly as I've saved a number of photos onto Garry's laptop which aren't accessible this evening.

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