Three-days to ‘do’ any capital city may not seem very long but Carmel Stewart defied time and took a Viennese whirl.
LOGICALLY three days are always of exactly the same duration – 72 hours, 4,320 minutes, 259,200 seconds, or innumerable nanoseconds – whether you are revising for an exam for which you ill-prepared, or hopping from one foot to the other in anticipation of a jolly. Being human we can mentally compress or extend time; sadly, not being a Time Lord, we cannot do so in reality but we can pack a lot in when the need arises. A little forward planning can make every second count – and even with none at all it is possible to have a great few days in the Austrian capital, Vienna.
To begin with, it is a compact city with excellent public transport and plenty to do and see. It is also a city which welcomes visitors and doesn’t charge them the earth to enjoy its delights – London, please take note – and is perfectly safe for the single traveller.
A relaxed three-day break, absorbing the full flavour of the city, along with its wiener schnitzels and apple strudels, is perfectly feasible without the need for a week’s convalescence on returning home. Indeed, the Vienna Tourist Board has a 72-hour itinerary on its website. Our attempt to follow it was distracted by strudel.
For those who have forsaken the delights of sweet pastry and cream, an apple strudel is a flaky, puffy pudding layered with apples and topped with cream (optional apparently). On our flight to Austria my friend Sue, indulging in an uncharacteristic flirtation with organisation, discovered a place where we could watch appfel strudel being made. Seeing as it was at the Habsburgs summer pad we decided it was a must – for day two. Also on the list were a Mozart concert, the Vienna Boys choir, the Lipizzaner stallions, a museum/gallery or two and a visit to at least one of Vienna’s famous coffee houses.
Sussing out a city on arrival can be problematical but in Vienna, as you wait anxiously for the will-it-won’t-it luggage to appear, a glance to the right reveals a stranger’s delight – an official transport/tourist booth where two English-speaking Austrians explain how to get from where you are to where you want to be, ply you with guides and brochures, order your taxi and, most importantly, give you a receipt for payment there and then so there is no haggling over the charge – it’s a fixed rate and you pay in advance.
As you leave the terminal, armed with receipt and luggage your driver meets you and whisks you away in the most hassle free start to a holiday you are every likely to encounter – the perfect start for anyone travelling alone.
Your choice of hotel will be determined by budget. If you have the ackers the Radisson SAS Style Hotel in the heart of Vienna is comfortable, friendly and very central. But don’t be afraid of staying a little way out. The public transport system is excellent – clean, frequent and cheap – it relies very much on honesty. Validate your ticket at the start of your journey and that’s it. In the three days we were there we never saw a guard or had our tickets checked.
Arrive about lunchtime on day one and you’ll have plenty of time for a tourist Hop On, Hop Off, bus ride. These cost around 13euro (just under £10/$20) and stop at various points around the city, allowing visitors to alight and board as the fancy takes them. If you are not up to walking, some hotels will call the bus company and have the coach collect you from the front door. If this is your preferred option save it for day two as pick-up is in the morning only and the city tour longer.
But, assuming you are hot foot and ready to go, the tourist bus gives an excellent flavour of the city. On the second time round we stopped off for coffee and the first of many strudels at Cafe Landtmann “Vienna’s most elegant coffee venue” once frequented by Marlene Dietrich, Burt Lancaster and Sigmund Freud. No celebs spotted on our visit but the coffee was good and the loos very clean. A stroll up to St Stephens took us along the cobbled streets once walked by young Mozart. The museum dedicated to his life in the city is housed over three floors in a nearby building where he and his family once lived.
A meal at the famous Café Central – once a smoky den of revolution – completed our first day. If we had had the legs for it, we would have skipped the meal and visited the open air film festival at Rathauspark where local foods are served from nearby stalls.
By day two a horrible truth dawned. We were not the only ones to think mid-summer a good time to travel – the Philharmonic and Symphony orchestras, the Vienna choir boys, and even the Lipizzaners, all flee the city for their summer hols in July and August. Undaunted, we booked a Mozart concert at the Musikverein (Golden Hall), with a red-coated salesman, and a morning with the mares and foals of the Spanish riding school, and then set out for the Schonbrunn Palace, the Hapsburgs’ summer residence. Readily accessible by train and huge in dimensions, this magnificent building is worth a full day, if you have the time – boasting as it does wonderful gardens, stately rooms, a puppet theatre, the oldest zoological park in the world, and the world’s largest carriage museum. For us the culture was less important than the culinary so we immediately made our way to the Schonbrunner Apfelstrudeljause for a demonstration of how this wonderful dessert is made. Surprisingly, of all those (many) we tasted this was the least light and fluffy.
Day two was rounded off with an evening with Mozart. Not a trip for the aficionado, this musical experience panders unashamedly to the tourist, but was fun in its own way and made pleasant end to the day.
On day three, with our visit to the Spanish riding school starting mid-morning, there was plenty of time to see one of the many galleries or to stroll round the shops or, as we did, take the second tourist bus to see another aspect of the city. This route took in the famous Giant Ferris Wheel which affords panoramic views across the city, as well as the Danube. Plan your break before July and you’ll be able to include the Vienna Boy’s Choir in your Sunday morning itinerary.
In the afternoon we braved the efficient underground express to airport for an uneventful flight home.
Unlike many a short break, this one left us refreshed rather than exhausted. Cost will vary according to flights and accommodation but expect eating out to be similar in cost to any city centre.
Vienna has more than 200 museums and 600 coffee houses. If you have time for just one of each opt for the Museum of Fine Arts which houses one of the world’s top ten art collections, and the Pruckel Café opposite.
More information: www.vienna.info