Innsbruck and Salzburg - Shaun and Alison - 1992
Vienna - Andrew - 2000
Austria is still dominated by Germany to the north - an irony as for many centuries Austria was the dominant power in Continental Europe thanks to the Hapsburg family and their Empire. All that changed when World War I brought an end to the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Much of the country is taken up with the dramatic Alps, with picturesque towns such as Innsbruck and Salzburg nestling in the valleys. The far east of the country is dominated by the valley of the mighty Danube which passes through the capital of Austria, Vienna, a city filled with the reminders of the time when it was the centre of European life.
Innsbruck and Salzburg - Shaun and Alison - 1992
The famous Golden Roof in Innsbruck
Triumphal Arch in Innsbruck
Some Austrian Mountains
Three views of the Aachen See
Shaun at Kirchbichl Station
Alison inside Salzburg Castle
In Salzburg Town with Castle in background
Painted Buildings in Salzburg
Alison trying to get out of Kufstein Castle!
Bastions in Kufstein Castle
More Austrian Mountains!
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Vienna - Andrew - 2000
When my planned trip to Poland from Prague didn't materialise my itinerary changed considerably. I decided to head for Bratislava in Slovakia. From there, I was delighted to learn, it was only a short train journey to Vienna. How could I resist that?
The journey turned out to be less speedy than I had planned, having changed stations at some obscure place on the Danube Plain whose name escapes me. Eventually, tired but excited, I arrived in Vienna and checked into the nearest hotel I could find to the Südbahnhof, the Hotel Congress on the Wiednergürtel. It was around 11:15 when I checked into Room 101 (!)
I headed first of all the Johann Strauss II statue in the Stadtpark. After that it was straight to Stephansplatz, the main square of Vienna centred on the magnificently decorated St. Stephen's Cathedral (or Stephansdom as it is known). The wonderful tiled roof on the Cathedral is one of the most picturesque in all of Europe.
I couldn't, of course, come to Vienna without indulging in my passion of cream cakes - so I headed to the renowned Konditorei Demel on Kohlmarkt. Here I was served the most amazing Viennese Coffee which consisted of a big cup of excellent coffee and a saucer piled high with genuine whipped cream. After this I went inside to pick out my cake from a bewildering and mouthwatering display straight out of one of my stories ("Food Fantasy" written in 1998). It's an interesting system, you pick your cake (like at one of those posh restaurants where you pick out the fish you want slaughtered for your plate) and get given a little ticket. You then return to your seat and the waitress brings you your chosen item. Having resisted the urge to say "one of each, please", my choice turned out to be Russiche Punschtorte and had more meringue than cream. It was still totally delicious though, and the service was superbly friendly and courteous - not at all what the guidebooks had told me.
It was time to start wandering around the Palaces of Vienna. There is a bewildering display of Palaces in this City. To deal with specifics, I went passed Peterskirche, down to the Hofburg, around by the Spanish Riding School to the otherside of the Hofburg, with it's massive semi-circular facade (one of the defining images of Vienna to my mind).
From there I walked through the Volksgarten (with the statue of Mozart) to the Burgtheater and the Neue Rathaus (the magnificent town hall). Walking back along the Ring took me to the monstrously proportioned Parliament building and eventually the Naturhistorische and Kunsthistoriche Museums, housed in two matching Palaces across the Ring from the Hofburg.
After a while one does begin to be a little "Palaced-out", and a break is definitely called for. I knew what mine would have to be.
I have always loved the film "The Third Man". One of the greatest sections of the film is the conversation between Harry Lime and his old friend, Holly Martins, on the Big Wheel in the Prater. So this was my destination. The U-Bahn took me to Praterstern and a short walk took me to the Amusement Park in the northern part of the large Prater Park. Even today, a century after the Wheels construction in 1896 (incidentally built by an Englishman, Walter Basset), the Riesenrad (to give it it's proper name) is still the focus of the Amusement Park, in spite of the noisier newer rides surrounding it.
I am not normally a great fan of ferris wheels, but this one is special, so it had to be done. I was surprised at how unwobbly it turned out to be. I was more nervous waiting to get on than I was when I was actually airborne and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my day in Vienna. There are some superb views back towards the City and the hills beyond to be had and for me the buzz of being on Harry Lime's Big Wheel was quite something. I had to strongly resist the temptation to throw open the door when the carriage reached the top and start quoting about cuckoo clocks from the speech written by Orson Welles for the film.
The Strauss Waltzes that had been dancing around in my head since my departure from Bratislava were replaced with the insistent Zither music from the film.
When I arrived back at Stephansplatz I decided to go inside the Cathedral. To my delight I found you could go up one of the towers for a wonderful view of the square below and particularly of the amazing tiled roof, which is, if anything, even more intricate when you get closer to it. Particularly the Austrian Eagles on the rear section of the roof. However, if you are in any way nervous about heights I would suggest not going up as it is a VERY long way down!
I was now in that peculiar time period between everything closing and the restaurants opening, so I decided to go for a random wander around the back streets of Vienna - which is one of Europe's safest cities apparently. This was how I found myself back at Johann Strauss who looks considerably better in the afternoon when the sun is shining right on his gilded form.
Having eaten I had a massive ice-cream to take away, which seems to be a very Viennese thing to do as practically everyone walking along was eating one and there were so many 'eis' sellers lining the streets it was nearly impossible to resist. I sat and ate this as the sun went behind the buildings of the Graben, a pedestrian street in the centre of town which is the Viennese Oxford Street (except it's pedestrianised!).
Then it was time for my floodlit walk. This began at the Opera, then along to the Hofburg where I noticed for the first time an open air exhibition in the grounds which was totally free and consisted of lit information panels and little booths with commentary - a really good idea which if applied in London would almost certainly be vandalised within a few days. I passed Mozart again and noticed for the first time the beautiful treble clef shape of flowers in front of the statue.
The Rathaus was superbly illuminated, one of the best examples of floodlighting I've ever encountered. My walk basically took me all around the Palaces I had visited earlier and I finished up at Stephansplatz, inevitably perhaps.
This should have been my last memory of Vienna. I had intended to get on the tram back to my hotel. However, there was a problem with the trams - some demonstration going on along the Ring - so I decided, 'what the hell, let's walk back'. I had, however, underestimated the scale of the map I was carrying and also the warren-like nature of the roads between the Inner and Outer Ring roads. I got throughly lost. Eventually I found a tram stop (at Mayerhofgasse) which I figured would dump me somewhere on the Outer Ring (the Gürtel). This it did, but a long way from my hotel. So I walked along the not-particularly-pleasant Gürtel back to my hotel at which I arrived somewhere very close to midnight. I was utterly knackered, but had had a brilliant day in a wonderful City which I'd like to return to and spend a little more time exploring amidst the Hapsburg's splendid showpieces.
I returned to Bratislava and from there back to Prague where my holiday had begun.
Back to Western Europe
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Shaun and Alison Runham
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