Embracing the Culture and History of Vienna

Andy Mossack, a well-known British travel writer and the creator and presenter of BBC Radio’s “Where in the World is Andy” travelogue series, shares his overall impression of beautiful Vienna. Be sure to check back in for other insightful reviews from Andy’s travel exploits.

There’s a square in the old city. It’s not a particularly impressive square, or for that matter all that large, but it is nevertheless a square of great secular significance. Judenplatz, as it is called, has come to represent a turning point in Austrian political thinking. Like its neighbor Berlin, Vienna is witnessing a revolution of revelation, where its less than illustrious history is no longer swept under the carpet but exposed, warts and all, for everyone to see. In fact Vienna is bending over backwards to embrace and rebuild its former Jewish heritage, and going there today, you certainly feel that they have taken huge strides forward in making this a reality.

This is a stunningly beautiful city, and the countless museums and landmarks documenting its famous people and buildings are seemingly everywhere you turn. You may also be surprised at the list of famous names that have walked these streets: Marie Antoinette, Mahler, Schubert, Johann and Richard Strauss, Sigmund Freud, The Von Trapp family immortalized in “The Sound of Music,” Arnold Schwarzenegger, Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Fred Zimmermann and Otto Preminger to name but a few. Of course these were also the streets where Beethoven and Mozart plied their trade, and while a visit to both of their houses is recommended, you should avoid one of Vienna’s less desirable sights: the hordes of tacky hawkers in Mozart costumes falling over themselves to sell you tickets to concerts.

Vienna has always been a must-see city — its glorious architecture and classical music heritage have no equal — but it is also fast becoming a place where young and old can happily co-exist and enjoy their own particular brand of activity without overlapping. Trendy bars live alongside traditional restaurants and cafes that seem to bring home what eating out is all about. The clearest example of this is right near The Danube in Bermudadreieck, or The Bermuda Triangle area. Why the seemingly out-of-place moniker? Because some say it’s guaranteed you’ll get lost amid its maze of cobbled streets piled high with staggering amounts of restaurants, bars and music clubs! That may be true, but it does have an antiquated feel to it that goes back to when the old merchant ships came up river and their crews were looking for a good night out. You’ve been warned.

You simply cannot come to Vienna and not indulge. With a seemingly endless supply of cafes and cake shops there seems little point in attempting to follow your cholesterol free diet, so just for a few days let it all go and just throw yourself into it. Apple Strudel and Sacher Torte are on tap everywhere; with great coffee to wash it down and always a glass of water on the side. Very Viennese.

While Vienna is not a cheap city, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the place without breaking the bank. I would for instance recommend taking the CAT from the airport. It’s a train service directly into the city center that takes 15 minutes and only costs about $3. Using the hop-on/hop-off bus tour will give you a feel for the city and teach you some interesting facts along the way. And you can even conduct the Vienna Philharmonic yourself using a virtual baton at the House of Music.

If time permits, you can grab a train and visit Slovakia’s capital Bratislava, only 45 minutes away down the Danube. It’s the only place in the world where two capital cities are so close, but remember: Bratislava is not in the euro zone, so you will need to change currency. However it is well worth a day trip.

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Featured Image: Vienna Skyline (Shutterstock.com)

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