We started off with brunch at Konditori Demel, one of the iconic Viennese coffee houses. Fortified with food and chocolate, we made our way to the Hofburg Palace. The state apartments include rooms occupied by Franz Joseph from 1857 to 1916, and Empress Elisabeth’s (known as Sisi) apartments from 1854 to 1898. Sisi was the Princess Diana of her day – a ravishingly beautiful but reluctant Empress who felt caged and depressed by the role she was asked to assume when she was only fifteen years old.
When we finally finished the Sisi exhibit, we had a brief restorative at the Café Hofburg, a charming grand café with a lovely outdoor patio, before getting into a horse-drawn carriage for a ride around Old Vienna. Our coach-woman pointed out various points of interest including the magnificent St Stephen’s Cathedral and one of Mozart’s many Viennese residences but the one he was said to be happiest in.
After a leisurely lunch at the Café Lantmann, where Freud has his daily coffee, we took a brief subway ride to the Muth concert hall to hear the traditionally sailor-suited Vienna Boys Choir perform. I had been fascinated with this choir since I was a child and saw the movie Almost Angels. The boys’ performance did not disappoint, their talent and hard work were evident in every note!
Old Vienna is eminently walkable and we spent most of the day exploring starting with the grand Hofsburg Quarter. Once the seat of imperial power, the former palace gardens are now the Volksgarten (People’s Garden) and Burgartern and some of the building have reincarnated as splendid museums.
The palaces of former nobles line Herrengasse and Bankgasse and now house lovely shops. Bustling with tourists by day, it is eerily quiet by night.
After a wonderful lunch at the Café Central, we moved into to the narrow, medieval streets of the Stephansdom Quarter a district anchored at the heart of old Vienna by the magnificent Stephansdom Cathedral. Around the cathedral are hints of Vienna’s religious past – the remains of feudal orders such as the Teutonic Knights, monastic orders such as the Dominicans and the Jesuits. But all is not holy here, at night the bars and restaurants on Bäckerstrasse and Schonlaterngasse are heaving with enthusiastic revelers until the wee small hours of the morning. There is excellent shopping to be had on Kartnerstrasse!
There are a vast number of musical opportunities in Vienna – from grand opera to concerts in a multitude of concert halls of varying ages and sizes to musical theatre. Since one of my bucket list items is to see an opera in every major opera house in the world, we caught a performance of Richard Strauss’ Ariadne Auf Naxos at the Vienna State Opera House.
The last major attraction that we managed to squeeze in was a trip to the Albertina Museum. This distinctive landmark with its raised entrance featuring a controversial free-standing diving-board roof was once a palace belonging to Empress Maria Theresa’s daughter Maria Christina (sister of Maria Antoinette of France) and her husband Duke Albert of Sachen-Teschen. The Albertina contains over a million prints, over 65,000 watercolours and drawings, more than 70,000 photographs. Dürer, Michelangelo and Rubens are well represented within the museum. We were also able to see one of the temporary exhibits, a retrospective of Miro’s work.