Vienna: Waltz along in fairy tale city

By Mike Yardley

Visitors to Vienna could spill rivers of blue Danube ink gushing with superlatives to do the city justice.

It's the city that vaulted Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and Strauss and his waltz into our consciousness. It's the city that gave rise to the brilliance of Freud, was annexed by Hitler, published the world's first newspaper, produced the delicious torte, and was home to the imperial Hapsburgs.

A city of culture, class and beauty, of churches, castles and concert halls. A city that has deified the coffee house and the horse and carriage. Vienna's coffee houses are a revered institution. It's ironic that the rampaging Ottoman Turks, who desperately tried to seize strategically important Vienna, inadvertently sowed the seeds for one of its great legacies.

Defeated Turkish forces left behind many bags of coffee beans, giving rise to the great cafe society.

Four centuries later, the coffee houses, resplendent with red velvet seats and lavish wall mirrors, remain central to the city's soul and social pulse. Shopping, noshing and lingering is a most alluring pursuit in the heart of Vienna, particularly on the Karntner Strasse and in Stephansplatz, around the cathedral.

The only notable rivals to the frenetic foot traffic are the army of cyclists and the fairy-tale sight of horse-and-carriage riders.Vienna's love affair with the horse and carriage stretches back many centuries, and the fiaker (carriage-rider) is a highly regarded job. The central terminus for the horse-and-carriage trade is outside Vienna's august Gothic cathedral, Stephandsdom.

Dating back to the 13th century, the cathedral's soaring spires dominate the skyline. "The Steffl" was damaged by bombing raids in World War II, and its rebuilding was a symbol of hope as Austria emerged from the ashes of conflict.

The Staatsoper, the Vienna State Opera House, is unquestionably one of the world's most acclaimed concert halls. The masterworks of Mozart, Beethoven and company continue to be performed every week at the opera house, which offers daily tours.

The Renaissance-style Staatsoper has a grand entrance hall and majestic staircase, setting the perfect tone for a magical evening of stirring classical music. However, for a mix of art exhibitions, stirring sculpture and manicured lawns, the Belvedere Palace is my favourite regal spot in Vienna.

Constructed by Prince Eugen to celebrate the defeat of the invading Ottoman Turks

in 1683, it is now one of

Vienna's most popular weekend haunts.

The formal gardens are enhanced by fountains and topiary and the classic statues are particularly eye-catching.

- Hamilton News

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