How We Fell in Love with Vienna

Vienna stole in upon us on a gusty summer’s night and caught us unawares after a subdued start to our weekend break. The day we caught the early morning flight to Vienna from Heathrow, the results of the monumental Brexit referendum had just been announced. The elderly cab driver in Northampton quizzed us on our reactions, co-travellers opined ‘Now, if the Scottish want to leave us, bollocks to them’, and stewards gabbed about it. Brexit travelled with us to Vienna.

From cool English climes we were driven straight into the arms of a suffocating heat wave in the Austrian capital. My hair frizzed up promptly and my peace of mind ebbed in directly proportional measures. The Turkish doorman at the hotel announced, “Everyone who comes in through the doors says, ‘Aaaah the air conditioning, I think we shall spend the holiday inside the hotel.” Right, as tempting as that was we pushed ourselves out of the hotel plonked helpfully on the Ringstraße, Vienna’s ring road that wraps itself around its old town. In front of the iconic Vienna State Opera, we were accosted by a man in a white wig, yellow brocade waistcoat and breeches to buy hideously expensive opera tickets that would make you scream something obscene. We wound up watching Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) instead at the Vienna State Opera after laying our hands on a couple of standing tickets. There we stood transfixed by the beauty of it – you can never underplay the emotions of good opera.

In its aftermath, enveloped in a haze of operatic enchantment, we armed ourselves with cans of chilled beer and fortified by Käsekrainer, those scrumptious Austrian sausages filled with cubes of cheese sold at street carts and spicy noodles rustled up by Afghan migrants, we explored the baroque beauty of Vienna. Everything was magnificent, and those palaces, fountain nymphs, gods and goddesses, churches, they cast an imperial aura over the city. Horse carriages clip-clopped by.

History lurked around every corner we turned. Hitler had addressed an Austrian German crowd in 1938 from the balcony of the Neue Burg, a branch of the Hofburg Palace which was the stronghold of the Habsburg monarchy. The way to the palace was through a massive gate, Michaelertor, and it housed a museum dedicated to the Austrian cult figure of Sisi. The beautiful empress of Kaiser Franz Joseph I, formally known as Elisabeth of Austria, stared back at me from shop windows and palace banners. She was known for indulging in fripperies such as washing her hair with essence extracted from eggs and cognac and tightly lacing herself – which is how she maintained a slender figure, an enviable sense of fashion and lush long hair. Sisi was a woman oppressed by her mother-in-law and the rigidity of courtly life. So she championed independence, penning poetry and indulging her passion for wanderlust.

“If I arrived at a place and knew that I could never leave it again, the whole stay would become hell despite being paradise,” said Sisi. She was stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist in 1868.

In front of the stunning Rathaus, we watched a Euro football match with a passionate crowd. How every experience adds to the memories of a place.

We met up with a couple of my friends in Vienna who were bound the next morning for Budapest. We spent an evening near the impressive St. Stephen’s Cathedral with its richly tile-glazed roof, talked politics and travel, drinking copious amounts of beer till the pubs shut down, and then gave in to late-night grub from food stalls while buskers played sweet music to us.

Vienna by night is truly unmissable.

The Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) upon the Ringstrasse
The muse of poetry, Erato, sits astride a winged horse atop the opera building
The Mozart costume sits askew upon that paunch
Twenty-two-carat gold leaf ceilings inside the Vienna State Opera
Schwind Foyer where there are 16 sketched oil paintings by Austrian artist, Moritz von Schwind
Allegorical statues stand all around the beautiful, old staircase inside the opera
Views from Schwind Foyer
Before the opera commences…
Lest you cannot catch the opera inside the hall, it is screened for the public outside the opera
Outside the Vienna State Opera
Where the streets wind off into classical beauty on a gusty summer’s night
The lady, she peers, inside Hofburg Palace
Sausage fest


The 19th-century Neue Burg
Empress Maria Theresa on Maria-Theresien-Platz
2016-06-25 23.29.05.jpg
 Euro match on a giant screen at the Rathaus
Football passion at the Rathaus


Neo-Gothic Votive Church by Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian




Albertina Platz

Ye Old Cafés and Horse Traps

An inevitable part of being in Vienna is setting out on the museum route and making pit stops at coffee houses. We absorbed Vienna’s Habsburg history in the Schönbrunn Palace and could not but miss out on Mozart’s birthplace. Warned by a friend, I skipped the museum dedicated to Sigmund Freud. He had fled to London with everything he owned to escape the Nazis. The museum in Vienna has barely nothing to show.

My wish of meeting the Lippizaner Horses at the Spanish Riding School was in vain. “They are on holiday,” beamed the blonde girl behind the till. I dismissed it. What a joke! The girl reiterated, “They actually go on holiday during this period and return in August.”

I drowned my sorrows in cake.

We sat in the luxurious café of Hotel Sacher and sliced into Sacher Tortes, with dollops of whipped cream. We tried tortes at cafés which are institutions in Vienna. If I shut my eyes, I can almost taste the goodness of the Cleopatra Torte at Demel and the intimidating mound of shredded pancake known as Kaiserschmarrn at Central Café where the family at the table next to ours snickered at the monstrosity of it.

A cup of Viennese coffee and a slice of cake go hand-in-hand at these traditional coffee houses which the UNESCO has listed as pieces of Intangible Cultural Heritage”.

In the late 19th & 20th centuries, Freud, Hitler, Lenin and Soviet politician Leon Trotsky were patrons of Café Central. Not to forget the chess players who met there regularly, lending it the nickname, Die Schachhochschule, or the Chess School. These old cafés, they continue to be sticklers for tradition with their marble table tops, bentwood chairs and gilded columns. There time stands still as you spend hours at leisure but pay just the price of coffee.


The Lipizzaners were on holiday, so I came back with a magnet
Hotel Sacher
Original Sacher-Torte at Hotel Sacher. The Sacher Torte was invented by an Austrian patissiere, Franz Sacher, in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich in Vienna. The Prince was throwing a party and is said to have declared, “Let there be no shame on me tonight!” But there is a legendary tiff between Hotel Sacher and Demel because both claim precedence over each other for the cake. Give both a go.
Post Sacher Torte
Demel is an absolute visit in Vienna. The pastry shop goes back to the year 1786 in Vienna and still bears the title of Purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court.
Pastry-making at Demel
Inside Demel
 Cleopatra Torte at Demel
Café Central
Café Central 
Café Central 
The Kaiserschmarrn (Emperor’s Mess) was a favourite with the Austrian emperor (Kaiser) Franz Joseph I. The Kaiser’s table was never without it. 
The why and wherefore of the Kaiser’s girth 
Viennese Goulash at Central Café 
Central Café






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Arundhati Basu

The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.

4 thoughts on “How We Fell in Love with Vienna

  1. […] If you liked browsing this, there is a post you might like Vienna – I. […]


  2. […] by the Austro-Hungarian empire and found yourself transported to the grand old cafés of Vienna. The glutton in you was hard pressed not to pleasure the gut at every stop. And oh, those vintage […]


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