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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 02 Apr 2009

Location: Vienna, Austria

MapA good look around Vienna today, by foot. Quite easy since the city centre is quite close to our apartment, and the beautiful old buildings at every turn made the walk so enjoyable. We lost count of the statues, parks, sidewalk restaurants (very bus at lunchtime), stone buildings, and horse-drawn open carriages. A three-hour bus tour of the city then took us outside the city centre, and we discovered that there is a very modern side to Vienna. The Danube actually flows a couple of kilometers away from the old city, and modern Vienna has been built on its banks, with wide open parklands, wide multi-lane freeways and glass and steel buildings for offices and high-rise dwellings. Just outside the city boundary is a large hill, or small mountain, covered in trees (the Vienna Forests) that give a commanding view of the city below. Several open spaces have been planted in vines, and many Austrian wines come from this area.

Day Three April 3
Schonbrunn Palace was the residence for the ruling Habsburg dynasty in Austria for hundreds of years until the revolution that made it a republic and ended the monarchy in 1918. This sprawling and opulent palace and gardens reminds us of what we saw at Versaille in 2007 as grand and expansive. The attention to detail was amazing, from the paintings on the ceiling of each of the thousand rooms, to the hedge trimming in the gardens. We spent most of the day here, finishing with a demonstration by a professional cook on how to make real Austrian apple strudel. Anne was picked up out of the audience to help him finish it off, earning her a certificate in making Apple Strudel!!!
Weve just returned from a restaurant within staggering distance from our apartment, its 10pm. We were served by a young Hungarian guy called Thomas, whos been living in Vienna for many years, and he was typical of all the locals that weve met in Vienna. So friendly, very helpful, amazed that weve travelled so far, very proud of his city, and speaks very good English. We love this city too.

Day Four April 4
The biggest priority for Anne on this trip was crossed off the list this morning the Lipizzaner horses of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. An interesting product from the Spanish connection of the Habsburg monarchy of Austria, these white stallions have been bred for the past 400 years to perform in this huge stone building. The tradition of classical horsemanship has been handed down by the handlers of these magnificent animals for hundreds of years, and you could tell that these were special horses.
In the afternoon, we took a scenic cruise on the Danube another one to cross off the list. A highlight were the two locks we had to navigate, due to the 8-meter drop in the Danube downstream from Vienna, and again coming back to our point of origin. The Danube itself is very wide, which shows why its so important to shipping for Vienna. It may have been blue once upon a time, but now its a dirty, muddy brown colour, largely thanks to the silt it brings downstream from its upper reaches. But its still a magnificent stretch of water, and a pleasure to cruise on. We shared a table-for-four on the top deck with a mother and her 12-year-old daughter, and by the end of the four-hour journey, wed made yet another friend in this wonderful city.
Vienna calls itself The Music Capital of the World, maybe because of favourite sons like Strauss, Beethoven and Mozart, among others, but it certainly has a healthy music scene in styles other than classical Ive seen posters for up-coming concerts in Vienna by Al Jarreau, Robin Gibb, Bruce Springsteen, Kraftwerk, Al Di Meola, Chris de Burgh, Patti Smith, Metallica, and productions of Rocky Horror and Jesus Christ Superstar. And it's not unusual to see someone on the train with their musical instrument of preference over their shoulder ... and it's quite often a cello in a large hard case.