MS Amavenita cruised up the Danube overnight and we woke to a cold, misty morning that nevertheless gave notice of another lovely day. After cruising through countryside for a few more hours we tied up at our next destination.
Vienna. Capital of the Austro Hungarian Empire from 1806 until 1918. Born in war, and died in war but is remembered for its stunning architecture and for music. It was here that Beethoven lived, where Mozart and Strauss left their mark. And the home of Wiener schnitzel and apfel strudel.
If I were to summarise our visit to Vienna in a few words, it was all about wealth and culture. This was how the upper crust lived – although of course there’s much more to the city than that. Later in the tour we had a chance to look at the circumstances of the ordinary folk in the little towns along the rivers.
As usual, our tour started with a bus ride around the city, beginning with the fabulous Ringstrasse. The city walls were torn down in 1857 and the well-heeled took the chance to build their summer palaces on the ensuing open space close to the heart of Vienna. I have to confess that though I can admire the architecture, all that pomp and circumstance stuff leaves me cold. That wealth is built on the labour of others. However, more of that later.
Having admired the Ringstrasse we alighted from the buses for the obligatory walking tour of the old city. The oldest buildings stand in cobblestoned squares connected by narrow laneways, not accessible by a bus. Besides, you’d miss the detail you notice when walking. We had five groups – the usual red, blue, green and yellow factions for the more able-bodied, and another group tour director Cherie referred to as “gentle walkers” (pink). This was for the people who used walking aids like frames or sticks, those with a physical impediment, or maybe those not feeling the best that day. Joining that group was a choice made by each individual on each day. The tour would be less physically demanding – but on the other hand you wouldn’t see as much because access to the attractions would be modified to suit. One other option was always available – do your own thing. That’s tempting for introverts like me, but the tour guides provided interesting factoids as well as pointing out the major sites, so I found it was usually worth the cringeworthy business of following a lollipop-wielding local.
At least we didn’t need to do a group huddle to hear what the guide was saying. Each of us had a headset which could be tuned into a device carried by the guide. That meant you could dawdle along some distance from the lollipop and still hear what was being said. Unless you got too close to another group’s guide, in which case you could find yourself tuning into the wrong group. So – keep your coloured lollipop in view.
The heart of the city is the square around St Stephan’s cathedral. We walked past the Albertina museum, the great library, and admired some of the green spaces. Everybody but me went down for a quick look at the stallions in the Spanish Riding School stables. The tour guide had the sense to ask if anyone was allergic to horses before he took the group down there, and I am – violently allergic. Even the smell of the carriage horses waiting to take tourists on a city tour was enough to have me backing off. Then there was free time. Pete and I went for a wander, checking out the souvenir shops for T shirts.
Art is a big thing in Vienna. We came across these sculptures on short term display. Apparently they depict a soldier and his horse taking a break (!). The little kid obviously enjoyed the encounter.
That evening some of the people on the tour faced a dilemma. APT had organised for us to attend a concert at the newly refurbished LiechtensteinPalace. (Yes, that Liechtenstein) But the Rugby World Cup final was on that very night – Oz versus the All Blacks. What to do, what to do. In the end, all but six attended the concert. The die-hards stayed on board the Amavenita and watched the Kiwis slaughter our boys. Yes, one of those was my Petey.
The Liechtenstein renovation wasn’t completely finished but the inner rooms where the concert was held were magnificent, as the pictures attest. The concert was fabulous. The chamber orchestra played well-known favourites from Strauss and Mozart, including a few choices from operettas sung by members of the palace company. I sat in the front row. There’s nothing quite so personal as being close enough to almost touch the performers. The thing that struck me was how much they enjoyed playing their music – possibly as much as we enjoyed listening to them. I should add that tickets to concerts are extremely expensive, so having this performance as part of the tour was a real cherry on top of the cake.
Then it was back to the boat to commiserate with the disappointed sports fans. Oh well. Had they really expected anything different?