My mind was racing with everything I knew about Vienna as I boarded the plane: the melodies of Mozart, the books of Thomas Bernhard, the paintings of Gustav Klimt, schnitzel, apple strudel, coffee, the Danube, the Habsburg palaces, the cathedrals… This was my first trip to Austria’s legendary capital. I was curious as well as excited because I was going to Europe’s most aristocratic city. To the capital of a sprawling empire, the seat of the Habsburg dynasty for 640 years. To the heart of architecture, music, painting and sculpture. It was here that Mozart composed his ‘Marriage of Figaro’. Here that Freud discovered how to plumb the sub-conscious. I knew that this city that had endured the hardship of two world wars had not lost an iota of its elegance. Come now, let us stroll together through the art-steeped streets of this splendid city.
With its extensive tram network all around the city, its touristic ring bus service, and its bicycle lanes and walking trails, Vienna is an easy city to get around in. The ‘Innere Stadt’, or first district, is the heart of this city of 23 districts. Most of the classic Vienna sights are here: St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the imperial palaces, the National Theater, the Rathaus (City Hall), the Museums quarter, the Austrian Parliament, the Spanish Riding School… You can tour this district on one of the nostalgic trams known as the ‘Vienna Ring Tram’, but strolling through the streets is more enjoyable. Each one of the long boulevards offers an incomparable synthesis of the Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-classical and Art Nouveau styles. The house where Mozart lived with its worn stone staircase stands on a narrow avenue near the Domgasse. Was that the composer himself who just came round the corner? But, no, it’s a vendor of concert tickets dressed in authentic 17th century aristocratic costume. There is a concert almost every evening in one of the many halls large and small in the environs. For music is an important part of tourism in this city with a three-hundred-year-old musical tradition stretching from Beethoven and Haydn to Chopin and Brückner. Classical music makes itself felt in every area of life from schools and concert halls to souvenirs and chocolate. Opera buffs from around the world rent century-old houses here in the Old City to follow the melodies. We ask the price of a ticket for this evening’s performance at the Vienna State Opera (the Staatsoper), which opened in 1869. The clerk on duty explains with a smile that the tickets sold out two months ago! Nonetheless, we join a guided tour of the Opera’s magnificent halls adorned with silk draperies and oil paintings. Just beyond the Opera lies the city’s most fashionable shopping avenue, the Kärntner. The clip-clop of horses’ hooves reaches our ears here as one of the fiacres (phaetons) unique to Vienna passes. A phaeton tour by moonlight is a favorite with romantically inclined couples.
Legend has it that the Turks left behind large sacks of coffee when they besieged the city in the 17th century. Adopting the coffee-drinking habit, the Viennese developed their own quintessential café-patissérie culture. There are elegant pastry shops all over the city today. These venues, most of them over a century old with high ceilings, represent true class with their antique furnishings, oil paintings and crystal chandeliers. And their famous tortes attract customers from faraway lands. We waited in line for half an hour to sample a chocolate torte made from the same recipe for 175 years at one of the city’s famous pastry shops. Ir was well worth it too. Exhibiting vestiges of the imperial age, Vienna’s pastry shops are a meeting place for artists, writers and musicians. To quote renowned Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, who was a regular at such venues, “... it must be said that the Viennese coffeehouse is a particular institution which is not comparable to any other in the world.” Following a leisurely coffee break, we branch out a little from the city center. There are two stunning palaces on our list of sights to see: Schönnbrunn, a Habsburg summer palace, has changed very little since the 1700’s. The zoo of this 1200-room palace, famous for its spectacular gardens and fountains, is one of Europe’s oldest. Belvedere Palace meanwhile, built as a summer palace for Prince Eugen, a key figure in Vienna history, is near the Südbahnhof (South Train Station). The most important collection of this palace, where you can see the works of Austrian painters such as Egon Schiele and Oscar Kokoschka, is that of the paintings of Gustav Klimt, whose famous work, ‘The Kiss’, is here. We head now for the Hundertwasserhaus, one of the city’s classic sights. Named for its architect, it is reminiscent of a fairytale apartment building with its vibrant suites, asymmetric balconies and onion domes. There are even green areas on the roof of this building, which was constructed in the 1980’s as a critical counter to the nondescript mass housing of its day. Following a long walk, it’s a good idea to stretch out along the shady banks of the Danube for a brief rest.
Yunus Emre in Vienna
Vienna, which boasts upwards of a hundred museums, among them the Sigmund Freud, the Uhrenmuseum (clocks), Schmetterlinghaus (butterflies) and Moderner Kunst (modern art), is at the same time a city of canals and bridges. And Prater Park is an ideal spot for a bird’s-eye view of the city and its over 1,700 bridges. One of Europe’s oldest ferris wheels stands here, and you can get a panoramic view of the city’s palaces and other magnificent structures for just € 8.50. You are going to encounter a lot of Turks in Vienna, in the parks, on the streets and in the metro. Turks, who have recently made their presence felt in the city’s food sector especially, also run some of its leading restaurants. There is even a park in Vienna called ‘Türkenschanzpark’ (Turkish trench park). A fountain was erected in this green area to commemorate the 750th anniversary of the birth of Yunus Emre. Inscribed in Turkish and German on the fountain, which exhibits traces of Ottoman influence, are the words: ‘The heart is the home of the friend, I came to give heart.’ According to one of the legends told of Turks in the city, the bells of some of the churches were made by melting down cannonballs left from the Turks. The truth value of this claim is uncertain, but one thing is sure, that Mozart’s famous Turkish March was inspired by the Ottoman siege. The Naschmarkt is another place where you will encounter a large number of Turkish shopkeepers. The city’s largest market for fruits and vegetables as well as flowers, the Naschmarkt is combined with a large flea market on Saturdays. You can take a journey back in time here amidst everything from objects going back to the days of the Iron Curtain to vinyl records, Vienna porcelains, silver place settings and paintings by local artists. Naschmarkt is an antique hunters’ haunt as well. Some century-old handmade dolls found a buyer here at 400 Euros! We saw it with our own eyes. Yet another treat that will enhance the pleasure of your Vienna trip is a cruise on the River Danube. There are two main points of departure for cruises on the river and its adjoining canals, Schwedenplatz and Reichsbrucke. The cost of a cruise, of which there are eight a day between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., runs from 15 to 21 euros. The full cruise lasts three and a half hours, the half cruise two. Not only that but you can also make day-cruises from Vienna to other capitals such as Budapest, Prague and Bratislava. Vienna’s slogan is clear: Vienna, now or never! If you want to see it, don’t dawdle!
Turkish Airlines flies to Vienna and back every day. Departures are at 7:35 a.m., 4:10 p.m. and 5:25 p.m. from Istanbul, at 10 a.m., 1:20 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. from Vienna.
WHERE TO STAY
Accommodation in the Old City center is expensive but prices come down as you get away from Vienna’s first district. A double room with breakfast in a three-star hotel runs around 150 euros.
WHAT TO EAT
The Vienna menu is modest but tasty: Goulash soup, schnitzel with lemon, grilled sausage and potato salad. And don’t forget the post-prandial coffee and dessert.
Write: Melih Uslu Photo: Fatih Pınar