A day in a life in Vienna
“When angels travel, they bring goodness with them.’’
Such is a day in Vienna, recognised as the Capital of the World due to its political and cultural legacy.
An inspirational city built on the power of the Habsburg Empire and a café society that gave rise to such great musicians, artists, thinkers and writers. Strauss, Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn. Trotsky, Lenin, Stalin and Freud.
Seeing Vienna is to catch the grandeur of the Schonbrunn Palace by early morning light.
And it’s to run by Schonbrunn metro station as commuters pick up their newspapers, magazines and coffee before heading to work in the city centre.
Vienna’s history dates back to the first post-Christian century when the Romans established the military camp Vindobona.
Schloss Schönbrunn, is the former imperial summer residence of Empress Maria Theresia and Emperor Franz Joseph who was largely responsible for the grandeur of Vienna.
The sumptuous palace is set amid beautifully tended formal gardens and a zoo that attract thousands upon thousands of visitors each year.
It is one of the many, many highlights we will fit into our three nights in Vienna as part of a tour of Central Europe by the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir from Queensland, Australia.
The performance will continue the string of magnificent venues the choir performs at on this tour of four countries that started in Hungary, continued into Slovakia, Austria and finally the Czech Republic.
Today, it is choir rehearsal in Peterskirche prior to an evening recital.
St Peter’s is known as Vienna’s most beautiful baroque church.
The design was inspired by St Peter’s Basilica of the Vatican in Rome and construction started in 1701.
The new church was the first domed structure in baroque Vienna.
Yet until the time for the choir’s performance tonight it is a chance to explore this imperial city.
Some went this way, others went that. Some got lost. Others found themselves.
Some wandered and discovered such things as op shops, erotic cinemas and adult shops. Others found art, history, food, bakeries and antiques.
Seeing a city is not just about hopping on a tour bus and being shown the sights, the points of interest … it’s also about walking the streets and laneways, getting a taste of what life is like from the ground.
Walk for a while in the shoes of the people who live and work there.
Everyone who visits Vienna wanders through the Naschmarkt – a vast market with 16th-century origins and more than 100 food and vintage stalls plus restaurants.
Row upon row of stalls selling everything from exotic dips and spices to fresh produce. And somewhere to grab one of Vienna’s famous Wuerstelstand sausages with a litre of some of the world’s great beers.
It’s a place where friends gather at a deli or restaurant.
Others sample those delicious treats being offered by the stall vendors then match them with a bottle of wine and enjoy a picnic in the Mozart memorial statue park.
Sit for hours in the shadow of such a great composer, all the while watching the chestnuts fall from the trees onto the heads of the unsuspecting.
Vienna, where you can queue for the tour of the palaces and galleries or head for the hills in search of Beethoven.
Who could imagine it would be so easy to get around this city. Yet that’s Vienna. A public transport system that is the envy of the world.
Buy single or multiple tickets, day travel or three-day travel passes. A 24-hour ticket lets you ride from 7.30 to 7.30, not just for the day you purchase.
Remember that after you purchase, validate the ticket when you ride otherwise get caught.
Bearing this in mind a trio from the choir went in search of Beethoven’s apartment in Heligenstadt, a rural area first settled in Roman times and now woven into the outskirts of the city.
As luck would have it the trio chatted away in English as the train headed north west on Line 4.
“Are you Australian?” piped up Diana, a travel guide who was sitting opposite and picked up the Aussie accents.
Turns out she had lived in Australia – in Adelaide and Canberra.
Her son had gone to school at the historic Forest Primary school in the Canberra suburb. The same school one trio member had been an inaugural student at in the 1950’s. Talk about the Six Degrees of Separation.
All were here in the world’s most livable city. It’s unpolluted because the public transport system is to envy. Cheap, frequent , clean, efficient.
Use it or lose it is the philosophy. Apparently the population is taxed in a way that it barely costs $1 a day to use it. Whenever, wherever.
Why would you own a car?
This, and the narrow cobbled streets and laneways of the historic city centre, makes Vienna rather devoid of private cars.
As Diana said, when she needs one she simply uses car share for the time needed.
Yet now it is time to transfer from train to a bus bound for Grinzing.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) spent his adult life in Vienna, and today the city celebrates his life with dozens of statues, monuments, and museums.
Beethoven had 67 different addresses in the Austrian capital so walking in the city is literally following the historical sites where the composer lived and worked.
The Heligenstadt Testament Museum is where he lived when he realised his deafness would not improve.
An unassuming apartment set beyond a gated courtyard and with a pleasant garden containing an ageing apple tree, it was here he wrote his famous Heligenstadt Testament.
The letter to his two brothers was never sent but in which he expressed his despair over his advancing deafness.
It reflects his desire to overcome his physical and emotional ailments to complete his artistic destiny.
How can I, a musician, say to people “I am deaf!” I shall, if I can, defy this fate, even though there will be times when I shall be the unhappiest of God’s creatures … I live only in music … frequently working on three or four pieces simultaneously.
The exhibits document the background to this intimate testament, to the compositions of the summer of 1802, and to the summer resort of Heiligenstadt at that time.
A second room takes a look at the last months in the life of the composer.
Stand in the garden and reflect … on the peace and quiet, the view over Vienna that must have been. The greatness of the man.
I bend down and pick up an apple that had fallen to the ground. An apple from such a tree.
That’s ridiculous isn’t it … that you could eat an apple from Beethoven’s garden but not shake his hand.
Beethoven’s grave is at Vienna’s Central Cemetery. Within a few feet are those of Schubert, Johann Strauss and Brahms. There’s also a memorial to Mozart.
Heiligenstadt bears traces of very early Roman settlement including a wall that was discovered in 1872.
A Roman cemetery has also been found near the Jakobskirche (St James’ Church).
The name Heiligenstadt (Holy city) suggests that there was already a holy site in this area before the arrival Christianity. The first record of a settlement dates to 1120 and refers to it as St Michael.
As well as the bus, there is a tram 38 that goes from Schottentor U-bahn (line U2) station all the way Grinzing.
When it gets to the village it does a sharp left, goes under a building and that’s the last/first stop, so getting there and back couldn’t be simpler.
Grinzing is set among vineyards on the hilly slopes and a good place to wander – there’s the Grinzinger Pfarrkirche, catholic parish church, and a variety of Heurige wine taverns as well as cafes to enjoy a coffee and pastries.
Wonderful, clean and easy to walk around, beyond the main square are some very exclusive residential areas for Vienna including embassies from a variety of countries.
Here you can visit the Mahler grave and see the bust of the composer Schubert, who spent a lot of time in Grinzing.
It’s simple to carry on further up the hill, the bus 38A goes from the High Street just before the tram stop.
There is a lookout near Schloss Cobenzl that gives glorious views back over Vienna. Not only that, you are looking back into history.
The buses are frequent and soon we are back down the hill and happily seated in the Kronprinz Rudolfshof cafe, opposite the tram terminus.
A reminder of when the tram service started in the early 1900s perhaps. Faded photos on the walls tell the story of those days.
It’s a step or two down from the main street so you can sit, enjoy a coffee and watch the people walk by while other patrons read a magazine or the newspaper.
Entry is off a laneway, one that ambles up the hill … it’s filled with flowers and shrubs while the garden walls, not always straight, are wavy along the top.
It’s as if we have just stepped into a picture book … then maybe we have.