Vienna is the top place to live in the world according to Mercer’s 2011 annual Quality of Living Survey. This capital city of Austria was compared to 221 cities based on 39 criteria such as personal safety, education, hygiene, healthcare, culture, environment, recreation, political-economic stability and public transportation. New York didn’t even make it to the top forty. So, what is it that makes Vienna such an enticing city?
I’ve just been back from Vienna and to me, having travelled a bit and lived in the East and West hemispheres, Vienna isn’t just about Strauss or Mozart, Klimt or the Danube that many holiday-makers wax lyrical about after a whirlwind tour of this fascinating Austrian city. Vienna is old and new and it is more than what I often see in tour brochures. To understand how deserving it is of its place on the popularity chart, I recommend that you combine touring with self-exploration of this fascinating place, its culture and its people. I found the perfect tour for me at Insight Vacations that allows me time to venture out on my own.
Old are the 27 palaces among which is the opulently-decored Schönbrunn Palace, and the historical city centre within the Ringstrasse known as the ‘Old City’ Square which has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Paying homage to great architecture on Stephansplatz where the gothic St Stephens Cathedral (with its 137-metre high spire) and some Baroque buildings are located, I discovered even this ancient square has learnt to seduce by day and night. Transforming from a sightseeing destination by day into a pleasurable circle of ‘biergartens’ (beer gardens) and uber urban restaurants by night, Vienna has become attractive to people of all ages from different countries. You can see classic twin horse-drawn Fiaker carriages here and skateboarders there. Mozart was Michael Jackson in his heyday. Yet strains of Strauss’ Blue Danube are highly regarded even from the bottom of a beer glass.
The new Vienna offers its visitors options. Nowhere is the avant garde and vibrant Vienna more evident than in the Museumsquartier on Museumsplatz, the 7th district in the city centre. After a morning’s tour of the splendours of Vienna’s past, an afternoon or two spent trawling Halle E+G, MUMOK and Leopold Museum for contemporary art and creative ideas is definitively refreshing.
The capital’s once conservative population of about two million has come away from a classically-puritan city into a classically-puritan city embracing the times. Apart from a fresh Burenwurst pork sausage or classic Wiener Schnitzel breaded escalope, one can sense the Viennese welcome in the numerous authentic cuisines served at fine restaurants all around the city. From Chinese to Indian and Japanese, the most telling sign was a Starbucks café round the corner just a few shops away from the traditional Viennese café and pastry shops.
For the foodies, dining at the famous Rosenberg Market restaurant is unlike any other traditional buffet experience. At Rosenberg’s, you fill various size plates with food from a local and international buffet spread of soups, salads, meats, pasta, pizzas, sandwiches, cheeses and lots of desserts. You are charged according to the size of the plate which starts at about US$5. It is reasonable by any standard. This is freedom. And I don’t recall any other country that has a cake with a shelf life of two weeks albeit in the fridge. Vienna is synonymous with the chocolate-y mousse-cake which the Viennese call ‘Sacher Torte’ and the original and best is from its namesake, Hotel Sacher. A confection of perfection, you don’t have to dress up for a slice. Neither do you have to speak German to order one although 98 per cent of Austrians speak it. No one’s uppity here. Just polite.
Tickets for operas, orchestral concerts, plays and tours of haunted houses are sold on the same street. There’s room equally for aficionados of pre- and post-secession artwork as for those who stop to watch a plastic bag being bolstered by a gust of wind down a narrow alley.
Vienna is Johann Strauss, Mozart, Maria Theresia, Gustav Klimt, Anna Freud and Peter Drucker all rolled into one. You have been introduced and what follows is how you choose to get to know her further.
If you are intrigued by all of this, and would like to see the new Vienna together with the classics, perhaps you should check it out at www.insightvacations.com