TRAVEL: A sophisticated blend of the old and new in Austria

Inside the Kunsthistorisches Museum

Inside the Kunsthistorisches Museum

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Are you the kind of person who likes exploring temples in exotic countries?

Do you relish viewing the remains of ancient cultures while braving the sweltering heat and stinging insects?

The Stephansdom

The Stephansdom

Or do you like the kind of trip where you can enjoy good food, high culture and easy access to all the top clothing stores?

If, like most people, you prefer that last option, then a pleasant mini-break in Vienna might be perfect for you.

Getting to the centre of town from Flughafen Wien was simple after a smooth flight with Easyjet. There’s a fast train that can take you into town for about €8 but, if you’re not in a hurry, you can take a slower train for €4.20.

After arriving at Wien Mitte railway station my travelling companion and I walked straight to the Stephansdom, a breathtaking Romanesque/Gothic church in the centre of town. In Stephansplatz, directly outside the front entrance of the church, we noticed a group of men in historical costumes. When we approached one of them, he explained to us (in fluent English) that it was traditional to sell tickets for Viennese classical concerts in this way. We purchased a couple of tickets for the evening concert on Tuesday for €40 each.

Lawrence Smith at Cafe Sperl

Lawrence Smith at Cafe Sperl

Afterwards, my travelling companion and I made for the nearby Stadtpark to check out the concert venue – the Kursalon – and see the golden Johann Strauss statue in the centre.

Then we travelled in the direction of our hotel, walking past the magnificent Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, the largest library in Austria, and the MuseumsQuartier.

This route took us through the thoroughly modern shopping district, full of the trendiest high street stores.

Vienna contains an odd but pleasing blend of the old and new. The streets are astonishingly clean and contain all the amenities of a major city, but there are also sections of Vienna where the past has been preserved – islands of history in a sea of modernity.

The weather took a turn for the worse in the evening but we found shelter from the rain in an sophisticated little place called Café Korb.

This gave us an opportunity to try the local food. I chose fried schnitzel with a sweet white beer called Edelweiss, followed by a rich apple strudel with cream.

It’s safe to say that we made the most of our only full day on Tuesday. In the morning – after a filling breakfast of bacon, scrambled egg, crusty bread and strong coffee – my travelling companion and I walked to the Kunsthistorisches Museum to view the works of old masters, such as Pieter Bruegel and Peter Paul Rubens. The museum is a masterpiece itself with its painted ceilings and its tasteful blend of dusty reds, blues and beiges – not to mention the intricate patterns crawling up every wall and column. Even the dining area is situated in splendid surroundings.

After viewing the treasures on display, which included a large collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts, we decided to get a better look at the Stephansdom. This meant climbing the 343 steps to see the bizarre, multi-coloured tile-roof, before descending to go inside and see the awe inspiring décor.

It’s certainly a dramatic interior, with gigantic pillars thrusting up into the ceiling, graceful sculptures and light streaming in through the complex designs on painted glass windows.

The evening’s concert at the Kursalon was a simply magical experience.

Musicians performed pieces by Mozart and Strauss, which naturally included Eine Kleine Nachtmusik and The Blue Danube, while ballet dancers added some colour and movement to the evening’s show. The players finished with flair, performing the well-known theme from The Third Man.

On Wednesday, we took a tram to the Schönbrunn Palace to find out about the lives of the Habsburgs.

It’s an impressive building from outside but the interior is truly luxurious. There’s an English language option with a guide who is happy to answer any questions people might have about the powerful European dynasty.

Afterwards, we took our time in getting back to the airport, stopping off at the iconic Café Sperl for Sachertorte and coffee.

Overall, Vienna is a fascinating city that offers far more than we had time for during our short stay. There are plenty of museums, grand buildings and concerts for those who want to soak up a bit of culture.

More importantly, however, Vienna is a relaxing travel destination, full of pleasant cafés and shops for those who simply want to get away from the pressures of day-to-day life.

By Lawrence Smith

Our trip to Vienna

Dates: Monday, September 16, to Wednesday, September 18.

Flights and accommodation: £210.25 each from Gatwick (booked through expedia.co.uk).

Where we stayed: Hotel Am Brillantengrund, Bandgasse 4. Breakfast included. Visit www.brillantengrund.com.