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Thursday, October 6, 2005

It's impossible to think of Vienna without thinking of its amazing contribution to music. The city bred Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn, Strauss, Brahms, Mahler, Schönberg and in 1498 Emperor Maximilian I founded the Vienna Boys' Choir to help celebrate private masses and give concerts to his court. But Vienna also provokes countless other images — imperial palaces, coffee houses with displays of rich cakes and elaborate, ornate mirrors, sublime examples of Art Nouveau and strutting white stallions at the famous Spanish Riding School.

Covering 400 square kilometres in the Danube Valley, Vienna's fertile soil grows fruit and wine grapes, mostly of the popular white variety enjoyed world-wide.

The city thrives on imperial nostalgia with wonderful examples of Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Historicism and Modern architecture to enjoy. During the Freud/Klimt/Schiele/Mahler/Schönberg era of the late 19th century, the city's famous coffee houses were crammed with intellectuals from every corner of the empire. The konditorei are still popular and genteel, and coffee and cake are very much a part of daily Viennese life.

Most first-time visitors to the city concentrate on the labyrinthine Innere Stadt. It is the site of Staphansdom, Vienna's finest Gothic example, and the Hofburg, imperial palace and seat of the Habsburgs. It houses the crown jewels and a host of museums. It is also where you will find lots of cafés, restaurants and shops.

The Innere Stadt's fortifications were torn down in 1857 and replaced by a showpiece boulevard, the Ringstrasse. While now full of cars and buses, it has many grand public buildings of late-imperial Vienna, including the Museums Quartier, once the Habsburg stables, which aims to do for the city what the Tate Modern has done for London.

The Spittelberg Arts precinct has transformed a once undesirable part of town into a centre of art and culture, restaurants and bars.

In amongst all that is Hundertwasser, Vienna's most controversial building. The 50-apartment public housing complex was built in 1985 in the bleak 3rd District. Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the self-styled eco-architect, created the irregularly shaped building with the gameboard-like black and white façade and turrets relieved with splotches of red, yellow and blue. Trees are at 45° angles, all giving the appearance of having been created by mischievous clowns.

Vienna is a great place to explore by bicycle. Hundreds of kilometres of cycle paths provide an excellent way to enjoy the wonderful architecture and the twists and turns of the Danube and its canals at your own pace. The mighty river slices for 2840km through Europe from the Black Forest to the Black Sea, but it is Vienna which gave the river its fame.

Once you've taken in the high-brow world Vienna has to offer, or if indeed they are of no interest, there are many other things to do. Wienerwald, or the Vienna Woods, provide a wonderful distraction and there are pretty settlements speckling the area.

Pedal Power was established in 1996 to encourage tourists to see more of the city without environmental impact. They deliver bikes to your hotel or B&B and collect them once you've finished using them. They also offer self-guided or fully guided tours of the city.

The Prater is a Viennese institution. More than an amusement park, it is dominated by the 65m ferris wheel which was built in 1897 and featured in the film The Third Man. It takes around 10 minutes for a full rotation allowing plenty of time to enjoy the view. There are big dippers, merry-go-rounds, bumper cars, go-karts, haunted houses, a wonderful planetarium and plenty of places selling food and drink. It is open between March and October.

The "in thing" to do on Fridays is inline skating (or rollerblading as we know it). Started by Green Vienna, people on foot or non-motorised vehicles meet at 10pm for a two-hour tour through Vienna. Sometimes there are thousands enjoying the outing.

Each September, locals and visitors head for the hills to visit heurigen, simple wine taverns. Perfect in late summer and autumn, the rustic taverns celebrate the arrival of each year's new wine by placing a pine branch over the door. Viennese flock there to taste the new vintages and to feast on country-style buffets. Some heurigen offer expansive views, courtyards with tables and folk music. It's good to take in several on your visit.


The capital city of Austria


Pedal Power's three hour bike tours are around $40 per person.

CIT Travel has a range of accommodation in Vienna starting at $154 a couple a night.

Flight Centre has return airfares to Vienna, valid for sale until October 31, 2005, and for travel between October 4-November 25, 2005, and January 17-February 24, 2006. Taxes are included and conditions apply.
  • Melbourne $1548
  • Sydney $1565
  • Adelaide $1768
  • Brisbane $1780
  • Perth $1998
    To book call Flight Centre on 131 600

    Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

    More information

    CIT World Travel Group
    Ph: 1300 361 500

    Austrian Airlines
    Ph: (02) 9241 4277
    Fax: (02) 9261 7964

    Austrian National Tourist Office

    III, Praterstern, Leopoldstadt

    Pedal Power
    Exhibition Road 3 Vienna 1020
    Ph: 43 729 7234

    Friday Night Inline Skating
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