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Making life a holiday with interesting vacation and adventure ideas.

Tales from here and there about this and that.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Blue Danube Vienna 

Almost two years ago I began writing the occasional post about a journey along the Danube (Donnau), beginning at its source in the Black Forest and stopping at major towns and cities as the river flows towards Rumania and its exit into the Black Sea. The last post in the series described Linz and in the season of Christkindl and the coming New Year celebrations, there can be no better time to reach Vienna (Wien).

The advent season, which this year began November 18, is a special time of year in Vienna, the aroma of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts fill the air in front of the Rathauss as the Christkindlmarkt transforms the area into a magic wonderland full of excited children (and equally excited parents) enjoying candied fruits, nuts, candy floss, Christmas decorations, delicacies and mulled wine, a glass or two of which makes Christkindlmarkt seem even more wonderful! Enjoy Fantasy-trees and Pony-rides in the Rathauspark, with a traditional merry-go-round and Reindeer train, the Christmas Express, Confetti-Pavilion, Hoki Poki Villa and of course, the "Post office in the clouds" for those important Christmas letters. Parents will also find Christmas crèches under the arcades (hopefully as easy to find after a few glasses of mulled wine ).

The Christmas market is open daily until December 24, 2006, from 9 a.m.-9 p.m., ( 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. on December 24 ) and the trumpet is played from 8 - 8 .30 p.m. In the Rathaus, Volkshalle there are Christmas Workshop for children where they can create Christmas gifts and bake cookies and throughout December there is International Advent-Music Fri, Sat, Sun 3.30-7 p.m, 24. 12. 3.30 - 4.30 p.m.
Rathaus in Vienna, Photographed by Elisabeth Fuchs If you cannot be there, a great Christkindlmarkt webcam has been provided and there is also an interactive map of the market, clicking on each store brings up a picture or the store and the storekeepers.

The timing of our visit to Vienna is particularly fortuitous this year because in the city where Mozart spent ten years of his life, celebrations of the 250th year after his birth are reaching a crescendo. Mozart Year 2006 culminates in a series of performances around Vienna, of Mozart’s Requiem, coinciding with the anniversary of his death on December 5, 1791.

Vienna's cultural life is wide and varied. You have the choice of 50 theatres, four opera houses, two stages for musicals, 100 museums and numerous theatre, music and dance festivals but it is particularly known as the city of music, not least because of Johann Strauss II who is known as the waltz king and is particularly well-known for his Blue Danube Walz and the lively operetta Die Fledermaus.

The Imperial Ball (Kaiserball) is an annual evening of elegance and champagne to walz in the New Year with ten orchestras and ensembles keeping the dance floors full in four magnificent ballrooms, while liveried footmen serve culinary delights at the gala banquet and an exclusive buffet. At midnight on New Year's eve, the second largest swinging bell in Europe, the 'Pummerin' (Boomer) at St. Stephen's cathedral, is used to officially declare the beginning of the New Year.

It has long been a Vienna Philharmonic tradition at the New Year to present a program consisting of the lively polkas, marches and walzes, from the vast repertoire of the Johann Strauss family. The New year's Day concert is so popular that tickets for the concert and the New Year's Eve rehearsal are allocated by ballot; applications can be made from 2 January to 23 January on the orchestra's web site.
St. Stephan's Cathedral at stephanplatsz in Vienna, Photographed by Mauricio Brik On the route from St. Stephen's Square (Stephansplatz) to Theater an der Wien "stars" have been embedded in the pavement to commemorate prominent personalities in classical music; known as the Classical music Walk of Fame, it passes such important places as the Secession, the Musikverein (Society of the Friends of Music in Vienna), the Vienna State Opera, the House of Music and of course, St. Stephen's Cathedral.

An interesting theme to provide the basis for a city tour is the literary or movie tour and in Vienna, the most popular theme is probably The Third Man. The book was based in Vienna and the movie was shot on location, turning the 65-meter-high Giant Ferris Wheel (Riesenrad) built in 1896-97, into a global icon. Take a ride on this art nouveau heritage, to enjoy an incomparable view of the old city and then enjoy the Prater amusement park with over 250 attractions, making sure that you taste some typical Viennese hot sausages with sweet mustard from a Würstelstand.

When you have had enough of the fairground hubbub, you can continue your walk along the Prater Hauptallee- a paradise for jogging, in-line skating or walking.

Every day at at 12 noon, in the Hoher Markt, another famous piece of art nouveau, the "Anker" Clock strikes and a procession of historic, life-size figures emerge, accompanied by music for the period.
The famous Hundertwasser haus in Vienna, Photographed by Irum Shahid A modern piece of art that should be on the list of every visitor is the Hundertwasser House (Hundertwasserhaus), designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The house was built between 1983 and 1986 and has become is one of Austria's most visited buildings. Designed as a piece of living artwork, it features undulating floors (meant to be a melody to the feet), a roof covered with earth and grass, and large trees growing from inside the rooms, with branches extending through the windows. Within the house are separate apartments, four offices, 16 private terraces, three communal terraces, and a total of 250 trees and bushes.

During the Christmas season, Vienna is a winter wonderland but summer in Vienna is magical and a flower lover's paradise. Europe's first alpine garden was created in the extensive park area of Belvedere castle in 1803 and now boasts more than than 4000 plants but all over the city, there is a blaze of colour in the summer months because it is warm enough for even tropical flowers to bloom. Horse lovers will want to visit a full-dress performance at the Spanish Riding School (remember tickets must be ordered in advance) and I can hardly believe that so far, we have got through the whole of this post without mentioning the Viennese coffee houses, with their pastries and cakes!

The Viennese coffee house culture is a 320 year old tradition, it is regarded as normal for customers to linger for hours, perhaps engaging in conversation or maybe alone, quietly reading the free newspapers, writing or sketching.
Interior of Café Central in Vienna. Photographed by Andreas Praefcke, 2004.
Possibly the most famous coffee house is Café Central which is located in the Innere Stadt district at Herrengasse 14 in the former Bank and Stockmarket Building, today called the Palais Ferstel after its architect Heinrich von Ferstel. The cafe features a classical pianist during the afternoons and can count a sting of great literary, artistic and political figures amongst its past clientel. Nowdays, it offers WiFi internet access, so you can sit there with your laptop and make blog posts.

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