Vienna is certainly the grandest city I have ever seen. All along the Ringstrasse colossal buildings proclaim an Imperial past… mighty piles of granite and sandstone with warlike statuary…. A Martian coming to Earth would unhesitatingly land at Vienna, thinking it the capital of the planet.” Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’
As with a lot big cities the approach to Vienna by train was not the most attractive arrival and we passed low-grade housing and light industrial units before we arrived at the Südbahnhof station. We feared that there might be a frontier post to negotiate without our passports but there was no sign of officialdom and we alighted the train and left the station without incident, stopping just briefly on the way out to purchase a map of the city.
Once we had found our bearings we set off on a direct route for the city centre along a street with impressive buildings mostly occupied by foreign embassies and business headquarters.
About half way along we stopped at a crossroads to admire a Palace opposite and while we stood there minding our own business a man from a Greek restaurant spotted us and tried to give helpful assistance with unprompted interpretation of the map. He seemed genuinely pleased that we were from England and invited me into his restaurant to collect a business card. This was a huge mistake on my part because Greek restaurant owners are very good at getting business in this way and once inside he offered me a rather large glass of red wine as an incentive to dine now or return later.
Then he called the others in and gave each of them a rather large glass of red wine as well. And when I say large I mean at least half a litre in each glass. While we enjoyed this unexpected hospitality he applied the sales pitch and as we drank his wine we assured him that we would consider coming back later.
Micky doesn’t normally drink red wine but managed most of his, Christine doesn’t normally drink red wine and swapped her nearly full glass with my nearly empty one and Sue doesn’t normally drink red wine either and tipped the contents of her glass into mine when I momentarily left the table. This meant that in the space of about fifteen minutes I had consumed over a litre of red wine and I was beginning to feel it. Luckily for me Kim does normally drink red wine and quite unexpectedly Christine suddenly declared that she rather liked it after all and repossessed some of the drink that she had previously passed my way.
With some difficulty we managed to get past the owner and out of the restaurant and resumed our walk into the city. On account of the alcohol that had been slipped my way blatantly by Christine and sneakily by Sue this required considerable concentration on my part especially when we required to negotiate a traffic intersection on our way to the Franz Josef monument on the busy Albertina Platz. It was lucky for me that we were in Austria where drivers are relatively pedestrian friendly because in this condition I would certainly have struggled to negotiate the crossing if we had been in any traffic crazy Italian city for example.
We walked past some very impressive buildings and the scale and the grandeur of the place overwhelmed us. This really shouldn’t have been surprising of course when you stop and remember that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Austro-Hungarian Empire was one of the major European powers and Vienna was the principal city in a vast empire that sprawled across central and south-eastern Europe.
There was a pleasing ambiance about the city which isn’t surprising either considering that in a study carried out in 2005 it was voted the third best city to live in the world after Vancouver and Melbourne (Tehran incidentally was not surprisingly voted the worst) and by the time we reached the gardens of the old Imperial Palace and found a café to stop and rest it was already clear that we wouldn’t be able to see nearly enough of Vienna in just one day and that it would almost certainly require a return trip one day to do it full justice.
The sun was out now so we sat outside in the Burggarten and had a drink and a portion of Viennese cake, which is one of the must do things for anyone visiting the city while we made our plans for the afternoon.