Vienna, an unusual city. Full of grandeur and tradition with modernity melding from every vicinage. I remember thinking – after I dived into Cafe Phil escaping a snow storm, sat on reclaimed art-deco furniture, surrounded by an array of literature, jazz and gentle tapping on laptops – that it’s my favourite cafe in Vienna. Outside the window it looked like a typical Viennese snow globe, especially when two women ran past in swirling ball gowns. Of course Vienna is famous for its Ball Season, hosting over 450 balls per year with 2,000 hours of dancing, the tradition still thrives in this city. So put your best foot forward and you may be able to dance a Viennese Waltz alongside the glittering debutantes in the Vienna Opera House.
If you don’t consider dancing a strong suit, but are good on your feet, then try ice skating. Enveloped by impressive architecture of the Bergtheater and Rathaus and set to music, it is considered the world’s best ice rink, as it trails through the trees. But I spent more time laughing and trying to stay upright. Afterwards I recommend, as a friend recommended to me, visiting The Sacher Cafe to try the rich delights of the Sacher-Torte, Vienna’s esteemed signature cake.
The holiday season in Vienna is my favourite. A very traditional Christmas, with gifts exchanged on Christmas Eve and carols sung around the Christmas tree. Then when snow is falling, hail a fiaker (horse drawn carriage), it is by far the best way to see the city.
Here it is impossible to miss the many Christmas markets enticing with smells of sweet wine and Bratwurst, with live entertainers, brass bands and hundreds of stalls selling the most ornate gifts – I have a gorgeous hand bound notebook, I daren’t write in so as not to spoil it. My favourite market was at Schönbrunn Palace, set against almost overwhelming imperial affluence, especially once you learn that it is home to the oldest zoo in the world, built by the Emperor Franz I. Stephen, for his wife. Today the Tiergarten houses over 500 species – it was the first time I saw a Panda and Koala bear, both seemingly unsociable creatures I must admit.
But please take a twirl on Riesenrad, a giant ferris wheel first built in 1897, it is said that “only once you have taken a ride, are you in Vienna”.