words & Images: Leanne Gichard
I must confess, I love Vienna and am quite intoxicated by its cultural heritage, art, music and café culture. Vienna never disappoints and no matter how long you stay, leaves you begging for more.
The magnificent Schonbrunn Palace, the imperial summer residence, is home to the most exquisite tapestries and silks, hung in panels from floor to ceiling, so fine in detail, they resemble a painting. Gilt work is everywhere, and the parquet flooring is breathtakingly beautiful. The gardens surrounding the palace are equally impressive.
The Hofburg Palace, the imperial winter residence, is equally beautiful and hosts the Imperial Treasury, home to the Austrian Crown Jewels. The crown jewels are very different from anything I had previously seen and are very colourful, boasting pearls, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, amethysts, turquoise, diamonds and almost every other precious or semi-precious stone imaginable. Most of the stones are not cut into facets, but left in their original state and polished, which simply add to their beauty, and complement the exquisite work of the goldsmiths.
One of the things I especially love about Vienna is the ambience and the experiences available at very little cost. We deliberately chose to stay close to the centre of Vienna, so we could walk or tram to the city centre. We decided to walk to the Belvedere Museum and Palace. Built in the early eighteenth century, it is baroque in design and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Belvedere houses the greatest collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present day, complemented by various international artists, such as Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Max Beckmann. The Belvedere also holds the largest collection of Gustav Klimt’s paintings, including ‘The Kiss’.
Just when I thought I had seen art of no equal, we decided to visit the Albertina Art Gallery. Founded in 1786, the Albertina holds works from French impressionism and fauvism to Russian avant-garde, along with numerous masterpieces by Monet, Picasso, Kiefer, Lassnig, Klimt, Munch and Goya. It was superb.
That evening, we opted to walk to Peterskirche (St Peter’s Church) and arrived just in time for a free concert and organ recital. The voices of the soprano and tenor were of such quality that it was an intensely emotional and spiritual experience, leaving many with tears in their eyes.
Feeling uplifted, we then chose a restaurant for our evening meal, eating alfresco, as it was a hot, humid night, after which we strolled along the boulevard listening to the many buskers. These ranged from swing bands, to jazz and ultimately to a solo virtuoso cello player. I have never heard anyone play the cello like this young man; the emotion, the passion and shades of intensity were palpable. He made the cello talk and received a standing ovation and calls for encore.
We were euphoric as we trammed back to our hotel and marvelled at how in one evening we had experienced culture, an authentic Austrian meal and musical talent that we felt was stratospheric. What a city, what a night!
Add to the above attractions, the Spanish Riding School, The Vienna Opera House and Karlskirche and you have only begun to scratch the surface of what Vienna has to offer.