As a first-time Vienna visitor, I wanted to take in some of the sights by walking the center of this historic city. If you find yourself arriving in Vienna with an afternoon to spend, I recommend this short itinerary to get a taste (literally! Yummm!) of this genteel place.
We trained from Budapest, then took the U-bahn to Stephansplatz. You emerge onto the street right in the heart of the city. The famous Ringstrasse Road surrounds Vienna in a circle, and here you are in the middle of the ringed streets. After checking into our hotel, the Graben, we set out to explore.
Vienna impresses right off with its elegance. Yes, tourists filled the wide boulevards. No problem if you look up, though. And Vienna offers plenty of artistic expressions to enjoy. My favorite was the Plague Column rising up from the ground, topped with gold. This is the memorial to the victims who died in 1679 of that disease.
We meandered along lanes offering upscale shopping, and we found the Imperial Hofburg Palace. Once home to the Hapsburgs who ruled here, it’s now the residence and offices for the Austrian president. The Spanish Riding School, where the Lipizzaner Stallions are trained, is part of the complex.
This is one of Vienna’s most popular landmarks, attracting more than a million visitors each year. A fun fact is that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart got married here in 1782. We did find the inside so crowded that we cut our time there short, but it is a place of hushed beauty.
A man who lives in Vienna saw us and immediately started telling us the meaning. He seemed pleased to find someone interested. We learned that an Allied bomber aiming for a nearby industrial plant dropped a bomb on the church by mistake on April 11, 1945. Fire ravaged the church for 4 days. One casualty was the giant bell. Here’s the empty place where it hung. A bell is now in another tower. The roof of the cathedral was also destroyed. It’s been rebuilt with lovely mosaic tiles.
We passed up dessert here because we wanted to visit one more famous cake and coffee restaurant, Café Central. Opened in 1876, the café has served patrons famous and infamous, including Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky, Joseph Stalin, and Adolph Hitler. It closed after World War II but has now reopened and welcomes everyday people like you and me.
Coming from Budapest and arriving in Vienna, I noticed so many differences, some stemming from the fact that one had been behind the Iron Curtain and one was free after World War II. Vienna received funds to rebuild, and its people donated to reconstruction, too. It’s difficult to imagine that Vienna was bombed 52 times in the war and rubble reigned at war’s end. Vienna today is clean, with modern shops lining these central streets. Yet the history of the city is apparent, too. And the cakes alone are worth the trip.
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