On the corner where Karlsplatz meets Giradi Park, on a wet dark night in post-war Vienna, Harry Lime throws back the triangular plates that form a cover above the city’s sewers and drops down into the cavernous depths in a desperate bid to escape the British Army, the Viennese police and his one-time friend, Holly Martins.
It’s all still there. The tree is a little thicker in girth and the buildings behind are cleaner and in better condition, but everything else remains more or less unchanged. This is the start of the The Third Man Tour, the Drittermanntour. To the tune of Anton Karas on the zither, we don hard hats, turn on head torches and make our way down under the city streets.
But, I’m getting a long way ahead of myself. It’s hard to know where to start? Perhaps standing on the terrace at the Kehlsteinhaus, on the same spot as Adolf Hitler, Eva Braun and Blonda, his Alsatian. No? Perhaps crouching down, then, to peer into the catacombs of St. Peter’s Monastery as Rolf did while looking for the Von Trapps who had been hidden here by the Mother Abbess? Or maybe standing in the doorway of the Michaelerkirche taking in the same view as Romy Schneider’s ‘Sissi’ in the scene where Elizabeth becomes Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary in her marriage to Franz Josef.
However, as someone once said, and the provenance escapes me momentarily, the beginning is a very good place to start. And the beginning is away to the east, some 78km in neighbouring Slovakia…..
It’s our first attempt to go door-to-door using other transport than our own. OK, we have to cheat a little at the start, but we excuse it by the fact that we borrow a car to drive the two miles from home into town. Our local bus takes us to the railway station and from there it’s two trains, two buses, a metro and an A-320 to Bratislava, Slovakia. It’s a small capital city, albeit still the largest city in the country and home to 450,000 Slovaks.
A 90 cent bus ride takes us the seventeen stops from the Airport outside of Bratislva to the railway station in the heart of the city. We’re staying at the Hotel Matysak, a small hotel with its own restaurant and winery. It’s very ‘Eastern Europe’: warm, cosy, lots of dark wood, a good firm bed and Polish sausage and eggs for breakfast.
The Staré Mesto, or Old Town is very compact and can easily be covered in an afternoon. To be honest, there is not an awful lot to see and few reasons for lingering here on the banks of a river than runs through ten countries. Beyond the old town and across the Danube lies the new town and some of the largest grey concrete Soviet urban builds anywhere in the East. They are big and, quite frankly, ugly.
The old town, however, is delightful – what there is of it. The main square acts as a hub for a myriad of narrow alleyways leading to interesting shops and typical stone buildings. It’s early in the season, prices are extremely reasonable for Europe and there is clearly a tourist trade that relishes the local specialities. There’s an awful lot of goulash on offer invariably served with slices of dumplings. Pork vies for attention alongside game meats: boar, venison and rabbit, and every menu seems to offer extremely sweet desserts. The beer is plentiful with Zlaty Bazant holding its own as an independent brewery against the conglomerate that is Heineken, guilty of buying up and then closing down most of the opposition.
We’re only here for a few hours and we still manage to take in St. Michael’s Tower and the Old Town Hall, the Philharmonic and the Cathedral. Extra time would have allowed for a visit to the Art Gallery, possibly the Jewish cemetery (the Chatam Sofer) or the Devin Castle, but it isn’t to be. We have a train to catch. Four hours aboard the Austrian Federal Railways, the OBB, will take us almost the complete width of Austria and to Salzburg.
Tickets will be shown and stamped four times along the journey. QR codes will be scanned and logged as we move from Slovakia into Austria and then across the various Federal States, Drivers, stewards and ticket collectors change along the journey and we are asked for our tickets, “Vstupenky Prosim” becoming “Tickets, bitte‘ and we’re thanked likewise, from “Dakujem” to “Danke“. We’re in the Schengen Area, so I suppose it’s company policy and working practices that controls the staffing, rather than any customs, borders or national restrictions.
Allowing for a quick change of trains in Vienna, we arrive in Salzburg some three hours and a little under 400 kms later.
Just across from the main railway station is our Airbnb for the next few days. For details, click here. ‘Cosy’ is an Airbnb term for ‘small’ or ‘bijou’, but when the accommodation is right in the heart of where you want to be, when it’s near two excellent supermarkets and close to transport links, then it becomes synonymous with ‘ideal’. What do you really need? Cleanliness, superb wifi speeds, a balcony with a view of a mountain? It has them all. This is Austria, after all.
The Alps cause fluctuations with the weather. The locals will tell you that you can have three seasons in one day. True to form, we arrive in rain and it remains with is for the duration of our stay.
Railway stations are too often no-go areas after dark. In Salzburg there is a 24 / 7 ban on the public drinking of alcohol within a hundred metres of the station and it’s policed vigilantly. The station is bright, airy and modern and is a hub for both the trains and the buses. Even the timetable works together, it’s the product of joined-up thinking. Yes, I was surprised as well…
It’s an international transit hub and full of tourists from all over the World. Most noticeably, groups of Japanese mill around the entrance. I wonder what is the collective noun for a group of Japanese tourists? A flash? A confusion? Anyway, they are very smart in their mandatory raincoats and umbrellas. The waterproof beanie hat industry must be doing good trade back in Tokyo. What I don’t understand is why so many of them wear face-masks? Are they so ill? Are we? Salzburg must have some of the cleanest air in Europe. I’d have thought it would have be an ideal opportunity to stock up on some quality oxygen before heading back home.
I ponder the plethora of international visitors over a beer in Salzburg’s Irish bar, Murphy’s Law on Gstattengasse, a delightful side street built onto the cliff face. There are only a handful of punters in the gloom at 2.30 p.m. The landlord hails from outside of Dublin and the bar crew comprises a friend of his from Galway and a Swedish barmaid. A young Australian, who is touring Eastern Europe with his wife, sits drinking lager and whisky chasers at a frightening rate of knots. A Liverpool builder polishes off a twelve inch pizza with an alacrity that clearly comes from practise, considering his waistline. I drink Murphy’s stout while trying to imagine the peaty waters of the old country that have been blended with hops to make such a perfect brew. In truth, it’s been brewed under licence in Germany and shipped out by the parent company, Heineken.
In these days of seeing the demise of so many famous high street brands, it’s positively reassuring to see that C&A is still alive and flourishing across Europe. It used to be one of my high street favourites as a child and I remember, at one time, it was the place to go for ski wear – presumably, before skiing became popular. I was brought up to believe that C&A stood for ‘Coats and ‘Ats’ although there were less polite suggestions floating around school at the time. In reality, Clemens and August started the business as early as 1671 when they left Northern Holland to become travelling linen merchants. Today, the headquarters remain in Dusseldorf and Belgium and they are still offering the public a whole range of goods, including coats and ‘ats, of course.
Austrian wine is very popular and considerably cheaper than imported wines from neighbouring countries or from the New World. Burgenland wines, from vinyards in the east of the country, offer good value and are rich and plummy with overtones of damson and blackberries. At least, that’s what it says on the label. Actually, warm, red and plentiful would be my description and, followed by two paracetamols and a stiff black espresso for breakfast sets you up quite adequately for a day’s sightseeing.
Salzburg is all about The Sound of Music and Mozart. You can’t escape the influence of either. From the moment you steer your way through convoys of bicycles hired from Fraulein Maria’s Bicycle Tours of Salzburg, you are aware of how important the story, the film and the musical is to the city. There’s no escaping it. Schloss Mirabell and the adjacent gardens stop you in your tracks as you realise that this is part of the film set. You can’t avoid the ear worm that stays with you for the rest of the day as you hum your way through:
Doe, a deer, a female deer / Ray, a drop of golden sun…….
The gardens are lovely, with roses and pansies in full bloom. It’s enough to make one skip…..
It’s the same when you step into what must be one of the the most beautiful cemeteries in the world. The catacombs of Petersfriedhof are stunning and then, wait a moment, isn’t this where the family hid before they escaped the Nazis; and wasn’t this where Rolf spotted Liesl and gave her just enough time to make her escape before blowing the whistle on them all?
There is a difference between reality and the movie, unfortunately. By 1938, the Von Trapps had left Austria by train and had gone to America by boat from Italy. By the early 1940s they were farming in Vermont. Maria’s book was published shortly after. There is a very good account here that tries to separate the fact from the fiction.
It’s not quite as Pudd’nhead Wilson stated: Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.
However, in Salzburg, the myth continues. It’s supported to a degree by the fact that some people, albeit those of a certain age, still wear traditional Austrian dress. We frequently saw gentlemen in the green trachten jackets with stand up collars, curved fronts and belted backs. Occasionally, we’d catch sight of women in full skirts, embroidered in the traditional manner a la Fraulein Maria.
Lederhosen, built to withstand a nuclear explosion, can be bought from a number of specialist gentlemen outfitters. I suppose there is a trade amongst tourists, although wealthy Americans or Far Eastern travellers would have to part with in excess of €800 for the pleasure. Smaller versions in baby-gro sizes upwards, themselves, start at €30. Unless it’s your own national costume, it’s expensive fancy dress party wear! It’s testament to the build quality and longevity that the local markets sell second hand outfits and they still fetch a premium.
Just off Linzergrasse we take a narrow alleyway and climb a steep hill, following the seven stations of the Cross, to a Capuchin Monastery from where we can look out over the whole of Salzburg. The Altstadt, or Old Town, and the new, which isn’t very new at all, is stunningly pretty, even in the drizzle. Down below is our next port of call and there is coffee and cake to enjoy.
Cafe Tomaselli has been in Salzburg since 1700, although the present cafe dates from 1764 when Anton Staiger was granted ‘coffee rights’. Carl Tomaselli bought the business in 1852 and it more or less remains unchanged since then. It was a popular cafe with the Mozart family and draws crowds in every year for its tasteful furnishings, excellent coffee and delicious pastries. Service is typically Austrian: dour, bordering on the miserable, waiters more or less graciously serve you in exchange for a generous tip.
We sit next to a couple of Japanese Americans from San Fransisco. He’s finding the omelette tasty enough but she’s having issues with the hot dog that arrives ‘deconstructed’. A Bratwurst on one side of the plate and a slice of bread on the other, separated by a spoonful of pickled green cabbage. It’s a hot dog-Jim., but not as you’d know it.
Not far away is the St. Stephen’s Cathedral or Dom. It stands between the Residenzplatz and the Domplatz. It’s large but not imposing; attractive, but not stunning. A lot of it has been subject to restoration after it was hit by a bomb during the second world war and it took until 1959 to finish repairs.
We pass the Cathedral on the way to the festungsbahn or funicular railway. It’s the easiest route up to the Hohensalzburg Castle from where you have a 360 degree view over the whole city and a far better view of the Cathedral. It has to be done, for the view at least, but the funicular takes barely a minute and the castle is rather devoid of exhibits. It’s all a bit of an anti-climax, I’m afraid. However, every damp cloud has a silver lining and returning to ‘ground level’ gives me the excuse to stop at the Zipfer Bierhaus for a drink and to ponder the day’s sights. It’s an interesting place. Apart from being an excellent pub dating back to 1300, it used to be the home of Mozart’s sister, Nannerl,
And that brings me neatly round to the second of the two major reasons why so many tourists visit Salzburg – Mozart.
On Getreidegasse stands Mozart’s birthplace and museum. It takes up the second and third floors of an elegant house, in which are displayed Mozart’s clavichord and various violins, sheet music and letters. Interestingly, the ground floor is a rather upmarket SPAR that specialises in Mozart memorabilia: fridge magnets, the mandatory praline chocolates and a sickeningly sweet chocolate liqueur in a dumpy bottle bearing the maestro’s portrait.
The huge gold letters Mozart Geburthous draws the crowds and the street outside is frequently packed with people taking their photographs or selfies. It’s good business for the SPAR, at any rate.
Sitting on a bench to one side, people-watching, I wonder how many know that Mozart had a seamier side to his character. How many of the tour guides, flags in hand, tell their audience about his penchant for scatological verse? How many know that he frequently wrote to his father and sister in the most unsavoury fashion? Musicologists have long suspected that Mozart might have suffered from Tourettes, but I suspect that few melophiles are aware of the canon of obscene verse and chants that he produced in his rather short lifetime. If you weren’t, can you blame my over-enthusiastic ‘A’ level music teacher and not me?
Because, alongside The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutte sits Leck mich im Arsch (K231), amongst others. Literally, Lick my arse, it is a six part canon in B flat major and one of a few such compositions,
Leck mich im A… g’schwindi, g’schwindi! (By the way, g’schwindi translates as ‘quickly’)
Whilst this does not draw from the many, many oratorios, canon, minuets, sonatas, operas, masses, concertos and symphonies he produced in his thirty-five years, it’s interesting that he has this darker side to him. By the way, his letters can be equally crude.
If you’d like to listen to K231 in it’s full glory, click here.
Before we leave Mozart, there’s an interesting tale to be told. When Peter Hall directed Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, Margaret Thatcher attended the first night’s performance. She strongly berated Hall for depicting Mozart as as foul-mouthed scatological imp.
“It is inconceivable”, she said, “that a man who wrote such exquisite and elegant music could be so foul-mouthed.”
Hall argued that the research and the evidence was irrefutable. Mozart had an infantile sense of humour and protected himself from maturity by indulging in it. He offered to send facsimiles to No.10 to prove his point.
‘I don’t think you heard what I said,’ replied the prime minister. ‘He couldn’t have been like that.’
Hall was wrong and that was the end of it…….
Berchtesgarden and the Eagle’s Nest
No visit to Salzburg is complete without a visit to Berchtesgarden and the Eagle’s Nest. The village lies half an hour outside of Salzburg and is easily accessible on the 840 bus. From the town, it requires a change onto the 843 that takes you to the museum at a point called Dokumentation at the foot of the Obersalzburg. From there, you have no alternative but to pay a king’s ransom for a bus ticket for a journey that takes you up a winding road up the Kehlstein, some 6,017 ft above sea level.
The actress, Romy Schneider, was born in Berchtesgarden and Adolf Hitler had been coming here on holiday since 1920. It’s a pretty but small village in an area that earns tourist euros in the winter through its skiing opportunities and all the year round through the infamous link with the Nazi domination of the 1930s.
The Kehlsteinhous sits atop a rocky outcrop high above the village. From the bus park, the visitor enters the mountain through a long, 407ft. tunnel carved out of the rock to an elevator that ascends the final 407ft to the surface at the top of the mountain. In this original elevator, Hitler and his officers made the journey to the private residence at the top, a gift from the Party and the commission of Martin Bormann. The elevator is a highly polished brass capsule with Venetian glass and all the original dials and switches. It really is a thing of beauty.
At the top, the original house is now a restaurant, but you can still visit the sun terrace and enter the main room to see the fireplace at which Hitler was so often photographed. The outside terrace hasn’t changed since Hitler was photographed by Leni Riefenstahl while he walked there after dinner with Eva Braun and Josef Goebbels. There is fascinating footage available here.
Hitler used the house right up to the start of the war. It was where he planned persecution, genocide and the overthrow of world order.
It’s hard to know how to react while you’re visiting such a place. Nowadays, it would have been the target of a large missile and there would be nothing left to see. But the truth is that it is here, it’s almost as it was nearly eighty years ago. You can loathe and hate what happened. You can condemn the politics and curse the warmongering, but there is an eerie feel about the place that is palpable.
When you enter a cathedral you enter quietly and with respect. When you enter the Eagle’s Nest, you have to remember the ghettos, the Shoah, the persecution and murder of hundreds and thousands of men, women and children, the genocide, the gas chambers, the torture, the labour camps…..it brings with it its own form of quiet, a reverence in remembering those who were lost and a total condemnation for those who planned and acted upon the sick and twisted orders that came from this striking building, high in the Alps in a place of such beauty. I wander around quietly but find it hard to reconcile my feelings with the actions of others, there are certain very loud tourists who jumped from boulder to boulder, taking snaps and selfies. Many from India, Korea, China and Taiwan gesticulating with that inverted ‘V’ sign that means ‘acting cutely’ or implying a feeling of happiness.
I mutter and grumble my complaints on my way around, being chastised by my better half – it is a ‘generational thing’, I’m told. But, to be honest, it bothers me.
It’s time to leave Salzburg behind. First impressions? Well, the Salzburgians seem quiet and well-behaved. They are a little dour and diffident, especially those who serve in shops, cafes and restaurants. You do notice the collective ‘quietness’ though, especially when its in contrast to tourists who come from parts of the world where it’s clearly far, far noisier.
I mutter and grumble about that, as well. And why it is that Austrian trains can all have stable and strong wifi that is free to use. How do they manage to offer waiter service, even on reasonably local trains. How does a coffee on board cost only the same price as it would be in a normal cafe and it actually tastes like coffee. OBB Westbahn trains are efficient, clean and make travel a pleasure.
Network Rail on the other hand……..mutter…..grumble…..
Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true. When will you realize…Vienna waits for you…
We’re staying on Strozzigasse at number 28. A charming third floor apartment dating back to the 19th century – so, no lift!. Klaus, who owns it, has moved out for the week. He must be a musician, he certainly has a fine collection of vinyl, mainly jazz, blues, funk and rock. So, it’s switch on the Marshall amp, put Bob Marley on the turntable, pour a beer and relax for an hour or two while planning the next few days.
A ‘must’ has to be Cafe Central . It’s been here since 1876 and has been popular ever since. During the tourist season you may have to queue if you want to sit inside, but wander indoors anyway and take in the classical beauty of this iconic cafe built on the ground floor of the Stockmarket building. Back in 1913, you could quite easily bump into the likes of Sigmund Freud, Josip Tito, Adolf Hitler, and Joe Stalin. Leon Trotsky, using his birth name of Lev Bronstein had his regular seat and regular order as an emigre in Vienna between 1907 and 1914 while he worked for the Austrian Social Democratic Party.
Just down the road on Nagiargasse is the Bockshorn irish Bar . It has to be one of the smallest bars in the world. It’s down the end of a narrow alley and is simply a small bar and an even smaller snug. It certainly is ‘snug’. The walls and ceiling are absolutely covered with Irish paraphernalia. I don’t think any of it has moved or been dusted for years. It’s a good deal older than those ‘theatrical’ establishments belonging the the Irish Pub Company. There are six of us in there at 3 p.m., and it’s full.
“You’re a bit hard to find.” I tell the landlord.
“Aren’t we just”, he replies, grinning, “it keeps the Americans away”
Ah, but the Murphy’s tastes grand and, if you narrow the eyes enough and breathe in the aroma of last night’s cigarettes, you can easily forget it’s been brewed by Heineken!
A few years ago, we arrived in Poland over Easter. I thought, in my ignorance, that it would be an ideal time to sightsee. I’ve come to learn through my mistakes that Catholic countries close down for periods of religious celebrations. And I mean, close down. Nothing opens. So, I thought, I’ll be OK in Austria. It’s way past Easter, even if it is predominantly a Catholic country. I’d forgotten about Whitsun – and Bank Holidays – and the peculiarity of mandatory Sunday closing. It can get very quiet in downtown Vienna.
We head for the Naschmarkt on a day free of ‘observances’. It’s been here since 1774 and is Vienna’s most popular market. Originally, it sold wooden milk bottles, carved from ash, and then expanded into fruit and vegetables. Nowadays, it stretches for nearly a mile and has three main thoroughfares. It starts by the Wein river with food stalls of every type, from local to national to international. Then it changes to fruit and vegetables and meat and fish. Next, it becomes a clothes and hardware market; and finally, the biggest bric a brac and flea market I’ve ever seen, and that includes the one at Les Puces in Paris.
The nearby Hofburg isn’t so much a palace as a whole conglomeration of palaces, galleries, parliament buildings, squares, monuments, fountains and arches. There is so much to see and so many places to visit. We decide to go ‘popular’ and visit the Sissi Museum which is housed in the Royal apartments. We are taken around by a young Sicilian guide who has a considerable quantity of revolutionary blood running through her veins. I’m not sure she has ever forgiven the Austrians for Charles VI, the Holy Roman Emperor and the 1720 control of Sicily.
The Empress Elizabeth, or ‘Sissi’ as she was known, was quite a character. Married at an early age to Emperor Franz Josef, she was, at 5ft 8ins and 7st 12lbs, something of an athlete and ‘worked out’ throughout her life. She survived for vast periods of time on a diet of milk and eggs and meat squeezed into a ‘soup’, just to maintain her weight, deal with her depression and to protect her twenty-inch waist. She travelled in secret across Europe and spent considerable time away from home in her bid to ‘normalise’ her life. At the age of 60 she was murdered by Luigi Lucheni who stilettoed her through the heart on the shores of Lake Geneva. Her fame lived on thanks to the silver screen and Salzburg’s Romy Schneider played her in four films, collectively known as Sissi. Her son, Rudolf, died tragically and his story has been played out in the 1957 Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrar film Mayerling.
The sarcophagi of Franz Josef, Empress Elizabeth and Rudolf can all be found, along with dozens of other royals in the Imperial Crypt at the Capuchin Church in Vienna. No grand cathedral, it’s a door in a wall of a very plain church and monastery which leads down to a series of catacombs in which is a richness in royalty. At home, they’d all be in the grandeur of Westminster Abbey or St. Pauls. Here, in Vienna, they are all there for public viewing; the most recent being the casket containing most of Otto von Hapsburg, who was laid to rest in July 2011. His heart is interred separately in Budapest.
In the corner, they’ve cleared a space ready for the next in line. Mind you, Karl von Hapsburg is still only a spritely 57. I wonder if he ever pops in to view the plot?
You can take a carriage around the Hofburg at €48 for 24 minutes. But why? Cue another bout of muttering and grumbling. When we were in Venice I was almost beside myself at the €80 euros people were paying for a forty minute gondola ride. You could step into a waterbus for a couple of euros and see exactly the same. It’s the same scenery, the same water, the same buildings and facades. It’s the same in Vienna. The carriage bobbles along the same cobbles, past the same buildings as you do when you walk it or take a bus.
Not to mention the fact that the horses smell. Affluence and effluence – only a vowel apart.
Ah, the great inequality of wealth. As in any city, there are people sleeping rough. There are those who are forced into begging the odd coins from passers-by. There are those who sit outside churches waiting for alms from the locals who often stop and put a few coins in a Costa or a Starbucks paper cup. Wealthy tourists invariably walk past. They buy their tickets to the Opera. They buy their tickets to watch Lippizan horses being exercised each morning at the Spanish Riding School in the Michaelerplatz. They take their photographs in their designer jackets and designer sunglasses. They shop at the myriad of very upmarket shops that line the Kohlmarkt: Tiffany and Co, Chanel, Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Jimmy Choo……..old money from Vienna meets new money from the Far East.
Right in the heart of Vienna stands Schmetterling Haus. It’s part of the Hofburg palace and was built by Franz Josef for his own pleasure. It’s the most beautiful butterfly house. The butterflies, some reaching over eight inches in breadth rest on you and are quite content with being observed at close quarters. Silk orchids are sprayed with honey and water to attract the butterflies nearer to the paths through the orangery. Children crouch down and, despite the printed warnings against, pick them up and hold them on their palms. It doesn’t matter that you can’t speak German or Korean, Japanese or Chinese, French or Spanish, smiles and excited faces need no translators.
I first came across Graham Greene when I read The Power and the Glory for ‘A’ level. Over the next couple of years I worked my way through the majority of his other works: Brighton Rock, Stamboul Train, The Man Within, The Heart of the Matter….the list continues. In 1949, he wrote the novella The Third Man which was followed by the screenplay to the film, directed by Carol Reed. I saw the film and was captivated. Orson Welles was still young and, at that point in time, hadn’t slipped into having to advertise sherry and Joesph Cotton was making great films such as Citizen Kane.
Whatever possessed him to do The Love Boat?
Anyway, The Third Man has become a classic British film noir. In 1999 the BFI voted it the greatest British film of all time. Unfortunately, Welles used a double to film many of the shots under the streets of Vienna. Those sewer shots that feature Welles close up were filmed at Shepperton Studios. However, the location shots and those around the entrance to the sewers were filmed in Vienna with Welles being present and obviously feeling not too precious. The Drittermanntour takes you under the streets and is actually run by the city’s Wein Kanal company, rather than by a commercial film. As a result, it’s part film-fun and part documentary! It’s a bit ‘whiffy’ at times and at one junction, nick-named ‘Paradise Corner’, two canals meet. One carries waste from the Vienna chocolate factories and the other waste from a major brewery. No, that’s not a euphemism, although you’d never know the origins of anything by the general smell of human waste.
The Metro and the train services run parallel to the sewers as does the Viennese river, the Weinfluss. It’s an open river that runs through a bed of concrete, constructed in the late 19th century as a way of separating sewer excrement from clean river water. It helped curb the constant outbreaks of cholera and helped manage the changes in river height brought about by heavy rains and spring snowmelt. It flows into the Donaukanal, a branch of the Danube.
The Danube flows through ten countries. It might have been the ‘Blue Danube’ as far as Strauss was concerned, but it’s far from blue at the moment. It’s murky-brown and not that attractive. It’s also not particularly central. You have to go looking for it. However, when you do, drop down to the promenade path and head east until you come across Prater Reisenrad, a 64 metre high ferrris wheel that stands at the entrance to the Prater amusement park. It dates from 1857 and carries all the original cars. Prater is a fabulous place and it’s somewhere that time has almost forgotten. It’s reminiscent of how you’d think Coney Island would have been in the 1950s. It’s a good, old fashioned, amusement park with dodgems, a House of Terror, the Haunted House, a ‘Mecky Mouse’ ride, a rollercoaster, waltzers, sideshows and more. Entrance is free and the cost of individual rides is more than reasonable. A lesson for some of the parks in the UK where a day pass can cost you in excess of £50,
At one end, the Weinfluss river starts at Stadtpark, one of the many open spaces in the city. The Viennese like their parks and they are fantastically well-kept. The rose gardens of the Volksgarten and the fountains of the Stadtpark make for very pleasant ambling. Interestingly, dogs and bicycles are forbidden in all parks. They are for families and children, workers taking their lunches and couples enjoying their picnics.
Sitting on a park bench in the sunshine, drinking Ottakringer lager and eating bratwurst. Now that’s a way to end a holiday.
The City Airport Train, or CAT train, leaves from Wein Mitte in the centre of the city. Bags are checked in at the railway station and you’re free to enjoy the twenty minute express ride into the airport. Vienna is simply – convenient. It’s a huge city, some 160 square miles for a population of under two million. Yet, it never feels crowded or too busy. Traffic never seems to be too bad, even at rush hour and, apart from at Cafe Central, you never have to queue, make reservations or wait for a table. It’s clean, ‘classy’ and welcoming.
I may well be back.