Vienna: my second home. The reverse homesickness hit the minute I saw the ‘Niederösterreich’ sign. Well, to be truthful it had hit almost a year before, when I was assigned the Vienna tours to work on in the office, but not long after crossing the Slovakian-Austrian border, on seeing that sign, the excitement kicked in big time, and a feeling of almost homecoming settled over me.
The über-efficient public transport system, the Aida cafes on every corner, the friendly locals: everything reminded me with more than a touch of nostalgia of my language degree year abroad spent in the Austrian capital. More on all of this later; and yes, an Austrian or German blog is the only place where the use of the word ‘über’ in English is acceptable! I was home, if only for a few days.
Experiencing the new….
I always think I know Vienna really well – and I suppose, in most ways, I do. It therefore surprises me, although perhaps it shouldn’t, that there is always something new to see, or something I haven’t seen previously, when going back to visit. The spectacular ‘Le Loft’ cocktail bar and restaurant at the top of the Sofitel Stephansplatz was one such place on this occasion – offering wonderful views across the whole of the city centre, it was the perfect place to meet with friends I hadn’t seen since my last visit to the city almost 5 years prior. Another visit I’d never made before was to the interior of the Upper Belvedere Palace, which is currently exhibiting ‘150 years of Gustav Klimt’, a collection of dazzling works by one of Vienna’s most famous artists, and I was also lucky enough to take in a fantastic Mozart and Strauss concert and enjoy a glass of champagne at the beautiful Kursalon concert house in the Stadtpark.
The Upper Belvedere Palace
But perhaps the most surprising excursion of the three days spent in Vienna on this occasion was the day spent on the Danube. With a first stop at Melk Abbey, whose beautiful Baroque Church is the highlight of the Benedictine Abbey tour, the day got off to a good start. We then continued by car along the winding course of the River Danube, amongst the beautiful scenery of the lower Austrian wine growing region, the Wachau Valley (if you ever get a chance to try out the lovely Grüner Veltliner wine, please do, as it is exceptionally drinkable). We made our way towards Krems, one of the biggest towns in Lower Austria, where we were going to stop for lunch (and where we also managed to get embroiled in the crowds visiting a market staged to celebrate Leopoldi-Tag – St. Leopold’s day, the patron saint of Lower Austria), but firstly, en route, we stopped at a little gem of a town: Dürnstein. I was bowled over by how beautiful it was; perched high on a cliff face above the river bank is Dürnstein Abbey, painted a brilliant shade of blue to match, fortunately, the sky on the day of our visit. The jewel coloured spire towered high into the sunlight and crisp autumnal sky, and was reflected in the river below; Dürnstein truly is Austria at its very best.
….Reliving the old
As well as experiencing everything new, or as yet unvisited, which Vienna had to offer me, my recent work trip also offered me an opportunity to revisit my old haunts and generally experience the Viennese way of life as I remembered it. Everything about every-day life in Vienna gives me a profound sense of reverse homesickness, from the dulcet tones of the U-Bahn announcer through to Kaffee und gluten-free Kuchen in the bright pink Aida coffee shops which adorn most street corners (the ones at Oper and Stephansplatz are, and always have been, my favourites). There is something so unbelievably calming about the city, even though I have been known to exclaim ‘Geh bitte!’ with the best of the Austrians when the ‘D’ tram is running late (this is slightly ridiculous for two very good reasons: (1) Viennese public transport is very, very rarely late – I can remember only one occasion of it being late in the whole year I lived there; and (2) I have to deal with Transport for London on my daily commute and therefore should be used to delays!!).
Gluten free Kuchen at the Aida Cafe at Oper
Vienna is one of the most friendly cities you’ll ever visit – whilst enjoying a glass of the aforementioned Grüner Veltliner in one of my favourite cafes, the Cafe Theo on Franz-Josefs-Kai, I struck up a conversation with a couple about their lovely St. Bernard dog, who was also enjoying the atmosphere in the traditional Austrian Gaststube. They assured me that the St. Bernard “wasn’t lovely but was very friendly”. As friendly as the Austrians themselves, indeed. I’m ashamed to admit that my German is now decidedly rusty and has more than a twinge of Essex accent to it, but I still love talking to the locals and using the wonderful Austrian dialect, including ‘Erdapfel’ (potato – think French ‘pomme de terre’), ‘Palatschinken’ (pancake – nothing to do with ham at all!) and ‘Marille’ (apricot, the flavour of choice for all Austrian jams).
It feels like coming home
It’s actually quite difficult for me to sum up in words just how Vienna makes me feel. Walking the cobbled streets of the first district, where I was once lucky enough to live, there’s a sense that nothing has changed; time cannot alter the regal, imperial feel of this beautiful city, no matter which shops and brands come and go. Stephansdom presides over it all, with Kaiserin Sisi keeping a watchful eye on the city and Mozart being present everywhere, even if only in the costumed concert-ticket-sellers around Stephansplatz. The sight of the Fiakers and traditional coffee houses and the general atmosphere of this wonderful place is able to soothe my soul in a way that nowhere else can. It’s like stepping back in time to a much simpler way of life – or so it seems, at least, with my possibly rose-tinted glasses on. All I know is that at the end of day two I’m sending my husband a text which reads: “Can we move to Vienna please?!!!”.