VIENNA, AUSTRIA. Vienna is the epitome of sophistication. I immediately saw it the moment I stepped inside the Hilton Vienna Danube Waterfront and saw the Danube River flowing gracefully and calmly at the back of it. Furthermore, I felt it the instance I laid down on their firm and huge bed and rested my head on the bed's soft and amazing pillows. The combination rendered me lazy and motionless. It was as if I just want to stay there and take in the comfort I had been snatched with the last few days that I had been travelling.
I felt enveloped by sophistication when I sat there with the crowd watching the Salon Orchestra Alt-Wien playing pieces by Mozart and Strauss and when I clapped with them, more gracefully than I had ever clapped in my life as if the atmosphere was requiring me to do so, when the concert ended and the orchestra took their bow.
I was completely overwhelmed when I saw from the gates the Schönbrunn Palace standing, with all its glory, in the center of the square and painted in a color that the locals fondly call "Habsburg Yellow" which was Maria Theresa's favorite color. The palace is a former imperial summer residence while Maria Theresa was the only female ruler of the Habsburg dominions and the last of the House of Habsburg.
We went after to the inner city of Vienna. Alighting the coach near the Vienna State Opera, we walked along Spiegelgasse to arrive at Graben. Along Graben is a Holy Trinity column with gold sculpted in the late 17th century built to commemorate the victims of the plague. Ogling the sculpture for a while, we set foot again in Graben, past more designer boutiques and arriving in this inside street called Kohlmarkt.
The shops in Kohlmarkt which literally translates to coal market do not sell any coal. If any, they were mostly high-end boutiques lining up left and right the infamous shopping haven. At the end of it did we reach the Michaelerplatz where the Hofburg Palace stands. Surmounted by a striking central green dome 50 meters high, this palace is known to be the winter residence of the Habsburg rulers then.
Going through the arch, we then found ourselves walking past a courtyard and later on standing in Heidenplatz, a public square and garden in front of the old imperial Hofburg Palace. On our left did we find the attention-grabbing Austrian National Library while standing on our right was the statue of Archduke Karl on a horse. Looking past the statue is the Rathaus which serves as the seat both of the mayor and city council of Vienna; a city hall which you will never mistake as a city hall.
When noon struck, we had our lunch in Rosenberger, a food court styled restaurant, which offers a wide variety of options. There were pasta, salads and meat dishes to choose from. Since Vienna's air of sophistication stuck on me, I chose a healthy pasta dish to fuel me for the afternoon walk. After eating our lunch, we rounded the corner which led us to the Swarovski Megastore that has a total floor area of 1200 square-meter spread over three floors. This is the biggest Swarovski store I had seen so far in my life and it really amused me with its rich product range, spanning in the areas of jewellery, fashion, accessories, interiors, design, optics and world-famous figurines. A sight on its own, actually!
While walking along Kärntner Strasse, where the Swarovski Megastore is located, we had been allured by shops of fun and fashionable brands that target the younger and hipper market such as Forever 21, Zara, H&M and Desigual. This walk took a lot of our time as we often found ourselves going in from shop to shop. We just had no willpower to avoid them!
Reaching the end of the street, we then arrived in the tourist-thronged Stephansplatz. Named after its most prominent building, the Stephansdom, Vienna's cathedral and one of the tallest churches in the world, we eventually got what all the people were here for. St. Stephen's Cathedral had been a witness to many important events in Habsburg and Austrian history and has, with its multi-colored, glazed tile roof, become one of the city's most recognizable symbols. The cathedral has two towers, specifically the north tower and south tower. Among the two, the massive south tower is its highest point and a dominant feature of the Vienna skyline. The south tower or "Steffl" is 137 meters high and is open to the public. For just EUR 4.50, we were able to climb up the 343 steps which took us as far as the Türmer Stube. The climb is rather tedious and somewhat daunting especially for people who are claustrophobic but what kept us going was mainly the elders who we met during our climb up. If they had the energy to do it, the more should we be able to do it.
Once at the top, we were able to see closer the tiled roof of the cathedral and the amazing view of the rooftops of the city center of Vienna. Though the view was limited due to the ongoing construction works, being there still gave us the feeling of being on the top of the world for a while. It had been an amazing experience in itself. Reaching the top had already been an exhilarating journey but seeing Vienna from another perspective and from a higher vantage point is more than what I could ever ask for.