Cheltenham
The Cheltonian > Articles

Ah Vienna

It means something to me. crack

Although it has played a vital and glorious role in the history of Europe for four centuries, the elegant city of Vienna has never been as easy to visit as it is now.

I have yearned to go there, and the 60th anniversary of The Third Man, the famous Carol Reed film starring Orson Welles as Harry Lime, was an obvious time to do so.

Modern-day Vienna works pretty efficiently. After a flight of less than two hours, the fast CAT train whisked me into the city.

When you get there, remember to buy the very useful 72-hour Vienna Card for 18.50 euros (£16.60). This provides unlimited free travel by underground, bus and tram plus 210 discounts at museums, sights, theatres, concerts, shops and restaurants.

As I avoid taxis on principle, I navigated the city’s underground system, which can be complex.
Viennese people are generally helpful - all spoke some English and I can manage basic German - but it took a while to reach my destination.

This was Das Tyrol, a small luxury hotel conveniently situated just off the main shopping street, the Mariahilferstrasse, and almost next door to the Museum Quarter with its beautiful old buildings and art galleries.


My small but comfortable room, with its film-star bathroom, had striking modern decor and proved completely sound-proof - a rare luxury in hotels.

The hotel serves an excellent breakfast and gives courteous, efficient service. It is one of the best small hotels I have stayed in. For a day of sightseeing, I had a personal English-speaking Austrian guide in order to learn far more than if I had been on my own or gone around in a group.

To my delight, I found that my guide, Gerhard Strassgschwandtner, is the creator of an amazing museum in Vienna about The Third Man, which was filmed during the Allied occupation.

Our walking tour through the old city centre gave me a closer look at the buildings near the Museum Quarter, which captivated me when I went exploring on that first evening.

This part of the city, including former royal stables to the nearby Hofburg Imperial Palace, has been converted into one of the world’s largest museum complexes.

Our visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, commissioned by the Habsburg royal family to house their collections, was a highlight of my trip. I could have spent an entire day there.

The building’s magnificent interior is in itself a baroque work of art, and its huge collection of paintings is one of the finest in the world with works by Raphael, Rubens, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Velazquez, Titian and Durer - and the largest batch of Bruegels anywhere in the world.

The 600-year-old Habsburg dynasty’s contribution to the arts, culture and sciences was great, and their architectural heritage lives on in Vienna.

I found that most of the exquisite stuccoed buildings are not as old as they appear, but the result of a massive rebuilding of Vienna in the mid-19th century, a project directed by Emperor Franz Josef.

We walked on to the imposing former Hofburg Palace - the winter home of the Habsburgs - and beautiful St Stephen’s Cathedral, with parts dating to the 12th century.

After lunch I visited Gerard’s museum of fascinating Third Man memorabilia, which started off as his personal collection but grew so large that he opened it to the public a few years ago.

Several generations have been intrigued by this iconic film, in which American racketeer Harry Lime gets his comeuppance while fleeing police through the sewers.

Its haunting theme music was played by a Viennese man, Anton Karas, on a stringed device called a zither, and the original instrument is one of the museum’s exhibits along with posters, cinema programs from more than 30 countries, 90 different editions of the novella by Graham Greene on which his screenplay was based, and photographs of occupied Vienna and the making of the movie.

The transformation in so many areas since then is impressive. Around the museum in Naschmarkt, the seedy buildings of Greene’s day have given way to elegant cafes and smart fruit-and-veg stalls.

It’s easy to fill a few days in Vienna: take the subway to Prater Park to see the Ferris wheel, watch the proud Lippizaner horses of the Spanish Riding School and catch a concert in the opera house.

Next time I will stay longer. Despite those turbulent years of the 20th century, Vienna’s legendary romantic charms are as alluring as ever.