From morning ‘til evening, locals and visitors happily wait in line for the chocolate iced, apricot filled torte created in 1832 by 16-year-old apprentice baker Franz Sacher. Mounds of whipped cream accompany each wedge served at sweet shops in Vienna, notably at the venerable Hotel Sacher, where proprietor Anna Sacher used to guard the front steps, puffing on a stogie, flanked by her French bulldogs. When I joined a group from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco visiting Vienna, I expected total immersion in chocolate, coffee and strudel (all kinds, and the cheese strudel at Cafe Prückel is downright dulcet). From my base in the Innere Stadt, following the circular path of the Ringstrasse (Ring Road) is an easy carousel around the irresistibly brazen Baroque buildings, as elaborate as the fabled pastries. The city symbol of double-headed eagle flashes in colorful tile atop those towers of St. Stephens, a central place to rendezvous and a great example of Gothic architecture that houses the second biggest free-swinging, chimed church bell in Europe. Stop along the way to see the Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish Riding School who, for over 400 hundred years have been trained in dressage, a method used to strengthen body and mind, kind of like equine gymnasts. The Albertina, which boasts 65,000 drawings and over a million Old Masters prints, is mandatory. It’s mind-boggling to imagine that Albrecht Durer painted the scientifically detailed rendering of Young Hare—who himself wears a studied expression—in 1502.
The most magical way to see these gems is by tramping through narrow alleyways hiding medieval tower houses and cloistered courtyards, as well as the Jesuit church and the Jewish quarters. Mind the cobblestones, but do look up to enjoy the ‘Pawlatschen’ balconies with their glazed wood galleries. If you do get lost wending through the tunnels, keep looking up and stay centered by heading back to those towers of St. Stephens.
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