It was in 1938, I think, that Austria changed from driving on the left side of the road to the right. The Stadtbahn in Vienna, an antiquated type of partlyunderground railway, still operates on the left. This is typical of Vienna — a mixture of old and new.
Vienna, the capital of the old Austro-Hungarian empire, thrusts its history at you. You cannot avoid it, especially if you wander around the heart of the old city; it is encircled by the Ringstrasse, built on the site of the wall which surrounded the city when it was the bastion against the Turkish invasion of Europe.
Since countless books and films still associate this romantic city with the reign of the Emperor Francis Joseph, it is surprising that there is in Vienna only one (rather insignificant) statue of thislegendary figure in the gardens of the Hofburg; in the same gardens is found the splendid memorial to his beautiful wife, Elizabeth. 'the Empress Elizabeth's many travels brought her as far afield as Maynooth in Co. Kildare, not far from Dublin. (Her presentation to Maynooth College of a statue of St. George was not the most diplomatic gesture!) The Irish were far from unknown in Austria in those days. The Austrians built, at Melk, one of the most impressive baroque monasteries in Europe, in reparation for the killing of St. Colman.
In Vienna, the Benedictines also have an association with Ireland for it was the Irish monks who founded an abbey in the city in 1155. This abbey is now known, somewhat confusingly, as the Schottenkloster. In today's context, the word Schotten
means Scot, rather than the old Celt.
Hidden away ma little square opposite the abbey is the Schottenkeller. These "cellars" in Vienna are frequently associated with monastic orders, probably because many of the foundations had vineyards, and in the cellars offered the wines for sale.
There is an Augustinian cellar, as well as a Dominican and Franciscan one. The famous family of Esterhazy gave their name to another cellar. This is so large that
it is not difficult to get lost in it. Most cellars are simple in appearance; as the name suggests, they are usually underground, with bare brick walls, simple wooden tables, chairs or benches; all serve wine. some serve food and others also have music.
Music is the diet of Vienna, but
the ample aspect of the Viennese is evidence of the fact that although music may be the food of love. they indulge also in the practical culinary arts.
Towards the end of the last war the Opera House was bombed and with a clear sense of priorities, the Viennese concentrated on rebuilding it before anything else! For although
Mozart, whose operas the Vienna State Opera Company perform so exquisitely, came griginally from Salzburg, he played for the Empress Maria Theresia in Vienna.
Later, the Strauss family captured the heart of Vienna and the world, playing at the Cafe Domayer in Hietzing, not far from the Schonbrunn Palace of the Habsburgs.
At -Schonbrunn there is a beautiful small theatre where one of Maria Theresia's children, Marie Antoinette, frequently per
formed. The Schtmbrunn Schloss Theatre in Vienna inspired Marie Antoinette, as Empress of France, to build a similar one at Versailles.
But not only in or near palaces did music blossom in Vienna. The cafes and Gausthduser were the settings in which Franz Schubert
roamed, and wrote his beautiful songs. Beethoven, though born in Germany, lived and composed in Vienna, and Haydn, whose patron was the Esterhazy family, has a statue in the busy Mariahilferstrasse.
The old traditional cafes of Vienna are fewer in number 'today but they have preserved their sense of hospitality. One cup of coffee, served with the traditional glass of water, buys you the right to sit as long as you like on a comfortable seat, browsing through the magazines and papers provided by a thoughtful management.
If your knowledge of the German language is insufficient to enjoy the papers or the magazines, then browse through any competent guide book and you will find that 80 per cent of the sights of Vienna are encircled by the Ringstrasse all within half-an-hour's walk.
To save initial disappointment, let me tell you that the little stream that skirts the First District, near the Stadtpark, where stands the Johann Strauss memorial, is the River Wien, not the Danube, and that on the other side of the First District is the Danube Canal, not the Danube. The best place to see the Danube from the Leopoldsberg, a short bus ride out of Vienna.
If possible. arrange your visit there on a sunny day; better still, when you are in love. Then Vienna, stretched out below you, and skirted by the blue ribbon of the romantic river which flows on to Budapest and beyond, will live up to your expectations.
It is unlikely that any guide book, will suggest a visit to the Zentralfricelhof (the Central Cemetery), and it is not just a morbid trait that makes me mention it. When one goes abroad it is good to see things that are different from those at home. It is wonderful to see how beautifully tended is each and every grave in this vast cemetery.
Furthermore, a walk in the cemetery is a meeting with Austrian history. At the Central Cemetery you will find Johann Strauss and the "Pocket Chancellor" of Austria, Doilfuss, famous actors and opera singers, as well as composers, statesmen and politicians.
B.E.A. fly daily to Vienna by Trident, which takes only a few minutes more than two hours. The excursion return fare is £61.35.
The ideal time to visit Vienna is for the International Festival Weeks, which are from May 19 to June 17. Among others, the Royal Shakespeare Company is performing "A Midsummer Night's Dream", but there is also a profusion of operas, operettas, concerts and ballets, for all of which Vienna is justly famous.