Old world splendour

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Vienna is a city rich in culture and music. If I was more rich in these things I probably would’ve done my nut there, but being the traveller I am, I was satisfied with wondering at the splendid buildings from the outside and taking very close views of the many fountain statues. I was only in the city for the weekend, but it’s a small city and I have long legs so I managed to see much (from the outside of course).

There is a noticeable difference between Prague and Vienna, and for me it was in the colour. The houses in Prague have red roof tiles that stand in contrast to the green spaces. Vienna is all white marble and stone, with glimmers of gold detail and turquoise domes. But the city is grand, as was fitting for the capital of an empire. At Schoenbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the imperial rulers, I read a sign that described the “pomp and splendor” – an apt phrase. The detail and huge scale of the buildings, statues and gardens bear testament to an era now long gone.

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I enjoyed walking through the beautifully laid out gardens at Schoenbrunn Castle. There are leafy lanes, wide drives, tucked away gardens, Roman-like monuments, manicured lawns, a huge fountain and a steep slope leading up to a stone terrace with a view over the castle and city beyond. And besides the obligatory tour groups, it is a peaceful place where old men read newspaper on the benches, moms push stollers over the gravel and Viennese runners brave the slopes.

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I also spent two nights at the Film Festival at the City Hall square. Each summer the festival screens operas on a huge, open-air screen, and I enjoyed the pomp and flair of the performances.

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Like in Prague, I walked and walked and walked to take in the sights and sounds, and then had to have a rest day. The weather was great: hot, hot days with wild thunderstorms in the afternoons (I love the reminder of Joburg summers). My cs host took me to a lovely swimming spot in the north of the city. It is an inlet off the Danube, surrounded by tall buildings, notably the UN towers, where the water is refreshing, there are lots of shady trees and dogs and kids run free. I got in a few hours of reading, napping, swimming and sorting out my winter paleness before the rain came.

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Leaving Vienna was easy enough to do. The busloads of snap happy tourists and having to pay almost R100 for an espresso and piece of cake doesn’t make hanging around very attractive. Since hitching to Vienna was an adventure I thought I’d do the same to Graz, which is only about 200km to the south. Ha! It was an adventure of course, but one which left me hot and bothered on the same stretch of road for about four hours. Despite my winning smile and outstretched thumb no one picked me up this time, so I packed it in, headed to the train station and bought a ticket to Graz, in southern Austria. And you know, it was the perfect decision because the train wound its way through the mountains, over high arched bridges and past quaint towns and fir forests. I wouldn’t have seen this picturesque Austria from the highway. So even bad things turn out good.

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