Thursday, 18 September 2008

Vienna: Kate's Birthday City

Vienna is a confection. It can't help it, with all its elaborate Baroque stylings, its frills and whirls, its gold leafed edging and its ostentation. Very little is free in Vienna, but it costs nothing to stroll among its decorative architecture and manicured parks and you will always be given an unasked for glass of water when you order coffee. "Mit schlag", as the waiters say - topped, more often than not, with a ripple of whipped cream.

Vienna is very like one of its most famous cakes - the Sacher Torte. Very elegant and very rich with a hint of sour cherry lying just below the thick chocolate surface.

We saw it in the groups of street drinkers using the city's immaculate metro system to shelter from the cold. We saw it in the smoky cellars of the micro-wineries. We felt it as we were attacked by a ratty, one-legged pigeon with a psychopathic streak in one of the Austrian capital's genteel parks. And we couldn't miss the election posters emphatically proclaiming "unsere Osterreich, fur unsere Kinder" for the Right Wing.

Not so sweet, then. More like a well-bred but slightly eccentric elderly aunt. After all, Vienna is the city which turned an old chemical works into a building that could have been decorated by Gaudi on acid. And every year, amateur aviators crash a succession of bizarre machines into the Danube as they race to get airborne.

Vienna is Marie Antoinette, Mozart, Klimt and The Third Man. High culture abounds. But there is also a bar beneath an old railway bridge where you can hear the latest electronic music.

Sacher Torte? Perhaps the gateau best resembling Vienna would be a wedding cake - impressive on the outside and plenty of layers.

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