Vivacious Vienna

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Vivacious Vienna

Vienna is a wonderful, enchanting city with a romantic, if not somewhat exotic, atmosphere. Whiffs of incense and Egyptian-smelling cigarettes waft over its back streets. Coffee with whipped cream and paprika are its tastes. Mix these with the rumble of motor traffic, the hum of trams, and the sound of the waltz, and you have the world's most musical city.

If you're prepared to book your travel in advance — websites like Monster.Travel offer discount flights to Vienna — there's no reason why a trip to the continent need break the bank.

From the time of her liberation from the Turks until the end of the 18th century, the Baroque flourished in Vienna. The Habsburg family gave Vienna her aristocratic look. The magnificence of her gardens and the richness of her monuments give her an air of beauty and austerity. Here, you'll see her Baroque palaces, elegant middle-class town houses, churches and chapels, monuments and fountains just about everywhere you turn.

For over six centuries, Vienna knew periods of great splendour. But the Vienna of today, which, like many other European cities suffered through two world wars, is now the capital of a small nation, which didn't achieve political or economic stability until 1955. Although the magnificence of the old imperial city has disappeared, a modern metropolis, which still preserves its long and impressive past, has taken its place. Vienna's heritage is her cosmopolitan character.

Vienna's history, however, spans a period of over 2,000 years and during this time many changes have taken place. The ancient town of Vindobona — the name is Celtic in origin — was one of the many fortified outposts guarding the borders of the vast Roman Empire which stretched along the Danube. Later, peoples emigrating from Asia conquered it until she became the capital of the Ostmark under Charlemagne. From a ducal city under the Babenbergs, it became an imperial city under the Habsburgs in 1276, and from this time onwards the Habsburgs adopted the policy of annexing the surrounding nations to their Empire.

Because of her particular geographic position, Vienna has often played the role of meeting place between East and West. But in 1529 and again in 1683, the Turks invaded the city and drastically altered the situation. At that time Vienna was the spearhead of Christian Europe. This strange fusion of German, Latin and Slavic cultures, together with influences from the East, has left its mark on her character and culture. You'll discover that this has influenced every facet of Viennese life, from her music which fuses the European tradition with a kind of gypsy vitality, to the typical Viennese cooking flavoured with Italian, Slavic and Hungarian dishes.

The greatest masters of European music from Haydn to Mozart, Beethoven to Schubert, lived and worked in Vienna. In the last century, she became the homeland of the waltz, the sentimental melody which captivated the heart of Europe. The city also contributed to the progress of science, technology and medicine. Sigmund Freud laid the foundations of modern psychology here.

Wander the tangled streets of Vienna's inner city, encircled by the boulevards of the Ring, which replaced the city's walls in the mid-19th century. At her heart stands Stephansplatz and St. Stephen's Cathedral. The Hofburg, the winter palace of the Habsburgs, along with the Spanish Riding School, are must-sees in this city of palaces. And just outside the city, two more palaces — Schonbrunn and Belvedere — are well worth a visit. And after exhaustive sightseeing, nothing beats a stop at a typical Viennese coffee-house for a relaxing cup of cafe mit schlag.