Posted by on Dec 24, 2011 in Austria, Europe, Travel | 0 comments


The capital of Austria, Vienna is a remarkable city and one that I liked a lot more than I thought I would.  The city is well planned with wide streets and exquisite buildings, and the atmosphere quite regal and stately.

Vienna has not yet fallen to complete tourist invasion, there is no English explanation of everything and at the Christmas markets every sign was in German only.

We arrived in Vienna after visiting Amsterdam and Prague, both of which are very touristy, and found Vienna’s authenticity refreshing.

It felt like a very liveable city, with a rich culture and history, yet still modern.  We stayed in a charming and convenient apartment you can book here.

There is no shortage of good coffee shops, and be sure to stop by Cafe Central for an afternoon cup of tea and piece of cake.

For dinner Restaurant Der Kuckuck has delicious food and wine in a cosy atmosphere.




In late December Vienna proved to be genuinely passionate about celebrating Christmas.  Rather than having just one Christmas Market (which is often more for the tourists), Vienna had Christkindlmarkts on every corner, and we immediately made ourselves at home at our local.

There was a strong community feel, with locals milled about with mugs of Glühwein while their kids played and had pony rides.

The most impressive Christkindlmarkt was definitely the one in front of the City Hall, which had the biggest Christmas tree, various elaborately decorated and illuminated trees, and of course the magnificent backdrop of the hall itself.


The market

The City Hall Christmas Market


The hearts tree

The “Herzerlbaum” (Hearts tree)


While in Vienna I was particularly excited to go to the Spanische Hofreitchule (Spanish Riding School) which houses the world renowned Lipizanners.  Although located in Vienna, it gets it’s name as the horses originally came from Spain.

We were not in Vienna for an actual performance, so instead watched the morning exercise which gave an insight into the daily training that goes into every Lipizzaner stallion.





The boisterous young grey stallions who have not yet matured to their white coats were still learning to perfect the “High School” dressage moves.  The more experienced ‘White Stars’ were breathtaking to watch as they performed flawless movements like piaffe passage pirouette and half-pass, seemingly invisible communications being made between horse and rider.

We were also lucky enough to see some Lipizzaners being trained on the classical school jumps, which is what differentiates this style from regular dressage.

Below is the building in which the winter exercise and all performances are held, a beautiful piece of Baroque architecture and an enchanting setting, it has not changed since it was built.


indoor arena


The stables or Stallburg is Vienna’s only intact Renaissance palace and dates back to the 16th century.  There are currently 72 stallions kept here, they are regarded as stars and their package includes holidays and a pension!  They get three months off each year and go to Heldenberg in lower Austria where they have their own paddocks and are only ridden leisurely.

The particularly impressive stallions get even longer off for breeding purposes as the school believes in natural breeding.  The white saddles pictured below are handmade to fit each individual stallion, and are adjusted year round.  These saddles fit so well and are made of such soft leather that no saddlecloth is needed.




Since 1920 Lipizzaners have been bred at the Piber stud south of Vienna. For the first four years of their lives they roam the mountains of Styria, and then around 10 stallions are chosen to come to Vienna to begin their training. When the stallions eventually retire, they return to Piber and live out their retirement. The school never sells any of their stallions, they are considered priceless.

To apply as a rider you must be between 16 and 22, close to 170cm tall, and have long legs.  Only in the last 5 years have women been allowed to apply.  It is also preferred if you only have basic riding skills as it is considered easier to teach rather than change habits.  If accepted you become an apprentice, and for the first year you only do chores. The next few years you are trained on an older and professional Lipizanner.  If you can present him properly you will move on to be an Assistant Rider.

As Assistant Rider you are given a new 4 year old Lipizanner to train in all of the High School movements, and if you can do this you will become a Rider.  By this time you would have already been at the school for 8 to 12 years.  I guess that’s why they have an 80% drop out rate!  It has to be a labour of love or it won’t last.  The final stage is the riders chosen to be the Chief Riders, the leaders. Most riders retire at 65, however the current oldest rider at the school is 72 and loves it too much to stop.




One afternoon we went to get tickets for the Opera as we had heard you could buy same day standing tickets for only 4 euro!  We lined up at 4.30pm, not realising that the tickets didn’t go on sale until nearly 6pm!  We also didn’t know that we were there on the opening night of a Ballet – Dornröschen.

The lines were massive, and by the time the performance started we had already been standing for 2 ½ hours, to go to our standing area to watch! It was absolutely packed, and this was Wayne’s first taste of ballet!  It was of course amazing, and the costumes were particularly exquisite.

I also liked the idea that they made something usually expensive and exclusive accessible to everyone.




While on the subject, below is the Opera Toilet at the Karlsplatz metro where you can listen to classical music while you do your business.  I guess if you have to pay for the toilet (which you always do in Europe anyway) you might as well have some nice music!


opera toilet


Our last day in Vienna we visited the Schönbrunn Palace, the imperial summer residence of the Habsburg monarchs. Like the Palace of Versailles it is difficult to comprehend that people actually lived somewhere so extravagant – are over 1,000 rooms really necessary?!



The massive Schonbrunn Palace


The 'Gloriette' designed to glorify Habsburg power

The ‘Gloriette’ on the hill, designed to glorify Habsburg power

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *