Travel diaries: Waltzing in Vienna
From a vertiginous height of 65 meters, I soak in a breathtaking panorama of Vienna, the Austrian capital city. Terracotta rooftops in hues of sherbet, exquisite neo-classical buildings, glitzy post-modern facades and skyscrapers fill the lens of my DSLR. In the distance loom the lush Vienna woods.
I'm ensconced in one of the 22 capsules of the Wiener Riesenrad, a giant wheel at Prater Park - the oldest amusement park in the world. One of the city's marquee attractions, the Reisenrad was built in 1897, my guide Susanne Maurer informs me as we're hoisted to a dizzying height, turning our legs to jelly.
Disgorged from the contraption after the 20-minute ride, we amble towards Prater Park's other attractions - more rides, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and the Vienna Chocolate Museum. In the last, we learn about cocoa's transformation from a dark, rugged bean to a glistening product through engaging exhibits.
Chocolate making workshops are in progress for apron-swathed kids who seem to be clearly having a good time.
The possibilities for fun-loving tourists are endless in Vienna. Known by varied monikers, such as the 'city of music' and the 'city of dreams, the central European metropolis', offerings are diverse and eclectic. Over the course of my six-day stay, I also checked these out:
Schonbrunn is to Austria what the Taj Mahal is to India - a stellar destination that offers a snapshot of the country's imperial past. I strolled through the colossal 1,441-room structure admiring its sumptuous furnishings, handcrafted furniture and artworks observing how Austrian royalty lived. The palace's gorgeously landscaped gardens - tended to by hundreds of gardeners - are eminently Instagram-able.
THE STRUDEL SHOW
One of Vienna's most popular desserts is the apple strudel, the oldest strudel recipe dates back to 1696. It is now one of Vienna's most iconic dishes and a musttry when you're in this charming city.
You can even master the technique of rustling up this confection at a strudel show in Schonbrunn Palace. For this I headed down to the imperial bakery at Café Residenz where a witty chef whipped up this traditional desert with pastry so thin I could see through it. The best part - I got to sample it afterwards and take home the original recipe, too.
VIENNA STATE OPERA
Opera and fine architecture are synonymous with Vienna, and the Vienna State Opera melds both nicely. The exquisite building, located smack dab in the heart of downtown (Innere Stadt district), is considered one of the finest opera houses in the world.
With its neo-Renaissance façade, sundry arches and arched windows, and baroque interiors, it mimics a palace more than a place of musical celebration. Enjoy a performance here by booking in advance as tickets are sold out quickly.
Savour a slice of local life at this popular alfresco food market which best reflects Vienna's pluralistic ethos. Shopkeepers, artisanal farmers and producers from over 40 nations sell everything from fresh fruit to vegetables to herbs, spices, cheese, sausage, seafood, vinegar, apparel and footwear.
The atmosphere is so thick it can be sliced with a knife. The sounds, sights and smells are tantalising with vendors hollering and inviting you for free tastings. Israeli, Iranian, Egyptian and Turkish cafes selling succulent kebabs, shakshuka, falafel and other authentic delicacies add to the market's vibrancy.
SPANISH RIDING SCHOOL
One of the finest institutes for classical dressage in the world and a long-standing Austrian tradition, the Spanish Riding School has been training pedigreed horses in the art of dressage for centuries. For equestrian sports lovers this is a must see in Vienna, while non-riders can still appreciate the passion and love that is put into this art form.
The riding school was built during the Habsburg monarchy and has stood ever since. Demonstrations/training sessions of the graceful thoroughbreds to the sound of Mozart/Beethoven music will keep you thoroughly enchanted through the two-hour show.
At the foothills of the Northern Limestone Alps, the Vienna Woods lie to the west of the city straddling 45km. The area is a popular getaway for the locals as well as tourists. Several rivers form the boundaries of the woods where you can enjoy a bucolic landscape. Underground boat rides (seegrotte), hunting lodges and picturesque villages unblemished by modernity add a touch of whimsy to the setting.
BREATHE IN, BREATHE OUT
Last but not least, don't forget to breathe deep - really deep - in Vienna. Ranked as the most livable city in the world by the Mercer Index for the 10th year in a row, its clean air is a big lure for pollution-fatigued Indian travellers. Water is so pure and fresh you can drink straight from the tap as it makes its way down from the Alpine glaciers to people's homes requiring no purification during its 36-hour transit.