Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Vienna-World Capital Of Music

By Roy Heale
Historic city of music on the Danube, Vienna is steeped in the legacy of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Strauss and Mahler. Naturally music is a fervent part of the Austrian soul.
Amongst Imperial Palaces of the Hapsburg dynasty, cathedrals, museums and galleries prepare yourself for a noteworthy architectural feast.
Yet modern Vienna blends with its historic past creating a wonderful European cultural vacation city waiting for the GLBT traveler to experience.
Renowned for its distinct café culture and imperial nostalgia, Vienna boasts a sizeable gay and lesbian scene. With a café on every corner serving Viennese coffee specialties and much more, several of these coffee houses have been claimed by our community. Plus numerous cocktail bars, nightclubs, restaurants, shops and spas are eager to welcome the gay tourist and make them feel right at home.
But even beyond the obvious gay and lesbian gathering spots, Vienna has a very queer history. For centuries homosexuals have left their distinctive marks on Austrian arts, culture and politics, sometimes subtle, yet always noticeable. Often a gay visitor is confronted with the truth about an historic figure when they discover he or she was “family”.
A couple of sightseeing tours of Vienna combine the city’s gay history with a fascinating walking tour of the old city. These can be found in the Vienna Queer Guide published by the gay-friendly Vienna Tourist Board and available by mail in advance of your visit upon request or at their website for immediate downloading.
One tour commences at the Belvedere Palace, the summer residence of the gay Prince Eugene of Savoy (1663-1736), the other starts at the famous Vienna State Opera House which was built by architects who were both business and life partners. Each of these tours will give a fascinating retrospective of Vienna’s gay past as you discover the city’s current gay community hang-outs. Even Franz Schubert earns his place on the tour along with several other well known names from Austrian royalty.
With over one hundred and twenty museums, galleries and palaces to visit during your stay this is a city with much to offer every desire and curiosity. Anyone with an inquisitive mind or sense of adventure will be dazzled by everything which is Vienna.
The Ringstrasse boulevard-once the showcase of the monarchy-completely encircles the historic city center. A sightseeing tour by streetcar ride around the “ring” is a five kilometer stretch of magnificent buildings including the Imperial Palace, the Vienna State Opera, City Hall, the University plus several museums and galleries. The golden statue of Johann Strauss and the Mozart memorial are both located in beautiful parks along the Ringstrasse.
With so much history to explore it’s hard to decide where to begin. However a few places stand out as priorities for memorable learning experiences.
The House of Music is a must to understand everything which musical notes or scores mean to Vienna and the world. With over 5,000 square meters of space located in the historical palace of Arch Duke Charles of the Hapsburg Dynasty, this hands-on exhibit traces the science of music, the great composers and musicians of the past and today’s musicians. You can even be the virtual conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic and the orchestra will obey your baton commands and give you their reaction to your musical talent - applause or jeers! After your tour, the attic of the building houses the Cantino Café where you can enjoy Tapas and other delicacies surrounded by a roof-top view of the city and St. Stephan’s Cathedral.
The Austrian National Library is the country’s major scientific library and the building was commissioned by Emporer Charles VI, with the structure completed in 1726 and fresco decoration continuing until 1730. The baroque State Hall is one of the most aesthetic historical libraries in the world. Together with marble floors and statues, nutwood bookcases housing about 200,000 books and fresco ceilings this is a breathtaking example of an eighteenth century baroque library which today is kept in immaculate condition. The sheer majesty of this building alone is worthy of the trip to Vienna.
Schonbrunn Palace plus the Imperial Apartments in the Hofburg was the summer residence of the Hapsburgs and is just a short fifteen minute drive from the old city. Of the total 1,441 rooms in the palace complex, today forty state rooms in the main building are open to the public. The surrounding grounds include architectural features such as the Gloriette, the Neptune Fountain, and the Roman Ruin which can be viewed in their historically authentic state. The Maze, Labyrinth and Privy Gardens occupy 2700 square meters with a range of playful activities to discover and explore. This is a World Cultural Heritage Site and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Vienna and one tour will make you realise how it earned this distinction.
The characteristic interconnected Museums Quartier features a breathtaking combination of architecture from many different eras. Here you will also find the modern structures of the Leopold Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. Admire works by Andy Warhol or modernist artists from Klimt to Kokoschka or dine in the exquisite Die Halle restaurant or one of the many cafes in the complex. Throughout the year there is a wide range of exhibitions and activities to enjoy amongst this ensemble of buildings both inside and out.
A must-visit is the Museum of Applied Arts and the ground-floor restaurant Osterreicher im MAK serving local Viennese cuisine including wild game. The restaurant’s philosophy is to serve moderately priced, modestly proportioned dishes thus allowing two or even three course meals. A giant wine bottle chandelier over the central bar accentuates the historic ceiling and the Ring Window (a small steel balcony) is an ideal spot for leisurely drinks at any time of the day. Here great atmosphere and exquisite food are guaranteed by proprietor and renowned Chef Helmut Osterreicher.
After the enchanting interiors some outdoor activities might be in order. The Naschmarkt (outdoor market) offers an exotic journey exploring everything that Austrians enjoy as local fare. Fruits and vegetables, meat and fish offer a symphony of color as you wander through the market stalls and alleys searching for whatever may be your fancy. The specialty vendors include home-made vinegars, oils, wines, a variety of breads (for which the Austrians are famous), pastries and other local delicacies which will inspire any palate. You can select your snacks and eat as you go or enjoy one of the many cafés within the market grounds.
On the edge of the market is the popular gay Café Savoy which opens at 5PM daily, the perfect time to end your meandering amongst the merchant’s stalls to enjoy a comfortable chair and a cocktail. This traditional Viennese coffeehouse dates back to the Imperial era which is immediately apparent when you encounter the plush furnishings and stucco walls. On Saturdays the Savoy also opens in the mornings when an eclectic flea market, popular with the gay community, takes place in the Naschmarkt.
Closer to the University you can find one of the brightest stars in the (coffee) skies over Vienna - the chic, gay Café Berg. Adjacent to the gay bookstore Lowenherz (Lionheart), this café has comfortable seating and giant windows affording a view for those who want to see and be seen. Open from 10am each day this is a popular café plus an excellent restaurant renowned for its Sunday brunches.
Bar hopping in Vienna will take you through a variety of small, charming establishments. If you’ve been shopping on Mariahilfer Strasse (one of the most popular and longest shopping streets in Vienna) the X Bar is located in a courtyard just off this street. It provides a perfect sanctuary to rest your weary legs and indulge in a beverage before your next foray into spending paradise.
After a stroll along Karntner Strasse amidst trendy department stores in the inner city, one can find a gay refuge in the Versteck Bar (German for “hiding-place”). This is probably Vienna’s smallest gay bar, cozy and intimate, within a short walk of St. Stephan’s Cathedral.
Following a refreshing beverage or a perk up with a specialty coffee, strolling down the exclusive Kohlmarkt will reward you with Armani, Gucci, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada and many more designer boutiques for shopping bliss. There are many more neighbourhoods which boast the best occupational shopping to be found anywhere in the world and this could be your whole vacation if you have the stamina and credit cards to match
Then take a step back in time for a special treat and be sure to visit Wiener Schokoladekonig the intimate old world chocolate shop of Wolfgang Leschanz.. Located on Freisingergasse 1 near St. Stephan’s Cathedral where chocolate is an art form in the Viennese tradition of incomparable exquisite sweets. Who doesn’t need a sugar buzz every once in a while?
For nightlife you might want to commence at Mango Bar where most local gays begin their evening. With all its mirrors, good music and variety of cocktails it’s popular with the younger crowd. A recent addition to Vienna’s gay nightlife is Felixx which has quickly become one of the fixtures of the bar scene. The central location, the comfortable interior, the quick and handsome waiters create a combination which every patron comes to enjoy. As the evening progresses the Nightshift and Sling clubs cater to the gay crowd that are late bloomers and want to party until 4am or beyond. Each club is very popular with locals and tourists intent on partying hard and enjoying the dawn with it’s invigorating sunrise.
If you have ever enjoyed time at a gay spa or even if it’s your first time, the Kaiserbrundl is a unique world class experience unto itself. The younger brother of Emperor Franz Josef was one of the original patrons. An harmonic mood exists amidst the spirits of the past immortalized in this historic building combined with today’s guests enjoying modern spa facilities. This distinguished and elegant spa has a friendly restaurant/bar, where street clothes are the attire, just inside the entrance which has become a very popular meeting place for good food and afternoon drinks. The spa itself is on three levels and includes a Wintergarten, fitness studio, swimming pool, sauna, steam room, fresco bar, massage facilities, video room and much, much more. This kind of luxurious pampering is a rare experience at gay spas and the classic, historic European setting will dazzle every guest.
While there are no exclusively gay accommodations in Vienna there are several gay friendly places to stay. The boutique hotel Alstadt is perfectly located in the old city and provides chic accommodations at reasonable prices including an exquisite gourmet buffet breakfast daily and afternoon cocktails in the lounge. With just forty-two rooms, each one is unique in size with elegant furnishings designed to suit every taste. This means there is a look and feel to suit every gay traveler’s demands from elegant four-poster beds to modern studio suites. The atmosphere is that of a classic European Pensionne with great character and charm. Staying here will quickly make you realize that you are no longer on the North American continent and you will easily slip into a cosmopolitan mood at your home away from home within walking distance of major attractions and streetcars.
If you’re visiting during the summer months and the weather permits you can also enjoy the rainbow aura at the City Hall Park (on the side of the Parliament Buildings) or check out the Danube Island naturist area around what is called Toler Grund close to the Steinsporn Bridge. Sunshine and making new friends go hand in hand with your Viennese summer holiday.
With so much more to offer, the only way to really know Vienna is to experience it for yourself, explore its multitude of treasures and witness the rich history which is still apparent in the 21st Century.
The majesty of the past, the music from yesterday and today, the Viennese café culture and a vibrant arts community - Vienna waits for you to arrive

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