Vienna does not live up to expectations , it far exceeds them. I expect a city that is formal, reserved, serious. I find one that is accessible, amusing, friendly and appreciably surprising at every turn.
Vienna’s many parks and impressive architecture provide points of reference and interest that make walking an easy pleasure. The atmosphere is expansive, with distant sonorous bells playing counterpoint to the close up staccato of trundling trams.
Art and museums abound. There is an absence of pomposity. There are places to stroll and smile, discover and wonder , relax and unwind. The Leopold Museum is celebrating Egon Schiele. The challenging beauty of his portraits sit engagingly besidecaptivating landscapes. The space is generous.
”the cafes, all mahogany and brass, with long and patient Sunday queues. Waiters in mournful black…Women with elaborate chignons…”
A cross town journey takes me past the imposing Opera House, along Kartner Ring, down the length of Stadark to the MAK Museum. It is worth the adventure. I discover Stefan Sagmeister’s ‘The Happy Show’. The show explores the boundary between art and design and this masterful graphic artist’s attempts to increase his own happiness. He makes me laugh and reframe my idea of an art gallery. Two giant inflatable monkeys command the entrance court.
Here too, the fashion designer Helmut Lang’s archive is interred in a long grey casement. It is instantly resurrected by scanning the drawer codes, with the iPad provided, to discover garments in videos from his various fashion shows.
Back across the city, in the narrower medieval streets of the old town, a Sunday morning stroll unearths another gallery – the Albertina. Dozens of people are out early to explore the Munch exhibition. It is curious, somewhat cramped and more than a little crowded. It pales in comparison to a breath taking combination of artistic virtuosity by Picasso, Monet, Braque, Modigliani, Chagall, Kandinsky, Francis Bacon and others. They hang together in surprising harmony and in the comfort of more expansive galleries.
The Albertina also displays stunning large scale black & white photography from masters of the art like Irving Penn, Henri Cartier Bresson, William Klein and Helmut Newton.
Of course I stop by the cafes, all mahogany and brass, with long and patient Sunday queues. Waiters in mournful black suits wrapped in long white aprons carry trays aloft. Women with elaborate chignons and men wearing loden lounge with effortless elegance and ease. Artful pastries tempt , pungent coffee invigorates, lively chatter softens any formality.
Elsewhere Christmas markets twinkle under a winter afternoon’s silver sky and shimmer later on through the dusky blue pall of twilight. The best are secreted away in side streets, lanes and alleyways where the after work buzz is scented by Christmas spices and the toasty whiff of mulled wine. The street food is soulful and tasty. Car tyres squeak down damp streets, smeared by a halo of golden light. There is intrinsic warmth in the ordinary life of this winter city.
At the airport, even leaving has its pleasure, as I catch the first glimpse of snow, icing the caps of distant hills.