Austrian allure: Vienna’s vintage delights

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Vienna, on the banks of the Danube. (Shutterstock)
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The Hofburg palace complex in Vienna. (Shutterstock)
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Vienna's Naschmarkt. (Shutterstock)
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The Sachertorte, a type of chocolate cake invented for Prince Wenzel von Metternich by the Sacher Hotel’s founder, Franz Sacher, in 1832. (Shutterstock)
Updated 18 June 2019

Austrian allure: Vienna’s vintage delights

  • The Austrian capital remains one of Europe’s great cities
  • Vienna is one of the world’s great art capitals, and a city obsessed with music

DUBLIN: There are few places more regal than Vienna. The former capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire is one of Europe’s great cities, filled with imperial palaces, baroque architecture and countless artistic and cultural highlights. It’s also increasingly being seen as a haven for design and food — and gradually shedding its rather staid reputation: while Austria’s star may have fallen since the heady days when it ruled a large part of the world, Vienna’s star is very much in ascendance.

First, the palaces. You can thank the Habsburg Monarchy for the Hofburg palace complex, a stunning collection of imperial architecture in the center of the city. Highlights include the Spanish Riding School, where stallions perform intricate equine dances; the Burgkapelle, where the Vienna Boy’s Choir sings at Sunday Mass; and the fascinating Kaiserappartments, where the city’s royalty lived and played.

Other palaces worth visiting are the Schloss Schonbrunn, the Habsburg’s 1,441-room summer residence, and the Schloss Belvedere, a huge complex of baroque buildings, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes a museum featuring a plethora of Austrian art.

And if you’re looking for an artistic fix, you are in the right place — Vienna is one of the world’s great art capitals. Head to the Albertina first, which is a converted 19th-century palace filled with old masters and some of the world’s best 20th-century artists. There’s work by everyone from Monet to Picasso to Rothko and it’s worth spending a few hours here to take it all in. A few minutes away is mumok, Vienna’s contemporary art museum. It has a huge collection of more than 10,000 works, featuring the likes of Jasper Johns, Roy Lichenstein and Pablo Picasso. It focuses on modern art, something reflected in the building’s stark design.

By this stage, you are going to need a pit stop, and a few minutes’ walk from mumok is the Hotel Sacher — the most storied hotel in the city. It’s hosted Queen Elizabeth II, John F. Kennedy and a host of other world leaders and A-listers. It is deservedly famous for its Sachertorte, a type of chocolate cake invented for Prince Wenzel von Metternich by the hotel’s founder, Franz Sacher, in 1832.

Given that its former residents include the likes of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss, it’s no surprise that Vienna is a city obsessed with music. There are countless venues across the city where you can hear classical music, including Musikverein, where the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra perform; the stunningly designed gold-and-crystal Staatsoper (State Opera House); and the wonderful Konzerthaus. For a tour of the city’s musical heritage, pay a visit to Haus der Musik, which features a range of interactive exhibits and traces the musical journey from the prehistoric age to the present day. It’s located in the Palace of Archduke Charles, where the founder of the Vienna Philharmonic once lived.

Vienna may not traditionally be known for its food (aside from the ubiquitous schnitzel), but recent years have seen it rise up the foodie ranks. A good place to start is Naschmarkt, a popular market dotted with small stalls and restaurants. There’s everything from noodles and falafel to, of course, wurstel.

For something more upmarket, head to Gastwirtschaft Wratschko, a favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain. Housed in a low-lit, wood-paneled restaurant that oozes atmosphere, it features a huge range of traditional Austrian cuisine. We recommend trying the steak with green peppercorn sauce, although if you want to go veggie, opt for the cabbage, tomato and cheese lasagna.

Once you are fed and watered, head to the Riesenrad, a huge Ferris wheel built in 1897 that’s over 65 meters high, and takes 20 minutes to complete its rotation. You may recognize it from its many cinematic appearances, including the 1987 James Bond movie “The Living Daylights.”

For something more down to earth, sign up for one of the many river cruises that head up and down the Danube. Most of the cruises offer similar itineraries, although costs can vary wildly, so do your research. The Danube is Europe’s second-longest river and flows nearly 3,000km through 10 countries, and there are plenty of boats that will bring you across Eastern Europe via the river. Although Vienna’s charms are such you’ll likely be reluctant to leave.


Lack of spirit leaves World War II saga hanging midway

Roland Emmerich’s just-opened “Midway” comes nowhere close to the 1950s and 1960s war adventures. (Supplied)
Updated 14 November 2019

Lack of spirit leaves World War II saga hanging midway

CHENNAI: Movies on World War II have delighted cinema audiences for years. Nobody can forget the daring Allied escape in the 1965 “Von Ryan’s Express” with Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard driving a train through Nazi-occupied territory.

There were others in that decade and earlier such as David Lean’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai” about British prisoners of war building a railway in malaria-infested Burma (now Myanmar). These were great classics, but recent efforts have not been as memorable.

(Supplied)

Roland Emmerich’s just-opened “Midway” comes nowhere close to the 1950s and 1960s war adventures. Despite audiences still being thirsty for WWII sagas and a star-studded cast (Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson, Mandy Moore, Ed Skrein and Nick Jonas), the film is unmoving, mainly because of the shallow characters. If the dialogues are stiff, the dramatic potential – including the relationship among the men – appears to have been left midway.

The film begins with Japan’s December 1941 air attack on the US naval base in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, which dragged America into the conflict, and the flick follows America’s revenge mission culminating in the June 1942 Battle of Midway.

(Supplied)

For the US, it was a victory against all odds giving them control of the Pacific’s Midway atoll. It was also a major triumph of human spirit, but the film does not quite capture it.

Most of the exploits relate to real-life fighter pilot Dick Best (Skrein), whose devil-may-care attitude earns him the title “cowboy.” His wife Ann (Moore), the only female character, urges him on but seems a washed-out figure. However, there is plenty of action in the air with dog fights, bombings and pilots ejecting from burning planes high above the ground.

(Supplied)

For fans of singer Jonas, his small but significant part may appeal. He is sailor Bruno Gaido whose spontaneous and heroic action during a Japanese raid earns him promotion.

“Midway” plays at three levels, including one about Japanese military officers, and was shot in Hawaii and Montreal with a lot of computer graphics thrown in. The camera work (Robby Baumgartner) is impressive, but somewhere the soul is missing, and the characters fail to come across as real people.

Despite this, the film opened atop the North American box office last weekend with a reported $17.5 million in ticket sales.