Sunday, 8 April 2012

Music, music everywhere and not a string to play

Like a good tourist, I’ve bought all the Mozart memorabilia. I have a pencil with Mozart on it, an eraser with Mozart, a ruler, pencil case and even some notepaper. We visited the Mozarthaus museum this afternoon and I went a little wild in the gift shop.

This is indeed the city of Mozart. You find him everywhere. Even on cakes. How could anyone visiting Vienna say no to something that’s called Mozart kuchen and looks like this?

This morning we explored old Vienna, walking the cobbled streets and reading stories on wall plaques.

Before leaving Saudi, we’d found three walking tours on the web. One, called “Vienna’s Back Streets,” promised a focus on smaller, lesser-known landmarks. It also took us away from the tourist bustle of Stephansplatz. (For that, I liked it before we’d even started.)

We began at Maria-Stiegen-Kirche, or The Church Of St Mary on the Strand. This sounded a bit like something you’d find on a monopoly board, but nothing could have been further from the truth. I loved the intricate, lace-like Gothic steeple and the church’s quaint narrow construction. (Because of the medieval streets on either side, it’s no more than 9m wide at any point.)

The place was quiet, serene. Even the gargoyles seemed benign.

We walked past Vienna’s oldest market place, where there’d been public gallows until the early 1700s. Shades of Riyadh’s ChopChop Square, I thought to myself.  (Except that the former has ceased its executions.)

We turned into Griechengasse. Ahead of us, I noticed a solitary figure with a red back pack.  In this medieval environment, the story of the Pied Piper sprung to mind. I half expected him to get out a small wooden pipe and start playing, perhaps rounding up the pigeons that are the real pest here.

You’re never far from a famous musician in Vienna.  Along the winding alley Schönlaterngasse, we came to the home of Robert Schumann. It was while briefly living here that he rediscovered some of the unpublished compositions of Schubert and laid the foundation for a posthumous renaissance of his music.

I rather liked the story attached to the house next door called the Basilikenhaus, a 13th century bakery. Our notes told us that when the well nearby started smelling the residents decided this was because there was a basilisk hiding there. As you would. The gaze of a basilisk is fatal, but the brave baker exercised great ingenuity, killing the creature by showing it its own reflection in a mirror. It is the stuff of which heroes are made.

(Except that when I looked closely at the mural, the basilisk looked more terrified than terrifying, and the baker looked pretty ordinary.)

Another story I found interesting and that had rather more history to it, was attached to an uninspired façade at Fleischmarkt 24. This was once a hotel whose musical guests included the family of the young Mozart as well as Franz Liszt, Wagner (when he wasn’t fleeing his creditors) and the exiled Chopin. There’s music everywhere here.

After so much walking, it was time for a break. There was much tempting deliciousness in shop windows, along an Easter theme.

But instead we settled for a small unpretentious back street café. Our coffee came with two sugars.

When my daughter had visited us in Saudi earlier in the year, a group of us had ordered coffee in a local mall. The four coffees duly arrived – with 17 sugars. This has become our benchmark for sugary excess.  At only 2, this Viennese café was not in the same Saudi league.

Leaving behind the quiet back streets, we wound our way back to Stephansplatz with its shops, its crowds and eclectic pavement artists.

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