Insider's guide to... Vienna - Europe - Travel - The Independent

Insider's guide to... Vienna


What's the weather like now? Cold, in a word. The daytime temperature tends to hover either side of freezing, but if a frisky little east wind whips up, it can feel a lot colder. Still, if you're lucky the whole place will be blanketed with snow and look heavenly.

What's the weather like now? Cold, in a word. The daytime temperature tends to hover either side of freezing, but if a frisky little east wind whips up, it can feel a lot colder. Still, if you're lucky the whole place will be blanketed with snow and look heavenly.

What are the locals complaining about? Traffic jams, would you believe - though the only real ones in the past year were caused by the students and teachers who blocked the Ringstrasse protesting against government budget cuts.

Who's the talk of the town? Well, needless to say, the far-right leader Jörg Haider probably had more column inches than anyone else last year. His latest publicity stunt was managing to have a chat with the Pope, though the corruption charges were a bit of a PR own-goal for the man with the perfect teeth.

What's the cool drink? Glühwein, while not necessarily cool, is the top after-work winter drink: spicy, piping hot and all too easily drunk. There are stalls serving the stuff all over town, and in the markets you get it served in a proper mug, on which you pay a deposit, leaving you free to wander round filling up as you go along.

What are people eating? Meat, meat and more meat. Austria likes to think of itself as BSE-free, but when the Germans went belly up, the media did get a bit worried. Still, no sign of panic on the menus, with some proudly showing diagrams of exactly which bit of the cow you're eating.

What's the latest outrageous stuff on TV? Sorry, wrong country. Austria is the only EU country where there are no independent terrestrial TV channels at all. And the word "outrageous" doesn't really figure in the programming brief of the two state-funded channels. Of course, it's easy enough to tune into German TV, where the delights of Big Brother and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? have been thrilling audiences.

Where wouldn't the locals dream of going? Well, you won't see many Viennese queuing up to watch the equine ballet rehearsals at the Spanish Riding School, or turning up at 9.15am on a Sunday and paying through the nose to sit through a Mass sung by the Vienna Boys' Choir.

Where are the locals going that the tourists don't know about? To a no-nonsense Beisl (Yiddish for "little house") tucked down one of the side streets in the first district, with an unprepossessing entrance, which usefully discourages tourists, and a warm, convivial atmosphere inside. There they eat simple hearty Austrian food washed down with a frothing krügerl of beer or a viertel of local wine.

Where are the chic people doing their shopping? In London, Paris and New York, probably. Vienna has plenty of chic shops along Graben and Kohlmarkt, although none of them with names to drop. The newly refurbished Julius Meinl, on Graben, is Vienna's version of Harrods' food hall, and always worth a visit. Christina Fieber's Wein & Wäsche store on Lobkowitzplatz, selling wine and lingerie, has proved a hit with the beautiful people.

What's the trendy place to escape to for the weekend? At this time of year most Austrians' thoughts turn to skiing, and the nearest snowy mountains are the Alpine foothills near the spa resort of Semmering, a spectacular two-hour train ride away.

Rob Humphreys is the author of 'The Rough Guide to Vienna' (£9.99).

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