It’s a beautiful, crisp cloudless morning and we opt for omelettes at breakfast time in a vain attempt to soak up some of last night’s alcohol, but everyone is still feeling pretty delicate as we head out into the early-afternoon sun.
We amble along just behind the town hall to a quiet little row of buildings where the Rueff Dance School is located. We head up a stone spiral staircase and are welcomed into a lovely little studio with a colourfully decorated waiting room. There’s a waggy-tailed dog who comes to greet us and collect some belly rubs, her affectionate nuzzles helping a little with the hangovers.
There’s no-one else here save us, for our activity today is private Viennese Waltz lessons.
The oldest of the currently performed ballroom dances, the Viennese Waltz originated in the 1700s. It was initially viewed as quite scandalous as it required partners to dance so close together, but it gained traction through the waltz compositions of famous composers such as Strauss that were written specifically for this dance style. It is a rotary dance, meaning the dancers are constantly rotating in circles around the ballroom.
We meet our instructor for the session who is dressed for the occasion complete with dancing shoes and the type of posture I can only dream about.
He takes us into the dance studio, which has lacquered wooden flooring and mirrors on several walls, and explains we will first learn the basics then bring it all together in twos. The bro and his girlfriend will be paired together, but my partner for the day is to be dancer Max and i’m pleased that at least one of us will know what we are doing.
We learn the simple one-two-three step necessary for the Waltz, all of us fumbling a bit, our movements stiff as we stomp them out rather ungracefully. Next we must put it to music, although our instructor warns us the music is only set to about a quarter of the speed of the real-time Waltz. Mission accomplished and we next learn how to dance with a partner. This includes the holding technique for both men and women, and then how we will be repeating the three steps we know, but this time whilst the man is moving forwards with his right foot, and the woman back with her left foot. There’s a lot of toe treading coming from the bro’s side of the studio, but thankfully I have Max to guide me, whispering instructions and counting the beats as we go.
We practice the steps to music before learning how to add in the quarter turns – this is the move that allows us to work our way around the dance floor so we don’t simply remain stationary.
We separate from our partners and all give it a go until we are happy enough with how to make it in a full 360 using our one-two-three steps. Next we try it with our partners, and there’s lots of giggles as turns are missed and toes are once again trodden on. We practice with the music and our movements are a little stilted but we soon get into the swing of it.
Finally we learn a side step, which is used for when you wish to take a break from all the twirling – since you can dance up to 180 beats in a minute this can leave you somewhat dizzy. This is one side-to-side step for the count of three you would normally be rotating in, and can be done for as long as necessary to compose yourself to begin whirling again. As per the standard, the man must make the transition and lead the woman into this step, picking up when the woman may be feeling a bit muddled and signalling with a look between the couple that it’s time for a break. Our instructor reminds us it is important to be looking over our partners right shoulder as we dance, not at them, so we are able to see the other dancers and avoid any crashes, plus this way if our eyes meet we will know it is because we need a break from rotating.
Now we have all the moves in our arsenal it’s time to practice, practice, practice. It’s certainly an energetic workout and we are all pretty hot and flustered – and we haven’t even reached the full tempo of the music yet. I’m not sure any of us will be making it to the Blackpool Ballrooms anytime soon.
After a few rounds of music, our instructor warns us we are now going to go full speed.
We are counted in, and then – we are off! It’s so very fast but you don’t have time to think about it, and my legs are moving of their own accord, stepping into the gaps created by my partner who is helpfully still counting and muttering ‘left, right, left’ for me. All of a sudden it just clicks and I really get it, even adding in the slight rise and fall necessary to keep the movements fluid and delicate (Strictly eat your heart out!). Max happily guides me and I glide around and around and around. He says I’m a natural and easy to lead, whether this is a true reflection of my skills or rather the fact that I’m just clinging on for dear life as he spins me across the room is up for debate, but it’s a liberating and wonderful feeling to be dancing nevertheless.
Max goes rogue and decides we are dancing so well we will add in some twirls, spins me around solo, then back into hold, and away we go again!
It’s so much fun and I’m rather sad when our music ends (with two final spins and a finishing move for good measure!) but it’s been a real blast!
We thank our instructor and my dance partner profusely and leave all energised with our certificates of achievement in our pockets.
All that dancing has left us ravenous and so it’s time for a well-deserved lunch break. We head back into town to Café Central, which is one of the most beautiful cafe’s in Vienna, and one that was often visited by Freud and Trotsky. As we have been warned, there is a queue extending to the streets, but it moves quickly and we don’t mind the fresh air after getting all hot and sweaty dancing. Soon it’s our turn and a gentleman in a top hat and overcoat ushers us into a beautiful and expansive dining area.
There’s a counter at the front where delicious pastries are lined up waiting to be devoured, all plump and glistening, then tables and booths dotted in between the marble pillars that hold up the high-vaulted ceilings that wouldn’t be out of place in a great cathedral. Simple chandeliers hang low, illuminating the already bright room and bouncing light off the polished parquet flooring.
We take a seat and I order another schntizel with parsley potatoes which is fast becoming an obsession of mine (you can never have too much breadcrumbed food, right??). We hungrily enjoy every bite and all three of us have cleared our plates in no time. We order teas, coffee and dessert. Now it’s time to try a true Viennese delicacy – the Sachertorte.
Another tick off our list of carefully-researched things to try, the Sachertorte is a chocolate cake with apricot jam covered in dark chocolate icing that was invented in Vienna by the Jewish pastry chef Franz Sacher. It soon became popular and is said to have been Freud’s favourite dessert. After much reading we have ascertained the top three places to try the torte includes Café Central, and so I place my order.
Our walking guide from yesterday has handily given us the inside scoop that you must have it with cream or else it is far too dry without. With this in mind, when my giant slab of chocolate cake arrives I tuck in, first without the cream for comparison. Yep. It’s rather dry and I’m a little disappointed with the flavour even once I do add the cream. My bro tells me I’ve got the ratios all wrong and it isn’t until I adjust to 80% cream for 20% cake that I actually enjoy it. With oodles of cream the dry torte is made moist and easily melts in my mouth, which is far more tasty.
Desserts finished, The bro is off to watch the football, so I’m off on my own mini-adventure. It really wouldn’t be any sort of a trip for me without a visit to a cemetery, so I head for the U-Bahn to make my way to Zentralfriedhof, Vienna’s Central Cemetery. It’s the second largest in Europe and one of the largest in the world by the number of those interred – which is over three million.
The underground here is cleaner and quieter than in London and the carriages are even made by Porsche. There’s magazines hanging on little hooks for you to read on your travels and I’m quite comfortable on my little trip to Simmering. Once there, I switch and pick up the street tram to Zentralfriedhof.
I get off the tram about 4.20pm and it’s already dropped a couple of degrees. I’m met by dominating stone monuments looming loftily at either side of the large main gate. I know the cemetery is huge and not wanting to get lost, I stop by the porter but he says I may explore wherever I want, but that they shut at 5pm. This is only 40 minutes and nowhere near enough time to make it across the huge graveyard, so I decide to stay on the main path and work my way towards the cemetery church in the centre, stopping at any of the interesting-looking little avenues and paths that branch off from the main thoroughfare. I set off hoping that this will be enough to stop me losing my way and ending up locked in overnight (not that I’d mind about that part, but it is rather cold).
As I walk I spy gravestones adorned with the Austrian eagle, statues of veiled widows in mourning, saints and cherubs. There are only a few other (living) people about and it’s very peaceful.
Quite accidentally, as I walk I clock a small sign that simply says ‘Musiker’ and so I take a left, whereupon I am met by a cenotaph honouring Mozart and the graves of Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss and more. I’m in esteemed company, and so I take a moment to pay my respects to each composer. People have left flowers, Christmas wreaths and tokens of their devotion and it’s a testament to the enduring legacy of these icons of classical music that people still make the pilgrimage to visit them.
I walk on, passing the Präsidentengruft (Presidential Crypt) where all the post-WWII Austrian presidents are buried, and reach the St Charles Church. It’s beautiful and the sun is beginning to set behind its green-domed roof. I snap a few pictures before looping back and cutting in between the paths to make it back to the entrance just as twilight is descending and closing time rolls round.
I take the tram back to meet the bro and we take U-Bahn to the hotel, change, then take it back to Stephansplatz, the great cathedral a haunting presence, its gothic architecture floodlit against the night sky. We aim for Lugeck a restaurant set in the striking Regensburger Hof building. It’s simple but tasty fare and I enjoy a salad and some German sausages served with sauerkraut before we double back on ourselves past our own hotel to visit Twenty Five Hours Hotel. A trendy and modern hotel we passed this morning on our way to dancing, it has a rooftop bar that is billed as the hippest place to be on a night out in the city.
We take the lift up and walk into a raucous whale of a time. Indeed, it’s the first time I’ve ever seem somewhere in Vienna this busy. The music is blaring, and what must be the entire Viennese population of 18-30s is congregating in and between its many rooms, chatting animatedly and sharing drinks. It’s as packed as any Northern Quarter bar would be on a Saturday night.
We order cocktails and head outside to sip them under the stars. The view up here is gorgeous and offers us a panoramic vista of the city. We see the Rathaus and the cathedral tower all lit up as cars pass by below us.
We call it quits after our drinks, no doubt still suffering from last nights hangovers, and instead frequent to our own Le Bar, which is far more soothing and quiet. We order a nightcap before retiring to bed so that we can get an early start and head out of the city on our final adventure tomorrow.