On my third visit to Vienna, I'm still surprised by how grand it is, how neat, and how compact - everything I wanted was just around the corner, or next door. It wasn't actually raining, either, which helped, though the cobbles were still wet. That meant that the guard of honour we came across for some Japanese dignitary made a somewhat creepily evocative sound as their boots slapped down in unison as they marched away. Much nicer was the clatter of hooves, from the carriage horses all over the place and also some of the Spanish Riding School horses being taken across the road to their stables.
I wasn't able to go to their morning training session but the next best thing was to do a stable tour. It started off in that magnificent arena where the wood shavings had been neatly raked and the roof was an architectural marvel of its time. We heard all about the horses and their riders before going over to the stable yard complete with barrows of hay, a Christmas tree and a very friendly cat, where a few of the horses were looking out at us. Inside, the loose boxes were all deep golden straw, iron bars and wooden partitions, with ornamental horses' heads on the wall and each horse labelled with its lineage and name. They're stallions, of course, but are called by their dam's name, which seems a bit emasculating. Their feed schedules were written up, too: I liked that their grain mix is called muesli.
We weren't allowed to take photos in there, or to touch the horses, sadly, but I did shoot this one sneakily from the hip, which is why it's crooked. The horses were surprisingly regular-looking, only just over 15 hands, very round, with drooping Hapsburg lower lips, and not all of them were grey (white). Which is not to say that they weren't also beautiful creatures. And then there was the obligatory visit to Cafe Hawelka, all dim and old and cosy.
The day also included a visit to the Jewish museum behind the stark memorial to the 65,000 Viennese Holocaust victims, a sobering counterbalance to the frivolity of the many Christmas markets scented with cinnamon and ginger, and sparklingly pretty.
We finished with a classical concert for us alone, in a beautiful private music salon with a high, ornately carved wooden ceiling and perfect acoustics. The small orchestra of ten made a glorious sound, and almost as enjoyable as the Strauss and Mozart pops was the evident pleasure of the musicians at being able to play in such a perfect place. It was a brilliant way to end the day.