Vienna is one of my favourite cities in the world, a place I’ve visited many times since my first encounter at age 21 in 1991. It had been spoken of lovingly as I grew up by my aunt Gabrielle, who was an opera singer, and for whom the city held much affection. Sadly Gabrielle(‘Auntie Gai’) passed away that year while I was living abroad, and as a small homage I visited the Austrian capital, with an idea to tracking down a building in the background of one of my favourite photos of her from the mid-70’s. Of course, it turned out to be the Wiener Staatsoper – the Vienna State Opera House.

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Auntie Gai, Vienna State Opera, c.1977

My most recent visit was last June, a glorious summer stay, with my focus being the legendary Spanish Riding School. Under the ornate baroque roof of the school’s arena I watched a stunning array of the beautiful Lipizzaner horses – mares and foals, and young, un-trained stallions(the extravagant classical performances are held here only in winter), and I also traveled out to the summer stables of the school on the city’s outskirts for some sketching; I was met with some bemusement by the locals…

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Sketching at the Heldenberg Lipizzaner stables

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Lipizzaner stallion, Heldenberg.
watercolour

My hotel was very close to The Belvedere Palace, home to many gorgeous Klimt and Sciele paintings, but my attention was particularly drawn this visit to a group of 18th century bronzes by Frans Messerschmidt, and I filled a few pages with his amazingly contorted head studies.

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Head studies, F. Messerschmidt
pencil

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Belvedere Palace
watercolour

Finally, as someone whose only breaks from the studio most days are cafes, I consider myself something of a cafe -‘connoisseur’ is too urbane – I’m a cafe ‘junkie’…and one of the great pleasures of Vienna are her ‘palaces’ to coffee. I indulged hours at a time across the city, writing, sketching and reading morning after morning(thank you to the developers of The Age app), shifting from the bohemian charm of Café Hawelka one day, to the colonnaded excess of Café Centrale.

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A Summer Coffee, Café Hawelka
watercolour

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Café Centrale
watercolour

I’m planning on my next visit to approach the Spanish Riding School about a residency of some sort – an unabashed attempt to stay for more than just a few days at a time in glorious Vienna.