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Footloose in Vienna

Sachertort, Chestnut Blossoms

December 06, 1987|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY | Beyer and Rabey are Los Angeles travel writers .

VIENNA — Nostalgia and hoary traditions have a way of appearing in bits and pieces on the faces and in the hearts of many European capitals, but here they are woven so tightly into the city's fabric that one is hard put to believe the 20th Century has made much of a dent.

Hotels go up, last years's London or Broadway play opens, fashions keep abreast. But the soul and spirit of Vienna still flow from another time, a time of native sons Haydn, Schubert and Mahler, fanciful baroque, fiacres with bowler-hatted drivers, quiet coffeehouses and hordes of Hapsburgs.

Those Hapsburg princesses account for much of the city's beauty and charm. Sent to marry other European royalty, they were always advised to bring home a little something. Which is why Vienna's museums have Breughel and Velasquez collections to overflowing, the Spanish Riding School and other treasures gleaned during six centuries of rule.

The Viennese even have their own German patois, a soft and lilting type of baby talk that they are prone to slip into at times, making them immediately recognizable in Salzburg or Stuttgart.

After two years of living here and three decades of numerous return visits, we see no reason to change our formula for what this town is all about: Sachertort, chestnut blossoms, Grinzinger wine, then blend to the Fledermaus Overture. A very soothing and satisfying potion.

Here to there: Fly Lufthansa or British Airways with one stop, Pan Am with two.

How long/how much? At least three days to absorb some of the instant 18th Century that Vienna has to offer. But let's face it, the dollar's nose dive has made most of Europe more expensive, Vienna no exception.

A few fast facts: Austria's schilling was recently valued at .0857, about 11.6 per dollar. Mid-summers crowded, fall glorious, but Alt Wien really comes alive with music, opera and other cultural events during winter, a glittering time. Excellent trams, buses and metro system, a three-day pass on all for $7.85, fiacre ride for four around the central city for $26.

Getting settled in: Pension Christina (Hafnersteig 7; $72 double B&B) is down by Danube Canal, with a small lobby and breakfast room having Art Deco overtones. Large, pleasant bedrooms, some with views of St. Stephen's Cathedral. The Pertschy family also owns two other pensions (Edelweiss and Pertschy), all fairly central, all good value.

Pension Carina (Alser Strasse 21; $52-$60 double B&B, high season, $48-$52 October through February) is our old friend, Pension Zenz, spruced up recently into a real sparkler of white walls spotted with contemporary art, immaculate rooms, a very cheerful feeling top to bottom. On tram line to center in five minutes, folks here most friendly and helpful.

Hotel Rathauspark (Rathausstrasse 17; $94-$110, low and high season, buffet breakfasts) is an old palace turned into a fine and modern hotel a year ago. Moderate-size rooms with high ceilings, attractive contemporary furnishings, mini-bars, TV, full-length mirrors and down comforters to get lost in. Handsome dining room, small American bar.

Regional food and drink: Vienna is justly noted for its light-as-a-breeze schnitzels, but a tafelspitz of the finest boiled beef with a variety of cold sauces is equally traditional and delicious. Order it only at lunch, never dinner, as it doesn't reheat well. Chicken is also treated with respect here: wienerish backhenderl, fried; brathenderl, roasted; paprikahuhn, in a marvelous creamed paprika sauce.

Vienna's cooks also do wondrous things with old Austro-Hungarian Empire dishes: goulash, piquant stuffed peppers, pork and veal with a tart Gypsy flavor. And the Viennese love for pastries and desserts is legendary, our vote for the best tortes, Sacher or otherwise, being those at Demel's.

Moderate-cost dining: Restaurant Leupold (Schottengasse 7) seems to get all of Vienna under one roof: five stuben and a more formal salon; doctors, students, musicians, business types and few tourists. Menus are classic Viennese, surroundings terribly gemutlich, set meal for less than $5, tafelspitz $13.50.

Hans Stiedl's (Steindlgasse 4, behind St. Stephen's) dates back to 1566, with stained-glass windows, traditional furniture, lots of atmosphere. Light eaters take their beer, wine and snacks in the Goesser Bierklinik up front, others in the cathedral-like room behind. Plan on opening a menu of many city specialties, running from $6.50 to $11 for main courses mit all the fixings.

Stadtbeisl (Naglergasse 21) slips in a little Tirolean atmosphere to go with a solid-Vienna dining card. Up front, beside the beisl, you'll find a charming little room with lace curtains and century-old Biedermeier furniture. Again, pure weinerisch food at prices a notch or two above Stiedl's.

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