Overheard recently from a tourist in one of Vienna’s grand cafes: “Waiter, I’ll try a slice of your soccer tort.”
OK, so it’s actually Sacher (SAH’kerr) Torte, the famed Viennese chocolate cake filled with apricot jam. But no one’s going to quarrel with a slight mispronunciation — not with the European Championships in soccer about to unfold in Austria and Switzerland. The event is second only to soccer’s World Cup. If you’re thinking of combining sports and sightseeing with a trip here, you’d best move quicker than Ronaldinho. Hotel rooms in the eight venue cities are being snapped up fast.
The Euro 2008 tournament opens in Basel and Geneva June 7 and wraps up with the final on June 29 in Vienna. But there’s plenty to do, see and taste in between matches. Here are some leading attractions:
Vienna: With Vienna’s lavish architecture and elegant tree-lined boulevards, sometimes it seems like the Austro-Hungarian Empire never ended.
Cruise the Danube on a tour boat, or trot around the city in a horse-drawn carriage. Boutiques abound. Get a culture “fix” at the MuseumsQuartier, where the world-renowned Leopold Museum, Kunsthalle Wien and MUMOK Museum of Modern Art all beckon from beneath one roof.
A five-minute stroll gets you to the stately Vienna State Opera, which will be staging works by Verdi, Wagner and Strauss, or to the Museum for Ethnology, where Egyptian treasures are on display.
Geneva: One way to enjoy the city is to view it from a paddlewheel steamer on Lake Geneva. Day passes for Swiss trains are accepted on the boats, which can be ridden to ports on both the French and Swiss sides of the lake.
The dramatic Jet d’Eau is one of the world’s largest fountains, with the stream of water towering 152 metres above the lake at the Geneva end and visible for many kilometres. In honour of Euro 2008, the city has tethered a giant balloon in the form of a soccer ball.
Salzberg: No visit to Austria is complete without a stop in the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Sample a Mozart dinner concert in the cellar of St. Peter’s Church, where opera singers in period costume perform his works.
Search for hidden treasures at the Arkadenmarkt, a flea market held every Saturday on the Hof des Buergerspitals square.
Or board a bus for one of several Sound Of Music tours that bring you to the places where the classic 1965 Julie Andrews movie was made. Take a hike — or the funicular train — to the top of the Hohensalzburg Fortress, built in 1077 and remarkably well-preserved. The view is breathtaking: On a clear day, you’ll swear you can see Switzerland. (You can’t.)