A beautiful place to get lost

Getting to Vienna from Munich was expensive (€89!!!). The price was nothing like our trip to Salzburg a couple of days earlier even though the distance was only slightly longer. Natacha explained to me that the only company going to Vienna from Munich was the high end, Inter-city Express (ICE) trains that charge whatever they like. And there were no buses that day!

Nevermind, I took the hit knowing it was the best option for me and arrived in Vienna mid-afternoon. I made my way to the house of Ulrike, a lovely German lady who is either smiling or laughing so much that you wonder how she doesn’t get exhausted with doing so. Although the reviews for her on AirBnB were nothing short of superb, getting there requires me to stay on the tube until the end of the line and then take a tram. A little inconvenience I had to bear for the next few days, but she made me feel so much at home that I didn’t really mind it at all.

The house itself was beautiful… Definitely the nicest house I’ve stayed in so far. She completely decorated the place to reflect her personality, complete with cute n’ quirky possessions all over and vibrant colours of purple, red and green. And it had a piano… In tune!!!

Ulrike gave me a wealth of guides, maps, local suggestions of where to go, etc… One such guide, “The Map for Young Travellers Made By Locals”, became almost my bible while I was there. I asked her for a recommendation for me to get my afternoon coffee fix and she suggested a place “not too far” down the road. I think her and mum would get along just fine because her not too far down the road turned out to be a good 15-20 minute walk. And when I got there, it was not only completely empty but also looked more like an over-priced restaurant than a cafe (I was ignorant at this point to the coffee establishments in Austria). After all that walking, I listened to my instincts, gave it a miss and settled for a bakery that I passed by on the way.

An apple strudel and a coffee later, I passed by the groceries to buy food for breakfast and then went back home to freshen up for a night out with some fellow couchsurfers. We met in a place called Sand in the City, near Karlsplatz, right in the center of town. Now let me say, when I arrived in my tube stop and went up on the street to orientate myself, I was dumbfounded with the architectural magnificence that laid before my eyes. I didn’t know where to look…. Everything was beautiful. It was hard to focus on my destination when my jaw was anchored to the floor.

Nonetheless, I made my way to Sand in the City… And met a three of French men, a polish man and a handful of Austrians. It was the Austrians I was keen on getting to know being that I was in Austria. I conveniently managed to be next to two Austrian girls, one on which was quite petite yet with a BIG personality who also introduced me to a fantastic festival a few days later.

Apologies if words fail me at the moment, but I’m in Santorini powering through 1/2 litre of very good house red wine for 4 euros (you won’t get a decent glass of house red wine for that in London) while a bloke with an acoustic guitar in this wood-fire pizza restaurant goes through the old classics (his guitar playing isn’t bad, although his voice has much to be desired… I feel like grabbing the microphone from him).

So where was I…. Yes, I was in Sand in the City chatting with Lisa. Her and her friends left because it was pretty cold and they weren’t appropriately dressed. I was also freezing as I was the least appropriately dressed in the group (t-shirt and jeans). I had neither anticipated the cold and, even if I did, didn’t have the clothes to deal with it (i was determined to be chasing the sun throughout my whole holiday). After I finished the beer that the friendly Frenchman sitting beside me offered me because he didn’t want to indulge too much in anything unhealthy (he knew a lot more about the nuances of GI content in food than me, which is saying something), I soon left as well.

Walking tour of Austria

Probably the first city in Europe I’ve been to that doesn’t do a free city tour, I decided to create one of my own. I had tried to organise this with an American traveller who was keen on doing a walking tour as well, but he got so tired of waiting that he fled the country. So I took my Vienna guide for young travellers (that’s me) which had a suggested walking route around Ringstraße, my Triposo guide and jumped on the famous Tram #2 to get to the centre.

Before anything, it is worth mentioning that just walking around Ringstraße is a major tourist attraction in itself. Since the 13th century, there were city walls going around the main (first) district of Vienna to protect it from invasions. By the 19th century these walls had more or less been reduced to being purely decorational, so Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria ordered the demolition of the city walls and moats. He then laid out the exact nature of the boulevard, complete with geographical positions and functions of the new buildings. The Ringstraße and the planned buildings were intended to be a showcase for the grandeur and glory of the Hapsburg Empire, and walking through the ring today that sense of grandeur is still prominent!

I get off bang in the centre of Ringstraße, where the Museum of Art History and Museum of Natural History meet. Two beautiful buildings are of identical exteriors (save for the statues that decorate the building) and are separated by a statue of Maria Theresa, the only Hapsburg Empress and the last of the House Of Hapsburg (she was also a big lady who had 16 children as apparently one of the main duties of a woman in her position was to create as many heirs to the throne possible).

From here I go through the MuseumsQuarter, Heldenplatz (Heroes Square, famous for many events including Hitler’s announcement of Austria’s union to Nazi Germany in 1938) and through the Spanish horse riding school at Michaelerplatz (where lie the ruins of Roman region Vindobona, the origin of Vienna). I don’t go into any of them because the prices scare me off and a lot of the information I read about them don’t really sink in either. But the nice thing about the Ringstraße and Vienna in general is that the city is like an open air Museum, just looking at the grandiose building is a captivating sight in itself. At this point I reach a very exclusive street called Graben, filled with shops and restaurants, so I find myself craving a break in the day (you’d swear I just had breakfast).

I down half a chicken mixed with vegetables and I’m ready to carry on. Being close to Stephansplatz, I go up to visit the impressive Gothic Church Stephansdom which reaches up to the sky. In the square where the church stands are dozens of men dressed in traditional clothing selling tickets to Mozart and Hayden concerts. There’s a few going on in various houses and ex-palaces, so I just take the flyers to contemplate on which one I want to go to later.

I realize at this point that I’m only at the “B” location in the map of my walking tour and I’m supposed to work my way up towards “L” so I decide to put my roller skates on. I don’t get very far before passing Central Café, the most famous classical Coffeehouse in Vienna where Sigmund Freud was playing Tarock and Trotzki was playing chess. Inside was the most beautiful and richly decorated cafe I’ve ever visited, complete with all the cakes on display you could want (i stared at them for a good 5 minutes trying to figure out which one I wanted until I realized i was still full from my half chicken).

The coffeehouses in Vienna are extremely laid-back. They always have newspapers lying around in them for you to pick up and read (both in German and English) and the waiters never rush you or make you feel like you need to leave. You could spend hours in a coffee shop after ordering one coffee and nobody would really care. I didn’t spend hours there but I did have a double espresso (I may have sat in the same seat as the father of psychoanalysis did).

Sigh, this day isn’t going anywhere. OK! From Cafe Central, I strolled through Volksgarten to get back into Ringstraße to see the Parliament building, one of the most beautiful parliament building I’ve ever seen, notably thanks to a fountain of the goddess of wisdom Pallas Athena at it’s entrance. From the Parliament, the ring road continues to give way to the Burgtheater (where there was also an open film festival with food booths from every continent in the world), City Hall, the Main University, the neo-Gothic Votivkirche (a church made as a memorial to the assination attempt of Emperor Franz Joseph I). Every building is magnificent, all made with varying architectural styles to keep you constantly fascinated and all done around the same time, 1857.

I get off Ringstraße to walk by the former home and now museum of Sigmund Freud, only to find out when I get there that his famous couch and other stuff he took with him when he moved to London (doh! I must visit that when I get back).

A hop and a skip later, I was walking by the Blue Danube Canal, probably the only place in Vienna where you can find graffiti art. It’s done in a manner that you can actually call art, unlike all the graffiti in Athens that looks like the result of some rebellious teenager. I crossed the bridge to the north of town in the Jewish district where I find my way through the maze of kosher shops to a Neapolitan Pizza restaurant called Pizza Amari, which had claims to be one of the best Neapolitan pizza’s in Vienna (it was pretty decent).

The Best Chocolate Cake in the World

Following the advice of everyone who’s been to Austria and going against my own lack of enthusiasm for palaces, I visit Schönbrunn palace right after breakfast. Schönbrunn palace was the former summer residence of Austria’s Imperial family and arguably one of the most beautiful baroque palaces in Europe. Neither of these however really do it for me, but I’m pleased I do go because I come to appreciate that the palace is a definitely a “must see” when in Austria.

Every single room in the palace is decorated with golden leaves on the wall and furnishings befit for only royalty. But as magnificent as they all were, it was the gardens that I enjoyed the most. I could have easily spent the whole afternoon exploring them all if I was so inclined. Seeing how beautiful the garden was, I grabbed a vegetarian baguette and had lunch in front of a massive fountain of Poseidon standing in triumph amongst sea nymphs and sea horses. That, along with the 32 sculptures of deities and virtues flanking the main garden I was sitting on, really made you feel like the gods were in the garden there with you.

I then walked up to the palace Goriette (a building in a garden elevated with respected to it’s surroundings) which served as both a lookup point and a place where Franz Joseph I had breakfasts and banquets (bit of a trek from the palace for breakfast if you ask me). The gloriette is a beauty in itself resembling a wider version of the Arc de Triomphe but with an eagle soaring above it, claws perched on a globe. And from here you can see all of Austria!

Coming back down I passed through the roman ruins and the obelisk situated in the western part of the garden. It still amazes me how these Greek, Roman and Egyptian monuments can still transmit a sense of grandeur and power today. I didn’t go into the Maze garden and the zoo because they both had an entry fee, but I suppose that’ll be something I can look forward to when I come back. =)

Following my trip to the royal palace, I thought it was only appropriate to have a mid-day royal snack, so I stopped for Socher Torte at the Socher Café!
It helps to improve both sexual and personal life: Kamagra Polo not only viagra sales canada increases the chances of erection-causing ability but also helps to reinstate the lost confidence for making love.Kamagra Polo is one of the best medications for long lasting erections: it enables sturdy erections for up to 4-6 hours. There article is dedicated buy cialis no prescription to all those couples who are in relationship since long time often complains about their sex life. Read the expiry prescription viagra uk date prior using the medication.5. Of course, the results were fairly obvious. cialis consultation is a drug which has an immense effect on preventing and reversing the effect of heart’s chronic hypertension and jamming the consequences of heart’s hormonal stresses.
Having some time to kill before Neustifter Kirtag, an annual Viennese festival that Lisa invited me to, I left the café and walked up Kårtner Straße. The street is Vienna’s version of the Champs Elysées, lined with luxury shops, historical buildings and street cafes. It was there where I walked past a free exhibition of Gustav Klimt, the Austrian symbolist painter who’s primary subject was the female body, and so I popped in. I’ve known his work for a while now, primarily because he was also the favourite painter of Maya Szymschk (a Polish blast from my past). A great exhibition, even more so because it is free, but his style strikes me as the visual representation of Jane Austen smothered in gold (which isn’t really my thing).

The clock strikes festival o’clock so I go to Alser Streße, where Lisa lives as she’s offered me a lift to the “wine festival”. She’s dressed in a dirndl, a traditional Austrian attire based on the Alpine peasants that are worn nowadays only during traditional events like these, and tells me everyone else there will be doing the same. Kewl! I get excited and jump into her smart car and make our way to there.

When we get there I see that it is manic! We battle through crowds of people to find a bar to settle in, and when we do locate one it takes us about 30 minutes to get served our drinks. Lisa was surprised when I ordered a beer instead of a wine, but I explained to her that this wasn’t a wine festival but rather a get-pissed-and-have-fun kind of festival. Almost everyone there were locals, which was great except for the fact that the locals apparently aren’t too keen on speaking English. I found a couple of lary Austrian men who were quite keen to practice their English, but they soon found in their drunken state that this was too much of an effort. To make matters worse, we spent a large portion of the night trying to find her friends amongst a sea of people. Nonetheless, the evening was a fun experience seeing all the locals dressed up in traditional attire in a setting lined with traditional houses!

Grüner Veltner, Welschniesling, Zweifelt, Blaufånkish, Blauer Portugieser

No, I haven’t suddenly learnt German. Those are the 5 biggest grape varieties in Austria, knowledge I armed myself with on my 40 minute train ride from Vienna’s central station to Gumpoldskirchen (whenever I forget the name of this place, I simply think of Rumpelstiltskin). Gumpoldskirchen is a cute little wine producing town that also happened to have a wine festival going on (I suppose it’s just about harvest time) and following the wine festival yesterday that wasn’t, I was even more determined to give Austrian’s wines a proper tasting.

Austria produces mostly white wines and dessert wines, although their production of red wines is fast picking up. I was mostly interested in the Zweigelt because of my taste of it when I was in Munich. A great deal about wine tasting is captured at the time when you are drinking it, and I happen to have written down all my first impressions in my wine induced blog on Berlin.

Somewhere close to 7pm and shortly after a Viennese band whipped out their almost Texan style renditions of ‘Working 9-5’ and ‘Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me’, I jumped on the train back to Vienna to meet up with some couchsurfers for dinner. Some local recommended a deserted restaurant in a deserted area, claiming it was one of his favourite places. I looked at the website of the restaurant prior to going there and I knew it wasn’t going to be anything worth writing about. And since I was correct I won’t write about it!

I met with a British-Indian, a Canadian girl, a German and an Eastern European guy (it was hard work remembering that). All generally nice people, as most couchsurfers are, and the night continues after I lead the charge across the bridge towards a bar serving cheap Austrian beer. Two of the guys saw a foozball table and asked if anyone wanted a quick game, I shrugged and said sure (and left out the fact that for 2 years in Cellectivity we had a foozball table, where many of us – myself included – spent way to much time on when we should have been working). Needless to say, my team won! =)

Sunday, bloody Sunday

The title may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the day was lined with a series of unfortunate events that I thought it somehow appropriate.

The day started of raining.

I’m a Londoner so I’m used to the rain and I think to myself there’s nothing like a little bit of home comforts once in a while. I jump of a train and make my way to Brunnemarkt, the second most popular market in Vienna that is mostly filled with Turkish and Greek stalls. Market’s thrive on Sundays back in London so I expect this to be absolutely buzzing!

It’s closed.

As I stand in the rain thinking ‘Well then, that sucks!’, I also notice as I walk down the street looking for cover in a cafe that everything else is closed too. Lovely. Luckily, a few blocks towards the centre of town I find a little cafe where I perch myself and graze on a salad while the rain transitions itself back to a light drizzle. Not much time has passed at this point and I realise that my free classical concert is almost about to start.

Yes, my free classical concert. After consulting with an Austrian agent at the Youth Tourist Information, he advised me NOT to attend the touristy opera gigs taking place around Austria if I’m short on cash because they are nothing like actually going to the Opera (I was a couple of weeks too early for the season). Instead, he recommended a few low-cost and free classical concerts taking place around Vienna. I obviously pick the free one!

The concert is performed by Bence Csaranko (the presenter and Austrian violinist) and Sugi Shin (a Chinese looking pianist who doesn’t say a word throughout the whole show). They play a selection of Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn pieces, explaining the different styles of each composer in a very entertaining manner yet still delivering a classical masterpiece. Fantastic show, and well worth the money1

Being inspired by all this music and being already in the Museum of Music, I decided to pay the museum a visit while the rain that is picking up again outside passes. Before I do so, I run out in the rain to grab a coffee from Cafe Hawelka, on of the classic coffeehouses that again is such a well decorated and cozy place you could sit in there for hours. I had a double espresso and a very uninspiring apple strudel.

One wet t-shirt later, I arrive back at the Museum of Music charged with caffeine and prepared to take on whatever the museum throws at me. The museum of music was as interactive as it was pegged to be. There was even one section where you could conduct the Vienna Harmonic Orchestra by way motioning a conductors stick that was filled with sensors. All the great composers had a display room for each of them, although I was a bit disappointed that the display rooms where largely showcasing items that used to be in their possession and relaying some facts about their life without really engaging the observers in the actual music and musical style of the composer. Anyway, that’s just me nitpicking.

I make a feeble attempt to see if there are any last minute tickets going for rock bottom prices just to make it a day of pure musical indulgence. There are no ticket touts around nor is the box office open anymore so I suppose I’ll have to wait until next time.

The long goodbye

My bus to Budapest leaves at 3:00pm, so I set out early keen to do a few things I wanted to do before I leave.

First on the list, and this is no surprise (probably the only surprise is that I left it until now), is to see Naschmarkt. Naschmarkt is THE market to visit in Vienna if you are looking for fruit, vegetables, bakery products, fish, meat and restaurants that promise the freshest food in town. Once upon a time it used to be just a market, now it’s more of a hip hotspot with it’s trendy eateries and the market itself thrives more from the tourists than anyone else. Some of the eateries look absolutely delicious and if I hadn’t just had breakfast I would have definitely indulged!

The market happens to be a few minutes walk from the Royal Opera House and even though the season hasn’t started yet, there’s a tour of the Opera House that has raving reviews. A local gave us a 30 minute tour of the different rooms; some decorated with murals painted by Picasso, others with glorious chandeliers hanging from the ceilings and many with statues of the great classical composers. One room was even completely painted with scenes from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which had its premiere at the Opera. Our guide then brought us to the main concert hall where we all sat down and marvelled at the ornate golden decorations that embellished the red velvet seats while she told us of stories of past great performances there by Mozart and Placido Domingo (who apparently got the longest applause ever recorded in history: 30 something minutes). The tour ended with a trip backstage where we saw the multiple stages (if I remember there were three) that rotate during a performance. I left the Opera house promising myself that the next time I return to Vienna I won’t miss a visit to the Opera.

I looked at my watch (I don’t have one) and see that I have a few more minutes to kill before starting my journey to Budapest. So what do I do? Go to a coffeehouse of course. Seems a fitting end to my visit to Vienna following my love for coffee and the country’s love for their coffee. I pick another classic coffeehouse nearby called Museum to try the Kaisershmarn. The Kiaserschmarn, depite it’s roots being related to royalty and it being loved by many locals, is in my opinion very befit to the historical fact that these are the scraps that the King did not want to eat and sent away. It looks like a cat had a disagreement with a pancake and wasn’t afraid to show it, and it’s so heavy that it’s almost a meal of it’s own (and a meal with very little nutritional value at that). I think the King was on to something when he decided to chuck this away. The coffeehouses sure know how to make a glorious ceremony around everything they do though!

After only 6 days in Vienna, it was time to continue my journey south towards Greece. Next stop, Budapest!

Scroll to Top