16 – 19/09/2016
It took approximately two hours to fly to Vienna from Paris. I had completely forgotten that I still had the butter knife we’d bought back in Versailles in my backpack. Security at CDG took it off me, and they were not impressed. “This is forbidden”, she said with a stern look.
Vienna felt like such a grand city. Walking around, I often felt dwarfed by the buildings, which were diverse in their architectural styles. After wandering round the city centre for a few hours, I already noted a few things that were a nice change from Paris. One: There are several parks throughout the city where you can actually lie and picnic on the grass. Two: While I still kept an eye out, I didn’t feel the need to guard my bag as vigilantly as I did in Paris. Three: Drivers actually gave way to pedestrians!
Mozart Statue, Burggarten.
I stayed at Hostel Ruthensteiner, which was a 30 – 40 minute walk, or 5 – 10 minute train or tram ride, from the city centre. I mostly walked to get around. It felt like everything (the hostel, the city centre, the sights, etc.) were all within a 30-minute walk of one another. I liked Ruthensteiner. It was a good mix of party and chill. The hostel had a cool beer garden and ran happy hour every day, which made it easy to mingle and meet new people. 7 – 8PM was cheap beers, and then 8 – 9PM was cheap cocktails and mixed drinks. My first night was supposed to be a quiet and early one. But I thought I’d go downstairs for one quick drink, before showering and then bed. I should know by now that there’s no such thing as one quick drink. One quick drink turned into several beers and hours of games and fat chats with the other hostellers. I met people from Germany, France, England, Israel, Brazil, America, and of course, Australia. When I told people I was from Australia, the general response was, “Another Australian!” Yep, we really are everywhere.
I kicked off my first full day in Vienna with a late breakfast at Frauenhuber Café, the oldest café in Vienna. I had the zwetschkenstudel (plum studel) and a melange, which is supposed to be similar to an Italian cappuccino. Fun fact (which is open for debate): The tour guide on the free walking tour claimed that the concept of the cappuccino actually originated in Austria, not Italy. It wasn’t a bad breakfast. But it definitely wasn’t cheap. It cost just over 8€!
Before the walking tour, I spent several hours at the Leopold Museum and the National Bibliothek. The Leopold Museum is located in Museum Quartiers and showcases artworks by Klimt, Moser and Shiele. I really liked Shiele’s pieces. It’s not a big museum. You could easily do it in 30 minutes. I think I ended up spending just over an hour there. There’s something relaxing about being in a museum.
The National Bibliothek was a pretty spectacular sight. It’s located in the Hofburg Palace and was previously the private library of the Imperial Family. The first thought that came to mind when I walked in was the scene in Beauty & the Beast when the Beast shows Belle the library in his castle. Large windows, books stacked high, stunning ceilings.
The walking tour went for just over three hours and took us round Old Vienna, the First District. Our guide (Julija) pointed out and discussed a number of places of interest – places with imperial history, musical places (Vienna is, after all, also known as the City of Music), good food places, Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral), the Jewish and Greek quarters, museums, etc. She also kindly incorporated a toilet and free WiFi stop.
Vienna State Opera.
After the tour, I went to Stephansdom. It didn’t look like I’d have much of a chance getting inside because there was a wedding on. So instead, I took the 340-something steps up to the South Tower. I got slightly dizzy and puffed going up the winding staircase, but I was soon rewarded with a good view of the city. After three hours of walking and climbing up all those steps, I had definitely worked up an appetite. I went to Reinthaler, which was recommended by Julija, for dinner. It was getting cooler and windier, but a main serving of goulash and a beer filled and warmed me right up.
Day two was a big day of walking. I did over 42,000 steps. I spent the morning walking round the gardens at Schönbrunn Palace. It’s a simple palace with a simple garden. Then again, the last palace and gardens I wandered through was Versailles. So anything would seem simple in comparison. I also walked up to the Gloriette behind the palace to get a view of the palace and surrounding city. I probably didn’t need to pay 4€ to climb up the Gloriette. The view wasn’t much better than that from the base.
View from the Gloriette.
The afternoon was spent at the psychedelic-looking Hundertwasserhaus, and strolling through Old Vienna.
One of the beautiful things about travelling, especially solo travel, is making new friends. But travelling can also remind you how small the world actually is. I couldn’t believe who I spotted in Stephanplatz (the centre square in Vienna). Old family friends from back in the day, Ligaya and Saul. They were my older brother’s best friend’s parents, and they used to live up the road from us. They didn’t recognise me at first, because the last time they’d seen me I was six or seven. But they hadn’t changed at all. Bumping into them perfectly rounded off what was a great day.
My third and last day was super easy and chilled. After a nice sleep in, I went to the Naschmarkt. There were your usual stalls and a variety of food spots. It wasn’t as big as I was expecting, but at least you’re guaranteed some tastings. Vendors will call out to you to sample their goods.
I went to Figlmüller for lunch that day and had their famous pork schnitzel, which is renowned for being the best schnitzel in Vienna. The schnitzel was huge. I could barely see the plate. Size aside though, I couldn’t really taste much of a difference with the pork schnitzel I had the previous day at Amerling Beisl. That was such a pretty lunch spot. There were vines trailing up and along the walls, across the courtyard, and hanging down over tables. Considering taste, atmosphere and value for money, I think Amerling Beisl wins. The schnitzel alone at Figlmüller cost 15€, with a side salad costing an additional 5€. Whereas a decent-sized schnitzel and salad at Amerling Beisl cost under 10€. After the big schnitzel at Figlmüller, I still wasn’t hating myself. So I stopped in at Café Hawelka for a melange and sachertorte. I have to say, I’m a bit ‘meh’ when it comes to the sachertorte. Give me a dense, rich chocolate mud cake any day.
On my last night, a bunch of us from the hostel decided to go to the opera. We had to line up at the side entrance just over an hour before it started to get cheap standing tickets. It was the fanciest thing I think I’ve ever done, and it only cost me 4€! The opera was called La Fille du Régiment. The two-act opera was basically about a girl found and raised by a French regiment, who ends up meeting her aristocratic family. It was a simple and predictable story, with some good old fashioned slapstick humour. There were screens attached to the standing rails, which had subtitles. But the storyline was easy enough to follow without relying heavily on the subtitles. I enjoyed it. The music was awesome, and the lead was amazing. The cast milked it at the end though. They came out at least ten times to bow.
I really enjoyed my time in Vienna. Despite the wide-ranging architecture and the manicured parks, I wouldn’t consider Vienna to be a particularly pretty or charming city. But what I liked about it was that there was so much to do. I was initially a bit worried about whether I’d see and do enough in my three days. I had contemplated getting a city card, like we did in Lyon. But a three-day city card and travel card cost over 90€. I also thought that if I got it then I’d feel even more pressured to squeeze in as much as I could and be run off my feet. I’m glad I decided against it. I think I explored the cultural mecca that is Vienna pretty well. As the famous Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, I’ll be back.