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Published: January 10th 2010
Vienna's spectacular town hall with it's Christmas market below it.
I was a little annoyed at Davies' insistence on walking to the train station in Bratislava, but went along with it anyway. After we got a little lost, queued for tickets once we got to the train station, missed our train to Vienna as a result and waited another hour for the next train, my annoyance was a little more visible.
Anyway, all's well that ends well and we enjoyed what was a fairly scenic train journey, the first one I have done in Europe since April last year.
And so we arrive in Vienna, one of Europe's most famous cities.
On my big trip in 2007 I had deliberately not come to Austria or Switzerland as I was planning on following England to Euro 2008, which was to be held in those countries. So much for that.
So belatedly, we were here.
From the Südbahnhof, we made our way to the hostel via tram.
Wombats Hostel had sounded pretty cool from the reviews it got, a large hostel but with a friendly and social atmosphere as opposed to all of the other large hostels we had stayed at. The Wombats name is apparently quite famous within hostel circles, and with
Grosse Parterre At Schönbrunn
From behind the Neptune Fountain.
colourful walls and it's own lively bar, it certainly made a good first impression.
Anyway, we had arrived pretty late and daylight was fading fast so we dumped our stuff and took off to see the city centre.
We emerged from Vienna's very efficient U-Bahn system at the Rathaus, perhaps Vienna's most iconic building, if the BBC's coverage of Euro 2008 last year is anything to go by. Walking in via the building's rear, we were suddenly wowed by gothic grandeur and the towering spire as we entered the Rathaus's internal courtyard. Inside the building was a cafe, several cake and sweet stalls and little kitchens set up for kids wanting to have a go baking some Christmas treats. It was all quite cute and family-oriented. We then walked out the front to have a close look at the clock tower and was greeted by a huge Christmas market. Like all traditional European Christmas markets, there were food stalls, sweet stalls and perhaps most importantly, gluhwein stalls
There was a lot of fog around which made taking pictures of the magnificent Rathaus very difficult, much to my annoyance, although in hindsight it provided a gloomy and atmospheric backdrop to
Vienna's landmark church.
the pictures I did take.
Opposite the Rathaus on the other side of the road is the 19th-century Burgtheater. After wondering around the Christmas market we then walked over to the Greek-Revival-style Parlament, before continuing our way around to the Hofburg, the imperial palace of the Habsburgs, Austria's ruling dynasty until the start of World War I. As I started taking pictures of the palace, my camera battery decided to run out, much to my annoyance. It was a rather annoying day overall.
We then walked through Maria-Theresien-Platz where the palatial and architecturally identical Museums of Art History and Natural History face each other, with a statue of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, the only female ruler of the Habsburgs, standing in the middle.
Maria-Theresien-Platz then leads into Museumquartier where several art museums reside.
You can't go to Vienna and not have some cake and coffee at one of the many Viennese cafes, so we did just that, ignoring the fact a mocha latte and a slice of torte probably wasn't going to be good for my annoying cough.
After waking up the three girls in our dorm (who were having a snooze at 6.30pm!) back at the hostel while
The Habsburg's only female ruler.
changing my camera battery, we then made our way to Stephansplatz, where the towering Stephansdom is located.
My expectation of Vienna was that it would have a very imperial feel to it, and my expectations were certainly met as I noted the ostentation of just about every building here. It certainly makes Vienna eminently strollable - not a pretty city, but a grand and impressive one. Sadly, I have seen so much of Europe now that Vienna wasn't wowing me as much I thought it should've. If Vienna had been one of the first cities that I had seen in Europe (or even Bratislava for that matter) then I think I would have been blown away - now unfortunately, I am a lot more numb to what I see.
After passing the Opera House, we found what would have been a very romantic terrace that ran over a canal that lead us through the Stadtpark.
Walking around certainly builds up an appetite and so what else could you possibly eat to fulfill an appetite in Vienna than a wiener schnitzel
. Our hostel-provided guide map led us to "Schnitzelwirt", that has "XXL schnitzels that won't hurt your wallet". Sounds good
Biggest schnitzels I have ever seen.
On arriving a the pub-like Schnitzelwirt, I asked our rather colourful waiter for a table for zwei
. He then grabbed two menus and plonked us down on a table - that already had four people sitting around it.
"Hi........", I said to our new-found dinner companions. This is awkward. Erm....is this normal in Austria?
"It's OK", replied the guy sitting next to me. That kind of made it a little less awkward, but I totally wasn't expecting this...ya know, since this isn't Wagamama. We didn't have too much conversation with our dinner buddies, as they were Italian, but they seemed friendly enough and not concerned at all that we had totally gatecrashed their patch.
Anyway, the guide map wasn't kidding about the XXL schnitzels; what came out was the biggest schnitzel I have ever seen
. Two of them!
I couldn''t afford to not
live up to my reputation, so I was determined to finish them both. Towards the end, I was seriously struggling and the Italian next to me turned around and said "we are your fans!".
This prompted a cheer of encouragement from the whole table. Well I couldn't let my fans down now could I. It
The West Wing
West wing of Schloss Schönbrunn.
took a bit of time, but I got there in the end, prompting a congratulatory cheer from the table. I was stuffed
Needless to say, I wasn't exactly in the mood to go out after that, and neither was Davies so we had an early night. Felt a bit lame though when a young American girl came into our dorm and looked at us saying "errrr...are you guys going to bed already?". The other three girls who were sleeping earlier in our dorm got their own back when they stumbled in at about 2am.
The next day we ventured out to Schloss Schönbrunn, the Habsburgs' summer palace.
Wouldn't you know it, there was a Christmas market right outside it.
Opulence and grandeur is certainly in order here, in similar vein to Versailles. We did the self-guided tour where we learned a little more about how royalty lived back in the day and the story of the beautiful Empress Elisabeth aka "Sisi", the free-spirited wife of Emperor Francis Joseph I and national icon who resented her teenage marriage to the Emperor, and spent most of her life travelling around Europe.
I reckon though, that once you've done one palace tour,
Pavilion-type thingy at the top of the hill behind the Schloss Schönbrunn.
you've done them all, so there wasn't too much that really wowed me, except perhaps the main ballroom/dining hall.
The palace gardens are quite impressive as well. While not quite as immaculate or on the same scale as Versailles, the gardens are a nice stroll and several joggers were taking advantage of the picturesque surrounds. Directly behind the palace is the grosses parterre
, a sculpted garden space that leads towards the Neptune Fountain. You are then able to walk up a hill to the "gloriette" a pavilion of sorts that sits atop the hill and offers great views across the city. Also in the gardens are a zoo and a maze! Much to my annoyance, the maze was closed. Dammit.
After taking some snaps we went back into the city to Karlsplatz, where the baroque Karlskirche (St. Charles's Church) resides. Of course, there was a Christmas market there too - except this one had a petting zoo, pony rides and llamas! We then did another aimless wonder, and we ended up back at the Hofburg where I finally got to take some pictures of it. Davies then decided he wanted a siesta, leaving me to wander the streets and
Rear Of The Hofburg
The rear of the royal palace.
take more photographs.
During my walk I managed to stumble upon the Kaiserappartements (Sisi's city residence annexed to the Hofburg) and yet another
Christmas market (what are with all these bloody Christmas markets in Vienna?!) while trying for ages to find the Holocaust Memorial, a rectangular, box-shaped monument where the outer walls are constructed of concrete books facing open-end out.
On my way back to the hostel, the main drag Graben was packed with Christmas shoppers, and it is on this pedestrian shopping street where the Plague Column commemorating the end of the plague is.
Back at the hostel, we chilled out a bit and got talking to the three girls in our dorm. Steph, Katie and Jo were all from London on a weekend break and were good banter.
While the girls decided to continue chilling out, Davies and I decided to go back to the Rathaus Christmas Market for some food and to get tanked on some gluhwein.
Haha, gluhwein. That stuff seriously messes you up. It's not only mulled wine in there, but brandy, schnapps and all sorts of other straight liquor. You could also get all sorts of fruit thrown in there too, so I
Rathaus Christmas Market
There were Christmas markets EVERYWHERE in Vienna.
had some strawberries chucked into mine. There was even a Red Bull gluhwein, a truly Austrian creation that I just had to try. It was alright too.
Drinking this potent mixture to keep warm, two or three cups later and you are sloshed before you know it! Tends to hit you all at once too.
We decided to get some food from the stalls and for starters, I ordered a langos
, which is basically a salty, deep-fried flatbread. A typical bratwurst was my "main" and you can't leave Vienna without having a delicious apfelstrudel
We were pretty keen to go out and check out the Viennese nightlife but thought it would be a good idea to start at the hostel and maybe get together some randoms for Random Hostel Night Out (TM), of which we have had many good ones. As we rocked up to the hostel bar, which was busy if not pumping, we ran into Steph who invited us to sit with them. The girls just happened to have a pack of cards so we could see what was coming.
Last time we played Circle Of Death (or Ring Of Fire as it is known in Britain) on
Where Sisi lived in Vienna, next to the Hofburg.
our travels was in Oslo
which turned out to be a great night, so we thought yeah, why not - with "international drinking rules" of course. It became apparent from the amounts of beverage we were consuming on top of the gluhwein we had already consumed, that we weren't gonna make it out of the bar that night. Luckily I didn't have to grab any random guy's ass this time, as all the dares fell to Davies who had to do a shot of tequila and chat up a Spanish girl with, "are you Jamaican? Cos Jamaican me crazy!"
Some random English dudes came to our table before the game was up, (one of whom was absolutely battered) and from hazy memory I believe we were talking about relationships and stuff. I think.
Before the bar staff told us to scram, Katie and I indulged in a few games of foosball. Katie isn't German or Italian, so there was no danger of me losing, although she did run me close(r) in the last game.
Although we had failed to test the Viennese nightlife, we were quite thankful our beds were only just upstairs.
We were catching our return flight
Baroque church built in 1737.
to London from Bratislava, so we had to get back there the next day. Rather than take the train though, we thought it might be nice to take a cruise along the Danube.
The boat trip was a complete disappointment. The boat was nice enough, but unfortunately the weather didn't match. For a start the windows on the boat were completely saturated in condensation which made the scenery look like one huge Monet mural passing by. Outside was freezing and windy with the boat travelling at a fair rate of notch, so you didn't really wanna be hanging out there for the views. Not that you really got a nice view anyway since it was foggy, so you couldn't really see much along the banks on the Danube anyway. There were some cute cottages along the way, but probably not worth 30€.
The ride came with a free pass to go up the UFO tower in Bratislava - not that you could see anything up there with the tower completely shrouded in fog.
Well, the idea was nice.
Some final thoughts on Vienna;
It pretty much felt like Germany, but yet it didn't. It was quite strange. The German
Austria's seat of power.
spoken here sounds a little different to the German spoken in Germany. There is more intonation in Austria.
The whole city certainly felt grand, stately and imperial. It felt also like there was a lot of money in the city too, much like Milan. It also felt more like an older person's city, as opposed to cities like say, Berlin or Amsterdam, that have a much more creative, Bohemian vibe. Things seemed a bit more sensible in Vienna.
Overall it wasn't the most interesting, exciting or eventful holiday we have had, but it was fun nonetheless.
So this should take care of my travelling until Christmas - unless a work trip to Geneva goes ahead. I guess you will all find out in my next entry.
Now I usually have to research my farewell phrase, but I already know this one, it's easy;
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