Tuesday, August 5, 2014

4 Days in Vienna (Was Too Much)

Overall Impressions: I suppose I should not be surprised that in the place where Mozart and Beethoven composed and where the Habsburgs arranged their empire of marriages and political alliances, opulence and perfectionism were the strongest feelings I got in the city of Vienna. And not in an exciting way. If Prague inspired me artistically, Vienna overwhelmed and deflated me. 

Not to mention people were not particularly friendly – I had been told about the wait staff, but I didn’t really feel the love or connection from any Vienese, besides the hostel staff, honestly – which also put a damper on things.

That being said, where else in the world will you be woken up in your hostel at 5 am to someone singing opera on the street below? (Note: I’m still not saying I appreciate being woken up at 5 am, but in retrospect, she was pretty darn good.) And what other city hosts free nightly screenings of operas and ballets for free at their city hall all summer long?

How long: Jezelle and I took the bus from Prague to Vienna midday on Wednesday and left Sunday afternoon. With three and a half full days, we took our time, but even then (and given the price of potential day-trips to places like Salzburg) we felt that there just was not that much to see in the city.

What I did: Our hostel offered free walking tours of the city, and we started there to acquaint ourselves and learn history. Vienna’s Old Town is easily walkable, and the metro system was extensive and user-friendly to get anywhere in town. The Old Town has many museums, especially within the Habsburgs Palace ranging from art and science displays to royal apartments and the crown jewels dating back from the Holy Roman Empire to more modern times. There are famous opera houses (which were closed for the summer, while musicians and singers traveled or took holidays) and stately buildings everywhere, covered in golden Roman statues. This city also has no lack of green space: huge parks and boulevards are all around Old Town and there are lots of places to just sit and relax, which we found lovely.

Museum after museum surround the palace near Old Town
In the Library of Antique Books
The Nashmarkt was a really good way to pass some time for free (if you’re not buying anything). It’s an open air market full of sweets, spices and cafes, along with a variety of tourist shops selling t-shirts sarcastically bemoaning the fact no one can remember Austria is not in fact Australia. We spent a few hours eating some of the best street food I’ve had in my life (with an awesome plethora of options available) in front of City Hall while a jazz band played.

We paid for entrance to three museums: the Library of Antique Books, which was hosting a very interesting display of WW1 memorabilia and propaganda – particularly interesting because Austria (or the Austria-Hungarian Empire) was where the assassination that began the war took place – the Schönbrunn Summer Palace of the Habsburgs (the grounds of which are free to wander) and the museum holding the Crown Jewels as well as hundreds of Catholic relics, including what is reputed to be a nail from the cross itself. Each was very interesting, and delighted Jezelle and I’s history bones.

Jezelle hula hooping at the Habsburg's Summer Palace

On our third day, we traveled to the outskirts of the city, to Grinzing and Kahlenberg, little outposts in the vineyard-covered hills where we got great views of the city, as well as some hiking. We also paid a visit to Mozart and Beethoven’s grave sites in the huge city cemetery.

Where I stayed: The Wombat Hostels are a pretty well-known brand in Vienna as well as other cities in this part of Europe. We stayed at The Lounge, which was prefect for us – low key and close enough to everything. We stopped by The Base for drinks with some people we met and it was a pumping party scene at the bar there. There is one more Wombat hostel that is the largest and most central. Rooms were clean, bathrooms were ensuite, staff was great, drinks at the bar were cheap, towel was included. I would highly recommend, in any of the cities they are located!

Strudel and Melange
What I ate: Wursts and strudel and coffee, oh my! We stopped in a fancy café in Old Town and had mélange (espresso drink) as well as apple strudel. Vienna invented the fast food restaurant with the wurst stands and you can get a hot dog and a beer on lots of street corners for a reasonable price.

To be fair, Viennese cuisine is more than hot dogs: it is well known to be fantastic and we did find some really interesting options all around us when we were willing to spend a few more Euros. We ate at some delicious restaurants to celebrate our first and last night in the city, before we parted ways, Jezelle heading north and I heading south. Mill Restaurant was delicious and fairly priced, though making a reservation would be important, even on a Wednesday night, we learned. 

Total Costs: Coming from Prague, Vienna felt pretty expensive. You can certainly be cheap about what you eat and drink (stay out of the city center, basically) but even so, the price of hostels and museums was higher than many of the other cities I’ve been traveling in during this trip.  

What I wish I known: I wish I had spent less time in Vienna and more in Prague, honestly. Jezelle and I ended up resting and hanging out in the hostel a lot of Vienna (which we both needed, so it was good) but we both agreed that we loved everything about Prague and felt a little meh about Vienna, even after only being in town for a few hours. Two days would have been enough to see all of our highlights.

Each corner of the city is stately and ornate.

Beautiful park spaces, but not much to dig your soul into.

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