Monday morning we left a rainy Salzburg behind and took a train to Vienna – roughly about a 2 hour 45 minute ride. And what a difference in atmosphere! Salzburg is quiet and clean while Vienna is all hustle and bustle; both unique, both very cool. It’s easy to see why Vienna has been a cultural hub in Europe since the late 19th century. The city itself has been around since 500 BC, settled by the Celts, and then later by the Romans in 15 BC. As with every place we visited, including England, there are remnants of the Roman Empire in original city walls and fortresses.
Vienna (Wien) – boasting awesome capital buildings, palaces, churches, museums, and markets – is beautiful. What I wouldn’t give to have seen it a few centuries ago in the heyday of the Habsburgs; before cars, modern urbanization, and large scale pollution. Still, it is a city worth visiting and spending some time in. And after doing a bit of research on the city now, I wish I could go back again to experience more of the lively place and its culture!
Most fortunately, we truly did leave the rain behind as the weather was sunny and beautiful for our stay here – not unlike San Diego this time of year, actually. Our hostel, the Labyrinth, was alright. Iris did a thing called “couch surfing” here, so it was just the three of us in a four person room. It was about a 15 minute walk from the train station to the hostel, and the location was good.
The set up of the hostel was interesting, and probably why it’s named as such. We received a set of three keys after checking in. Yes, three. Then we had to walk a couple of buildings down the street and use the first key to open a set of large wooden doors. Down a short hallway and up a short set of stairs we put the second key to good use. This was now, in effect, the hostel. Our room was furthest from the door, which was rather nice as noise carried.
There was a small open kitchen in the middle, rooms near ours and off to the right of the kitchen, two bathrooms, and two shower rooms (one for females, one for males of course). The linens and pillow case were the sketchiest part, to me. But no harm done, I just wore socks to bed and dealt with it and altogether our stay was good. We mostly had the room to ourselves, sharing with someone else two of the four nights and only seeing them as we got ready for bed or left in the morning. The best part of this hostel was the computer with internet that was free to use, which came in handy to request a small thing or two for my parents to pack, as well as look up information and how to get to specific sites in the city.
Anyway, after depositing our things in the hostel we met up with Iris outside the Hofburg Palace, which is now a government building. All of us were pretty hungry at the time so we focused on finding a place for a late lunch. After that we just walked around taking pictures, which ended up being a lot of fun as we started to be just a tad bit goofy (big surprise, right?). But that really kind of did the trick to get everyone relaxed from traveling again. That day we strolled by the Hofburg palace, the Rathaus, the parliament building, the opera house, and the Hofburg Theater.
We also made our way to the St. Augustine Church, which we decided we would have to return to during the day to get some better photos. While we had wandered in at dusk and taken a seat in one of the pews for a quick rest and to take it all in, the bells began to ring from outside and echoed around the quiet church. It was a powerful moment in my mind, or at least one that stands out. I’m not an overly religious person, but in that moment I felt compelled to fold my hands and say a prayer. More than anything, really, it was a peaceful moment.
By the time we were looking for a place to eat for dinner, we were near the Staatsoper (State Opera House) and in more of a shopping district, I believe. So we ended up eating at an Italian restaurant again (I know, I know! Save that for Italy). The two pizzas that three of us split were awesome though! One was a four cheese pizza with rocket salad (meaning arugula), and the unanimous favorite (one that had caught each of our eyes on the menu) was a pizza with eggplant, zucchini, roasted peppers, and tomatoes.
For dessert we stopped at a small cafe on the way back where Amanda and I split a delicious chocolate pear strudel, which I think would make a wonderful type of pie. Betsey had the apfelstrudel, which was created in Austria, and Iris had a piece of sachertorte, also a Viennese creation. More on Viennese food to come (where you can expect an explanation of what sachertorte is – other than delicious of course)…
The majority of our second day in Vienna was spent at the enormous, stunning, and yellow(!) Schonbrunn Schloss (Palace). Amanda, Betsey, and I took the “Grand Tour” which included a few more rooms of which the highlight is the “Millions Room”. However, for our few extra euros, the Millions room was under renovation and really, there should be a notice before buying your ticket of such things. Nonetheless, I enjoyed touring the palace again. Readers, I have been lucky enough to have been to Vienna before and remembered coming here and thought the other girls would like to see it, too. The tour comes with free audio guides which was great. We spent the next few hours walking around the grounds, having lunch, and then checking out the world’s oldest zoo which is also within the grounds. Again, more details to come!
Now here’s where things got a little, err, exciting. Or stressful. Dinner that night was certainly an experience. I’ll go into more detail on the next post, though, promise!
Wednesday morning was a leisurely one, thank goodness, and we indulged in some pastries from around the corner for breakfast. I had a mini apricot jam filled doughnut and a prune or plum filled turnover type of pastry. We then made our way to the Albertina, an art museum with an Impressionist exhibit. The museum’s exhibits seemed on the smaller side, yet that only added an intimacy to the museum. The Impressionist floor held many of the lesser famous works of some of the leading figures. I particularly enjoyed the Degas section, with paintings of horses and jockeys as well as the beautiful fluidity of ballerinas which he captures so well. Sketches and paintings these artists did as practice before painting a grander piece were included in some of the rooms, which I found very cool to see. I have always found it extremely neat to see the signatures of the artists on paintings, too, as it somehow makes viewing the art that much more humanized and personal. I was also introduced to the distinct and wonderful work of Signac here, who I would see again in the Musee d’Orsay.
After leaving the museum happily with two postcards and a small sachertorte button (I saw it and it had “Brooke” written all over it – although it actually says Vienna…), we made our way to the famous Naschmarkt where we had lunch. This, too, I had remembered from my previous experience in Vienna. It was, in fact, the first place I had a sachertorte, shared with my mom. More on the market to come as well, in an effort to stop from overloading this post more than it already is. We had lunch at one of the cafe type restaurants here before heading back to the hostel, though picking up a piece of sachertorte on the way, and getting refreshed before heading out to the opera.
In my research on things to do in Vienna, I had found that the Staatsoper offers 3 and 4 Euro standing spots in the theatre. So we all kind of figured, why wouldn’t we go see an opera in one of the world’s music capitals at the Viennese State Opera House for that price? There’s no denying that it was an experience, one I’ll go more into detail on later.
The opera ended around ten, and not having had dinner yet, we stopped at a nearby popular wurst stand. I had a grillwurst with mustard and ketchup, which was perfect after the show. We ended up being persuaded by all the passerby with these huge cones of gelato to get one for ourselves. It was easily distinguishable as the place with the crowds coming from it. It’s a wonder how such a good decision can be so bad. I got myself three scoops, yes three, of gelato in a waffle cone: strawberry, banana, and “cookies”. And before you say anything – because I know you’re about to – it was a good mix! At least, I heartily enjoyed it. All I can say is it’s nice that gelato is a dessert on the lighter end of the spectrum. The older gentlemen serving us even said “ciao bella” to us as we left; we made sure to come back before leaving Vienna!
Now we arrive at Thursday, our last full day in Vienna. Amanda, Betsey, and I took the underground to meet up with Iris at the Freud Museum – which is located in the apartment he lived in. One of Vienna’s nicknames is “the city of dreams” because of Freud and the psychoanalytical theorists that gathered there. The museum was small, yet crammed with books, papers, and photographs. There was some video footage of his family as well, and a small working library dedicated by his daughter, Anna. While I’m not a huge fan of the man himself, it was interesting to see where he lived and held his practice. There’s no denying that he was a hugely influential figure, either. Plus, Amanda and Iris are both psychology majors and I could appreciate their enthusiasm for the place.
Amanda and I then split off to check out the highly rated Kunsthistorisches Museum in the Museum Quater of the city while Iris went to do laundry where she was staying, Betsey going with her. Having read that the Kunsthistorisches was rated #3 on the list of things to see in Vienna on Trip Adviser, it was the one museum I really wanted to check out. I wasn’t even sure what was in it! But I’m glad we made time, and I think Amanda was happy to have seen it, too.
There was an extensive coin cabinet with coins as far back as 300 A.D. or so, and then every specialized Austrian coin, and many others in between. The special exhibit was a Klimt exhibit, who I hadn’t heard of before but he must be pretty big as I would see signs for another Klimt exhibit in Venice. Then there were French, Dutch, Spanish, German, Flemish, and Italian paintings, mostly religious and from the 15th to the 17th centuries. The highlight though, were the collections of Greek, Roman, and Egyptian antiquities. It was awesome! Amanda and I were like gleeful children as we examined the mummies, hieroglyphs, original documents on papyrus, original Greek and Roman painted pottery, statues, and jewelry. I was thoroughly impressed.
Then it was back to the Naschmarkt where the four of us reunited and Iris was able to experience it for the first time. We had a lunch made of sampling various foods from different shops and stands. It was delicious! We also bought some dried fruit and a few nougats for the road before heading back to the hostel to deposit our goods and take a short break. The four of us then strolled down Neubaugasse looking at stores and tourist shops. I picked up a sandwich from a grocery store as well since I’d had mostly unsubstantial and sugary things to eat that day – my body was telling me I needed to get something better to eat for myself before I crashed and who am I to contradict it? We had one last stop to make before turning in for the night, can you guess what that was? Yup, that gelato place! We had to show Iris of course. And while I was hoping to have both sachertorte and apfelstrudel in Vienna, I could still settle for a few scoops of gelato at a great price.
The next morning we would be getting on a train headed for Zurich, Switzerland. I feel a bit bad for the guy who came in that night (and really gave a just-woken-Betsey a lot of confusion and a just-settled-in-bed-and-expecting-me-to-walk-in-instead-Amanda a scare) as we had to be up and out of there fairly early. I know this is a long post, and yet I have many more details to give you about the places we went and the food we ate! But I hope, as always, to have kept you entertained as I took you through our days in Vienna. Just keep an eye out for some more posts to come and enjoy some of the pictures from Vienna below. It is a city I would recommend visiting in a heartbeat! Thanks for reading, cheers! Until then…