We’d driven until late last night to make it to Vienna. We were back in Austria, which was the third time for this trip. We’d found a free park on the outskirts of town, near some horse stables. It was a Sunday, but it was blissfully quiet, other than the occasional sound of hooves on the pavement.
As it was a Sunday, it was possible to park in the centre of town. And, when I say centre of town, it was in the courtyard of the Hofburg Palace. In theory, we probably could have spent the night here, too, but it wasn’t far to drive to the nice quiet/dark campsite.
The first thing that struck me about Vienna was the scale of the buildings. It was like they were built for giants. The doorways, the windows, the arches, the steps, the statues – they all looked bigger than life. It wasn’t the prettiest weather, with thick foggy skies, but at least it wasn’t forecast to rain.
We had a quick wander around the Hofburg Palace, trying to get in to some of the more interesting parts of the building – though being rejected at the ticket checks. Risa managed to sneak a peak inside the library, snapping a few cheeky photos in the process – but I wasn’t that game.
Also, as it was a Sunday, all of the shops were shut. We were a little surprised to see large chains, like H&M being closed on a Sunday. The shopping streets in the centre of town were busy, though not with shoppers.
We ended up at the unavoidable St. Stephen’s Cathedral, with the beautiful coloured tile roof, and amazing gothic details. It was exceptional, and the beauty was only matched by its loftiness and grace.
Again, being a Sunday morning, the weekend service was underway. It was possible to enter the rear of the cathedral while the service was underway. The interior was enchanting. It may have been bare stone, but that didn’t mean it was bare. The amount of carving on the enormous supporting gothic-styled columns, and the lattice that ribbed across the ceiling was beautiful, as were the stained glass windows. I walked out of the cathedral with a stiff neck from craning to see the full space above me better.
It wasn’t yet lunch time, but that’s never stopped us from eating. We visited one of the many famous cafes in town, and snacked on cake and coffee. The cakes were pretty good, and a reasonable price. The Austrian cappuccino though, was not worth €6! It did feel like a little slice of luxury, sitting in these exquisite rooms, enjoying these (gastronomically and aesthetically) beautiful cakes. For a few moments, I didn’t feel like a budget traveller.
After our small moment of indulgence was over, we joined a free walking tour. It was another enormous group, but thankfully our guide was loud and clear. We started with some history of the city, and the royal families that have resided here, shaping the buildings and landscape. The wealth was incredible, which was no surprise after seeing the buildings built for giants. The weather was even improving, with the clouds breaking up into glorious sunshine.
We spent a little time talking about Mozart, who might have come from Salzburg, but lived and worked here for a significant period of his life. It was incredible to hear of the lavish lifestyle that he had, truly like a modern rock star.
The walking tour was, obviously, later in the afternoon. We’d already walked quite a large amount of the city this morning by the time we’d joined, so the sights weren’t so fresh or exciting. Still, it was nice to get a little history and context to what are otherwise very static structures.
Now that we’ve travelled further west, the day didn’t end quite as early as it had in Budapest, however, it still felt like a premature sun set. We saw a few more new sights, including a beautiful room that was (and still is) used for classical performances near Mozart’s former apartments.
We walked past Schnitzel Figlmuller while on the tour, with our tour guide recommending this if we wanted to try this famous Viennese dish. As soon as the tour ended, we rushed back here. It turned out to be the right decision, because several other members of the tour did the same – and they had to wait outside in the cold for a table!
I wasn’t that excited about a schnitzel, but it was highly recommended, so thought it best not to miss. The first thing we noticed was just how enormous this was. It was a like a pizza, filling an entire plate! It was super crispy, yet not too oily. The potato salad was almost soupy, but the sour vinegar bite helped cut through the rich fried meat. The food was worth trying, even if the service was a bit gruff.
To really make the most of our time in Vienna, Risa had booked tickets to see a classical performance in the Vienna Musikverein. I foolishly forgot to keep a note of the composer, and it’s not listed on the tickets, so I can’t for the life of me remember what we saw performed. After the schnitzel, we retuned to Gunter and got changed into something a little more appropriate. This was the right choice, and even though I was wearing some of the nicest clothes I had with me, I was still quite under-dressed. But, what I didn’t realise that the Vienna Musikverein is actually quite a large venue, with multiple music halls – and we were in a smaller, less expensive and posh, Brahms-Saal. Photography was forbidden, so my camera had to remain in the cloakroom with the grumpy staff and I had to make do with a cheeky photo from my phone before the performance began.
We made our way inside just before they closed the doors, and were a little confused to find that our seats were actually above the performers. If we slid to the front of our seats, and peered over the balcony, we could see the backs of them down below. It seemed like a really odd place to be seated, but I guess that’s the downside of our ‘budget’ €20 tickets.
The music started. I closed my eyes, and just took it in. The musicians were exceptional. It was a small ensemble, with cellos, violins and occasionally a clarinet – which I’m no fan of. After two hours alternating from sitting on the back of the chair with my eyes shut, to being slung over the edge of the balcony, resting on the very edge of our seats to watch the performance, my back was in agony and I was ready for the music to end. The applause continued for what felt like decades, however, it was deserved.
We took Gunter back to the quiet parking area on the outskirts of town, rather than spending the night parked next to the palace.
The weather was miserable again. It was cold, grey, and there was a steady light drizzle falling. This didn’t help our tired bodies get out of bed.
Fortunately there was a bus that went right into town from next to where we’d camped. It wasn’t cheap, but was easier than attempting to drive and pay for parking. We took it as far as the Belvedere Palace. It might not have been the ideal time of year to see a palace and its beautiful gardens, but it was now or never. It was as grand and beautiful as you could expect, and hard to believe that it could exist so close to a major metropolitan city like Vienna. The gardens, however, were grey and lifeless. The outlines still existed, but the vibrancy that would have made it exceptional was hibernating.
We skipped the museums and art galleries in town, but decided to walk around the Museums Quartier. It was a pleasant walk through some new streets of town, with yet more monumental buildings throughout.
Risa really wanted to try the famous sacher cake from the equally famous Café Sacher Wien. We’d walked past yesterday, amazed at the queues to try this cake. There were even small shops set up outside selling the cake as take-away souvenirs. Fortunately we didn’t have to wait long to be seated. I’d had a small piece of sacher cake yesterday, and wasn’t that excited about it, so I stuck to a coffee. The sacher here was better, though still quite dry and uninspiring. Hard to believe that this recipe provided the chef with enough wealth to build an entire hotel – and a hotel dedicated to this cake.
Skipping cake gave me a chance to get the famous wiener that I’d wanted to try. One of the most famous places to buy a hot dog was from the small canteen, Bitzinger, near Albertina. It wasn’t a very visually appealing meal, but the cheese filled sausage, with the rich tomato sauce and mustard was quite literally bursting with flavour, and just what I’d wanted.
The actual Museums Quartier wasn’t quite what I was expecting, and there was little to be enjoyed from outside – yet we still didn’t get an urge to buy entrance tickets. Some of the buildings outside were enormous, and again, the sense of insignificance from standing outside, craning our necks to see the tops was humbling.
Instead, we continued walking around town, passing by the amazing Parliament buildings, and eventually on to the equally incredible gothic Town Hall. There was so much to see, and it felt like all directions there was something beautiful in sight.
The gardens around the town hall were closed as they prepared for the upcoming Christmas Markets, so it was a little hard to see the town hall in its entirety. We did our best, and walked around the perimeter, enjoying the epic walkway lined with dozens of stunning columns.
Somehow we managed to find a way inside. It felt a little like we were in the wrong place, as it was empty. But, for now, we were going to make the most of it and see as much as we could see until we were caught and asked to leave – which we never were. The red carpet that flowed down the maze of stairs, with the beautiful vaulted ceilings and amazing stained glass windows made this a building we’d never forget. It seemed like something I’d expect from a movie like Harry Potter, though no wizards (or children) walked through the halls. We had it to ourselves, and it was magical.
The last place on our list of things to see in Vienna was a little outside of the centre – though fortunately in the general direction of where we’d parked. I wasn’t familiar with the work of this Austrian artist, though I’d read amazing things about his gallery/museum here – it was actually the only museum that I’d saved with the possibility of visiting should time/opportunity present itself.
Due to my limited knowledge of art and architecture, I could only really describe him as an Austrian Gaudi – though, I’m sure it’s not a very accurate description. The exterior of his buildings were beautiful organic shapes, decorated with multi-coloured and highly contrasting tiles. The building was broken up with fluid shapes, and beautifully decorated columns. It was a shame that we were here so late in the day and that the sun had mostly faded.
There wasn’t much time left to enjoy the museum/gallery, but we did take a few moments to wander around the gift shop. The interior continued the fluid organic theme, which made walking around the non-level floors quite disorientating.
There were a few more of his buildings in this area, with similar colourful patterns, and bold ceramic columns. I could imagine that in some sunshine it would look far more impressive, as the colours now looked quite dark, worn and colourless.
It had been a busy two days, and we’d certainly missed many of the usual sights that tourists come to see. However, I was really impressed with how beautiful this city was. I’d never really considered visiting, as I thought it was just another West-European capital city. It’s really much, much more. It’s a city full of class, glamour and luxury.
We started on the drive towards Germany, slightly reducing the effort to get to Munich tomorrow.