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Michael’s Travel Diary

Tuesday, 10 Feb 2009

Location: Vienna, Austria

MapSaturday morning Reka and I headed to the train station and jumped on a train to Vienna. Being only an hour away, Bratislava and Vienna represent the two closest capital cities in the world. In the summer, boats make the journey between the two cities up the Danube, and actually go all the way through to Budapest as well. We arrived in Vienna around noon, and already we could tell it was colder. I just presumed that Vienna was colder than Bratislava, and not that the weather had changed whilst we were on the train. I would find out just how much the weather had changed in Bratislava when we arrived back there on the Sunday evening in the middle of an ice and snow storm!

After finding a place to stay for the night, we dropped our bags and headed off to the centre of town to grab some lunch. Again we were looking for local fare, and by shear luck we stumbled across an amazing place just off Stephansplatz. Again my memory is a bit sketchy, but from what I remember, it may have been the oldest restaurant in Vienna? It was down stairs in a bright cellar, but the food was delicious. Again from memory, the names of the people that had eaten there was long and illustrious, but Hitler is the only one that sticks in my mind. We both one of the set menu’s, with local soup starter and Wiener Schnitzel as the main, along with Apfel Strudel for dessert. It was a touch pricey (aimed at tourists no doubt), but given the surrounds, the history of the place and the quality (and size) of the food, it was worth it.

After lunch we headed back into Stephansplatz, the pedestrian square that surrounds Stephansdom (St. Stephan’s Cathedral). The gothic church was built in the 13th century and really does dominate everything in the area, totally filling up the open space in the square. Trying to photograph it proved difficult with the rest of the buildings encroaching so tightly on the square. We headed inside the cathedral and had a look around, although there was a service taking place, so much of the area we didn’t get to see close up. It really was a pretty spectacular building. We exited the cathedral and wandered around to the base of the southern spire, the tallest attached to the building, and climbed the 343 (7x7x7=343, but I have no idea why they chose that) stairs to the top viewing platform. It was a bit of a hike, and unfortunately, there really wasn’t much of a view from the top. A tad disappointing.

From Stephansplatz we started wandering rather aimlessly around the centre of town. It is safe to say that Vienna is a beautiful city. I couldn’t believe just how incredible the buildings are, and the beauty of the fountains and statues around town. We found ourselves in Michaeler platz, a relatively small square that has the wonderful rear facade of the Hofburg (The Imperial Palace). There was a number of spectacular statues on the top of fountains (off for the winter) that were set in little bays on the rear part of the Hofburg walls. A roadway also runs through this part of the Hofburg, the Swiss Courtyard. In that courtyard are the Burgkapelle, home to the Vienna Boys’ Choir and the Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury). Walking along this roadway through the courtyard, we found ourselves in Heldenplatz, the wide open square in front of the Hofburg.

Leading away from the front of the Hofburg is the Volksgarten, a wide open park, surrounded by more incredible looking old buildings. As the sun started setting, the sky changed to an incredible pink/purple color. We wandered through the park, heading in the general direction of the Rathuas (Town Hall) as the spire peering over the leafless trees was the most dominating image in the area. We wandered past the Volksoper (People’s Opera) and then made our way to the square in front of the Rathaus. By the time we arrived, the sun had truly set, and the Rathaus was lit up in a dazzling array of bright colored lights. The square in front of the Town Hall was set up with a massive ice skating trail – not just a rink. There were windy paths that people were skating along, some controlled and others not so. We wandered around the outside of the ice track and sat down and enjoyed some gluhwine which I really needed at the time. It was quickly getting cold and I wasn’t wearing warm enough clothes. Across the Rathausplatz, facing the town hall, was the Burgtheater (National Theatre).

After leaving the Rathaus, we wandered through more of the streets of the centre of town. Eventually we found ourselves back at Stephansdom, and after stopping in a lush looking cafe/restaurant for a hot chocolate we jumped back on the metro to head back to the side of town where we were staying. We wandered up the main street of the area we were staying which was a shopping district that just as easily could have been Oxford Street in London, were it not for the occasional Deutsch shop names. We were desperately looking for a place to get cake and finally found somewhere to get some. A beer and slice of cake kept me happy for the night!

The Sunday morning we headed out to Schloss Schonbrunn, The Habsburgs’ Summer Palace. It is a massive 1440 room palace, with a huge rear garden that even has its own zoo. Unfortunately, it was a little hard to fully appreciate the surrounding gardens and zoo, given the temperature had dropped further and the rain had properly set in, along with a bracing cold wind. We took a tour of the sumptuous palace, and I found myself thinking back to wandering through The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. The more I thought of it, the more I realised that both the Tzar’s and Habsburg’s had in common in some way.

It was interesting hearing the story of the Habsburg’s and how they lived the life in the palace. The rooms were incredible, especially the Mirror Room, which was a massive banquet hall, and was the room in which Mozart played his first ever royal concert at the age of 6. After the tour we did venture outside for a while and again I couldn’t help but be reminded of another palace in St. Petersburg, the Peterhoff Summer Palace. Alas, there wasn’t as many fountains there, and those fountains that were there had frozen over! It was a beautiful large open garden though. Not able to brave the cold and rain for long, we headed into the cafe and warmed up with some delicious Apfel Strudel before catching the train back into the centre of town.

We decided to head to the Albertina, a rather modern looking art gallery that was completely renovated and re-opened in 2003, and is set amongst much older looking buildings. Included in the Albertina collection are a number of Picaso’s, as well as a number of Monet’s, including one of his Water Lilly pieces. Perhaps the most famous piece, though one that I am not terribly familiar with, was Albrecht Durer’s, Hare. We wandered around there for a while before making the decision to grab our stuff and make a move back to Bratislava. It was getting later in the afternoon, and we had no idea when the train was running back to Bratislava, and I had a flight out of there at 10, and Reka was booked on the 8 pm train to Budapest.

Not long after we jumped on the train and pulled out from Vienna, the snow started falling, and then falling heavier. By the time we’d travelled the hour to Bratislava, the snow was dumping down, and by the looks of the area around the train station, it had been doing so for a while. It was incredibly slippery outside, and the snow/ice was falling side ways. We had about an hour to kill before Reka’s train left, and I needed to grab a bus to the airport – if it was even open. I asked at the train station ticket office if they knew and I essentially received nothing but blank stares.

We headed into a diner across from the train station and grabbed some dinner there before we headed back into the train station. I had planned to see Reka off, but it appeared that the snow had delayed here train and I had to jump on the bus to the airport. We said our goodbyes and I headed to the airport, expecting to be told that the airport was shut. But, not being British, the Slovakian’s dealt with the snow and everything was running to schedule. The same couldn’t be said for Reka’s train, arriving almost 2 hours late, and then breaking down not far out of town. In the end, Reka arrived back in Budapest at 230 am, when she was due in at 1030 pm.

Whilst my flight should have fared better, it didn’t really. Due to take off at 10 pm local time, it sat on the tarmac for an extra hour being de-iced. First time I had been through a de-icing procedure and it was interesting to watch the crane spraying down the plane. And I also managed to get in the over-wing exit row which offered some very nice extra leg room – a much have on a Ryan Air flight. We landed in Bristol just before midnight England time (1 am Slovakian time), the last flight to land before they shut the airport due to snow! I waited for the bus into town, and then taxi’d home, getting in around 130 am. What a mission. And what a shabby way to prepare for a week of work.

But it was an awesome weekend. I had a brilliant time, and genuinely intend to get back to Vienna again some time. The city was beautiful, and much bigger than I had imagined. The story of the Habsburg’s and the Austrian-Hungarian empire is amazing, and Vienna as the back drop for discovering that story is perfect.

But as much as I enjoyed the trip, this traveller is deciding to slow down for a bit, and start saving up a few more pennies. That is not to say that I don’t intend to travel, but at this point, I don’t have any outside of the UK trips booked, and the next one that I have planned is to head with Richie to Ibiza when he heads over to the UK from Oz in September. That is a long time between drinks (or trips), but I think fro now I will save my money to make the most of it when summer comes around. It’s been too long since I’ve seen Europe in the summer months.

Take care all, and I hope everyone is doing well.