Can't think of a witty title to go with Vienna

Trip Start Apr 04, 2007
Trip End Oct 22, 2007

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Flag of Austria  , Vienna,
Friday, August 3, 2007

After a train trip through the beautiful Austrian countryside, we arrived in Vienna late in the day and checked into our hostel, which turned out to be more like an apartment complete with kitchen. We had lucked out getting any accomodation at all since we hadn't booked until the day before, and Vienna is evidently VERY busy at this time of year, so we were pretty stoked with Happy Hostel (yup, that was really its name). The helpful reception lady gave us a map and some tips about good places to see in the city, so we dropped our bags and headed out.

As a random aside, we had a funny European moment on our way to the apartment part of the hostel. We were walking with the receptionist lady and passed a beautiful cathedral. We asked her what it was, since it didn't appear on the map we had been given, and she very casually said 'Oh, this church is new, only 130 years old, it is not important'. You have to love a country with so much history and culture that a 130 year old cathedral doesn't even rate a mention!

Our hostel was within walking distance of the city centre, and walked down a long street called Mariahilfer Strasse, which is supposed to be famous for shopping. It was packed with people, but we were suprised, and a bit sad, to see that the stores were mostly just the same five or six American chain stores (Foot Locker, Starbucks, H and M, McDonalds, etc) repeated over and over again down the length of the street. We eventually reached the end of the street feeling as though we had been on a treadmill along an American strip mall, and were glad to see the spires and statues of the old town ahead of us. We crossed through the funky Museum Quarter, with students lounging around on oversized outdoor chair things in a huge courtyard, and came out in front of two massive, matching museum buildings in parklike grounds with statues and fountains dotted around everywhere.

We carried on through another park, with a beautiful statue of Mozart, and hit the crowded centre of the old town, lined with beautiful old buildings and bustling with crowds of tourists, backpackers and locals. Apparently there was an international dance festival on at the time, and we crowded around to watch a fantastic breakdance group performing on the street in front of the imposing Stephansdom Cathedral. The roof of the chapel was tiled with coloured tiles arranged into geometric patterns, it was just beautiful.

Unfortunately, the inside of the chapel turned out to be noisy and crowded, and iron gates every few feet prevented you from exploring unless you paid to take a tour. We decided to pass, and headed back to the park we had seen earlier to escape the sun for a while and laze around in the shade beside a little lake.

Eventually, we decided we should get motivated and go and see a museum, so headed back to one of the two huge museums we had passed before. Out of dozens of museums in Vienna, our guidebook had recommended this one, and we weren't disappointed.

The Kunst Historisches Museum, or history museum, was spectacular, housed in an elaborately decorated late 1800s building and featuring huge collections of ancient Greek and Roman art and sculpture, an Egyptian display which included a room full of painted sarcophagi and mummies, and a massive gallery of art works by Ruben, Caravaggio, and Titian, all beautifully lit and displayed with descriptions in English and German. It was one of the best museums we have ever been too, and since it was a Thursday and open late, we wandered the galleries until late in the evening before heading back to our hostel.

Our big disappointment of the day was when we discovered that the opera in Vienna is currently on holiday, and won't be performing again until September. We had hoped to see an opera while we were there, since it's possible to get standing room tickets for less than ten NZ dollars, so we were sad to have missed it, and vowed to come back during opera season.

The next day, we headed out to the Belvedere Museum, home to the Gustav Klimt painting 'The Kiss'. Although that was the star attraction in the gallery, there were lots of other beautiful works in the collection too, and the gallery itself is set in a huge park with sculpted gardens filled with Sphinx statues, so we spent most the morning exploring.

By midafternoon, we were starving, and headed back past the spectacular Karlsplatz Cathedral to the street markets, which reminded us of the Middle East with their crowded lanes and stalls filled with bright foods, spices and souveniers, sellers calling out from both sides to advertise their wares. We got some lunch at the street stalls and headed back to the hostel to spend a thoroughly uninteresting afternoon doing laundry, catching up on emails, and mailing off belated birthday presents to our family in Canada.

Tonight, we took a stroll downtown to take a last look at the lights of Vienna before we head back to the Czech Republic for a few days of relaxing and cheap food. Austria has been amazing, although VERY expensive and crowded after the Czech Republic, and we are definitely planning a return trip in the low season to take in some more of the incredible museums, architecture and hopefully next time, an opera!

All our best from Austria,

Dan and Gabrielle
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