A brief visit to Vienna

Trip Start Dec 04, 2006
Trip End Aug 05, 2007

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Tara here. After a short and fairly easy train ride we arrived in Vienna in time to get out and explore the town at night. Vienna is famous for many things, one of them being stunning architecture. And as luck would have it, they actually light up most of the sights at night - making them look even more stunning. We started, as the guide books suggested, by trying to find Stephansplatz square - where the famous St. Stephen's Cathedral is located. Well, we got distracted on the way and before we knew it we had completely missed the square. Fortunately, the downtown of Vienna is not very big and we were able to double back without too much trouble, but this was just the start of our navigating difficulties in this city. We did, however, spend the rest of the night wandering around the romantic looking buildings and admiring the architecture that make up Vienna's main city centre.

On day two we decided to visit one of Vienna's main tourist attraction: Schonbrunn Palace. Inhabited by the Austrian royalty until 1918, when the King abdicated (not by his own choice) and then fled in exile, the palace today stands as a beautiful tribute to Austrian royalty of the past. Lavish does not begin to describe the few rooms we viewed at the palace. In addition to the palace itself we visited the extensive gardens, hedge maze and elaborate green house. Well worth the trip as the place is filled with history.

Seeing as we only had a short amount of time in Vienna (2 days), we decided that rather than try to visit everything we would just sample a little bit of what Vienna has to offer. Having checked off - albeit superficially - the history and architecture boxes, we decided culture should be our next goal. Now some of you might know that some of the best-known composers of all time come from Austria. Mozart, Schubert, Strauss and Haydn - just to name a few. Never mind that the city is home to Vienna Boys Choir. Now there were no concerts of particular interest to us on during the time we were there, and unfortunately you can only hear the Vienna Boys Choir on Sundays, so we decided that to fulfill our culture criteria we would go and see the Lipizzaner horses.

Nathan here: The Spanish Riding School of Vienna is the oldest surviving institution of its kind in the world. Its purpose, which has remained the same through its history, is to perpetuate the art of classical horsemanship. To this end, the School has used the Lipizzan or Lipizzaner exclusively. This breed of horse, the oldest cultured breed in Europe, is ideally suited to performing all the steps of "classical dressage" (read: fancy footwork). These movements traditionally enbabled riders to to escape if surrounded, or to fight more easily. For those interested, see the following (www.lipizzaner.com).

Sadly, Tara and I were not able to see a live performance. However, we were able to view the riders and horses during their morning exercise at the indoor riding hall. Completed in 1735, the hall looks more like an elegant ballroom and, in fact, it has hosted royal balls and other events during its nearly 300-year history. What a venue. So, we watched these gorgous horses pratice to the sounds of Mozart, Beethoven and Straus.

Tara again: Having checked off the culture, history and architecture boxes we decided that we were hungry. Sticking with the theme of Austrian experiences we headed for a pub that promised several home-brews on tap and according to the Rough Guide for Europe "good, solid Viennese cooking." Well, this pub did not disappoint. The pub did indeed have 7 different types of beer on draught and each one seemed to taste better than the last. As for the food, I enjoyed some traditional weiner schnitzel served with superb potato salad and Nathan had a delicious roast-beef with roasted potatoes and onions. Both meals were absolutely fantastic. Overall, the pub was a great experience. For more info see (www.7stern.at).

A word about navigating the streets of Vienna: if you're on public transport, it's likely going to be great. The transport did not let us down no matter how many trams we transferred to or how many metros we took. It is when you get off these forms of transport and try and make your way through the interesting cobweb of streets that make up Vienna that things become a little hairy. Never in our lives have we been surrounded by so many other tourists all staring at maps trying to make sense of a)the maps , b) their location on the map and c) the street names.

The streets all have names like "Schlachthausgasse"or "Wolkersbergenstrasse" and all the streets are very short. This means that all maps, no matter how well designed, are impossible to read. At any given time near any tourist site we could spot at least 8-10 other couples staring at their free tourist map in confusion just like we were. It was absolutely hilarious. All in all, we really enjoyed Vienna and would have liked to have visited more sites and taken in a concert or two. Next time I think we would plan our visit around a performance of the Lipizzaner horses and a Mozart concert, or similar. N&T.
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