Tourist Town

Trip Start Dec 16, 2007
Trip End Feb 24, 2008

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Our arrival into Vienna's Westbahnhof was a few minutes late owing to an elongated stop in Linz to fix the heating in some of the 2nd class carriages. As Charles had a flight to catch out of Vienna Airport later in the afternoon he was getting a bit tetchy about running late and missing his train to the airport. Everything did however work out, with the U-bahn speeding us to the Hotel Austria near Schwedenplatz quickly, allowing us to check-in before accompanying Charles on foot to Wien Mitte Station. He used the airline check-in facility at the station before the family had a parting meal - a McDonalds Big Tasty with Bacon menu (meal) for everyone! This was the most reliable and least smokey eatery in the area of this rather mediocre station and an upshot was that I was able to start the family's collection of McDonalds Monopoly promotion properties!

Charles was farewelled on the train as it was waiting at the station before we hopped off and watched it depart. In a move that reflects Charles' movie taste the next course of action for this now party of 3 was to take the U Bahn to Neubaugasse and English Cinema Haydn. We made it just in time to see the 4:00pm session of The Golden Compass in the 3 screen complex's Cinema B - a nice auditorium with good sound and a modest screen with a Christmas tree under it! We all enjoyed the movie but it is very much unfinished, waiting for the next movie of the series to be made.

Afterward we walked briefly through the quiet surrounding area before we descended into the U-bahn for the quick trip into the vibrant heart of Vienna - St Stephansplatz. In contrast to Neubaugasse there were tons of people out and about, buskers galore and the Christmas lights above the streets and on the Stephansdom. With so many interesting streets leading out from this central square it hard was decide which one to follow but we ended up heading down the main drag, Kärntner Strasse, to find dinner. The means to this end was found at a nice Italian joint close to the end of the street near the Staatsoper and Karlsplatz for some nice Pizza and Tiramisu. During dinner we were trying to contact Charles, who by this stage was in Frankfurt and waiting for Dane to arrive. The only problem was that Dane's plane had blown a tyre arriving into Perth and was now delayed outward to Singapore. It turned out that Qantas did not hold the connecting Frankfurt flight and thus Dane was going to have to travel through London, leaving Charles and his flights to Toronto up in the air, so to speak.

We walked up through inner Vienna to our hotel for a good night's sleep...
Except that I didn't get any sleep! Mum and Dad are both chronic snorers and so the sounded like there were 2 pigs slowly dying inside. Nevertheless I had to overcome this problem so I did get some rest but the following day would be interesting.

Yesterday wasn't a straining day so my lack of energy wasn't too much of a problem. The free wireless internet in the room was used for a little research after breakfast in the shadow of the hotel's immense Christmas tree before heading out into the cold. That said, it is a little bit warmer here in Vienna than the temperatures we have become accustomed to throughout the trip. Upon the request of Mum, and not because I've "sold out" as Charles may say, the 3 of us took a 1 hour bus tour in and around Vienna's ring to get a feel for the city and identify some of its important buildings. The tour was okay, with individual headphones so that one could hear the commentary only in their preferred language but the sight of the ring trams (lines 1&2) passing by constantly was depressing.

As we now seem to be working under the principle that all activities have to be broken up with snack breaks we headed into a nearby cafe at Schwedenplatz as we disembarked from the bus. With our plan forged the next step was to take the ring tram (finally!) around to the Museum Quarter and visit the Museum of Modern Art. The main exhibits in the museum were quite weird and not entirely enjoyable, but we were warned by the staff that some of it may be confronting. The latter half consisted of a temporary exhibit of modern Chinese work, which we all thoroughly enjoyed. Lunch was in the smokiest cafe of the trip so far before we were next door at the Arkitektur Centrum for a look at their history of architecture in Vienna. There was a lot information here, we could've stayed for hours but just didn't have the energy!

Vienna's wonderful ring tram carried us away from the south and back up to Schwedenplatz, where we changed to my old friend the route 21 (see the round the world trip blog). This service was run by a charming old set with wooden interior and snaked its way up on the northern side of the Danube Canal, past the much revamped Wien Nord (now Wien Praterstern) station to the Vienna Prater and the Reisenrad. A must-do icon of Vienna, the Reisenrad is an old (100+ years) iron ferris wheel with large wooden gondolas that offers a slow and scenic trip with nice views of Vienna. The weather was freezing and the atmosphere misty but the experience still fun and I think even the reluctant Mum seemed to enjoy herself.

The faster U-bahn was our transport back to the hotel, where I parted with Mum and Dad to utilise the free internet in the room and rest to compensate for my lack of sleep while they went for a walk through central Vienna. By dinner time the parents had returned and we went to dine at the adjacent Vienne Restaurant. Here the food was amazing, normally priced (great value for money) and there was live keyboard music. The service was also good but the best thing would definitely have to be the deserts; best so far! Although this wasn't without a hitch; Dad almost flicked the candle on our table over. We should've expected this after he caught the serviette around the bottle of wine on fire at our Christmas Day dinner in Salzburg! He's just a pyro without a cause!

Last night I managed to get a decent sleep because I went under while Mum was still reading and Dad was still typing his trip memoirs and thus before the dying pig symphony began. In light of this an earlier morning was had with our first activity being a walk up the Donauinsel. We took U1 to the middle then walked north for about 2km to hop aboard line U6. The walk was cold and feature very, very, very light snow for a short period. It is a bit sad walking between 2 wide sections of the Danube River, past closed cocktail bars and other Summer activity centres in the freezing cold of winter. At least the walk between train bridges to the U6 station warmed my spirits!

The light rail U6 trains took us south through the western side of Vienna, mostly on a raised corridor reminiscient of some Paris Metro lines. We changed for a short trip on U4 to Schönbrunn Palace. Our visit here began with some absolutely superb Appel Strudel for morning tea, although the service at the cafe was appalling. On the bright side we did harass the incompetent waiter enough to give us the recipe for the strudel, although I doubt we could make it as well as the chefs at the Palace did. This break warmed us up in preparation for a walk through only some of the Palace's extensive grounds, allowing us to fully appreciate the size and symmetry of the complex.

With a long queue outside in the forecourt I was not willing to wait to go inside the Palace itself so I once again parted with the parents and headed back to the hotel. I worked on this blog entry and did some onward trip research on the net. Upon their return the parents extolled the virtues of the Palace and I can say that it is now on my "to do when I return to Vienna" list.

As the Palace had taken up more time than expected the plans for the afternoon were mostly scrapped but a decision was made to try to visit the Hotel Sacher, the creators of the original Sacher Torte. Unfortunately the queue was too long so we walked up through Vienna, noticing a disturbing trend that there were simply not enough cafes to cope with the overwhelming afternoon tea demand!

Our idea was to see the movie Enchanted at 4:15pm because English cinemas will be harder to come by later in the trip but since arvo tea was a problem we arrived at the Artis International Kino at 3:45pm. The reasonable cafe at the cinema provided us with do-it-yourself nachos and warm drinks to refresh us before the session. It was a very entertaining, corny and fun movie that was finished in time for dinner. As we returned on foot to the hotel we admired more of the city's Christmas decorations and paused at a large overhead clock playing organ music with moving human figures marking the seconds. We will have to revisit this during the daytime.

Dinner was again at the Vienne, with such a great menu and food we may yet be back there again for our last Viennese dinner tomorrow.
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