I think I always wanted to visit Vienna. I came here once before with my brother Brad in 1998. Here is what I remember from that visit:
–>Arriving after a sleepless night squished with 4 strangers in a carriage on
an overnight train from Venice and happily going with the first likely-
looking person offering to rent us a flat for a few days (Rick Steves would
advise against this, but it was actually a good choice for us)
–>My brother going to “visit” the downstairs neighbors in the apartment
building to rescue his towel after it fell off the balcony
–>Schonbrunn palace and its lovely gardens
–>Feeling like the supine tourist pictured in one of Rick Steves’ 1990s
guidebooks who has been done in by European art at the
Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien
–>Drinking a lot of coffee
–>Drinking a lot of Most (though the remembering part gets harder
This trip was quite different, not just because I am 16 years older (and presumably wiser), but because we had a lot of “chores” to accomplish. I’ll blog about the chores separately–in this post I want to reflect on what we did get to see and experience of Vienna. I’ll stick mostly to the bullet points listed above for simplicity.
We used the 21st-century alternative to the people at the train terminal–AirBnB. We never actually met our hostess, but a friend of hers met us when we cycled in and gave us the key and almost no instructions. Once we figured out that the door to the washer needed to be shut firmly, this was a great rental experience. (Side note: Certain things are NOT better in Europe–washing machines are one of those things. They may have had front loaders long before us, but they look like they have not changed since then and the IKEA-code buttons are not as simple as perhaps they could be.)
We also had a “neighbor” interaction. One of the early mornings of our stay, a woman rang the bell and accused us of making noise coming in at midnight. Um, no, not us. She also seemed concerned that we did not officially live there, so I assured her we were borrowing the flat. Clearly, interfering neighbors exist everywhere.
Schonbrunn also made a repeat appearance. Since we still had the bikes on Sunday–and nothing “chore-like” can be accomplished on Sunday in Austria–we decided to pedal out to the castle. We didn’t pay the steep admission fee to go in with the hordes of other tourists, but instead hiked around the (still lovely) gardens. Coffee and Viennese cakes were also enjoyed, despite the captive audience pricing.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum, on the other hand, did not get a return visit. Given the nature of this trip, and the fact that Athens, Rome, Florence, and Paris are still on the docket, we are being cautious with our choice of museums, lest we be “done in” by art before we get to some of the blockbusters ahead. So, we chose a museum that was closed for refurbishment during my earlier visit and is, in Rick’s words, a “Habsburg residence with decent apartments and world-class temporary exhibitions,” the Albertina. Again following Rick’s advice, we rented the audio-guides. He was right as usual, the audio information was great! We toured the apartments first, since we knew if would be hard to maintain enthusiasm for them later in the day. In addition to seeing some interesting decor, we learned a lot about the late Habsburg family tree (inbreeding was among their problems). We then toured the Joan Miro temporary exhibit. World class might be an understatement. There were over 100 works, from all stages of his career, gathered from museums and collections from all over the world. The audioguide provided insights not only on the featured pieces of art, but on Miro’s life and the politics in Spain at the point each was created. I mentioned later to Maureen that this museum was actually a great deal, since a temporary exhibit like this at the Denver Art Museum would easily cost $15+ per person and require reservations to attend (we paid 15€ each for museum and audioguide). At this point, we tried to get a snack, but found that the museum cafe (the one and only one food option) was priced well above our comfort level (the only fault I found with this otherwise great visit). Our tour through their really good permanent collection was pretty quick in order to get someplace for lunch (Akakiko for Japanese!)
Coffee drinking is clearly a “must do” in Vienna. After a slow start, we had coffee at the cafe in the zoo at Schonbrunn on Sunday, at Kleines Cafe (of Before Sunrise movie fame) on Tuesday, and at Cafe Tirolerhof on Wednesday. Surprisingly (or not), I may have enjoyed coffee in Melk more than in Vienna.
I did not drink any Most this time. It was later in the season, so the new wine on offer was “Sturm” and I just did not feel inspired by it. I had a cider at the Irish pub (while watching English football) on Saturday evening, and we enjoyed the fact that we could buy half-decent Prosecco for 3€/bottle at the grocery store, but that was about it. So it can only be age that is keeping me from remembering what we did each day 🙂
Vienna is a real city filled with grand buildings from the glory days of an Empire. I’m glad we biked in, biked to Schonbrunn, walked through much of the city, and stayed in a non-tourist neighborhood. We saw the city as the tourists who never leave the “Inner Ring” do not and I am grateful for that opportunity.