Vienna was a city I didn’t really have a strong desire to see, but it was between Hallstatt and Salzburg; it had an awesome looking castle close by that I wanted to see and it was a logical stop on the way to Budapest. I’m extremely glad that I did, it is a breathtakingly beautiful city with a lot to do and experience. It’s definitely one of my favorite cities that I’ve seen so far.
I arrived to Vienna with soaking wet socks and shoes after my short stint in the beautiful town of Hallstatt. I had just gotten to my room with a borrowed hair dryer from downstairs, with intent to dry my shoes. I was really looking forward to it. However, I met one of my dorm mates who was going downstairs for happy hour and he invited me to come along. It was a hard decision, but I decided to be social and spend the rest of the night in wet socks and shoes. It was well worth it because I met some awesome people who I hung out with for the next couple days.
My first (full) day in Vienna
Since the weather, of course was rainy and cloudy, I decided to spend the morning in the Museum of Art History. It is located in the museum quarter of the city directly across from the Natural History museum. The two buildings are identical and were built by Emperor Franz Joseph I. The art museum was built with the purpose of housing the Habsburg’s art collection to make it available to the general public. It is an incredibly ornate building inside and out. Each room was like its own artwork, with intricately carved and molded ceilings lined with gold. I had to remind myself (I even wrote it down), to not forget to look up. The museum houses the worlds largest collection of Brueghel the Elder, along with many other famous collections. Some of my favorites were a series of unique portraits by Giuseppe Arcimboldo. He combined fruits, plants and flowers to create portraits. Aside from paintings, the museum also has an incredibly extensive collection of gold, silver and jeweled treasure of the Hapsburg’s, as well as a collection of Egyptian items and artifacts; like mummified bodies.
After the museum I walked around for a bit to view Vienna’s different architectural styles that range from Gothic, to Baroque, to Art Nouveau. There are a series of buildings, in a half ring on the outskirts of the old city. Some of these are: the National Library, the Museum of Art History and the Natural History Museum, the Palace of Justice, the Parliament Building, the University of Vienna and the area known as Karlsplatz. While these buildings specifically stand out and are worth while to see, all of Vienna is architecturally beautiful.
After some walking, I decided to take the metro to Prater Fun Park, an amusement park on the outskirts of Vienna. The main attraction there is the Ferris Wheel. The Ferris Wheel was constructed by English engineer Lieutenant Walkter Bassett Bassett in 1897 and was one of the first ever built and the world’s tallest until 1985. It original had 30 gondolas, but it was damaged during WWII and now only holds 15. I didn’t ride it and didn’t spend much time in the park because ….. it was cloudy and started raining just after I got there.
Later that night I went to a show at the Musikverein. It is considered to be the worlds finest concert halls. It’s a rectangular shaped room, dubbed “the Golden Hall” due to it being painted almost in all gold. Now, I don’t have much experience going to concert halls, but the sound created from within seemed to enter my ears and go straight to my soul. The sound was the cleanest and crispest thing I have ever heard. With my eyes closed, I literally couldn’t tell which direction the sound was coming from. Blind people would love it. The performance was an ensemble of different groups. One was a pianist an oboe and a violin, another was just a pianist and the oboe, an opera singer and a quartet. It must have been Asia night because all of the performers were Asian. They were all amazing to hear, but the most fascinating was the oboe performance. The range of sounds that instrument could create, combined with the acoustics of that hall took me on a spiritual journey that I wish had never ended. Afterwards, I met with some people back at the hostel, drank and went out to a really cool multi-room bar.
My second (full) day
Up until this point the weather had been nothing but disagreeable. However, nothing prepared me for this schizophrenic day of atmospheric conditions. To summarize, I awoke to it snowing…yes snowing, then it turned to rain, then it got sunny for a bit (as I was walking the gardens of the palace), then it started raining, then it snowed some more and then it finished at some point in the afternoon with sun. Despite all of this, I still had an amazing day.
I started the day by visiting the Schronborn Palace (the summer palace of the Habsburgs). It was really fascinating to learn about the palace, its history and the history of the Habsburgs because they have such a powerful history and have had such a significant impact on Spain. The Habsburgs ruled over Spain from the 16th to 17th century. This era is considered to be a Spanish Golden Age; many famous Spanish authors and painters came from this time, like: Cervantes, Greco and Diego Velazquez. Cervantes wrote Don Quixote, Greco and Velazquez are both famous painters.
In the palace, each room had a large ornate meticulously detailed coal heater. They were about the size of an armoire, but because of their beauty they weren’t at all obtrusive to the eye. Every room was laviously decorated in a Baroque style aside from the bed chamber of Emperor Franz Joseph I and his study, which were very modest. One of my favorite rooms was the Chinese Cabinets; they had a remarkable intricate wood paneling floor made up of various shapes and designs. Another room, called the millions room is the most valuable room in the Palace. It consists of precious palisander wood paneling with 60 Rococo cartouches or designs, The Rich bedroom, the place where Franz Joseph was born, has the original wallpaper and the only surviving bed of state from the Viennese court. The walls and the bed are adorned with hangings and gold and silvery embroidery. I don’t even know how its possible to weave metals. When in the rich bedroom, your’re not actually in the room, you’re in a glass walkway within the room. Afterwards I walked through the gardens and up to the Gloriette. Built in 1775 it is the crowning touch to the Palace and to the gardens. It is also a hike to reach. I was quite tired by the time I got to the top. Luckily for me it started snowing a bit after I reached it. I did have a brief reprieve of sun before though.
After this I took a visit to the Kuntz houses. The Kuntz houses, designed by Master Hundertwasser is a unique area of Vienna with buildings consisting of irregular elements of glass, metal, wood, bricks and ceramic tile in many colors and patterns. It’s as if Dr. Suess’s ideas came to life. There is a museum, but I didn’t go into it, I just walked around the area.
The last thing I did that day was to see an opera at the Vienna State Opera house. It is a massive elegantly decorated building. The show was at 8 and for every show, about two hours before you can go to the ticket office and buy standing room for only 5 euro. This is what we did. I went with two friends I had met in the hostel. The show was called Elektra and was a modern take on the Greek story, where the daughter and brother plot revenge against their mother for killing their father. It’s the opposite of the Oedipus complex. The “seats” we found, were to the right of the stage and from where we were standing we could only see the left corner of the stage. It was great for the opening scene; it opened with naked people getting sprayed with water. Since it was in German, I literally had no idea what was going on.
After 30 minutes I left to see if I could find better seats. Unbeknownst to me you can’t leave the theater unless there is an intermission (this one didn’t have one). When I went back to go to our “seats” I was told I couldn’t enter. So, I spent the next 1 hour and 15 min watching the opera on a TV on that floor. I guess they had it there for that reason. I met a nice Spanish girl. Before she felt like she was going to faint, so she left to get water, only to be told she could not re-enter. Since we both had friends inside we were there for the longest; other people came and went. Sitting there and watching it wasn’t the worst because I was able to see the whole stage and see things my friends couldn’t. From what I saw, it started with a bunch of naked people getting sprayed with water, then one character was in a wheel chair, then she wasn’t, then she was again, then someone died, then a lot more people died and finally 30 people came out and started randomly dancing. Of course there was beautiful singing during all of this. The sound the singers can produce and the amount of time they can sing for is astonishing.
Pro tip: If you ever want to eat cheap in Vienna just eat Kebab’s and pizza. I ate this for lunch and dinner ever day. Did I get sick of it? Kinda, which is why I switched to falafel sandwiches halfway through. Also, the pizza at the one place I went to, was the closest thing I have had to New York pizza in the past 8 months. The only difference was the taste in cheese; had it been the exact same cheese it would have tasted just like a New York slice. I talked to the owner and he went to Baruch college for his MBA, so I don’t know if that had something to do with it.
Honorable mention: The metro system in Vienna was really cool to see and journey on. I always enjoy taking the metro a new city because it’s cool to see the different train cars and different underground worlds. Some of the train cars in the Vienna metro were scary looking. Very square and grey with a large black window in the front. Coming into the station they looked evilish. They also closed with a tremendous amount of force; you wouldn’t want to get a limb caught between those doors. Another unique thing about them was their seating, the seats weren’t against the wall like most metros, they were 2 and 2 facing each other. It’s definitely a slightly awkward way to sit with strangers, you don’t really have any where to look. Overall it was also incredible clean and a pleasure to ride.