I’m not keeping up with this travel blog as much as I’d like, with good reason. First of all, I sometimes spend 14-16 hours exploring. That leaves little time for writing before or after. Secondly, it’s somewhat inconvenient to write this with a tablet and bluetooth keyboard. It takes a lot longer that with a computer or laptop, and even longer if I want to proofread it (which I never do but should). So I think the posts are going to be a little less frequent, if maybe longer to encompass more time. Also, I’m trying to find a suitable picture-hosting site so that those of you that have not or will not befriend me on Facebook can still see pictures if you’d like. Although I don’t plan on adding any captions or comments like I occasionally do on FB.
I guess I will start with the 21st. That day I walked. And walked. And walked. I had meant to go downtown, but woke up at 1000 and didn’t leave the flat until 1130, so I figured I probably wouldn’t have time for many museums anyway. In case you were curious, I am staying in Hetzendorf, a little bit southwest of the city. The train is cheap, quick, and convenient, but I didn’t feel like taking it today. I was honestly looking for a supermarket to get some food stuffs, but it seems just about EVERYTHING is closed on Sundays here. Although I walked probably the better part of 30km that day, I never really got lost. The only time I came close was in the magnificent and expansive park surrounding Schonbrunn Palace. I entered the park on purpose, assuming I could save some time by cutting through and continuing north. But it took me about an extra hour of hiking to find an exit that was actually on the west. Furthermore, it turns out the place at which I was attempting to get lunch was west of the park, so I had to back-track even more. After lunch I got some gelato (of course) then headed back to the flat, this time circumventing the whole park. That night my couchsurfing host and I watched “The Third Man” by Orson Welles. It takes place (and was filmed in) Austria directly following the second world war. Good movie. Not his best, but good. And many of the landmarks are still here to this day.
Monday June 22nd I woke up a bit earlier. After returning from a close-by market I boarded the S-Bahn train and made it to downtown by 1100. I bought a Vienna Pass for 70 Euro. On a quick side-note, I’m not sure if the Vienna Pass was worth it. Sure, it was 70 Euro and includes free entry into something like 60 places for 2 days (longer passes can be purchased but cost more of course), and most of those places charge minimum 10 Euro to enter, but Viennese museums are quite different from those I saw in Ljubljana. In one sentence: THEY TAKE FOREVER. Now, this isn’t a bad thing, but unless you start at 0800 and skip lunch and possibly dinner as well, it’s difficult to get more than three visits into one day. I really think after all was said and done I broke even on my pass. But that was with much rushing, skipping some audio guides (which were usually free and gave interesting information on history and such, but did slow down the process quite drastically), and even seeing a few places that I only really saw because they were included and close by other places that I just left. If you really REALLY want to take in the sights here, I would forgo the pass and allow about four hours for each of the major museums (of which there are half a dozen or so). In effect, the 2-day pass I bought for 70 Euro would have been much more effective had it had a value cap (of say…100 Euro) instead of a temporal cap. Also, a lot of different places are closed on different days, so that gets a bit annoying. On my second day with the pass I wanted to see the Museum of Natural History and the Imperial Treasury. Both were closed on Tuesday, even though most museums are closed on Monday.
But Monday the museum at which I started (and would recommend as a starting place for anyone) was Albertina. There is more artwork in Albertina than I have seen in my entire life collectively. Simply beautiful works by some of the world’s greatest artists. Definitely a must-see.
After Albertina I ventured into the museum showcasing the Imperial Apartments, the Imperial Silver Collection, and the Sisi Museum. This is the only museum at which I used an audio guide. And damn glad I did. The Apartments were of course rooms in the Hofburg Palace that housed some of the biggest Habsburg royalty over the years. They are lavishly decorated and pretty much the type of room god would rent if he ever actually visited Earth. Or existed. The Silver Collection was just that – mostly eating utensils and cooking ware that was made from silver but now looked gold because of the disrepair in recent years. It’s not that its damaged, it’s just tarnished and not being polished because it is in a showcase now. But the silver was only half of it. Starting around the 19th century or so, porcelain became more prized for dishes than silver. So much of the exhibit was porcelain. Very, VERY extravagant and intricate porcelain, but porcelain nonetheless.
The last part of that tour was the Sisi Museum. I was intrigued by this just by reading about it several days before, and I was not disappointed. In fact, Empress Elisabeth led such an interesting life I later stopped by a bookstore and gladly paid 15 Euro for a biography. You can’t help but feel just a little pity for the poor girl.
After all the museums, around 1500 I met up with Orville, my host, at Wein Mitte (the main train station in the city center). He somehow secured another bike for me, so we biked. And biked. And biked. We biked over the Danube Canal. Then we biked over the actual Danube. Then we biked over the Old Danube. We basically biked all around Vienna. We rode for probably four hours, eventually finding our way to Prater. Prater is not only an amusement park, but a 600 hectare park. I wanted to ride the swings that rose to something like 117 meters, but there was a thunderstorm coming so I wasn’t able. Also because of the storm approaching we took the S-Bahn back to Hetzendorf, which took about an hour.
The next day I went to the city center in an attempt to get as much out of my Vienna Pass as possible. The first place I stopped was St. Stephan’s Cathedral. Apparently entry was free regardless, but the pass gave me access to the treasury. Too bad I couldn’t find the treasury. Oh, well. The inside of the cathedral was beautiful, if also keeping with the general theme of being too austentatious. The next stop was the Museum of Art History. This was an impressive three-story museum with Egyptian, Roman, and contemporary wings. Very worth the visit, but I spent two hours there WITHOUT the audio guide and somewhat rushing through. With the audio guide and no time frame, I would give it probably five hours.
Since I was already in the Museum Quarter I then went to the Museum of Modern Art. Now I may not be able to appreciate modern art as much as that from earlier times, but some floors of this museum were just weird – and a little disturbing. Still, the top two floors were interesting. After I left the MUMOK (as it’s abbreviated) I went nextdoor to the Museum of Applied Art, followed by the Kunsthalle Wein. Now that place was just confusing. It was 8 Euro to enter (or would have been without my pass) and there was only one room on display, and I honestly could not figure out just what the hell they were trying to acheive. I’m just glad I didn’t actually pay for entry.
That evening I went to the Opera House, which is certainly an historic landmark in Vienna. Standing room was only 4 Euro – an amazing deal. We saw “Rigoletto,” one of the more famous productions in the theaters history. Luckily there were little displays for each person that translated the Italian into English subtitles. Regardless, it was a spectacular show and something I would love to do again in the future. I also met two American girls while at the opera. They were on a similar path as myself, having just graduated and now touring Europe before grad school. One of them was even getting her Master’s from North Carolina in Aerospace Engineering. And they are also heading to Prague this week.
Well that mostly brings us up to date. Yesterday I stayed in and organized things – transportation and lodging for the next few days and such. Later in the evening I made pasta for dinner with sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, mushroom, and capers (too many capers). Currently it is the 25th of June at 1148. I have to start packing and work my way towardsa bus stop a few kilometeres from here to catch my next ride at 1800. Next stop – Prague!!!