Vienna – a multitude of coffee shops, the sophisticated Opera and impressive Palaces

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I arrived in Vienna just as the sun was setting. Within the space of an hour I had left a very Eastern European feeling country and had emerged in a completely different world. The Viennese are very proud of their city and this shows; the streets are clean, buildings tidy, and everything seems very neatly ordered. It was quite odd coming from somewhere that has visible communist roots, and going to a place a short hop away that, although devastated by Nazism, has become a nation renowned for being proud, neat and lovers of schnitzel.

After I’d managed to locate the correct tram – which strangely runs half underground and half above – I hopped on without a ticket. (For the life of me I couldn’t find a machine to buy one from and plus, no one checks anyway!) I forgive the abnormality – I guess Austrians are more trusting than us Brits when it comes to public transport.

I was a little disappointed with the hostel, it was filled with loads of annoying French teenagers who were completely lacking in etiquette and who just took over the common room without any regard for others. There weren’t any backpackers about,
but there was a nice girl in my room who had moved to Vienna and was waiting to move into her place. I chatted to her for quite a while before bed.

A typical Viennese day

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I spent my first day enjoying the sites of inner Vienna – the UNESCO world heritage site within the old city walls. I checked out the grand museum buildings beforehand, I didn’t bother to go in – still museumed out! After walking through the Hofburg Palace grounds – which were presently covered in Army tanks, helicopters and uniformed men, for National Austrian Day – you go under an arch and its like entering another time. The buildings are ornate, white and beautiful; there were horse and carriages (trying to tempt us poor tourists) around the little square. It felt quite surreal, I had awoken in the 19th century!

Whichever street you decide to journey down, you’re bound to be astounded by the fabulous buildings. All of the historic landmarks are well signed, with smart little Austrian flags and a description in gold. Its quite a sleepy, laidback city; there’s an abundance of coffee houses and cakes that consistently make your mouth water. A typical Viennese day seems to consist of; a spot of shopping along the famous Graben Street, a stop at Trzesniewski for a quick bite to eat of their famous open sandwiches and a Pfiff (world’s tiniest beer) another spot of shopping – probably to buy some sausage, schnitzel and beer, followed by an afternoon spent people watching while enjoying some Kleine Brauner and an apfelstrudel, and finally heading to the famous opera house for a smart evening spent enjoying the delights that Vienna’s famed music scene has to offer. And I did exactly that – pretended to be Austrian for a day – it was great! I felt so civilised.

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A night at the opera

When in Vienna one simply has to visit the opera. I partook in a ballet, called Manon, and also an opera, Anna Bolena – which I realised was all about Anne Boleyn… I’d never been to either before and I absolutely loved them. Both performances set me back the astromonical amount of 6€, as I got standing tickets at 3€ a show, absolute bargain!

The ballet was brilliant, albeit a little difficult to follow. I just enjoyed the amazing strength of the dancers and the phenomenal way they move, it was beautiful. My feet did start to hurt a little, but it didn’t matter as I got completely engrossed in the story, and I had a brilliant view. There were also two intervals so there plenty of time to rest the aching legs. There weren’t too many people in standing so there was lots of room to move and sit down on the step behind every so often.

I couldn’t get enough so the next night I decided to experience my first ever opera. I’d never been too keen on listening to warble music as I call it, but my perception of opera has now completely changed. I got completely drawn into the story, I felt the character’s pain and anguish through their singing and I actually enjoyed the music. The orchestra were also excellent. So we’re able to understand the Italian opera there’s little screens where there are subtitles in either English or German, which came in very handy! To make things even better I managed to find a seat for the second half of the performance, which really helped as it was incredibly long.

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These are both experiences I will never forget and I’ll definitely go again – whether in Vienna or elsewhere. And at 3€ a ticket, you really can’t complain!

The Palaces

Both the Schonbrunn and Beldevere palaces are beautiful, symmetrical, and of course plenty big enough for royalty.

Schonbrunn is set in magnificently massive grounds, I can imagine in the Spring and Summer months they’d look beautiful with all the nearly ordered flowers in bloom. But Autumn still looked pretty brilliant with all the bronzing leaves carpeting the tree lined avenues. Because of it’s sheer size though it’s very easy to get lost, but you always seem to end up at the palace one way or another – so maybe it’s the Austrian design. For a fabulous view of the city you can climb up to the (enter what it is), and you see all of Vienna on a clear day – I saw it both in the fog and sunshine – in the fog I could barely make out the palace. I met a girl from LA at my hostel (who I had also met in Bratislava – funny!), she joined me for the tour of Schonbrunn. Most of the palace interior is decorated in white and gold so looks incredibly regal. We saw only 40 of the hundreds of rooms, some have themes like Japanese or porcelain, and others are quite humble – Franz Joseph I preferred a simpler existence. It’s quite an impressive place, and this was only their ‘summer house’!

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Beldevere on the other hand is on a much smaller, but still spectacular scale. I didn’t go inside this one as its an art gallery. Again the gardens are well manicured and set out in a symmetrical manner – the flowers would look brilliant at a different time of year. The fountains are turned off in mid October so these weren’t currently running; it’s beautiful visiting during Autumn, but I think I’d definitely like to return at a different time of year.

Austrian National Day

On my last day in Vienna, a Saturday, it was Austrian National Day. This meant that most of the shops were shut and there were activities going on to celebrate Austria’s greatness. The square outside the Hofburg Palace was covered in lots of Army vehicles (I saw them setting up previously), and crowds of people. Children were allowed to play with the guns on display and to look inside the tanks and helicopters. There were many food stalls and also a crane lifting people up for bungee jumps. It was bedlam but quite fun to enjoy and to see what the Austrian’s get up to on such a day. We wandered around for a while, but eventually the patience wore thin. We headed back to the hostel so I could get my train to Budapest and she could go on to Brno.

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Vienna is a fantastic place to relax for a few days, you can sit for hours and enjoy a coffee and still feel like you’re not wasting time – because that’s what the Viennese do best!

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