Country 13: Austria – 2nd visit, June 2010

My previous visit to Vienna was with Contiki which consisted of little more than a 1-hour guided tour of the town centre before our tour manager set us free, upon which I wandered around for another hour before meeting some of our group at an Irish pub to watch an Australian rugby league game live on TV, followed almost immediately by a visit to a schnapps tasting house, then back to the hotel to get changed and be taken to a dinner place with cheap shots of Jagermeister (a very messy day for me indeed). So I had good reason as to why I had not seen much of the city sights.

I had only given myself a day here as I was keen to move on to several Eastern European countries, so I only really wanted to see one place before moving on. After all, this was just a quick stopover after departing Slovakia of which their capital was only an hour from Vienna, so I figured why not.
I felt a sense of familiarity seeing street signs in German as I crossed the border. I was quite excited that I’d get to try tasty beer and meaty food again of the same quality I had enjoyed some 5 years before. Unfortunately the hostel I wanted to book myself into (Wombats) was completely booked out, so my 2nd option was one named Ruthensteiner, rather a long name for a place frequented by guests who would mostly have trouble remembering how to spell anything in German let alone a hostel with 13 letters in it. Regardless of this, I found it. The foyer was full of dozens of people strewn out on couches either talking loudly or tapping away on their laptops, and had a bar serving a rather average tasting lager and no wheat or dark beer, something I had specifically come to Vienna to try, so I was a tad disappointed. I downed a few pints anyway, chatted with a few travellers sitting at the bar, and headed up to bed.

I really had no concrete plans today other than to visit a place I had actually been to 5 years prior, the Schoenbrunn Palace, once the lavish living quarters of the rulers of all of Austria and Hungary and a fair amount of influence in other surrounding areas. Maybe I wasn’t paying much attention, but back in 2006 I was a bit confused when my Contiki tour manager said we’d be spending an hour there. What I remember of that hour is visiting a cafe and ordering 2 or 3 bottles of rather tasty beer. This time I came back and actually made an effort to get past the cafe. Funnily enough, the cafe itself had barely changed in 5 years.
Did I mention Vienna’s metro train system is rather inexpensive and refreshingly efficient and on time? I was so impressed. If only the local trains back in Sydney were as useful.

After laying down about 10 Euro and being forced to wait behind a closed gate until a specific time (upon which the gate opened at that exact minute with perfect precision, much like their German neighbours), I was handed an English-language guide to all the 30 or so rooms in front of me and found myself following a well-planned route throughout the palace. It was quite lovely, not unlike places I’d seen before in England and Russia, but still impressively nonetheless. Royal families really do go all out and live in style, with massive dining and relaxation rooms, bedrooms, and all the trimmings. No expense was spared in terms of walls, chairs, beds, gifts from other countries, and other items fit for a king, obviously. There was even a room dedicated to plates and teapots and other bits of crockery and cutlery designed by people specifically chosen as the best in their profession to make only the best items possible for the most important people of that time period. In a way I was a bit sad to find out this had all come to an end due to the events of World War I, but it was nice to see everything had been kept as it was since that time.
Behind the palace itself was a lovely series of gardens and grass-lined walkways leading up to some sort of structure holding a cafe and a spiral staircase to a roof giving me a perfect panoramic view of the palace and a whole lot of Vienna. A great ending to a palace visit worthy of my standards of travel.

After this was all done, I was getting a bit hungry. Wikitravel’s Vienna page had directed me to a place which was famous for the tastiest schnitzel in the city, apparently, and they also sold local beers, so I was in. I navigated the easy-to-follow grid system of streets beside the closest metro station and did my best to order with the limited German language I could muster. “Eine schweinschnitzel und eine dunkel bier, bitte”. The waitress replied with something in German and I nodded having no idea what she just said, and surprisingly a minute or two later I had a salad and a plate of chips on my table, followed not too far away by a pint of beer. I was quite impressed with my meagre grasp of the language. I have to admit it wasn’t the best pork schnitzel I’d tasted ever, but it was still quite yummy and was almost bursting over the sides of the dinner plate, and it was crunchy yet so soft that I didn’t need to slice it with a knife. I was more than happy to lay down 15 Euro for the whole deal. I was quite full and happy to move on, but I had no choice really as I had just under one and a half hours to collect my bag from my hostel and find the train station to get me to the Czech Republic. Just a tip, walking to and from train stations with an overly full stomach with a 25kg backpack is not fun! Thankfully when I got to the train station ticket office, the lady spoke English and directed me to the right platform, and I sat down and relaxed. A rather hassle-free and fulfilling day, and I was sitting on a train with 10 minutes before departure. I felt good.

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