Art galleries and sausages. Architecture and beer. A friend, accommodation and good times.
Beautiful buildings - old and new, green avenues and parks, good public transport and cyclepaths, inspirational art galleries, but first.....Australia playing World Cup soccer.
Monday the 26th of June – After a fantastic couple of weeks in Sweden, I flew from Stockholm to Vienna today.
Catching the airport train into the city centre I was greeted with heat and humidity. It was early afternoon and an Asian restaurant nearby caught my eye. Not much cooler than the noodles, I took shelter in the Hilton Hotel next door for the next two hours while waiting to meet my friend Rosie, my host for the next 6 nights. Rosie is a friend from Perth, living in Vienna for a few years on a work contract. Australia was playing in the World Cup against Italy and with her priorities sorted, she’d finished work early in order for us to get to the pub in time for the game. No ordinary pub, this was the Billabong, an Aussie pub in Vienna, strangely enough, full of Aussies all going for the same team.
The game finished with a result that would have had the AFL (Aussie Rules football) breathing a sigh of relief that everyone, including the Australian media, who’d suddenly grown an interest in soccer would see what a crap game it actually is, when acting is rewarded over ball skills (Football?) and one wrong refereeing decision can determine the winner. Rosie’s group of work colleagues and others, like myself, migrated from the bar to a nice restaurant nearby and enjoyed a nice meal to end the night. Backpacks still firmly attached, I caught the tram with Rosie back to her apartment.
Having told me to feel at home, I did, and enjoyed a lazy morning doing my washing and cooking myself a breakfast of poached eggs on vegemite toast. Not had that in awhile!
Heading out to explore Vienna’s streets late in the morning I went wandering, as I do. Wide streets with trams lead me to a tall church nearby. Stopping on a park bench in Sigmund Freud Park I wondered if there was any Freudian phallic significance in the bratwurst I was having for lunch??
I discovered City Bike and my wanderings took on a new dimension of distance. City Bike is a service in central Vienna that allows you to borrow a bike from one rack, and return it to any other City Bike one. It is automated and, after registering at the terminal with your credit card, you borrow a bike, free for the first hour. Woo! Hoo! The Wandera has wheels! I rode around The Ring, a road lined with many of Vienna’s most grand buildings. The Ring road has trams down the middle, cars, then cycle paths along each side. Very nice. I rode to the canal, then followed it for quite some distance on the right bank. When I saw sign for Prague, I thought I’d better turn back! So I crossed over and returned along the left bank. The weather was hot and humid and I was soaked with sweat, but having a ball.
The Volksgarden (park) and the Hoff? Palace were just two of the things I found. I left the bike to explore these on foot. On borrowing another bike and riding its solid rubber wheels over cobbled streets, as the pedal arm fell off, I was cursing them as S#itty Bikes!
Tonight Rosie and I caught up with some of her friends for dinner at their favourite restaurant, only a 5 minute walk away. We sat in the square of an old church with the spires towering above us and I enjoyed a beautiful truffle gnocchi.
Todat's humidity seems to have brewed a cracker of a storm. As we sat there enjoying good company and a drink, an impressive show of clouds swirled above us in varying shades of grey. Wind gusts whipped through the al fresco dining area as frantic staff gathered condiments and we, ourselves. Rosie and I scurried home, with the expected lightning and giant raindrops arriving, just as we did. I fell asleep to thunder and heavy rain.
Day trip to another country.
On each of my 3 previous "Round-the-world" adventures, I have done a day trip to a country and this holiday is no exception.
Today I went to Bratilava, the capital of Slovakia.
Passport in hand, I caught the train an hour east from Vienna to Bratislava. It felt like a different country, then I realised it was! It was only mid-morning as I entered a cafe near the trains station for a coffee and was surprised to see how many people were getting stuck into pint of beer already.
Coffee enjoyed, and armed with a map for once, I set off to explore this city on foot. The weather was pleasant and not too hot. The old town with its narrow cobbled laneways and old buildings was an interesting place to explore first.
Looking for a lunch stop, I passed The Restaurant at the end of the Galaxy, a place no Hitchhikers fan could pass up. There was no cow offering steaks from her rump, but they did have chicken livers with curry risotto, a delicious but rare menu find. I discovered too that beer here is only $1 a pint! I could have stopped for more than one, but the castle on the hill overlooking the city beckoned me with views to photograph.
I walked up to the castle, photographed the city, then entered the castle.
There is a museum inside, including a clock musuem, but that was a waste of time. (Sorry! You know I can't resist a bad pun.) What was very interesting was the Leonado Da Vinci exhibition with bits of the Codex Atlanticus and working models of his designs.
The climb to the tower of the castle afforded me the best view of the city. What's more, I had it to myself. This place is not overrun with terrorists, sorry, tourists, yet!
After paying too much, too often for most things on this trip the prices here in Slovakia are SO cheap. The old town is interesting and I guess it will only be a matter of time before Bratislava is 'discovered' like Prague was 10 years ago and now Budapest has been. This will fill the place with tourists and drive the prices through the roof. As I enjoyed a $1 wafflecone gelati followed by a $1 pint of beer, I appreciated this hasn't happened here, yet. Be quick!
Continuing to explore the streets of the old town I particularly liked a series of bronze sculptures on highwire tightrope strung over the passing pedestrians below.
Walking away from the old town back towards the station for my 9pm train back to Vienna, I found a quiet restaurant and enjoyed a 'local' meal. Very stogey pork loin smothered with cheese and served with crumbed and fried potatoes.
The return journey greeted me with an amazing sunset from my train window and, before returning to my book, reflected on an amazing day. So close to Vienna, but so different. I'd started my day with Euros in Vienna, spent Korun all day in Slovakia and soon I would be back in Vienna using Euros to get home.
Thursday - I'd offered to take Rosie to a restaurant for dinner, but she requested a home-cooked meal from me instead. Some rumour I'm a chef apparently.
I began the day at the Naschmarket, hunting through acres of produce deciding on what to prepare that night. With bag over my shoulder I added to it bit by bit and before long had a bag full of goodies for tonight. After popping back to Rosie's aprtment to drop off produce, I went to the Museum Quarter. Lunch in a cafe there was Einenockerl, the Austrian version of gnocchi.
My destination was the Kunst Historical Museum, A fine art gallery with Greek and Roman artifacts found in Austria. Despite the age and value of the paintings on display, unfortuately for me, most of the paintings were portraits or religious motifs, neither are subjects I particularly enjoy, though Guido Cagnaccio's Death of Cleopatra was a standout for me. 500 years old, yet it still had the 'power' to captivate the viewer. At least it did for me.
Walking back towards 'home' I went to the adventure store and purchased myself a feather down jacket, ready for the cold of Svalbard later in this adventure. The wearing the jacket is like putting on a sleeping bag and it even comes with a stuff sack.
Dinner time. Just because we're dining in doesn't mean it should be any less special. Menu planned and written out, with a matching drink for each course.
2 appetisers, an entre of asparagus with orange hollandaise, main course was grilled pork sirloin topped with caramelised apple served on fresh fettucini with chantelle mushrooms and pesto, accompanied by baby carrots with wilted radiccio and braised fennel and leek.
St Agur blue cheese with dried kiwifruit and fresh strawberries followed.
The meal should have finished with handmade Viennese chocolates, but we were both too full.
Unlike Rosie who's working, I got to sleep off my hangover!
My first objective this morning was "Dialog im Dunkeln" which translates as Dialogue in the Dark. Recommended by Rosie, this is an hour long experience in what it is like to be blind. The space has been made COMPLETELY lightproof, adding to the weird feeling. Your eyes are wide open, but you can't see ANYTHING. Carrying a white cane I was guided by a blind person through various scenarious you would encounter in a day in a city as a blind person. A park was first, with bird noises and grass or mulch underfoot. Then we went shopping and I smelt and felt my way around the fruit and vegie shop.
My guide explained that vision is 80% of what we rely on. I was now being made to focus on the 20% of other senses.
Time to cross a busy road! That done with the help of a braille pedestian crossing, we caught a bus. Very clever and being totally dark, I'm not sure how they made this one appear so real. It's very unnerving when you have to 'feel' every step with a cane. Finally we went to a bar. Try paying when you are blind! Did I get ripped off? Over the beer, I chatted with my female guide about aspects in her life as a blind person and I am amazed at what challenges they deal with on a daily basis that sighted people never think of, such as reading this blog right now. "Dialog im Dunkeln" gave me a real insight and a newfound respect into what it must be like for a blind person. I'd spent an hour with my guide Enya, not knowing the slightest thing about what she looked like. On exiting back to the light I saw my guide for the first time and was amazed by her youthful beauty and was thankful even more for eyes to appreciate beautiful women - everywhere.
Unlike McDonalds (I'm loathing it.), even hot dogs in foreign countries can be a cultural experience and the Austrians and Germans have a reputation for sausages. They might all be 'wurst', but I think they're pretty good.
Acting on a tip-off I took a City Bike across town to the Upper Belvedere Palace. This was the summer retreat of royalty in years past, but now houses 19th and 20th century paintings. WOW! Unlike the gallery on Tuesday, these was my kind of paintings. Informatively arranged chronologically, the different rooms took you through different artistic periods, including a Monet and others to illustrate the Impressionists. I've leaned that in non-English speaking countries, an audio guide is a worthwhile investment. Dial the number next to the painting into the handset, listen and learn. I loved the landscape paintings, especially those that really captured light and its effect on the landscape. This was the gallery I needed. I enjoyed my time there and I left feeling inspired.
It was Salvador Dali who said, "An artist is not someone who is inspired, rather someone who inspires others." I like that quote a lot.
For our Friday night out, I caught a tram back from Belvedere Palace to Rosie's and we both then took the underground to Prater, an area with a big park and an amusement fun park too. Ferris wheels, dodgem cars and the usual choice of rides. Our destination was not the funpark itself, rather a large beer garden restaurant called Schweizerhaus, which means Pork House. Their specialty is stelze, roasted pork knuckle with crackling. We had it with fresh saurkraut and mustard. It's huge and one between two is enough. The beer is of course delicious too. I have enjoyed one of my favourite styles of beer here in Vienna, weis biers, a cloudy white wheat beer.
Walking back through the funpark towards the tram I sniffed out a pinball, 12 in fact. Rosie saw my desire and watched while I played a few games.
Saturday - my last full day in Vienna. I borrowed Rosie's bike for the morning and used it to explore some more. Riding around the ring, admiring the architecture I ended up at the canal. I had intended to turn left, but noticed the ferris wheel of the Prater off to the right. Like a junkie to smack, I was drawn to the chance of a few more games of pinball on Medieval Madness, one of the best pinball games ever made and a rare find in public, anywhere. That done I tried a Kasekrainer (cheese sausage) hot dog for brunch.
On returning Rosie and I walked to her friend's apartment, before returning to grab her car and head out of town. You don't have to go too far to leave the city and before long, we were passing through the village of Grinzing. Winding roads continued upwards through the forest to the lookout point of Leopoldsberk. This gave us a panoramic view of the city in the distance and the Wienerwald wine region in the foreground.
Back at Rosies and a big screen TV, we watched the England/Portugal match.
Rosie's huge apartment is perfectly located in the 8th district, right behind the Rathaus, the beautiful Barogue town hall, exquisitely lit at night. Yes, I have photos.
We popped around the corner to the area in front of the Rathaus to have a Japanese dinner at the international food fair and film festival they have every night for the next two months. The France/Brasil game followed.
Sunday the 2nd of July - travel from Vienna to London.
There were a couple of things to squeeze in before I did so. First, Rosie was surprised I hadn't found St Stephans Cathedral, so with her on her bike and me bumping along on a City Bike we rode there. WOW! 250 000 mosaic tiles cover the roof and countless gargoyles adorn the walls and cornices. Inside was no less impressive.
After riding home, showering and packing my bags, we enjoyed a brunch of eggs benedict.
Rosie drove me to the airport and we stopped on the way for 'must see' thing number two for today - Huntertwasser Haus. He was a crazy artist and the apartments here that he designed and decorated have a crazy wavy Gaudi feel, but are covered with random coloured and shaped tile mosaics.
Airport drop in plenty of time for my 1:30 flight to London.
It has not only been good to spend time with a friend, but by making me feel at home, I have enjoyed the feeling of my 'own house' and space. My own room, but not a hotel. I had a fantastic time in Vienna and would recommend it.