July 3, 2017 (Day 1) – Vienna, Austria
Despite our late arrival the previous night, we wake up at 7.00 in the morning, and are enthused to explore Vienna, Austria. The streets are completely empty (unlike Mumbai, which at this hour would be thronging with honking cars, and bustling people). The windows of our Airbnb living room overlook an empty side street. It is around 7 a.m. in the morning, and the air outside is crisp and cool, and we follow our host’s detailed instructions on breakfast options.
A couple of blocks down, we find a local café run by a family where the locals are sitting down with a small cup of coffee, a biscuit and a newspaper. Ravenous after the previous night, we gorge on the most delicious scrambled eggs I have ever eaten, croissants and some hot tea. After a quick dash to the supermarket for essentials, we venture in the city centre of Vienna.
Vienna is wonderfully connected by trams and buses, which run at regular intervals. Armed with a map of the city, and after figuring out our connecting trams, buses and trains, we board a tram from Karanjgasse (where our Airbnb is) to take us to Hauptbanhof central station (which connects you via train, U-Bahn and buses to the rest of the city). U-Bahn is the underground metro system of Vienna which runs with remarkable precision; however, not entirely underground, because in some places, it moves above ground. There are 2 lines to the metro station (S-Bahn and the U-Bahn), and we needed to use the U-Bahn for this leg of the journey. We hop on a U-Bahn from Hauptbahnof to Stephansplatz. The metro station (like all European metros) are super efficient, and organized, and remarkably easy for someone with limited language skills to figure out. The 48-hour Vienna pass can be used across all trams, buses and metros, at approximately 11 euros.
The Stephansdom Cathedral (unfortunately a large portion of the façade was under renovation) is a majestic structure in shades of black and brown with its pointed domes extending into the bright blue summer sky, reminds me somehow of Hogwarts in a Harry potter movie. Stephansplatz square marks the city centre of Vienna, with Stephansdom cathedral, an array of shops, cafes lining the streets and throngs of tourists milling around looking for things to do, and places to explore. The area around Stephansplatz is a no vehicle zone during the day, and all you can is two legged creatures in various shapes and sizes with gigantic smiles oohing and aahing at the wonderful Stephansdom Cathedral.
We have signed up for a Third Reich walking Tour of the city, and are chafing to go. Our starting point is one of the monuments erected in memory of the Jews who died in Vienna. We are not used to the long leisurely European lunches and expect our order to be brought in quite quick (crazy Indians that we are expecting Udipi service in Europe). After literally swallowing our meal, we run to our scheduled meeting point.
Our guide is this quaint historian who regales us with unheard of stores of Hitler. Our walk takes us past the regaling building of the Vienna Academy of Fine Art (where Hitler studied), which is set in the middle of wonderfully green park for which we traverse through the Hofburg Palace grounds and the various parliament buildings. Sitting in the Hofburg Palace grounds, we stare at the podium where Hitler’s oratory powers sowed the seeds of World War II. Throughout Vienna, there are these wonderfully thoughtful monuments dedicated to the memory of the Jews who died in Vienna. The parliament buildings in Vienna are completely unassuming with minimal levels of security. It is 5 p.m. and we are sitting atop a large marble structure after a wonderfully long but enchanting walk facing the Parliament building where the Prime Minister sits with zero barricades, zero people milling around, and just the minister’s office workers cycling back from work.
We always pack too much into a day, and so in true form, we are racing back to the apartment to make it back for our classical Mozart concert at the Palais Auersperg. Vienna is abuzz with classical music and theatre, and you must definitely catch at least one show before you leave. The Palais Auersperg is located at quite a distance from the tram station at Josefstadt district, and we are completely lost. We have gotten off our U-Bahn but struggling to find the theatre – the show starts at 6.30 p.m., and it is now 6.40 p.m. We finally locate the theatre after walking through a wonderful wooded park, and slowly enter through the back door. The performance is spectacular. The lead violinist is stunning, and the Opera performers are exploding with emotion and expressiveness – I have never seen performances like this. The cellist looks like he could do this all day long, and has achieved heavenly peace and contentment, exuberating with life. The resonating vibrato of the Opera singers resound in the Palais Auersperg. Champagne awaits those with slightly higher priced tickets, but on our limited budget, we are not part of it 😊
Hoofing it through the wooded park opposite, we decide to walk back to Stephenzplatz, through the wonderful Hofburg Palace gardens and finally reach the Stephensplatz square. Dinner is street food of Weiner and bread followed by delicious ice cream and warm Apple strudel at Aida. Aida is the café we fell in love with on our Vienna trip – a fabulous cafe wafting your senses with its fresh coffee and its freshly baked treats, cladded out in 80’s style is right in the heart of the city. Done for the day, we crash at our host, Anna’s apartment.
July 4, 2017 (Day 2) – Vienna, Austria
Having resolved to run in every city we visit and explore the streets before the tourist hordes set foot on the city, we are up at 6.00. a.m. and venture out for a run in Vienna’s wonderful streets. At the end of our lane, we find a wonderful park and limber up and stretch for our run.
We run through the park covered with green, and venture to make our way to Stephansplatz – all of this without GPS and just by our feel and seeking directions from the locals. We run by beautiful kitchen gardens, and the empty streets of Vienna. The streets look very different in the early morning with the city just walking up, bakeries opening their shutters, and Stephansplatz bearing a deserted look with only trucks (during the day it is only a walking street) lining up to make deliveries.
Sitting by the sidewalk at Aida in our decidedly drenched running gear (probably the most under dressed customers), we fuel up for the day with a wonderful breakfast of toast, eggs, croissants and tea. We are hard core tea drinkers, and yes, we did opt for tea in Vienna (a city where coffee is the buzz word).
Feeling restless again, we decided to venture a climb up to the top of the Stephansdom spires. The first in line before the cathedral opened at 9.00 a.m., we climbed up, 346 winding steps up a wonderfully ice cold stone chamber. The climb was laborious proving a reminder of how unfit we were (in contrast to the Europeans who climbed with ease). The view of Vienna from the top was magnificent – the red tiled rooftops with the green spire of St. Peter’s cathedral in the distance, the green and black mosaic tiles of a portion of the tiled roof, meandering and cobbled streets, and the blue sky lending its hue to the picture perfect postcard.
Not being enough, we decided to explore the famous Schonbrunn palace before we caught our afternoon train to Salzburg. Taking the U-Bahn back, we showered and left for the train station. Schonbrunn palace is on the outskirts of Vienna, so you need to change two trains to get there (plus the tram to the main train station). Schonbrunn Palace is decidedly beautiful (however, unfortunately, a tourist trap). Not having enough time to explore the palace and the serpentine queues discouraging us, we decided to explore the Schonbrunn gardens. The Schonbrunn gardens are a riot of colors interspersed with green, and we saw spattering of gardeners trimming the maze as we were there. What caught my eye was a European family of 5, picnicking in the gardens. The parents had packed a picnic lunch, the two older children were curled up with their books, whilst the younger one had a carton of art supplies, and all 5 of them sat on a quiet park bench – enjoying the sunshine.
After basking in the sun, and exploring the maze, we decided to make our trip back home. Stopping for some last minute souvenir shopping at Stephansplatz, where we bought some delicious Mozartkugels (delicious little chocolate coconut balls wrapped in gold foil with pictures of Mozart) and Manner biscuits (delicious cream wafer biscuits in delicious flavours), we bid adieu to Vienna.