After three exciting days in Prague, we headed to Vienna to continue our summer holiday.
Day 1 We arrived at the Praterstern bus station, and soon had a 72-hour transport ticket and were navigating the city’s excellent Metro system (the U-bahn). We arrived early at our airbnb accommodation, but fortuitously bumped into our host and his daughter there. Our mini-apartment had just recently been completed – it is only a few square meters, but uses the space so well that it was more than big enough for the two of us. Our biggest challenge in Vienna was finding an open grocery shop (!), since we arrived on a public holiday Sunday (I’m glad we had some easy meals with us)… And then when we finally found an open store on the Tuesday, they didn’t accept our bank cards (resulting in having to run around the neighbourhood looking for an ATM). But that aside, Vienna was a lovely city to visit.
After settling in, we headed to the city’s main tourist information station (in Albertinaplatz) to get a good map of the city. We exited the subway system at St Stephan’s cathedral, but found the huge crowd in and around the cathedral unpleasant and were glad to move to less crowded streets. Albertinplatz was a nice spot (surrounded by museums and sculptures) and the tourist office staff were very friendly. We then headed towards to Museum Quarter, walking through the Bergergarten and past the butterfly and palm houses and the museums of natural history and anthropology – it was nice to see so many people outside enjoying the great weather and the beautiful green spaces. The Wien Museum Quarter is an amazing venue, comprising various art museums and hosting companies involved in creative fields – moreover the Quarter’s courtyard had a great atmosphere, with people sitting at cafes and restaurants (and using the free Wi-Fi). The amazing clouds that we’d been watching burst open at that moment, and we joined everyone else sheltering in the entrance.
After the short downpour we walked across to the famous Naschtmark food market – to find that it was closed! Nonetheless, we found some good hot-dogs (since it seemed right to have a vienna in Vienna). Brigitte made the right choice (a simple bratwurst dog), since my curry-ketchup-mustard Bosna was not to my liking. We continued through the city, sitting down to watch a group practicing Tango in Karlplatz.
As the evening darkened and we started to feel the day’s travels, we walked through the Stadtpark before catching the U-bahn home.
Day 2 After (again) unsuccessfully searching for an open store, we took a tram to the Upper Belvedere Palace Museum. It’s a fairly small museum (well… compared to some of the others we’ve visited), but we headed straight to what we wanted to see – the works of Gustav Klimt. We also enjoyed the Impressionist collection, and saw our first paintings of Egon Schiele (who was mentored by Klimt). The audio guide provided some interesting information, especially about the palace itself. After a lunch break for schnitzels (at a neighbourhood restaurant that was not very good), we returned to the museum and were pleasantly surprised to find a corridor of self-portraits on the lower floor… it was a nice way to end our visit. Brigitte was feeling a little weary, so we had a rest in the palace gardens, enjoying yet more good weather.
We then caught a tram into central Vienna to visit two buildings designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser – his famously exotic and eccentric Hundertwasser house and the slightly more understated Kunsthaus Wien. You can’t enter the former, but you can walk through the latter, coming out into a nice shady courtyard with a cafe.
From there we had a short walk to the Prater amusement park – the area was packed with people and we enjoyed watching some of the rides (you can enter the Prater for free, but you pay for each ride). There was a great atmosphere there, but we were soon tired enough to head to the closest U-bahn station and head home for the evening (stopping at the Westbahnhof metro station’s mini-grocery shop to stock up on provisions again).
Day 3 Finally the shops were open, so we quickly bought some groceries… Having that out of the way we caught a tram to the city centre and visited the Secession House, an exhibition space created by the Vienna Secession – a group of artists frustrated with the traditional (and restrictive?) styles of art favoured by the official artists union. The building is amazing, and it was lovely to view from the outside – the owls and the tortoises were fun and interesting decorative touches, while the giant globe of golden laurel leaves topping the structure is striking and almost unreal. Inside we enjoyed seeing the Beethoven frieze (the audio guide was useful for understanding its symbolism), and the small display about its creation and preservation was interesting. But the contemporary art exhibited was disappointing and we didn’t hang around there for long – the contemporary art exhibitions change regularly, so keep an eye on what’s showing if you’re thinking of visiting.
We had a nice picnic lunch in the Karlsplatz park, before setting off to find the Wien city museum and its Klimt paintings… after consulting our maps a few times we realized we were searching for the “Wien Museum” (not the Wien Art Museum / Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien). Nonetheless, despite some extra wandering and confusion, it was a really interesting and well-designed museum – not too big, with a high concentration of great pieces. Moreover, the museum was almost empty and were able to enjoy some of the spaces alone (it felt a bit like a private visit organized exclusively for us). The museum has both art and historical artifacts, and a selection of these were nicely combined in their temporary exhibit about miniatures – everyone could collect a magnifying glass to take into the exhibition!
After another enjoyable day in Vienna we headed home via the Museum Quarter (making the most of their free Wi-Fi), the Heldenplatz, the Volksgarten and the Minoritenkirche. In the Volksgarten we quickly popped into the Temple of Theseus – a classical Greek style building used for displaying art – seeing an interesting piece which was painted onto the buildings interior walls and was only visit from a certain angle.
Day 4 We started our last day in Vienna by returning to the Museum Quarter to visit the Leopold museum and its collection of Austrian art (“main focus of the collection lies on Austrian art of the first half of the 20th century” – see the museum’s excellent website for details). We enjoyed more works by Klimt, and by this stage had developed an interest in Schiele (so we listened through most of the audio guide commentaries about his life and work).
The “Clouds” temporary exhibit was interesting, and I really enjoyed being able to interact with Andy Warhol’s Silver Floatations. We had a nice break at the museum cafe, enjoying an almdudler (a herby lemonade-like drink) and some gugelhupf cake. We then returned to some of the other exhibitions, taking another break for a picnic lunch outside.
We had to start wrapping up our time in Vienna, and took a walk past the Rathaus (you can easily appreciate its gothic style just by walking through the central courtyard) the Votive Cathedral (which looked completely wrecked and deserted to us – but it is just undergoing restorations) and the Sigmond Freud park (with its beach chairs for enjoying the sun).
We then had time for a quick (early) supper and a shower before heading to the Westbahnhof train station to catch our overnight train to Venice… We’d booked the cheapest sleeper cabin (i.e. sharing with up to four other passengers), and were joined by four teenagers on their way to Venice for a school trip. It reminded me of youth camps (i.e. lots of joking after dark), but we both managed a decent night’s sleep and arrived ready to explore Venice… [which should be the topic of our next blog post!]