Friday, 30 May 2014

Vienna: Horse Ballet and the Hapsburgs || Travel Diary

Imperial Hofburg Palace
(Travel Day 22)
The German name for Vienna is "Wien" so "Wienerschnitzel" literally translates to Vienna-Schnitzel.
Wien wein = Vienna wine.

Day 1:

When we arrived in Vienna we had to hurriedly check-in to our hostel before heading out again for the evening local "Walk and Fork" of Vienna. This process proved a little more awkward for us than most, as we were staying at a different hostel than the drop-off point. Chris volunteered to (literally) run up to our hostel and check us in, while I waited with the rest of the group.

On the "Walk and Fork tour" we saw the inner city sights with a local Austrian man called Holst (who has a great accent, but this also meant that he was a little hard to understand.) The architecture around Vienna is gorgeous! Lots of large grand buildings and statues scattered all over the city.

After admiring the stunning architecture we took a long walk through the Vienna gardens.
Here is a famous golden statue of Mozart, who (although born in Salzburg) rose to fame while living in Vienna as a young man. It was in Vienna, that he composed many of his best-known symphonies, concertos, and operas (an obvious tourist attraction too as you can see)
We then walked through the landscaped gardens to a small restaurant where we sat down to a meal of Schnitzel and Apple strudel for dinner and dessert. Delicious. The Schnitzel was enormous!

Day 2:

It was a beautiful, hot, sunny day. We slept in and made it a shopping day. We hadn't allowed ourselves much down time while we had been travelling through the previous citites, and Vienna seemed like a nice place to do it since we were here for five nights.

We went to the Stephansplatz and walked along the boulevard. We re-visited Donner Fountain. The tour guide told us the previous evening that the artist of these statues got cheap-skated by the commissioner, so he repositioned this statue to position his arse to point directly at the owners window. A way of telling him to kiss his arse.
Donner Fountain
St. Stephen's Cathedral
St. Stephen's Cathedral
While walking around Vienna the yellow colour scheme is quite noticeable, which is due to the Hapsburgs influence on the city. The street buskers were all very talented, playing classical music.
We finished out night by sitting down in front of Opera house to watch part of the live Opera inside "La travieta" on the big screen for free. Not that we could understand a word of it, but it was a nice experience.

Day 3 

We went to the Wombats hostel early the next morning for the "Grape Grazing Wine Bike Tour". Where we met up with one of our new friends, Liz. The group then took double decker train 50mins out of town to Krems where we all got on hired bikes, and rode along in the hot Austrian wine valley sun for what felt like a long time. Winding through adorable cobblestoned Austrian villages. 
We then stopped for a break in a cute wine growing town where "Richard the Lion Heart" was once imprisoned.
The stores sold all sorts of wine, schnapps, and jams. We needed a drink to refresh after walking up a hill to get a better view.
The Castle in the background is where "Richard the Lion heart" was imprisoned.
View from the hill
We quickly climbed as much of the hill in the short amount of time that we had. Unfortunately we didn't quite make it to the top, which is mostly attributed to the hot temperatures that day.
We carried on our ride until we got to a family owned and run vineyard where we had a classic BBQ, salad, bread rolls and wine tasting for lunch. The wines were all explained to us, with details about how they were grown, the origins of the region and why the wine here tastes the way it does (a.k.a delicious) All the young wines in the area are traditionally sweet, fruity, and a little peppery.
As we got back on bikes to continue onto next winery, we all left a little more merry and rosy cheeked. 

The next vineyard was positioned on hill with a lovely view. As expected we tasted more wine, with generous pours. We learnt about the wine makers lifestyles and got to know or tour mates better.
We had a good ol' merry time while tasting more wine.
 Back on bikes and across the Danube on a tiny ferry, we were offered a swim in 8°C river which we all declined, as we could see a thunderstorm looming on the horizon. Good thing too, as when we were biking back to Krems the thunder and lightning were on our tail the whole time. Luckily it only started spitting as we got back to the train.
Afterwards we went to Wombats bar, to catch up with new friends. We played Movie Music trivia which I happened to be rather good at, which meant I got a lot of free shots for correct answers (which I paid for in the morning!) We then randomly took the Metro to town for a festival to end our night.

Day 4:

Bananas and Apples for breakfast! (as our hostel doesn't have a kitchen) 
Took Metro to Spanish Riding School for the 10:30 performance, we got there a lot earlier than most and was able to pick our standing spot. Although this also meant we were standing for an extra half hour and our feet were quite sore by the end of it. 
 (Here is an official Spanish Riding School video, in case you want to know more about the performance)
We both really enjoyed the show, and it took me back to my dressage days. My Mum has always loved horses and rode them a lot when she was young. One of her biggest regrets when she travelled Europe was that the Spanish Riding School were away travelling when she visited Vienna. So I have heard about these horses growing up and practised dressage riding lessons when I was younger. So getting to actually see the performance was quite exciting for me. We bought the programme so that Chris could learn a bit about it while we waited. The horse ballet was set to classical music, Strauss was one that I recognised. The skilled training, concentration and footwork precision of the Lipizzaner horses and riders was very impressive.
After lunch we went to the Butterfly house (Schmetterling Haus) which was a humid 35°C inside. There were lots of lovely butterflies everywhere, but the cheeky buggers proved quite difficult to take photos of as they were constantly moving. We managed to get a few though.
Once we left the butterfly house, we relaxed in the park with ice-blocks to cool down, because we were both rather sweaty.
We then wandered over to Natural history Museum, and the heavens opened up soon after we got inside. It was interesting walking around a Museum while we could hear thunder booming outside.

There was an amazing selection of animal fossils, bones and displays. Including an anomatrontic Allosaurus, and a Chernobyl exhibit upstairs.
The exhibits were impressive, but the interior of the museum itself was also stunning. With detailed walls and ceilings throughout the halls and exhibition rooms. If you visit the museum, the Cafe is worth a visit just to see how its decorated.
We returned to our hostel later that evening and could hear violinists playing classical music on the street outside apartment. Vienna, what a place...

Day 5:
Another beautiful, sunny day.
We begrudgingly had McDonald's for breakfast at noon because it was Sunday, and almost nothing was open. So we hired Citybikes and rode to Schönbrunn Palace. We took the grand tour of the rooms trying our best to avoid the large tour groups filling each space. The ornamentation on the ceilings and walls was spectacular. I would not like to be the one who dusts it. We learnt about the Hapsburg family and their connections to Marie Antonette and Sisi with the audio guide. It took us about an hour to tour the inside but unfortunately photography wasn't permitted. Following that, we walked around gardens and mazes of the Schönbrunn Palace.
Enjoying pretzels that were big enough to share.
The gardens were stunning, as we were learning to expect from the Austrian royalty. With secluded areas where musicians were playing.
We then biked home and finished our time in Vienna by watching  X-Men "Days of Future Past" at a local English language cinema.

Quick Summary (TL;DR)

Duration of stay: 5 nights
Was it enough time?:Yes, we had lots of leisure time and feel like we say a good amount of what Vienna has to offer.
Where we stayed: Pension Primavera
Time of Year: May
Best memories: The "Grape Grazing Wine Tour" and watching the Spanish Riding School performance.
Worst memories: Not being able to find food when the shops were all closed.
Top tip: Hire bikes, it's a easy way to see more of the city. If you want to see the Spanish Riding School horses, make sure you check the available dates before you co-ordinate your trip as they don't perform every day.
Next time: I can't think of much we missed. Do you have any suggestions?
Vienna in a few words: Grand, classic, relaxing
Recommended?:Yes, Vienna was one of our favourite large cities.
Overall experience: 8/10
Next destination: Grünau im Almtal, Austria.

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