Second day: Vienna There is so much to see and do in Vienna. We’ve only given ourselves two full days here, and it’s not enough to even begin to scratch the surface. Frommer’s suggested two-day itinerary for Vienna is impossible: three museums a day, plus gardens, palaces, food at wonderful Viennese restaurants (where no one hurries), and evenings at the opera or music hall, or maybe at a tavern or club. And don’t forget to walk on the Danube or ride a tram around the Ringstrasse.
If you want to see anything, you just can’t squeeze that much into 24 hours.
Our first full day in Vienna starts with a wonderful Austrian breakfast in the Hotel Kaiserhof: cold cuts, great bread and pastries, eggs, cereals and fresh fruit—it’s not a U.S.-style buffet, but there is so much, and it’s so good, and it’s all as fresh as possible. Meanwhile, waitresses keep bringing more coffee.
We buy the Vienna Card at the hotel, but it’s expensive—18.50 euros per person. It gives us an unlimited transit pass for 72 hours, as well as discounts to museums and music performances. We’ll have to see whether it’s really worth it, though.
Our hotel is less than a five-minute walk to the metro station and the Ringstrasse directly over it, so we don’t wait for a tram. We walk through the von Karajanplatz, home of the Staatsoper or opera house, and almost right into the Hofburg, ancient home of the Hapsburg imperium. This is actually several buildings constructed over centuries, and now housing several museums and the training school of the iconic Lippizaner horses. We spend hours in the Kaiserapartments and the museum dedicated to Sisi, Empress of Austria and the wife of the still much-loved Emperor Franz Josef. If you ask me, Sisi was a cold bitch.
We come out of the Hofburg just as a marching band parades out the gate into the Michaelerplatz. They play Strauss Senior’s march, and the crowd claps along. Then the musicians buy beer and wine (awful stuff!) at the kiosk in front of the fountain. The major is happy to let me snap a pic of him with Nicolas.
We have lunch in the busy Neuer Markt square. The restaurant is called Le Bol, where French-speaking waitresses serve what pretends to be French food. It’s okay, if expensive. And if you can get the waitress’s attention. I guess they’re trying to provide the real French experience. Austrian waiters are far preferable.
Just walking around Vienna is rewarding. Many streets are pedestrian-only, and the drivers seem intent on giving pedestrians lots of time to cross and always give way.
Next, U-bahn (metro) to the Schonnbrunn Palace, summer home of the Hapsburgs when they were Holy Roman Emperors. Whoa. Unbelievable, and well worth a day. We view some of the treasures, including the dinner dishes of the old Imperial family. You don’t expect emperors and their guests to dine on Wal-mart dishes?
The gold and the artistry involved in making this stuff is breathtaking, but the wealth invested in this display just makes your head spin. And to think this is just the stuff accumulated in the century between the Napoleonic wars and the end of the Empire in 1918, because all the silver was melted down for coin to pay for the wars against Napoleon!
The U-bahn is great: fast, short journeys between stations, clean, efficient. It never seems to get too crowded because all the Viennese are so courteous.
The thing that really strikes us as we continue our tour of this ancient, magnificent yet comfortable and welcoming city: it’s so clean. Vienna makes Toronto look scruffy. You can eat off the floors in most places, and I literally did not see any litter on the ground. Nor is there graffiti in Vienna. I don’t know if the city scrubs it off immediately, or the Austrians just aren’t given to that. I suspect both.
Free Wifi access is widespread in Vienna. It’s a nice convenience, and totally unexpected.
We have an early supper at the Café Museum on the Ringstrasse, near the corner of Kartnerstrasse and therefore our hotel. Food is good, and for Vienna, not too expensive. Nicolas enjoyed his glass of beer. Then we return to the hotel to change for the concert at the Musikverein, home of the Vienna Philharmonic. The concert, strictly for the tourist crowd, borders on kitsch: selections of Mozart operas and some Johann Strauss, Junior and Senior. The orchestra and conductor, and even the ushers, are dressed in 18th-century costumes and wigs. The Golden Hall is worth a visit in its own right: the golden ceiling is decorated in paintings and sculptures, and every doorway into the hall and the balconies are capped with sculptures of gods and muses. And don’t worry about the prohibition of photography. You probably couldn’t bring in a big camera, but people all over were taking pictures and videos with their little digital cameras and camera-phones, and no one said anything.
After the concert, we wander back to the centre of the Innere Stadt. It doesn’t take long. As I said yesterday, Vienna is remarkably compact and pedestrian-friendly. We walk past the Sacher Hotel and look at the café’s menu, which is not outrageously expensive, even for Sachertorte. I guess we’re getting used to Viennese prices. But really, for a major tourist destination, they’re not bad.
We continue around the corner and sit down at the Café Mozart on the Albertinaplatz, across the square from the Albertina museum. Apparently, this place has been a café since before Mozart’s time, and was the place where Graham Greene wrote the screenplay for The Third Man. All in all, a very pleasant day. No disappointments in the sights, the meals or the entertainment. It is in my opinion the best value for any capital city I’ve ever been to.