Monday, September 9, 2013

Vienna in 10 hours

Stop 3 in East European Trip - Vienna, Austria

If you have read a couple of my posts, then you would know that the first thing we did was find a tourist information center and get the local city maps. If this is the first time you are reading it, then a good travel tip, at least the one that has always helped us, is to get local transportation and city information from the TI. Once we found where we were on the map, we started walking towards our Hotel.

The first thing you will notice about Vienna is, how crowded it is! We reached Vienna in the middle of the week and in the middle of the day and still the roads were all pretty crowded. Thankfully, the place we were staying was located in a small street away from the traffic noise but at the same time very accessible to all the city attractions of Vienna. We could cover all the major sights of Vienna in 10 hours. After checking in, freshening up, blah... blah... blah... we packed our back packs with my camera, city maps and Rick Steve's Vienna Guide and stepped out. Our hotel was located very close to the Naschmarket, should say just across the Naschmarket. It was the best thing that happened to us, one side was the market, while on the other, it had about 20-30 restaurants and cafes (yaaayyy!!!).

After a relaxed meal of Gnocchi with egg and fresh green salad for me and a Traditional Viennese Goulash soup for my husband - all washed down with a couple of glasses of wine, we started walking towards the Opera. On our way to the Opera House, we covered the Albertina and the monument against war and fascism.

View from Albertina

Monument against War and Fascism
Monument of War and Fascism by Rick Steves
While waltzing from the Schönbrunn to Sachertorte, don't miss a powerful memorial standing behind Vienna's Opera House (on Albertinaplatz). The Monument Against War and Fascism consists of four thought-provoking statues.
The split white monument, The Gates of Violence, remembers victims of all wars and violence, including the 1938–1945 Nazi rule of Austria. Standing directly in front of it, you're at the gates of a concentration camp. Step into a montage of wartime images: clubs and WWI gas masks, a dying woman birthing a future soldier, and chained slave laborers sitting on a pedestal of granite cut from the infamous quarry at Mauthausen Concentration Camp.
The hunched-over figure on the ground behind is a Jew forced to wash anti-Nazi graffiti off a street with a toothbrush. The statue with its head buried in the stone (Orpheus entering the underworld) reminds Austrians of the consequences of not keeping their government on track. Behind that, the 1945 declaration of Austria's second republic — with human rights built into it — is cut into the stone. The experience gains emotional impact when you realize this monument stands on the spot where several hundred people were buried alive when the cellar they were hiding in was demolished in a WWII bombing attack.
When reading the above excerpt from Rick Steve's book and standing where we were standing, was quite emotional. Travel might be fun and exciting but personally, for me travel has been an eye opener in a lot of ways. The deeper meaning of life, looking out the box that you have been brought up in and seeing life through other people's eyes. It can put a lot of things into perspective and erase out a lot of things which you had thought had some perspective!

I know I changed the tone of my post from being light to something very serious but I really wanted  to try and convey what I felt at that moment.

Anyways, moving on... from here, we continued our self-guided walking tour and went towards the Opera House.
Vienna's Opera House
Going back to the lighter side of life, something really funny happened here. Near the Opera House you see many many ladies and gentlemen dressed as Mozart (yes, the stereotypical projection of Mozart, red coats and white wigs); they sell Opera tickets and their targets are... we tourists! The minute we reached the Opera House, we were approached by one and we shot him down so quickly he didn't even realize that we were done talking. We moved on and then there was this other guy who laid the perfect trap to engage us in a conversation, he saw us and called out "Hey do you guys know what all goes into making a VEGETARIAN BRIYANI?" Come on... I had to answer that, being a vegetarian (OK! Eggetarian but still...) we got talking and he swooped his way in to sell tickets! We had already been to a concert in Salzburg and previously, one in Venice (yeah! I know this post is still pending...) so we budged and asked him if he had any tickets to an Opera. Fortunately for him and unfortunately (money-wise) for us, he had just the one we were asking for, called Die Fledermaus at the Schönbrunn Palace for the next day 7:00 pm show (70 EUR just vanished into thin air at that point! That went straight to our expense with label "lets-do-it-anyways-since-its-once-in-a-lifetime-chance"). Though I was the reason for starting that conversation with the ticket guy in the first place, I was the perfect wife and nagged about spending so much money in a giffy, throughout the remaining of our walking tour. Did I tell you my husband has a LOT of patience? :D 

The next stop in our walking tour, St. Stephen's Cathedral.
St Stephens Cathedral, Vienna




The walk towards St. Stephens was as mesmerizing as the Cathedral itself. The entire street is filled with shops and its a shoppers paradise but the best part is the buildings are a mix of the old and the new architecture. The photograph below depicts just that, the building on the right used to be offices of lawyers and accountants.


The walking tour continued, taking us through Graben, a pedestrians only street, famous for its Plague Column/Trinity Column as well as the Classic public toilets (yes! you read it right!) designed by the famous architect Adolf Loos. The interior decor of these loos are still maintained in the same way as they were initially designed and they are fully functional.

Plague Column/Trinity Column
The Plague column was commission by Emporer Leopold I during the terrible plague epidemic in 1679, which costed the lives of 100,000 of people. This column was erected as a prayer at the end of the epidemic.

From Graben, we walked towards the more exclusive market street, Kohlmarket which leads to the Hofburg.

From the Hofburg Palace, we walked towards the Parliament House of Vienna.
From here, we wanted to see the City Hall and there was our surprise waiting for us. The Film Festival 2013 was being screened. The best part of the surprise was, on that specific day, they were going to screen an Opera (yup, a similar one for which we had paid 70 EUR is being screened here for free and with sub-titles!!!). After nagging some more about how we are wasting money unnecessarily, we settled to watch it for sometime. It started around 9:00pm and was 3.5 hours long, so we couldn't stick around till the end since we had to get dinner before the restaurants close. Vienna, unlike the other cities, has restaurants open for a longer time. Thanks to the Naschmarket, restaurants there close around 11:00pm.

We had a quick dinner in a Chinese restaurant and went back to the Hotel, to crash for the night. 10 hours since we left the hotel room, we had seen Vienna by foot and enjoyed every moment of it. 

But we didn't know that this was just the beginning! The next day was going to be the highlight of our entire trip. One that, probably, we will never forget in our lives. What all we did you ask? 
- Ran from the metro station to the main station to catch the train to Melk, caught it with 1 min to spare
- Adventures in the Danube river valley region, 
- Ran to catch the train back to Vienna, caught it again with 2 mins to spare

Last but not the least, we were the last 2 to enter into a proper Opera, in an Opera Theater of the Schonbrunn Palace, which had already started!!! All this makes it eligible for a separate post about "Day 2 in Vienna", coming up soon!