Writing about Vienna is a daunting task for me, as it is something which I have intended to do since January for a project on the Huffington Post (soon to be resurrected, I promise, watch that space.)
I was lucky enough to visit the magnificent capital again as part of my friends and I mini European break, since EM (our friend who had studied in Vienna for a year) still had a flat there. With two visits down, and a newly-established blog I am determined to write about the city and do it justice.
Better seven months late than never… right?!
We arrived in Vienna after a five-hour coach journey from Prague. Exhausted (and probably a little smelly) we walked to EM’s flat to collapse, ready for an adventure the next day – with promises of ice-cream for breakfast, and perhaps a trip to the Danube river.
It was raining.
It was raining hard. I’m British, I don’t say such a thing lightly.
And in true Brit style, we donned our waterproofs, seized our umbrellas and headed to the ice-cream parlour for breakfast, getting some odd looks from the staff as we did. EM suggested we go to the Hundertwasser gallery as it was indoors. I had been in January and – surprising myself – I really loved it, so was happy to go again.
For those unfamiliar with his work (as I certainly had been)
It is definitely not for everyone. Some think it’s childish, and wave it away with the dismissive thought ‘anyone could do that.’ But as someone who can’t draw a stick person, knows next to nothing about art, and finds some forms of it just dull – I love this stuff. It’s vibrant, colourful, and different. Walking round (on up-and-down floors as Hundertwasser was against straight lines) I enjoyed being reminded that anyone can give art a go. It’s what you want it to be and it can’t really be wrong.
Above the gallery is a space which hosts different exhibitions throughout the year. We were… fortunate … enough to see the SHOEting Stars exhibit. Never in my life has a shoe made me fear for my life (the soles were made of human teeth) Nor seeing a video of someone walk in a pair of shoes made me nearly cry with laughter (they wore heels taller than them) It was an experience to say the least.
EM showed us the University of Vienna, which put my beloved Sheffield to shame a bit. I felt like I had stepped in to a listed-building which was meant for admiration and I shouldn’t touch anything. Not so much a place where people go for lectures, or perhaps a little light reading.
We headed home to have some pasta pesto, and despite the grand building a world apart from my own university, I fondly felt like I was right back in Sheffield. This feeling was carried on through to pre-drinks where we had a night out to Travel Shack. In EM’s words: “It’s awful, but it’s so so great.” We actually spent most of the night just chatting to people, and it was incredibly pleasant to have conversation coated with sweet friendliness rather than uneasy sleaze. Though somewhat numbed by the constant cigarette smoke, as people could smoke indoors.
The next day, I felt ever-so slightly nauseous. This may have had something to do with hearing the bartender saying I couldn’t get a tap water, as he only had soda water. So I had the brilliant idea to order a couple of vodka and soda waters – after a few tipples of gin. But it was finally sunny, and I couldn’t wait to see Vienna shine.
We went to the Town hall (top two pictures) the rose garden (bottom left) and past the place where Hitler announced war on Poland (bottom right) I recognised this spot from my visit in January, just nearby are two museums with identical architecture.
Vienna is a stunning city to visit – as I’ve discovered both during the winter and summer months. Walking along the streets is hard because you want to crane your neck to look to the very tops of the buildings. Whether the buildings have the backdrop of charcoal grey or a glowing sky blue, you still want to pause to look at each and every one. Vienna is known for its galleries, but the city itself is artwork.
But a place I fell in love with in the winter, was just absolutely radiant in summer: the Schönbrunn palace. Both times I have been there, I have not paid to get in to the palace itself but the grounds offer more than enough entertainment for hours.
Especially the Maze, and Labyrinth which are open in summer. €3 is worth it. I felt like a little kid running around the maze, trying to find the centre to get to the platform. (Just for the record, I got there first) Hopping on to the stepping stones, slightly giddy in the sunlight.
We arrived at the palace at four in the afternoon, and it shuts at 7 so after the maze, we still had a couple of hours to explore. It was getting quieter, and quieter – a blanket of peace draped over my shoulders as I tried to take in the grandeur and the views. We climbed up a hill, with sunlight highlighting the purple wild flowers in the grass, and Vienna’s vista slowly emerged itself to us, as we climbed higher.
As much as I love writing, there are not the words to describe that vista. Nor the contentment nestling through my muscles and bones as it felt exactly right to be there – absorbing the beauty of the place. If the city of Vienna is artwork, then this view was its masterpiece.
We walked back through the gardens. We were some of the last people there and to be in the middle of such a grand garden with just a few of your friends, it’s a moment that you want to savour, knowing it might not happen again. Not exactly like this. The feeling of contentment reassuringly stroked along my shoulders.
For our last day in Vienna, we went to the Belvedere. An art gallery inside a palace. Yes, it is grand as it sounds.
My favourite piece in here by far is Gustav Klimt: The Kiss.
This picture (ironically) doesn’t do it justice. It’s golden and has a soft, glowing light to it. I may not know much about art, but it was wonderful to see the effect this painting has on people. You could see people turn away, and then turn back. One man crouched on the ground with his hands behind his head, in a state of disbelief he was seeing the original print.
Walking around the gallery, a lot of the artwork and artists went over my head. (except Monet) But I occasionally surprised myself by finding myself drawn in to a piece, stopping to look at it further, and asking myself what I liked about it. There was a constant atmosphere of quiet respect.
In the evening we went to Café Europa for a bite to eat – having previously eaten 70 cent pasta, and 65 cent pizza in EM’s fla – the food in there was very satisfying. Though even without budget meals, it still would have tasted great. That evening was also the final of the World Cup – Germany vs Argentina. Not a football fan myself, but willing to go to appreciate the atmosphere and have a cheap beer, we headed down to the Danube to watch it at the beach bars.
Watching the city dim down, the river gliding along with lit up trams on the bridge overhead, I felt an echo of the feeling I had at the Schonbrunn. There was this constant feeling of calm elegance. It might make for the occasional rude or snobbish person (we all felt the people were not particularly polite, and stared far too much) but it also made you want to stop and try to take it all in. I said at the beginning I want to Vienna justice, but there are only so much my words can do. There are only so much pictures can do. There is only so much beauty an artist and art galleries can capture. You’ve really just got to explore it yourself. Not just Vienna, but all over the place.
X marks the spot:
Blumenstockgasse 5, 1010 Vienna, Austria
In London, apparently, people queue for hours for a chance to dine in the cat café, whereas in Vienna you can just stroll in, take a seat and be greeted by a cat padding about before the waitress takes your order.
The cats are from rescue centres, and they are free to roam around the café. There are baskets, climbing shelves, and guests can even buy them snacks on the menu. Also on the menu are descriptions of the cats (bring a German-speaking friend with you as the descriptions are adorable and well-worth a read)
I’m not even a cat person, and I found the place delightful. What I find most charming is the children who slowly approach the cats, their faces wide-eyed with wonderment as they run a finger tentatively down the cat’s back. Pictures are allowed, just don’t use flash.
In the café you can buy a selection of coffee, juices, Japanese teas, and cake. In January I tried hot apple juice, which I know sounds odd – but trust me, it is delicious. Café Neko is down an unassuming side street, but once you find it – take the time to sit back and enjoy the charming vibe of the place.