Vienna, Austria

While there was a very long short-list of places to go, Vienna eventually won the coveted prize of being the destination of my November trip, 2009. Before I stepped onto the plane I confess that I have little idea what there is to see in Austria’s capital city. It certainly has a famous name but you can’t base an entire trip on an Ultravox song and the teenage home of one of the least loved people from the twentieth century.

Having dropped my bags off at the hotel, I decided to just get the metro to the centre of town and see how things panned out. Public transport was pretty swift and efficient as far as I could tell.

That strategy, as basic as it was, worked out rather well. I had picked Stephansplatz as it was pretty much right in the middle of Innere Stadt but had no real idea what I would find when I exited the U-Bahn.

Stephansplatz features the huge and very grand Stephansdom. The roof has very detailed green and yellow tiles which looked bright and cheerful during the day and a little sinister at night, especially when foggy.

(These last two were both taken on a recent acquisition: a 50mm Canon prime lens.)

Going in late November there was also the lure of the odd Christmas Market. What I hadn’t counted on was seeing one on pretty much every street corner.

The biggest was in front of the Radhaus (townhall). It was huge and very well attended, with everyone taking their share of punsch, kartoffelpuffers and wursts (sausages). There were also huge numbers of gingerbread and chocolate and kitsch Christmas tree decorations.

One of the nice things was that, for the first couple of nights at least, mine was about the only English voice in the crowd. This caused a few minor problems ordering food — I didn’t recognise the word for garlic (knoblauch?) — but it’s nice that locals visit these things as well as tourists.

Later in the week I got as far as Schloss Belvedere where there was another reasonably sized market. Many of the others were much smaller.

I can’t say that I was very tempted by any of the baubles, but the glühwein was most welcome in the Autumn chill.

During the day I did a lot of walking around, checking out the many and various grand, old buildings.

Karlskirche looks impressive from the outside.

But the inside is in the process of being renovated. They’re making good use of the scaffolding by allowing tourists to climb up to the roof too. It’s really neat to see the artwork so close.

And then when you get to the top the view is pretty spectacular, albeit obscured slightly by the grill on the window. I have to say that the window looked more secure than the platform felt. With all the people climbing up and down it was wobbling quite alarmingly.

Other than the public transport and the ability to climb towers, another way to get around would be the horses and carriages. There was no shortage around the Hofburg and Stephansplatz, though they all looked miserable in the cold and fog.

Perhaps the most grand building, certainly the one with the best lighting after dark, is the Radhaus. The parliament building, which is next door, looks quite ordinary by comparison.

My flight back to London was pretty late and, having seen many of the obvious sights and getting weary of the cold, I ducked into the Natural History Museum. I’d avoided it on the previous days as there’s a similar-seeming one in London, but, well, it was cold outside. Luckily I was wrong: it was well worth visiting in its own right. As with the one in Kensington, the building was impressive.

There was a nice Darwin exhibition that managed to explain some pretty sophisticated concepts. And they also had a primate wearing glasses, which I thought was funny. It was designed to make a point about how active evolution is when we’re altering the kinds of things that nature typically selects against.

Continuing the theme of how easily amused I am, there was also an infrared camera. My camera looks really big from that angle!

Overall Vienna was a great place to spend a long weekend and it’s relatively small which makes it very walkable. There’s lots of stuff to see both inside and out. If there’s one down-side it’s that they seem to hide their best food. My success rate at just stumbling across restaurants was not high, and getting anything more than a (very good) cake after lunch was more miss than hit. Not since Copenhagen has a dinner been so lame. Next time I guess I should pay more attention to the guide book.

If you have not had your fill of pictures, take a look at the full Vienna set on Flickr.


2 responses to “Vienna, Austria”

  1. I am from Austria and know Vienna very well. So I was impressed by your pics which caught a lot I know about Vienna. I like esp that one about the lift in the Karlskirche. A very special tourist attraction of Vienna at the moment.