Two fantastic, if very wind chilled and slightly expensive days in Vienna. After five days in Budapest, it was something of a relief to find ourselves in a city that, barring the language, at least resembled a western city (good shops, lots of advertising to make you feel at home etc etc). But as far as the appearance of the city goes, very little prepares you for Vienna.
After the massive buildings in Budapest, we thought that seen a fair bit, but man, they know how to build things big in Vienna. We arrived in town around lunchtime and walked into the centre of town, and area defined by a ring road where the city walls used to stand. And every corner was dominated by a humungous imperial looking building. Museums, opera houses, castles, palaces, parliament buildings, libraries, the lot. Astoundingly impressive. And worthy of spending many hours admiring, except for the fact that it was blisteringly cold. And snowing.
Even though we had been above the Artic Circle, and seen more snow than you could want, we had only ever seen some really light, weak attempts at snowing. But Vienna turned it on. Nothing too serious, and nothing really settled on the ground, but it was still quite spectacular. For five minutes at least, then you wished it would all just bugger off and let you walk to the next sight without developing a case of frost bite.
To escape the cold we went to St Stephans Cathedral, a magnificent gothic church with uneven towers. (There is apparently a good reason why one of the towers is shorter than the other, but do you think we could find it?) Bigger than what I remember Notre Dame, we went up on of the towers for a look around. While Caren was having a panic attack (very high up, very windy, with open steel grating underfoot), I managed to have a look around at Vienna. At least until I froze into a solid block from the wind and had to be brought inside to thaw out.
The next morning we went out to the Palace where the Austrian Imperial Family lived. And if ever you needed any reason as to why revolutions took place then just come here. (Of course, the Austrians didn’t have a revolution to get rid of their royal family, they just sat down and signed a treaty. Very civilised and efficient of them.) Opulence is too light a word for this place. Gilding everywhere. 1500 rooms. Huge gardens. Different rooms depending on what time of day it was and what meal you were eating. Truly astounding.
Of course, knowing how all of the rest of the people in Austria would have been living makes you just that much happier that the system has been replaced. Kind of makes me wish that Lizzie would wake up and smell the coffee.
We then trammed it back into the city, had a coffee at a wonderful coffee house (with smoke stained walls, chandeliers and green velvet lounges), and went to the State Opera House. It was built in the mid 1800’s, and was appropriately stunning for the time, but was seriously damaged in WWII, which meant that about 80% of it has been rebuilt. And because they had no money after the war, they had to skimp a bit. Not that it makes it any less grand, just not quite as much ornate sculpturing and gilt edging.
After that it was a quick nap back at the hostel, and then off to a pub that allegedly sold beer by the centimeter. Not that we saw any evidence of that. Just a lot of Pint mugs. We had some Austrian and Czech beers, and an enormous Schnitzel for dinner. And then it was back to bed, so that we can get up in time for our train ride to Prague.