RtW Cities: Vienna

For Christmas this year I decided to continue my tradition of heading towards the German Weihnachtsmärkte, or Christmas markets. Two years ago it was Stuttgart, last year Berlin (sorry, I forgot a RtW post for it!) and this year I decided to make a bit more of a trip out of it: first a train to Stuttgart again for two days to catch up with a friend, then train to Munich for a few, then finally continuing the rail journey to end at my main destination of Vienna for five days, including the 25th. Also: one warning, being from Australia, I apologise if at any point in this post I write that instead of Austria - it's hard to retrain my fingers, but I mean .at, not .au.

Vienna had been high on my to-visit list for a long time, mostly because (a) it's an old European city with a rich (and musical!) history, and (b) it consistently ranks as one of the top cities to live in, so I had high hopes. Note that 'liveable' doesn't necessarily mean good to visit - Zurich also ranks highly, but is low on attractions outside of shopping and locality to other things. Vienna has the advantage of a much larger population however (~1.7 million, about the same as Perth, Hamburg or Montreal), and the cultural centers it has accumulated left me with a filled week and wishing I had made it a longer stay.

First up: I wouldn't recommend starting any visit there on the 24th. I made this mistake - I was able to make it to one Xmas market (at the Rathaus) but most other things were closed, including Vienna's main shopping street (Mariahilfer Straße) - I guess similar to Germany, the 24th (in particular night) is a time for celebrating with family, but I managed to find a Turkish place in the end :)

The city was much more alive on Christmas day however - the markets were full, this time Maria-Theresien-Platz which included a short history lesson on who Maria Theresa was; I had never heard of her, but she seemed quite good at leading the Habsburgs, improving education, progressive civil rights, while also having 16 children, 11 of whom were called Maria. For me, the 25th was also topped off by an excellent lunch (Aperol spritz, and my family's traditional smoked salmon, at Huth Stadtgasthaus) and rounded out with a quartet playing Mozart and Haydn at Mozart house. Similar to when watching the Vivaldi concert in Venice, I'm not sure I'm as much of a fan of these really small close-in performances, but it's still enjoyable (and comforting to see/hear that even professionals make mistakes), and something I felt I had to do while visiting. Sadly, no snow though, it came close, but didn't progress past a drizzle of rain.

The 26th was mostly visiting the amazing Schönbrunn palace - as can be seen at the start of this post, the weather was perfect for wandering the palace gardens, plus touring inside and finally, enjoying the markets out the front (yes, some places still had xmas markets open after the 25th!). What also surprised me was how recently it had still been used - e.g. Franz Joseph died while living there in 1916, and it was used as offices post-WWII (meaning that the fancy older-style rooms inside were occasionally connected to a modern bathroom en-suite...). As it was boxing day, I also continued the old Australian Lord-of-the-Rings release day tradition by going to see Hobbit #3, although accidentally in German (the dubbing/languages are done differently than in Zurich, I realize now...if it helps anyone in the future, OmU = original language with subtitles).

Then, on the 27th, I got quite a bit of proper snow! So spent some time outside just enjoying it, but after getting cold, ended up visiting the impressive Museum quarter - in particular Mumok, the modern art museum. The main exhibition ("Hippies use side door") was a bit hit and miss for me, but the stuffed animals were used well, and I can now say that in real life I've seen both a Mondrian and in particular, my favourite painter Magritte as they had La Voix du Sang). Additionally, as a psychology fan, I made sure to check out the Freud museum (pictured above). It's a bit unusual as it's just a few small rooms where he used to live and work, but it can be interesting to imagine while there at what it would have been like when in use, and see works like The Interpreation of Dreams in their natural environment. Plus, all the non-psych political goings on at the time - the late 1930s was not a good time to be Jewish in Austria, and he eventually exiled to London.

Overall, Vienna definitely was a great place to be a tourist, and I imagine living there would be quite enjoyable too. Things like politics/health care/social security seem reasonably well run, public transport is great - trains, busses, trams (with heated seats! great for snowy days...) and a good subway system suggest it will survive future growth too. It also seemed to have a suitable mix of old and new stuff - while there's a large number of older impressive buildings (the national library is amazing!), it didn't seem to present much of an impediment to modern expansion - e.g. the Donau area definitely feels much more 20th/21st century.

For all the photos, see this album, and I leave you with Federbaer's most recent acquisition - he decided to join in on my guitar playing, but one-upped me by getting an Austrian instrument.

To other updates that I didn't want to put in their own blog post. First is that Katie and I broke up - check various social networks for more details. It was a friendly split though, so we're both doing ok, but that explains why she's not in this (or future) posts. The other much smaller one is that I turned off Google plus comments and went back to blogger ones - mostly to remove the need to have a google account to add comments, plus this model is a bit easier to understand (comments here don't also appear as top-level posts in G+). If you have any problems posting comments in the new system, let me know (as I wrote much of the code :p).


  1. Good post!
    Glad you are learning some history about that part of the world. The Hapsburgs were quite interesting, really. Poor old Franz Jozef - Emperor for all those years, died, and then the whole empire collapsed 2 years later.
    You have made me want to go back to Vienna. Apart from all the places and things to visit, I could have my plain Wiener Schnitzels again.


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