Tag Archives: Vienna

Night train to Vienna

21 Feb
Does that title conjure up images of The Third Man: Harry Lime and Holly Martins with the lovely Anna prowling about post-WWII Vienna, chasing through dark streets, sewers, and buildings reduced to rubble? The movie paints Vienna as a bleak and dreary place, certainly not the city of Mozart and Schubert.
The Stephanskirche in Vienna is very dark and grim inside and out.

The St. Stephens Cathedral in Vienna is very dark and grim inside and out.

We found Vienna to be quite bleak as well. Perhaps it is just the weather, which was rather like Seattle in winter, only colder. Skies were gray on gray, with winds that chill the neck and beg one to wrap the scarf more tightly.  We feasted our eyes on the riches of the Habsburgs in all their excess: The Hofburg Palace, Kunsthistorisches Museum (KHM for short; marvelous!), and the Schönbrunn Palace. We walked through diverse areas of the old city, marveled at the musical heritage of this one small burg, and ate non-Italian food for days. We did miss our €1.00 espresso shots and accessibly priced Italian wines, but my, the bread and pastries were tasty!
Settling in for a night on the train.

Settling in for a night on the train.

The night train was fun and we would gladly do it again. We had a large private compartment for less than the price of two one-way airline tickets and a night in a hotel plus airport transportation on both ends. The compartment even had a bathroom, although coaxing hot water out of the shower proved to be an impossible task. We slept far better than we expected to and greeted the new day in Austria with breakfast served in our compartment. All-in-all it was a lovely evening and night, affording us the opportunity to hit the streets of Vienna upon arrival.
The Schoenbrunn Palace of 1441 rooms rivals Versailles. It dates to the 16th century when it was, of course, built as a hunting lodge. Inside is 18th century Rococo.

The Schoenbrunn Palace of 1441 rooms rivals Versailles. It dates to the 16th century when it was, of course, built as a hunting lodge. Inside is 18th century Rococo.

The Habsburg wealth and excess gave us pause to consider excesses and royalty. It seemed even more excessive than that which we have seen elsewhere in Europe. Perhaps because Austria is now such a small country it is difficult to reconcile with the once great status of the empire and the family that acquired such wealth.  It is a wonder the Austrian people didn’t do to the Habsburgs what the French did to the Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette in the French Revolution. (Nota Bene: Marie-Antoinette was a Habsburg by
The backyard at the Schoenbrunn Palace.

The backyard at the Schoenbrunn Palace.

birth.) Empress Elizabeth, AKA, Sisi, seemed to be worshiped in the eponymously named museum within the Hofburg Palace. While it was fun to see the gowns and elegance of the time, she was a tragic narcissist who had ankle-length hair, a penchant for the finest chocolate Demel could deliver, and despised being married to the Emperor. Not much to admire in my book. 
For more on the riches and sights of Vienna please click on any picture below for a slide show. 
The silver lining to winter city-trips is that sites are not crowded. While weather prohibited sipping coffee in a sunny square, we enjoyed crowd-free touring and waltzed right into the museums and palaces. To be fair, even with 2 ½ days we failed to see all Vienna had to offer. Wish we’d had time for the Klimt Museum at the Belvedere Palace.
Typical wurstel stand in Vienna. YEs, they are much patronized. No, we did not.

Typical wurstel stand in Vienna. Yes, they are much patronized. No, we did not.

The food surprised us. Our dinners were anything but formula Austrian. Fresh fish and creative treatment of vegetables surprised us, although of course one can find schnitzel, too. Wine by the bottle is expensive compared to our beloved Italy, but restaurants offer a remarkable selection of wines by-the-glass at prices that make a bottle seem unnecessary. We are now big fans of Grüner Veltliner, the exceptional Austrian white wine.
The Vienna U-Bahn employs an honor system we’ve not seen before. There are no turnstiles or gates. You are responsible for buying and carrying a validated ticket or pass, and there are spot checks. We sashayed on-and-off a few times, then the last morning on our way to the train station encountered an army of ticket checkers at Schwedenplatz – at least a dozen strong – randomly looking at tickets and passes. The system made transit quite smooth. I wonder if it could be made to work in Rome?
My travel companion of 31 years and a bottle of prosecco to start the trip.

My travel companion of 31 years and a bottle of prosecco to start the trip.

For anyone planning a trip to Vienna, I have three recommendations.
  1. Hotel Stefanie is just past the Danube Canal to the north of the Ringstrasse. Old-world in style, but upgraded for modern travel with powerful showers of never-ending hot water (unlike Base Camp Barton in Rome), WIFI, and an enormous breakfast buffet. The tram to the center runs right by the front door. Off-season we paid €106.00 per night.

    Lovely fish and vegetable dish at El Hans. Delectible and pretty.

    Lovely dorado and bok choy with potatoes at El Hans. Delectable and pretty.

  2. We had incredible meals at El Hans and ef16 both within walking distance of the hotel. Certainly you can get Wienerschnitzel, but why do so when there is freshly grilled octopus, calamari, trout, pumpkin soup, violet mashed potatoes, and figs at every turn? How does Austria manage to do vegetables so much better than Switzerland?
  3. A transit pass for three days was very worthwhile. Although we walked 9-10 km daily, the weather frequently made jumping on the tram a good idea. No need to buy a Vienna Card. As seniors, every museum gave us a discount upon asking (the low end of senior defined as a youthful 61). 
More to come…Salzburg and the Pillerseetal ahead!

 

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