Viva Vienna!

January 7th, 2011

Let me tell you something.  Vienna is an extremely beautiful city.  The architecture of the buildings in the old part of the city is magnificent.  One can easily imagine the grandeur and prestige of the city during the time of the Hapsburg’s reign.  I arrived in Vienna in the afternoon of the 2nd of January, all alone.  I had planned to meet some people in the city, but you know, some things come up unexpectedly and don’t necessarily work the way you want them to.  So, I had to find my way to my hostel on my own, which turned out to be fairly simple.  The hostel advertises its proximity to the Wien Westbahnhof (the main train station in Vienna), and it is true.  It is a short 15-minute walk from the train station.  So, I had never actually stayed in a hostel before.  I was really interested to see what it would be like.  I was sharing a room with three other girls.  There were two sets of wooden bunk beds in my room, with four lockers for our things, a small desk in the corner, and a bathroom en suite, which was pretty handy I must say.  The hostel gave me clean sheets for the bed, a room and locker key, and a free drink slip for the bar on the first floor.  That’s cool.  I keep forgetting that in Europe I can drink legally.  It’s the strangest thing to go up to a bar and order a beer, and get one with no questions asked.  They don’t even card here.  So, I met my three roommates.  They were all from Genoa, Italy and were traveling together for their holiday break.  They were a couple of years younger than me, still in high school, so I was quite impressed that their parents let them go off by themselves to another country.  However, traveling around Europe is like traveling between states in the USA, so maybe it’s not as big of a deal.  All I know is that I probably would not have been allowed to run around unsupervised in a foreign country had I still been in high school.  I had some time to kill obviously, since I arrived in the early afternoon.  I used that time to just settle in and get a grasp on my whole situation, as well as plan my excursions for the next two days.  I also updated my personal journal, not to mention this blog.  When my roommates came back around dinnertime I hung out and talked to them a little bit.  Their English was pretty good; it was certainly a million times better than my Italian.  They were very sweet, but they had to get up really early to fly back to Genoa the next day, so they were headed to be early.  What was I to do?  I think it was time that I cashed in my free drink slip.

I went downstairs to the bar.  I’m not sure if every hostel has a bar, but this one did, as well as free Wifi on the ground floor.  So I got my drink and sat down awkwardly at the same table with a girl who was busy reading a book.  I’m a fairly shy person, and I everyone down in the bar seemed to be well into his or her own conversations, and I didn’t feel like it was right to intrude.  What I learned from this experience, and what future travelers should take away from this is that hostel-stayers like meeting new people.  Many of them don’t know anyone else either, and it is completely appropriate to ask if you can sit with them at a table.  Eventually, the girl with the book looked up at me as asked, “Do you speak English?” in an American accent.  I replied, “yeah of course I do,” and this girl goes “Great!  Let me move closer to you.” and we got to talking.  I learned that she’s from Philadelphia and spent the past semester abroad in London, and that she was going to spend a second semester in St. Petersburg, Russia.  We are also both double majors in International Relations (Studies for her) and something else.  So we sat and swapped study abroad stories until two guys asked to sit at our table as well.  Of course we said yes.  These two guys were from Norway and were traveling in Europe during their semester break.  I continued to meet many interesting new people throughout the night.  I met people from Russia, Poland, Brazil, Australia, and the Netherlands.  There were young people from all over the world, and it was really amazing how well everyone seemed to be getting along.  It was just really cool meeting people from so many different places, and of course sharing our stories and just having fun and hanging out.  It was a very satisfying first night.

The next day I got up, got breakfast, and set off on my first journey through Vienna!  I took the subway to the Stephenplatz, the center of the old city.  My first stop was St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  It is such a beautiful, old Gothic cathedral, and apparently it has never been quite finished.  They’re still working on it to this day.  The scaffolding is cleverly concealed behind a canvas painted to look like the side of the church.  The inside is very beautiful, and they still had green fir trees and the crèche, left over from Christmas.  I decided to spring for the extra tour of the catacombs underneath the church.  Down in the catacombs, I saw the bishops’ crypts, and stood next to the coffins (directly next to them, I think my pants brushed up against one) of dead members of the Hapsburg family.  Since their bodies were embalmed, their internal organs are removed and placed in copper vats, which were also on display in front of me.  There are also mass graves for victims of the black plague in the catacombs.  You can look into these rooms and they are all filled to the brim with human bones.  It’s “slightly” creepy, especially with the dim light, cold stone walls, and low ceilings.  I would have taken pictures, but they were strictly “verboten” (forbidden in German).

After the cathedral, I went off to find Mozart’s house.  Yes that’s right, I found Mozart’s house, or one of them, since if I remember correctly, he had about 13 different apartments during his time in Vienna.  It was pretty cool.  There were a lot of primary documents from his life on display in the apartment.  I had my nifty little English language recorded tour device pressed up against my ear.  That was pretty cool.  After that I did a little walking, just to see some more of the city, and also to look for an authentic, traditional Viennese coffee house for lunch.  I found the Viennese coffee house.  It was lavishly decorated with lovely furniture, with stucco walls, and crystal chandeliers.  I bought the most expensive cup of coffee I have ever had in my life (almost 8 Euros), but it was so worth it because it was delicious.  I also decided to try a traditional Austrian cream of pumpkin soup.  It was great soup.  I would definitely be up for eating that stuff a second time.  After that I went back to my hostel to rest up and change because I was going to try to go to the opera.  I said try because I was planning to buy “standing room only” tickets and there’s no telling how fast they may sell out.  Anyway, the train broke down as I was trying to get to the opera, so I arrived about 20 minutes late, and I later found out it was only a 50-minute opera, so I basically missed half of it.  I also couldn’t see the stage because I was standing behind many people.  I had a wonderful view of the orchestra pit and the audience though, and of course there wasn’t anything blocking my ears from hearing the opera.  The Vienna opera house is gorgeous!  I’m just saying that because it is, and everyone in the audience was all dressed up and it looked so old fashioned.  I’m such a sucker for old-fashioned stuff, especially when it involves the intrigues of European aristocratic lifestyle.  I was totally into it.   I loved seeing the men in tuxedos and women in lovely dresses.  I was not dressed to the nines, but I was standing with the “rabble” in probably the worst spot in the entire house.

So the opera finished around 7:30pm, and since I hadn’t had dinner I went back to the hostel to get dinner at the bar.  Not only did I see most of the same people I met the night before, but also I got to meet even more cool people.  I met people from Portugal, Thailand, Ireland, Turkey, South Korea, more Australians and New Zealanders.  I didn’t sleep much that night.

So, today, I had to get up and check out by 10am since I am leaving for Berlin on a night train.  The hostel lets you store your luggage if you’ve checked out but aren’t ready to leave the city, so I did that and headed off to the Schloß Schönbrunn, the palace of the Austrian Imperial Royal family.  It was very beautiful, and again, I wasn’t allowed to take picture of the interior rooms L.  So I was content to just wander through the beautifully decorated palace in much the same way I wander around Mozart’s house, with my little recorded audio tour pressed against my ear.  I spent the rest of the day just wandering around the city and seeing if there were any free museums (nope).  I’m so happy I decided to come to Vienna, and I was really happy that I was able to handle subway stuff and directions and maps and food all with minimal stress and problems.  It was a wonderful adventure; I can’t wait to continue the adventure in Berlin!

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply