Two months ago, my friend Bally at work turned around to me and Tegan and said, 'how about a girls' weekend away?' 24 hours later, we'd booked three days in Vienna for some ridiculous steal of a price, and I was annoying everyone I possibly could by breaking into Ultravox every five minutes.
I had never been on a girls weekend abroad before. I kind of thought they were reserved for women who were more cultured and had a lot more money than me! I would wistfully thumb through beautiful photos of Barcelona, Marrakech and Rome on my timeline and assume that might possibly be something I could do in my late thirties, if I was lucky. But wonderful things happen when you have determined, bargain-hunting friends and actually say yes to something spontaneous once in a while :)
Tegan, me, Bally. We flew Easyjet - I accidentally matched the chairs...
So, Viennese adventures. The beans will be spilled and I will include links to everything I can, in case you're thinking of visiting yourself.
Firstly you should know that I pretty much maintain the excitement levels of a small child when I travel abroad and am overly excited about EVERYTHING. Case in point, my first ever ride in a double decker train from the airport into the city centre:
Giddy eight year old face. The CAT, City Airport Train, runs direct non-stop from Vienna Airport into the city centre. Currently it's €12 one way and €19 return, valid for 30 days.
Case in point 2 - we found a Spar in the airport (they are Posh with a capital P in Vienna, with a delicatessen and everything) and I located a gigantic Lindt advent calendar:
This would have come home with me if I could have fitted it in my hand luggage
We stayed at the Melia Vienna, a 5 star hotel in the tallest skyscraper in Austria, overlooking the Danube and facing the city centre. The hotel only occupies floors 1-15, with a bar on the 57th floor - the rest is lofts, offices and private apartments.
That's the Melia on the left, taken from the arrival platform of the tube station which is a 3min walk max.
I was a little in awe of the glorious spiral staircase from the lobby up to the restaurant and reception:
The beds are enormous, the rooms pristine, the bathrooms equipped with huge showers that can double as a steam room. Oh, and the mini bar was free. Even being on the side rather than the front of the building didn't ruin the delight of being able to see the river and city from the window, albeit at an angle.
I won't give you a blow by blow because let's be honest, we all go to sleep inside when even our best friend decides to tell us everything they did on holiday. Here are the highlights, generously illustrated with photos (some of which I nicked from the girls).
EPISODE 1: IN WHICH WE WANDER THE STREETS
Part of the State Opera House. I couldn't fit it all into the photo unless I walked into the road, risking not only my life but the wrath of the Austrian people. They do NOT take kindly to jaywalking.
If you take the underground to Stephansplatz you'll come up for air immediately in front of the gorgeous Stephansdom cathedral (picture at top of this post), and probably be accosted by men in fancy dress. They were all trying to sell tickets to various concerts and musical events, many of which involve the orchestra playing Mozart and Strauss while dressed in period costume. We would possibly have taken them up on it - especially as there are some performances which include ballet and waltz performances - but we were on a budget. Next time!
Had to try some spicy Bratwurst from a street vendor
While we hungrily wolfed down our street vendor snacks, a man stopped to congratulate me on my choice of food and to tut at Bally and Tegan for picking something else. Apparently the Austrians are very proud of their sausage (there's a joke in there somewhere).
We then headed toward the older quarters of the city, stopping to gawp at all the buildings along the way.
Here outside the Opera House, over by Stephansdom, and pretty much anywhere in the area between we were playing dodge-and-mumble with a small army of fancy-dressed men, one of whom took this photo.
The National Library is a hidden gem (well, not that well hidden but we didn't know where we were going). We let ourselves in via what seemed like an unassuming back door, albeit one in this impressive courtyard:
Around the back of the National Library (Österreichische Nationalbibliothek if you want it in German, but honestly my pronunciation is poor!). The entrance is on the left and there are walkways through to the square beyond, where you can see the front of the Hofburg Palace (below).
I definitely intend to pay for entrance next time because the State Hall is the most glorious library I've ever seen in my life. We peeked into the Baroque treasure like paupers while the security guard eyed us up as if we might be about to make a dash for it.
Friday was the best weather - albeit it was flipping freezing - and we did a circuit that led us past this palace, a handful of museums, and the Austrian Parliament Building with its sweeping entrance that was presumably built with horses and carriages in mind. Sadly I have no photo of this as my phone had died by this point.
It being on the chilly side and particularly so when the sun went down, the shining beacon of an Irish Bar lit up like a sign from the heavens. Behind the bar was an American who gave us the lowdown on the locals and nightlife. This confirmed my thus-far concrete foreign travel experience that wherever you go, there will be Irish pubs and Americans - it's a fact.
EPISODE 2: IN WHICH GLITTER GETS EVERYWHERE
Enjoying cocktails in the bar on the 57th floor of the Melia. They were expensive but so delicious :)
It was all fine so long as we stayed in the Melia. Once we left in search of other bars it became apparent that the only way to do Austrian nights out in November without freezing would have been to wear all our clothes at once. Alas, this hadn't happened...
The first thing we learned was that in Vienna it's legal to smoke in bars. We hadn't counted on entering a smog each time we walked through a door so that took some getting used to! We also learned that the bars and clubs are small and intensely crowded, but they do have waiter service as standard so you don't have to crush at the bar.
We ended up in a semi-underground den that was still sporting Hallowe'en decorations, playing a mix of Eurovision and American pop, while a very uninhibited middle aged man danced on a chair and periodically took some of his clothes off. There's a selfie with him somewhere. It might be for the best that I don't have it...
EPISODE 3: IN WHICH WE MEET ANIMALS
Me and Bally with this adorable elephant sculpture outside the Vienna Natural History Museum. Also in this square was the Kunsthistorisches Museum which displays art collections and antiquities left by the Habsburgs. The square is called Maria-Theresien-Platz after Maria Theresa the Austrian Empress, and there is a huge statue of her in the centre.
The Vienna Natural History Museum has one of the largest collections of animal specimens I've ever seen or heard of - at one point I was in a room that was just filled with beetles. The architecture is magnificent and all the interior decor is pristine. I could happily have just sat and stared at the ceiling!
The interior of the Natural History Museum - looking up from the main staircase.
The Iguanadon was my favourite dinosaur as a child and I got a bit excited when I found this skeleton!
After a day of being on our feet we were flagging, but still found time to explore a few more backstreets before finding somewhere to eat.
Vienna by night is full of surprises. We fell off the beaten track several times and there was something beautiful around every corner.
EPISODE 4: IN WHICH GOLD-PAINTED MOZART IS WHISTLING OUTSIDE A PALACE
Schönbrunn Palace didn't look quite its best in the rain with works going on out the front (possibly some kind of Christmas fair being set up). We took the Imperial Tour which covers 22 rooms and costs €13.90; the Grand Tour covers the whole palace and costs under €20, so both are value for money. You can't take any photos inside the palace so I ended up bringing back a handful of postcards!
In better weather I'd love to come back and take in the gardens as well. The audio tour was fairly good but the place was packed so it did feel a bit sardine-like at times. On the plus side there was a lot of interesting info about the Habsburgs and as ever I had to resist the urge to buy a load of books on the way out.
As per usual when I have adventures, I want to go back again! There's so much to see and do that we just couldn't fit into three days. Next time, more palaces, museums, and music, but less getting confused about the underground system (which is very good, by the way, once you get your head around it).
If you love Baroque architecture, European history, classical music, cheap wine and gorgeous views around every corner, Vienna is a must on your city break list!