29 May 2013

Viennese Pandas, Dramatic Opera and Wienerschnitzel...

All my life in New Zealand bank holidays were spent driving for a destination weekend get-away. Here in the UK, flying is the way for thousands of European destination get-away.

Early May bank holiday available in the calendar, a long weekend trip was hatched by friends whose list of places to visit in Europe is as long as mine. The offer to Vienna came quickly, was booked and over before I could say, "what's in Vienna?"

Arriving at Heathrow, first order of business was head straight to Giraffe. Those unfamiliar with Giraffe, it's a family friendly restaurant chain. Quick bite later, and we were ready to go.

Two hour flight, with fidgeting baby behind our seats, later. Hallo Wien. Arriving at 11 pm a shuttle bus seemed an OK option to get into the city. 20 km away from central Vienna splitting the cost would be cheap. Following signs turned into a wild goose chase. Scratched that option we booked tickets for 72 hours of unlimited transport, including return on City to Airport Train (CAT). CAT is a double-decker, modern, and bright green train!

I'm sensing a top ten theme here. Paris had a top eight. Vienna has a top eight. Highlights missed in the top ten both times were museums. I lack a sense of art and culture in my life. If you appreciate artists, paintings, sculptures, and history you will make museums a priority.

Secession Building: Most treasured example of Viennese artistic period built for the secessionist movement. The dome consists of 3,000 gilt laurel leaves. Favourite features include the motto: “Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit.” Translation:  “To every age its art. To art it’s Freedom”, flower pots carried by four turtles as a touch of nature and Gorgon heads that represent architecture, painting, and sculpture. 
Karlskirche: Walking toward a dome spotted from a distance. Unbeknown at that time the church is one of the top ten. Built to thank God for delivering Vienna from the plague that claimed 8,000 lives, this Baroque style features Roman inspired columns and Oriental echoes. Two angels guard the stairway referencing Old and New Testament are intimidating and in centre of pond out front is a modern sculpture clashing with the church on purpose.

Stephansdom: Located in the heart of Vienna is the best Gothic edifice in Austria. The cathedral suffered damage from World War II bombings, but the rebuild since shows little sign of this. Enter through Giant's Door, named after a mammoth bone found during works in the 15th century. To the left of the entrance is the famous Giant Organ, a large modern organ with 125 pipes. The stained glass windows grasped my immediate attention. Five colourful medieval windows reflecting off the tiled floor. 

Staatsoper: A short walk down Karntner Strasse is the first grand building on the Ringstrasse. WWII bombs destroyed majority of the opera house. The marble staircase is majestic. Can't know for certain as we never made the tour (I'll explain that later). The exterior stone building with original loggia survived the bombing is amazing. One of two fountains to note; siren Lorelei supported by sorrow, love and vengeance is on the right. Down the road is the Kunsthistorisches Museum of fine arts (went past on the way to McDonald's for cheap lunch and cute small size cups). Next block down is the Burggarten behind the National library, a pretty formal English style garden and Mozart and Franz Josef monuments.

Hofburg Palace: Former imperial palace – medieval castle enlarged by each Emperor until 1918. The palace covers a large area within the city centre. Several museums within the grounds; three we paid for. The silver collection of elaborate table decorations and dining sets, in my opinion quick browse worthy. The Sisi (Empress Elisabeth of Bavaria) museum was up my alley. Recreated gowns, a couple original, and replica jewels including star hair clips. The Imperial Apartments same, same and a style popular with royalty - red carpets, huge paintings, and small uncomfortable looking furniture. Next door in the Volksgarten, popular with students a radio music festival was on. A perfect opportunity to enjoy a drink in the sun. After the palace we headed to Stadtpark on the left bank of the River Wien. Paths winding through grassy areas, past ponds, and flower beds stands the most famous monument the golden "king of waltz" Johann Strauss.

Schloss Schönbrunn: Summer royal residence, can understand why when the sky's blue with the sun beaming. This palace is the best of the best. I’d rather have paid to see the grand gallery, mirror room, millions room, Napoleon’s room and Sisi’s salon. Walk around the gardens, labyrinth, the huge fountain, butterfly house and visit to the zoo was the consolation prize. The oldest zoo to be exact, founded in 1752 as the royal menagerie.

Hundertwasserhaus: Fairytale-like house opened in 1986. The most frequented landmark in Vienna and the reason why: green roof, multi-coloured façade, brightly coloured mosaic, irregular pillars, irregular windows, onion spires, and fountain. Jumping on the Ringstrasse route we got snapshots of the Sigmund Freud Park in front of the Votivkirche sandstone church with ornate façade, Neuses Rathus Neo-Gothic town hall with spires behind the Rathauspark a music and film festival set up in process for summer, Burgtheatre most important theatre in the German-speaking world a Renaissance façade built over a 14 year period and finally the Greek style Parliament celebrating the cradle of democracy. 

The Belvedere: A shining example of Baroque style, top features include the stairways, marble hall and gallery and mirror cabinet. Again missed with the time frame scheduled coming to an end. Make time to walk the French style garden – did remind of being in Paris. Three levels each with classical themes and tottered around the park are statues of sphinxes and Eight Muses. Found statues relating to calendar months, November, birthday month, was of a boy blowing his horn with his puppy.

One weekend is enough for a taster of Vienna and Wienerschnitzel. Prefer Mum's home-cooked version. Although the flight magazine recommended the restaurant to try the best Viennese schnitzel. Perhaps read this information before landing.

Hier ist es:

V is for Viennese pandas. Day at the zoo was planned around feeding times. Waiting to see the pandas being feed took too long. One was leaning against a tree snacking on bamboo - close enough. My favourite smaller and cuter Red Pandas were active that day, climbing trees, scratching ears, and chomping on a carrot. Usually they are sleeping, much like the giant black and white kind.  

I is for Is it too hard to get the bill? Service was a great let down. More annoyed over the neglect. Yes, I would have another glass (or two) of wine, but sitting on empty I'll spend my Euros elsewhere. Every eatery dined at took a real long time for the waiter to a, notice us and b, fetch the bill. Knowing tips were required, it was purposefully decided to act the foreigner unaware of the rule. 

E is for Excitement over trams. One visit to Christchurch I wanted to ride a tram. Moment fell through, but this time being in a city with an unlimited transport ticket the mission was completed. More than once too! On modern and old tram models. I was happy. 

N is for No, no, no. Around every tourist attraction men dress up as composers selling opera tickets. Encounters occurred every few steps. Our "no thank you" turned into "we already know." Technically, we had information about the tickets. Outside Staastoper let's call him Mr Australian badge (indicator for English speaking) approached us, our response along the lines of "already have them." With the opera house tour in two hours time, we stood in front with maps out. Another asked if we needed help. He showed us the tour times giving helpful information. Mr Australian badge walked past calling out "liar, liar, liar" pointing to us. Mr Nice Composer explained the different theatre company outfits have ticket sellers on commission creating competition. Completely put off by the dramatic scene, we avoided that tour. 

N is for Naschmarkt or No Kangaroos in Austria! Unmissable for any visitor. Handy staying across the road at Wombats city hostel. Naschmarkt is busy, colourful - everything from flea market stalls, vegetables, fruit, fudge, deli, restaurants, bakeries, stores, and humongous champagne bottles. Scarf collection grew by another two and good souvenir deals were found. A cello shaped peach schnapps bottle was purchased and every bottle picked up dropped on the floor. Breakages avoided, the price stickers were to blame, I swear!

A is for Airport security dramas. Cutting it close to end of boarding time, exchange of pounds for Euros had to happen as well as picking items forfeited at security. Let me rewind... Before rushing to Giraffe, the usual bag liquids and aerosols for security check happened. Now, about that. Apparently one plastic bag per person allowed for carry-on luggage. Too small to fit anything. Deodorant gone, body wash gone, face wash gone. Run into Boots to grab items turned into a long queue with the SLOWEST (capitalising the word is essential) attendant. All of the above resulted in a mad dash to the gate. Glad I knew the right gate number 38. Oh wait 32!