Travel Diaries Day 2: Oh Vienna!

30.3.18


Day 2

After a bit of an interrupted night's sleep in a surprisingly warm dorm, I popped into Aldi - conveniently located right next to Wombats Hostel - for a cheap breakfast, fuelling myself on pastry for a busy day ahead. The common room and reception area at Wombats are housed in a bright open space full of comfortable cushions and little window nooks, with information stations and good Wifi throughout, perfect for researching and planning your day.

Free Walking Tour

One of my favourite ways to find out a little more about a city is by joining a free, locally-run walking tour. Research had flagged up a few options in Vienna prior to arrival, but it turned out the hostel offered its own, leaving from reception at 10.30am every Monday-Friday, which seemed to me as good a choice as any!

Starting just outside at the Naschmarkt, our guide - an entertaining Austrian woman whose name I wish I could remember - took us on a two and a half hour tour of the city, filling us in on Vienna's history,  the significance of its many beautiful buildings and some of the country's customs and traditions.

Monument Against War and Fascism, Vienna
Monument Against War and Fascism, Vienna

From the Naschmarkt, with its 100+ stalls offering a global range of ingredients and freshly-made food, we walked up the star-lined Musik Meile, learning about the city's incredible musical history, home as it once was to the likes of Haydn, Beethoven and Mozart. Culminating at the Staatsoper - or State Opera - on the Ringstra├če, we learned a little about the Ring Road - a boulevard of grand buildings erected where the old city walls once stood, now recognised as part of Vienna's UNESCO World Heritage site.

Hofburg Imperial Palace, Vienna
Hofburg Imperial Palace, Vienna

From there we visited the Monument Against War and Fascism, before heading to Heroes Square and the imposing Hofburg Imperial Palace. Once the home of kings and emperors, the expansive palace complex - among the largest in the world - is today the workplace of the country's President, as well as home to the imperial library and treasury, the Austrian National Theatre and the famous Spanish Riding School. For an entrance fee, the old apartments - once the winter residence of the imperial family - are open to visitors, as is the Sisi Museum which is housed here, paying tribute to Empress Elisabeth and the many myths that surrounded her.

Hofburg Imperial Palace, Vienna
Hofburg Imperial Palace, Vienna

From the Palace our tour took us down Graben at the centre of the city's Inner Stadt or first district. Taking its name from the German word for 'trench' it is believed that the street was built by filling in and paving over a trench to become one of the first residential areas of the growing 12th century city. These days it forms part of an exclusive shopping district, housing brands like Burberry, Dior and Tiffany and Co.

Needless to say we didn't quite feel at home in this area, but we paused for long enough to take in the baroque sculpture of the Trinity Column, erected in remembrance of the great plague of the 17th century.

Burgtheater, Vienna
Burgtheater, Vienna

Not far from there we reached the final stop of our tour outside Stephansdom (St Stephen's Cathedral) - a vast Romanesque and Gothic place of worship for the Roman Catholic Church.  Severely damaged during the Second World War, the cathedral was restored in seven years to the glory in which it stands today. The scaffolding around one side of the building gives a hint towards the upkeep that must be required by a building of this detail, scale and age and our guide told us that she's never seen it scaffold-free in her lifetime! In spite of that, it is a stunning piece of architecture at the heart of the city and an ideal place to conclude our walking tour.

The Plague Memorial, Vienna
The Plague Memorial, Vienna

These tours are operated free-of-charge, however there is an expectation that participants will tip their guide if they've enjoyed the experience - around €5 per person seems to be average - which I was more than happy to do after such an enjoyable and informative start to the day!

~

Inside St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna
Inside St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

St Stephen's Tower

As the tour group dispersed and went their separate ways, I headed in the most obvious direction and decided to check out St Stephen's from a different perspective.

Viewing it first from the inside, I took in the nave of the church with its carved stone pulpit, more than a dozen altars and beautiful stained glass. There is restricted access to some parts of the building, but it is open to the public (respecting worship times, of course) free of charge until 10pm most days. For a small cost, visitors can also gain entry to the catacombs, or take an elevator up the 68.3 meter tall North tower to see the Pummerin - one of the largest free-swinging church bells in Europe.

Alternatively, €5 will gain you access to the South tower - the tallest of the cathedral's four at a height of 136.44 meters - which is reached not by elevator but by climbing some 343 steps!

Views from the South Tower of St Stephen's, Vienna
Views from the South Tower, Vienna

Spiralling, poorly lit and really rather claustrophobic (especially if there are other people trying to pass in the opposite direction), the climb is not for the faint of heart and I was breathless and weak-kneed for more reasons than one by the time I got to the top. Honestly, if you're not a fan of small spaces or are lacking in a basic level of fitness, you might well struggle with this one.

But if you do make it up those stairs, my goodness it feels worth it at the top!

Views from the South Tower of St Stephen's, Vienna
Views from the South Tower of St Stephen's, Vienna

With windows on all four sides, the Watchman's Apartment offers a near 360 degree view out across the city and I found myself looking down on a stunning bird's-eye perspective of Vienna, with local landmarks resplendent among snow-capped rooftops. 

The cathedral itself is impressive from this angle too, gazing out upon the 230,000 glazed tiles of its intricately patterned roof. How they managed to mosaic an eagle at that height - and without our modern-day technology - is beyond me, but incredibly striking to see.

Views from the South Tower of St Stephen's, Vienna
Views from the South Tower of St Stephen's, Vienna

I stayed up there for a wee while, enjoying the beautiful views (and the warmth of the room) and trying to make the most of it after that climb, not particularly looking forward to the descent to come. 

As it was, the route down was much easier on the knees and heart, though the never-ending spiral made my head spin and an ascending class of children made it slightly tricky! Still, we got there eventually, and I'm fairly certain that, for views like that, I would put myself through it all again.

~

Coffee and apfelstrudel at Landtmann's, Vienna
Coffee and apfelstrudel at Landtmann's, Vienna

Apfelstrudel

It was the middle of the afternoon by this point and I was feeling pretty peckish after all those stairs. My feet were tired, my tummy was grumbling and my mind was focussed on one thing about Vienna I'd heard lots about: dessert!

Home of the renowned Sachertorte, this might have seemed an obvious choice, but it was thoughts of traditional apple strudel that were dancing across my mind. A little Google consult told me that Cafe Landtmann served up some of the best in town and so I headed back to the Ringstra├če to see what all the fuss was about.

Viennese coffee houses are an important part of the city's culture, both historically and today, and Cafe Landtmann has been a part of the scene since 1873. Elegantly decorated, I found myself seated in grand surrounds, adorned by furnishings from the 1920s. It felt formal and out of my league, yet there were customers at laptops dotted throughout, nursing a single coffee and casually typing away.

A little overwhelmed by the vast menu, I fumbled my way through an order of a latte and hot apple strudel with custard, which arrived at my table in no time at all.  Crisp, perfectly flaky pastry packed with sharp-yet-sweet cinnamon-coated apples and raisins, this was quite truly the strudel of dreams!
 
At €12.50 for coffee and dessert this was certainly one of the more extravagant moments of my trip, but I have no regrets because boy what a treat!
~

Sigmund Freud Museum, Vienna
Sigmund Freud Museum, Vienna

Sigmund Freud Museum

Landtmann's is said to have been the go-to coffee house of Sigmund Freud - the father of psychoanalysis - which seems understandable with his office and residence a mere 15 minute walk away. Now home to the Sigmund Freud Museum - open daily until 6pm - this was my next stop of the day.

A €12 entrance fee gains you an audio-guided tour of the property at Berggasse 19, where Freud lived and worked for more than four decades. Smaller than I expected yet packed full of pictures and memorabilia, there is plenty to see and even more to read throughout the museum, from the original furnishings of the waiting room - still in their place - to pieces of Freud's antique collection and first edition volumes of some of his work. 

Truth be told, there was less information on his work and theories than I had anticipated, focussing more on his own biography instead, but it offered a fascinating insight into his lifestyle and the balance between his roles as therapeutic practitioner, academic, and family man - the father of six kids.

Much of the museum has been designed and curated with help from his youngest daughter, Anna Freud, and the temporary exhibition - 'The Apartment Is Doing Well' - on display at the time of my visit took its name from a letter written by a young Anna to her father.

On the whole, the museum wasn't quite what I expected and is so niche that it isn't going to thrill you if you have no prior interest in Freud, but if - like me - you're fascinated by all things psychology, psychiatry and mental health then I would definitely recommend a visit to this unassuming little apartment out of which the psychoanalytic movement sprang!

~

Dinner at Veggiezz, Vienna
Dinner at Veggiezz, Vienna

Dinner at Veggiezz Vegan Dining Room

Evening was well on its way as I left the museum near closing time and I decided to head back to the hostel for a short while, recharging batteries and freshening up before venturing out for dinner.

My venue of choice for the evening was Veggiezz Vegan Dining Room - a casual plant-based bar and restaurant with three sites across the city. The closest of these on the Opernring - just a 15 minute walk from Wombat's hostel - was a lovely light and airy space full of white-washed tables and pretty plants, where I found a corner seat and dined comfortably on my own.

The fully-vegan menu (which also caters well for gluten intolerances) offers a selection of soups, salads, pasta, burgers and quinoa bowls, as well as a meat-free Vienna-style schnitzel and a create-your-own selection of seitan steaks.

It was a tough choice, but in the end I opted for the Fusilli Carbonara - a creamy pasta dish topped with smoked tofu and vegan parmesan - with a refreshing raspberry wine spritzer to wash it down. Both delicious, it turned out to be a good choice all round - one of those meals you repeatedly find yourself thinking about. I need to learn to make that carbonara for myself!

For less than €15, I left feeling pleasantly full and satisfied that I'd eaten some wholesome, good-quality food in pleasant surrounds. If you're in the market for veggie food in Vienna, I'd highly recommend checking them out.

~

A good end to a lovely day. I was pretty worn out by this point having walked a good 10km (and tackled 343 steps!) and so headed back to the hostel to chill for a while before bed, ready to explore a whole new city the following day! 

xo

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