Travel Diaries Day 1: Vienna, One Way or Another

Vienna from St Stephen's Cathedral
View from St Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

When I sat down and booked myself a multi-country European trip, it's safe to say my anxiety was not impressed. Travelling alone and with so many opportunities for things to go wrong, anxiety was not remotely convinced that I could handle it. On edge for weeks in the run-up, it kept me up at night with nightmare visions and consumed my days, perpetually fretting over overwhelming eventualities and potential disasters. What if I get lost and I'm stranded forever because I can't communicate with anyone? What if I've messed up my hostel bookings and there's nowhere else to stay in the entire city? What if I get mugged and am left penniless in a foreign country?! What if I get in an accident, the hospital finds out I'm a mental-case and the insurance company sees an excuse not to cough up the money?!  It was utterly ridiculous and entirely relentless.

In spite of all that, it completely failed to prepare me for one possibility: a flight cancellation caused by a bloody big snow storm right here in Scotland! Leaving the country was supposed to be the easy part, but thanks to the Beast from the East it turned out to be the hardest. 

I was due to fly from Edinburgh to Vienna in the early hours of Saturday morning. I made it to a very snowy Edinburgh on Friday evening (by lengthy bus journey instead of car), arriving in the city just as a notification arrived in my inbox. My flight would not be taking off the following day and the next flight to Vienna would not leave until Tuesday. Devastated! 

Karlskirche at Karlsplatz, Vienna
Karlskirche, Vienna

The Detour

Thankfully, all was not lost. My friend very kindly put me up in Edinburgh for a little longer than expected (thank you!) while I booked a Sunday morning flight to Bratislava, crossing my fingers that the weather would settle and that extra day would make all the difference. Praise the Lord it did and I hopped on a bus to Edinburgh airport and flew out to Bratislava first thing the following morning. 

I am quite a planner - lists and structure help me feel safe and in control - but, landing in a different country with my notes now entirely redundant, I kind of surprised myself with the ability to adapt and cope with so much change at the last minute!

Arriving at Bratislava airport, I ignored the hoards of travellers heading for taxis (whhyyy?!), grabbed a ticket from the machine and joined the locals on the bus to Hlavná Stanica (main station) for the princely sum of €0.90! From there, I purchased a €12.50 ticket and hopped straight on a train for the hour-long journey to Vienna.

Two things surprised me on that short journey: the first was the sight of people actually curling on frozen lakes (amazing!); and the second was the fact that I travelled from one country to another without anyone checking my passport, because apparently that's a thing! (Honestly, sometimes I'm so sheltered I make myself cringe.)

Wombats Hostel at the Naschmarkt
Wombats Hostel at the Naschmarkt, Vienna

Vienna, At Last!

I dozed a little on the train, but what I saw of the scenery was beautifully wintry and it didn't seem long at all before the landscape was transformed from countryside to city streets. Around two o'clock on Sunday afternoon - a day and a bit of a detour later than planned - I made it to Vienna at long last! 

First things first, I hopped on a couple of connecting subways (€2.40 for the whole journey), taking my first steps onto Vienna's streets from Kettenbruckengasse Station, where I crossed the road and checked into Wombats Hostel at The Naschmarkt. Not wanting to waste much more time, I left my luggage and quickly freshened up in my comfortable (and surprisingly spacious!) dorm before venturing out to explore the city. 

Vienna Business School
The Vienna Business School


Walking with no particular direction in mind, I found the red poppy clad Majolikahaus directly across the road and stumbled upon the stunning baroque church Karlskirche just a ten minute walk from the hostel. From ancient Gothic designs to Otto Wagner's take on Art Nouveau, the city is awash with beautiful buildings spanning the whole spectrum of style and I was architecturally awed round almost every corner. Even their takeaways are housed in incredible buildings: I've never seen such a pretty looking McDonald's in my life!

Inside the Wien Museum
Inside the Wien Museum

The Vienna Museum

I enjoyed wandering for a while, just taking in the sights, before eventually making my way back to the Wien Museum at Karlsplatz. Home to a mixture of art pieces and historical artefacts, the museum charts Vienna's story, documenting its growth from a medieval town to today's booming capital city. I found it interesting, particularly enjoying the large-scale models of the city and some of the 20th century works of art, but I can't honestly say I would rush to pay the usual €10 entrance fee. Luckily, many of the city's museums are free on the first Sunday of the month and at that I'm glad I paid a short visit.

Stephansplatz Vienna
Stephansplatz, Vienna
St Stephen's Cathedral Vienna

Stephansplatz and the Danube

From there I headed back out into the cold (and boy was it cold that first day!), walking further into the city in the direction of Stephansplatz. Rounding a corner onto the square was like walking into a fairytale - the mammoth Gothic St Stephen's Cathedral, ornately decorated and surrounded by tiny horse-and-carriages. Arriving like clockwork as the bells began to toll, I admired the exterior of the church from all kinds of angles, accompanied by their clamorous cacophony. My goodness, those bells are an experience in themselves! 

The Donaukanal Vienna

As dusk began to draw in around me I took a walk down to the Donaukanal, crossing the bridge at Schwedenplatz while admiring the statue of Heilige Maria (Holy Mary) and the contrasting graffiti on the embankment walls below. I imagine the canal to be particularly pretty in the summertime and rumour has it there are some impressive works of street art to be found further along the path - the Vienna Murals map is worth a look if that's your thing. As it was, it was getting a little too dark and chilly for art hunting on this particular evening and I decided it was time to hunt down some food instead. 

Swing Kitchen, Operngasse, Vienna

Dinner at Swing Kitchen

Back in the direction of the Naschmarkt, just a ten minute walk from Wombats hostel, I made my way to Swing Kitchen over on the Operngasse. With half a dozen venues throughout the city, the Schillingers' local restaurant chain specialises in a fresh, environmentally-friendly and entirely vegan take on fast food. 

Swing Kitchen, Operngasse, Vienna

Ordering at the till point, the English-speaking cashier very kindly helped me navigate my way through the menu of burgers, schnitzel and falafel with accompanying drinks, desserts and sides. I opted for the chilli burger - a soya patty with ketchup, garlic sauce, salad and jalapeños - with some fries and their own-recipe cola, at a reasonably priced  €8.80 all in. 

Dining alone in public can be a difficult experience, but the informal fast food style of this particular establishment made it ideal for my first outing and I found myself relaxing comfortably at a window-facing bar while slowly enjoying my meal. Definitely one of the better burgers I've had in my time, this one was delicious and delightfully messy to eat. The jalapeños and garlic sauce were a winning combination and those chunky chips went down a treat!

It had been a long day by this point, having been on the go since about 5am, so I headed back to the hostel after dinner for a nice hot shower and a good night's sleep.

My first impressions of Vienna having been brief but wholly positive, I crawled into bed feeling excited and looking forward to seeing more of the city the following day. 


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