Our train trip to Vienna was fairly uneventful, although the scenery travelling above snow-covered valleys was beautiful. We took a local train in to Innsbruck, about 40 minutes away, where we changed onto a long-distance service with reserved seating. We had a pretty short changeover time, just enough to go and find our train which was already at the platform, and for me to run and get us some lunch. Then it was about 4 hours on to Vienna. When we arrived at about 4.30 it was already dark and the snow which had been present on the landscape around us for nearly the entire trip was gone.
Fortunately our hostel, Do Step Inn, was not far from the Westbahnhof. Check-in was easy and we were directed to another building around the corner from the main hotel. This was easily the worst place we stayed on the whole trip. We had to make our own bed which was saggy and the pillows were completely pathetic. There was also no noise insulation at all and we could hear people knocking on doors, talking, walking up and down the corridor and slamming doors all evening. At least the (shared) bathrooms were clean and reasonably spacious. There was also a pretty well kitted-out kitchen, which we didn’t use a lot. We found a place that sold schnitzel burgers nearby for tea, which was deserted but the burgers were reasonably good.
We got a slow start on our first morning to make up for some recent late nights and early mornings. It had started snowing the night before and when we woke up there was a few centimetres of snow covering the ground. I was a little bit dubious about the quality and value of the breakfast I’d seen advertised in the hostel/hotel reception, however there did not seem to be a lot of options for eating in the local area. So we went down to the Westbahnhof which had a food court area where we got some pastries and fruit salad for breakfast. We ended up going back there due to the good range of options for every breakfast.
We then headed out on foot to Schonbrunn Palace. It’s about a half-hour walk west of the Westbahnhof, and although it was snowing a little we were not too cold, and it was nice to walk through the snow.
Once we got to the palace though, there was an enormous queue which took us about 40 minutes to get through, and even then we were told there was close to a 3 hour wait for admission to get into the palace. No thanks. So we bought tickets for the next morning instead, and went to explore the Christmas markets out the front of the palace. We saw very little of the standard mass-produced items that we’d seen in German markets – not saying the stuff here wasn’t mass-produced, but at least it was different. We didn’t spend too long though because my toes began to get very cold, so we went in search of a cafe or somewhere similar to sit down and warm up. We ended up at a McDonalds where I pulled out our handwarmers to put on my feet to thaw out!
The next day we were back at Schonbrunn Palace (this time via tram to avoid frozen toes again, and it was very cold!) by 9 o’clock. This was definitely one of the best palaces I’ve seen. It escaped two world wars unscathed and is still filled with original furniture, artwork and fittings. It is said that it is one of the few remaining palaces in the same vein as Versailles. The audio guides were also very good and included in the price, however you are not allowed to take photos inside.
We took a tram ride around the historical city centre before lunch at a pub called Cafe Einstein which we both really liked, and spent about two hours there escaping the cold and snow outside! The daily public transport tickets are a little over the price of three one-way tickets, so if you’re going to make more than three trips the day ticket is worth it. We spent the later part of the afternoon walking around the city centre to see some of the famous buildings such as the Rathaus, Parliament House and Opera House, and found another Christmas market.
In the evening we paid a quick visit to St Stephansdom, probably Vienna’s most famous church. There was a mass on at the time, so we could not explore the entire building, but it was nice just to go inside and have a look before heading back to our hostel for tea.
Our second-last day in Vienna was my birthday! We had breakfast in the McDonalds of the Westbahnhof – virtually the only place to get a hot breakfast! It was the first place I used McDonalds’ new self-service kiosk – Andre had used it the afternoon we escaped from the cold near Schonbrunn Palace. Then it was on to Praterplatz near the river to take a ride on Vienna’s 19th century ferris wheel. I was actually a little disappointed because it was a bit further from the historic centre than I realised, so while we had a good view – it was the first blue skies we had since arriving in Vienna – all the interesting things to see were not very close. It was fun to ride in such an old ferris wheel though.
View from the Ferris Wheel
The ferris wheel itself
We were not too hungry at lunch due to our late relatively large breakfast, so we just had a late morning tea (or early afternoon tea) at the Cafe Sacher Eck in the Hotel Sacher – an opportunity to have real Sacher Torte! Most people head to the Cafe Sacher which is bigger, but the queues there are longer so we read a recommendation to try the Cafe Sacher Eck next door. We still had to queue there, but not for too long. I had a piece of ‘Sacher Torte’ (a copy-cat version) in Salzburg a few years ago, so was keen to try the real thing. It was good, but not the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. I was exceptionally disappointed by their hot chocolate, however Andre said the coffee was good.
We spent much of the afternoon visiting the Imperial Treasury, which is in part of the Hofburg Palace complex. The Imperial Treasury contains artefacts from the Austrian and Holy Roman Empires, some dating back to the tenth century.
There are many other attractions and exhibitions within the Hofburg Palace complex, including the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Kaiserappartements, Sisi musem (dedicated to the Empress Elisabeth) and the Silver Collection. Given that we had already visited Schloss Schonbrunn, we skipped these other areas (which all of course have their own admission fees). We walked back past the Rathaus again, which this time had a New Years Market in front and, as darkness was falling, was spectacularly up-lit.
The Rathaus (Town Hall)
We went back to Cafe Einstein for my birthday dinner – wiener schnitzel with cranberry jam and parsley potatoes for me, a mixed grill for Andre, and apple strudel for dessert. Appropriately viennese!
My wiener schnitzel
The next day our flight was not until the afternoon, so after breakfast we made a quick trip to see Karlskirche (St Charles Church). It was very pretty inside, but the most remarkable thing was that they have set up a scaffolding construction up one side of the church so that you can take an elevator up to the dome. There is a platform from which you can view the painted interior of the dome, or take a set of steps up through the top of the dome into the lantern.
Inside the dome
We couldn’t spend too long there before having to return to the Westbahnhof to collect our luggage and head to the airport. Auf wiedersehen, Germany and Austria, perhaps we will return again!