Date of Departure – 12th March 6:30 am, Route – Ilmenau – Vienna, Transportation – Wollschläger Rot-Weiß Onmi Busbetrieb, Duration of stay – 4days 3 nights, Accommodation – Vienna City Hostel (Dampfgasse 8), Return date to Ilmenau – 15th March 9:30 pm
Words & Photography: Rahul Basu; Year of visit: 2014
Picking the ideal metropolitan to visit in Europe for a short holiday can sometimes be as hard as choosing your favourite Baskin Robbins ice cream flavour. As a foreigner you want to see it all and all at once, regardless of the costs involved or the borders, nationalities and the languages that separates one country from the next. It’s probably why conducting a long and adventurous EuroTrip is one item on most people’s “Before I die” wish lists.
As an international student studying at a German University with two long years at your disposal, you can afford to pursue such endeavours in a far more spaced out and cost-effective manner. That coupled with the fact that you have a very efficient international student services team like we4you organizing affordable and well planned trips on a regular basis really makes it that much more convenient. So, when we4you announced that they were organizing a 4 days 3 nights trip to Vienna, Austria most of us jumped at the opportunity.
Painting the imagination
Most of what I grew up hearing and reading about Vienna has its roots in the late 18th century, where horse carriages pacing up and down cobble stoned roads, eerie looking oil lamps and people wearing fancy periwigs with their slender quills of feather and a pot of ink were scribbling melodies, which pretty much laid the foundations of the Classical era in music and theatre all across Europe.
In March 2014 I finally got a chance to pay a short visit to this wonderful city and see for myself exactly how much Mozart Land had changed in over two centuries. We travelled from Ilmenau, Germany to Vienna by bus; a journey that lasted approximately seven and a half hours with a few breaks en route.
Watching the landscape from my bus window suddenly change from tall silver firs, pines and oaks to acres and acres of bright green grassy lands and winding white roads told me I had entered Austria. It wasn’t long after that that we arrived in Vienna and checked in to a city hostel located in the southern part of city in District 10 – Favoriten. Besides being a great location, not too far away from the city centre by train, the Vienna City Hostel was really very neat and clean, and equipped with all the basic facilities like free wifi connectivity (lobby area), attached bathrooms in the every room and a dining area, where the hostel served us breakfast each morning (video – http://bit.ly/1dF2vwm).
Setting up base camp
Having arrived around noon on a weekday, we wasted little time settling down at the hostel. The first thing on our agenda was to purchase a 15.40€/person 72hours-U-rail ticket or underground rail pass, with which we would travel over the next couple of days. This is a cost effective and convenient way to travel as the U-rail connects you to every part of the city. Once you get hold of a Vienna City Map (Can download for free on our phone or tablet), which marks out all the popular tourist spots in the city, it’s easy to choose a U-rail line that will take you to the station nearest to these locations.
The first evening
Our first subway train ride was to Karlsplatz station which lies on the border of the first and fourth districts of Vienna. We visited the city’s largest market, the Naschmarkt, a street littered with all kinds of shops, Asian restaurants and bistros. It’s a great atmosphere here if you visit late in the evening, where countless tourists and locals catch up over a meal, some wine and very tall mugs of beer of course. As its location was quite close to the Vienna State Opera (Volkstheater), the Leopold Museum, Heroes Square (Heldenplatz) and many other important buildings and monuments in the city centre we walked around a fair bit on our first night in Vienna exploring the city, gazing at exotic automobiles pass us by and peeking into every restaurant around the corner. We stopped briefly at the State Opera and took a quick look inside. Its architectural grandeur is every bit endearing, but sadly we didn’t attend an actual concert that night or any concert in Vienna for that matter. Such privileges are better left enjoyed by working class citizens.
A tour of the city
The next morning we set out on a guided bus tour of the city covering several districts and learning about the significance of each of them as we passed through. This very informative bus tour gave many of us quite a neck strain trying to keep up with the tour guide who kept pointing at yellow, white and other coloured buildings on either side of the bus, which were naturally of great interest to eager tourists like us.
Depending on the district you live in, property prices in Vienna can start as low as 1,500€ per square metre and can rise all the way up to 30,000€ per square metre for residential property located in the heart of the city centre – District 1. And yet, many people choose to live in Vienna as it is cheaper compared to many other big cities in Austria and Germany; Munich for example. The Social government that came into power after World War I was instrumental in setting up a special tax system. It was used to build apartments or Gemeinebau especially for the workers at the time. The government owns over 20,000 such apartments all over the city (even in the city centre) and people can buy these 80-150 sq mtrs apartments real cheap or even take them on lease for a monthly rent of 400€ (all costs included). This encourages many foreigners to live here in Vienna.
Another great thing about Vienna is the water. You almost never need to buy mineral water here. The water comes down straight from the mountains and is one the purest in all of Europe. As we moved along from one district to the next, it became quite evident that Vienna despite being a bustling metropolitan in the 21st century, hadn’t lost any of its 18-19th century charm. Baroque style churches, 19th century light yellow coloured buildings and lovely marble and stone statues are visible at every corner and blend superbly with the more modern edifices that have been built around them over time.
At this point we were passing the world famous Vienna Opera House and hearing about how it was destroyed by the Americans, but painstakingly re-built in its original architectural style in 1955. But just when I began imagining how lovely it would look from the inside, I was distracted. A gleaming silver 2012 Ferrari California was waiting at the signal just around the corner and at that moment all other thoughts in my head ceased to exist. I frequently found myself in such situations like when I spotted a Ducati 1199 Panigale superbike parked by the side of the road, a white Ferrari Testarossa in mint condition driving beside our bus or a Bentley Flying Spur cruising on public roads. As a former automotive journo it’s was really hard for me to sit still, but then again when you’re visiting the 12th richest city in the world I guess you have to learn to deal with such things.
We stopped briefly at the Hundertwasser Village, a structure built in the eyes of renowned Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. A magnificent display of human and nature oriented architecture, the Hundert
wasser Haus is a great place to spend an afternoon, especially for those who take a fancy to abstract works of art, souvenirs and handicrafts. Our bus tour finally ended close to Stephansplatz, which is at the city’s epicentre. Here we were split into two groups, one with an English guide and the other with a German speaking guide.
Our first stop was the colossal St Stephen’s Cathedral. Built in the 12th century it was originally constructed in white limestone, but has darkened over the years due to pollution. Its high southern spire and multi-coloured tiled roof is one of the city’s most recognizable symbols. It was here that the great composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wedded his wife Constanze.
Speaking of great composers, Mozart originally hails from Salzburg, but moved his residence to Vienna in his final years as a composer. His house in Vienna is a stone’s throw away from St Stephen’s Cathedral, and it was indeed a special moment for all of us to stand before it. We saw several other places of interest like the oldest café in Vienna – Café Central, the most expensive street in the city – Kohlmarkt, the very ornate St. Peter’s cathedral, the new shopping district, Hofburg Palace, the National Library, Heroes Square – Heldenplatz and an old Italian church with a mock mosaic version of the Last Supper and so on. The tour finally ended and it was time to grab some lunch.
Penniless amidst wide-spread prosperity
The shopping district in Vienna is enormous and the best place to empty your wallet within a few hours. We had no such intention and decided to return to Heldenplatz after a lazy lunch in the city. The weather in Vienna this time of year is just wonderful with plenty of sunshine and clear skies. Vienna has countless garden areas spread across the city, but as a tourist I would certainly recommend Heldenplatz as a picnicking spot on a sunny afternoon (video – http://bit.ly/1rkphTd). Here you are encircled by the view of the Parliament building, the Town Hall, three Museums and the Imperial Palace.
This is tourist paradise with a myriad of things to do and see all day long. The Museums in Vienna are quite large even by European standards and entry fees range from 5-11€ depending on which museum you visit and if you are a student. A guided tour of the Parliament would cost you around 5€ as well, and lasts an entire hour. Our second evening in Vienna had to be somewhere special, and we all decided to hit a pub in one of the city’s less explored districts. Phil as it is named is a bar that has a faint resemblance to the concept of Kitabkhana in Mumbai. The furniture, the lamps on the ceiling, a pile of books in every corner believe it or not, are all on sale. It had a very welcoming atmosphere, great music and very good staff constantly attending to our needs. It’s definitely worth a visit.
The next day we set off for Prater, a huge amusement park in District 2 – Leopoldstadt. The Ferris wheel or Riesenrad here is quite famous and we all got to ride on it. At its highest point the Prater Ferris wheel gives you a spectacular aerial view of the city and its expanse. Our next stop was the Madame Tussauds was museum, a first for me. Hey it’s not every day that you get to pose with Elvis Presley and Barrack Obama. The rest of the park is also pretty impressive, packed with some pretty horrific rides that take more than just a few ounces of courage to attempt; try searching for them on Youtube and you’ll get an idea. Although we spent most of our afternoon there, it’s advisable to visit Prater in the evening when it’s more crowded and fully functional.
Some of us wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon lazing along the banks of the river Danube that flows through the city. The promenade along the Danube or Donau attracts many students and young couples, who enjoy basking in the sun and sipping some beer. What better way to spend a Friday afternoon.
Our final day in Vienna began quite early as we headed for Schönbrunn Palace, the former residence of the imperial couple, Franz Joseph and Elizabeth, who is better known to locals as Sissi. Besides the state rooms and the private apartments of the imperial couple, you’ll also see the precious 18-th century interiors here from the time of Maria Theresa. But some of us chose instead to focus on exploring the gigantic garden area (video – http://bit.ly/1gPcQ8Q), which was absolutely free of charge, unlike most of the other attractions within the palace premises. The annual Sommernachtskonzert or Summer Night concert performed by the legendary Philharmonic Orchestra takes place here every year and is attended by over 100,000 spectators. It will take place on the 29th of May this year.
Even after visiting all of these monuments, palaces, museums etc. we had barely seen less than half of the city, and it was already time to go back home. Our bus journey back to Ilmenau lasted about six and half hours and we were finally home, tired, but full of glee and filled with lovely memories. Vienna is truly complete is so many ways. Whether it is its high standard of living, a great recreational environment or mere historical and political significance, Vienna packs in all the essential ingredients that make it a bustling, well-planned and tourist friendly destination that demands more than just one visit. It’s probably best you just figure out a way to start living there the first chance you get.