Getting to Vienna was a rather calamitous affair, both emotionally and physically – so it’s hardly surprising that I was in search of a glass of wine when I arrived. I do like the vino, and I was fairly surprised to find the good stuff in Austria of all places; Vienna not ranking on my list of wine producing hotspots. Ah, but how wrong I was.
Part I – Rail travel is not romantic
Still second guessing my decision to leave Berlin, it was with a heavy heart that I boarded a twelve hour overnight train from the monumentally labyrinthine Hauptbahnhof. Having established that I was not accidentally on a train to St.Petersburg or Paris I began to consider my surroundings. Now, I had never been on an overnight train before, so my expectations were fairly limited. I’m just going to say that whatever Orient Express romantic notions of long haul rail travel I had when I booked the train ticket, I’ve certainly lost them all now. The compartment was small, dated, cramped and on leaving Berlin housed only me and my modest amount of luggage (despite being alone there still didn’t quite seem to be adequate room for my case either under the seats or in a luggage rack outside – as there didn’t seem to be one). At the next stop a few more people got on, then a few more, then it was time to make up the beds.
By ‘beds’ I mean triple bunks made from folding the seats, which are then made up with sheets with holes repaired by iron on patches and supplemented with thick, scratchy brown blankets. It was fairly early and I wasn’t ready to sleep yet, but I was pretty hungry. Having heard mythical things about train dining cars I went off to check it out. But. Oh no. The train didn’t have a dining car, which was bad news for me because I had no picnic (unlike my experienced train traveller compartment companions) and I was starving, in the sort of way that was definitely going to disturb what already promised to be a bad nights sleep. ‘Luckily’ it did have a small shop tended by a creepy man which sold crisps and beer with prices listed in three currencies. I sipped my beer in the corridor while walking past the first class bunks – which looked a lot more like what I had been expecting, and also a lot more like something that belonged to the 21st century, and made my way back to refugee class. I climbed over the by now ridiculous amount of luggage in the compartment and crawled into my coffin sized bunk. After fits and starts and being woken up by newcomers in Prague and the air conditioning freezing my toes off I finally arrived in Vienna in the dark at 6am, cold, tired and hungry.
Part II – Prater and the Palaces
I arrived at the Prater amusement park in Vienna’s Leopolstadt on a glorious autumn morning. First stop was a meander into ‘Wiesn-fest’, the Prater’s own mini version of Oktoberfest. I had made a conscious decision not to head to Oktoberfest in Munich but I was delighted with this charming scaled down version, even if it was a bit sleepy so early in the morning.
Following that I made my way immediately to the ‘Wiener Riesenrad’ – the Prater’s famous ferris wheel, which I know best from the film ‘Before Sunrise’ although it is also featured in the 1949 film noir ‘The Third Man’ (which I later saw in a tiny cinema next to the Hofburg).
Next on the list was Vienna’s myriad collection of palaces.
The Belvedere is now a gallery which contains works by Austrian artists most notably including Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. The main draw here for tourists – apart from the beautiful house and grounds- is the blockbuster painting ‘The Kiss’ by Klimt, in front of which you will find a predictable crowd of zombies taking photos with their ipads before moving on to the next room without taking a proper look at the painting.
Former summer residence of the Hapsburg family, Wikipedia informs me that in 2010 the Schönbrunn saw over two and a half million visitors in that year alone. And I can say that I don’t doubt that one bit, because I was absolutely staggered by the amount of people there in what I considered to be an out of season time. But, well, these guys are onto something because the palace and grounds are astonishingly beautiful, a stunning example of Baroque design. In a guilty comparison to Versailles (I end up comparing all palaces and grand houses I see to Versailles) I’m still struggling to work out which palace I like best, but I think Schönbrunn is definitely one I would like to revisit.
Trivia tidbit: A six year old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played here for the Empress Maria Theresa in 1772 in the ‘hall of mirrors’, which is open to the public.
This wasn’t my first brush with a Hofburg, I visited the Hofburg Imeperial Court in Innsbruck last year, which you can read about here. I have to say that although this view of the Hofburg from Michaelerplatz is looking fairly flash, the view from the other side (which I encountered first) is looking decidedly more shabby. I found the Hofburg to be fairly confusing as it is more a complex of separate entities such as the national library, the Sisi museum and the Spanish riding school rather than a single unit. One thing for certain is that the Hofburg is vast, so you might need a spare week or so to start wading through the untold Hapsburg treasures within if you want to do them justice (and I mean this literally as the Imperial treasury is located here).
Part III – So tell me about the wine already!
Grinzing is a picturesque little town north west of Vienna, that would be worth a visit for its photogenic qualities alone before you even get to its ‘Heurigen’ or wine taverns. Just a short stumble from the vineyards which are attached to each individual Heurigen, this is a perfect late afternoon or evening drinking spot (a little research suggests that music is to be found here too, but I was there a bit early in the day for that). While enjoying a delicious glass Blauer Zweigelt I decided that this was the optimum time to sample the famous Wiener schnitzel; a thin slice of breaded veal – Austria’s national dish. The verdict is still out on the schnitzel as one has a tendency to steer away from breaded and deep fried food stuffs, but it was a perfect meal for the moment and I left Grinzing happy and content (if slightly drunk after several more glasses of wine).
Part IV – A hangover and a conclusion
Vienna was a sunburst of activity where I packed my days to the brim, and after 5 nights there I knew that I could easily have filled another week if the road was not beckoning me onwards. There are a multitude of other things I did that haven’t been mentioned here including Sacher Torte, a trip to the Wachau Valley, €3 standing tickets to the opera etc. etc. Vienna is a town that suits me apparently, and certainly one that I recommend.
Happy Bloomsday everyone! As you know I went to university in Dublin, and today is a rather important date in Dublin’s calendar as 16th June 1904 was when the events of James Joyce’s most famous creation ‘Ulysses’ took place. ‘Bloomsday’ gets it’s name from the protagonist of the novel, Leopold Bloom, who takes an epic journey around Dublin mimicking Homer’s Odyssey. In real life 16th June was the day that James Joyce met his wife Nora Barnacle. Unfortunately I’m not apt to give a great summary of Ulysses because I have not read it (!) and I’m not a huge fan of Joyce or modernism in general. Unsurprisingly I had no particular wish to take a term long course on Ulysses where a chapter was painstakingly picked apart each week. I’d consider that a slow death indeed, although plenty of people thought this was pretty much the pinnacle of their Dublin English degree experience. Let’s just say my time for Joycean enjoyment has not yet arrived, maybe I’ll think Ulysses is the greatest thing ever in 20 years time. Maybe. In which case I’ll regret my time spent as a literature student in Dublin dilly dallying with other literary greats and cringing every time an extract from Finnegan’s Wake or a story from Dubliner’s would appear on a reading list. As an addendum to this I would like to add, incidentally, that I have read James Joyce’s love letters to Nora Barnacle (or rather, I had them read to me by a significant other who thought this was highly
romantic amusing) – and I can certainly vouch for their entertainment value, as much as they are in the literary gutter 😉
Anyway, I digress. ‘Before Sunrise’ directed by Richard Linklater is a film which takes place on the 16th June, and it is peppered with references to Ulysses. While on a train from Budapest American student Jesse (Ethan Hawke) meets Celine (Julie Delpy) on her way to Paris, and he talks her into getting off the train in Vienna to explore the city with him. The pair wander around the city as it begins to get dark and have a series of encounters with the locals. Over the course of the evening as the sun begins to set the pair get to know each other better and become close, gradually ending up in a park before they have to part at sunrise so that Jesse can catch his flight home. They vow to meet again at the train station in six months time, but do not exchange phone numbers or contact details. I was just about to watch this film again because I have been thinking a lot of my own summer travels. I would like to say ‘impending’ summer travels, but they still seem so far away . . . in reality, 7 weeks, depending on my work situation (unstable). I know that rationally speaking 7 weeks is nothing, but it might as well be 7 years – it seems like an eternity. I am going to Berlin for the long term, but I am planning several weeks of pre-Berlin travel with an open schedule. I would dearly love to go to Vienna, where this film is set, so it seemed like an appropriate teaser. I will also probably be travelling by train, so again this is a good film for stirring my imagination. Obviously ‘Before Sunrise’ is your ideal interrailing scenario. Meet an attractive foreigner on the train, get off in an appropriately romantic European city in the summertime, and let the adventure begin.
It is pure coincidence that I have decided to watch this film today of all days, in a weird and tenuous way I feel like my past (Dublin) and imminent future (trains, Europe, Vienna?) have come together here. Both stories involve exploring a city (Dublin/Vienna) over the 16th/17th of June. Both involve visits to a graveyard. Jesse’s real name is James and, like Joyce, he spent a long time wandering around Europe. I suspect there may be a few more links, but as I haven’t read the book and I’ve just lifted these facts from IMDb – you’ll have to spot them on your own.
For those of you in Dublin, or otherwise Ulysses enthusiasts I hope you enjoyed your day and celebrated appropriately!