Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Day 11: Vienna

We didn't have reservations for the train to Vienna from Salzburg, but we managed to get ourselves in a single compartment. There appeared to be things on the doors of the compartment indicating which were reserved, with some having red tickets that clearly said "RESERVED" in German, some having nothing, and ones like the one we ended up in, which had white cards with writing we didn't understand. We figured the worst case scenario would be we'd get somewhere and people with a reservation would kick us out, but that didn't happen. There was quite an alarming point at which a group of three women opened the door of our compartment, showed a police badge and demanded to see our passports, which they then checked onto a laptop or something, and left. Given we'd not crossed a border or anything similar I can only assume they were looking for someone in particular.

We'd booked the hotel on a recommendation from Nick, who had stayed there before, and it was a pretty nice hostel. We had two private twin rooms booked, and they were really spacious, en-suite, and all-in-all extremely nice given the rate we were paying of around €20 a night each. I went for a wander, found a supermarket and bought some food, and we cooked.

My first impression of Vienna was that the place is absolutely frickin huge. It's the first city we've been to where the underground trains have been an absolute necessity instead of merely a convenience, and walking around on the surface and then comparing and seeing just how little ground you've covered on the city map was certainly not something we'd had previously on the other trip.

A note would be that Vienna has a card in the same way Salzburg has, which gives free transport but only fairly poor discounts to places in the city (to the extent where the student discount was frequently larger). It also didn't help that you can only buy a 72 hour card, and we weren't planning on staying that long.

The first tourist attraction we hit was the central attraction of Stephanplatz, with its fairly large, decorative and impressive cathedral. As seems to be a ridiculously common theme for the places we've visited so far, the building is completely caked in scaffolding. I'm not sure if these sorts of buildings are just permanently undergoing some sort of restoration project, but it's like all the main tourist cities in central Europe choose peak summer months to hide all their most attractive old buildings behind scaffolding and contstruction work.

We decided to wander above ground to Museumsquartier, and went via Heldenplatz. Heldenplatz was fairly nice, and somewhat interestingly had some huge excavation in the middle of the square. It was showing the remains of the foundations for some ancient building which had previously been there, which is sort of cool, but it struck me as being a bit bizarre that they would just dig up some central areas in the city for that sort of thing.

The walk to Museumsquartier was really nice, and I'm not sure I've ever been in a place where there's just been so much open space surrounded by such picturesque architechture and fantastic old buildings.

At the Museumsquartier our first sight was the Kunsthalle Wien art gallery, which had two exhibitions. One was on the theme of outer-space, which was extremely surreal and mostly just very strange and a touch unsettling. The other was an exhibition on Salvador DalĂ­, so again it was surreal and unsettling, but in a way I was far more appreciative of.

We split up at this point, with myself wanting to see the Architechture Museum, and the other guys wanting to see the Leopold Museum. The architechture museum was pretty interesting, with one half being on Viennese architecture and town development since around 1850, and the other being an exhibition on the Russian architecht Alexander Brodsky. The central piece was a darkened room, with various plastic pieces of litter attached to layers of netting over the cieling, and a reflective surface in the centre of the floor, reflecting everything on the ceiling.

There was a notice on the door warning that you shouldn't touch the reflective surface on the floor. The surface itself seemed to have a very bizarre shimmering element to it, so out of curiosity I ignored the sign completely and touched it. It turned out that the reflective "surface" was actually a huge pool of oil in the middle of the floor (which explained why it was roped off), so I ended up with oil all over one of my hands, which was somewhat awkward to try and discreetly wipe off given I didn't have any tissues to hand. Still, the exhibition was pretty cool.

We met back up outside and walked to Karlplatz, which is another walk to some pretty awesome buildings, and awesome some fairly impressive buskers in the middle of the high-street. Vienna being a city famous for music and the fine arts, I guess?

(church in Karlplatz)

There had been a fair amount of walking at this point, so we took an underground train to the side of the Danube and sunbathed for a while. I wouldn't say the Danube was particularly blue, but it definitely looked in a better state than most rivers I've seen that flow through large cities. And still surrounded by some pretty snazzy churches.

It was around 8pm at this time, so we figured we'd head back to the hostel and cook (given we'd spent a fair amount of money during the day on transport and museums/galleries). Pretty knackered from the amount of walking, but also a pretty sight-filled day.

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