We woke to another lovely sunrise out the south facing window of our room. The NH Danube City Hotel in this part of Vienna is quite nice in an Austrian sort of way. It is very slick, with the lobby all black and white and the amenities are very nice. The wait staff is impeccable, but as we have discovered in Vienna, bringing the bill is something that just doesn’t happen until they are dang good and ready. We decided to skip the downstairs buffet this morning, after experiencing the crowded lines yesterday. We both knew that our day in town would likely bring pastries and coffee.
After yesterday, we were old hands at using the Metro, and Lorena’s description of how to get to the Royal Stables seemed straightforward. We thought there would be transfers, and decided to buy a 24 hour pass so that we didn’t have to worry about buying more tickets for transfers.
The Metro station at the Vienna International Center is just a five minute walk from the hotel and is easy to use. At 9am it was quite busy. From the way things looked, the Viennese must all go to work at 9am. We arrived at St Stephens Square easily and then looked high and low for the transfer to Josef. We couldn’t find anything on the map that showed a line in that direction, and the city map had such tiny print that we were having some difficulty figuring it all out. I finally called Lorena, who was already off on the Danube Cruise with the rest of the group, and in her darling but sometimes difficult accent, she said, “No no, not a transfer, you just walk!” Oh. Then, as usual, I couldn’t begin to figure out where I actually was in relation to where I had to walk, even with the map. For a map maker, in these cities I am pretty sad at navigating. Out came the phone again and I turned on google maps one more time. Ahhh. The blue dot began blinking and I put in Stephansplatz and there we were. Quickly turn off the cellular data roaming and head for the square.
Stuff I learned; It is worth every single penny to pay for at least some mb of data for you smartphone mapping application. I only used it a few times, but those times really helped us a lot when we were turned around. These cities have very narrow streets and very tall buildings, and it is quite easy to get turned around, or to not know exactly where you are. Even as a map maker and reader, I still had some difficult moments. I was sooooo happy that I could turn on the phone and get that little blue dot to tell me exactly where I was.
I paid for 100 mb of data but since I have Verizon on the iPad and ATT on the phone, I can’t really remember if I actually paid for data on the phone as well. The internet is so bad at the hotel I can’t seem to get to my account pages to actually check. Guess I’ll find out when I get home. I have kept the phone either turned off entirely or in airplane mode for most of the duration of the trip unless I am hooked up to WiFi.
Once in the proper square, we found the line for the practice showing of the Spanish Riding School. Somehow we thought Lorena said that viewing practice was free, but of course that wasn’t right. It cost 10 E urofor me and 14 for Melody to enter the royal stables to watch the Lippanzaners do their drills. They are beautiful horses, and watching them work was wonderful. I was glad we did it, and actually seeing the luxury of the royal stable interior was impressive. The stable tours were sold out for the next week, and of course the actual performances were sold out long ago. They are also expensive.
In front of the riding school is a preserved Roman ruin, visible below the street and protected from vandalism by clear covers. Melody was enthralled again by this part of history. I would so love to take her to Turkey where she could see many many ruins both from the Roman era and the prior Hellenistic era as well.
There is a lot to do in Vienna that is wonderful. The city is filled with art and history and culture. The tour of the Opera House would have been amazing, and I wish we had managed to do that tour. No matter where you turn, there is opulent architecture and interesting tours and classical performances. There are so many museums to choose from that we chose none and instead just spent our day walking and watching people. Vienna is nothing if not opulent, beautiful, expensive, and somewhat overwhelming. In my dreams of this trip, I imagined listening to Mozart in Vienna, but somehow with our short stay, the concert was more than we could manage. I also love Gustav Klimt, not particularly “The Kiss”, but some of his more esoteric art really intrigues me. Klimt was from Vienna, and in addition to Klimt collectibles on every corner, there was the art museum featuring his art that we also didn’t manage to get to. More days in Vienna were needed, a bit more time, and a commitment to spending the money for these extra tours.
I think it would be a great destination to visit with a lot of time and plenty of money. There is no place better for seeing a different opera every night or hearing classical music at its finest. Culture for a price. As I experienced the city, I was even more appreciative of our guide’s comments from the previous day regarding the combination of capitalism and a social state that insists that there be 60 completely different opera performances a year, all paid for by the state of course.
He said, “The Viennese really love children, just not their own. They have one of the lowest birth rates in the world. The don’t like paying taxes, and they don’t like tourists. That doesn’t work very well in a closed system like we have. Where is the money to come from?” I wish I actually had his commentary on tape because he was one of the funniest, most informative guides ever.
When we asked Lorena what was the most important thing to do in Vienna in one day she said one word, “Coffee”. Coffee in Vienna is basically the long slow accompaniment to people watching in the square. You walk for a bit and then sit at a cafe where the elegant waiters will come and serve you before disappearing forever. The idea is that they don’t want to disturb you, and you can sit with one small cup of espresso or Melange (the Viennese version of cappuccino) for as many hours as you wish. The only problem comes when you decide that you might actually like to leave. It is nearly impossible to get the waiter’s attention until he is good and ready, and even then he will wave to you and say, “in a minute, in a minute”. Do NOT have coffee in Vienna if you have anywhere to go. If you need to make a visit to the WC (water closet, bathroom, toilet) then be sure to have a supply of coin euros and a coffee partner who can be left at the table waiting for the waiter while you go.
Melody loves fashion, is an avid reader of Vogue, and she was so excited to actually be in a place where she could go to all the big name shops, especially Louis Vuitton. I had no desire to go in the store just to look at expensive stuff. Window shopping is fine for me, so I stayed outside while Melody went in all her famous designer name shops. Sadly in some of the shops, she was treated very shabbily by the snotty staff, and I don’t think she expected that. I am sure this isn’t something just endemic to Vienna, as there are snotty staff in snotty stores all over the planet. Once we migrated from the very highest end shops to the mid level shops, though, I loved it. Some of the goodies were delightful, including a cashmere coat for only 4000 E urothat I almost bought. Well, in my dreams anyway. I laughed that I could go on a couple of trips for what that coat cost.
Then as we slipped down to the true mid level shops, we were both delighted to find a two story hat store. Now I have to say that was fun and the shopkeepers were all charming and helpful and the walls and walls of hats were fabulous. There were lots of women exclaiming and trying on hats of all kinds and having fun. I did buy a couple of hats for us, including a cute little boiled wool “Made in Austria” winter hat that looks like something out of the 20’s. Finally, something other than breakable crystal or porcelain as a keepsake of this country!
Vienna is actually quite walkable, and the tall spire of St Stephens is in the center of town with the Ringstrasse circling the city center. If you just keep walking, whatever direction, you will either reach the cathedral square or the Ringstrasse. On the previous day, we saw the Market and the guide encouraged us to go there repeatedly. After all that opulence and being hounded by salesmen in period dress to buy expensive tickets to a Mozart concert, we decided that a free market would be a good alternative.
We found it easily, and were delighted to see that it was much like the familiar Pike Street Market in Seattle, with row after row of food stalls filled with gorgeous food. No one was throwing fish, but the quality and variety was amazing. Of course there were eateries and tables everywhere and of course we sat and had another coffee while watching people stroll past. In this place, though, our waiter was a lovely young girl from Istanbul who had thighs about the size of my forearm. (Actually most of the women here are incredibly slim and chic!)
She served us and left us alone, but then came right to us when we needed to pay, and then was talkative and friendly. She has been in Vienna for several years but misses her own country where the people are friendly and like to TALK. She said that learning German was hard for her, and her mixture of English with a German Turkish accent was so charming.
As we strolled to the far end of the market, the food stalls gave way to the trinket shops with a bazillion pashiminas and cheap junk and the shopkeepers became more aggressive. Men came entirely too close to me for comfort, and I was glad that my camera was firmly attached to my Cotton Carrier, and my bag was well hidden and strapped under my clothes. It was the first time on this trip that I have felt uncomfortable and unsafe. Within a very few minutes we were once again on the Ringstrasse walking back toward the U (the underground metro station) and everything felt just fine.
The metro was easy to find and easy to use, and even though it was late afternoon, we still found seats. It was nice to be able to sit down. Again, within minutes, we were home to our hotel and settled into the room for a bit of rest before we decided what in the world to do for dinner. There were fewer options in the district where we were located, and we decided that maybe a dinner in the hotel would be a good idea. It was an especially good idea for Melody because with her lovely red boiled wool coat she went to dinner in her pajamas. No one had a clue!
The dinner was nice, with excellent service, and the thing I loved most was this very small green salad that was served European style after our main dish was brought to us. That salad was the sweetest, most tender, tastiest, lovely thing I have eaten in a long time. We also got a complimentary “taste” for an appetizer which was a tuna mousse on a small cracker. Looks quite tiny on the plate, but oh my! it was tasty. The tuna mousse was fresh and mild and the cracker needed something to keep it from levitating it was so light and fresh.
After a considerable wait for our bill, Melody finally said, “Mom, you just go on up to the room and I’ll hang around here to pay.” We were both much too tired to even care what the meal cost, much less figure it out from Euros to USDollars, but I finally did discover when I got my credit card bill it came to a bit more than $80. A deal at any price since it didn’t require going out when we were just plain worn out.
We both loved a lot about Vienna, but both of us were ready for the next stage of our trip. Tomorrow we travel to Prague!
I am still processing photos for this day and will put in links this evening if you are interested. Come back and check later.