The Retirees return to Europe – Vienna

Vienna

Our plan to travel to Vienna via Amsterdam went well and truly awry. Our flight out of Heathrow was late to leave which meant we missed our connection in Amsterdam (not by much I might say as we had to run from terminal B to terminal D to get our connector). A simple phone call by the ground staff for our filght to the gate of our connecting flight stating we were on our way was all it would have taken to avoid the pain that followed. Having missed our connection, the gate captain offered us two alternate connections to Vienna – a direct connection leaving at 8.00pm or a connection via Munich boarding now and leaving in 10 mins and arriving Vienna at 3.00pm – it was now 10.00am in Amsterdam. We chose to go via Munich, boarded the flight and waited and waited (there was no departure slot available for our aircraft) and waited for over an hour.

We arrived in terminal 1 Munich with about an hour before our connecting flight was due to depart, but we could not find the KLM desk to obtain a boarding pass. A staff member on an information desk directed us downstairs to the KLM desk. We hurried downstairs only to be redirected back to where we started where a friendly Air France girl checked our ticket and was unable to identify the airline code as to which airline was our carrier and she assured us that KLM did not fly out of Munich, so she sent us downstairs to another agent who directed us across the tarmac to terminal 2. By this time, we had 15mins to reach our flight.

Terminal 2 was just as difficult to navigate until we found a volunteer visitor assistant who immediately could tell us our airline was Austrian Air not KLM and to go to the Lufthansa desk. The Lufthansa assistant was superb but had to advise us we had missed our connecting flight and the next was at 8.00pm arriving in Vienna at 9.30pm. She also tracked our luggage noting on her screen the change of flight and identifying an error in the recording for both suitcases – (only the first mistake). All of this bad news seemed wonderful to us as we were exhausted, hungry and stressed with all of the f**k ups. Assured of our flight arrangements and our luggage we sought a cafe for a strong drink and something to eat.

Our first choice for our repast was not so good – an incident was in progress and the cafe was cordoned off with heavily armed Police deterring customers from entering. Our second choice was more successful, and we were able to relax. We had four and a half hours to wait for our flight, so we slowly made our way through security again and into the bowels of terminal 2 where we sat suspended until 8.00pm.

Finally, our flight gate opened, and we were seated in the last two seats in the plane so it was a bit of a struggle to get off the plane and then we had a struggle to find the luggage collection belt only to find our luggage had not made the flight. So, we spent the next half hour completing a lost luggage claim form with the depressing feeling that we would not see the suitcases again. Tired and distressed we simply grabbed the 1st cab handed him our hotel address and bundled into the taxi with only the clothes we stood up in. Sometime after 10.00pm we arrived at Westbahn Hotel as pictured below, uncertain of what awaited us.

The next day we awoke to grey skies and intermittent rain. The room was not air-conditioned, and we had spent most of the night sweating on the bed waiting for morning trying not to think about the fact that our last meal was some hours ago in Munich. Our plans were in disarray, so we decided to make up for it with a hotel breakfast then brief the reception staff about our lost luggage and our anticipated delivery of our luggage. We had an enjoyable breakfast and found the staff on reception sympathetic. They provided us with a city map and pointed out a few of the sights.

We had selected this hotel for its proximity to the rail station. Although very close to a major rail station terminus at West Bahnhof we were not at Bahnof Meidling which we learned is where we had to be to travel to Bregenz in a few days’ time. Had we stuffed up again?

We walked across to West Bahnhof station and found a mini shopping centre and underground station as well as an above ground rail station. Alongside the rail station with an entrance from the station was Vienna’s IKEA store. Located in a most unusual high rise building it appeared part of it was missing with the upper levels left hanging in the air.

Photos of the Hotel, rail station and IKEA are below. One of the pictures shows a church through the window of the station and one of the pictures shows the church which we found whilst hunting for the IBIS Hotel and the door is the ornate carved door of a cafe/bar near the IBIS.

Photos

Our plan for our time in Vienna involved getting a feel for the layout of the city using the Hop on Hop Off Bus pick the things we wanted to see and return later but the hotel seemed to be some distance from the first stop for the Bus. The hotel receptionist assured us the hotel was centrally located so we walked over to the nearby main shopping Street Mariahilfastrasse after breakfast, and nothing was open – we were to find that the Viennese have some very different habits. The Strasse was very long and no where near to stop 1 of the Hop On Hop Off bus route – the nearest stop turned out to be outside the nearby IBIS Hotel. Using google maps we set off in search of stop #5 on the blue line at the IBIS Hotel.

Well, the IBIS Hotel decided to play hide and seek with us – every time we thought we were getting closer it moved further away. Of course, we were going the wrong way but once we corrected our path we found ourselves in front of the Ibis Hotel only a stone’s throw from our hotel. S**t! We could not take a trick.

Our luck improved once we found the hotel and boarded the bus.

Below are photos of the Viennese trams which crisscross the city and have done so from the beginning of mechanisation as borne out by the derelict horse drawn tram shed still standing in Vienna. At stop #5 Ibis Hotel we got a different angle on the IKEA building, a view down Mariahilfastrasse before the Viennesse arise for the day and we passed this elaborate carved door frame to a restaurant near the Ibis. The Blue line stop 6 is the Schloss Schonenburg to which we would return, and this line generally took us on a cultural tour of Vienna and through districts of Council flats which remain popular till today. The flats are identifiable by the notice on the building that they were built by the Council and the year of building. Fifty percent of housing in Vienna is council owned and rented. These apartment buildings stand out from the modern constructs of glass and metal. See if you can pick out the French Embassy amongst these pictures. One of the features of Vienna is its sausage stands – the Viennese refer to them as “the wurst sausage stands” and don’t understand our mirth about that description. Here is a picture of one near the State Opera featuring a green rabbit. The Viennese treat these similar to a pub where they meet fellow citizens after a show and have a sausage and glass of bubbles or a beer – where we might have a “lamb sandwich and a schooner”. Finally, a statue in honour of Emperor Franz Joseph I think outside the Art museum “Albertina” – the Hapsburgs’ have left their mark everywhere.

Photos

We stayed on the bus until we had completed the blue line and then we joined the red line filling in the blanks around our knowledge of the city. The following photos show where we had lunch at the Palms Restaurant in the former Orangerie of a grand house, some of the grand designs repeated throughout Vienna, the State Opera, the Rathaus (City Hall) and Hotel Stephanie Vienna’s oldest hotel.

Kerry was sick of the bus by the end of the red line – some parts of the red line were long and boring with little of interest to us. Once back at stop 1 we took the Blue Line Bus to stop 3 and walked home along Mariahilfastrasse which is the retail mall of Vienna connecting through to the Schoenberg Schloss (PALACE) – so a bloody long road. We had to replace our missing clothes and here was a street full of shops – so shopping we did go. The loss of the luggage and having to deal with the airline and the insurer greatly diminished our enjoyment of the holiday. Some more photos of the architecture of Vienna.

The second day started with breakfast at the hotel followed by some deep dives into particular parts of Viennese life. Our hotel had the luxury of 3 floors and an elevator – it nearly fitted slim Kerry and sleek Glendon who had to breath in. Mariahilfastrasse was asleep when we ventured out, but it meant we were not dodging bikes scooters and the occasional car and motor scooter in the crowds of people shopping up and down the Strasse – it comes to life around 10.00am. The following pictures demonstrate this. Note the “Viennieserrie” and the Cannabis shop (Mr Nice Guy”).

Notice that the photos below include a tower with plants growing up the side – this is the aquarium. During the Nazi occupation of Vienna, the Nazi’s built 6 gun in-placement towers containing anti-aircraft guns and search lights to combat the Allies bombing of Vienna. The towers are so structurally strong that the Viennese have found it commercially unviable to demolish these towers although we only saw one that had been partially demolished and two others – this tower converted to the aquarium and another which we viewed from the top of the aquarium. We were able to get a good oversight of Vienna atop of the aquarium. Many buildings were destroyed and faithfully restored but the gun tower to an aquarium was remarkable.

Photos

Working our way along Mariahilfastrasse we came across this church which strangely has a statue of the composer Josef Haydn in front of it. Although a contemporary of Mozart and Beethoven and working with them in Vienna I could find no connection to this church. However, we encountered various persons living on the street whom we helped and a student from Kosovo who we helped get a meal that day and was it coincidence that Haydn had also known hunger whilst growing up.

Photos

There are a number of alleys and laneways off Mariahilfastrasse and these photos take you through this particular lane.

One of our hopes was to visit the Strudel Cooking demonstration at Schloss Schonenburg. It is not a well known event and after some enquiry we caught the Hop on Hop off Bus to stop 6 where we were swept up by the tourists visiting the palace but we made for the bakery. For not a lot of Euros we joined about 20 other people consuming a large piece of strudel and hot chocolate whilst an apprentice baker showed us the traditional method of making strudel which I recorded so that I can make my own strudel not for this blog but here are the pictures of show and the palace gardens.

After the strudel show (where we ate a huge piece of strudel with a mug of hot chocolate) we returned to the Hop on Hop off Bus for a boat trip on the Danube or the Donau as the Viennese call it. This was part of the package for a 3 day pass on the Bus. We started at Red Line stop #3 beside the Belvedere Palace. The photos below show the monument to the Russian soldiers lost in some battle over Vienna after WW2 just outside Belvedere. We travelled to stop 8 on the Red Line on the other side of the city from the Palace (did I mention Kerry was sick of the bus). After obtaining the tickets and whilst waiting for the boat I noticed the building across the canal had this distinctive wall art of two men making a hole in the building. The walls around this part of the canal have been given over to graffiti artists and they have made a right mess of it in my view. The cruise starts in the canal and joins the river where the river flooding is controlled by a lock. Not much of a boat trip for 2 hours but another part of the history of Vienna. Nothing much to report on the cruise until we were outside Vienna when suddenly all these huts started appearing on the bank of the canal. I suspect they are weekenders for fishermen. No mention of them in the misguided commentary but they ranged from the derelict to complete.

At last, we reached the Danube and the lock came into view. Unusually the front gate of the lock did not open but rather sunk like a garage door in reverse. The water height difference is quite significant, and they still generate hydroelectric power from the river. As usual there is someone lurking waiting for a bigger vessel to come along and open the lock gates for them. Note the water mark – our boat was raised 5 – 6 metres to pass through the lock.

Just as we approached the end of the journey a Buddhist monument to Peace could be seen on the banks of the river. It seemed quite out of place in the style of its architecture but most appropriate given Europe’s history. Also out of place but for different reason one of the early river cranes used for loading and unloading on the vessels on the Danube has been preserved.We were dropped off at red line stop 10 to endure the bus ride back to the city centre.

Photos

Back at stop 1 we decided to move onto stop 3 Blue Line and walk back to the hotel. We were getting our steps in each day.

The next day, we decided to test the underground and took a ride on line 6 to the main rail station at Meidling and identified where we were to go to catch our train to Luzern. Having successfully done that, we took the underground line 3 back to the city for the guided tour included in our Hop on Hop off bus ticket. The tour was to start at stop 1 red line but upon arriving there was no guide and the guide at that stop told us to look for a blonde woman holding a flag on the other side of the road. At first, I thought the guide had started the tour without us but a tiny little plastic Austrian flag caught my eye and we flushed the guide from her cover. Very quickly we were joined by another half dozen people also hunting for the guide for the tour.

On the way to red line stop 1, I had decided to photograph a statue of Archduchess Maria Therese and her advisors and followers – said to weigh 40 tonnes. We passed the Sacher Hotel which claims it invented the Sacher Torte a claim disputed by an opponent. The dispute was decided in Court in favour of Sacher but not to be out done the opponent claimed it had the traditional recipe. These photos follow.

The tour was for 1 hour and my photos from the tour appear below. The first few photos are of a monument depicting the disarray of the aristocrats following the collapse of the Hapsburg Empire, the subjugation of the working class and the upright slab in the monument with writing on it represent s the constitution of Austria to end the rule of the aristocracy and the end of the disarray.

The Albertina is shown with its remodelling architect’s trademark metal wing over the front veranda. Below the veranda stand horse drawn taxi’s, which take their passengers to the Hoffburg palace which currently is housing the President and some of the offices of the government. Behind the Albertina is the national library with it statue of Joseph II, through another passage and another courtyard opens before us – you see the horse drawn cabs again with th Roman ruins found during renovations in the foreground then we burst out of the palace to another commercial shopping mall (and there is the competitor to Hotel Sacher behind the red umbrella) ending in the square of St Stephens Church. This is the principal church of Austria having been founded in the 12th century. Contrast this against the modern commercial building reflecting the church back to it.

Photos

The tour ended here and we had to find our way back to stop 1 on the blue line. One thing I learnt was the Viennese love their sausage stands and so I had to taste why. The following photos will give you the sense of what I am enjoying. As we made our way back, we explored the Roman foundations uncovered in recent renovations, enjoyed a coffee in a traditional Viennese coffee house and passed the stairs to Albertina once more. On our way back to the hotel, Kerry noticed the pedestrian signs displaying images of two pedestrians – turns out that many of the crossing have been changed to rainbow crossings recognising LGBTIQ people.

Our visit to Vienna has almost finished except for an unusual encounter over dinner. We had chosen where we wished to eat that evening – a pub two streets down from our hotel. As I was entering the pub I opened the door and stepped back to allow a woman exiting the pub to do so. She in turn said something to me more than likely in German and I responded with “Excuse me” which brought a retort in English “They are full up – no tables” Without thinking I replied “there is another restaurant one street away ” and she asked if she might join us. We agreed and that is how we met Kristine from Bavaria. Well this was one of our more enjoyable dinner whilst learning that Kristina was a widow and travelling with a group but she was seeking a break by dining alone . We cahtted about family and travel whilst enjoying dinner When we left the restaurant Kristine stated that her group was going east and we were going west tomorrow so like ships in the night we passed each on our way.

We had not heard anything regading our luggage so we purchased a suitcase cosmetics medications and clothes to continue the journey. After briefing the Reception staff not to accept our luggage should it be delivered to the hotel, we left for the train station Bahnhof Meidling.

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Glendon

Retired Australian Lawyer having worked representing the innocent and the not so innocent in Australia and some of the remote parts of the world and having travelled widely through Europe, Western Russia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, Thailand Malaysia Solomon Islands northern China, Hong Kong and the UAE So now that I have the time I am writing about my travels present and past. Hope you enjoy exploring off the beaten track.

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