I loved Vienna and in my opinion it is one of the most beautiful capital cities in Europe. It’s known for being quite expensive but as I’m from Dublin, the prices and expense is similar – so I didn’t feel the sting as much as my fellow German, American and Czech travelers. I think my love of the city is partly due to the company I had with me at the time. In Paris, I met an Austrian, Georg, who was staying in our hostel and we grouped together one evening for a night on the town. A massive Lord of the Rings fan and a good chap all round, after the great night at a wine bar in Bastille – he suggested that I give him a shout when we land in Vienna, as he was finished his own Interrail and would show us around.
I arrived in Vienna on my birthday and the city is forever engraved with great memories. With a local leading the way – the night was brilliant but as I was drunk, I cannot for the life of me remember the club he brought us to (I will have to ask him) but it was surreal and located in an abandoned subway station. The music (I can remember!) was techno-rock and we were the only foreigners in the place and what a place it was!
Hofburg Palace, the former imperial Palace in the centre of the city is a must-see in Wein. The palace is a spectacle and it’s grand library is one of the most ornate and beautiful of its kind. The impressive statue in the photo above is of Joseph II, the Austrian emperor. The square in which it is located is named after him and his story is a tragic one. Joseph or Josef was quite a progressive man for his time as he was a passionate advocate for the great Enlightenment. He focused on education and science and was a man of reason. He believed in freedom of religion and speech and advocated tolerance & the right to hold private property (Jews, for example were denied this right). He also made policies which ensured fairer taxes as many aristocrats at the time were immune and rights were given to peasants. Polices were also put in place to improve society as a whole and to invest & sponsor cultural institutions, such as Prater Park.
His marriage was a happy one, which as you can imagine was very unusual in those times – marriage was for politics not love. But Josef and his Empress, Isabella were madly in love but failed time and time again to conceive a child. After many miscarriages – Isabella gave birth to a daughter but the birth was troublesome leaving the Empress physically crippled and bed-ridden for six weeks. Sometime after she became extremely distant, fearful of death & suffered from panic attacks. At the time little was known about mental health and Joseph felt hopeless. Isabella later died of smallpox and the emperor was heartbroken but devoted his life to his daughter, Marie-Theresa, instilling in her the passion for knowledge & education (beyond what was simply expected of a woman). The same illness that had taken his wife, now gripped the princess and his daughter’s fever worsened. The emperor attended to his daughter’s bedside every night and had doctors scoured from all across Europe try to and save her. She died before reaching her 8th birthday and Joseph spent the rest of his days as a hermit in the palace – spending day after day in the great library after falling into a depression. As I mentioned before, Joseph was a collector of knowledge and many artifacts from across the globe – most of them are displayed at Hofburg & the Great Library is truly something to marvel at.
Another amazing spot is Alte Donau, a great big beautiful oxbow lake which is only a few metro stops away from Wein centre. Before we met up with Georg that evening, we spent my birthday here with the friends we had made along our travels, swimming and sunbathing during the heatwave that swept over Vienna last August. It’s a nice picnic spot but there’s a few restaurants and bars around just a short walk away too. There were six of us in total and out on the lake you can rent boats (rowing, peddle, swan boats) by the hour very cheaply especially with the price split between a group (2 euros each). We rented two boats that day and spent about 3 hrs on the water before having a picnic later on the bank – where my new american friends had brought a birthday cake with them (thanks again, guys!). It’s a spot I’d definitely return to when I’m in Vienna again during the summer – it was a wonderful carefree day. It will be hard to top it this year!
The day after, although my buddy was far too hungover, I like a trooper got up and explored the city once more. My mate isn’t one for museums but I love them – art, history, the lot. The Kunsthistorisches Museum or Museum of Art History has to be one of my favorite European museums. Built by emperor Joseph I to house the massive art collection of the Habsburgs – the museum houses thousands of fine art paintings, sculptures & royal processions. You will need nearly a full day to see it all but if you’re interested in art and history – you’d be mad to miss it.
The museum itself has a massive Egyptian collection too and the room itself, the exhibit transports you back to ancient times – an Egyptian burial chamber hidden within the 17th century palace. From mummified bodies to ancient parchment and scripture from the Book of the Dead – the museum is full of Austrian and global treasures. The entry fee is 15euro which may seem steep but once you visit you’ll see it’s worth every penny. Funnily enough, for 2016 – if it’s your birthday you can enter the museum for free!
As I mentioned before, I visited the museum the morning after my birthday celebrations. Inside if you’re feeling extravagant, you can visit the cafe and dine under the spectacular dome. The building itself is a work of art and although it put a dent in my budget – I decided to spoil myself. That day I was to be Joseph III! The gravlax salmon was delicious & of course it was accompanied with Viennese coffee & the traditional glass of water!
Let me tell you – it was nice being an Emperor for a day!