Where, When & Why
Vienna, Austria // November 2016 // Needed a break from the tolls of London
Summer of 2016 took a fairly poor turn but once my brain realised leaving the house was actually a really good life choice I booked myself a city break to Vienna. I've been abroad alone plenty of times before - heck, I moved to Dubai in that very fashion - but this felt different. After half a decade of travelling as a twosome this was to be my first international trip newly solo; daunting to say the least and not without it's obstacles, this is how I got on.
1. Hofburg for the morning exercise and stables tour. Watching the morning exercise is a popular and "classic Wien" experience, it can get very busy so get there early to avoid slow moving, backpack toters.
2. The locals are incredibly friendly. Special shout out to Waly outside the Spanish Riding School and the lovely girl in the wienXtra-jugendinfo - your tips for gigs coupled with this map were nothing short of lifesaving.
3. Schönbrunn Palace & the Tiergarten because Flusspferd is the greatest word ever uttered.
4. At least the very small corner I saw of Wiener Riesenrad im Prater was like being transported back to simpler times.
6. The looming, brutal and striking architecture of Haus Des Meeres.
Donnerstag // Touchdown & Le Burger
And thank goodness! I really didn't need anything complicated, but from touchdown I had to raise a glass to the insanely easy and budget-friendly public transport options for getting to Wien Mitte. These include three direct trains and a bus, none taking longer than 45 minutes to reach their destination. Wanting to get my city break underway as quickly as possible I opted for the City Airport Train. The CAT takes 16 minutes and costs €11 single or €19 return.
From Wien Mitte, most areas are a hop, skip and a jump away thanks to an efficient metro system. Staying at the Mercure Raphael Wien on the west side of the popular Mariahilfestrasse simply meant buying a ticket and hopping on the U-Bahn. Easy.
Dusk was upon me as I settled in to my home for the next few days so I opted for jaunt around the local area. I landed at Le Burger for dinner, its friendly faces, delicious aromas and general vibe fit exactly what I needed. The industrial decor and canteen-style seating took the sting out of my first solo-dining experience leaving me to concentrate on the task at hand: filling my boots with The Houston, sweet potato fries and a beer for around €15.
Freitag // Day One
Stepping out of the U-Bahn at Herrengasse I was met with something so familiar I felt right at home: that stable scent. Having grown up riding, this was a welcome welcome after a turbulent night's sleep and alternating my view from up at the buildings to down at my map, I made my way to Hofburg Palace for the Spanish Riding School's morning exercise. Visiting the home of the world famous Lipizzaners has been a dream since my Mum took me to see them in Cardiff when I was about 10 years old; classical music wafted through the Baroque school as I sat quietly watching them work and it dawned on me that I could sit there as long as I wanted. The solo-travelling bug had bit.
I opted for the full stables tour as well because I'm a dork when it comes to horses. Morning exercise plus the tour set me back a well-spent €31, plus €5 for an afternoon prosecco as I waited for my tour to begin. YOLO.
Vienna is a very easy city to stroll around, if the ridiculously ornate buildings of the Museumquarter don't pique your interest, the almost relentless presence of coffee shops provide welcome breaks from sightseeing. In between morning exercise and the stables tour I walked, and walked, and walked, taking in Stephansdom, Operning, Burggarten, Volksgarten and Paliament. Getting metaphorically lost in this fairytale city had another upside: the food markets. By gum, so yum.
From Baroque to MUMOK, Vienna's museum of modern art brought me me bang up to date with the intriguing Painting 2.0: Expression in the Information Age. A curation exploring the multi-faceted medim of painting in modern history, featuring a couple of pieces by Andy Warhol. Yes, it was mildly pretentious and truly I enjoyed the light relief from the Gatchapon dotted around the Museumsplatz. For a couple of Euro to open a mystery door I won a comic book.
Museum fatigue set in. Prosecco was needed. A friend had recommended the playful, cool and quirky 25 Hours - neither Dachboden or 1500 Foodmakers disappointed, especially the rooftop Dachboden boasting panoramic views over the city. I stuck around on the roof long enough to appreciate the view without freezing, it was November after all. Some bubbles and random conversations with friendly strangers later, home time beckoned via Yellow for vegan chicken noodles.
Samstag// Day Two
Not too hungover from the night before, I picked up a matcha latte from Maran Vegan far tastier than it had right to be and made my way on foot to Schönbrunn Palace. Often referred to as Little Versaille but don't be fooled, considering this was built as an imperial summer residence its size and grandeur is almost unfathomable.
Wandering around the grounds of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site wasn't enough and I opted to expand my expedition to Tiergarten Schönbrunn, having only read positive things about the institution and their efforts into conservation. The zoo was founded as an imperial menagerie in 1752, not only is it the oldest zoo in the Western world it's probably the most beautiful.
The flamboyance of flamingos, as photographed in the Instax thumbnail of this post, as well as the penguins and spectacled bears were by far my favourite species in the conservation centre; one that is home to over 700 species.
More than likely due to fatigue and being surrounded by families and friends chattering about their excursion to the palace, but taking the U-Bahn back to the centre felt pretty lonely. I guess that's one of the main perils of solo travel; as liberating as it most definitely is, there are lonely moments from time to time.
Phil took the edge off. A coffee shop, bar and book shop located near Nachtsmarkt and the classic Cafe Sperl provided shelter from the small storm inside my head. I sipped coffee and flicked through the pages of my new book: CITIx60: Vienna.
Wandering back toward home was the necessary stop at the formidable Haus Des Meeres. I love an aquarium but ran out of time and was put of by the volume of children in the queue ahead of me so appreciated this WW2 structure from the outside. Since it's erection, the tower has held many jobs from fire control flak tower to hotel to aquarium. Crowning the tower is the slogan "Smashed to Pieces...In the Still of the Night" by Lawrence Weiner as a memorial against war and fascism. The original and actual meaning behind the slogan aside, the words emblazoned on this brutal and striking structure spoke to me on a different level.
Hunting for dinner that evening was a mission. This was totally my own fault because sometimes I'm so indecisive I annoy the shit out of myself. I Carusi shone like a beacon in the mist and I happily took rest at a table for one with red wine and pizza for company. And damn fine company they were too.
For reasons I can't be bothered to go into but nothing to do with this splendid city, the rest of the evening was a bit of a write off which frustratingly trickled over into my final day.
Sonntag //Day Three
Home time. But not without a few hours more to explore the city and one heck of a pep talk to get me going (thanks Mum!) I got my shit together and headed up to Wiener Riesenrad im Prater to watch other people have fun on the Crazy Mouse.
Don't judge, I really wasn't in the mood for anything but home. This turned out to more frustrating than I knew at the time.
Wiener Riesenrad im Prater is a big park full of fun and curiosities for all - from the giant ferris wheel and Prater Turm, to the nightclub and Sex Museum, and not forgetting the Republic of Kugelmugel. Missing out on wild shit like this is what happens when I don't research enough and/or my head's in a cloud.
Not even a latte in the smallest coffee shop in the world can comfort my FOMO right now, so I think it's fairly obvious a return visit in a better headspace has to be on the cards.
Vienna, you were lovely. I'll be seeing you.