An evening in Vienna

Vienna [...] is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre. As the former home of the Habsburg court and its various empires, the city still has the trappings of the imperial capital it once was.

-- WikiTravel

I realized that I could stop in Vienna on my way from Munich to Kiev without paying anything extra for my ticket. The catch was that I would only have half a day there before flying out the next morning - thanks to the generous layover rules on Star Alliance award tickets. While by no means the ideal way to see a city, I am still quite happy to use these "free stops" to visit some places (see Cairo, Dubai, Seoul, and Panama City).

But enough about the logistics - the city of music, coffee, and architectural marvels awaits!

Vienna Opera House

Being out late at Oktoberfest the night before, I did not really get a chance to plan anything out. So here I was. At my hotel on outskirts of the city at 4pm (all hostels were booked up already). No working WiFi (so much for paying extra for the hotel). Just a basic map I quickly printed on the hotel's computer.

The first impressions

Interestingly (and confusing at the first glance), the whole city is divided into numbered areas and most points of interest are specified as located in District X or Y, requiring additional decoding with the map.

Study up on your zones before you get to Vienna

Oh well, off I go, 40 minutes later emerging in the old city. The first thing that strikes me is the architecture. Every single building is beautiful and different from another one with statues and fountains everywhere.

Fountains at Maria Theresia Plaza

Somehow I quickly end up at the Vienna Tourism office but it is not of much help. There are a bunch of brochures for things I have no interest in (and not happening tonight anyway) and not even a single free map. Strange...

At this point, I remember my mom saying that she would of loved to go to Vienna to listen to some classical music so I decide to see if I can get some tickets for one of seemingly endless orchestras. Being a Saturday, it turns out to be quite difficult. The top shows have been sold out already and the helpful guy at the tourist office has to spend some time on the phone before finally finding one with a few seats available. It seems that €40/$52 is a normal price for a ticket, more if you want a fancy dinner or some other extras, but the real lesson is that you should try to book one in advance if and when you decide to visit Vienna.

Getting scammed at the market

With concert not starting until after 8pm, I have three more hours to kill so, being hungry, I decide to check out their famous market - the Naschmarkt.

Myriad of spices at Naschmarkt

Naschmarkt is hyped up in every brochure/website about Vienna so I was expecting a lively market. Instead, I found two rows of mostly sit-down restaurants with stands selling various wares in-between.

As my plans to get some "street" food quickly disappeared, I stumbled upon a counter with various cold cuts and side dishes. Before I could make up my mind, they were already handing me toothpic after toothpic with various samples. It was good so I figured the least I could do was to buy a few things from them. Little did I know how I was about to be taken advantage of.

For every thing I pointed to, a couple more things would quickly end up in the box for the grand total of over €20! As that wasn't bad enough, for some reason I did not have the balls to just walk away from that sham. I have dealt with many scam artists on my travels and, in most cases, was able to walk away from shitty deals, so I felt particularly bad about this.

Here I was, with a box full of almond and cheese stuffed olives, baked eggplant, pickled peppers, and other goodies, but no real food. I could not even finish it all since it was so salty and vinegary... So much for trying to save some money by going to the market rather than one of the restaurants!

The old and the new

The combination of many different architectural styles all around Vienna sparked my curiosity right away. But it is not just the buildings. Even the transportation system here is proud to show off its past.

Four generations of Viennese buses

The tram system is also a very contrasting one with modern light-rail style cars co-existing with older trams that reminded me of the ones in Ukraine (although, in much better shape).

The modern and the classic trams

At some point, I saw a tram made up of one old style car and one modern car - a weird combination.

Off to Danube

With plenty of time still left to kill, I am finding myself already fed up with the architecture (just as with any museum - I cannot stand more than couple of hours of the same thing) so instead of hunting down the Mozart or the Strauss house, I decide to make my way to Danube. On my trusty CityMaps2Go, it seems to be just a few kilometers east of where I am so I should have plenty of time to get there before heading back for the concert.

On the way, I pass the gargantuan city hall building:

Rathaus (city hall) and one of Habsburg notables

And as I try to get a good shot at the bottom, the street lights suddenly turn on.

City hall and street light

After that, a long trek to the river ensues.

I quickly realize that I underestimated the distance to Danube. Even though the straight shot did not look that far, there is no straight shot to get there. So I end up wandering around the streets of Leopoldstadt (the 2nd District). Once again, the CityMaps2Go on my iPhone proves indispensable as I make my way to the river.

Even though it is dark already, I am enjoying this stroll as I am now outside the touristy part and right in the middle of the "local" Vienna. If I could only find a place to get some water - apparently not a single supermarket, store, or shop is open on Saturday evenings. I am getting to the point of abandoning my quest and returning to the center just so I could get something to drink, but then I spot an open bakery and load up on some liquids as well as various kinds of baklava, which is, strangely, sold everywhere in Vienna.

Just a random cool building

Finally, I get close to the river but I seem to be in a shady part of town now and there does not appear to be a way to get to the riverwalk (if it even exists). So instead, I decide to walk south a few blocks along the busy road that parallels the river. According to CityMaps2Go, there is a Ubahn station there and also a bridge that I might be able to get onto to see the river.

And finally I did see it.

Blue Danube is, well, Danube

It surprises me how dead the area around Danube is at night. This is probably the most uneventful riverside in any town on a river that I have ever been to. I kind of feel cheated again for spending the last hour and a half walking to get here for this.

Next to the bridge, I had to take a picture of this almost fairy-tale like church.

Stunning Heiliger Franz von Assisi church

A doze of culture

I make it back to Josephplaz just in time for the music to start. The venue is just a huge room with the basic chairs set up in the rows in front of the small stage. Good acoustics thou. And it sure is nice to sit down after solid three and a half hours of walking.

A doze of culture

After the first piece, although nice, I am starting to wonder if I will be able to a) stay awake and b) sit through an hour and a half of classical music. Don't get me wrong - I like some classical music here and there, but as with any type of music, a couple of hours of the same thing is usually a bit too much for me.

This is when the first soloist (?) comes on stage and starts singing. No microphone, no nothing, just the acoustics of the hall fill the room with her powerful voice.

And even some opera!

The rest of the evening becomes a combination of music pieces, opera (with a handful of other singers) and even some funky acts by the band's drummer (pretending to mess things up, using the train conductor's whistle, and even adding some original sounds as a blacksmith).

A lessor known Mozart masterpiece - Blacksmith Concerto No. 21

Vienna at night

That was actually a very nice ending for my Vienna experience. On the way back to Ubahn I snap a few night shots that came out very nice (the Night mode on Canon SX 260 camera is amazing):

Prunksaal - the Royal Library at night

Vienna opera house at night