June 2, 2012: Vienna

We were up around seven this morning. I continue to be amazed that we can get up so early while on vacation. We showered and went down for breakfast in the hotel making it right at eight o’clock.

Shortly after breakfast we checked out and took our luggage and trudged through the streets of Hallstatt again to the Heritage Hotel where we set up for half an hour in the café and had coffee and worked online just a little bit. It wasn’t much time but we got a few pictures uploaded and most of yesterday’s update posted.

At a quarter after ten we caught the boat across Lake Hallstatt and picked up the ӦBB train heading north so that we could make the connector to Vienna’s Westbahnhof to arrive a little before two thirty.

On the train we met a nice family from New Zealand who has been vacationing in the area for a few weeks. We hung out with them for probably an hour or nearly so.

The trip to Vienna was quiet and uneventful. We got to Vienna’s Westbahnhof on time and got lunch in the station at a place called Flying Toast where I had a can of radler for the first time. Radler is common here, it is a mix of beer and lemonade which is actually quite good. Dominica then did a little shopping for Luciana supplies at the train station, we picked up our tickets for the night train to Venice tomorrow night and we caught the subway running to our hotel.

Our hotel is on the south side of Vienna and ended up being very nice. Our room came with five beds plus a pack and play for Luciana. Yes, five beds. Kind of crazy. It feels like we got a private dorm just for us. This works out perfectly because we have plenty of space to spread out and relax.  The only problem with the hotel is that we do not have “in the room” Internet access so any attempts to get online need to be done in the lobby which is not twenty-four hours so we are pretty limited, again, as far as getting online which after more than a week of being offline I am starting to get a little anxious about being disconnected so much of the time.  This is the most that I have been disconnected since the 90s.  Not a good way to be relaxed.

We got settled into the hotel and showered (we always get hot and sweaty moving to a new place because of all of the luggage carrying and running from station to station.)  Carrying the bags on our backs and especially Luciana in her carrier makes us so warm that there is no way to avoid be sweaty even on really cool days. Just no way around that.  We can’t wait to travel with the girls when they are old enough to move under their own locomotion and carry their own bags.  That will be wonderful.

Once our showers were done we packed the girls back up and headed out to go see Vienna on foot.  We had thought about doing a hop on, hop off bus tour but they cost a fortune and none of them looked very interesting to us.  We have pretty limited time today and tomorrow so don’t really want to commit to very much because we would be unlikely to be able to get very good use out of it and then we would feel bad having wasted all of that money.

So we attempted taking a tram from our hotel that ran north and seemed like the perfect way to get downtown but that turned out to be all wrong.  It went north only for a few blocks and then turned east on us and went to the old, demolished train station.  So we quickly hopped off and took the U-bahn (U1) instead from the Südbahnhof running north into the ring.

We came out of the subway right in front of the famous Vienna Opera House.  What an amazing building!  At the public square directly adjacent to the east of the state opera house we sat and ate some falafel sandwiches that we had picked up at a local street stand.  I also got some radler which is a regional thing which is a mixture of beer and lemonade.  Sounds bad but it is actually quite good and refreshing.

From there we did the Rick Steves walking tour of Vienna which really did not take very long at all.  Unfortunately it was kind of late in the day by the time that we set out and actually got to downtown so there was not very much good light for taking pictures.

Vienna is not the beautiful city that I had imagined.  It is actually pretty dingy and extremely difficult to get around due to poor signage and a complete lack of places to cross the street for pedestrians.  There are also throngs of people everywhere.  The pedestrians malls in the center of the city were completely packed and the streets were full of vendors like it was a cheap county carnival which was hardly endearing.  It is not that the city was bad in any way, it just failed pretty significantly at being good.  A big disappointment in a city that I have been wanting to visit for so long.

The upside surprise to Vienna is that it is not an expensive city like we had always imagined that it would be.  Prices are very reasonable and there is an extensive public transportation system making getting around very doable and affordable as long as you can figure out how to use it.

On our first attempt at the U-bahn (the term for the subway systems in the German speaking world) we found it dirty and cramped but the people riding it were very friendly and we even had a local go well out of her way to help us get around, giving us directions and explaining the U-bahn system that we needed to use.

Now it is very unfair to judge Vienna through a walking tour of the UNESCO Heritage Site of the city center which is dominated by the imperial buildings of the former Hapsburg Empire here.  Those buildings are, without a doubt, unbelievable and worth the trip on their own.  The history that has happened right here is crazy and the scale of these buildings is completely insane.  I never realized just how big they are.  It really speaks to the size and power of the former empire which is really amazing considering what a tiny country Austria is today with a population of only just over eight  million making it only thirty percent bigger than the Dallas / Fort Worth Metroplex today.  Vienna itself is nearly two million people in the city proper and three million in the total metro area which includes Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, which is a suburb across the border in the former possession.

Vienna is the city of museums and music.  All things that we are unable to take advantage of with the girls being so young.  The street music that we did get to see was like nothing I have ever seen on the street before.  String quartets and concert pianists just playing in the middle of the street like you would expect an accordion player elsewhere in Europe or a guitarist in the States.  The music culture is very different here and large crowds gather to listen too.

I really hope that tomorrow, after we drop off our luggage in lockers at the Westbahnhof, that we will be able to make our way to the Danube to see where it flows through Vienna.  We crossed the Danube at its head waters a week ago but it is tiny there and this is the famous stretch of the Danube, the blue Danube of which the song speaks.  The romantic river of eastern Europe.

Our walking tour probably lasted about two hours.  Then we stopped at the Aida Cafe near the Opera and had a bit to eat for dessert and some espresso before turning to the U-bahn and back to Keplerplatz where we are staying at the Hotel Cyrus.

We were in the hotel around nine and decided to call it a night.  I managed to get the laptop set up on boxes in the window and get just enough Internet access that we could make a weak attempt at Dominica getting a little bit of work done for Danielle which took an hour or two and never really worked.  During that time we finally got Luciana to go to bed.  Liesl decided that she needed to snuggle with us tonight even though she had three beds to choose from herself and would be in the same room regardless.  So she set up with the iPad and watched Disney’s Tarzan a couple of times before falling asleep near midnight.

Flickr was too fragile to upload pics on our flaky connection but YouTube is a lot more resilient so I set it up to attempt uploading videos throughout the night.  Hopefully there will be some stuff up and available for people in the morning.

I went to bed around one in the morning myself.


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