Some time ago, Caroline and I had a most excellent short break in Vienna. Since then, I promised I would write it up, but then I've taken forever to do this, and since my memory's not excellent, I'm going to be reconstructing it all rather flakily. I should, however, point out that Vienna's a great place to visit. 'cos it is.

Tuesday 24 May: We arrive in Vienna. The flight wasn't particularly eventful, and we take the super double-decker express train into town which takes 15 minutes. The downside is that there's 30 minutes between departures and we just missed it. Not really a worry, since I'd just bought a Su Doku book in London, and was busy getting addicted. The view from the train is initially rather industrial, switching to alien suburban (the architecture being reasonably different to the UK, if quite nice) and finally urban. We get off, orient ourselves, and walk towards the hotel. Initial impression is... European city, really.

Walking through the historic centre, we don't really look at much in detail, but it all seems very pleasant. The city seems a good choice. But then... we try to find the hotel. The street I thought it was on is being repaved, and is partially closed. Could this be why we got such a good rate at a 5 star hotel (well... we thought we'd push the boat out a little on a short break :) ? It really didn't help that I hadn't printed out a full itinerary, or indeed the hotel's address, having been in a bit of a rush. We went up and down the street (most difficult, given it was mostly closed). No sign. We asked in another nearby hotel. Our hotel was backing on to the street in question, and was just round the corner, quite open, and looking rather nice.

Being rather tired, and perhaps a little emotionally strained, we checked in, cleaned up a little, and went for supper. I think I had something approximating steak and chips. Since it was quite late, the big restaurant was closed, so we were eating in a smaller, simpler restaurant. The language was alien, and it was difficult to tell if we were gently having the piss taken out of us, but it wasn't unpleasant and we toddled off for some well-earned rest.

I should probably mention that before going on holiday I was 'warned about the people'. While a few of the Viennese were a little brusque, generally they were very pleasant, especially given the amount of stress we must have been causing them with our language skills (having said that, Caroline's got a freaky ability to pick up a new language in about 3 days - by the end it appeared she could pretty much understand anything). It could well have been the areas we were wandering around (the rather expensive central part), but people were generally very smart and stylish. So, there you go.

Wednesday 25 May: Surprisingly for us, we got up in the morning. We started off with a trip round the ring road. Ring roads always make me think of the M25 and Milton Keynes for some reason, but this is something else entirely. A loop of pleasant buildings round the old centre. We saw the university, and the rather splendid town hall (Rathaus), and the Burgtheater, as well as the pretty gardens placed between them. It was now about lunchtime, so we popped into a nearby cafe for a drink and cake. Their legendary cake-making status is well-deserved - I had my first slice of Sachertorte and, well, wow.

Following on from this ever-so-healthy lunch, we walked through the Volksgarten, towards the Hofburg palace. The weather was pretty much fantastic throughout our stay in Vienna. Incredibly warm and dry. So, walking through big, pretty, well-maintained gardens. Such a chore, obviously. Having survived the onslaught of so many roses and a couple of fountains, we found ourselves at the Hofburg, palace of the Hapsburgs, and general all-round Impressive Big Place. I think we may have had a quick look at the Maria-Theresien Platz, staring at statues and the outside of the natural history museum and art museum, before passing back through the Hofburg and more into town.

It was about here that we lost our proper-historic-tourist footing, and just ambled around amongst the shops, getting quite impressed by expensive jewellry. We found St. Stephen's, whose roof pattern reminded me of lego. I suspect, in retrospect, there may have been a model of this building in legoland when I visited, or something. Either way, quite a fun blocky pattern. We later had a peek inside, and... it was churchy. Some of the stained glass was rather good, though.

From there, we wandered around and found the Albertina, an art gallery on the South end of the Hofburg complex. There was a Mondrian exhibition on, which was amazing, as it showed his development, and his early work was completely different to the style for which he's famous. You get the impression of a man on a long quest to find his own style. Some of his Braque-like work was quite fun, but the white-background geometric style for which he is known was the definite show-stealer.

From there, we saw an odd exhibition stretching from early art to modern. It was most interesting looking through the styles, and seeing what we liked and didn't, and finding out, unsurprisingly, that famous artists tended to produce better stuff than those we hadn't heard of. In the modern end, there were some unimpressive Picassos, some Giacomettis I rather liked, and a jaw-dropping work by Francis Bacon. It was one of his Popey ones, and it was horrendous, but amazing. So, so visceral. Pastel on black paper, or something like that, it was simultaneously blurred yet sharp. A nightmare on paper.

We finished the Albertina by looking through their bog-standard collection. Plenty of pictures of landscapes and people, arranged in state rooms that were themselves quite impressive. What I liked the most, though, were drawings by Durer. I can very much do without his paintings, in all their gaudy, weirdly-unrealistically-arranged glory, but the sketches were so detailed and personal, that they really did seem to reach across the centuries.

We went back to the hotel, exhausted, for a rest, before going out in the evening for a meal at a cafe. I risked the boiled meat with creamed spinach and potatoes, and it was really very nice, unexpectedly. The Viennese food is slightly unexciting, but generally very tasty for all that. After that, of course, we had cake. I had something a little chocolatey and alcoholy, while Caroline has tiramisu. We were both very happy.

Thursday 26 May: This was the day we saw the Schonnbrun palace, which was quite amazing. Since it's not in the old centre (I don't think they'd have room for it), we took the tube out, which was pleasant enough. When we got there... it was big. And very yellow. Bright yellow. Apparently it was a bit more baroque in earlier times, but one of the previous tenants made it a little more tasteful.

Having walked through the main court, we started off with the garden. It's huge and very nicely kept. Walking straight from the back of the palace, we reached the fountain. Or, as it seemed to me, a small lake. It was rather cooling, given the boiling weather. From there, we walked up a carefully-arranged hill, to the folly. Which, of course, had its own pond. The view of the palace from there was pretty stunning. After resting a while, we descended through a more shaded route, and grabbed some ice creams. Caroline appeared interested in the zoo, but somehow we escaped it. On the other hand, we never saw the maze, either.

Walking back to the building, through the shade, we worked our way around and bought tickets for the tour of the house. Having queued for the tickets, we discovered they were time-stamped, and we would only be let into the tour proper at the appointed time. Most odd, but at least it meant we got audio-guides. The tour was pretty impressive, going through a good set of huge rooms, with a reasonable amount of background information on the Hapsburgs. The ballroom area was probably one of the high points, but also very interesting were the slightly quieter bits, that gave an insight into the personal lives of the residents.

From there, we ventured out into the cafe for lunch. Rather pleasantly, the food didn't just appear to be an excuse to extract money from desperately hungry tourists. Yay.

Once we'd seen enough of the Schonbrunn palace, we made our way back into town. About this point, my memory becomes hazy, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if we just wandered back to the hotel, knackered from the heat, walking and splendour of the buildings.

After recuperating, we went out for an evening meal of 'klein' schnitzel, as it was described. It was sticking over the edge of the plate in most directions. It was about this point that I learnt again that 'lemon beer' is not some clever local concoction, but basically shandy. Fortunately, Caroline didn't laugh at me much, and was most willing to help me out with it. Shandied up, we made our way back, via the Viennese stock exchange, the outside of which I had a quick stare it. I'm still not sure why I found the whole concept quite so alien.

Friday 27 May: This was our last full day, so we were determined to make the most of it. Heading down towards the Hofburg, we went to see the Kunsthistory musem (an art gallery). The building was most fine - plenty of marble and the like, and a great place to hold the artwork. The art again provided an opportunity to discover that famous artists do tend to produce more impressive paintings than those less famous ones.

It was very interesting to see the Breugels. Personally, his stuff leaves me cold, but Caroline is apparently a great fan of the 'little people with pointy sticks' (which I must admit most aptly describes much of his work). Seeing them in the flesh, though, was much less offensive than I thought they might be. Another highlight was the set of paintings by Rubens. The first room we saw, we were massively unimpressed by his work, but this only emphasised his development - the second room was pretty breath-taking.

After touring the paintings, we had a quick meal, and went through the egyptology stuff. Unsurprisingly, this wasn't quite the same after the Egyptian museum in Cario, but there was still some very cool stuff there. From there, we raided the gift shop and wandered out dazed into the bright sunlight.

Next up, butterflies. There's a big butterfly-glasshouse-thing (I'm sure there's a German word for it) next to a garden behind the Albertina, and this is where we went. There really are some immensely beautiful butterflies about - something I hadn't really realised until going through this place. Such varied shapes, such bright colours... and some of them are about the size of bats! Towards the end one deemed me worth landing on (I suspect, given the heat and the humidity, that my perspiration might have been making a good lunch for it). Three or four people seemed to think this was worth taking photos of, and when we decided to leave I had to give it a certain amount of persuasion before it would detach. I don't think the owners would let me take it with me....

After some cafe-based recuperation, we tackled the Royal apartments. The rooms were generally similar to those in the Schonbrunn - a mixture of the impressive and the personal. Later in the tour was the 'Sisi museum'. Sisi (Elizabeth) appears to be something of a national figure - something akin to Diana over here (ahem), despite the fact that Sisi was many, many decades earlier. She apparently had a bit of a tragic life, in between being made to look immensely beautiful. She didn't eat much and exercised to keep her figure, refused to be painted or photographed beyond a certain age, and was killed with a file (yes, as in a small wood-working tool). Most interesting. Having done that, we took a quick turn of the royal silver (so many plates!), and the Hofburg was done.

That evening, we had our final Viennese supper at the hotel where we first asked about the location of the hotel at which we were staying. We sat outside, watched evening turn to night, and ate some rather good food. Afterwards, we had a bit of a walk, to the Danube (or at least a branch of it), across it, and back. It appears the river-side was where all the cool kids hang out.

Saturday 28 May:

Saturday was half a day's zip around before returning home. We started off with a trip to Freud's house, aka The Freud Museum. I'm not a massive Freud fan, but he's supposed to be really influential or something, and it was quite interesting to have a look around the place, anyway. There were some good resources for those who are deeply into his history, a fairly amateurish but nonetheless interesting selection of odds-and-ends, but I think the highlights were the areas preserved in original form.

Next off, we went over to the Freyung, a oddly-shaped square surrounded by palaces, churches, pleasant tourist traps, etc. This was a square we'd been through (and admired) a few times, although this time we went for a particular display: There was an exhibition of Magritte paintings going on. Initial inspection revealed a small selection of pretty unimpressive paintings. Uninspiring early works. I felt let down. Round the corner, there were some more, and these were getting to be things that did look like Magrittes, and not amateur knock-offs. Was that it? I finally realised, no, they actually did have quite a bit more, hidden round a corner, and some of them were pretty darn excellent. Yay.

Following that, we toyed with the idea of a horse ride round the city, as we'd been planning for a couple of days (or rather, Caroline had been persuading me, and I'd been lamely claiming that another time would be preferable). Sadly, we were both getting pretty nasty hayfever (with horse straw the prime suspect), so we skipped that idea. About now we were starting to run out of time, what with the remaining time for food, getting to the airport, etc., so we had our final look around the city, buying a Sacher torte, collecting our bags, and off for the flight home. That was pretty uneventful, and our holiday was done. Ho hum. Until next time....

Posted 2005-08-30.