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Sunday, September 02, 2018

James Went To Vienna

Before going on holiday one should always ensure that the next holiday is booked.

But also before going on holiday, one should ensure that the previous one has been blogged about.  Though I still didn't manage to click 'post' before I went to Croatia.

It seems ages ago, but back in May, myself and my most excellent friend, Martin, sat down on a Friday evening and decided to try to find somewhere to go away for a weekend of beer and culture.

I had some budget restrictions - shock horror.  We also wanted to go to a country that we've never been to before and also had to take into account Martin's sensible aversion to Ryanair and Easyjet...being from the north I am used to shit transport, so I'm not too fussed.  I remember when I used to think the Thames Trains slugs were luxury.

We happened upon Vienna.  It ticked the boxes - flights were relatively cheap, maybe £120 return...from Heathrow too...and with Austrian Airlines.  I'd never been to Austria...Martin had but not to Vienna.

The flight and train from the airport were efficient, metro trains also were - if unpleasantly hot.  Our Airbnb accommodation was spot-on, two large bedrooms each with their own balcony, in a modern flat with a few quirky touches.  Our host was typically pleasant and efficient.


Vienna was easy to get around - I think we paid €14 for a 48 hour travel ticket, not that we ever saw anyone being checked for a ticket.  Viennese must be rather honest.  Underground, overground and trams - there were always plenty of options.

Our location was slightly down-market compared to the rest of the city, plenty of immigrants sat around doing nothing at night, but like the rest of the it felt peaceful, civilised and safe.  We had to catch the train over both the River Danube, and the Danube canal, which was a pleasant view - though only around 20 minutes and we were pretty much right in the centre.

Speaking of being civilised and peaceful, the whole city felt relaxed.  Barely anywhere did the city seem that busy.  Tourists were surprisingly rare, though numerous enough where you'd expect them - the city of 2 million people was spread out, with loads of space.  The vibe of the city was totally different to that of say, Madrid...or London.


Cyclists even stopped at red lights!


We can also be civilised.

One of the reasons that I wanted to go to Vienna so much - it was on my top 20 must visit list that I wrote a few years ago and still haven't got around to publishing - was to see some of the works of Gustav Klimt, one of my discoveries of last year...thanks to a fellow Codhead.

Unlike beer, museums were not cheap in Vienna.  Each one cost around €15 to get into, and there is only so much museuming that one can do.

So on the Sunday we went to the palatial Belvedere Museum, which hosts The Kiss - arguably Klimt's most loved painting.  There was a variety of interesting...and boring old-school type art to look at, but anything Klimt was just mesmerising.

And to see The Kiss up close, and as an original, was just simply breathtaking.  I just couldn't stop looking at it, almost as if I was in some form of drug-addled gaze.  I could have stayed there for hours...well...maybe 20 minutes just looking at that photograph, but we had schnitzel to find and consume.


On Monday when we had time to kill before our flight home (more time than we knew at the time...should have flown with Ryanair), we took a punt on the Museum of Modern Art.  Which had a vast array of Klimt and Schiele, along with a wide variety of other impressive modern art - along with some absolute tosh.




On the Saturday evening, however, we had a bit of a fail.  After having excellent guided tours in both Sevilla and Madrid, I've come to believe a guided tour as almost as necessary as having a pre-flight beer.  Our host was an older lady with a toilet brush in her hand.  She explained to us that you have to have 2 years of training to become a tourist guide in Vienna.  Ahhh, good old European bureaucracy.  She explained a lot of things to us.  Detailed, factual explanations.  I can still hear her voice grating on me now.

The tour was supposed to be 2 hours long.  After 5 minutes I turned to Martin in apology, and explained this wasn't as good as other tours that I'd been on.  After about 30 or so minutes we looked at each other and discussed how to escape.  We followed through some arches and when we came out, the group started to head right - but to the left was a selection of outdoor stalls selling beer and sausages, in the sunshine, with trance music blaring out and Viennese breasts popping out of traditional costumes.

Life is about taking your opportunities.  And we took ours.

I hadn't done much research into Vienna, just an hour the night before so I hadn't really planned on where to go.  I knew though that there was some kind of beach bar near the Danube Kanal, so we headed there on the Friday night.


So it was a wonderful surprise to find a long graffiti-adorned walkway along the canal, with lots of pop-up bars - the kind of vibe you'd expect in Peckham, but full of Europeans - loads of pretty women, of course.  An hour later I was attempting the Tango with a man on a stag do.

Believe it or not, they like their beer in Vienna - and its cheap.  €3 a pint was fairly normal.


Food was also good there, but nothing especially stood out.  We had steak one night - but could have had that anywhere.  We had Chicken Schnitzel, whilst sat outside in the pouring rain - just covered.  And a pork knuckle, which looked impressive but was a bit dry.


There's a massive fairground there, but we didn't go on anything.  I don't have money for both rides and beer, and there is only ever going to be one winner there.

Whilst the city itself was peaceful, the bell-ringing on the church right next to our apartment wasn't - there was no chance of a lay-in, especially with the need for the doors to be open to cool down the apartment.

And then we had plane problems on the way home.  Firstly it was an hour late, then they started to get people on the bus to the plane (via a boiling hot greenhouse-like glass tube for a period of enforced sauca), then we were taken off the bus (via the boiling hot greenhouse-like glass tube) as the replacement plane didn't have any chocolate muffins and needed to be stocked before people boarded.

Martin said to me, "two letters.  B.  A.".  I said to him, "seven letters.  R.  Y.  A.  N.  A.  I.  R.".

Our illusion of Austrian efficiency had been shattered.

Despite any imperfections, I had a fantastic trip, it was a source of much joy and inspiration, and Vienna really is one cool city.

Recently I saw that it was nominated as the best city to live in in the world.  And from my two days there, I can thoroughly understand it.  It works, it is relaxing, people seem to have a high quality of life.  The weather is good.  The beer is cheap.  The tourists are minimal.

It is the kind of place that I could go back to repeatedly, and given the importance of this city to the history of the 20th century - home of some of the most important economists, artists...oh yeah and Hitler, I am surprised that it is not far more popular a place to visit.

There are so many other places to visit in the world, but if I get the opportunity, I would happily go back.

Hell, I could even live there.