We both woke up at what felt like the crack of dawn, and started gathering up our stuff. I took a quick shower and started blow drying my hair, but the hotel hair dryer gave a big kaput and died early on. Other than that, we got our stuff together and headed down to check out and eat breakfast. We paid the 85 Euros, stuck our luggage in a hall closet temporarily and walked down towards the breakfast hall. Same breakfast – different day. It was good, though, and we were happy that the hotel served breakfast early enough for us.
At 7 am, we grabbed our bags and headed off for the train station. Once inside, we split up. Pat was taking the S-Baun to the airport, and I was boarding a regular train to Vienna. We hugged and wished each other a safe journey, then went on our own. It’s funny – I usually travel by myself and will continue to do so from time to time, but I had such a good time traveling with Pat that I know we will do this again. We had our differences – as Pat pointed out at one point, we are two strong personalities that will sometimes clash, but the good times far outweighed the clashes.
I found my train right away but had a little trouble finding my reserved seat. Four cars later, though, I was comfortably seated and with a table for the laptop to boot. For the next four hours, I worked on my journal and lazily watched the scenery out the window. The train was crowded, and I was glad I had spent the 3 extra Euros to reserve a seat as some people without were standing.
The train pulled into Wien (Vienna) Westbaunhof around 11:45 am and I got off. I immediately looked for the U-Bahn station but couldn’t find it. However, I just followed the hordes of other travelers and figured they would lead me to it. Sure enough, it was across the street (there is construction going on, so evidently access to the U-Bahn is limited right now).
At any rate, I went below, bought a single ticket and boarded the U3 line to get to Stephansplatz, which is close to my hotel. Four stops later, I got off and headed up the escalator into the sunlight. As I walked into the square, the first thing I saw was Stephansdom, the largest cathedral in Vienna. I swear my jaw dropped – it was truly amazing. Not just because of its immense size and height, but the sheer beauty of the architecture and the magnificent spires. I couldn’t wait to go it, but wanted to get checked in first.
My hotel was the Pension Nossek at Graben 17, which is one of the main streets near Stephansplatz (and in Vienna). I wandered down the street looking for the correct address between all the high-end shops on Graben. I finally found it near the end of the street near Kohlmarkt, next to a high-end clothing store.
I rang the bell to get in and was admitted. As I walked through the immense foyer, I noticed a plaque on the wall saying that Mozart had lived in this building for about ten months in 1781. At the end of the hallway was a huge black wrought iron and marble winding staircase. As beautiful as it was, I dreaded dragging my luggage up the four flights to reception. Just then, I noticed an elevator right in the middle of the staircase. Heaving a sigh of relief, I pushed the button and made my way upstairs in relative comfort.
My room is a single room – quite small, but fine for one person and only 62 Euros. For a location like this – right in the middle of the Inner Stadt and close to everything, the price is great. There was a flat screen tv as well, but so far I have not found any English-speaking channels, so I just ignored it. After unpacking, hanging up my clothes and freshening up, I was ready to head out into the city.
By this time, I was starving but didn’t want to spend time in a restaurant so I headed for a Wiener Wurst stand nearby, and had the most delicious sausage, served with a piece of rye bread and mustard.
My first stop was, of course, Stephansdom (aka St. Stephan’s Cathedral), just a few short steps away. The square was bustling this time of day and there were crowds of people – not just tourists but locals enjoying the noon sunshine. The church itself was relatively quiet. Admittance was free although there were separate fees for taking the elevators up to the north and south tower, and going downstairs to the crypt.
I contented myself with just wandering through the beautiful church, taking some photos and reading whatever literature I could find in English. The church has an incredible history – it was first created in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 13th century when it was destroyed by fire. The bells toll every hour – it was here that Beethoven realized the totality of his deafness when he could no longer hear the bells of St. Stephens.
Around the corner from Stephansdom is another gorgeous church, Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church), which has the most incredible acoustics I’ve heard outside Music Hall. The day I got there, four young women were singing a capella in an impromptu concert, and the sound was mesmerizing. I just closed my eyes and let the tones sound inside my head. As far as the decor, it was beautiful, of course. I really liked the inside of this church – it seemed a little friendlier and lower key than the big cathedral. And it was so close! All of these attractions in Vienna are right next to each other.
I should also mention that St. Peter’s also had skeletons. Several altars contain martyrs from Roman catacombs that were donated by Cardinal Kollonitz in 1733. They were put on clothes from this period and placed in glass coffins. Nobody knew who they were, so they were assigned random names. It was a little disconserting to see these glass coffins with the clothed skeletons inside — it reminded me of the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Black Pearl.”
Leaving the church, I heard music playing on the square and saw a young couple ballroom dancing before a crowd. I watched for a minute then continued walking around town. Vienna is very compact and most of the main attractions are in or close to the Inner Stadt or Old Town, which is centered in Stephansplatz. I headed towards the Hofburg Palace, the complex enclosing the winter palace of the Habsburgs. I was saving this for another day but thought I’d walk through it since it was so close.
Like many of the other royal palaces, the complex was immense. It included a huge courtyard surrounded by buildings on all four sides. Leaving the complex, I noticed a large area in front that was somewhat walled off. Moving closer, I saw a stone and brick foundation laying below the ground. Evidently, this shows the earlier foundation of the city dating back to Roman times.
Backtracking a little, I wandered back over to Stephansplatz and beyond, passing Mozart’s residence and a host of little restaurants and shops. Since I was hungry by this time, I wandered into an Italian restaurant, where you ordered ala carte cafeteria-style. Soon, I was happily ensconced at a table with a plate of pasta, a salad and some red wine. I like German and Austrian food but it was nice to have a change of pace.
By this time, it was dark and I slowly headed back to my hotel, after stopping at a cafe with free wi-fi to get online. My hotel has wireless, but it was on the fritz. Vienna after dark is very different from Vienna during the day. There were lots of people out – some eating and drinking, some just walking around, like me. The evening was cool and it felt wonderful to be outside.
Soon I was back at the hotel, and grateful for the elevator to take me up to sleep.
Tomorrow – more sightseeing in Vienna…