What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Vienna?
For me, hmmm… the Grandeur. Stately, Baroque palaces and government buildings lit by crystal chandeliers, grand ballrooms attached to richly furnished lounges. Considering the area has been inhabited since 500 BC, it’s not surprising that they’ve had some time on their hands to build such a beautiful city. Esteemed artists would come to Vienna from all around to live and work, surrounded by inspiration. Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss (I and II) are just a few superstars I could name that have filled Vienna’s cobbled streets with their music.
So what brought us to Vienna? One of the loveliest, families we’ve had the privilege of meeting on our journey so far, the Brumwells. They were hoping to find someone to help out with the kids, and while they didn’t have much work for the two of us they generously took us in. We were a bit nervous since we hadn’t done any babysitting yet, but the kids were a dream. Their oldest son kept us laughing with his energy and imagination, and their daughter was so sweet and gave me some lovely hairstyles! Their adorable baby was such a cutie-pie too. We had a great time playing, sledding, and wrestling with them and it was hard to say goodbye.
Aside from spending time with the family, it was also wonderful to be staying at a place right in Vienna so that, whenever we had time off, it was simply a matter of walking out the door and the tour begins!
It was hard to escape the sound of Christmas carols and the scent of candied nuts filtering through the air all around us. Christmas markets were everywhere, selling every tree ornament you can imagine and expensive hot glühwein. The most spectacular sight had to be the Enchanted Rathauspark. Located in the square and park in front of the Rathaus (town hall), the entire area is lit up, well, like a Christmas tree. The stalls sell everything you can think of, wine, beer, honey, decorations, gifts, and the first candy canes we had seen in Austria! Our desire for familiar Christmas treats wasn’t enough to fork over three euros for a single candy cane though, so we opted for tasty, honey-roasted nuts instead. Winter wonderland trains, houses full of talking animals, and workshops for kids were running under trees decked out with themed lights (the Railway Tree, Toy Tree, Hearts Tree… You get the idea). I think I just about died and went to heaven when I saw the Cupcake Tree, I need to get me some of these!!
If literature is more your thing, you need to see the State Hall in the Austrian National Library. Built in the early 1700’s by Emperor Charles VI, the library is filled with over 200 000 books, many of which are a few to several hundred years old. The frescoes are incredible, and while Nathanael and I were visiting there was an exhibition on “Angels” being displayed. Marvellous, hand-painted Islamic, Jewish, and Christian books were on display, charting the history of angel mythology and how they got their wings (in medieval art depictions I mean).
At the recommendation of our host, Catherine, we took a tram over to Schönbrunn Palace one sunny afternoon. Covering more than 120 acres of land, the palace and its associated gardens are huge! We started our day with some (gross) chocolate pretzels from the Christmas market in front of the palace, and then slowly meandered through the gardens the rest of the afternoon. The palace is a UNESCO heritage site, and the gardens, sculptures, fountains, etc. are impeccably maintained and a lot of fun to explore.
We started wandering out from the Kammergarten, and were a bit surprised when we thought we had seen the whole thing in under an hour. How wrong we were. We eventually got onto the main path and discovered we had barely seen a fraction. The Palm House was one of my favourites, a beautiful, green-painted steel and glass structure that looked inspired by the Emerald Palace in the Wizard of Oz. The Roman Ruin fountain was definitely one of the most interesting sight the grounds offered, with strategically crumbled walls and grass growing at “random” in the water. Climbing the hill to the colonnaded Gloriette gives you an unparalleled view of the palace and the city around it. Of the places we visited in Vienna, this hilltop was definitely my favourite.
If I’m being honest, I would say while Vienna is interesting it isn’t one of my favourite cities. It has beautiful buildings and statues (so many statues) to see and a legacy lent by a glorious history, but we felt it lacked the laid-back charm we had found in other capitals. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a city worth visiting and we had a great time! But I’m always looking forward to the next cityscape on our adventure.