Most of us are no different from Columbus or Neil Armstrong- the first stranger in an alien land. The small town girl who marvels at the city lights for the first time, pilgrims who make arduous journeys overseas, the foodie who seeks to taste exotic flavors in foreign lands, even the mother who finds the courage to visit her children settled abroad after having spent her whole life in the same neighborhood. We are all explorers. Maybe not celebrated or renowned, but in no small measure either.
One of my favorite ways to explore a new city is to walk in it. I use Google Maps on my phone to get a general direction of my destination, then grab my camera and some comfortable shoes and set out. It is best if the weather is sunny and breezy, but a light drizzle never mars my spirits. You can take some amazing pictures of an overcast sky, which you would miss on a sunny day.
During the cab ride from the airport to our hotel, I had glimpses of the monumental buildings in the city. Some of the most noteworthy buildings include the Parliament, City Hall (built in Flemish Gothic style ), the Burgtheater (New Baroque) the State Opera, the University, and the Museum of Natural History(Neo-Renaissance). Dramatic figures in marble abound.
The first thing I tasted upon arrival was Weiner Schnitzel (Weiner=Viennese, Wein=Vienna, German). Traditionally, it is thin, breaded and pan-fried veal, often served with parsley potatoes. Another favorite I discovered was an apricot filled ice cream with hazelnut crust (Eis Marille Knödel) from Tichy Saloneis. Don’t try it from anywhere else. They make them fresh that don’t freeze your teeth like the knockoffs.
We chanced upon a weekend market at Rathaus Platz and tasted some local Austrian beer, ripe cheese, and wine. The people were enjoying their weekend. Kids played in areas inside straw bales while the parents chatted away. Some of them wore traditional Austrian clothes: Girls in Dirndl and guys in Lederhosen. It is the clothing of Alps country folks/peasants and often seen in Austria, Germany, and some parts of Italy.
I had a chance to visit the History of Art Museum (Kunsthistorisches Museum), Leopold Museum, and Belvedere Gallery.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum is a palatial building on Ringstraße and is the current domicile of several art collections & antiquities. Tablets with information on the artifacts are available on benches on one side of the room. The museum is huge and anything less than 3 hours would be criminal. I hope to go back again someday. I have missed the Natural History Museum, Albertina, and the Sigmund Freud Museum.
Men dressed in Mozart tout tickets to tourists for concerts at Museumplatz. A friend said that they sold bogus tickets meaning to rip off the uninformed. What surprised me was that they were doing it right in front of uniformed police officers. Maybe some of their business is legit.
Leopold Museum houses modern Austrian art, featuring artists such as Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Richard Gerstl. Though I find the work and life of modern and contemporary artists fascinating, I am slightly partial to classical art.
The Belvedere was the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy. Cameras are not allowed inside the exhibits except for a dedicated selfie point and the marble work on the ceilings. However, you can take as many shots of the spectacular view of the city from the entrance.
One of the most interesting things we did was take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the city from Michaelplatz. You may make a special request for a ‘porcelain ride’ that was used to transfer porcelain in earlier days. The slow tread of the horses is so relaxing you will want to do it all day.
We spent some good days in the city. Dinner with friends, walks after dinner, coffee shops that are open past midnight. A special shout to Gautam Mama and Gopa Mami for all their love and attention. They took us to Schönbrunn Palace gardens and Donau Tower that offers a 360 degrees view of the city.
I fell in love with you Vienna. Can’t wait till we meet again.