Vienna is full of sights and activities worth months to enjoy. I then booked an affordable hotel outside the city center for just three days to cap off my 2019 and kick-off 2020 to the tune of Beethoven.
You won’t get everything you set out to do in Vienna, but this won’t mean you’re missing out. You may be saving yourself for better experiences. I don’t regret skipping out on The Demel, the fabled cafe that served the favorite violet sorbet of Elizabeth, wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I. The line was so long, I’m certain I would wait 30 minutes before getting a table.
Be warned. Vienna, touted as the most liveable capital in 2019, is experiencing quite a boom in tourism these days. Walking around the city on my first day confirmed this fact quickly as I heard American “titas” announce to everyone in their kilometer radius that they are looking for some sachertorte.
It was clear when I saw how packed the restaurant Café Amacord was when I stopped by for dinner. The service could have been better as I waited for a bit for my order. Still, the Viennese Menu they served that consisted of Beef Soup with a side dish, Wiener Schnitzel, and Apple Strudel was a fitting and filling welcome. At EUR 23.80 (around PHP1,400), it’s a bargain for a quality authentic Austrian meal.
There was no escaping the crowds who, like the genius writing this piece, thought it was a great idea to spend New Year’s in Vienna.
My thought was so original, I didn’t get to do the All-Inclusive Tour of the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna’s prized religious landmark as first planned. I had had to settle for merely walking around while wading through the odd mix of selfie-stick carriers and actual churchgoers attending the midday mass.
The line for the tickets for the said tour reached the cathedral’s exit. Learning from this, you should book your tickets pre-hand andonline. The All-Inclusive Tour includes a trip to cathedral’s catacombs and the top of the South Tower, where one could enjoy the best view of Vienna and see it perhaps the way Emperor Frederick III or Prince Eugene did in their heyday.
Religion and capitalism
Built in the 12th century, St. Stephen’s Cathedral serves as a perfect example of over-the-top Gothic architecture. In hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t overwhelm myself with the guided tour and settled for admiring as many details I could: from the main altar to the little chapels that featured elaborate frescoes and statues.
Outside the cathedral and in the true didactic fashion of religion and capitalism, there is the Graben Shopping Street. You’ll be spent looking at the flagship stores of designer labels that find homes in well-preserved historical buildings. In the middle of it is The Pestsäule Column, built in the 17th century, the Habsburg’s way of warding off the plague. A not-so-cheery sentiment for a monument but also very poetic in between the church and the shopping street, don’t you think?
There is no lack of metaphor and poetry in Vienna.
Hop on the bim
It’s not uncommon that you will keep saying “Wow” audibly like a child in Disneyland as you go around. The Habsburgs made sure every corner is opulent. You’ll say it while going to the corner Billa (one of Austria’s largest supermarket chains) or going down Ringstrasse.
Vienna’s Ringstrasse is the 5.3-kilometer route that represents the Kaiser Franz Joseph’s will for everything in Vienna to be connected to the imperial center.
I spent a half-day walking around Ringstrasse, not knowing where to look first. Setting your sights up, you’ll see statues of the monarchs on winged horses. At eye level, you’ll stumble into a park once closed off to the public and was only for the enjoyment of the royals. You’ll meet Goethe along the way or Empress Elizabeth herself.
Take the bim (the very Austrian way to say “tram”) when you’ve decided to end your Ringstrasse tour so your feet get a break. On this note, I also advise you buy a three-day pass for EUR 17.10 (around PHP 960) that you can use for all types of public transportation.
It’s a sin to go to Vienna and skip out on the museums. As with any city of worldwide significance, Vienna hosts a lot of museums, so research beforehand what you want to see.
At the Leopold Museum, the exhibition “Vienna 1900” serves as an excellent primer on the city’s artistic development, showing off its most prominent maestros: Oskar Kokoschka, Carl Moll, and Egon Schiele to name a few.
I was lucky that I caught the last day of the Richard Gerstl exhibit. Gerstl is Vienna’s golden child often compared to Edvard Munch, Vincent van Gogh, Pierre Bonnard, and Lovis Corinth. And to prove just that, they placed Gerstl’s self-portrait side-by-side one of Van Gogh’s famous self-portraits.
The Belvedere Museum is something not to miss out on for that classic “I’m in Vienna” photo. I was in awe at how the Belvedere Gardens are hauntingly beautiful even in the bareness of winter.
Prepare your patience here as there are two lines to confront: The one at the ticket area and the one to go inside the museum. Hack: Buy your ticket online and plan your day as the Belvedere has a strict schedule for visitors. Your ticket indicates what time you can go inside.
If the Louvre has “Mona Lisa,” Belvedere has “Der Kuss” (The Kiss) by Gustav Klimt. Not to miss in the same room is the life-sized Rodin creation, “Eve,” that has become my favorite art piece.
Music of the night
What’s a trip to Vienna without music? If you can’t spring for an expensive ticket to the opera, or maybe it’s not your preference, treat yourself to a classical concert. I was lucky that I got to attend the Vienna Symphony Orchestra‘s New Year’s Day performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 at the Wiener Konzerthaus.
It’s worth every cent of your EUR 100 (around PHP 5,000). If this is the only thing you get to do and enjoy, your Viennese experience is complete. Since the concert house’s seats are limited, you’ll get away from the usual crowd, and you’ll experience Vienna’s world-class music tradition.
And because Vienna is used to catering to the needs of royalty, near the Konzerthaus is the Wiener Stadtpark, the perfect view to see before you descend to the train station, with Beethoven’s music giving you a killer LSS.
I would later learn on the flight home that 2020 is significant for Vienna: It’s the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven who spent half his life in the Austrian capital, and the city will be celebrating it all year-long.
Vienna may be a busy tourist destination, but it knows how to treat every visitor in a way perfectly suited to their needs.