Our time in Tallinn, Estonia was great, however the days turned dreary and cold. The seven day weather forecast didn’t look hopeful, so we made a last minute decision to fly to Vienna, Austria and spend the last week of June with sunny skies. We’re scheduled to be in Prague by June 30th for the Pearl Jam show, therefore Austria was the perfect spot to make our way north into Czech Republic. We had planned on exploring more of Estonia, especially the beaches. Now that we’ve made some good friends, we’ll have to go back again someday.
Neither of us had known much about Vienna other than it’s a city of arts, music and love. We had no idea the scale and size of Vienna with it’s 23 districts. We were shocked at its extensive metro line and the amount of time it takes you to get from place to place. The hotel prices were astronomical unless you stay far outside of the city. Luckily we booked from the airport 2 hours before regular check-in time and found a “deal” for $60, but the second night price for the same room, in a hostel!, was $150.
We stayed at the MEININGER Hotel Wien Downtown Sissi, which happened to be in the old Jewish quarter. The place felt very sterile and full of young kids. They wanted to charge us for every little thing, such as Internet 2 Euro/hour and check out 10am unless you pay 6 Euro extra for later check-out. We were shocked at the contrast with other cities we’ve visited.
Viennese Canal Beach Life
We stayed just east of the city center across the canal….. and ventured out to the center via a very cool local beach bar scene all along the canal. The Viennese definitely have improvised with what little water they have in their city. People in their swimsuits are relaxing in their beach chairs in the sand, just next to the brown canal water. There is even a bar called “Tel Aviv Beach Bar” and it certainly has that Tel Avivan beach feel without the Meditterrean. Albeit the dirty canal water, the beach scene worked and we wondered why other cities, like Philadelphia and San Francisco, don’t do the same thing.
Graffiti Art of Vienna
The graffiti art here is something to rave about. Just when we thought Vilnius had the gold star for graffiti, Vienna has taken the show. The canal walls are filled with endless streams of beautiful artwork. While some people may complain about graffiti around their city, this art work most certainly made the canal and beach life more hip and interesting.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral Square
As we approached the city center, we noticed the varying styles of architecture, from Baroque, Renaissance and Art Nouveau style buildings. The streets of the city are the cleanest we’ve seen since Singapore. Scaling high above Vienna in the midst of the city, is St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom). This gothic gem is by far the highlight of a visit to Vienna. The original church is from the 12th century but has had several makeovers giving it the Renaissance and Gothic look it has today. We were lucky it was a Sunday and had the pleasure of entering the church during Sunday mass. Brett was blown away and compared it to the Notre Dam but more amazing.
There is a multitude of life around the square of St. Stephens and it feels like every tourist in Vienna has congregated around this small radius. It was quite easy to stroll down one of the small streets off the square and find some solitude and pieces of Vienna to ourselves. We found a quiet vegetarian restaurant called “Biobar” that just so happened to be around the Jewish memorial square, Judenplatz. The memorial is the site of an old medieval synagogue that was destroyed during the war (excavated remains can be found in the Jewish museum on the square). It commemorates 65,000 Austrian Jews that were murdered during the Holocaust. The design is 10×10 spines of books facing inward to where the titles are unknown. It’s meant to symbolize Judaism and Jews as a “Religion and People of the Book”.
Home to more than 100 museums, and loads more cultural sites, Vienna warrants at least a week, if not two to fully explore. It’s one of those cities where you have to know someone to take you around to the local spots or live there yourself for a year to experience all the city has to offer. With not much time before Prague, we decided to leave Vienna behind for another time and head north to the wine country of the Czech Republic.
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