Sept 3, 2019 – Vienna, Austria
Ever since Ganesh introduced us to the London Walks last year, we have figured out walking tours in all the European countries that we have visited since. Vienna too has several walking tours – we chose to go with “Good Vienna Tours”. Its a free tour which means you tip at the end of the tour as much or as little as you feel.
We woke up by 6 am as we had to leave by 9 am. We had to get our weekly tickets and then reach the venue. I managed to update the ShikshaDaan statistics on the new website before leaving… feels good to see the number of beneficiaries steadily cross 8000. We went down to Wien Hbf (Vienna Hauptbahnhof or Central station) using the entrance near the Airbnb (20 meters). On 31st we had come near this place when we took the lift at the point where it said Linie U1, but didn’t come all the way and missed this exit. This Airbnb has to rewrite directions because its genuinely very close to the Hbf. Bought the weekly pass for Euro 17.10 each and validated it. You don’t have to validate the weekly tickets since they come printed with the dates. Single tickets and the 24/48/72 hour tickets have to be validated. For us, Vienna’s weekly ticket was the best bet as we were here for almost 8 days and it gives us the entire week Monday to Monday for unlimited rides.
We couldn’t figure out the U1 train going towards Leopoldau that would go to Karlsplatz. We first went to platform 4 thinking that’s where it was leaving from only to realize that platforms 3 to 12 are for outstation trains. The Bratislava train was leaving from platform 4 J. We went down to U1 again and asked at the info counter. They told us to go to platform 1, but the trains coming there weren’t going to Leopoldau. Finally we asked two men who got off a train at platform 1. They asked “Google” on their cellphone and said we had to take the metro (U Bahn is called metro in Vienna) that was one level below. So we got to platform 1 and saw that the metro train was ready going towards Leopoldau. We got on and one station later got off at Karlsplatz. Again we had a bit of a challenge figuring out which exit to take and finally looked at the map and got out towards the right of Secession exit. We could see a Veinna sightseeing guide standing at the street corner and asked him the way to Albertina Platz. He told us to take a left from the Opera house and we did that.
Reached Albertina platz in time and got a ticket for the free tour. Met Mr. Radhakrishnan from Chennai and his family. Wearing a saree helps. :). Our guide was Katharina. The tour guide’s job in Vienna requires doing a two year professional course. Not everyone can become a tour guide so there are fewer guides in Vienna. Each tour guide thus ends up having a huge group – ours was nearly 45 people. And because the guide spends money getting their degree, its only fair that we pay for the tour.
We first walked up to the deck of the Albertina museum. This was earlier a palace and then converted into a museum. Then we went to the gardens of the winter palace near the statue of Franz Joseph who ruled over the Hapsburg empire (Austria, Germany, Croatia etc were part of it) for 68 years. Learned a little more about Austrian history and the expansion of the city of Vienna. Franz Joseph’s nephew was Ferdinand Hapsburg who was killed in Hungary and that was the trigger for WWI.
We then walked around the ring road to the entrance of the Hofburg Palace or the winter palace. While exiting the park, there is a full size statue of Mozart.
We saw the two museums on either side of the statue of Marie Theresa, Marie Antoinette’s mother. The museum of Natural history and Fine arts. We walked inside the winter palace to Helden Square or Hero’s square and learned about the Hapsburg rule a bit more. Then onto the place where Hitler declared the annexation of Austria in 1938. Hitler was from Austria and tried getting into the art school where he was denied admission twice.
We then walked towards the St. Stephen’s church through the hostel for catholic monks where rooms are rented and Mozart stayed there as well for a short while. The St. Stephen’s spire was the tallest structure in the world for a long time and it was supposed to have two spires but only one was built and the other was just a shingled roof. Quite a majestic structure. The colourful tiles just add to the grandeur.
From there we went to the Rosenberger coffee house to have a short break. Saw Café Coffee Day on the way.
After a bio break and refreshing ourselves with a cup of coffee at Rosenberger we walked towards the Jewish quarter and along the way saw the oldest coffee house in Vienna. Katharina, our guide told us that the Viennese love their coffee and drink lots of it. If you drink Cappuccino or the South Indian filter coffee then ask for a Melange in Vienna – its outstanding coffee.
From there we walked to the Jewish quarter, saw the oldest synagogue there and ended the trip. The Danube river was running through the city of Vienna and people from Salzburg would come to sell salt here. They would offer their prayers at the oldest church near which we ended the tour. There were just 5000 jews left after WWII, down from 2 lakh. Now there are 15000 jews in Vienna and slowly the Jewish community is flourishing again.
We got into the Stephensplatz station which is just outside the St. Stephen’s church and a train came by exactly as we got onto the platform to bring us back to Hbf. Had our favourite orange juice at Spar before getting back home. Keshav got us addicted to this fresh orange juice last year and we love it.
A quick walking tour that gave us a tiny peek into the history of Vienna and the Hapsburg empire.