As soon as I stepped off my train and into the Viennese air I knew I was going to love the city. Maddy can confirm this; I said it out loud. It is a lot to take in, being surrounded by baroque architectural wonders, looking down streets interlaced with art both modern and aged, and whose every existence persists to the residual reverberations of some of the greatest musicians in history. You can taste it on your tongue, amidst the diversity of the populace, like any big city, a sense of entering a new world, though familiar, that has much to explore.
The prosperous legacy of imperialism, Vienna’s grandiose palaces and parliament buildings, theatres and opera houses, gardens, taverns and famous cafes, embroider the tapestry of the vibrant and magnificent cityscape with such remarkable intricacy and poise that one cannot first experience the place without awe. The beautiful river Wein and the many parks and green spaces around the city contribute that little extra, that understatedly significant portion of Vienna’s character, contributing to the serenity of more quiet moments and keeping the air almost luxuriously fresh.
We spent the whole of our tram journey looking out the window pointing at things. It was raining on our arrival, dark clouds masking an otherwise resplendent urban expanse, but even that could not keep us from imagining what it was like on good days. I think experiencing the relative simplicity of Bratislava heightened our appreciation for the grandeur of Vienna. It stopped us from taking anything for granted. Complacency is only to be expected when moving from large city to the next. Things blur together, and you lose the all-important feeling of excitement that comes with the prospect of exploration. Vienna was a jolt to the consciousness, a revelation, especially to me.
Our host, Norbu, met us at the closest tram stop and took us to our room in a spacious apartment called the Tibetan Guest House, on Schottenfeldgasse street. There were few other travellers staying there at the time, so it made for a nice friendly atmosphere. Listening to people’s stories and sharing meals with new friends, conversing in the early hours of the morning over a cup of coffee while the Viennese sun rose from the horizon, toasting to the good life in evenings after long days, this is the way to travel.
Everything was made easier by where we were located. There was a grocery store and a few appealing restaurants about, and if we wanted to head into the city centre it was only a 10-minute tram journey away.
Norbu was also the first host to offer us breakfast in the morning, which went some way towards his five-star review. He left out for us a week’s supply of sliced bread, fruit, Nutella and honey to eat, with a kettle, coffee jar and tea bags to make drinks. The assortment was just what we needed to fuel up for each day without having to spend money. Until then we had been skipping proper breakfast, picking up the odd croissant or sandwich on our way to walking tours.
Our first day, after the rain eventually abated, consisted largely of lazing around the statue of Mozart in the Burggarten drinking expensive coffee. We looked over our itinerary and budget, then relaxed on a park bench for a while simply people-watching and talking about what it would be like to live in Vienna. I had read somewhere that it was awarded city with the highest standard of living for the eighth time, that if you got a decent gig in Vienna you were pretty much set up for a pleasurable existence; thinking about it, both during our first days and just before we left, it was not difficult to comprehend why.
Just to get our bearings, we headed to the Albertinaplatz, the starting point of our tour the next day, where we marvelled at the lines of people waiting outside the Hotel Sacher for the famous chocolatey Sacher tortes. We also spent a little time wondering how much it would cost to go see an opera at the magnificent Vienna State Opera house, while taking lots of pictures like the tourists we were. No way we could afford it, right?
For lunch, we went to Naschmarkt which is a market known not only for its fresh produce but also for the various food stalls line up on either side of its central walkway. Moroccan stalls, Turkish kebab stands, Italian delis, Chinese restaurants, it was hard to keep track of all the different options on display. In the end we settled for a cheap yet wholesome durum kebab, which Maddy and I shared, before we dug into some frozen yoghurt for dessert.
It got quite lively towards lunch time, a lot of people jostling against each other and haggling with fruit sellers. The louder it got, the louder the eager shop owners shouted of their wares, though without being too indecorous for a market of that size. Since there was such a range of things to try and stalls with prices we could afford, we marked Naschmarkt down as a good place to turn to in case we ever wanted to pick up something to eat on our way back to the Airbnb.
Roaming indiscriminately through streets, both narrow avenues and wider boulevards, we started to compare the city with the ones we had been to so far. Vienna represented the best of every city we’d been to, with architecture that mirrored that of Prague and Dresden, a diverse populace and expansive geography that seemed akin to that of Berlin, and the reminiscent yet imposing aura of history that loomed over all of them. Hours flew by with our wandering. We stopped only to take pictures or to cross roads, following no map though being cognisant of moving too far away from where we stayed.
Before taking our final tram home, we picked up some local fast food from a small yet popular eatery at Dr. Karl Renner Ring station. People were congregating all around the snack bar, chowing down on what looked to be currywurst hotdogs and ham-hock buns. When I got to the counter I realised they were called bosna and leberkase respectively, and I ordered them by pointing at the pictures, rubbing my hands together as the evening got colder – as you do.
The bosna consisted of a large sausage covered in curry powder, resting on a ruckus of white onions and with ketchup strewn over, all in a thick encompassing bread roll – it was delicious though difficult to rip into because of the bread. The satisfying crunch and steam from the juicy hot sausage was perfect in that night time nip. We made such a mess eating it that we were starting to draw pigeons in to join us. The leberkase was an extremely simple sandwich, boasting only a humble piece Viennese luncheon meat stuffed into a buttered bun. It looked like one of the quick snacks my mum used to whip up for me when I was a child, tasting as much as well. I liked it for the nostalgia, but Maddy was not too keen.
Unfortunately, however, it was that night in Vienna that my stomach had finally put its foot down and made its feelings clear. I hadn’t been taking very good care of it, and its rumbling discomfort signalled that it was not in a good place. Word of advice for those trying all sorts of new dishes on holiday, make sure that you are eating enough roughage to flush stuff out of your system or you’ll eventually be too backed up and roiling with heartburn, to sleep any way but fitfully.