Friday, October 13, 2006

Eastern Europe, part 2 (Vienna)

We arrived in Vienna around 2pm, but it took us the better part of an hour to get to our hotel, partially because Vienna has a variety of public transportation options, and they're not all that easy to decipher and/or well connected. Our international train arrived at Sudbahnhof, but we wanted to take the U-bahn to our hotel. It was about a 500-meter walk between the two stops, but it seemed much longer since we were dragging suitcases and backpacks.

Anyway, we finally arrived at our hotel, the NH Wien. It's located in a great area, off of a large shopping street, and just on the border of the Museum Quarter. We took advantage of the small onsite gym, and then showered just in time for dinner. The restaurant we went to was in the University area, so it was relatively inexpensive, and still yummy. Then, we spent the rest of the night walking around the Hofburg Palace and thereabouts.

We had only planned to stay in Vienna for three more nights, and wanted to take a daytrip to Bratislava, so the next two days were pretty packed. We walked around outside the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum, saw the Hofburg by daylight, hung out in the Volksgarden and Rathauspark, and took the elevator to the top of Stephansdom. We spent nearly 3 hours at the Schonbrunn Palace, but even that was barely enough time to explore the interior of the palace as well as the expansive gardens. Afterwards, we went to the Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera) to queue up for standing room tickets (3.50 Euro), which was a really great experience.

First of all, we waited in line from 5:15pm until 6:15pm to get the tickets, and then immediately went to the standing room to claim our spots. We hung around there for the next hour or so, until the 7:30pm curtain, and then stood for the remaining 2.5 hours of the performance, finally heading out to dinner around 10pm. Sounds like fun, right? Okay, the standing itself wasn't so great, although we were quite impressed with all the 50 and 60-year-olds standing there with us. However, we did meet lots of interesting people while in line, including a couple of college guys from London who had some awesome cheap travel stories, some girls from Australia, and a Taiwanese student studying music in Vienna (who spoke only Chinese and German). The good thing about standing/sitting for 5 hours is that it makes people pretty chatty, so there were lots of good conversations to be had.

When we finally got out, we were starving, so we headed to Centimeter, a bar near our hotel. They had a 2-meter wurst on the menu, which we just had to try, and I ordered a chicken schnitzel which was excellent, as well. It was a satisfying end to an extremely busy day.

The second day, we hit the Belvedere (Austrian National Gallery), which has quite an impressive collection of Klimt's work, including The Kiss, and then Zentralfriedhof, which is a huge cemetery where Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert, and Strauss happen to be buried. We wound up the day watching a performance by the famous Spanish Riding School (again standing room), which was interesting but not quite as impressive as I had hoped.

The next morning, we caught an early train to Bratislava, which is an hour away.


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