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Vienna (and a day in Bratislava)

Well this trip report is a bit later than I had hoped, but I returned from vacation and was thrown into a whirlwind at work.

First, thank you to all the lovely people on here who answered questions, especially in the Austria thread, and especially Emily, who answered a few of my more panicked questions about transportation.

Money was a bit tight before I went, but it was the greatest gift I could have given to myself. My thread was titled "how cheap can I do a week in Vienna" and I withdrew exactly 400 euros while I was over there. Could have spent less, I believe. I didn't buy much until the last day when I had about 50 remaining euros and therefore bought a few small gifts and had a nice dinner so I could have easily done it on 350, I think. The only things I put on my CC were my meals in LHR because I obviously didn't want to withdraw cash just for the airport. (Also, the 400 euros was for food, admissions, transportation, etc. My ticket and lodging were already paid.)

Ok, so first - I took off on a Monday, therefore landing at LHR Tuesday morning. Flight was a bit turbulent and there was a guy consuming QUITE a bit of wine two rows back, but we weren't a full flight and my seat mate moved to a different spot so she could stretch her knee, therefore I had the two seats to myself. Was hoping to catch a glimpse of the Emerald Isle as we flew over, but is it ever not covered in clouds? Got through the connecting flights security quite quickly (this was around 9AM, I believe). Had a bite to eat, the flight was slightly delayed, but not too bad. Was amazed at just how quickly you fly across the channel and there is France and/or Belgium below you, and then Germany, and I think a bit of the Czech Republic. Landed Vienna. Went through passport control which was basically just a bored police officer stamping my passport and handing it back. I'm not sure he even asked me a question. He probably did. Realized I was definitely not in America.

Had a bit of trouble locating an ATM in the airport but finally found one. Then I wasn't sure I was heading in the right direction for the trains, but I found them. Bought a ticket from the machine, and wasn't 100% sure I was on the right S-bahn train instead of the City Airport Train, but I decided to go with it (I was on the correct train). Was very glad they announced all the stops in German and English because while I was reading German names, they sure didn't sound the same in my head as they did from the train speaker. Got to my transfer in the city where I easily found my U-bahn, but those stops were not announced in English. Luckily I only had to go like four stops. Got off at Karlsplatz, followed signs to what I thought was the direction of street level. Stopped in a transportation office and asked for a map. Got a look of disdain from the guy when I asked "sprechen sie englisch?" He made me nervous to open my mouth again. Got to street level, was wowed by the State Opera House. Found the correct tram in the correct direction and again thought "holy crap, are they speaking German when they announce these stops? What is this language???) Got off a stop too early so walked quite a few extra blocks. Thought I found the correct door for the apartment I was staying in but it wouldn't open. Panic! Locked out! Where is the call button I'm supposed to press? Walk up and down the same block a few times and near tears. Finally calm down and stop at the tailor? dry cleaner? I attempt "sprechen sie englisch?" again and the young guy says "a bit". I show him my directions and he knows the person I'm looking for and walks me back to the same door I had tried. It pushes inward instead of pulling outward. Oh. Whoops. He walks me down the courtyard and to the apartment and I find the correct call button and ring up to my Airbnb host. She greets me, gives me a tour of the apartment - all very nice!

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I unpack. I'm nevous to venture back out for the evening after my panic finding the apartment, but I did not come all this way to hide in my room, so I look up my route to the MAK on my app, take screen shots of the directions, and head back to the city center. The MAK is free on Tuesday nights (thanks for the tip!) so I wandered around, looked at art, took photos, then decided to find something to eat. Wandered the near streets, found a cafe. "Sprechen si englisch?" "A bit" (of course). More or less point to what I want, my server is SO kind to me and I finally start to feel at ease. Find my tram, head home for bed. Manage to stay up until about 9:00 or 10:00. Sleep alright for a new bed and time adjustment.

Day 2 - decide to venture to Schonbrunn Palace. Again, screen shot directions of my transportation. My Airbnb host tells me to download CityMaps2Go and even though I'm cheap, I pay for the app. Best decision. While I don't have service, it still can more or less triangulate off various wi-fi or something and pretty well pinpoint your location on the map. So helpful when I'm wandering off the beaten path.

Spend much of the day at Schonbrunn. Want to waltz in the ballroom. Wander the grounds for a long time. Climb the hill, see the view. Decide to find my last name Cafe like I promised to my grandfather. Have a lovely late afternoon lunch, melange, and Sacher Torte! Make my way back to city center. Follow a bit of Rick's walking tour. Find and visit the Kaisergruft. Decide to call it an early-ish evening and head back to my apartment. Two stops before my tram stop, the tram veers off in another direction. What?? Where is it going? Look of confusion not only on my face, but other passenger's faces. Two ladies walk up to driver and ask questions. Obviously I can't understand. I look at the young girl "sprechen si englisch" "A bit". "Where are we going? Aren't we supposed to stop at Knollgasse?" "Yes, I don't know what is going on, but we can get off here and go back." "Can I follow you?" "Of course!" My hero! Spend the night planning out the rest of my week.

Day 3 - Decide to check out the Imperial Furniture Collection. In a different part of Vienna, slightly turned around after exiting the U-bahn station. CityMaps2Go comes to my rescue. See the furniture. Kind of cool. Head back to city center and pick up Rick's walking tour again. Make my way to the Hofburg and see the Treasury. Take Rick's tram tour around sunset and decide I need to do it again in the day. Buy tickets for the Lipizzaner Stallions on Sunday.

Day 4 - Visit the museum with all the armor, roman ruins, and music. Realize I'm so not into old musical instruments. I think this is also the day I did the Hofburg apartment tour and I feel that Sisi is very over rated. (I also am apparently not interested in porcelain collections and table service.) Finally decide to do St. Stephens. Combo ticket is on super sale! Visit the catacombs, ride the elevator up the tower. Save the other parts of the ticket for another day.

Day 5 - Decide to do more of the tram tour in the daylight. Get off at various points for interesting things, abandon tram and wander side streets. Find the clock five minutes before 3:00. Decide to wait until it chimes to see what it's all about. Oh, it does nothing except at noon. Catch the eye of another American and laugh with him. What did we just stand around and wait for? Wander. Find a mostly empty Judenplatz. Make my way to Votivekirche but stop at a million churches along the way. Votivekirche closed for renovation. Nuts. Go to Kunsthistorisches Museum. Follow Rick's walk through the museum which is just enough art for me. Make my way back to St. Stephens for what is supposed to be an English mass but ends up being in German.

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Day 6 - Sunday. Go see the stallions. Nice horses, but...probably wouldn't go again. Go see Karlskirche, then the city museum next door. Free on the first Sunday of the month! Meet up with old acquaintance from Germany who has just moved to Vienna. Have some sort of elderflower drink at a trendy cafe. Back to city center for a 4 euro ticket to the Opera. I'm underdressed but I'll have a glass of wine please. Pack into standing room only area like sardines. Would like to stay for the whole thing but I have no idea what is going on and it's waaay too hot and crowded. Escape to the street and have beer and sausage at the stand near the Albertina. Then Sachre Torte at the Cafe Sacher Wien. Definitely not as good as my first one.

Day 7 - Off to Bratislava. Taking the bus. It's cheaper. Take the U-bahn to the correct station, but where do I get the bus?? Wander around for a while until I finally realize I have to go outside and down to the street and there's the bus ticket office. Bus stopped at the Vienna airport, then a lovely one hour drive to the city center of Bratislava. Stops right under the bridge if you want to see the UFO. I did not, because it was foggy. Wasn't going to be able to see anything. Instead, I wander, try to find the starting point for Rick's walking tour. Follow along. Browse. Shop. Find church, attend mass to see what it's like in Slovak. Basically the same, of course. Wander. Find coffee and cake. Take bus back to Vienna. I think it's totally worth a day trip to Bratislava. Finally do my inside walking tour of St. Stephan's and wander the pedestrian district, buying a few items, soaking up my last night in Vienna, riding the trams one more time at night around the ring.

Day 8 - Up early. Take a different route to airport. Really see workaday Vienna. Buy extortionate breakfast in the airport. Fly to London, surprisingly beautiful clear skies when we land. There's the Shard! The Tower Bridge! Westminster! Go through connecting flight security again, get reassigned new seat, get a sandwich and they're already boarding my flight! Hurry to gate, get on plane, no seat mate! Jackpot! Drink two glasses of wine (free!) and land in Chicago. My first experience with US Customs and Immigration. (When we came back from Ireland, we went though it at the Dublin airport. Totally different.) They yell a lot. They are not friendly. They are very very intimidating. I am definitely back in America.

Other observations - anytime I'd try to order food or a ticket in German, people immediately responded back in English. Thank you, kind people of Vienna. Well, there were a few surly waiters, but everybody was just lovely and of course spoke amazing English even when they didn't think they did.

Morning coffee and pastry. Afternoon coffee and cake. I could have lived off the stuff. (I guess I did almost live off the stuff. As well as wurst and pizza and quick groceries like sandwiches and fruit.)

The public transportation in Vienna is AMAZING. Despite my nerves at first, by the third day I was no long pre-planning my routes, I pretty much had it down. And my understanding of all the announced stops in German was much improved. I didn't obsessively count my stops anymore. :)

A trip by myself - the great thing was deciding my own schedule and seeing exactly what I wanted to see and spending however much time I did or didn't want to spend at a particular place. No "what do you want to do?" "I don't know, what do you want to do?". Not to mention, going through so many museums with audio guides, I was free to repeat sections and go at my own pace. The downside? No one to rehash the day with, or get drinks with at the end of a long day. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat!

End of Oct/Beginning of Nov weather: low 50s & very foggy most days. Think I only had one day of sunshine, but luckily I didn't have rain. Got away with jacket, scarf, & stretch gloves for when temp was lower at the beginning and end of the day.

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5373 posts

J - Thank you for the report and glad that you had a good time solo. Sounds like there were some great experiences and a few lessons learned. Overall, I get a sense that you did things that you felt like you "had" to do - eat Sacher Torte, go the Opera, visit all the Hofburg museums, Lippanzaner, etc. - and didn't really enjoy them as much as just wandering around and sampling local flavor. Personally, I also find the attractions above very boring and tedious (and tasteless in the case of the Sacher Torte). I was hoping that you would make it to the Naschmarkt (I know I discouraged you from shopping there, but it is still worth a visit), Kahlenberg and a heurigen. Next time! Finally, as you found, language is not a barrier to an enjoyable experience in Vienna as pretty much everyone you will encounter speaks English.

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905 posts

What a great report for what sounds like a great trip! My BF and I did the GAS tour a few years ago, and we had about a day and a half in Vienna. I felt like we barely saw anything, but I also wondered if I could spend an entire week there. I now know that I could. And I really regretted at the time that I had us flying back to the US on the day the tour ended, because I would really have to liked to go to Bratislava for a day. You made it sound very easy, too.

Happy travels in 2015!

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18 posts

Thanks for sharing about your trip. We hope to make it to Vienna & this advice is very useful.

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11294 posts

Thanks for your report. And I really like the story about the tram taking an unexpected route, where you at first thought only you were confused, and then learned that the Viennese were just as perplexed. That happens on the New York subway too; when the train deviates from the usual route, natives can be just as lost as tourists.

I've also made the mistake about doors opening in instead of out. Mine was in Italy, where I spent 15 minutes at a "closed" laundomat before realizing it was indeed open. It's so engrained for us that exit doors always open out (as well they should, in case of fire or other emergency), that it doesn't even occur to us that other countries do things differently.

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14506 posts


Good, interesting report on Vienna. The city really has an "amazing" transportation system, all the more so with the U-Bahn. That State Opera House is indeed something to be awed.

"What is this language???" That Viennese accent and pronunciation in German you heard is distinctly different from what you would hear in , say, Frankfurt, let alone Berlin.

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15580 posts

Thanks for your trip report. I'm planning a return visit to Vienna in June and I've made a few notes for things I missed the first time.

How did you like the Treasury at the Hofburg? I know what you mean about the tour there - I really enjoyed the first 3-4 rooms of china, but by the 37th (or so it seemed), I was getting weary. Then there were all those rooms with silver and more silver, and then the Sisi museum (more than I ever wanted to know about her), and finally to the palace rooms, which looked surprisingly like those I'd seen the day before at the wonderful Schonnbrun.

I was also thinking about seeing the horses, but since your tastes seem to be like mine, I'll probably skip it.

I was planning a day trip to Bratislava. Could you expand on what you did there? What you really liked, what you would have done differently?

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2602 posts

I had been wondering about you and your trip and I'm so happy to hear it all worked out so nicely for you. I had much the same experience on first arrival--came out of the U-bahn station to the glorious sight of the Opera, and knew I only had to walk 2 blocks to the left to find my hotel. I never asked anyone if they spoke English, just started talking and never had a problem, until I got to Budapest, where far fewer people speak English. I also carry a map with me when out and about, makes my happy wanderings much happier and less frustrating. I like the Streetwise brand laminated ones that include a city's metro as well. Your report makes me want to return to Vienna very soon!

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129 posts

Oh wow - I didn't expect many people to read this post.

To the person who asked what I did in Bratislava, the answer is - nothing! Not really. I wandered. I did Rick's little walking tour, but I also wandered off the beaten path. Had coffee and pastry like I did every day. Walked along the river. Stopped in for noon mass at the cathedral.

Emily - nope, I didn't feel like I did anything I "had" to do. Most of the time it was a case of deciding the combo ticket was worth it since I had a week and no plans. I love history, so most museums were fascinating to me. The stallions I didn't know much about but my best friend told me she had been wanting to see them since she was a kid so I thought they were worth checking out. Obviously I found out I wasn't impressed, but I wouldn't have known if I didn't go. Same with the Hofburg. Done it now, wouldn't go back. But I would totally do Schonbrunn again, mostly because the accompanying gardens were so enjoyable and I felt I got more history there than just Sisi's life story. Also my Sacher Torte at Cafe Dommayer on my first day was so good, I decided to try it that last night when I was a block away from Cafe Sacher - not as good! But I knew that before going in that the cake was 'dry' there. Oh well. I've been thinking about trying to make it at home since I enjoyed my first one so much. I would also do the Opera again, I would just put more thought into it and try to see a show I had at least heard of, as well as see if a cheap seat is available instead of the standing room ticket. I had no idea they would try to smash 80 people into a room meant for 25. :)

I tried to get to the Naschmarkt but it was closed on Saturday (and Sunday of course), and I hadn't realized before Saturday that it was as close as it was to where I was usually getting off the tram. A missed opportunity, I suppose, but there are always missed opportunities on every trip. Didn't know anything about kahlenberg until I just googled it. Would have been great! Also wanted to fit in a heuriger but hadn't done a lot of research and probably flying solo is what kept me from really investigating further. I also left out some of my other further wanderings that I didn't think people would care about - took a train to a mall to check out an italian cosmetics store I knew about. Went to a Mozart mass on a holy day. (Actually I went to mass more that week than I do in a month, ahem, maybe even a year.) You can tell a lot of us Catholic travelers would wander into a church and if mass happened to be going on, we'd just sit down and join in, while others quietly turned around and left or just stood in the back for a few minutes. Made me reflect on a religion I really struggle with...

I did some shopping at the local market across from my apartment which seemed to be owned by a Muslim family. I'm not sure if the Turkish candy and sweets I bought there are available all over Europe or if they were imported by this store, but they were so good. Seemed to be a lot of Muslims on my daily route, so I did a lot of thinking about immigration, race, and how it is or isn't different across the continents.

Basically, I had a totally awesome time, and I'd love to go back when the days are longer and warmer (getting dark and cold at 4:30 also just made me want to start moving back to my apt by 8:00 or 9:00 each night) so that I could wander more. And like I said, I did exactly what I wanted because I was on my own. It was my first experience traveling in a country with a different language and it built my confidence so much. It confirmed for me that if I'm planning to stay single the rest of my life, when my boys are grown and have moved away, I can absolutely take on the world on my own. :)

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12172 posts

Thanks for the report. I did an exchange with the German Air Force up by the Danish border. Although I had studied German, and crammed in the months before going, I still experienced saying something in German and getting an English response. After about two weeks I felt it was a major accomplishment when people began responding in German.

Then I got to rural Bavaria and Austria... I had the same thought, are these guys speaking German? I'd describe it as sing-songy. I found myself mentally translating what they said into German so I could understand it.

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14506 posts

Very enlightening report. Traveling alone does have its advantages at times. It's a trade-off with both pros and cons when you're solo in Europe.

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1203 posts

Thanks for a great report. I having been wanting to visit Vienna for a while now, have not gone yet. What is the city and the buildings and the streets like? Is it has beautiful as Paris? Is it similar to any other city you have been to? Is it very clean and easy to get around? Did you see everything you wanted to see and if not, what would you like to see if you revisit Vienna that you did not have time for? What did you do in the evenings after your day out and about besides rest up for the next day of touring? Love to hear your thoughts. Thank you, Ann.

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3843 posts

Thanks for the report. I'm headed to Vienna for the first time in mid March. I honestly can't wait for the trip!

My "pulled when I should have pushed" story: Last summer, a friend and I went to Salzburg -- my first trip to Europe. We arrived at our place for lodging, Gastehaus im Priestseminar Salzburg (which I loved, by the way), to find two enormous, beautiful wooden doors. We walked up the concrete stairs leading to the doors and pulled on their handles, but nothing happened. There was a button to push, which we did, but no one responded. There was a phone number to call, which we did, but no one answered. So, my friend and I sat on the concrete stairs with our carry-on bags, despairing a little and wondering what to do. Two men came down the sidewalk, gave us a funny look, walked up the stairs, pushed one of the doors open, and entered. My friend and I looked at each other and then laughed and laughed and laughed!

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Thanks for the recommendation on City Maps 2Go, too!