First visits: Vienna, Austria

I want to do a bit of a profile of some places that I have visited, but because I am pretty sure I will visit most – if not all – of them again at some point, I’m going to call this ‘series’ (woah getting a bit of professional over here) “First visits” cause I’m so creative with naming things. So here is the first of the first visits. How apt!

Where?
Vienna, Austria, Central Europe

When?
April 2014

Language?
Deutsch (German)

Currency?
Euro

First Impressions
I was pretty shattered when I first entered into the grandest city I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Over 30 hours of travelling by coach from the North of England to the capital of Austria unsurprisingly takes it out of you slightly. My first impression was pretty much a delirious relief that we had finally got to our hotel, but that really doesn’t say much about the city itself at all.

As I was on an orchestral trip it was a while until I finally got to get my first impressions of the city in place because I didn’t see it properly for a fair bit, but I knew it was posh. When it comes down to it, for me, Vienna felt pompous, extravagant and as if it was showing off everything it had all at once; but I think that might be why it is so cool. At first it seemed like another wealth-ridden European city that clung onto its history of imperialism so tightly it felt like we hadn’t left the 1800s at times, which, don’t get me wrong, I personally think can be the makings of a very interesting city… But I wanted it to show me more. Yes, it had its breathtaking buildings that seemed to get more and more impressive with every footstep. Yes, it had its rich history of a fallen empire and monarchs that put my British-centric historical knowledge to shame. But where was the substance? Where were the people that make a city? Why was everything so gosh darn fancy?

But that is where I was mistaken. The charm of Vienna is the very fact that it is so unapologetically ‘out there’. It says ‘look at me, I’m stunning in every way’ and you have the joy of stepping into this whole new world. You can step into a world were you belong in this upper-class dream of classical composers and outrageous perfection; and as a violinist in the city of music, I was totally digging that fantasy.

What does it have to offer?
Vienna is fantastic if you like art, history and music. It is so rich in culture that you have to take a moment to step back at times and think… People live here; people study here; people work here. I was lucky enough to visit as a music student and got a guided tour round the Vienna Philharmonic Hall, which was a little surreal. We also went to this funky interactive museum called the Haus der Musik, which was pretty much what it sounds like (haha, sounds like, witty). I definitely recommend it there, especially to young budding musicians.

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We spent one afternoon in the city centre, having a wander around and taking in each impressive structure. Places that really stood out were Belvedere Palace, mainly due to its phenomenal gardens that seemed to go on for miles, the massive National Library that curved round to make sure you could see it in all its grandeur, the symbolic Kunsthistorisches and Naturhistorisches Museums that stand identical, facing one another to show how both the arts and the sciences are viewed as equals and of course, the Gothic centrepiece of St Stephen’s Cathedral.

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My favourite place had to be on our final day. Nowhere gets more grand, more stunning and more perfect then Schönbrunn Palace. I was blown away from the moment I saw it. But the real beauty lies inside. Every room was decorated with a ridiculous amount of detail, only exaggerated by the ceilings where the most moving frescos I’ve ever seen drag your head up and your mouth down. Each room told a story about the families that had lived there; the mother of Marie Antoinette,  Empress Maria Theresa; the place where a young Mozart performed as a child; the tragic tales of Empress Sisi and her struggles with perfection in a home that displayed so much. If you have a chance, go. You won’t regret it (and get an audio tour).

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Outside of Vienna
We went to a fair few places outside of the capital whilst we were there, which I think should not be forgotten.

Eisenstadt
Schloss Esterházy: We got an amazing tour of this palace, which included the  Haydnsaal; one of the most acoustically perfect concert halls in the world named after the composer Joseph Haydn who work very closely with the Esterházy family. We also went into the much more modern exhibition that included some really cool instruments, some brightly coloured Roy Lichtenstein carpet and some amazing artefacts.

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Neusiedl am See
– Lake Neusiedl: Europe’s second largest steppe lake, you can literally walk over to Hungary through it when it dries up. It was lovely and peaceful round there (well, until we came along…)
– Mönchof: We visited the local museum here called the Dorfmuseum. At first we were all impressed by how cute and quaint the collection was, then we walked a bit further to find a whole purpose built village to give you an insight into the daily life of Austrians in the 19th to early 20th centuries. It was fantastic.
– Schloss Halbturn: A gorgeous baroque palace complex, with some beautiful gardens.

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What to eat?
Sachertorte, Schnitzel, Leberkässemmel. Especially the Leberkässemmel.

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What I would do if I went back?
Just walk around the city in the evening. We didn’t really get to do that as it was an organised orchestra trip. I think I would spend some more time absorbing the city for what it really is, because I know it is not just a posh city, but I want to see that in action a bit more. I want to people watch at the famous coffee shops, I want to check out the nightlife and I want to chill out for a few hours in the parks. I could imagine being a student in Vienna because of that taste of serenity I got whilst I was briefly there – it felt safe, it felt open and it felt relaxed. Considering it is such a high brow city, the very fact it has this vibe of ‘a place to chill’ interests me. I’m such a hippie, right? The trip I went was very music and culture based so it was not surprising that my first impression of Vienna was how it turned out to be – and due to that I want to go back again and uncover some of its secrets. No more face value Vienna, next time we are getting personal.

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