Six years ago I fell in love with Vienna. My first visit to this city happened by chance and was unplanned, and therefor I was unprepared at first. Despite this, I was quickly charmed by the streets decorated with neoclassic engravings, by the colorful buildings, by the feeling of the open space even in the most crowded streets, by the magical green areas which are spread around the city and by the complex history – both ancient and modern – that can be seen in every corner.
Everyone seemed so meticulously dressed and elegant, in every age.
In addition, even though I visited Vienna in February, usually the worst season in the northern hemisphere, the air was clean and clear, almost shining. It barely rained at all (which is a reason on it own to fall in love with the city, if you ask me).
Ever since I returned from Vienna, I whine to anyone who might listen to me about how Vienna is beautiful and how much I want to be there again, even permanently. It’s obvious that with my Israeli taste and manners, I would be sticking out like a sore thumb, but for some reason I prefer to be slob in a place where everyone around me is so fashionable, than just being unkempt simply because there is no one who’ll show interest in fashionable clothes here in Israel.
So, after years of expectation the moment finally arrived when I took a vacation from work, said goodbye to my dog, packed myself and my partner and flew with him towards our first adventure together abroad. We started with a few days in Budapest, on which I will write in a separate post, and from there we went straight to Vienna on a direct bus ride. After three hours and a half of driving through dull, dry fields of corn and sunflowers reaching from one horizon to the other, with giant electric wind mills placed randomly between them, we finally reached one of the cleanest, most civilized and stylized cities, Vienna.
We had the great luck of not being ordinary tourists, because we have a group of friends and relatives that couldn’t wait for us to arrive in Vienna, and as soon as we arrived, they did their best to offer us the best vacation possible, guiding us to every interesting place in Vienna, like only a local can.
In our first day in Vienna we went to the inner ring of the city – the ‘Ringstraße’. It’s the most regarded district in Vienna, and it got everything; from the cathedral of Saint Stephan, a beautiful giant Gothic building in which Prince Eugene (who saved Austro-Hungary in one of its wars) is buried, countless shops of every large fashion house, countless galleries and studios, as well as wonderful cafés in every corner. We went in to check on the bakery Damel, an old Viennese institution in which every cake looks like a porcelain statue in every shape and color imaginable. (Highly recommended!)
From there we continued on to Palais Ephrussi, an amazing five-story palace on the ‘Ringstraße’. If you passed it by and seen nothing but a bank and a casino you might have given it little concern, but if you read the great book ‘The Hare with the Amber Eyes’ by Edmund de Waal, you would have stopped and wondered, imagining the scenes from the book, which describe good and enlightened years as well as bad and horrible years, happening right there between those walls.
From there we continued on to the ‘Juden Platz’, the Jewish Plaza, in which a large monument in the memory of the Viennese Jewish community which was killed in the holocaust is built. On first glance the monument seems quite simple – a grey rectangular building in the midst of the various decorated neoclassical buildings. But, when we got closer to the monument we discovered that the monument is designed like a ‘reversed’ library; countless books which are turned so that only the tips of their pages can be seen, and there for their names cannot be read and are lest unknown, in the memory of the ‘people of the book’. For me it was the most beautiful holocaust monument I’ve seen.
It’s fun to explore this part of the city since almost every building is historical and well designed – the construction itself is impressive, the metal fixtures on the balconies and gates are works of art, almost every plaza got its own beautiful statues and monuments (except the one for the victims of the Black Death, which will give you nightmares…), even the local fire station could’ve been easily confused with a museum.
In ‘Michaelerplatz’, Michael’s Plaza, which is located right outside of the Hofburg Palace of the Habsburg royal family, there is a roman-era archaeological excavation in the middleof the street. For me it is always amazing to see both the ancient and the near past merging together in the present, and it seems the three are coexisting in peace.
From there we went to visit the Vienna City Hall and the beautiful Austrian Parliament Building.
We went pass the charming park and reached the stylish Museum Quarter, the ‘Museumsquartier’, which includes more than six prominent museums, including the museum of modern art and architecture as well as several nice cafés. One of said cafés is a café/bar/restaurant called Halle which is located in the center of the district and is highly recommended – in the night it is stylish and well regarded, and in the early afternoon it as in its outer area comfortable sponge arm chairs, perfect for a rest before continuing on the tiring journey.
Only in Vienna you will hear that the huge Museum Quarter was built on the Habsburg family’s royal stables. As a Tel Avivi living on Florentin Street, this king of space makes more sense as several blocks of building rather than a single royal stable. On the other hand, this is where Mary Antoinette was born and raised, so it is no wonder that she reached Paris with such humble and grounded world view…
Between the Museum Quarter and the Hofburg Palace are two more museums – the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art History, and between them an impressive statue of Empress Maria Theresa, who during our two week abroad became our best friend. No matter where we arrived in Budapest, Bratislava or Vienna, she left her mark. It seems that in between sixteen pregnancies she managed to become a powerful and successful ruler, who took care of her subject as well, and not only the (amazing!) royal treasury. She even made sure that everyone will have available education in her empire, and not only the nobility.
We arrived in the city at the heights of the short summer it had this year, and the weather was sunny and clear all day every day, so the visit to the Butterfly House outside the palace felt almost natural. Although it’s hot in there like in a sauna, the wild beauty of the butterflies is as romantic as it gets. Combined with the amount of alcohol and deserts that were the main part of our diet and the weight we lost thanks to our wonderings through the city, and it is easy to see how happy we were in Vienna.
I was especially proud of my ability to navigate through the amazing Art Nouveau buildings by memory alone to the ‘Naschmarkt’, the ‘Snack Market’, for the lacking of a better term, in which you could find food stands and restaurants of any kind; meats, fish, sea food, cafés, bakeries, fruits and vegetables and even chocolate heeled shoes. Even if you happened to come satiated, I promise you that your appetite would grow again.
Afterwards we returned to the apartment tired and happy and ready for more adventures in the other parts of the city, on which I will write in another post.