Sunday 26 June 2016

Coffee, Cake and Currywurst, Thanks Vienna

Austria, 17th – 19th June 2016

The Schönbrunn Palace, summer residence of the Habsburgs

The key word when it comes to describing Vienna: grand.  It seems that all of the major historical landmarks have been designed to make a statement, with gold plated domes atop museums and shining halos on the fountain statues.  Vienna (or Wien as the Austrians know it) was home to the Habsburgs, the family that ruled Austria as well as an empire spanning multiple countries, and so it is only fitting that the city is one that leaves an impression.  History aside, it has a culture that has embraced the idea of coffee and cake, with numerous cafés all over the town offering a large selection of sweet treats.  Two famous establishments spent nine years bickering over who was the first to create one well-known cake, the Sachertorte.  Any place that takes chocolate cake that seriously is a place that sits well with me.

We left our spot at Kritzendorf early in the morning so as to get as much time in exploring Vienna as possible.  Proceeding onto the motorways around the city, we entered a road system which appeared to be designed as a test of nerves, willpower and reflexes in an endless series of converging and diverging roads with roadworks changing the usual lane layout.  There are numerous times I consider myself lucky not to be behind the driver’s seat, and Vienna was one of them – poor Matt.  Somehow we managed to get going in the right direction by taking a large amount of left turns, taking us across the Danube and back before we arrived at the Stellplatz at the other side of the city.

Vienna Practicalities:  Reisemobil-Stellplatz Wien (GPS: 48.13594 16.31590, €19/night inc. Serv. pt., €2 Electric, WiFi extra) is in an industrial area but on grass pitches and is about 150m from a U-Bahn (metro) line so has great links to get into the city centre.  The staff speak good English and provide you with a wealth of tourist information leaflets about Vienna and a city map.  The showers and bathrooms are clean, the site feels secure, and for €5 you can extend to a late check-out time of 5pm, making it a great base for exploring the city.  U-Bahn tickets are €2.20/single or €7.60/24hr, both of which are to be validated at a machine before entering the train platform, and the ticket is also valid for buses and trams.

The 4-bay service point at Reisemobil-Stellplatz Wien, a first that we've seen
Two rainbows in the evening over Reisemobil-Stellplatz Wien

We’d read that a good way to get acquainted with the city was to take a tram around the inner ring road—Ringstrasse—from which you can see a lot of the important monuments.  This turned out not to work out so well for us; we got off the metro at the tram stop knowing that both the number 1 and 2 tram followed the ring road, and then proceeded to take the number 2, but in the wrong direction.  I found myself thinking that from first impressions, Vienna wasn’t all that impressive.  It turns out we’d ended up leaving the ring road and were travelling away from the centre.  After our tram failure, we got off near a metro station and doubled back on ourselves, this time with plans to instead see the food market.

After wandering the long stretch of stalls offering olives, hummus, kebabs and falafel (the latter seems to be a very popular street food in Vienna) we found our way back near the centre, this time opting to use our feet rather than attempt the tram.  In the centre there are the usual high-end designer shops which are of no interest to us, but there is also the cathedral, with the Austrian and Vienna coats of arms decorating its tiled roof, and St. Peter’s Church, the interior of which is possibly one of the prettiest churches I’ve seen.

St. Peter's Church, Exterior and Interior
St. Stephen's Cathedral
The Hofburg Palace, Seat of the Habsburgs
Tiled roof decoration of St. Stephen's Cathedral
Lunch was a round of currywurst (sausage with a spicy curry-flavoured topping), and after that we had an important mission: Viennese cake.  Sacher Café and Demel may have a fierce rivalry regarding the Sachertorte, but we’d also heard that chain café Aida has perfectly good cake and was cheaper too.  We got seated at an outside table at the branch closest to the cathedral to sample an apfelstrudel and a Sachertorte.  The Sachertorte is a chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam and covered in a dark chocolate icing, and after sampling it Matt has now requested its addition to the baking roster when we return to the UK.

Coffee and cake at Aida - delicious
Currywurst - also delicious

A visit to Vienna wouldn’t be complete without going to see the Schönbrunn Palace, the 18th century Baroque palace that was built during the reign of Maria Theresa, who ruled for 40 years and had sixteen children – that’s one busy lady!  We decided to go inside on the Grand Tour, which at €16.40 comes with audio guides.  It covers 40 rooms of the palace (a cheaper 25 room tour is also available), and shows how the tastes of the family changed over the centuries, with many rooms being in Baroque/Rococo style but a few oddities like one room being decorated with rice paper and another filled with endless porcelain.  It’s an interesting building but was very busy with large tour groups, which made it difficult to fully appreciate the place and took away from the experience somewhat.  In hindsight I don’t know whether I’d have paid to see inside, at least not during a summer weekend, but I imagine it might be better on a weekday outside of the June - August period.

Even if you don’t go inside, it’s worth taking a visit to the Schönbrunn just to see the gardens.  There are some sections which you have to pay to enter, such as a maze and a zoo, but there are enough free areas to spend at least an hour exploring.  It’s a vast area with lots of different themed gardens, and if you climb the hill there are great views down over the palace and the city.  We only visited the free sections but I still loved it.

Not every bit of architecture in the city is Baroque: 10 minutes from the Landstrasse metro station you can find a very interesting piece of 80s work in the Hundertwasserhaus and neighbouring Hundertwasser Village.  Designed in a joint venture between artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser and architect Joseph Krawina, the buildings look like something Gaudí would have designed for Park Guell in Barcelona, with lots of bright patches of colour and uneven lines, unusual columns, and a theme of harmony with nature.  A street away is the Kunst Haus Wien which is another Hundertwasser design, and all are worth seeing as the work is so different to anything you’d find in the city centre.

Hundertwasser Haus
Hundertwasser Village Interior
Kunst Haus Wien

We did make it around the Ringstrasse on our second day by foot, and found that the city was filled with things going on.  We stumbled across a Christian parade, where thousands of people marched past celebrating their love for Jesus, and within the hour accidentally got lost in a huge Gay Pride event.  After getting going in the right direction, we discovered that the Christian parade group Marsch fuer Jesus were setting up for a religious music festival less than a ten minute walk away.  Oh, and right between the two was the outdoor screening event for fans of the Euro 2016.  I’d be very curious to know how the three groups got along when they’d got a few drinks in their system.

After two days of exploring we checked out just before the extended 5pm checkout time, and moved back to the free train station stellplatz at Kritzendorf.  It was a 40 minute journey across more eventful motorways, but the savings we made by not staying at the Wien stellplatz for another night had already been invested into a more important endeavour: buying take-away pieces of Demel and Aida Sachertortes for taste comparisons.

The next day was our last day of mobile internet, and as we were about to leave Austria for the Czech Republic where we can’t make use of Three’s Feel at Home scheme there was no point in renewing it.  As such we had an easy laid-back day and took care of various online admin tasks.  We researched the Czech Republic, as it isn’t a country we have guidebooks for nor is there a large database of stopover points on our usual website databases or in Camperstop.  We moved to the town of Wilfersdorf, which is halfway to the border and has a motorhome parking area (GPS: 48.58597 16.64535, €4 inc. electric) in the parking area for Leichtenstein Schloss (castle), the ancestral home of the Liechtenstein family.  The castle was closed as it was a Sunday evening as we arrived so we didn’t explore the place, but there was a postbox by the entrance where you can pay for the Stellplatz by putting the money in a provided envelope; I’m sure that’s the poshest building we’ll ever send a letter to.

We’ve managed to make some time on our tour to visit the Czech Republic, but as we plan to return to the UK in July we only have a couple of weeks left and then sadly it’s time to start making our way home.  How the time flies!


P.S. The verdict on Demel vs. Aida Sachertorte: they both have slightly different flavours, but Aida just has the edge.  We can’t comment on Café Sacher, but we’ve read it tastes much the same as the Demel version but with a higher pricetag.

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