On Easter Monday I left Budapest and hopped on a bus to Vienna via Nepliget bus terminal - about 15 minutes from Budapest city centre. It was a comfortable journey, much more comfy than the low-cost carrier seats I'm so used to. There was even free wifi onboard the bus (took the opportunity to whatsapp update people), and a toilet as well! I needn't have dehydrated myself that much. (Nothing terrifies me quite like having a full bladder and no where to empty it, especially on a bus. That's why I tended to avoid drinking too much water and salt-laden food like sausages.) By the time I got to Vienna my skin was all dry and cracking (thankfully it didn't itch too bad).
My hostel wasn't exactly smack in the city centre, so I decided to get around using public transport, and I'd been walking something like 10km worth of distance in Budapest. A 48-hour pass was €10 and was valid for all trains, trams and buses (except the circle tram that went around the main sights of Vienna).
I got around the trains alright to the hostel after getting slightly lost at first because I got out of the wrong entrance and went around a roundabout way - the hostel was something like 50m away from Keplerplatz station. The U-Bahn is Vienna's train line, and it was nice to be able to just hop on a train instead of walking everywhere.
The platforms - very reminiscent of the Tube and the ticketing areas felt like an MRT station in Singapore.
Vienna is of course known for its music and concerts - there are many concert halls and theatres dotted around the city centre each showcasing a different opera, ballet or concert in the evenings. Prior research I found that the main concert hall - the Vienna State Opera or Staatsoper had a ballet and an opera on the nights I was there. Seats cost about anything from €8 to €150. But then I discovered something interesting - this thing called standing room tickets, available at the Staatsoper. You basically stand throughout the show in allocated standing-room areas. There are three such areas - the parterre (€4) on the ground level, the gallerie (€3), and the balcony (€3), which are a few floors up.
The parterre is the most popular spot, being level with the stage and just mere meters away from the back row of seats, which people would have paid like a hundred euros for. Standing-room tickets go on sale 80 minutes before the show starts but people can stat queueing up to 3 hours before - to get a parterre ticket. Because I got lost and only checked in the hostel at around 7pm (and the ballet that night started at 8pm) by the time I reached the opera house there were only ten minutes before the start.
I didn't think there would still be tickets left, I still managed to get a 3 balcony (or was it gallerie) ticket, ran up 3 flights of stairs and found a spot on the railings to lean on, literally minutes before the ballet started. Apparently because about 600 standing room tickets are on sale, the balcony and gallery seats unlikely to ever be sold out.
I even had a few minutes to take a few photos of the interior of the opera house. It looked just as fine as the Hungarian State Opera, but with better seats (not that I had one). There is just something magical about it all - the boxes, the lights, the sight of so many people dressed up and sitting so properly on the expensive seats down below. Concerts are a dress-up occasion for the locals, but many tourists just show up in jeans and it's fine. Which is just as well; tourists usually just go for the standing-room tickets where no one cares what you wear.
I actually changed into a pair of proper pants though.
The view wasn't that bad at all. Sure, we were right at the sides and thus missed some scenes, but on the whole I got quite a good 80% of everything. The only thing was that I was on the left side and was able to see the second violins and brass, but not the first violins, so I wasn't able to see the soloist when he played. I made sure to get a spot on the other side the next night.
Not having read up on Anna Karena before, I didn't really know what it was all about, but was still able to admire the gracefulness of the dancers and ballet itself as an art. Dance is just something I'm not good at - much like how some people are tone-deaf, I am just not cut out for dance. But I could still appreciate the amount of skill displayed - as someone with music background I know what it's like to have to practice something over and over again to get it right. The performers were elegant, fluid, graceful, and incredibly lean yet strong - I couldn't take my eyes off them. Standing for a couple hours was nothing - I'd done much longer in operating theatres with no cushioned railings to lean on (and with the surly ODP watching that I don't lean over the sterile zone).
Picture taken at the interval. I also met two Malaysian students that night! They were studying in Warwick on Easter break, and had just come from Budapest and were headed to Salzburg next, exactly like I was. They were very friendly, and helped me plan out what to do for my full day in Vienna the next day. I found out that one of them was the cousin of one of the Nottingham medic seniors - such a small world.
The next day I set off for Naschmarket - a popular street market off Linke Wienzeile, 10 minutes from Karlsplatz station. I've said it before but I do love visiting markets during travels - I love the colours and smells (even the fishy ones), and a good dose of insight into the food culture in a foreign land.
Austria, though often twinned with Hungary (and subsequently regarded as the 'wealthier' half), has much of its culture stemming from German influences - especially in language and food. Wursts, sauerkraut and German breads were omnipresent, but there were loads more things too.
The market started with Nordsee, a German fast food chain specializing in seafood - raw, smoked, cooked - they had it.
Around it were fishmongers selling all sorts of fresh seafood. It definitely smelt fishy, but the wet-market appearance really reminded me of the third mile market at home, with its flies, slippery floors and apparent disregard for the mollycoddling western world's 'health and safety regulations'.
Wakame, oysters, scallops - there is so much want in here.
White asparagus (or spargel) was just in season, and could be easily seen in markets and supermarkets all around Austria. I'd not seen it in the UK before, and only read about it in my Masterchef cookbook.
I'm not sure if it was because Naschmarkt was right in the city centre, or because it was a bit of a tourist attraction - but things in Austria were generally pricey. In the UK you can still get certain foodstuffs like iceberg lettuce or a single grapefruit for under a pound, but there hardly seemed to be anything under one euro, whether it was in markets like these or in their supermaket chains. I know the euro is slightly weaker than the pound (it was £1 to €1.20 when I was there) but even after taking that into consideration, food and especially clothes just felt more expensive than in the UK.
A full rack of ribs - something you can't find in UK supermarkets. They like to chop them up into individual ribs here for some reason.
I would've loved to bring some nuts and dried snacks back, but had luggage concerns to worry about.
Barrels of vinegar.
Sauerkraut sold in the barrels it was fermented in. The process of pickling cabbage is a long one - usually taking weeks or even months. It has been compared to Korean kimchi or Chinese kiam chai, due to the cabbage and vinegar. It's great eaten with a huge wurst and a good dollop of mustard on the side. I actually really like sauerkraut, it's just incredibly hard to find in the standard UK supermarket.
Some 'exotic' fruits from the east - jackfruit, coconuts, dragonfruit, papaya.
Pots and pots of fresh herbs - all kinds you can think of. When I get my own kitchen I want a herb garden. :) There will be basil, coriander, mint, and thyme at the very least (parsley is meh). Herbs are amazing, it can really make the difference in a dish. But the problem with herbs is if you don't grow them, you're forced to buy a big bunch when you only need a few leaves.
Tons of tea.
Physalis - now I know what it's called. I always see it on Masterchef as an ornament to accompany the food, but can never remember what it's called.
There's quite a prominent middle eastern/north African community in Austria, which surprised me a little, but that's globalization for you. There were many stalls selling dips and dates, baklava and of course kebabs (or kebap as how it is written there).
A vast array of sweets - all with names I'd never heard of, but did they look tempting.
Every other stall had falafels for sale for about 30-50 cents each, but usually sold in tens or more. My first experience with falafels was while working in a kebab shop in Perth in 2010, but I don't recall ever actually trying one. The chickpea balls are commonly used as fillers in vegetarian kebabs.
But what was even more surprising was the Asian community in Vienna. Not including the tourists (there were so many asian tourists while I was there, much more than Budapest), there must be quite a sizable number of asians in Vienna because I did see quite a few Oriental marts, especially in and around the Naschmarket area, and quite a few Chinese rice/noodle takeaway places manned by German-speaking asians.
This asian supermarket was in Naschmarket itself - selling the usual asian food and commodities.
On the street parallel there was yet another three or so asian markets. Really puts Nottingham to shame.
I also found a Japanese restaurant that displayed its menu in Japanese and German/English.
Walked back to the city centre via Kartner Stausse, taking in the sights along the way. I loved the buildings - Viennese architecture is a mix of Baroque/Romanesque and modern.
Vienna was a lot more busy and bustling compared to the Budapest I experienced. There were hoards of tourists. It was also a good place to shop if you were there for that purpose - there were plenty of fashion stores including big names like H&M, Zara and LV (which was full of asian tourists - typical XD).
Cycling seems to be a common mode of transportation in Europe - and I thought the Brits cycled a lot. Back home you'd be mad to consider cycling anywhere at all. Bike lanes? What bike lanes?
Austrians pedestrians are also very law-abiding when it comes to traffic - stop is stop, even when there's not a single car in sight on a single, 5m road. I did my fair share of jaywalking in both Vienna and Salzburg. :P
The edge of one of the buildings of the Ringstrausse.
Notice the suspended traffic lights. The Staatsoper is on the left.
Mozart, oh Mozart. The famous classical composer was born in Salzburg and advanced his career in Vienna, but nowadays his face is just used to sell touristy souvenirs to visitors to the country - the most common item being the Mozartkugel or Mozart balls - round chocolates with nougat and praline filling. Quite tasting, very expensive, and available just about everywhere in Austria.
Along the main street there were already a dozen of these sort of shops, all selling the same Mozart paraphernalia. There were three times more in Salzburg.
The magnificent St Stephan's cathedral, location right in the heart of the city, outside Stephanzplatz station.
There was a fee for tours but it was free to go inside the front part of the church. The interior was just amazingly beautiful.
I like to pop in and out of supermarkets just to look at stuff the average local would buy, and compare prices. Aldi, Lidl and Spar are the main supermarket chains (sort of like the UK's Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury's but more awesome) but I noticed there were lots of smaller, independent, more upmarket grocery stores in the city like this one.
It even had this side escalator for your trolley.
Aldi is called Hofer, and looks just about the same as the ones in the UK. The sinful snacks as you walk in, then bread, then veges, then meat on the other corner. And everything seems to move one way in a straight line.
I seem to notice the most mundane of things.
Spot: St Stephan's cathedral, a gaggle of asian tourists, Zara.
The Holy Trinity statue on Grabenstrausse which is perpendicular to St Stephan's Cathedral - also the landmark for finding this little eatery recommended by the Malaysians I'd met the night before.
A biesl is a tavern or pub. Reinthaler's Biesl was just off Grabenstrausse and at first look, seemed like a quiet, cosy little eatery with a handwritten menu in German. All the people dining there seemed to be locals. As I was alone, I got seated at a large table shared with a man who was just finishing off his food. A woman joined the table a bit later. She spoke a little english, so I tried making conversation. She'd been coming here for two years now and loved the food.
I ordered the Wiener schnitzel - indeed, as Austria's signature dish, I had to give it a go. The Wiener schnitzel is essentially a made of pork or veal (this one was pork), which is pounded to flatten it, then breaded and deep fried. It usually comes with a side of fries, but this one came with a salad - and quite a tasty one at that. I didn't mind the lack of tubers at all. The schnitzel itself was juicy, crunchy and went very well with a squeeze of lemon, though I did long for some tartare sauce to go with it, but reminded myself this wasn't fish and chips. At €9.40 it was my most expensive meal out of the whole trip, but also the only meal I had in a proper restaurant.
(I got home craving for schnitzel, so I actually bought a pork chop and cooked it last night. I usually try to avoid deep-frying because it's messy and uses a lot of oil, but I tried it anyway - and it was so, so good. Forgot to take a picture unfortuntely.)
After lunch I made my way round to the part of the Ringstrausse where all the museums amd buildings were huddled together.
This was the Museum für Völkerkunde (Museum of Ethnology) if I'm not mistaken. Next to it was a large greenhouse with a butterfly museum in it.
Back to back to the Museum of Ethonology was the Hofburg, the Imperial Palace, made up of many sections and museums, but I wasn't too intrigued by it.
On the way to the Museums Quarter - The Naturhistorices Museum, on the right.
And on the left, Kuncshistorices Museum. Both very interesting museums in their own right I'm sure, but I didn't go into any museums.
The Museums Quarter is a collection of museums and cafes opposite the Hofburg.
It was a nice sunny day, lots of people tanning out on the geometrical seats, but there was a chilly wind.
The Museum Quarter also houses the MUMOK, a modern art museum which I had half a mind to go into, but decided against it in the end.
Took the U-Bahn to Reumannplatz for a good dose of ice-cream at Tichy, a pretty famous ice cream parlour right outside the station. It was swamped with people, but somehow I managed to order a standard double scoop (€1.90) (it was hugee) from the lady who spoke no English. I got chocolate and hazelnut, the best possible combination of ice cream flavours in my book.
I thought I'd walk around the area, only to find myself back at the hostel. Reumanplatz is just a stop away from Keplerplatz so I guess I must have been going in that direction. The area is relatively central but much less touristy. I enjoyed just walking around the mall-ish area, looking at random sundry shops and bakeries with the most awesome breads and pastries. (I also found a €1.99 kebab shop to my delight - it was my brunch for the next day.)
Back to more sights. I wanted to see Schloss Schonbrunn, said to be one of the best attractions in Vienna. I took the opposite turn after the train station, but ended up finding a nice little park where lots of families and kids were enjoying a day out in the sun.
Schoss Schonbrunn is a former imperial residence a bit further off the town centre, near the Westbanhof. The palace is just a small part of it - a large chunk of the residence is made up of the gardens - a darn big one at that.
The Gloriette structure and the path leading up to it - the Great Parterre, which is lined by 32 sculptures representing dieties.
I didn't make the trek up to see the Gloriette, it felt too far away. It looked like a kilometer away, seriously. The gardens were beautiful though. Perfect for just a leisurely stroll with your nearest and dearest.
The palace itself - which was closed by the time I got there, but I wasn't intending to go in anyway, being content with just wandering round the outside and going in as far as the reception area. I don't know why I was so dead against paying to go into museums then. Maybe I should have gone into at least one.
Back to the Staatsoper for another performance - this time it was an opera, L'Elixir D'amore, which was in Italian but there were small pop-up screens that had English subtitles so I actually understood what was going on. It was the first opera I'd been too, and I honestly didn't think I would enjoy it that much, but I did. The singing and acting as wonderful, but props go to the....props. Haha. The props were intricate and perfectly detailed and added much atmosphere unto the stage. It was a wonderful experience.
Ballet and opera...two firsts that I didn't know what to expect - and ended up loving both.
Got the standing room ticket again, but this time I was a bit earlier so I could do the scarf ritual thing.
In a nutshell you're supposed to reserve your spot by hanging a scarf on the railing - though some people just draped a programme over it.
My 'scarf' - which was actually just a sash from a pair of shorts. I managed to get a pretty good view of the stage, orchestra and subtitles by sitting on the railings. I made sure I was on the right side of the hall this time, so I could see the first violins properly. I do miss playing in an orchestra.
The next day I only had a morning in Vienna before leaving for Salzburg in the afternoon. I just realized I hadn't had a sachertorte yet, so decided to try one out at Aida, a bakery chain. At €2.90 it was one of the cheapest around - most sachertorte in town were around €4.
Unfortunately the cake was really dry, and the glazing much too sweet. I'd thought sachertorte was supposed to be very moist, like a carrot cake, due to the use of almond flour, but this wasn't the case. Also it had a layer of some fruit jam (traditionally apricot). I like my chocolate without fruit in it so...it wasn't exactly something I'd rave on about. But this could be a case of you get what you pay for, maybe I'd think differently if I'd tried the original sachertorte at the Hotel Sacher in town. Still, I do want to try making this at home - I've already looked up the recipes. :D
Next stop: the amazing Salzburg.