Like the large cities of Germany, taxis in Vienna are usually Benzes, Audis or BMWs, and the taxi ride to our hotel in the Inner Rings shows the orderliness of the city. In some sense it reminds me of Hamburg, only more crowded and more lively. With Meidling being located a distance away from the Innere Stadt, the taxi fare ain’t cheap but with a Mercedes Taxi, it was a comfortable trip! For my stay in Vienna I chose to book with InterContinental for their pretty reasonable rates for 3 persons. Located just opposite the Stadtpark U-Bahn, it offers convenient access to the Schönbrunn Palace which I had planned to visit tomorrow. For concert fans, the hotel is also located beside the Wiener Konzerthaus. Another reason for booking this hotel is because I got the InterContinental Ambassador program which gives me a complimentary room upgrade as well as guaranteed late check out at 4pm. Since I would be taking the late overnight train the next day, I figured it would be nice to have late check out.
Perhaps because of this ‘status’, upon check-in, I had to wait for them to prepare a corner studio suite which they hadn’t had the chance to clear and check. We got complimentary drinks at the lobby lounge which was a nice gesture from the hotel. It took about 20 minutes for them to prepare the room, but when we reached, the extra bed wasn’t yet inside though a box of chocolates and some fruits were prepared, apparently for ‘Ambassador’ members. Though I have to say I was expecting more than that since most hotels provide this amenity anyway. The chocolates was a nice pairing with fresh strawberries which we got earlier on in the train station, and naturally it was finished immediately. Our corner suite also provides excellent views of the Konzerthaus though guests ought to be warned that rooms facing the Konzerthaus can get pretty noisy at night as there is a bar just between the hotel and the Konzerthaus.
After having our late afternoon tea of strawberries and chocolates, we went to enquire with the concierge on where to head for some shopping. Turns out that the best place to head for shopping would be in Kärntner Straße which is about a nice 5 minute walk from the hotel. With the setting sun and pleasant summer weather, we were headed there immediately. One of the stops we made was at the Stadtpark which is just opposite the hotel. The park is actually bisected by a canal and a U-Bahn line, though it is quite pleasant to walk across in the evening and night. From the Stadtpark, one needs to just walk along Johannesgasse to reach Kärntner Straße.
Using Johannesgasse to reach the shopping street means one would reach the shopping area in where it is most crowded. There is a Swarovski boutique on the right and the Heindl Confectionery Store, the same one which supplied the chocolates to our hotel. Needless to say, since we found the chocolates to be nice, we got some to bring back! The reason why Kärntner Straße became a very famous shopping street is perhaps the street is off-limits to traffic and connects Stephansplatz with the Staatsoper, both of which are 2 distinctive landmarks of Vienna. We headed towards the Vienna State Opera first passing by some of the grand hotels of Vienna, the Hotel Astoria, Hotel Sacher and Hotel Bristol. The latter 2 hotels are located just beside the Staatsoper which explains their stature as one of the best hotels in the city. For those keen on gaming, several casinos are located along this street as well.
I would have to say that the best reason to visit Kärntner Straße, though, is to soak in the magnificent architecture of the buildings. From the grand hotels to the classical lines of the state opera, the buildings show the grandeur and opulence of Vienna as the capital of the Austrian empire. The rich details and colour is truly magnificent under the setting sun! Behind the Hotel Sacher, visitors can find a tourist information counter and there are also snack vendors selling sausages which was great since we had a light lunch. In fact the German language is used in Vienna and naturally they share the same cuisine. At Albertinaplatz beside the Hotel Sacher, there are also horse carriages for hire which will bring visitors to Stephansplatz. However as we were planning to have dinner, we continued browsing the shops until closing time at around 7pm. As I was with my parents on this trip, dinner was settled at this Chinese restaurant called Lucky Chinese. With the nice weather, we chose to sit al-fresco on the outdoor terrace facing the Providentiabrunnen. The food we ordered was relatively good for Chinese food in Europe. There was braised oxtail, sauteed scallops with broccoli, and crispy fried chicken with sesame and orange jus. The first 2 dishes was good, though the fried chicken is not in the least crispy and was too dry for my liking. While it was a Chinese restaurant, they do serve set meals for one person and thus it would be a nice place for a quiet meal since it is located in a small lane beside Kärntner Straße.
While at the restaurant I also managed to get tips on where to go for Apfelstrudel, a specialty of Vienna as well as how to get groceries after our dinner since we were keen to get some fruits and mineral water. Thus, after dinner we took a short walk to Stephansplatz, to see Stephansdom or St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop in the city. One interesting design of the cathedral was its mosaic roof which creates a distinctive feature, and the church’s main tower bears a close resemblance to that of St. Nikolai in Hamburg. There was however some renovation works going on and thus they had a replica canvas covering the cathedral. It was great for them to actually try as much to preserve the original look so as not to disappoint tourists who come to see this sight.
Besides the church, Stephansplatz is still a hive of activity even with most of the shops being closed. The eateries and fast food areas are still open though and one of the recommended pastry shops for apfelstrudel, Cafe Aida is located in a corner facing Stephansplatz. Frequent outdoor performances are also held at Stephansplatz, including a brekdance performance we got to see when we were there. It is also a convenient point to take the U-Bahn, and we boarded the subway from Stephansplatz to head towards Praterstern. Praterstern is a major public transport hub with links to the regional train network as well as interchanges to the tram and bus system. There is also a large supermarket for locals to get their groceries from after work. One reason for visitors to come here would also be for the Wiener Prater or Vienna Fairgrounds where the amusement park run rides that last till night time as well as the world’s oldest existing ferris wheel or the Riesenrad (Giant Ferris Wheel). While not as large as the Singapore Flyer or as famous as the London Eye, the Riesenrad is still worth a ride for its sunset views of the fairgrounds as well as the aerial view of Vienna. Besides, the entrance for the ferris wheel ride also provides a small miniature interactive exhibition of major timeline events in Vienna. The ride itself was relatively short at around 30 minutes, afterwhich, we headed back via tram, stopping in the other end of Stadtpark and walking across the park to reach our hotel.