Vienna is famous for music and culture, and I do think having a small meal at the city’s numerous kaffehaus is a great way to experience the city. Thus we decided to have our breakfast at Cafe Gerstner. We ordered 2 cups of coffee, one apfelstrudel or commonly known as apple strudel, and one chocolate cake. The coffee was great as with most coffee I have ever gotten in Europe so far. The apple strudel, though has the option of adding vanilla cream which costs additional. Having said that, I ordered it in the full set with the vanilla bean. However having gotten used to the crispy fluffy pastry style, the apfelstrudel served was far too sweet and the vanilla cream was too heavy to go along with the sweet strudel. In the end, much of the vanilla cream was left unused. After breakfast, we headed to Stephansplatz to take the subway once again towards Karlsplatz and interchanging at that station to head towards Schönbrunn. From the U-Bahn station, it is pretty easy to follow the crowds alighting and making their way towards the palace main entrance which is perhaps less than 5 minute worth of walking distance.
The main gate of the palace has two columns decorated with an eagle on the top. The eagle was the symbol of the ruling House of Habsburg. There was a vast courtyard between the main entrance and the main palace building which was probably to reflect on the wide panorama of the palace building. While the palace grounds of the Schönbrunn was much larger compared to Charlottenburg, I found the central building of the Charlottenburg to be much more impressive. The beauty of the Schönbrunn though lies within the palaces and its ability to cater extensively to visitors of all ages. Notably, there were audio guides in a variety of languages including Chinese which allowed my Dad and Mum to fully experience this palace unlike Charlottenburg. What amazes visitors to the palace would be how the apartments and individual chambers of the palace are richly decorated with many of the original furniture still occupying their rightful place. The splendour and ornate furnishings will definitely ‘wow’ visitors. Photography was sadly not allowed within the palace, though souvenir stores at the end of the audio guided tours provides the opportunity to get detailed books on the palace.
The palace’s chambers revolves around the original mistress of the palace, Empress Maria Theresa, who was able to marry nearly all of her daughters to the powerful aristocracies at that time enabling her to obtain the nickname as ‘Mother of Europe’. Her daughters married to the King of Naples and Dauphin of France who would then go on to be Louis XVI while one of her great grand-daughter was married to Napoleon I. Another featured resident in the guided tour was that of Emperor Franz Joseph I and his beautiful wife Elisabeth who was nicknamed ‘Sisi’ and one of the most beloved Empress in Austria. Several potraits of Maria Theresa, her daughters and sons as well as Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth could be found throughout the castles. During the tour, some of the most outstanding rooms includes the Marie Antoinette Room, which was the private dining room of the royal family, the Great Gallery which was a place for court festivities, the Vieux-Laque Room for its black lacquer paneling and the Reiches Zimmer (or appropriately called the Rich-Room) with the magnificent bed of state covered up under the protection of glass. Overall, the tour of the palace really showed the opulence and perhaps project some sort of power of the House of Habsburg. Through visiting the palace, one will also learn the intricacies of the kingdoms and fiefs of Western Europe during the 18th century as well as the events that led to Europe in its present day.
After spending most of the morning touring the palace, we went out to a bright noon sun over the palace gardens. It was then that we decided on a horse carriage tour over the palace gardens. The ride wasn’t cheap though at a cost of EUR 100 which will bring us around the gardens of the palace, passing (but not stopping) by the Palm House, the entrance to the Tiergarten or the Zoo, the Neptune Fountain at the end of the Palace, the Roman Ruins, the Obelisk and the greenhouses of the palace. It is one of the fastest way to soak in the sights of the gardens and experience the life of a king or queen for a day touring the palace compounds in a horse carriage. From the rear of the palace, the terrace provides a wonderful panorama of the extensive garden and the Gloriette in the distance, a colonnaded structure on a small hill at the end of the gardens. For the adventurous, they could trek their way up to the Gloriette for lunch, though the weather was far too hot for us to undertake that activity. Instead, we decided to walk over to the Privy Gardens which had a nice terrace at the end, providing a nice view of the well manicured and decorated gardens. The Residenz Cafe Restaurant provided the venue for lunch, where we ordered a garden salad, Wiener Schnitzel and roast chicken for lunch. The food was relatively good though the service at the restaurant tends to be a bit spotty and requires some polishing. It should be noted that there are several ticketing prices for admission, the difference lies in the number of exhibitions and venues one is permitted to enter. This is because several attractions exist within the Schloßpark which requires an additional cost to enter, like the Privy Gardens, the Maze, the Gloriette and the Zoo. A separate exhibition also exists for the collection of imperial wagons used by the Habsburg. These tickets would naturally be cheaper when bought in a package with admission to the palace.
One convenience of staying in the InterContinental also means a direct connection from the Schönbrunn U-Bahn to Stadtpark and this allows us to return back to the hotel to wash up before checking out and depositing our luggage with the bellboy. With still some time to spare, it was the time to fully explore the Innere Stadt of Vienna. We started off by taking the U-Bahn to Karlsplatz where we could see the Karlskirche or Church of St. Charles Borromeo. Around the church is a garden as well as several academic institutions including the Technische Universität Wien. Across the street from the church is the Handelsakademie which is now used by the Vienna Business School.
Karlsplatz is actually within walking distance towards Schwarzenbergplatz which is the square outside the Schloß Belvedere. Having visited the Schönbrunn, we gave this a pass and instead walked towards the Staatsoper, from where we could board Tram No. 1 or 2 to go round the Ringstraße which circles the Innere Stadt, or the Inner Ring where the major buildings of importance are located at. Going on the Ringstraße in a clockwise manner, one could see the Hofburg Imperial Palace, which was the seat of House of Habsburg in Vienna while Schönbrunn acts as a summer residence. There is also the Naturhistorisches Museum, Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Parlament, Wiener Rathaus, Burgtheater and Universität Wien. Amongst these buildings, the one I found most impressive would be the Parlament which is the seat of the Austrian government. The Pallas-Athena Fountain which stands outside the Greek-style facade is truly awe-inspiring! The last 4 buildings are within walking distance of each other and the area is also covered by leafy trees of the Rathauspark which provides much-needed shelter from the hot mid-afternoon sun. The sweltering heat of the summer also meant I needed some refreshment and what better place to go than the numerous coffee house along the Ringstraße. I settled for a cup of refreshing ice lemonade from this outlet called Coffee Day opposite Universität Wien, though at around 4 Euros, it has got to be the most expensive lemonade I ever had. As my parents were really tired out from the heat, I brought them back to Kärntner Straße where they could sit down at Starbuck under air-conditioned comfort, while I walked back towards the Hofburg.
The Hofburg Palace Compounds includes the Burggarten, and the Schatzkammer Museum while the newest wing of the palace now houses the National Library of Austria. The most magnificent portion of the palace would perhaps be the Neue Burg Section seen from Heldenplatz, where a statue of Prince Eugene of Savoy stands. I didn’t have the chance to explore much more of the palace as I decided to head back to join my parents, where we had more sausages for dinner. Returning to the hotel to collect our luggage, I took this opportunity to refresh myself and get my teeth cleaned as I prepared for a night on the train to Venice!
Since we were still early we had decided to take the U-Bahn to Westbahnhof, another train station in Vienna where our train departs from. Thinking it would perhaps be more economical and allows me to further explore the sights around the hotel, I concurred. On hindsight, this wasn’t a good idea as it left one of the worst memories of our trip ever. This was because it was while boarding the subway train that my Dad got to be the victim of a pickpocket. And this was also why I realized several U-Bahn stations had police stationed at the entrance. It seems pickpockets frequently strike upon tourists in Vienna, so please beware of pickpockets if visiting this city. Please mind your belongings especially when someone tries to squeeze into the subway train or when you’re busy handling your luggage, as I do think that’s when most pickpockets choose to strike at their victims. However due to our rush in heading for our train, it was difficult for us to lodge a police report, and the best we could do is perhaps warn other tourists to be wary and let this be a lesson learnt. Fortunately, we still managed to board our train in time, though my Dad was relatively jumpy throughout the train trip.
Vienna to me would remain as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with its magnificent architectural marvels and the city’s rich history as the centre of the Austrian Empire which ruled much of Western Europe in the late 17th and 18th century. From the magnificent palace, to the great food like Wiener Schnitzel and chocolate confectioneries, it should be one of the cities to spend more time in especially if one enjoys classical music due to the wealth of concerts on offer.
Must visit in Vienna: Suprisingly not the Schönbrunn, but rather the Ringstraße between the State Opera and Universität Wien where the amazing classical building embodies the beauty and timeless-ness of the city. It is also a place with activities that caters to everyone from the young and old, be it shopping, taking the tram or feasting on chocolates!