Historical capital of the Habsburg Empire, and classical music centre of the world, Vienna (Wien in German) is one of the great cities of Europe — and although it's rather classy and high-cultured for the drunk Aussie backpacker variety, it is nevertheless high on most Euro backpackers' hit lists. Vienna is a city of grand palaces, wide boulevards, and trendy cafes by the dozen. I popped in for two nights, to check out the sights and to enjoy the Christmas spirit.
In the past three weeks or so that I've been train-hopping around Europe, I've been seeing Christmas markets everywhere I go. You may have noticed my blogging about them again, and again, and again. That's because at this time of year — in December, leading up to the big holiday itself — it seems that you're guaranteed to find them in virtually every city and town around. I've seen them in Switzerland, in Belgium, in Germany, and now also in Austria. Here in Europe, they really take their Christmas festivities seriously: every man and his dog's off to the local Christmas market, to share in the spirit and to have a bit of fun.
To finish off my exploration of Vienna, this afternoon I went and visited the Schönbrunn palace — the largest of the many mansion residences built by the Habsburg dynasty in Imperial Austria-Hungary. The Schönbrunn is considered "the Versailles of Austria" — although having visited mega-opulent Versailles several years ago, I assure you that the Schönbrunn is hardly competition, neither in its size nor its majesty. It's just a quick trip on the U-bahn over to Hietzing, in the city's west, from where you can enter the palace grounds from the Tiergarten gate, and from where you can start by exploring the extensive gardens.
Here's a good little souvenir for all your confused American friends. Around here, they also prefer a good schnitzel to shrimp on the barbie.
This morning I hopped on the U-bahn (i.e. metro) from the Westbahnhof (central station) to Stephansplatz (city central square), and embarked on a walking tour of Vienna. It was rather freezing here — so chilly that the ground was covered in frost and ice in many places — but that did nothing to mar the Imperial glory of this, one of Europe's most charming cities. Vienna is a city of soaring churches, imposing palaces, and grand town squares — and of all those I saw plenty.
It almost seems like I haven't left Munich at all: because here I am in Vienna, and I've just moved from one Wombat's to another! The Wombat's chain in strongest here in Vienna: they have two separate hostels in the city (both near the main train station); and I stayed in the bigger and older one, "the base". Wombat's (the base) isn't quite as crazy a party venue as is Wombat's Munich, but it still has a great bar (with a free welcome drink upon arrival), nice facilities, and tonnes of Aussie guests.
This morning I said goodbye to the crazy Wombat's Munich — and to Germany, for now — and hopped on the train down to Vienna. Just a quick 4-hour morning ride: I caught the 9:30am train (direct), and I was in Vienna by 1:30pm. The train went through Salzburg, which I'm going to visit after Vienna: it's a bit of a funny route, I know; but I can't help it, since Vienna's somewhat out-of-the-way from everywhere else I'm visiting around here.