Wow, what a week. I’m back in Copenhagen after five days in Vienna, Austria. In the process, I was able to squeeze in day-trips to Salzburg in western Austria and Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Without further adieu, here is a recap. (Click here to see all the accompanying pictures.)
For the third time this travel break, I chose to stay with an Airbnb host. My host, Feli, was a graduate student not much older than me. She is a big traveler and has hundreds of photos from around the world on the walls of her apartment. The accomodations were once again hotel-quality: I had a private room complete with a closet, desk, and couch, along with full use of the kitchen and bathroom. The apartment was also a mere two subway stops away from the city center.
Despite having a nice place to stay, my first day dragged along slowly. Tuesday began with a 4:00 A.M. wake-up so that I could get to the airport just after 5:00 for my 7:00 flight.
Everything went smoothly, and I arrived in Vienna at 9:00 A.M. I then had to make my way to the central train station, which was about 45 minutes away by bus (€13 roundtrip). The bus pulled up at 11:00 A.M., followed by a long wait in the lounge area. Feli attends class until 3:00 P.M., so there was nothing for me to do except wait at the station with my luggage for four hours. Thankfully, there was free WiFi and a copy of Time magazine to keep me busy.
When the excruciating wait was over, I made the 10 minute trip to Feli’s place, introduced myself, and moved into my room for the week. I took a quick nap and then went into town to pick up some groceries for dinner. By 8:00, I was in bed for a full day ahead of me.
On Wednesday, I was out the door at 9:00. With some sightseeing suggestions in hand——courtesy of my high school history teacher and fellow world traveler Miss Cathy Carroll——I headed to Stephansplatz, the main square in the historic city center. I saw Stefansdom (St. Stephen’s), one of the tallest churches in the world, and then decided to wander for a little bit before going to the Kunsthistorisches Museum (“Art History Museum”). In true tourist fashion, I stopped at a building on the way that I thought was a bank looking to break a €100 bill. The woman at reception was dumbfounded and told me it was an insurance company; apparently, the word “bank” on a sign does not always mean a literal bank in German.
Anyway, the museum has a huge collection of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art, as well as some famous Spanish and Italian paintings. Fun fact: there was an exhibit of works by Lucian Freud, the artist who is the subject of a painting that just set the record last week for the most expensive piece of art ever sold at auction ($142 million).
Later, my wandering led me further into town past parliament, city hall, and the university. After a quick stop for lunch, I decided to take the subway across town to Schönbrunn Palace, the summer home of the Austrian royal family until their downfall in 1918. The palace was more like a giant mansion but well worth the audioguided tour inside. Pictures are not allowed, so naturally I took as many as possible when the staff wasn’t looking (evidence on my Flickr link to the right).
Following the 45-minute tour, I went around the back of the palace and was blown away by the view. The grounds and gardens go on for what seems like miles, and directly behind the palace is a giant hill with a monument at the top. I climbed all the way up and got a great view of the city. The monument is now a restaurant, by the way. Feeling accomplished, I took the subway back to the apartment and had a dinner of bacon-wrapped, cheese-filled hot dogs…a regional specialty.
Thursday was supposed to be my trip to Slovakia; however, the weather forecast called for heavy rain in Salzburg on Friday, so I changed my plans. For €50, you can take a roundtrip train ride to Salzburg in just 2.5 hours. (For reference, Salzburg and Vienna are on opposite sides of the country.) Salzburg is the hometown of Mozart and nestled in the Alps. It is also famous for being the setting of The Sound of Music. The weather was still not in my favor as low clouds and drizzle blocked the best views of the mountains, but it would have only been worse the next day. I spent some time exploring the winding streets and old shops along the way. The town was decorated for Christmas too, which made the weather seem less miserable. I went to the newly renovated Salzburg Museum. For €4.00 (yay student discounts), I got to see artwork dating back to the founding of Salzburg right up to the present day. It’s not a big museum but gives a good overview of the city’s history.
After another hour or so of wandering, I caught the train back to Vienna and decided that I would have dinner at the famous Figlmüller restaurant in the city center. Figlmüller is best known for its schnitzel, a fried cutlet of pork pounded paper thin so that it hangs off the plate. (True wiener schnitzel is made with veal.) Along with a side of their homemade German potato salad and apple streudel for dessert, it was one of the best meals I’ve had abroad.
Friday was the last full day of the travel break. I used half of the day to travel to Bratislava, the capital of Austria’s neighbor to the east, Slovakia. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew it was very easy to get there by train. For €15, you get a roundtrip train ticket and a full day of free public transportation in Bratislava. I arrived in the city around noon and realized immediately that it was the most foreign place I had ever visited. By “most foreign,” I mean the place most unlike home and most outside my comfort zone. Vestiges of the Soviet era were obvious in the buildings, cars, signage, and even the demeanor of the people. I never felt unsafe, but I definitely felt out of place…all part of traveling I guess.
Once I made it to the historical district, there was a warmer, touristy feel about it——lots of old buildings and cobblestone streets to keep me occupied. I also went looking for the presidential palace, which is oddly placed at the head of a three-way intersection. There is massive public park behind the palace, but it was closed on Friday for some reason.
I then decided to climb a huge mountain via stairs and steep roads to see a WWII memorial called “Slavín,” similar in name to PC’s Slavin Center. After an exhausting half-hour climb, I was rewarded with the best views of Bratislava. Unfortunately, there were no English signs, so I couldn’t understand the full purpose or meaning of the memorial. I climbed all the way down again and went back to the historical district. I stumbled on the “Oldest Store in Town,” which sold traditonal Slovakian food and handmade souvenirs, and a burger stand that sold a huge burger with the works for €3.00 (living on a budget here…). Around 5:00, I headed back to the train station to catch the next ride back to Vienna.
Determined to have one last memorable meal, I went to Stephansplatz one more time to find good Austrian food no matter how overpriced. On the way, I had huge small-world moment when I ran into a PC friend from DIS who was walking through Stephansplatz. Crazy.
A side street led me to a restaurant called Lohmann’s that specializes in game meat. For dinner, I had traditional “St. Martin’s Day” goose (not sure what the holiday entails) complete with gravy, red cabbage, and a potato dumpling. It was my first time trying goose, but the meal did not disappoint. Think of goose as really dark chicken meat that falls off he bone. For €20 (meal, drink, and tip), you can’t beat it.
My last food stop of the trip was a cafe in Stephansplatz called Aida. They are famous for their krapfen, or doughnuts minus the hole. I had a pistachio one that tasted like sweet challah bread topped with icing. I also had a cafe latte while I people-watched and thought about how much traveling I had done in the last seven days: 4 countries and 5 cities.
This morning I made one last stop before packing and going to the airport. Despite being in Vienna all week, I had yet to see the Danube River. It’s nothing special, but a trip to Vienna would not be complete without taking the time to see it. I took the subway across town, snapped some pictures, and then made my way to the airport.
This travel break was eye-opening to say the least. I learned that navigating a city and traveling alone are not as scary as they sound; that complete strangers like my Airbnb hosts can be kind, welcoming people; that everything outside Copenhagen seems cheaper; and that wanderlust is real. I hope to be back to all of these places one day to see even more of what they have to offer. My time left abroad may only stand at five weeks, but that leaves five weeks to dig even deeper into Copenhagen.