It was late October. Not high season – July and August. Not shoulder season – September and early October. Not Christmas market season – December. Almost November. It should have been the off season. Seven years earlier it had been the off season, but this time Vienna was packed. In the center at least, inside the Ringstrasse, the wide encircling avenue that had replaced the city walls in 1857, the place was heaving with humanity. The crowds were so bad I had difficulty finding my hotel.
It was my third visit. In 2004 I had stayed in a pension out near the Westbahnhof. In 2007 I had moved inside the Ringstrasse, staying at Pension Nossek on the Graben, in the middle of the action. I had been sorry when I just missed booking into the Nossek again, but when I saw the crowds I was glad to be staying only just inside the ring road, across from the Opera House. Plus, I was still limping, and I was closer to public transport than I would have been at the Nossek. The trams and buses were a short limp away, as was the entrance to the metro, although the platforms were a long trek underground.
The cafe situation turned out better, too. I did go back to the Griensteidl, which had been my favorite hangout in 2007, but it just didn’t have the same feel. Instead I transferred my affections to the Cafe Mozart, reasonably close to my comfortable base at the Opera Suites (although the Griensteidl does a better Esterhazy torte). Very popular in the afternoon, the Mozart quietened down in the evening, and the food was fine.
Given the crowds, I was happy that I had already seen the marquee sights, and devoted most of my time to somewhat quirky museums. I did revisit the cathedral, Stephansdom , but found that most people were unwilling to pay the admission fee to get past the ropes into the body of the church. I paid the fee and collected an audio guide, and had plenty of space to admire the carvings. I revisited the MAK as well, the Applied Arts Museum, for lunch in the restaurant as well as for the collection.
October 26th is Austrian National Day, remembering the declaration of permanent neutrality after the withdrawal of the troops that had occupied the country at the end of WWII. A number of museums had free admission, and lots of people took advantage of it. I had thought I had arrived early at the Leopold, but I had quite a wait to get in. I enjoyed the top foor and some Klimts before lucking into a seat in the very crowded cafe for lunch. The Gaudi exhibition at the nearby Architecture Museum occupied a chunk of the afternoon.
The next day I went further afield to the Hundertwasser, a truly unique establishment that fully justified the rather long limp involved in getting there, and, what with lunch in the cafe, and the temporary photography exhibition on the top floors, took up most of the day. It is hard to describe the Hundertwasser, the product of one man’s eclectic view of the world and our place in it. He was an architect, whose buildings are like no others. He was an artist, whose paintings are full of color and movement. He was a non-conformist and an environmentalist. You need to go see his work for yourself.
My last day featured the Hofmobiliendepot, the Imperial Furniture Collection, in the morning and the Globe Museum in the afternoon. The Hofburg and the Schoenbrunn are, of course, a lot flashier than the furniture repository, but the repository is full of items that might once have been found in them. As an aficionado of decorative and applied arts museums, I had a great time, both in the rooms lined with chairs, or lamps, or prie-dieux, and in the “rooms” decorated as they would have been at different periods of the Hapsburg empire. I was also delighted with the Globe Museum, with both terrestrial and celestial globes, currently including the world’s oldest, from 1536 (on loan).
I had arrived in Vienna at the Westbahnhof, comfortably ensconced in a first class seat on a Railjet, Austria’s high speed train. Leaving Vienna in 2007, I had hobbled down the Graben in the rain to take the metro and a tram to Sudbahnhof to catch a train to Graz. This time I was still taking a train to Graz, but I took a tram to Meidling to board it as Vienna had demolished the Sudbahnhof