Ahh, Vienna. How to begin to describe a city that consistently ranks among the highest in living standards in the world? Well, how about with that fact? Sure. That works.
Vienna to the English, Wien (pronounced “veen”) to the locals, is an absolute delight. It was a place, much like Prague, that upon arrival I just knew that I had not booked enough time in. It was too bad, I could already tell, but it always creates the drive to want to go back. With a travel bug deeply entrenched in me, it isn’t too hard to twist my arm to go anywhere, but with a growing list of places I need to return to, it’s all about timing and opportunity. No worries, I suppose. I’ll just have to return again when the next opportunity arises.
My first night in Vienna, I stayed up to watch the Vancouver Canucks beat San Jose in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s not normally the sort of thing that would appear in a travelogue, but it was hugely important to me. Beyond the fact that it meant that my hometown team was going to the Finals, it was also the first hockey game that I had been able to sit down and watch from start to finish since I had left Canada on the 27th of April. I had missed the entire second round against Nashville and almost all of the San Jose series. It wasn’t that I was a terrible fan, or anything like that. It was actually just due to logistics. There weren’t any places that were showing these hockey games (often on at 2 or 3 in the morning) that I could find in Berlin, and the flat that I had been renting there didn’t have internet, so even streaming the games wasn’t an option.
So, I sat there at two in the morning, on a hammock (of all things), watching San Jose nearly beat Vancouver when, in typical Canucks fashion, Ryan Kesler tied the game up and then Kevin Bieksa scores a fluke goal in double overtime. It was seven in the morning, Vienna time, when I finally got to go grab a short hour of shut-eye before breakfast.
Wandering through Vienna, it’s easy to see the beauty of everything the Hapsburgs brought to the city. There are grand museums and palaces throughout and the centre of the city is filled with nice High Street shops and pedestrian-friendly streets.
Following the tips of the amazing hostess at my hostel (the fantastic Believe-It-Or-Not), I decide to go check out the Hundertwasserhaus. Friedrichshain Hundertwasser was an eccentric painter who didn’t believe in straight lines. In fact, he said, “The only uncreative line is a straight one”. He had a philosophy about human beings having three skins. The first was our physical skin. The second was our clothing. The third was the buildings that we occupied.
Because of this connection to ourselves, he felt that homes needed to be integrated with our environment for us to be at harmony. He began to experiment with architecture (remember he was a painter) and the first result was the Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna. It contains no straight lines or 90 degree angles (because how can we call that a “right” angle?). Trees grow within the building and there are gardens throughout. The floors are rolling, rather than flat, mimicking the earth.
Other interesting notions that he came up with include the “right to windows”. The idea with this being that an occupant in the building has the right to alter anything outside their windows within arms reach. They are free to paint it any colour or hang flowers, or whatever else they want.
The building can’t be visited as people actually live there, but there is a nice little café/shop at the bottom where you can go in and have a coffee, watch a video about Hundertwasser (roughly fifteen minutes long, alternating in turn from German and English) and possibly buy any souvenirs that you might like. It was definitely worth the walk to get to. Plus, I got to indulge in my Viennese delights.
It’s well documented that I like to try whatever the local thing is, wherever I go, so of course I had to in Vienna.
On the beverage side of things, Vienna is legendary for its cafes. Coffee culture in Vienna is still alive and well.
The local variety of coffee is the Wiener Melange, similar to a cappuccino. It’s usually accompanied with a biscuit and a small glass of water (pleasant surprises to a traveller).
And, the local snack, which is always of great interest, is the Wiener Wurstel. Similar to Frankfurters, the Wieners are basically simple, skinny sausages, accompanied with a bread roll and some mustard. There is nothing too elaborate or elegant about them, and the breaking up of a hard bread roll with your own hands to stuff the Wieners in is definitely something that makes commoners of us all. I definitely made crumbs each time I tried. I challenge the business tycoons to give it a go and not seem normal.
With a beautiful day outside and no strong desire to spend the afternoon inside a museum, I decided to walk along the Danube Canal. There were little beach bars, similar to what I had seen along the Spree in Berlin and lots of happy people. There were stretches of grass where the exhibitionists and voyeurs alike gathered. There were even street artists, hard at work in the 30 degree heat.
I ended up walking so far north, that I ended up in Spittelau and found another landmark that looked eerily familiar.
That’s right, it was more work from the odd mind of Friedrichshain Hundertwasser! This was the District Heating Plant, and not another set of condos.
I headed back to the Volksgarten (literally, the People’s garden) and took up the opportunity to soak up some sun’s rays and indulge in a book. Yes, this really was the life. Maybe they were up to something with those rankings?