Sights Unseen

Just when I thought I'd seen it all, I arrive at Karlskirche, the largest Baroque cathedral north of the Alps.
Despite the stale water of the pond and graffiti of nearby concrete walls, this church is definitely worth a visit. The two massive exterior pillars are wrapped with detailed illustrations that goes to show the dedication to detail people had back in the day.
So to this point, you're probably thinking what's the big deal... this is just another church in Europe.  But once you walk in and straight looking around,
you'll quickly notice the rig set up in the pew area and if you look up, way up, you'll see another contraption...
Yes, that's right.... there's an elevator that leads you to a viewing platform where you can get a closer look at the dome's artwork, and if that isn't close enough to the art for you, you can take the stairs up further to get within arms distance of the actual dome as you climb up to the tiny observation deck at the top. 
You will quickly recognize the special skills required to paint domed ceilings as you have to take into account how the mural will look from the floor and not how it looks on the curved dome surface.
Another source of entertainment was watching tourists, obviously afraid of heights, try to overcome their fears up on the platform.... LOL.

I believe the elevator and viewing platform is temporary in nature, as the cathedral undergoes restoration work, but nevertheless, the thought of seeing an elevator right smack in the middle of a church, was definitely a pleasant surprise that makes this church unique in my books.

Next stop: The Rathaus

Now when I first saw this building from afar, I thought it was yet another church but it is not.  It's Vienna's City Hall.  It was the weekend and city hall was turned over to the gamers as part of Game City 2009 festivities. So picture this, a typically stuffy, old political hub is taken over by teenagers for the day. Ahh, a clash of the generations.
After getting spritzed with the latest in technology, it was off to the next attraction but not before noting that camping is not permitted in the nearby park.
LOL... I just can't get enough of that sign!

Votivkirche is one of the most important neo-Gothic religious architectural sites in the world (according to Wikipedia). yet as you approach it, you can only start laughing at the fact that it's wrapped with advertisements including a massive Kia banner.

So there you have it, Day 3 comes to an end as I sit back on a lawn chair and enjoy the peaceful sunset in the park.

The Belvedere

Day 3 in Vienna begins with another trip on the subway...
but perhaps I got off at the wrong stop...
Definitely not the Vienna I've been used to the past few days but nevertheless, I stick with my sense of direction and head upstairs towards the sunlight and catch the tram to The Belvedere as planned.

The Belvedere is a palace split into two residences (the Upper and Lower Belvedere) separated by a magnificently manicured lawn.

This was the first attraction that restricted the use of photographic equipment in the vast majority of the interior but Mike was able to sneak a few snaps to capture the atmosphere of the Upper Belvedere...

Both former royal residences are now galleries housing an impressive art collection including the world's largest collection of Gustav Klimt collection.  The Lower Belvedere houses a number of staterooms each of which is distinctively decorated including The Golden Room, so exuberantly golden in colour that Donald Trump would be envious.  

Between the impressive architectural design, carefully manicured lawn, intriguing artwork, and relaxing garden, The Belvedere did not disappoint.

Munching about Vienna

A trip to Vienna wouldn't be quite right without trying some of its cuisine....

No better way to spend some time wandering around Michaelerplatz, then to have a fresh pretzel in your hand...
Next stop is Cafe Central.  While described as a "tourist trap" in all the guidebooks, I was expecting a cheesy cafe with nonsensical decorations but instead I entered an immaculate coffeehouse.

Now comes the tough part, which cake do I wish to try...

After a delightful sugar-laden piece of cake and hot cocoa, it was off to the Schatzkammer (Treasury) to check out Austria's collection of medieval royal objects. The entrance of the museum are replica vault doors, an obvious yet fitting way to greet visitors.
Besides the crown displayed in all the brochures, there were several other interesting artifacts like the royal crib, but in all honesty, I was a bit disappointed in the exhibits, as I went around each corner expecting to finally hit the "Wow" collection but that never happened.

So while it was an interesting sight, I would recommend skipping over the Treasury if you are rushing through Vienna as there are more worthwhile things to see in town.  That being said, if you have the time and have a museum pass that includes admission to the Schatzkammer, by all means take a few minutes to walk through the small museum and check it out for yourself.  Perhaps, you'll find it more interesting than I did.

In addition to the Treasury, the Hofburg Imperial Palace houses a number of attractions, including the Prunksaal that houses the Austrian National Library.  Typically, a national library wouldn't be interesting, but the Austrians, well to put it lightly, do things with class, and this library is no exception.

Interestingly enough, I was allowed to take as many photos as I wanted as long as I didn't photograph the display cases.  I mention this because the displays were exhibiting some boring historical literature that in my opinion wasn't even worth photographing, so there I was taking full advantage of the non-hectic surroundings to lie on the ground, and play around with Joby and my camera to take almost floor-level photos of the spectacular art work found throughout the building.
Joby had already received curious looks throughout the streets of Vienna, and the Library's security guards were definitely keeping a close eye on me so it was no surprise that they were eager to inform me that the library was closing for the evening so I obliged and left the Library.  Once you leave the Library, there's a bit of walk to actually exit the Palace and one would expect that you could take your time to hang out in the lobby but no such luck.  In Vienna, when Security says they close at 6, they mean they close the last door at 6 o'clock sharp!

After being escorted out of the Palace, it was off to the Vienna Opera House to get a standing room ticket.  Tickets for standing room are available only from the evening box office that opens 80 minutes before the performance starts.  Now you're probably wondering, why would Mike ever want to go see the Opera, let alone one in German.  But when you consider Opera tours are more expensive than a standing room ticket, you see my rational behind my curiosity at attending the Mayerling Ballet instead of just going on a lame guided tour.  Now, one would expect cheap standing room to be in the nosebleeds but to my surprise, the standing room was dead center at the back of the lower level.
So I arrived at the standing room area, and thought I had a wide selection of spots to choose from but I was quickly informed that most of the spots were already taken.  Apparently, if you come early, you can simply tie a handkerchief or some other sort of placeholder to mark your spot, and then proceed to linger in the lobby.  Nevertheless, I found a free spot and soon enough, the ballet started.  Evidently, ballet and Mike don't mix as I was bored out of my mind and I eventually could not stand watching it any more so after 15 minutes, I slipped outside and took in the Viennese night sky.

The Morning of Day 2: Vienna

Early wake up call!
And it ain't my roommate's snoring.
I poke my head out the window to see the truck blaring its horn, waking up the entire neighbourhood.

Good Morning Vienna!

Oh well, I might as well get started on Day 2...

After picking up a few things for breakfast at the local grocery store and getting set for the day ahead at the hostel, off I went to the subway station to make my way to the Inner City.

Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral) is the first tourist stop of the day. An impressive looking church with plenty of statuettes and stone carvings within, I personally found the cathedral a bit unwelcoming as it was pretty dark inside as you can see from the photo below.

Sure, the darkness added some mystery and character to the interior, but as the main church in Vienna, I was expecting a monument exhibiting more warmth.  The lack of lighting also prevented visitors from truly appreciating all the details in the art work and monuments found throughout the cathedral.  Nevertheless, the church contained a multitude of interesting and creative stone work that one would usually not expect in such a religious institution.

After leaving Stephansdom, I just walked around the Innere Stadt and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the old town for most of the morning.

During this walk, I stumbled across Peterskirche, which is a more welcoming church with amazing dome art work that a photograph can't do justice, so I will let you see it in person. 

Now, one of the awkward things of visiting so many churches is that you are bound to pop in during a mass, so while you want to be respectful of the religious rituals, you don't also want to spend too much time at each church so that your entire day slips away taking part in masses in every church in town, so you try to find an unoccupied pew area, pray for a few minutes before respectfully taking snapping a few photos before slipping out (but not before I took a photo of this altar).

Yes, I believe that is a real skeleton...

I continued on my walk along the streets of the Old City, and came across Trzesniewski and Cafe Hawelka, a couple of restaurants I recalled reading about in the guidebooks.  

Not being hungry just yet, I decided to just step in to capture the atmosphere of Trzesniewski and see what all the fuss was about in the guidebooks.

Not being a fan of spreads (other than peanut butter, nutella, and fruit jams), Trzesniewski's miniature open sandwiches didn't look too appealing to me so I was on my way without ordering a Viennese classic.  But don't worry about my appetite... more on that later.

After visiting an auction house at Palais Dorotheum, I came across the Spanish Riding School to check out the Lipizzaner Stallions.
Unfortunately, security would not let me get close enough to pet, let alone, feed the horses.

Michaelerplatz, a square just outside one of the entrances to Hofburg Palace, was a few steps away, and it is definitely worthwhile to stop there for a while and listen to the click-clocks of the horse-drawn carriages passing while admiring the architecture and sculptures of the surrounding buildings.
Anyways, time for lunch....

Hostel Ruthensteiner Review

Having never even visited a hostel, I had no idea what I was getting into when I booked my first 3 nights at Hostel Ruthensteiner in Vienna in September 2009.  Boy, was I pleasantly surprised!

From the exterior, it looks rather ordinary as it blends in with the other buildings on the street, but it is pretty trendy on the inside.  As you can see from the photos, my 8-bunkbed room was spacious and clean.  Individual lockers were available to store your belongings and each bed had its own reading light.

Here is the view from one of the room's two windows:

Just outside the room, there was the washroom, two sinks and mirror, along with a shower. 

As you can see, the shower area is not very spacious and I found it somewhat awkward to get out of the shower and dry myself off in the makeshift room.  I should also mention that the shower had hot water but I had to push the button every 20-30 seconds to prevent the water from getting cold.  Luckily, I read about that in another review and gave it a shot, or else, I would have had a very cold shower.  I guess that's how the Europeans save on hot water.  That being said, the facilities were clean and well maintained.

The main floor has the typical lobby / welcome counter at the entrance, and when you turn right, you have a lounge area where you can chill and meet new friends while sipping on a cold brewsky from the bar in the next room.

After the bar, you'll find a nice dining area, and then around the corner, the well-equipped kitchen.

Outside the kitchen, you have a nice, quaint little courtyard with lawn chairs, tables, and chessboard.

The English-speaking front desk staff were friendly and more than willing to provide helpful suggestions. 

As for transportation, trams are available only a block away, and you are a short, five minute walk (past many shops, grocery stores, and restaurants) to the Westbahnhof train station, where you can catch a subway into the old part of town. 

Now to the bad things about the hostel: 

Well, what can I say, not much was wrong but the hostel did fail on the "dropped apple" incident.  What's Mike talking about?  Well, in the early morning of my second day, I bought some apples at the nearby grocery store, and upon returning to my room, one of the apples slipped out of the bag, and rolled across the room and under one of the beds only to stop once it hit the wall.  Since I couldn't reach it without waking up the guy sleeping on the bed, I left the apple there as I had five more.  Let's just say the apple was still there when I left two mornings later. It wasn't rotting or anything; it was just still there.  The rooms were otherwise as clean as one can expect for a hostel environment.

Free wireless internet was also available but it seemed overloaded during the late evenings as page loading times were extremely slow, reliable Skype service was difficult to obtain, and the network went down at least once each night I was there  (but it would be back and running in less than 30 minutes).  That being said, I had no issues with the Internet when I would quickly check a few things in the morning when most hostel patrons were still asleep.

Speaking of the patrons, there was a mix of people at the hostel; male and female (but I think the hostel separates the sexes in the larger rooms).  Some patrons in their late teens while others were parents with their teenage children, mostly from Europe but also some from Australia and Asia, and of course, the one Canadian.  The demographics would depend on the day you show up, of course, but it does show that if you're looking for a 'party youth hostel' then this place may not be for you.  

So to summarize, Hostel Ruthensteiner was the first hostel I ever stayed at and it definitely set the bar really high.  I would, without any hesitation, recommend it to any one seeking a nice hostel to stay in Vienna.

If you found this unbiased review and photos helpful, please click on one of the interesting Google advertising links on this blog to help me out. Thanks.

Popular Posts

Gadgets By Spice Up Your Blog