A June 2003 trip
to Vienna by billmoy
Quote: Vienna is the capital of Mozartville, er, Austria.
Vienna is chock full of landmarks from various periods. The central landmark and city icon is still Stephansdom. The Staatsoper (Opera House) is the hub of the city's franchise classical music scene. It is a grand building, though it is more cherished by music buffs than architectural critics. The Rathaus is a neo-Gothic building that serves as the City Hall, while the nearby Parliament displays a neo-Grecian style. The Hofburg Imperial Palace is a sprawling conglomeration of neoclassical buildings, including the famous complexes housing the Spanish Riding School. The Pestsaule (Plague Column of 1693) is a High baroque landmark that marks the pleasant Graben boulevard-plaza. The Riesenrad, the 200-foot-diameter Giant Ferris Wheel in Prater Park, was featured in the Orson Welles movie "The Third Man".
Thanks to my friends Marius Ronnett and Carmen Anta for sharing some of their colorful images of Vienna, and to Ramona and Tibi for rounding out our motley crew.
Classical music forms a great deal of the touristy sell. In the summertime, you will encounter many a lad or lass dressed in a Mozart wig and costume, hawking an upcoming concert. Even if you do not visit the famed Opera House, you can still see one of the many statues located in parks across the city. Supposedly the most photographed monument in Europe is the golden memorial statue to composer Johann Strauss in the Stadtpark (City Park).
There is a terminal at the airport where you can write and access e-mails for free. It is awkwardly set up so you have to stand while typing, but what do you expect for free?
Trams 1 and 2 ride the route of the Ringstrasse, which can make for an introductory 30-minute loop around old Vienna and along the Danube River. These two lines go in opposite directions, but both go along the same four-kilometer route. Many prominent public buildings and hotels are located along the ring, which changes names along its circumference.
The Marriott is a modern structure with 7 floors and 313 guest rooms. It is a wonderfully comfortable hotel, but it lacks "old world" charm that one may expect from some of the classic Viennese hotels that are plentiful around town. The main entrance has an automatic revolving door that rotates without any manual pushing, seemingly a common feature in many public buildings in Vienna. The revolving door is a bit slow, so one may have an unconscious tendency to push the door to make it go faster. This is a mistake, as it will make the revolving door stop, with you trapped in it! This is easily undone when the next person tries to enter the revolving door, but it leads to slightly embarrassing situations. The lobby is very large, with a pleasant sitting area near the front desk. The hotel staff is very accommodating, whether they are offering you a free Vienna tourism map (one of the better free city maps around) or explaining local transit strikes.
The guest rooms are quite elegant and spacious. My room had two double beds, but there was still enough space to cram in a twin-size rollaway. Our room faced south, with a partial view of the Stadtpark, and the window can be opened when you are tired of the freezing air-conditioning. The entertainment center houses the TV (which also had radio stations that were more enjoyable than the TV stations) and minibar. There was also a writing table, and the top of the TV center can serve as an extra countertop. Note that the little bottles of mineral water prominently located on top of the entertainment center are not free. The closet hides an in-room safe, iron, and ironing board. The bathroom is nice and chock full of Nutragena toiletries. The door to your room has a security latch that is a bit tricky the first time you try to unlock it.
The complimentary fitness center is in the basement of the hotel. The indoor pool is supposedly the only one in central Vienna. There is also a bubbly Jacuzzi, sauna, and fitness room located down here. There are several bars and restaurants in the hotel, including Champions Bar, which tries very hard to look like a typical American sports bar with lots of autographed photos of athletes.
The Marriott is very much a hotel for the international businessman, with many meeting rooms on the second level. The hotel may not be as charming or historic as other hotels, but the leisure traveler will certainly enjoy it.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 8, 2003
We sat in the cozy upper deck level, which had a view of a TV, the bar area below, and the street cafe outside. The bench seating along the back wall is a better deal than the small stool seating. The menus feature most of your favorite Mediterranean items for easy ordering. Combo platters of various sizes fill the bill if you want a variety of tastes. The falafel is indeed very tasty, along with the thinly sliced meats. If you have a smaller appetite, have a sandwich instead of a platter. There are several items that are great for vegetarians, including the touted falafel. A few desserts like baklava round out the menu card.
The falafel and other "oriental specialties" served at Maschu Maschu can be a welcome break from the schnitzel and sausage grind in Vienna. Try to have a refreshing Zipfer Austrian beer or some other local brew to wash down your tasty meal.
Vienna, Austria 1010
+ 43 1 533 29 04
The interior features green tile walls and a cozy wood-paneled bar area. The place looks fairly modern even though it has been a part of Vienna for ages. We ate al fresco in front of the restaurant on a pleasant late spring evening in Vienna. We were a bit cramped with five persons seated at a table, but it was a worthwhile dining experience. Our waiter handed us huge menus, and he was pleasant while answering our numerous questions regarding their menu items or snapping a group photo.
There are several kinds of schnitzel, which are served in typically large Austrian portions. My "plain" schnitzel was tasty thanks to its crispy breading and the juicy but not greasily prepared veal. The side salad was quite good, lending a light quality to the meal. As one can imagine, schnitzel with ham and cheese is rich and heavy, but is fine for a heartier appetite. Other items include goulash, various roast meats and sausages, and typical Viennese desserts. Vegetarian dishes are also available, and our vegetarian colleagues deemed them delicious. There are also some combination "menu" meals and kids plates. Wash down your taste of Austria with a selection from the beer list.
A table at the quiet outdoor cafe is a perfect place for a leisurely lunch. The tables have umbrellas to keep the summer sun at bay, and the metal chairs have enough cushioning so you can read a magazine at your leisure. The cafe is on a charming side street with only pedestrian traffic, so it is indeed a pleasure to dine here.
My attention was initially drawn to the chalkboard sign with specials scrawled upon them. I ordered a set lunch, which was reasonably priced when you consider that it included a small green salad and soft drink. My serving of Wiener schnitzel was smaller than a dinner portion, but this was fine with me. The smaller portion made the veal seem lighter than normal, and the wedge of lemon is always appreciated. The schnitzel was accompanied by a side order of fries, which were good without being greasy. The cafe menu also features snack items like sandwiches and sausages.
Galerie Cafe Zum Hundertwasserhaus
corner of Kegelgasse and Weissgerberstrasse
Restaurant | "Anker"
Anker may not be the best in the baked goods department, but they seem to bake a wide variety of fresh items that are consistently tasty. I had a small ham sandwich with a cheesy bread that was simple yet heartily delicious. It was not an enormous sandwich, so you will still have room for one of the many scrumptious pastries on display. The delicate chocolate mousse cake is no Sacher Torte, but it is light and not overly sweet. The fruit danishes are very good, chewy, and flaky at the same time.
Vienna is famous for its coffee, but you can get a budget cup here. There is a decent selection of sodas and juices available. Promotional placards were heavily pushing a new fizzy water with lemongrass flavor, which had a light and vaguely ginger ale flavor to it.
The goods are mostly geared for the take-away market, and they will gladly wrap your purchases for you. Some outlets will have a few tables for a quick bite, but some are purely take-away stands in busy train stations and street corners.
Anker Snack and Coffee
The main west portal in the late Romanesque style is the major entrance. The interiors are richly decorated, if you can get away from the huge throngs of tourists. One can literally get lost amongst the fascinating artworks and interior spaces. The celebrated Gothic stone pulpit (1480) is finely crafted. Guided tours are available, like tours of the catacombs and special summer sessions conducted on Saturday evenings that include a walk along the fabled rooftops.
The gracefully Gothic South Tower, nicknamed Steffl, rises to a shade under 450 feet in height. Take a deep breath and climb the 343 steps that lead to an enclosed viewing platform at the top, complete with a small souvenir stand. There are some magnificent views of Vienna through the small windows facing the four principal directions. Do not forget to stare down at the body of the building itself, with its colorfully patterned roof tiles and intricate details. The North Tower is not as tall as the Steffl as it is technically not at its intended height, but it houses the 21-ton Pummerin bell. Allied bombings at the end of World War II destroyed significant parts of Stephansdom, including the Pummerin. Postwar construction rebuilt the cathedral, including the recasting of the bell, by 1952. If your legs cannot take you up the Steffl, ride the elevator up the North Tower.
Haas Haus is one of the most famous Postmodern architectural designs, thanks to its prime location in the huge shadow of Stephansdom. Designed by architect Hans Hollein in 1980, the surfaces of the glass and aluminum shopping center reflects the Stephansdom literally if not stylistically. The cafes in the upper levels have terrific views of Stephansdom, but locals joke that the best part of sitting here is that you do not have to stare at Haas Haus! Conservative tastes believe that Haas Haus does not show enough "respect" towards the neoclassical Stephansdom, but it stands out as one of the earliest and most notable contemporary buildings in Vienna.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 7, 2003
Vienna, Austria A-1010
No phone available
Attraction | "Schloss Belvedere"
Architect Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt designed the Lower Belvedere for Prince Eugene of Savoy, who was hailed as Austria’s greatest military leader and a savior for Christianity. Constructed from 1714 to 1716, this served as a royal summer residence and displays a sumptuous Baroque style with lavish marble interiors. The Orangery and palace stables are located here. The building of the Upper Belvedere, which was the more ceremonial of the two palace blocks, followed from 1721 to 1723. The two buildings are connected with the stunning symmetrical gardens (by Dominique Girard) complete with greenhouses, a zoo, sphinxes, sculptures and fountains. Over the years, the royals amassed quite a collection of artworks. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination in Sarajevo in 1914 sparked World War I, resided in the Belvedere for a number of years after a remodeling orchestrated by architect Emil von Forster. Both the Upper and Lower Belvederes were heavily damaged during air raids at the end of World War II, but today the buildings are as grand as ever.
Today the Upper Belvedere holds the Austrian Gallery of the 19th and 20th Centuries, highlighted by its exciting collection of Gustav Klimt masterpieces (including "The Kiss") along with works by Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka (one of my favorite artist names). There are also works from the Viennese Biedermeier era, and French impressionists too. Look out upon Vienna from the north side of the Upper Belvedere.
The Lower Belvedere turns the clock back a bit further with its fine collection of Medieval art and Baroque works. One of the most notable paintings is Jacques Louis David's "Napoleon on the St. Bernard Pass". The Orangery features wood sculptures from the Romanesque and Gothic periods.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 7, 2003
Belvedere Palace (Oberes Belvedere)
Vienna, Austria A-1030
43 01 79 55 7 0
Attraction | "MAK (Austrian Museum of Applied Arts)"
Significant galleries showcase the works from the renowned arts and crafts workshop Wiener Werkstatte, as well as contemporary architecture models. The Jugendstil and Art Deco gallery has fine works by Josef Hoffmann, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Gustav Klimt. Artist Jenny Holzer designed the Empire-Biedermaier room, while Donald Judd designed the room with Baroque-Rococo-Classicism furniture. Contemporary art is featured in the attic, from which you can get a few peeks to the outside. It is fun to experience the diverse art collections along with the distinctive designs of each gallery. Do not forget to look around at all the rich interior details of the central atrium. As attractive as the displays are, the rooms do feel a bit warm and stuffy as you walk around.
On Tuesday evenings, the MAK is open late - and I mean LATE! I closed out the place by staying until just before the designated shutdown time of midnight. The central atrium had the vibe of a dance club, with the lights turned down and lively music turned up. You can lounge around the comfy sofas laid about here, or just roam about the many interesting galleries. If you go really late (around 11PM), you will probably get waved in without paying admission. On Saturdays the admission is free for all visitors, but the museum is closed on Mondays. In another clever marketing ploy, the MAK Guide also includes the equivalent of an admission ticket if you purchase this publication.
The MAK Design Shop has a fun selection of books and unique gifts. The MAK Cafe, designed by noted architect Hermann Czech, is highly regarded for its design and its culinary aspects too.
Museum für angewandte Kunst
Vienna, Austria 1010
+43 1 711 36 0
Attraction | "MuseumsQuartier Wien"
The MQ is partially carved out of the former royal stables by famed architect Johann Fischer von Erlach, but with many additions designed by architects Laurids and Manfred Ortner. Manfred Wehdorn is credited with adapting the eighteenth century historical buildings to their new twenty first century contexts. For maximum effect, try to walk uphill and around the perimeter of the complex until you reach the "top" of the area. The perimeter retains a regular look of the neighborhood fabric, so you will be pleasantly surprised when you walk "in" to the MQ and experience the exciting levels below you. The newly topped roofs of the stable buildings lead you to staircases cascading toward the museums below. The buzz of activity and culture is very apparent, as the locals chat with friends in a vibrant atmosphere. Vienna cafe life seems to have been transformed here in the shape of these exterior MQ spaces. Even if you are not going into any of the museums, a stroll through the MQ will give you a feeling of how energized "new" Vienna is.
The MQ complex features the whitish limestone cube of the Leopold Museum (with the largest private Egon Schiele collection), the subtle gray basalt textures of the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art Ludwig Foundation Vienna), the red-bricked Kunsthalle, the Architektur Zentrum Wien (Vienna Architecture Center), and the ZOOM Children's Museum. The plaza areas in between are well attended by young and hip locals, and there was a swanky outdoor reception adjacent to a tubular art installation while I was visiting. Additional activity spills out from the museum cafes into the very public outdoor spaces.
A unique souvenir is a small "pocket catalogue" and foldout map capturing the architectural development and features of the MQ. You can buy this for four euros from several vending machines, which dispense this mini-book that is about the size of a pack of cigarettes.
The Secession Pavilion (1897-98) by Joseph Maria Olbrich is a startling Art Nouveau pavilion with its gold leaf sphere floating over a cream colored block. The "golden cabbage" is composed from 3000 gilt-iron "leaves" to form an airy look. The exterior has clever details of owls, salamanders and turtles. This complex for groundbreaking contemporary art exhibitions houses the great Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt.
The Karlsplatz Metro Station (1898-99) is one of Otto Wagner's many innovative designs in Vienna. He utilized original construction methods to hold together a beautiful combination of diverse materials such as prefabricated metal elements and ceramic panels. The utilitarian pavilions were perked up with a gorgeous unity of gold details, floral relief, and green and white trim.
The Postsparkasse (Post Office Savings Bank, constructed 1904-12) is a bolder and sleeker complex by Wagner. He used innovative materials like aluminum and glass blocks to great effect. The cashiers' hall is a grand space that is now partially used as an art gallery. Wagner used stylized lettering to punch up the exterior and interior detailing.
The controversial Loos Haus (1910-11) made a name for architect Adolf Loos. Its cutting-edge modern design along the prominent Michaelerplatz did not sit too well with the conservative aesthetic tastes of Emperor Franz Josef. The window treatments have no pediments, so the openings look like they do not have "eyebrows". Loos employs high quality materials like grayish-green marble on its exteriors and pinkish marbles on its interiors.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 8, 2003
Attraction | "Hundertwasser in Vienna"
Hundertwasserhaus, a collaborative work with architect Peter Pelikan (constructed 1983-85), is an amazing residential block with 50 apartments. It is hard to imagine that this wild creation (at the corner of Lowengasse and Kegelgasse) actually houses regular tenants. The exteriors literally looks like enormous paintings or quilt works sprung into three-dimensional glory. Trees sprout from roughly rectangular window openings and the uneven balconies of the roof terraces, and the floors are designed to look and feel uneven. A fountain adds to the streetscape alongside the apartment tower. There is now a small store next to the building, capitalizing on the steady stream of visitors. A cafe on the ground floor is the only public space inside the tower. There is no access into the private apartments.
Begun in 1989 and opening in 1991, Kunst Haus Wien is a museum that was formerly a factory building for Thonet bentwood furniture (originally constructed in 1892). In keeping with the organic theme, the floor is not flat, so watch your step! Hundertwasser designed the brick pavement to be bumpy and wavy so that the walking experience is like a "melody for the feet". Irregular pieces of glass, metal, ceramic tile and wood add color and vibrancy as the new facade designs take over the original structure. The facade is the "third skin" with an irregular checkerboard of windows and treatments.
There is a store on the ground floor, and the garden cafe is a wonderful photo opportunity. Besides the colorful flowers and greenery, you can snap a few pictures of the "back" elevation of the building. The museum contains a selected review of Hundertwasser's works along with special exhibitions of modern art. The address of Kunst Haus Wien is Untere Weissgerberstrasse 13.
Kegelgasse 34-38 Löwengasse 41-43
Vienna, Austria 1030