04 June 2011


Vienna has been on my list for awhile.  But, It hasn't been directly in the path of any prior trips and so I had to wait until a good time came to devote a whole trip.  After researching, I decided that my best bet (and least expensive) was to route via London and take a Star Alliance carrier to Vienna (Austrian Airlines).  The nighttime London flight arrived on time into Heathrow and since almost all the Star Alliance carriers are in Terminal 1, it was an easy transfer with a stop in security.  All was going well until we were all boarded.  We were then told that we were on hold because of the bad weather (thunderstorms) had caused a long queue for takoffs (we were #41).  We sat on the plane at the gate for 2 hours until we finally left.  The pilot blamed it on the nature of Heathrow.  Fortunately, I had no definite plans for the evening, so I was okay hanging out.

Vienna was a new airport for me, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  Since most of the passengers were EU citizens, the line for non-EU members was not very long, especially since I was not connecting, so passport control was quick.  While waiting for my luggage, I stopped in at the Tourist info center right in baggage claim.  I bought my Vienna Card for 18.50 euro for museum discounts and free local transportation for 3 days.  I was also able to buy the zone supplement for 1.80 euro for the S-Bahn trip into town.  There is a fast train into town called City Airport Train (CAT) for 9 euro (8 euro with the Vienna Card) that turns a 30-minute ride into a 16-minute ride, but I didn't need to get into town that fast.  I then grabbed my luggage and followed the exit signs to the S-Bahn.

The Hilton Vienna that I chose was right next to the Wien-Mitte rail station, so I did not have far to go once I exited above ground.  I was upgraded to an Executive Level Junior Suite which was very nice (with two huge flat screen TVs that I never used).  I then called it a night so that I could get an early start the next day.

I studied the weather forecast for the weekend and decided that I should visit the Summer Palace (Schloss Schonbrunn) first. However, I headed to the Opera House to see when the tours were scheduled to be offered.  Turns out none were on the calendar until Sunday morning.  Moving on, it was a short S-bahn ride from central Vienna.  I purchased a discounted Classic Pass ticket that entitled me to tour the Palace, visit the maze, go to the top of the Gloriette, and walk around the Privy Garden.  Picture were not allowed inside the palace, which in many ways was very typical of other palaces that I have seen.  but it did have some uniquely decorated rooms which were worth seeing.  The audio guide was included and helped me understand more about the Imperial Family and the history of the Habsburg Dynasty.
Palace rear
Fountain and Gloriette
Neptune's Fountain
Next, I headed back into Central Vienna to get acquainted with the main part of the city. My first stop would be the center of Vienna, St. Stephan's Cathedral. The Cathedral has a unique profile because it has only one completed tall spire. I rode the elevator to the top of the bell tower (a lower platform) for views of the city and the cathedral structure. I was already starting to get a nice feel for Vienna's charm.

At this time, it was starting to rain.  I tried to walk around a bit to continue getting oriented with the streets and sights. I popped into some shops, including one very interesting marzipan place that makes these tiny candy shapes and sells them in well-fashioned storage boxes. I even found the recommended gelato place nearby.  But eventually, I headed back to my hotel to rest and refuel.

I did go out after dark to see how the buildings looked lit up and to search for a strudel for dessert.  It was raining and most patisseries were closed.  I did find one big cafe open that sells gelato and strudel to go, so I bought the strudel and headed back to get out of the rain.

The beginning of the day was supposed to continue to be wet, so I planned to spend most of it indoors.  First stop was the Hofburg palace complex.  The Palace ticket lets you into the ground floor rooms, the Imperial Apartments, and the Sisi Museum (Sisi was the nickname of Elizabeth, wife of Emperor Franz Josef I).  The first part of the palace tour takes you through the kitchen area where there are many many display cases of tableware.  Some of the porcelain was really interesting and you could take pictures.

The Sisi Museum is relatively new and the intent is to delve into the myth and reality of Empress Elizabeth.  Evidently, she seemed to have suffered something akin to the Princess Diana Syndrome, but was much beloved by her husband.  She met a surprising death as the victim of an assassination by an Italian activist.

I also visited the Treasury, which is in a different part of the palace complex.  It also requires a separate entrance fee, but is worth it.  There were a lot of religious artifacts, swords and armor, and treasures like one of the last crowns worn by a Holy Roman Emperor.

I found the Globe Museum fascinating.  There were some very old globes exhibited, at least one pre

Afterwards, I took a long stroll around part of the ring road that surrounds the center.  I passed the Rathaus, the Volksgarten (with all the roses in bloom), the Parliament Building, and the Spittelburg area.

 On my departure day, I wasn't leaving until the afternoon, so it was perfect timing to catch a Sunday morning State Opera House tour. There were a surprising number of people gathered for the first tour at 9 am. The tickets go on sale 20 minutes before the tour and they divide you up by language. We were fortunate in that they were going to let us backstage to see them setting up for the next performance.

I caught the S-Bahn out to the airport (no need to take the fast train).  I checked in at the Lufthansa counter.  Even though I was only going to London, I had to show them my onward ticket home from London.  At the Vienna Airport, if you are leaving the EU, there are certain gates for that located beyond passport control.  But until then, there is lots of shopping and the airline lounges.  Security is done at the gate, which has the disadvantage that if you buy fluids, I don't think you can take them through security.  I used the nice Austrian Airlines lounge to grab some lunch, shopped a little, and then headed through passport control and security to my gate.  Once you pass through security, you are stuck inside your gate area.  Unlike the inbound flight, we were served a hot chicken panini on the flight, and after two hours, we arrived in London on schedule.  I didn't think immigration at Heathrow would be busy in the early afternoon, but it was, and no Fast Track access.  So it took awhile to get through, even though I just beat out a large school group joining the queue.  But I still made it through in time into London to pay a visit to a dessert bar and then see an early evening show (thank you 50%-off Heathrow Express advanced purchase ticket) before my morning departure back home.

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