We arrived in Vienna without an itinerary. Jesse and I got off the train at the Sudbahnhof and flowed out of the train station with the other passengers (the entire area was under construction, so we decided to move with the herd). We were debating what to do when we came across a palace.
The Hapsburgs were very in to both destroying castles in rebellious territories and constructing magnificent palaces for themselves.
The palace we stumbled upon was the Belvedere, which now houses a collection of art. Archduke Franz Ferdinand was living there at the time of his death. Yes, that Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the one whose assassination was a cause of WWI that students are required to memorize for high school history class.
We bought tickets, checked our bags, and wandered through the museum. They had a great collection of Medieval art, as well as some wonderful Impressionist and Expressionist pieces. Perhaps the most iconic paintings on display were by Gustav Klimt, who painted beautiful women surrounded by intricate gold mosaic-like patterns.
One of the first things I noticed about Vienna is that people were not as friendly as Bratislava. The lady who sold me our tickets and the lady who checked our bags were both rather surly. I think this shift in attitude says more about Bratislava than it does about Vienna.
Vienna is a big city. Like any metropolis, some people are nice, some people are not.
In Bratislava, however, nearly everyone we encountered was helpful. People seemed glad that we were visiting the capital city of Slovakia. Waiters helped us translate menu items and seemed to truly care whether we enjoyed our meal or not. The great hospitality made the city truly relaxing and charming.
After visiting the Belvedere, we ate mediocre Italian food for lunch, bought a two-day transportation pass, and checked into our hostel. We had a private room in a hostel near the Westbahnhof, a transportation hub in Vienna. From there, we could take the metro into the heart of the city in about ten minutes.
It was dark by the time we got off the metro at St. Stephen’s, the sky-scraping cathedral in the heart of Vienna. I stood in awe of this Gothic behemoth. Although construction of the church began in the 1100s, most of it was destroyed in a fire in the 1200s, and major additions were added in the 1300s.
Jesse and I tip-toed inside while a mass was being held. I stared in awe at the ribbing on the vaulted ceilings. I had seen pictures of cathedrals and had read The Hunchback of Notredame, but I had never stood in such a cavernous, eerie space before.
We left St. Stephen’s and strolled through the streets that, despite the cold and the dark, were full of sightseers and shoppers. The area around the cathedral seemed to be an upscale shopping district. I was a little overwhelmed by all the expensive merchandise.
We had drinks and a light dinner at a cafe before we called it a night.