Vienna is somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit. I’d like to tell you it’s for high cultural reasons or a keen interest in history but mainly it was for the cake. Sachertorte is legendarily delicious and anyone who’s read my previous posts will know how important food is to me when travelling. Unfortunately I’d pushed myself a little too far over the summer. I’d had tonsillitis the week before I’d flown to Korea and had still been taking antibiotics for it when I’d arrived. Between that trip and interrailing I’d given myself just two days to get over the jetlag. In Vienna it finally caught up with me. I completely lost my voice which meant my friend had to do all the talking for us. Got me out of trying out my rusty German! It meant I couldn’t explore Vienna as fully as I had other cities. There was a lot of sleeping and watching the Olympics in our room while my buddy wandered his way around Austria’s capital.
I managed to get up to make my way into the city centre, stopping along the way for copious amounts of good Austrian coffee. Viennese coffee house culture is world famous for their specific atmosphere. There’s a whole load of social practices, rituals and interior design that are unique to Vienna’s café culture. A coffee shop in Vienna is a place of cheap coffee and sitting for hours talking, writing, playing cards and reading newspapers or journals. It’s the kind of place where you can sit without being interrupted and just enjoy the peace and caffeine. The story goes that the reason Vienna is so famous for its coffee is thanks to the Ottoman Empire. When the city was under siege by Ottoman invaders in 1683, the Polish-Habsburg army that liberated it found sacks full of a strange bean. They thought it was camel food and wanted to burn it but fortunately an enterprising army officer decided to brew them up. He experimented, adding sugar and milk before going on to found the first coffee house in Vienna. A cool story to add to the collection of bizarre European trivia you now know.
Coffee is always served with a cold glass of water alongside and topped up if you stay a long time. In the beginning of Viennese coffee culture there were names for specific drinks, with patrons choosing from a colour-shaded chart. We made our way to Café Hofburg by the Spanish Riding School to enjoy some coffee and of Vienna’s finest baked goods. Fortunately they have a wide and varied menu, both in English and German with handy pictures for all the different types of coffee and cake they serve. My friend trusted my judgement enough to let me order him a Maria Theresa which is a double mocha with Cointreau, whipped cream and orange peel. Delicious right? I went for a Weiner Melange which is coffee and hot frothy milk. Nothing like a classic. I also tried their trio of teeny cakes so I could have a bit of everything. There was Mozart torte (chocolate and pistachio cake), Frasier torte (strawberry cake) and of course, Sachertorte. So tasty and so worth the walk even when I was sick.
That afternoon we visited the Kaisergruft. This is where the Habsburg Royal family were buried for centuries. It’s incredible. The tombs are all made from iron and are delicately carved and moulded. It’s underneath a church in the city centre and tickets are fairly cheap. Definitely up there on the list of bizarrely beautiful places I’ve visited. After this we wandered home leisurely, checking out the National Library on the way – what can I say, you can take the English teacher away from work but…
Our hotel was ten minutes walk away from Prater, Vienna’s famous fairground. Fans of The Third Man will recognise the huge ferris wheel there. It’s one of Vienna’s iconic landmarks. There was a fair queue to ride on it but once you’re up the top, it’s totally worth it. At night, when the whole of Vienna is lit up, the view is stunning. You can see clear over the whole of the city on a summer night. Afterwards we rode on some the rides including an insane spinny upsidedown monstrosity that made me feel unbelievably sick. Not my smartest move.
The next day we visited the Natural History Museum. Anyone who’s a fan of shiny rocks, you need to go. Their geology section is insane. It’s huge. It’s organised by location and we had fun trying to find rocks from our hometowns in the UK. Because we’re big old nerds. Their quartz collection is incredible too. But nothing compares to the flowers that were carved out of quartz. Check it out.
I’m aiming for 25 countries before I’m 25. Vienna is only an hour away from Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, so we figured why not put our interrail passes to good use and hop over the border. Excellent spontaneous decision. The day we picked was roasting hot and Bratislava is gorgeous in the sunshine. Its architecture is similar to Prague’s with a unique Slovak twist. We only day tripped and I was very out of it with whatever was making me ill but we managed to make it to the famous Blue Church. It’s a Hungarian Church, opened in 1908 and located in the east of Bratislava. I’ve not yet made it over to Budapest and so I’m not familiar with Hungarian architecture but oh gosh was this building pretty. They’re not joking around with the name either. It’s a bright blue church.
We finished the day off visiting the castle. It was a long long long walk on a very hot day up a big old hill. I only made it halfway up and settled down on a wall overlooking the Danube. Apparently the Castle was really cool and my friend is something of a connoisseur, having been dragged to enough National Trust properties as a kid.
Just like that, our interrail trip had come to an end. I know I’ve used words like incredible a lot. But this trip, getting to discover new cities and explore old favourites, was incredible. Doing it all with my best friend was pretty great too. The interrail pass gives you the freedom to be spontaneous, to visit places you hadn’t planned and to travel all across Europe while doing it. Do it. If you get the opportunity, seriously take it. And even if you’re not interrailing, visit Amsterdam, visit Berlin, visit Prague, visit Vienna. Explore Europe. Soak up all the culture and beauty of these cities. You’ll have a blast.