This year with my Gateway Challenges funding I decided that I would undertake independent travel to Austria to explore the culture there.
I have only travelled abroad as part of a group before and so the organisation has been divided between several people. This year I went with just one friend, Rosie, who I went to Sixth Form with, and now lives in Bath. We had to organise everything via phone calls and Skype but I was pleasantly surprised by how effectively we did manage to pull our trip together.
We decided to go to Vienna and to Salzburg to try I experience a range of cultures within Austria as we had heard varying things about each. Salzburg is celebrating 200 years of having been in Austria this year and is the birthplace of Mozart. Vienna has fantastic parks and I was really excited to go to the Opera and to the famous Riesenrad wheel in the Prater.
We decided that we would travel to Gatwick and meet there the day before our flight. On the day we then got the bus to the airport and after going through the security checks, we ate breakfast in Gatwick and had time to do some shopping before getting on the plane. We arrived in Vienna around 3pm, and managed to buy our transport passes for the week. They are really sensible way of travelling around the city – they only cost 16.20€ and cover all modes of public transport in the city).
Finding the hotel was a little tricky as it is actually on top of an apartment block. We didn’t get too lost and at least we were on the right road! We got checked in and ate wiener hotdogs for tea from the takeaway at the bottom of the road. We were really close to the centre and the Danube Channel is a two minute walk from the hotel (excluding the 7 flights of stairs to the ground floor!). The traffic lights for the pedestrian crossings were pleasantly surprising: they consist of couples crossing the road.
We quickly discovered the uses of the tram system in Vienna and on our first full day caught a tram to the Prater. It was eerily empty at 10.30am. This, however, worked in our favour as it meant that there was virtually no queue for the Riesenrad and we were in a reasonably quiet cabin. You can see so much of the Vienna skyline from the wheel, as well as across the park and the theme park. We had lunch in the sunshine at a lovely Italian restaurant then walked down Hauptalle. It is 4km long and we walked the full length and back again. We caught the tram back to Schwedenplatz (the stop by the hotel). We went to eat our remaining pizza and some biscuits in Stadtpark by the canal.
Schönbrunn palace is a very striking building and the views from the end of the gardens were spectacular as we got to see the rest of gardens from above and the palace as part of the skyline. I was surprised at the simple elegance of the architecture. Its golden colour really makes it stand out and it is very different from any of the palaces or stately homes I have seen in England. In German the word for “palace” is “Schloß” which at school I had always been taught was “castle”. I find it interesting that they use the same word for both.
We had picked up that standing ticket were available for operas and went into town to investigate this at the Vienna State Opera House and then went sight-seeing around the city centre including the Imperial Palace and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. In the nucleus of the city, much of the architecture is very ornate including copper and gold finishes. This is quite a contrast to Schönbrunn.
Before going to the opera we decided that some form of food would be a good idea. We opted to go to a gelateria and I was amazed how many different flavours of ice cream they had. I chose Apfel, Weiss Küß und Schokolade (apple, white chocolate and chocolate). The strength of the flavours was also a lot more intense than I am used to having here which was fantastic.
The opera house is a very impressive building and the red velvet decor inside really adds to it. We went to see Richard Strauss’ Salome. It was really dramatic and I liked being able to follow the dialogue on a small screen. I could follow the English on my screen, read the German on the screen below and then listen to the German being sung. I feel like I not only enjoyed the performance but improved my (incredibly rusty) German along the way.
Our day trip to Salzburg began with trying to understand the train time tables and (with the help of a very helpful train station attendant) catching the S-Bahn to the main station before getting the railjet. The train went through a lot of beautiful countryside and we were pleasantly surprised to see many typically Austrian houses. We also saw many more hills which is what we expected from Austria rather than the fairly flat camber of Vienna. When we arrived at Salzburg we swiftly managed to get our bearings and went into the city. We went through the gardens of Mirabell Palace which had many similarities to those at Schönbrunn. We saw one of Mozart’s many houses and then walked up to a viewing point. Again, the views were terrific. We walked down into the main market place where they had a traditional market. Many people were wearing the traditional dress as it was the festival of Rupertikirtag which celebrates the city’s founder St. Rupert. We returned to Vienna having seen and walked a lot!
We finished our trip by taking a horse and carriage tour of the Prater and then into the city. Horses and carts used to be allowed into the city at any time of day but a rule was brought in which means that now they may only entre the city after 10am to avoid over working the horses. Most of the tour horses come from a racing background and have been retired into the horse and carriage business. We really enjoyed the tour and it was a lovely way to round off a fantastic trip.
I really enjoyed our trip and I feel that I learned a lot about how another different culture does things in slightly different ways. Many of the contrasts between Austria and the UK are not very stark and a lot of the differences are actually variations on a theme. For example, in Austria they still have palaces even though the style is not the same as in England. I would really like to explore some more varied cultures to see how things like this are done in a totally different way with a different logic behind them.