On the morning of the 27th of June 2019 I woke up in the ibis hotel in Vienna, Austria after an incredible night’s sleep. I was very much under the impression that the sunburn blisters on my face looked better and thus proceeded to send my mom a selfie via our WhatsApp group. It was not even a minute later and she was knocking on our door. Upon opening we found her tearful and apologetic for my sunburn situation. She went on to say that no one would blame me for staying in the hotel for the day. Trust a mom to be honest. In her defence, I knew it came from a place of love wanting to protect me from further sun damage. I need to provide some context (because I would never share any photos), it was not that bad, but it felt awful and awkward.
I must admit I considered it for a moment, staying in the hotel for the day, but I was determined to explore and experience the rest of Vienna regardless of what I may have looked or felt like. So I owned it. I got ready for the day and headed downstairs for breakfast, which was a feast fit for royalty. The buffet had everything including a waffle station, a variety of freshly baked bread, and an array of cheese and cold meats.
Each new destination presented me with the opportunity to learn new sayings to use when engaging locals. In Austria I was the most self-assured as I had been exposed to the German language during the years we lived in Windhoek, Namibia. One of the girls celebrated her 17th birthday so I went straight over to wish her. Everyone I came across at breakfast (those part of the tour and complete strangers) received an overcompensated and highly energetic ‘Guten Morgen’ (meaning Good Morning). We were fortunate to have someone in our group who was able to speak fluent German (although the German dialect differs slightly from place to place); he tried to teach us several words and phrases, and engaged comfortably with the locals.
A walking tour was on the itinerary for the morning where we were to discover why Vienna was voted the most liveable city in the world. The bus dropped us off near the city centre and we walked through the picturesque Maria-Theresien-Platz, a large public square. Soon thereafter we met our tour guide, Gabi, who would spend the morning taking us around the very heart of the city to appreciate the exteriors and surrounds of impressive structures. The first stop was the Hofburg Imperial Palace, which served as the winter residence for the imperial family, while Schönbrunn Palace was their summer residence. Today the president of Austria occupies these premises. We were just in time to witness the army doing their marching rounds while branded memorabilia was available to take at no cost promoting the military. Following, Gabi took us to see the Kaiserappartements, the imperial apartments, once occupied by Empress Elisabeth and Franz Joseph. During the imperial dynasty each member of the family had their own suite in one of the many palace wings.
We walked along the Graben, one of the most well-known streets in Vienna’s first district. Vienna was bustling.
Around 11:30 our tour concluded and we were given free time. Some of us dashed over to an elegant coffee house, Sluka, where we indulged in traditional Austrian sweet treats and coffee beverages. We asked an elderly gentleman sitting with female companions to take a photo for us, which proved to be a difficult task for him. He struggled greatly with the cell phone and when we looked at the photos they were terrible. We enjoyed a good laugh.
Once the sweet tooth was satisfied we visited the Gustav Klimt exhibition where various copies of the Austrian born artists’ famous works were on display. We carefully selected beautiful magnets of our favourite works, one of which the well-known ‘The Kiss’.
We went into a souvenir shop, World of Souvenirs, where I purchased more magnets and other items for my husband and daughters; it was my way of making them a part of this unforgettable experience. One of the funniest things I came across in the shop was a slogan which read ‘no kangaroos in Austria’. I chuckled at the fact that perhaps there are tourists who confuse Austria with Australia necessitating the need for the amusing catchphrase. The souvenir shop had a window on the second floor which they marked as the best view of the Stephansdom cathedral, I couldn’t resist snapping a shot.
My mom insisted that we go inside the cathedral feeling that it would be a sin to miss out on such an experience when in Europe. I am so glad we listened to her (one should always listen to one’s mother). We made our way across to the Stephansdom as it’s known in German (the English name being St. Stephen’s Cathedral) where entrance was free. The exquisite architecture of this Roman Catholic Church is celestial. As I looked up my attention was captured by the intricate finishes on the high ceilings from which grand chandeliers hung. Rays of sunshine glistened through the spectacular colourful glass windows. The walls are works of art with decorative designs and sculptures bringing them to life. It was somewhat crowded inside (but not as jam-packed as outside the cathedral). It was definitely worth the visit.
After meeting up with the rest of our party we made our way back to the bus. At this point we were fairly tired (due to the early wake up coupled with the morning’s walking tour, not to mention the heat). Each person looked out for the red backpack in front of them. We walked through the Burggarten garden and as we crossed traffic lights a small group of us suddenly realised that we were no longer with the rest of the company. The person in front had thought they were following the tour director when in fact it was not him and all the rest had just followed that one backpack in front of them. Although there was a moment that panic could take over I suggested we stop to regroup. After a few minutes we decided to walk back looking out for familiar sights. We walked through the Maria-Theresien-Platz and quickly found the rest of the group and hopped onto the bus, crises averted.
It was after 14:00 and the excitement filled the bus as we were on our way to Wiener Prater, the oldest amusement park in the world. It is situated in Leopoldstadt, Vienna’s second district. Interestingly entrance is free while payment is due per ride, as the rides are privately owned. We arrived around 15:00 and the adrenalin junkies and thrill-seekers dashed off to experience the adventure of the scariest and highest rides in the park. A few of us made our first stop a restaurant for refreshments. I ordered Austrian Goulash served with a bread roll (it may seem absurd that I had a meal served warm on a hot summer’s day, but I wanted to soak up all the tradition). I enjoyed an ice cold G&T to accompany it.
Going to the bathroom in the park was eventful as entry cost a Euro or two. We went in a group and everyone scratched around in purses to ensure we had enough. Two ladies in the group went to the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum; they were ecstatic. I almost joined them, but as I had been to the one in England in December of 2009 I decided instead to try a new experience. My mom, aunt, sister and I opted to go on Vienna’s Giant Ferris wheel, the Wiener Riesenrad, one of the oldest operating Ferris wheels in the world. The highest point being 64.75 meters above the ground. We paid the 12 Euros each and walked through a room to get to the ride. It was full of carts, resembling those of the Ferris wheel, each depicting a time in Vienna; the story of its history was fascinating. It is slow but once at the top the view is extraordinary. Although by no means an adrenaline ride, it was well worth it. It exited into a souvenir shop (my weakness) where many things were bought including branded golf balls, Mozart bouncy balls, a cap and bracelets. I lost many Euros to this shop!
As soon as everyone was done enjoying the excitement of the park we met at the front gate, around 17:41, and once again took a ‘boomerang’ with the Ferris wheel as the setting. We headed back to the hotel for leisure time and most of us returned to the Wien Hauptbahnhof (the railway station) for dinner and shopping. My sister and I headed into the famous Manner store as they were having a sale. An entire shop in all its peach-coloured glory just for Manner wafer cookies, amazing! There is a touching story behind this brand, in 1898 the creator wanted to ensure that all Austrians could afford to buy a sweet confection (as at the time most could not afford a chocolate). A delightful hazelnut cocoa cream is spread over a crispy waver, layer-by-layer it is the perfect spoil. These were a hit as souvenir gifts for my family. I gobbled several down myself before we even got back home to South Africa. After all the shopping we headed back to the hotel where everyone met in the foyer to celebrate the birthday girl with song and cake.
On the 28th of June we were up early to depart for our next destination. I was delayed and after gulping down breakfast my sister and I ran to the bus, where most were already waiting. My mother was nowhere to be seen. When she finally arrived she seemed some-what traumatised and out of breath. She explained that she had decided to take the stairs instead of the lift and after having gone all the way down to the reception floor could not gain access with her room key and so she had to go all the way back up the stairs only to find she also could not gain access to the breakfast floor. After being stuck for a while someone eventually came to her rescue.
We were ready to depart but encountered a minor bumper bash. A very rude taxi driver shouted at Milan (our Hungarian bus driver) who found himself somewhat flustered, as anyone would be under the circumstances. The tour director remained calm and assisted Milan. We were soon on our way, bidding Vienna farewell. It was an incredible visit to the most liveable city in the world.