5am ready for a 6am taxi pick up. The guy at the desk in the apartment complex walked us out of the Old Town (which is a pedestrian only square) to where the taxi would be waiting – except it wasn’t! It was at this point that we were glad for the help as a few phones calls were made before a taxi arrived. The only problem was that no-one had mentioned to the taxi driver where we were supposed to go and he had absolutely no English. Being in the front seat Philip did give explicit directions – train station, choo choo and got a Czech response which we took to mean “I have no idea what you mean”. “Choo choo” again went Philip this time with some arm action – Claire and I in the back thought he was about to rotate his arms in a train motion to accentuate the point but luckily he stopped at “choo choo” and the whistle blowing action. (Phil’s note… I can see where I went wrong here. Clearly rather than going for the second “choo choo” I should have gone immediately into to singing “Do the locomotion with me” with the rotating arm action and a second choo choo highlight. I think everyone will agree this is universal language for “please take us to the main inter-country rail station” rather than one of many local stations which of course would have been a single “choo choo” with the corresponding arm pulling whistle action” Maybe it was just too early in the morning? Now back to Carolyn…) Fortunately I had the location both in written form and google maps in my “book”. Yep the trusty book that contains all you ever want to know whilst on our holiday. Other travellers have commented on “the book” which has been dragged out a number of times. One traveller looked at it and said “that’s something you should have darl” to which he received a look that said “I’m doing everything; why don’t you make a … book! – ok so not everyone’s cup of tea but it does work for us and has everything bound and altogether.
Now armed with directions, the taxi driver took us to the station (590 Czech or $29 Aus cheaper than our ride in). A helpful man (no doubt eager for a tip) got us to the platform, put us on sector one, helped with the bags and got us organised in the compartment that comes on all Euro city trains…yep Philip gave him a tip!
3.5hours to the border and not much changes about Czechoslovakia travelling to Vienna as compared to travelling to Prague from Salzburg. A few nuclear plants dotted alongside the countryside and some even in the central parts of towns. Hmm anyone remember Chernobyl??
A funny thing happens when crossing the border in Austria; the sun comes out and the sky turns blue. Seems bizarre but that is what happened. Everything just seems to be “happier”. The church spires also change from having round bulbous tops often in green to the more pencil rocket shaped spires with the beautiful gold clock faces. (Mr. Squiggle rocket style)
Upon reaching our destination at Wien Miedling (Vienna) we came out of the station to find the taxi rank on the other side. Looking at the first taxi and the poor horrified driver sitting in front we knew that 3 adults and 3 suitcases would have trouble fitting in one small sedan. Somehow we managed to get everything in but the three adults in the back looked a little like the Sumo ad that used to be on TV back home ( “not so squeezy”). After we had managed to get in we then gave the man a destination that he didn’t know how to locate, but with his limited English and my limited German, and a little drive around the block we managed to find it. The exterior was very divey but we had been warned about this from our House Trip host. Luckily in finding our way to our apartment (number 32) we also met the house keeper who proved to be a font of information and was able to reassure us that the Underground wasn’t far away and that the Schonbrunn Palace was even closer. The apartment was small but very well kept and had a homey feel about it – not the attic of Prague but at $150 per night very good value for anything near Vienna. With kitchen, washing machine, it’s own laptop and phone for Austrian use it was a good location to step off and explore the city of Vienna.
We ventured out and found that the house keeper was right – the underground just around the corner. With more luck purchasing a ticket than we had had previously (I think given that the ticket machines can now operate in English) we made our way into Vienna proper.
Whilst we are definitely not experts in Vienna, the city is the most crowded that we have had in the three times we have visited. The old town was chaotic and as such difficult to get our bearings – if in doubt though look for a church and a big one at that. St. Stephens is that church. We had a look inside, Claire now an expert on the gothic style following her lesson at the Prague Cathedral. From there we went and changed our booking for the Spanish Riding School to this afternoon rather than tomorrow. After a bite to eat at a restaurant that Philip had enjoyed the last couple of times, we made our way back to the Riding School for our 4pm tour. This is something we haven’t done in Vienna before as the school has always been on holidays. Our tour lasted for one hour and cost 16 Euro each. It gave us a behind the scenes look at the horses, the working yards, the tackle and stables and the performing arena. (no photos allowed but the below picture is of the outside of the horse complex!)
The horse breed originally came from Spain and were brought to Austria by a number of the Hapsburg family members. Only stallions are used as it is found that the routines asked of the horses are seen in the life of a stallion outside of the riding school. The horses live in paddocks in an area about 2 hours from Vienna for the first four years of their life. They then start working with one rider ( this rider can be working up to 8 horses at any one time). It takes about 4-6 years to train up the horse so that they can execute one element in the performance. The horses perform until they are about 25 years old and then are put out to paddock or given a new home. They can live to be around 40-45 years of age. The riders are selected when they are between the ages of 17-21. They must be between 170-175cm in height and can now be female as well as male. The horses are also born dark and over 4-6 years become progressively whiter.
It was a good look behind the scenes at what is a very impressively run and one would think, costly organisation. With 72 working horses, 25 riders and then all the associated personnel and building costs, this would not be a cheap exercise.
After our tour we then, much to Philip’s “delight” walked through a beautiful old marble archway only to discover more Xmas markets. Yep he was ecstatic! Taking a quick walk through and sampling some more Austrian delights (ice cream cone, filled with fluffy marshmallow and then coated in chocolate we did share one though!) We then caught the train to the Prater Ferris Wheel only to discover…yep you guessed it…more xmas markets; although these were more about wine, entertainment and a sausage or two. Gotta love how the Europeans don’t let a thing like the cold get in the way. In Melbourne we would all be rugged up in our houses and not come out until the sun starts to shine. Here they rug themselves up, find a good live outside venue with entertainment and warm their bellies with hot punch and great food. Just a different way of looking at it I guess but this way is kinda cool if you’re a tourist (and must be for many locals as well.)
The Prater Ferris Wheel commenced at the turn of the century. The original one was burnt down during WW2 and another one was erected at the end of the war. It has been operating since then. The carriages are large wooden boxes that house around 20 people. They rotate around the wheel on a metal pole attached to the top of the carriage. Therefore the higher you go the more they swing with the wind. This is not my ideal activity but another one that you do when in a specific location – the Prater is an icon in Vienna and therefore something that you must go on, if only once.
The complete rotation takes about 15 minutes and the cost is 9 Euros each. You can also now have an intimate dinner for two in one of the boxes although I’m not sure how intimate it can be when the “plebs” in the other carriage can see you the whole time!
By this stage it was 8:30pm and we had been on the go since 6am so we decided to call it a night, catching the train back to our apartment and getting ready for another action packed day tomorrow.