Bratislava and Vienna, also called the "Twin Cities," are the two closest capitals in all of Europe-- only 40 miles between them!
In addition, those 100 km are along the Danube river, so we decided to take the Twin City Liner from Bratislava to Vienna. The boat ride took almost exactly 90 minutes, and it was super cool. We got excellent views of Bratislava, the Castle, and we even saw Devin Castle (which was supposed to be a day trip from Bratislava-- definitely got the best view from the water).
There were plenty of seats in the cabin because it is still technically "low season" in Europe, but we spent the whole time up on the observation deck. The wind was totally insane because the boat was moving pretty fast and it was a windy day to begin with-- glad I didn't wear a skirt like I had almost done.
There were tons of little fishing houses along the Danube, but they kept making announcements about not using the bathrooms in the boat when we were departing Bratislava or arriving in Vienna, suggesting that all of the passenger excrement was going straight into the river. Needless to say, we avoided eating fish in Vienna.
The claim that Bratislava and Vienna are "twin cities" is very misleading-- Vienna could not possibly be more different from Bratislava. Vienna is HUGE, very Baroque, very Western, and very expensive. Austria is an extremely popular tourist destination and is known for a number of different things: skiing, waltzing, boy's choirs, Lipizzaner horse riding, classical composers (Mozart for example), opera, the Sound of Music, indirectly starting WWI, Hitler, etc. Vienna definitely lives up to all of the hype, and everyone in Europe seems to know about it because there are tourists EVERYWHERE.
This might have something to do with the impending Easter weekend, but who knows. Regardless, Vienna is extraordinary. Every building is a stunning work of art surrounded by beautiful gardens and fountains, as classical favorites are piped through the air. Our hostel ended up being in a perfect location-- right next to the Museum Quartier, which doubled as the area where all the young people lounged around on lawn chair things and drank espresso.
Directly past the Museum Quartier were three huge squares lined with giant museums/churches/government buildings/gardens. People were walking around all the squares, dressed in funny little outfits, trying to sell tourists tickets to various different concerts and cultural events.
Past the three squares was the shopping district, which had its own share of churches and monuments.
We spent the day walking around in circles from our hostel to the shopping district, taking a thousand pictures and enjoying the breathtaking grandeur of Vienna.
We also had some really excellent street food! First, little pastries with spinach that are best explained as cheese danishes except with spinach. Then, gigantic bratwursts and frankfurters. The hot dog buns here put American hot dog buns to shame-- they basically poke a hole halfway down a fresh baguette, squirt a ton of mustard in it, then shove the brat right down the center.
Excellent. We also saw a number of famous Viennese attractions during our little stroll.
We started with two lovely museums separated by gardens, moved on to the Rathaus (stunning) and St. Mary's Basilica, then ended with St. Stephen's Cathedral in the shopping district.
The architecture in Vienna is truly outstanding-- like nothing we have seen so far. Unfortunately, a number of the buildings were particular covered with scaffolding. Not sure if this was due to repairs done during low season, or restorations that take longer to complete.
Then we decided to cruise by the opera to see if we could see a performance. Turns out that there was a Wagner opera already going on-- it started at 5PM because the opera was more than 4 hours long! They had a giant screen showing the live performance, and there was a pretty substantial crowd gathered in front of it.
They even provided a number of chairs to sit in and patches of carpet to lay on. Vienna really puts a strong emphasis on classical music-- it is EVERYWHERE. We didn't really have a 4 hour opera in us, so we sat on the lawn and watched it on the screen for a while.
Then we went to dinner to try Vienna's local dish-- Wiener-schnitzel! After visiting Vienna, I have a much better understanding of Wiener-schnitzel. First of all, the name is very fitting. The local spelling of Vienna is Wien, so Wiener- schnitzel... schnitzel from Wien!
Also, I'm not sure what I thought wiener-schnitzel was, but I was wrong. It is a giant flat breaded and fried slab of pork or veal that is served with cold potato salad. It was delicious, but we ordered about three times as much of it as we could eat, so Dad ended up eating it for breakfast for the next few days. I stuck with the toast provided by the hostel, haha.
After dinner, we went back out to central Vienna to check out the buildings at night. We spent nearly an hour walking around Rathaus. Vienna did a really excellent job lighting up most of their big buildings, but Rathaus was definitely the best.
Stupidly, I realized that I didn't know how to turn the LCD screen on my camera to the "live view" setting, so I had a pretty hard time taking pictures from the ground with the tripod when I couldn't see through the view finder. After trying all of the buttons/settings on my camera, I finally found the button that turns the stupid feature on. Of course, it was huge and red and the most obvious of all of the buttons. Oh well, I got to successfully use it the next night.
On Thursday morning (4-22), I woke up really early to Skype with Jenna, who comes to Munich in less than 2 weeks! We dealt with some packing business and I got to talk with the rest of the Hamilton family (minus Garrett). Still trying to figure out the best way to meet Jenna in Munich. I'm sure it will be abundantly clear once we arrive in Munich, but planning has been difficult. I think we will just meet her at the airport for the sake of simplicity.
After breakfast, we went back into central Vienna to continue wandering around. I could walk around this city for weeks and still not get enough of all the beauty. We went back to St. Stephen's cathedral and climbed the bell tower to check out views of Vienna.
As expected, the view was great, but there is a ton of construction going on (like I said before), so there were a number of cranes. Oh well, still great! Then we went to the original Sanger restaurant to try an (apparently) famous "Sanger torte." The torte was basically chocolate cake with fudge on the outside and berry jam of some sort between the layers. Delicious!
Then we went to the bus station to try and figure out how to get to Czech Republic from Vienna. We struck out pretty completely at the bus station-- it is apparently really easy to get to Prague, but impossible to get anywhere else in CR. Since we are trying to get to Cesky Budejovice in the southern part of CR, a bus to Prague didn't do us much good.
So we headed to the train station to give that a try. Austria has a rocking train system, so we were able to get anywhere we needed to go, but for a large price. A three hour train ride is approximately 50 Euros! Thankfully, Jenna and I will have the Eurail pass when we return to Austria, so the tickets will be essentially free (if you ignore the cost of the Eurail, obviously).
But we got a pretty good deal-- 3 open tickets (so we can take a train at any time between now and mid-May); Vienna to Linz to Ceske Budejovice to Cesky Krumlov. So we are set for transportation until we head to Prague-- YAY!
After the train fiasco, we were hungry so we picked up some cheese stuffed flaky pastry thing at a street stall. Not so healthy but very tasty! Then we walked around to scope out places to return to at night, so basically we looked for places that appeared to have good lighting.
We definitely found a few places-- one with a nice fountain and St. Charles' cathedral, which was really impressive. I love the architecture with the big domes (I'm sure it has a name that I should know). Then off to dinner at a Pho restaurant (Vietnamese noodle soup). After dinner, we returned to St. Charles' Cathedral to take a ton of pictures-- this time the tripod worked wonderfully.
So we are off to Czech tomorrow.
I'm going to post a few short entries to detail the happenings of our travels tomorrow-- one for Linz, Ceske Budejovice, and Cesky Krumlov a few days later. I think I have to post entries in order to show the places on the map, so I figured I would split them up for the people reading this who do not know the country specific geography of Austria and CR (ie. everyone). Auf Wiedersehen for now, Vienna... see you again in two weeks!
Spoiler Alert-- Jenna, you will probably see most of this again. I promise, it is WAY better in real life.