What a fantastic city!
We had found an apartment for one week and soon arranged a couple of additional nights once we realised we would not see enough of the things we wanted to in that time. Nine nights was still not enough but we left feeling content that we had given it a good go.
Our apartment was situated in the 2nd District, close to the Prater, the city’s first amusement park, built on an area first declared open for public enjoyment in 1766. The Giant Ferris Wheel has been in operation since 1897 and now stands amongst 250 other amusement rides and attractions. It’s like a nostalgic version of The Ekka but with free entry (you pay for what you use), no fluffy characters and no queues for any rides. Whilst it has many modern roller coasters and rides, by far the best rides are the ‘Old School’ ones and there are heaps that are perfectly suited to young kids….. We went on about fifteen of them! Including The Giant Ferris Wheel of course, but also pony rides, a horse drawn carousel, swinging boats, two fun houses, racing cars, bumper cars, a timber toboggan slide, a log flume, a kids chairoplane, bumper motorbikes, train rides, plane rides, car rides, carousel…. You name it and it’s there, even the original Kit from Knight Rider, it’s not as futuristic as I remembered it from Expo 88.
Of course we didn’t leave all the fun to the kids, there is plenty for the grown ups too, our favourites were: ‘The Toboggan’, a timber spiral slide built in 1913 which you come down in hessian sacks at enough speed to take the skin of my elbow; ‘The Tower’, the highest chairoplane in the world at 117m which spins at 60kph, believe me that is high and fast in nothing but a chair with a chain; and the ‘Schweizerhaus’, a great beer garden where the specialty is a 1.2kg knuckle of pork which we went back to for a second time, although not on the same day, we saved the re-visit for our parting meal with Vienna, also because we had arrived in German territory in time for the 200th anniversary of the legalisation of Beer Gardens…. So we had no choice really, plus it was a good excuse to try a couple more rides.
While on the subject of beer gardens and meat, there was a fantastic little cafe with a beer garden right across the road from our apartment which gave me a meal worth photographing, check this out of a fantastic feast.
There is a whole Museum Precinct in Vienna which would cater for anyone, art lover or not, we visited it twice for Zoom Children’s Museum and the enormous Natural History Museum, a strong rival for the one in London. There are also art galleries and other themed museums in the precinct and they are connected by great public spaces full of people doing their own thing, worthy of some simple people watching time.
On our first visit to Zoom we were just intending on checking out the time table because you have to book sessions in advance, when the lady told us someone had not turned up for a Paper Art Class starting in five minutes that Ari was just old enough for, it was a Fashion and Wearable Art workshop where the kids could make anything they wanted, preferably to wear, out of the huge array of paper supplies and equipment. Ari was the only English speaking child in the class but that made no difference to him, he patiently sat through the demonstrations in German, asked a couple of questions, got stuck in and had a ball, with a bit of his Mum’s teaching assistance. He didn’t choose to make anything wearable, mostly wanted to play with the shredder, hole punches, staplers etc., but he pulled it all together in the last few minutes and made a hat and a creature that he named ‘Thingy’. Tess and I didn’t miss out, we put together our own little hat and Tess had a ball playing in some cardboard sculptures in the courtyard. Tess obviously learned from the experience, she took the concept of wearable art home and tried out the bread bag for size in our apartment.
Whilst at Zoom the first time we booked a session suited to both Tess and Ari’s ages for the following day. It was an Ocean themed indoor playground with two levels, the lower floor being underwater with fish and seaweed toys and caves to explore, and the upper level being above the sea with a ship complete with steering bridge, engine room, fishing gear to catch the fish from the lower floor, a crane for moving cargo etc., as well as a submarine and other play areas. Both kids absolutely loved it.
Another all round highlight for both the kids and us was definitely the Schonbrunn Palace. The Palace itself is impressive enough built in 1728 on the site of a previous Chateau as a palatial hunting lodge for the heir to the throne and with a large Orangery in which concerts are now held, plus a separate Marionette theatre, but by far the most impressive element is the grounds. We spent the best part of a day in them. They even house Vienna’s first zoo. There is a whole section of mazes and labyrinths with fun activities throughout like musical pavers, mirrors, water play fountains, mind puzzles and a giant bird that you can climb in and enjoy the motion of its flight. The gardens are impeccable, yet parts feel like true wilderness. There is even a ‘fake’ Roman ruin, which although 200 years old itself was actually a designer landscaping feature in the day to keep up with the Jones’s that had unearthed real ruins on their estates. While wandering through the rest of the grounds we ventured beyond the manicured lawns and found ourselves in a completely quiet, empty, thick forest canopy where both the sunlight and the other visitors just seemed to disappear, Tess fell asleep almost instantly, Ari stopped his usual running around like a mad man and it was like a magic oasis.
Austria clearly has no shortage of Palaces and it’s hard to know which to visit in the time available, but another that we visited in Vienna was Belvedere Palace. It’s an equally impressive building, actually there are two, the Upper and Lower at opposite ends of the estate plus another Orangery, built in the early 1700’s for Prince Eugene of Savoy. The grounds of this palace are also impressive but nothing like Schonbrunn. The Upper Belvedere houses six different eras of art collections in the main building including a collection of work by Gustav Klimt (and relatives!) including a very famous work known as ‘The Kiss’, which was what inspired our visit.
I think we have found Ari’s new heaven in the Technical Museum of Vienna. It is an enormous gallery of everything and anything technical, from vacuum cleaners to fighter jets. We spent an entire day here and there was still plenty more to see. There are loads of interactive displays like a giant hamster wheel for lifting weights, power plant models and steam trains. I loved the first Beetle car and the first electric car (built in 1897 can you believe that? It took four hours to charge and could then drive 80km. It was part of a competition and Ferdinand Porsch worked at the company that built it) as well as some old scooters and planes. There was also a large play area for young kids. This was a great day out. We have since found that the largest technical museum in the world is in Munich, so added that to the wish list.
Aside from the multitude of museums, palaces and fantastic gardens, Vienna is a place to simply walk and take in whatever you pass. We did this a bit and passed such places at St Stephen’s Cathedral, the National Bibliotech, the Spanish Horse Riding School and many horse and carriages.
On one of our wandering days we ventured to an island between two sections of the Danube River. It is a fairly sparse place but it does host events from time to time. In the middle of it we found this kids’ water playground. It was amazing: it had a lake with raft, a giant spitting karp, wind mill, water mills, pumps and so on. Unfortunately we found it on a day way too cold to swim, but still had a lot of fun nonetheless. There was also an information centre hosting an exhibit of models from the finalists of a competition to design a new pedestrian bridge to the island, it was quite interesting and it will be great to see if one actually gets built from one of the designs we saw.
So, in nine days we obviously covered a bit more ground than what is covered here, but these were some highlights and this entry is already way longer than I intended. We enjoyed Vienna immensely, it was a great all round place for both us and the kids and had many things for all of us. We have enjoyed it so much we have decided to stick close by and see what else Austria has to offer, so next we’ll head to Salzburg for a few days before picking up a car and heading to an apartment in the Apline country (Bergen) for a week. Stay tuned….
On a parting note, we have so little idea of the German language and so much of it makes us giggle, so I really wanted to put together a witty email using some of the most common terms such as “fahrt”, “gass”, “gute fahrt” and “wiener”, but no matter how much thought I put into it, it really just revealed too much of my immature side, so all I will do is attach this one example and leave it up to our less mature friends to giggle to themselves if they feel the need, it gets it out of my system at least.