After a couple of very enjoyable weeks in Hungary which seem to have flown by, we moved on to Vienna today, again, for a few intensive days of sightseeing before moving on to “Czechia”, our last country. Sopron had been a great little stop to finish Hungary. We checked out of the basic but good value Wieden, and loaded up Eddie again. The boot and back seat have gradually filled up now, with my North Face hiking boots, a bag of books, Nessie’s presents, my two hats and now, behind the driver’s seat, the two noodles.
We drove out of Sopron and it didn’t take very long at all before we reached the Austrian border. On our way out of Hungary (it may have been on our way to Sopron yesterday, I’m not sure), we passed many hospitals and other medical institutions with signs in German, and other languages, offering all sorts of treatments, from dentistry to plastic surgery and heart operations, the whole gamut. There is clearly an industry in low-cost health care here in Hungary.
From the border it was a smooth drive to Vienna. We had booked ahead for a budget hotel and navigated the access roads of Vienna to get to the area on the western side of the town centre. Doubts crept in as we drove through the area, full of tall buildings, not a green slightly suburban area but more an area with a high immigrant population, “exotic foods” shops, etc. Even though it was still very tidy and smart – this was, after all, Vienna. Anyway, long story, short version – we deffed the Alla Lenz (last room, very small) and after having parked Eddie in an underground garage headed instead for the tourist information office near the opera. With the help of the tourist information office we came up with a better, and more pricey, option the Hotel Kärntnerhof, a tourist option and within walking distance of all the stuff in the Innere Stadt.
We first walked to the hotel, to check for ourselves. It met with our approval and we returned to get Eddie, stopping for an ice cream along the way. Then we returned to the car park and got hellishly frustrated in Vienna’s one-way traffic, tempers got the better of us, but a bit later were installed in our Vienna hotel, with Eddie parked at a nearby courtyard and we were back in Vienna, ready to go sightseeing.
On our first visit, several weeks ago (but now it felt like it was just yesterday) we had already done the walking tour and “general appreciation” of the city and this time round we had decided to focus on visiting a few of the main ones of Vienna’s wide range of museums. There is just far too much to see here, rather like London. Ness had drawn up a list of places with their opening hours and location on the map, and we planned an optimal route to try and take in as many as possible, but remaining realistic about the timescales – we didn’t want to physically run through them!
First on our list was the Kunsthistorisches Museum, in the large Museumsquartier, which is focused on the Heldenplatz with its imperial splendour. The KHM was on the other side of the wide gürtel (girdle, ring-road) avenue, in one of a pair of grand imposing purpose-built buildings, which managed to make the Natural History museum in London look modest! Inside the large ornamental building were several sections and we focused on the Egyptian and Ancients on the ground floor, and the paintings on the first.
What a stunning collection of priceless antiquities was here, displayed in fantastic rooms. We wandered round independently, in a bit of a daze, with our audio guides, just gaping and marvelling at the wealth of the collection: Egyptian sarcophagi of the very highest standard, massive and colourful, with a scale model and the original of a high priest’s tomb from the plateau of Ghizeh. Statues of gods, goddesses, etc. etc. The rooms were decorated in Egyptian motifs, replicating the tomb and palace inscriptions. Then followed a series of rooms with Greek and Roman pieces, marble busts, statues, complete floor mosaics, all displayed in such a way that you could easily observe the art of the Roman sculptors, with their keen insight and realistic portrayals of human faces, and it just went on and on.
We had agreed to meet on the first floor café at some time and my phone, alarm set, had vibed to let me know. I found Ness already there. The café was on the first floor in the open rotunda area above the entrance and “arguably” the most splendid museum café we have been in. It was reminiscent of the town hall type building in Victoria, Vancouver Island, but much, much more grand (this is Vienna!)
After having given our feet a little rest we continued into the painting galleries. Our audio guides continued to provide helpful bits of commentary here and there. We each went at our own pace, lost in the rather pleasant routine of strolling through a museum. I only managed to see the Italian wing before it was time to meet up again, an hour or two later. Ness had in addition covered the Flemish wing. Both wings consisted of a large number of large high-ceilinged rooms in the traditional style of, say, a fin-de-siècle art gallery with benches for contemplation and appreciation of the many large works hung on display. These comprised a huge collection of masterpieces, from modest panels to gigantic canvases, covering religious scenes, the European renaissance, portraits, etc. Far too much to remember in individual detail but I do remember being overawed, putting it rather strongly, by the sheer size as well as the exceptional quality of the collection.
We met as agreed, at half past five in the main entrance lobby and from here we made our way gradually back to our neck of the woods. We weren’t done with museums though! Along the way, passing behind the main wing of the Hofburg, we stopped at the magnificent Palmenhaus, now a smart wine bar/café/restaurant. We caught a photographer with his model posing for some risqué shots on the ornamental stairs nearby. At the Palmenhaus we had wine and shared a platter of cheeses, rather frou-frou with frilly and fruity bits, but very chic too.
Finally we continued to the music museum, das Haus der Musik, which was the last on our list as it stayed open until ten o’clock. The HDM was another excellent museum, modern and up-to-date, very “twenty-first century”. It was housed in a tall L-shaped townhouse on four or five floors. First we watched and listened to a shortened version of the traditional Viennese New Year’s concert, as close as you could get to the real thing, with all the classic pieces and filmed with close-ups and views of the splendid hall. Superb.
Other rooms had various interactive exhibits, like the auto-waltz-composer (roll the dice to generate a section of music), and various screens and things exploring aspects of sound, with weird and wonderful effects such as the perpetual scale (four overtones) and the “brain music” room with ultra-modern quirky ways of making sound and music. There was also a series of rooms devoted to a few great composers – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert – and there was a room with “perfect surround sound”, wonderful. Our visit was only slightly marred by a group of school kids but we patiently paced our visit to avoid them. The final bit was the Virtual Conductor, a clever bit of computer technology. We were both crap at it and the orchestra rebelled in protest!
We were finally “kicked out” at ten o’clock as they were closing, feeling quite knackered and now in need of a drink and nosh! Ness remembered the Kleines Café, which had been shut last time, so we went there. It was very klein indeed, a couple of cosy little tables in a semi-cellar. After a drink or two here we headed to our hotel, aiming to pick up something quick and easy for nosh, which we found at an oriental place, a modern small eatery, and we both tucked into tasty plates of “modern Asian” cooking, reminding us again of how much we liked the Asian food and food culture. Then we finally headed for our beds and crashed out. A great day, and I just wish I could remember more of all the stunning things we saw today in the museums. Incredible to think that only this morning we were still in Hungary!