Our supposed three-hour drive from Salzburg to Vienna turned into a seven-hour ordeal. Austria decided to close down a 10km stretch of the main highway for a construction project without telling anyone. This meant a highway totally full of travelers came to a complete standstill without warning. We spent the next two hours sitting in our car, going nowhere. Eventually, traffic began to creep slowly forward and after another hour or so, we made our way to an exit from which we could take back roads for the next thirty miles, before meeting back up with the main highway.
At this point, we thought it would be smooth sailing. Little did we know our GPS would lose its signal just when we needed it most. We had unwisely become overly reliant on our trusty navigation system and had no backup maps. We made it to Vienna, but had no clue how to find our hotel. We spent about half an hour on the phone with the friendly receptionist at the hotel, trying to explain to her where we were, while she attempted to locate us on Google maps and walk us through the directions. Between her shaky English and our awful pronunciation of the German street names, the endeavor proved unsuccessful. We were lost in the streets of Vienna. At this point, it was around 11:30 at night.
We spent another hour driving around Vienna asking people for directions (note it's midnight at this point so there weren't many folks outside who were qualified to be giving anyone directions, which may have contributed to our plight). We were about to give up and sleep in the car when we heard a familiar British accent say At the roundabout take the second exit. Hooray! Our navigation system miraculously started working agin and we found the place in about 2 minutes. To our credit, this hotel was quite well-hidden, buried in a construction zone.
We stayed at the Zeitgeist Hotel. Chris chose this hotel and I have a feeling it had something to do with the picture on the hotel's homepage:
The next day we went on a bit of a self-guided walking tour of the old city. Here are some highlights:
Our hotel offered us free loaner bikes, so we took advantage on our second day in town and explored some other parts of the city.
This massive palace was the Hapsburg summer residence and is located about 4km outside the city center. Here we took a quick tour of the main palace and learned about famous Hapsburgs who have called it home, including their beloved Empress, Maria Theresa . She was the only female Hapsburg ruler, reigning for 40 years! She had 16 children including the ill-fated Queen of France, Marie Antoinette. Their other famous and beloved Emperor, Franz Josef, lived here with his controversial wife, Sisi. Lots of drama took place behind these walls!
This castle was built by Prince Eugene of Savoy who turns out to be a very interesting historical character. Eugene was a member of the French royalty who proved a military genius. However, he was small and had several physical deformities, including a hunchback, so was rejected for military service by King Louis XIV. Therefore he moved to Austria where he enjoyed a hugely successful military career commanding the Hapsburg armies. Eugene built the Belvedere as his personal residence, and was also a great patron of the arts.
Today, Eugene is known as one of Austria's great heroes and the Belvedere is now an art museum, notable for its collection of Gustav Klimt's works. Klimt is one of Austria's most famous painters, and is also one of my favorite artists, so I was very excited about the chance to finally see his work in person. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, not only did the Belvedere have a great Klimt collection, but they also had several pieces from the Impressionism (Monet, Van Gogh, Manet to name a few), Expressionism (lots of Egon Scheile!) and Contemporary periods. If you are ever in Vienna, definitely visit this museum!
This cemetery is one of the most famous in Vienna and many think Mozart was buried here, among other famous Austrians throughout history. We rode by the cemetery on our way home, around dusk, and had the place to ourselves, which was a little spooky!