Wednesday, 29 August 2012

5 Things About Vienna the Guidebooks Won't Tell You

I have always been a believer that holidays are best when you go somewhere new. Why go back to someplace you've already been? There are so many places to experience. Real travellers keep seeking new destinations. Don't they?

Well, I'm ready to revise that statement. In fact, I'm ready to revise a lot of my so-called firm beliefs about travelling. I think this says as much about travelling as it does about me, but for today, I'm going to focus on why Vienna is definitely worth another look. The other half and I loved it when we were there in 2007 and recently, we got an invite from dear friends of ours from Toronto to meet them there for the weekend. We were a bit worried we'd be crashing their holiday given that we'd already seen the highlights of the city. Of course, we hadn't even scratched the surface of Vienna.

Here's what I reckon we missed the first time around.
Octopi graffiti doesn't generally make the hop on - hop off bus tour

1. The canal. Once upon a time this was the Danube river, now it's the Danube Canal. Sure, you can take a cruise down it with all the other out-of-towners, but why not take a stroll? I'm not the first and I won't be the last travel writer to sing the praises of walking, but in an easy, 20 minute wander you can see the side of Vienna that isn't in your guide book. The canal is lined with bright street art that speaks of a vibrant culture other than the cathedral and the palaces. Vienna's art isn't all in the museums.

2. The Rathaus. Wait, wait. I can hear you objecting already, so let me explain. I know the Rathaus (city hall) is a very popular tourist destination and that it's even on Vienna's circular tram line. You almost can't miss it. But what you might miss is the great events that go on there. We didn't actually miss the Rathaus in 2007, in fact, we really enjoyed watching people ice skating on what was easily the world's most interesting rink. It wasn't even a rink, it was a path through the park in front of city hall. This time, as July is generally a little warm for ice skating, the Rathaus Film Festival was on while we were there (and still is until September 2nd!). Our grasp of German is rubbish, so we didn't watch any films, but the range was spectacular and the theatre is outdoors with free access to the stadium seating. Adjacent to the theatre was a fantastic selection of street food, from traditional Austrian fair to South African cuisine and everything in between. How can you  argue with a rotating attraction in the heart of an international city?
The priest shop

3. The priest shop. I kid you not, a shop just for priests. How would we have found this if not by leisurely wandering through the streets? It wasn't in any of my guide books. It seemed to stock everything that a priest could need, including clothes (for all liturgical events), chalices, Bibles and even a little communion kit in a nifty carry-box.

4. Local parks. Like the Rathaus, City Park, might not exactly be a hidden gem as tourists flock there to have their photo taken with the statue of Strauss, but those tourists miss the nice bits. The Wien River runs along one side of the park, which is beautiful, particularly in the summer when the flowers are all in bloom. And in the quiet end, away from the big name statues and the classical music venue is a quiet duck pond fed by a little stream and filled with enormous fish. We passed a lovely hour soaking up the summer sunshine on a bench surrounded by locals. You know, the usual: the necking couple, the kids throwing more bread to the pigeons than the ducks and the afternoon walkers.

Duck pond in City Park
5. Restaurants and pubs not internationally advertised. So what do you do when you went to every restaurant in your guidebook last time? Well, you try your luck. We found delicious food everywhere we turned in Vienna and none of it came with a Mozart theme. The food at the film festival was really good, but so was the food at the Aussie pub, Billabong, and the Night Dive - suspiciously named, suspiciously empty, but soooo delicious - and at the small cafes and other restaurants that fed us great Austrian specialties. For some reason, we travellers tend think that when we go abroad most restaurants will be terrible, that we have to depend on the guidebooks to send us to the only good food in town. This is no more true abroad than it is at home. Go forth and try what strikes your fancy. Especially if you can't read the menu - the locals don't need it in English translation.

Priest starter kit
And don't worry about going back. No place is ever really the same, certainly not 5 years later and neither are you. Going back to a place actually takes some of the traveller pressure off. You don't have that little voice in the back of your head saying, But you can't miss Schonbrunn or Hofburg Palace or the ferris wheel or... You get to silence that voice because you saw them last time. This time you get to see Vienna.

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