Europe 2.0 – Day 27 23 June

Today we woke up bright and early to go to the Schonbrunn Palace and I’m glad we did because later we heard that the queue for tickets can be quite long as usual. We bought the classic pass, but in hindsight the imperial pass would have been enough because the additional gardens (Privy garden, maze and orangery) weren’t extremely worthwhile. The Gloriette was included in this pass as well but later we found out that it is possible to get a Google view of the Palace without going into and up the Gloriette. 

But anyways I digress. Although we were the early birds, there were already school groups starting their tours punctually at 8am. I am kinda envious at how they have so many opportunities for such exciting learning journeys. Groups of school children are common sights in touristy places in Europe. The audio guide was nice to listen to. I learnt some things about the Royal Family and their interpersonal relationships with one another. The Palace rooms are smaller than I expected (as compared to Doge’s Palace in Venice, for example) and the sign of royalty and glamour are found mainly on the decor of the rooms instead of their size. For example, there were rooms with lacquers that carried oriental designs and portraits room with works painted with blue strokes so as to evoke a resemblance to porcelain. The rooms had many paintings as well, mostly of the Royal family members. Elaborate frames, in position in their elaborate ways, framed other pictures like their collection from Mongolia. 

The very notable persons throughout the whole tour would be SiSi, Franz Joseph I, Maria Theresa and her husband (is it Francis? I forgot.) We learnt about their personalities and characters through stories told to us from the audio guide, and it was pretty interesting from start to end. 🙂 

Afterwards we went to the gardens, which were so huge… It must have been at least the size of 10 football fields? Trees resembling paddle pops line the paths, and they appeared so because the crowns of the trees were trimmed so neat and rectangularly at right angles, supported by one cylindrical sturdy trunk. This immediately reminded me of Versailles again, just like the exterior of the entire Palace did. Great, I thought, because a few months ago I was just thinking about how much I’ve missed the latter. Everything resembled Versailles gardens except Schrobunn’s had a flat landscape. The gardens with their perfectly grown flowers, blooming in whatever design was drawn out, sprawled in front of us. The sky was overcast but a pretty good day to come here. 

The hike up to the Gloriette was steep but we were awarded with a grand view of the Palace’s compound after some effort. At this point in time I was pretty troubled by how I had to settle a few things for electives. It was kinda stressful and annoying but ok whatever. 

For the rest of our Palace tour, we visited the other attractions included in our ticket and suddenly big fat rain drops started pouring. It was the start of slew of showers that welcomed us to the rest of our trip. :/

For the rest of the afternoon we went on a free walking tour. Our guide, imo, was very experienced and informative. She even used an iPad to show us multimedia material, such as a speech by Hitler which was made at the Hofburg Palace. I really enjoyed the tour because I got to understand so much more about Vienna’s history and architecture. We started off at Albertina museum and then saw the opera house. Later, She introduced us to the anti war and anti fascism monument as well as its great significance; it is a form of sincere apology from Austria about its involvement in WWII. Then we crosses to the park (name already forgotten) to see the Mozart Statue. 

You see, we already saw the statue before and took photos with it but with a guide around, we also learnt about some facts surrounding Mozart through the interpretation of some aspects of the statue. 

Moving on we went to the New Market Square with its beautiful fountain with Athena (I think) on it. Over here we learnt that we’re very privileged to drink the Austrian tap water as it comes directly from the alps, through a well developed system of pipes. 

Later we were given a toilet break but I need to tell the guide that this is a bad, bad idea if I had ever the chance to, because we lost the whole group after this break lol. YS couldn’t find the correct meeting point to gather and I saw the whole group walking away in front of my eyes… Dang it. 

We rushed over to St Stephan’s cathedral, hoping to bump into them there but unfortunately after looking around for 20 minutes, I think we lost them for good. We went in to see the church ourselves and u was dampened by the fact that the catacombs were closed just upon our arrival. Not wasting anymore time, we headed to the state hall, which is also the old Austria National library. 

This library was commissioned by Charles Joseph’s (I think) to store the Royal family’s large collection of books. 

The last time I saw an old library was in Oxford but I think I had a better experience over here because visitors were free to take photos and walk about by themselves. We visited with an audio guide that explained how the whole building was designed and planned (wing of wat and wing of peace with a great statue of Charles in the middle). They also had a great exhibition of the free masons which was sooo interesting and definitely a wonderful eye opener. We only had 1h in the 70m long library but it was certainly not enough. Nonetheless I took away so much from one fruitful afternoon and was already very contented. 🙂

Food in Austria wasn’t v spectacular imo so to save money, we settled for fast food. YS ate her leftover fried rice from lunch while I had hotdog. YUM! We went back for an early night, excited to start our salzburg trip with BEN. ^^

Europe 2.0 – Day 26 22 June

Today we’re leaving Slovenia for Austria! Kinda excited because it means we’re almost coming to an end of our journey heh… 

The train was late and everyone who had a connecting train was PANICKING because the time that they provide for transit is extremely short (for us it was 6 minutes…) 

But because of this, I met new friends again! How lucky! So basically there’s these 2 big sized and middle aged couple (about 30 something years old) who have been staying at our hostel. They looked the nicest amongst other edgy outgoing American 20 somethings so we sometimes smiled at each other. They are also occupying the other twin private room on the same floor and are catching a connecting train to Salzburg! They only have 8 minutes for transit at Villach and we spoke when the lady (Elbe) wanted to ask the train conductor about the transiting so I asked her for a favour to ask for us as well. 

Later we started chatting because like everyone else, I’m sure, wonders where we are from and our actual age (we probably look v young to them). They are from South Africa and are taking the gap year of their lives! WOW! After this transition, they will be migrating to Australia, where they will try to find jobs when they are there. 

I feel that this is an extremely bold move as I’ve heard of people who migrated without any secured positions and later cannot find a job. But of course I didn’t tell them that and later we chatted about many things such as the safety of Johannesburg. Previously I heard from the Chinese couple (Dr and Mrs Lo) that this is a really unsafe place because many people carry guns around. And later I confirm it with Elbe and Richter who are from Johannesburg! Incidentally their reason for moving is because they feel that the city is too dangerous… I wonder who it is like to live somewhere where you couldn’t feel safe and protected. I guess in Singapore, we would never have to fully understand how they feel (thankfully) but I could empathise with why they would want to leave their country. 

Since I may be going to Africa in the coming year, I also asked them for advice regarding its touristy attractions and safety. They were curious about travelling in Asia and so I was ad to return the favour of providing travel tips. They were also interested to understand about Singapore because they’ve watched information programs about how our country is like. I briefly told them about our education system and the high stress levels, something which is unheard of for school children in South Africa. 

We did talk about the countries that we’re visiting during our respective trips but I really like how the conversation centred main around understanding where each other came from. And perhaps because we’re so different yet have curiosities for each other’s origins, the conversation became much richer with exchange of culture and information. And I say this because many a time, I wondered why Western travellers are so interested with making new friends and speaking to new people when most of their convo topics flowed around where they’ve been, what they liked etc. It is kinda superficial imo… 

But I think some people just genuinely like getting to know other people or discussing about travelling. Still, I don’t think I could carry a convo about this alone. Afterall, friendships made overseas are, like what YS feels, transient. What’s the point of asking where you been etc etc. It is almost like a game of comparison. 

At Villach, we bade goodbye and exchanged emails. I think they caught their train and so did we! Whee! 

The entire 5h train ride was super scenic. Rolling green hills, small settlements, cows, farms, rocky mountains and blue skies with fluffy clouds. I think this route could itself be a wonderful tourist attraction. 🙂 

We reached our hostel pretty late at 2pm, meaning that we definitely could not make it in time for any walking tours, sadly. At first I was doubtful of our hostel because the main counter is in a separate building from our sleeping quarters, which means no order, no discipline and whatsoever. 

But thankfully, nobody was being rowdy and the place is pretty clean although very basic. The bathing and WC facilities were clean and almost always available even though they were many rooms and beds in one apartment. 

Having fully given up on running according to any schedule, we left for lunch, famished. It proved to be a good decision because later, as we found out, the hofburg Palace was a place that houses many museums, not am attraction itself which we’d have to pay to visit. 

The weather was extremely hot and the sun was burnnnninggg. My mood was dampened by an overly sunny day because my eyes could hardly open to see anything and it. Is. Just. Too. Warm. 

We started our sightseeing with Mariahilfer the shopping street, Palm House, Hofburg Palace, Museum of Natural History, Art Museum, Parliament House, City Hall (Rathaus), Burgtheater and University of Vienna. Well, we thought might as well not waste this day so see more right? 

At Hofburg we spent SO BLOODY LONG trying to find the ‘Austrian National Library’ since I had it on my list. There was a function at 6pm and it was too late for us to go in… YS was having cramps/bloatedness and had trouble walking too long. We took many small breaks to hydrate and have toilet breaks. 

The Palm house was very underwhelming from the outside but I do admit that the architecture is unique, something like a greenhouse. 

Most of the buildings that we pass by, we didn’t go in (either closed or need admission fee) and some of them had ugly scaffolding in front of them. Sigh. Nonetheless all the buildings were gigantic and so is the entire city centre. We just kept walking and sweating… 

Things got better when we came to the University because we took the opportunity go in and venture! It looks too beautiful to be a university, we thought. (but then again, Cambridge and Oxford are pretty amazing too). It had a lawn with many outdoor seating and people were holding discussions or doing their work there, while we slacked our asses off, tired from a day of walking. Then we went into the respective faculties and huge stairways led us to them. (Huge stairways were a compared by huge lamps, huge corridors, huge doors… Everything in Austria ia gigantic.) We even chances upon a class having tutorial, and also an empty lecture hall to pose for photos heh. #tourist

Afterwards, everything was much more enjoyable because the sun was setting and the weather turned cooler. I quickly directed us to see the hunderhaus before it becomes too dark to take photos. 

Along the way, we walked past Vienna’s River (seems like each European city had a river flowing through it). There was a floating bar+restaurant+fitness centre+indoor football+swimming pool. Many people were lounging on the top deck, soaking in the sun (hmph). There was also a variety of food, from German sausages to Chinese restaurants (we almost gave in). The part along the river is always full of life. 🙂 

After the Hunderhaus, we walked to the Prater, which I’m glad we chose to visit when the sky was finally dark!!! Many attractions came to life with their decorative lights imo. 

The Prater is the oldest theme park in the world! The rides can generally be classified into – old and new. Although the former ones were kinda childish and unfashionable, I really love them because where else would you find themed rides? (Themed =/= bases on movies.) 

They created rides with themes and decorations like gold mining, ghost, monsters, circus, animals etc. And they varied from bumper cars to log rides; you have it all – land, water and air. 

But of course there’s also the modern ferris wheel and things like space shot and bungee jumping for the thrill seekers. Meh you can find these in any theme parks but nicely furnished theme rides? Gem.