Travel Report: Vienna, Austria.
October 2002. My maiden voyage to the Austrian capital, Vienna, certainly didn’t turn out as I’d expected. I landed in town with a couple of friends, loaded with ambitious plans for a weekend of high culture. However, in the end it just didn’t happen. I suppose I could blame it on the rain, which didn’t stop coming down from the moment we arrived to the morning we boarded our train back to Bratislava. I took this shot on our first day at Heldenplatz Square with its statue of the Archduke Charles of Austria. Shortly after, we admitted defeat and our visit descended into an almighty, rain-ridden pub-crawl.
I wish I could remember what this place was called, or even some rough approximation of its whereabouts. All I can recall is that our pub crawl started here and the beers kept on coming. I’d only just befriended Jon and Ben, fellow teachers at the school I worked at in Bratislava. It was a getting to know each other trip and the beginning of what would become great friendships.
Ben and I set our minds on finding a place to watch the football match between Slovakia and England, a qualifier for the upcoming Euro 2004 tournament in Portugal. In the end we picked Champions American Sports Bar. Come full time we were horribly drunk and England had won 2-1, with both goals from Michael Owen. Moreover, Ben and I had spent way too much time giving Jon (an American from Nashville) a chaotic explanation of the offside rule using salt and pepper shakers.
We took our meals at this cosy little Austrian restaurant/café/bar somewhere in the city centre. It had a German name we couldn’t pronounce, so we simply called it The Local, as that’s pretty much what it became. A charming old Austrian dame brought us a steady supply of drinks and Wiener Schnitzels. Furthermore, she seemed to take a shine to Jon’s southern charms. Indeed their harmless flirting served up plenty of light entertainment during our visits.
I’ve never been much of a drinker and my attempts to keep up with Jon and Ben proved futile. On our final night, the bender to end all benders, they were knocking back two to three beers for my every one. Therefore I was sober enough to catch this delicious shot on our way back to the hostel. Stumbling across an abandoned shopping trolley, it seemed only right that Ben climb inside and demand to be chauffeured back home. I call this photo happiness.
June 2003. Although we’d had an amazing time on that first Vienna trip, I was determined not to let all that relentless rain be my defining memory of the city. So the following summer I returned with a larger group of teachers. In addition to the ever present Jon and Ben, I was joined by my girlfriend Julia, her flatmate Katie and Irish Mike and his horrid new haircut. This time the weather was much better, hence we spent hours walking the streets soaking up Vienna’s venerable Vienna-ness. This shot shows The Graben, Vienna’s most popular shopping street with its traditional 17th century stores and cafes.
I’m happy to say that we succeeded in being much more cultural on that second Vienna trip. An essential city sight is the fascinating Mozart House, a carefully put together museum on the life and times of prolific Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. And where better to have such a museum than in one of the actual houses Mozart lived in during his Vienna years! Yup, this is where the great man lived between 1784 and 1787.
Fully restored to its previous grandeur, Mozart House takes you on a journey through the man’s work. It’s beautifully told through mock ups, paintings, video installations and a handful of artefacts and personal possessions. There’s also an audio booth where you can simply sit back and choose a symphony to sweep you away. From what I can see the museum certainly has evolved greatly over the past sixteen years. As of 2019 there’s a special exhibition focusing on Mozart’s travels through Europe.
This is the only photo that enlightened me to the fact that we also went to visit Schonbrunn Palace that weekend. From what I remember we didn’t actually go inside, but rather spent some time meandering around its huge gardens. The 300-year-old complex was home to a succession of Hapsburg Monarchs who used the 1440-room palace as a summer residence. By the looks of this photo none of us seem to have been particularly excited to be there. If I ever make it back to Vienna, I must give it the proper Leighton Travels treatment.
For more info on that long ago Vienna trip, check out my short story:
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