48 hours in Vienna

December 27, 2018

As a fan of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, Vienna was high on my list of places I must visit. So when my husband asked if I wanted to join him on his trip to Vienna, Schiele immediately sprang to mind. A colleague also mentioned the temporary exhibition of Pieter Breughel the elder that ran at the moment, so my two days filled up quickly with must do’s and must see’s. After booking a plane we had to book one night in a hotel. As usual I was unaware of the popularity of Vienna as a Christmas destination. (I am not a big fan of Christmas markets…) Most hotels were sold out and others asked prices I wasn’t really willing to pay. So I searched until I found a hotel for one night for 150 euro for a double room breakfast included. Pension Arenberg boutique Zentrum was not the kind of hotel I would normally book but a double room inside the Ringstrasse, in walking distance from the Donau and Wien Mitte station with breakfast included was by far the best option still available. I tried to ignore the bad reviews on Tripadvisor and hoped for the best. I then booked two tickets for the Breughel exhibition. You have to book your tickets weeks in advance.  There were only two time slots left to choose from so I booked two tickets for 9:30 AM on the first day. Our first hotel was just a 10 min. walk away from the Kunsthistorische museum where the exhibition was held. Works if Schiele and Klimt can be found in different museums in Vienna, but the main museum for Schiele is the Leopoldmuseum. That would then be the next stop on our first day. Leopoldmuseum is part of the Museum Quartier, or MQ, where several museums are located in the former imperial stables: Leopold museum, MUMOK (museum of modern art), Kunsthallen Wien (contemporary art), Architekturzentrum, Tanzquartier and Zoom Kindermuseum. The rest of the day would be dedicated to exploring Vienna centre, maybe with a stop at the National Library. The second day we would visit the Belvedere, for its buildings and for the works of Gustav Klimt. From the hotel we could take a train or tram from Wien Mitte station to Belvedere Quartier, and walk from the upper Belvedere to the lower Belvedere, and from there back into the centre with a stop at the St. Stephens cathedral. (or ‘Steffl’ for the locals)

I booked a return ticket online with the CAT airport train to take me from the airport to the centre and back. One way costs 11 euro, return 19 euro. The high speed train brings you in 16 min. to  Wien Mitte station. From there it was only a short tube ride from Landstrasse to the hotel Steigenberger on the Herrengasse. They give you the possibility to already check-in your luggage at the Wien Mitte station, but I only have carry-on luggage so I won’t need that. If you fly Austrian Airlines wait to book your CAT ticket until after check-in, Austrian Airlines often offers a discount code for the CAT train on their boarding pass/mail.

The flight was fully booked and  everyone on board seemed to be traveling with handluggage. I boarded early and could stow away my handluggage. People boarding later had to keep their luggage at their feet. My neighbours weren’t very happy, since their leg space was taken up by their luggage and they also had to keep their coat and handbag on them. These days you better try to board early if you want to stow away your handluggage in the overhead compartments. Austrian airlines offered a drink and a sweet or salty snack. On arrival I immediately went out to the train platform. The CAT train leaves at platform three. People were hurrying to get on the train, so I followed and boarded the train just before it left. It was only when the train was already moving that I realized I had boarded the OBB train and not the high speed CAT train. Luckily it also stopped at Wien Mitte station and nobody checked my tickets, as I obviously had the wrong tickets. In hindsight you can just as well take the OBB train, it is only about 10 minutes slower than the CAT and a whole lot cheaper. I will return with the CAT train because I already have my return ticket paid for. If you want to take the CAT train at the airport be aware that the CAT and the OBB train leave from the same platform at the airport (platform 3).

On arrival in Wien Mitte I followed the signs for the Subway lines U3 and U4 to the centre. I bought a metro ticket from the ticket machines, a single ride for one adult costs 2,4 euro. You can pay with cash or card.  I took the U3 line in the direction of Ottakring and in three stops I reached Herrengasse.

The first night we stayed at the Steigenberger hotel. A very comfortable hotel, nice large rooms, with a large bathroom, bathrobes, toiletries and a chocolate before bedtime on the bed.

In the evening we made a walk through the centre, until the Stephansdom or the St. Stephen’s cathedral, which stays open till 10 PM. We also passed Hofburg, and my husband ate a Vienna sausage from a Würstelstand on the street. The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel, the buffet offered everything you could think of, a great choice of teas, any kind of egg, different kind of smoothies, fresh fruit,  a selection of bread and pastries, cereals, meat and cheese… A great start of the day.

We had booked tickets for the special exhibition on Pieter Breughel the elder, ‘Once in a lifetime‘ at the Kunsthistorische museum. And what a wonderful exhibition it was. Not cheap at 20 euro a ticket and another 3,5 euro for an audioguide per person. But so worth it. You can only really appreciate the talent of painters when seeing their work up close.

The KHM has a great permanent collection of paintings, we passed a room full of paintings by Rubens and some Memling paintings a bit further.

After the Breughel exhibition we could not really take in any more art though. There is a beautiful café in the cupola hall on the first floor in the museum, but there was already a queue, so we walked out towards the Museumquartier to the Leopold museum.

We first walked up to the Café Leopold for lunch. They have a great choice of simple lunch dishes and drinks. We both tried a Poké bowl with salmon, which was tasty and not very expensive. We then visited the museum. On the grond floor we found the Klimt paintings and paintings by Moser and Gerstl. On the underground floor was the new exhibition on Egon Schiele, the Jubilee show. Here you find the largest collections of paintings by Schiele, and an overview of his life. 

We walked back to Hofburg and by now the Christmas market was open on the square in front of the Kunsthistorische museum and in front of the Hofburg palace.

We walked to Josefplatz to visit the Nationalbibliothek, which celebrated its 650 years in 2018 with many treasures on show  like a copy of the Johannes von Troppau Evangeliary in gold lettering from 1368 regarded as the foundation of the library. The library has one of the finest baroque interiors north of the Alps with huge marble pillars, an enormous frescoed dome and beautiful wooden bookcases.

We walked back in the direction of the Steigenberger hotel and joined the queue outside Café Central. We had to wait about 20 minutes before being led to a table. We ordered some tea and a slice of apfelstrudel and enjoyed the neorenaissance setting in the former Ferstel palace. 

We walked back to hotel Steigenberger and took a small dinner in the Herrenhof Bar downstairs before we set of to our second hotel: Arenberg boutique hotel Zentrum. We took the metro line U3 in the direction of Simmering and got of at Stubentor.  We walked to the hotel, which is located on the second floor of an apartment block. The hotel has a small lobby, where we were greeted and shown to our room, just in front of the front desk. The room was a bit on the small side, with a small bathroom, but very clean, with a comfortable bed, double windows with a small terrace. We could take tea, coffee or water from the breakfast room free of charge. There is a small seating area in the lobby. There is free but slow wifi.

I slept very sound, no noise pollution, and it had snowed during the night that covered the city in a white Christmassy blanket. In the morning the breakfast buffet is laid out in the lobby. It has a great variety of meats and cheeses, yoghurt, cereals, bread and cake, but the quality is on the poor side. You can order eggs. We ordered two soft boiled eggs, the lady asked if 5 min. was good, but it took quite a while, and the eggs were very hard boiled, so we did not eat them.

When we checked out we asked to leave our luggage in the hotel, which was possible but not later than 3:30 PM because then the front desk would close. No idea how guests arriving that evening would check in. Our stay in the hotel was OK, but the reliability of the hotel services is erratic I’m afraid. So we took our luggage and walked to Wien Mitte were the CAT train offers lockers for luggage free of charge to its passengers. Just what we needed. We stowed our luggage in the lockers and walked to the train station. On the ground floor you can buy tickets from a ticket machine. It costed only 2,3 euro for a ticket to Quartier Belvedere with the lines S1,S2 or S4 in the direction of Wien Meidlin leaving from platform 1. It is only two stops from Wien Mitte. From the station you see the Belvedere. 

There was another Christmas market in front of the upper Belvedere. Here you can also buy tickets. It costs 15 euro for the upper Belvedere, focusing on Klimt. The Schiele paintings are now housed in a temporary exhibition at the lower Belvedere, and a combination ticket costs 22 euro. If you want to see the modern art section you have to buy another ticket for Belvedere 21. ( I would have loved to see the work by Abramovich, but another ticket was just a bit much)

The upper Belvedere with the works of Klimt are the most popular, and there is often a queue before getting in. But the exhibition is really worth it. Next to the works by Gustav Klimt you also see works by Kokoschka, Gerstl, Manet, Renoir, Rodin and Hundertwasser and a collection of Medieval art on the ground floor. 

We then walked through the gardens covered with snow to the lower Belvedere, and from there to the Karlskirche with in front of it another Christmas market on the Karlsplatz. But because you had to pay entrance to visit the church we decided against it. So we walked towards the Opera House. I had planned for a stop at  Gerstner café, but another queue made us cross the street and try our luck at the Café Oper at the Opera House. We warmed up with a goulash soup and some tea. A little later here also a queue had formed to get a table.

Being all warmed up we walked to Stephansdom. There was a huge crowd walking in. I would have skipped the church on other days, but my teacher had asked for some pictures of the pulpit and if possible a postcard, so I let myself being pushed in with the rest of the crowd. Our visit of the church on the first night was actually al lot more pleasant. I do not understand how people actually enjoy this visit. (and I think they don’t)

But I was able to take some decent pictures and buy a postcard. On the outside of the church I also took a picture of the two iron bars left of the Giant’s door that are in fact standardized linear measurement or yard stick measurement in old Vienna at the time. The shorter one is the yard measurement the longer one is the double foot. So, if for example you had bought 7 yards of cloth and wanted to be sure that the sales- man hadn’t pulled a fast one on you then you could come here and measure the 7 yards again. Just above it is a circular recess in the wall which enabled citizens to check that their local bakers weren’t peddling undersized loaves. 

We then walked to Kaffee Alt Wien, for another Apfelstrudel for me and another Goulash soup for my husband. We made a last walk through Vienna, first to the English language bookshop Shakespeare and Co in Sterngasse 2, where we wiled away an hour nosing through the wonderful book collection.

We walked towards the St. Peterschurch passing by the art nouveau Ankeruhr on Hoher Markt, which only attracts tourists at midday. We entered the St. Peterschurch where mass was being held. It is a beautiful church, a lot more intimate than the St. Stephenscathedral.

We entered Konditorei Adia (Wollzeile 26) on the way to Wien Mitte for a late snack served by the pink dressed waitresses. Then of to Wien Mitte where we retrieved our luggage, and boarded the green CAT airport train. Sixteen minutes later we arrived at the airport where we took our flight back home. 

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