6 in the City
Looking for inspiration for a 48-hour getaway? Something that's a little off the beaten track? Look no further than Vienna, Austria's glorious capital city.
With only a 2 hour flight from London, Vienna was the first leg of our autumn mini-break, following the Danube from Vienna to Budapest. From door to door, it really couldn't have been easier to get to! Flying from Stansted our flight arrived at around 11 pm local time with only minutes to spare to catch the last shuttle train to the city. Priced at around €12 this is by far the cheapest and easiest way to get to action from the airport. In a mere 16mins and you'll find yourself in the main train station of Vienna, which conveniently was situated directly next to our hotel.
The main train station, and so our hotel, is situated a little outside of town which had concerned me, but I had no reason to be. At only 4 stops on the incredibly efficient metro system we were in the thick of it in around 10mins, worth it for the convenience of being near the main station.
We stayed at the Ibis, not particularly imaginative, but it was cheap, convenient, comfortable and included one of the best hotel breakfasts for its class. I would most certainly recommend this particular hotel for the aforementioned reasons!
And so, a new day dawned and it was time to explore. Hitting the streets moderately early, map in hand and camera primed we set out with a rough idea of where to go. For most trips, I tend to do a little research of the local areas and get a sense of what to expect when I get there, but for this trip, I did go into much more detail. This research really paid off saving a lot of time and highlighting some things that just would not have been obvious from normal tourist guides; I'll be sharing details of how I did my research in another blog post soon.
I bought a city map in advance which I had annotated with key photo opportunity locations and proceeded to follow these as the days progressed. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we were shrouded with the most featureless grey sky. This meant that shooting at any time anywhere would be pretty flat and lifeless, but on the plus side I didn't have to stress about being anywhere by any particular time to catch golden lighting opportunities and could be a little more leisurely in my approach. So, you know, every cloud and all that (yes terrible pun intended, sorry).
I found Vienna to be a beautiful city regardless of the lack of natural light during my time there. It is fairly obvious to see why the citizens here enjoy the highest standard of living in the whole world!
I may possibly get shot down for saying this, but I would suggest that if you woke up in Vienna and didn't know where you were, you could easily mistake the city for being buried in southern Germany. The infrastructure is all very efficient, the streets and public spaces are nigh on spotless, and the language is German, all be it with a softer dialect. The food is also very akin to that of German cuisine, and the beer is good!
This, however, is Austria, not Germany, and the differences are very subtle, so subtle in fact I don't think I am capable of describing them. So instead of pretending to be a seasoned travel blogger with my vastly inferior vocabulary I'll just get into the photo stuff.
My approach to researching this trip was a little different to previous and it really paid off! I have started using Pinterest as a way of pulling together ideas for locations to shoot and then highlight them on a map. This meant I could logistically navigate the streets taking in key points of interest whilst snapping street moments along the way!
I was super excited to do a lot of night shooting and capture the grand buildings glowing in a moody dark setting with some long exposure action, so imagine my sickening despair when I rifled through my luggage to find that the nubbin or the fiddly and small screw piece that connects the camera to the gimble did not make the journey. Despite all my best efforts at planning I literally fell at the last hurdle! This did force me to think of new and creative ways to get around being tripodless, so all was not lost. This has, in fact, inspired me to write a post about getting by without a tripod. Also, I will share my preparation process including where I have gone wrong in the past so you, hopefully, don't have to!
With two full days in Vienna, no tripod, but a loaded bag it was time to hit the streets! My plan was to work in a spiral formation around the main city working into the center scouting locations for what I hoped would be better weather, or for coming back with my tripod later in the evening (prediscovery of the missing nubbin!).
Staying true to my inner engineering geek, my journey started with a bridge. Not just any bridge, this ornate cast iron bridge spans across a canal, whilst a metro train bridge passes beneath it at approximately 45deg. I much doubt you'll find the Zollamtssteg Bridge in any tourist guides, and it is slightly out of the way, but I'm glad I stumbled across it in my research. Scenes like this make me very happy.
From the bridge, we casually meandered the streets in the general direction of the main square in front of St Stephens Cathedral, and before you knew it we were stood in front shooting the scores of horses lined up for carriage rides taking tourists around the old cobbled streets. I had initially thought the city was much bigger than it really was, but this instantly challenged my perspective and it turns out everything is much closer than it appears on a map.
The main square is a hive of activity, bustling with shoppers and tourists. The street immediately adjacent the cathedral is the central location for horse and carriage trips around the city, which made for some interesting shots but these guys are not very accommodating, and actually quite rude at times.
The view of the city from the cathedral tower with its ornate roof in the foreground appears to be one of the most popular and common shots of the city, and it easy to see why as it makes for a nice recognizable shot. This is very dependant on good lighting, something I was not blessed with an abundance of during my two-day visit, so I decided to save my time and skipped out on a visit inside the cathedral on this occassion.
Wandering around the square it's worth taking time to look up and spot the reflections of the Gothic architecture from the cathedral reflected in the surrounding glazed modern buildings. The wide pedestrian streets spreading out from the main square are lined with top fashion brands and stores of all kinds with nice outdoor bar/restaurants down the center of the street, a perfect place to stop and have a beer and watch the world go by.
My research had brought up an obscure street with an interesting courtyard, and after spending some time in front of St Steve we went exploring to see if my research was correct. I initially thought that I had got the name of the street wrong, but persevering down the otherwise unexciting Weihburggasse and found the big green doors that lead to a little oasis draped in creeping plants. A great little photo opp!
Heading back onto the streets we worked our way around the busy center taking in the sites and street life, picking up some interesting surprises along the way, however, such as the reflection shot above, one of the many glorious and grand church domes. Another, more amusing observation is the pedestrian crossing signs, of which there are a number of varieties (see below)!
Our path took us through to the opulent Parliment Building which, unfortunately, was being refurbished, and Vienna's town hall - Rathouse, access to which was restricted due to the erection of a huge Christmas market in front of it! Just goes to show you can't win them all!
Despite these disappointments, some success soon followed with a visit to the University of Vienna which was free from construction works, relatively quiet with it being a Saturday and exceptionally ornate. I'm not sure how a visit to the university would have panned out on a normal working day, so would recommend a visit on a weekend to take in the grand stone staircases and hallways.
Much of the afternoon I spent attempting to track down a tripod in preparation of the evening and nights shooting, but frustratingly all the camera shops were closed all weekend! There were three within a few steps of each other along a road just beyond the museum district, all locked up! So a bit of time was lost, but in the grand scheme of things, this was not the end of the world.
That evening we managed to get a table at ef16, a small restaurant a little way from the main square. This is a highly rated restaurant on Trip Advisor and it is easy to see why, the service and food there is exceptional, but do book in advance to avoid disappointment. We arrived as they opened and they just about managed to squeeze us in.
The restaurant has a very dark and cozy feel, lit by dim lighting and candles light with elegant modern furniture. A bit on the pricey side, but worth every penny. I'm barely a travel writer, so I'm not going to even try and describe the food, but I can tell you that the Goose Liver starter and Roast Goose main I had were amazing!
The plan for the second day was to explore the old town and the city center taking in the old cobbled streets then head out of town in the afternoon to see the palace. One of the first locations in the morning's sweep was Ferstel Passage, a grand shopping arcade that I had seen briefly the previous day packed out with tourists. Being out relatively early on Sunday morning meant that I was able to shoot the arcade without much disruption.
Following the cobbled streets, we found Ankeruhr (the anchor clock), a bridge which features a grand historic clock that passes characters of historical interest across the bridge with each passing hour. Instead of your traditional hands, the clock features a 60-minute strip across the top whereby the number of the current hour passes across marking the hour at the minute.
You'll note that we were there much before midday, but apparently at this time the clock cycles through all the scenes at 12 o'clock, so if this features on your to do be sure to get there for noon.
Vienna has retained a lot of its historic old town with the narrow cobbled streets and ornate architecture. Most of the city is pretty flat with barely an incline, but around these streets in the area North East of St Stephens Cathedral the streets are far more layered and have strange inclines such as Griechengasse which rises up between the buildings that neighbor it.
With the morning muche over, we headed out to Schönbrunn Palace which is outside of the main city, but no more than 20mins on the metro. From the local metro station, the palace is well signposted and we followed these to the entrance of the palace grounds which was around a 5-minute walk. When arriving at the palace you enter the huge palace grounds which features an enormous courtyard in front of the palace with surrounding support buildings; a cafe/shop in the front left-hand building sells tour tickets.
Having visited a number of places already I didn't have any real urge to explore the interior of this one, but the grand hall within Schönbrunn was too great a pull for my partner so we got the short tour tickets and joined the hum of tourists for the trudge around the palace rooms. No photography allowed, obviously, so not much fun. It wasn't until we finished the tour that we discover the palace gardens are free to enter, which in my opinion proved to be the real attraction of the site. My advice is to absolutely visit the palace grounds, skip the palace tour unless you have a real urge to learn more about their royal history.
The grounds are huge! Looking at them on the map they appear to be of equal size to the main city center! The gardens are staged from the rear of the palace all the way to the top of a fairly steep hill where there is an ornate building which now hosts an expensive cafe for tourists who need a refresh after a laborious climb. Within the grounds are a number of large ornamental ponds, a botanical garden, tree-lined avenues, huge lawns, Roman ruins, and even a zoo! I have just had another look at the site on Google Earth and can see that we did not even scratch the surface!
Visiting in Autumn turned out to be the perfect time of year as the deciduous trees were in full turn and the ground awash in a thick carpet of gold where the leaves had been shed. The long-lined avenues of perfectly straight trees are a perfect photography spot providing a stunning portrait backdrop.
The treck to the top of the hill was also a most worthwhile venture as the view back to the palace was truly incredible. With the city in the background, it does make for a pretty stunning vista, at this time of year however the haze of mist and grey cloud did take some of the shine off but was pretty spectacular none the less.
When learning more about Vienna I had read that the locals are very proud people and will openly criticize those witnessed disobeying rules. I unconsciously put this to the test when I saw people walking across the grass to shortcut a section of the winding path leading up the hill away from the palace and followed them without a second thought. This was a trodden path, all be it not the official one and had browned the grass on this particular section of the lawn. As we neared the next section of the official path I was accosted by a local who gave me a right telling off for not using the main path! I gave my apologies and did not put a foot out of line afterward; the research was bang on the money!
After night fell and we had had our fill of some fine Austrian cuisine predominantly consisting of pig in many different incarnations back in the old town, then hit the streets for the last time to capture some of the great buildings lit up at night, the one thing I was most looking forward to. Having got over the fact that I was tripod-less I worked with what I had available, mainly utilizing my bag or nearby natural ledges or platforms.
Taking in the cobbled streets, back to St Steve and capturing a now glowing St Peters Church which is a fascinating structure that appears to be peaking out between buildings of a side street. To achieve the low wide shot of St Peters Church I simply placed the camera in the center of the road and propped the lens up a fraction using one half of my wallet then using the self-timer. A bit tricky as this is an open road with traffic coming from behind me, so it took a few attempts to crack the shot.
I had hoped to capture the Session Building, an art deco structure that we had not yet manage to include in our earlier sweeps, but this, as it turns out, is a place to park coaches. Not an ideal subject for the foreground so hopes of capturing the simple white structure were abandoned. This did lead us however to the magnificent Karlskirche cathedral which was the very last shot of Vienna before heading off on the next leg of our mini-tour.
So, 48 hours in Vienna. We didn't take in everything, and looking back there are a few things that I probably would have like to have done and seen, but with the gloomy weather and large Christmas market construction sites, the shooting was tough. I'm not displeased at all with what we achieved here and thoroughly enjoyed the city.
The people, on the whole, are very pleasant. You get your usual grumpy service sector workers, but on the whole, the Viennese are delightful people - friendly and helpful. The city is beautiful, easy to navigate and get around and to my mind well worth the visit.
A fairly early night was in order so we could catch an early train and head to Budapest, a 2.5-hour journey departing from the main hourly if memory serves me well. If you are planning a similar trip or looking to train to any of the other major European cities from here (the city is very well connected) then do book in advance, train tickets on the day are double the cost of what you can purchase in advance.
For the next installment of 6 in the City - Budapest click here.
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