Overtom's weblog

VIENNA,  (19 april 2008)

Although the airline companies may be telling us differently, I assume travelling by train is less damaging to the environment than by plane. It can hardly be of much help to daily turn down the light an hour earlier if we also consume many hundreds of litres of kerosene just to go skiing on the last remaining snows of Switzerland.

But don't think too lightly of the sixteen hours that it takes to travel by train from Amsterdam to the Austrian capital. Anyway, my sweetheart and I don't fancy sitting it out and decide to cover most of the thousand kilometres that separate Vienna and Amsterdam in a horizontal position.

Oh, you expected a photo of my sweetheart while sleeping? No problem -- it can be arranged. Just look here ...

my sweetheart asleep

Sorry, I forgot to mention my sweetheart  is in the habit of sleeping in the dark. Fortunately, during the day more can be seen in our roomette, such as this cleverly designed washbasin:

The tap can be folded down, and two plastic panels can be slid over it, which makes it possible for the washbasin to be used as a table of sorts. The water bottles are supplied as it is not recommended to drink water from the tap.

Via the Treinreiswinkel we had booked accommodation at Pension Dr Geisler. The premises may look less attractive on the outside:

entrance Dr Geisler

But inside, we're welcomed by a friendly lady who at first sight reminds us of Angela Merkel. We are offered an apartment, which is more pleasant to stay in the evenings than a hotel room. In the living room there are a couch and a few armchairs so we can watch television at ease -- something that we don't make much use of: 90% of the tv stations are German-language, pulp or both.


Design freaks may probably disagree, but we find the apartment pleasantly furnished. From above our bed we are watched by two angels which remind me of a rhyme of my childhood, which I'll try to translate:

    When I go to bed to sleep,

    Fourteen angels follow me,

    Two angels at the head,

    And two at the foot of the bed,

    Two angels on the right,

    And two on my left hand side,

    Two to cover me while in bed I remain,

    And two to wake me up again,

    And finally two angels to serve as guides,

    To lead me to Heaven's Paradise.

Angels above hotel bed

After we have refreshed ourselves we start exploring the surroundings. The hotel is a fifteen minutes' walk from Stephan's Square, where we see St Stephan's Cathedral.

Stephan's Square

St Stephan's Cathedral is being refurbished, but also its height makes it hard to photograph. You will, however, have no trouble finding pictures on the Internet ( click, click, click, click).

Once inside, I switch off the camera flash (after all, this is a church) and I make a number of pictures. Insufficient lighting causes most pictures to be somewhat blurred. But I'll show one of them anyway:

inside St Stephan's Cathedral

If you know that your weblogger's name is Tom and his sweetheart's Lea, you can imagine we like to make a picture of a tonic or medicine called LEATOM which we see advertised in the shopwindow of a pharmacy. We even buy a bottle. Needless to say that your weblogger and his sweetheart look healthier by the day


In the same street we take the other picture you see above: muscular men of stone bearing a balcony, the first of an almost endless host of monumental buildings -- which will appear to be Vienna's speciality.

* * *

Before our departure we purchased a dictionary whose subtitle suggested it was specially intended for tourists and other travellers. 

German dictionary for 'on the road'

All kinds of dishes that we try to look up are not in the book, just like many words denoting buildings, eating places and the like. But this dictionary for 'on the road' does supply translations for such diverse words as goatherd, gunpowder, paedophile , orgy, wheezing and remorseful, just to take a few examples. Publisher Elmar appears to entertain a rather wild image of what people are up to when they're on the road.

But I admit that we sometimes get to see rather unusual sights. Just to give an example, what to think of this alpinist painter? Since the man is somewhat dwarfed by the wall of Coburg palace (which some prince got built for himself and his cronies at the expense of the common people) I'll show a magnification next to it:

   alpinist painter

Or have you any idea where chickens go after their death? Well, after beholding the picture below you'll know the answer to that pressing question as well.

Hühnerparadies (chicken's paradise)

It strikes us that tasty and nourishing meals are not very expensive in Vienna. For twenty Euros the two of us have a three-course meal at restaurant Max on the Stubenring. And that includes a glass of white wine and a pint of beer.

restaurant Max

After our invigorating visit to Max, we proceed to MAK, as the German Museum für angewandte Kunst is named, which is situated opposite Max's restaurant.


For those who don't fancy sauntering past dozens, if not hundreds of paintings (or other works of art) a visit to MAK may be a worthwhile alternative.

The first thing we see at the museum is an exhibition that illustrates the history of the Thonet chair.

You may have seen this kind of furniture. These models were designed more than a century ago. The exhibition showed some fifity different types of the Thonet chair.

Taking pictures is prohibited, but a museum is no church, so I take a (forbidden) picture of my sweetheart seemingly afloat:

And an (equally prohibited) picture of the stained-glass ceiling of the building:

Both my sweetheart and I are charmed by the work of Joseph Hoffman , who (amongst other things) designed very pretty glassware:

After our visit to the museum we pass the Jugendstil Anker clock , which is found in almost every travel guide:

We also pass Demel's Konditorei, where according to the travel guides we should enjoy coffee and cake -- a good reason not to visit it.

As we approach Hofburg, we are accosted by a peddlar trying to sell tickets for a concert. We politely listen to his sales talk, after which we gently shake him off.

Neither do the drivers of the Fiaker coaches earn anything from us. Let's hope the horses will get their share of oats without us ..

My sweetheart uses the opportunity to pose in front of doors which completely dwarf her. I won't blame you if you have trouble finding her in the picture below ...

In this part of Vienna we see little more than monumental buildings. Wherever I direct my camera, I get nothing but colossal edifices before the lens.

Kunthistorisches Museum

And if it's not a building, then the least we see is a pompous fountain ...

Fountain at Maria-Theresien-Platz

Finally in the Opernplatz we can take a more normal picture:

After all this stoney excess we are sorely in need of some coffee (with the obligatory Viennese pastry, of course). And this is what good coffee and good pastry look like:

What is so special about the building below?


These are pictures of the Akademie der bildenden Künste. (Academy of Visual Arts).

"So what?" you may counter. Well, this is actually the academy that refused Adolf Hitler when he applied here to be trained as a painter. A rare insight for the time!

Artists who separated from the establishement in a less violent manner were a group that named itself Secession at the end of the nineteenth century. The Secession-museum is close to the entrance of the Naschmarkt.

   Secession museum

The first five hundred metres or so of the Naschmarkt are mainly occupied by (usually rather small) eating houses.


With so many eating-houses around, our rumbling stomachs start revolting. Soon we sit down at Vietnamese eating house Pho Saigon, where in a few minutes' time two meals with lots of fresh vegetables are put before us.

On the side of the Naschmarkt we see the so-called Majolikahaus designed by Otto Wagner. In this age of inexpensive digital photography we can easily afford a photo of the building:


It doesn't take us long to completely pass through the Naschmarkt. The fleamarket mentioned by many travel guides appears to be held only on Saturdays.

We enter the adjoining streets, which unfortunately are somewhat too narrow to make a decent photo of some of the houses which may look less monumental, but are still worth seeing:

We spend quite a while at a second-hand shop, where my sweetheart makes my heart jump when she reports to have seen a chess computer. Well, she's quite right! Unfortunately the Overtom Chess Computer Museum already has one like it:

In the evening we have dinner at an underground pizzeria named Casa Romana, where the risotto and chicken may be inexpensive, but are not really worth remembering.

* * *

At the hotel we find cards bearing the name of an Internet café at Krugerstraße named Surfland . It is somewhat unclear why there are no cards with the name of the Internet shop that we saw at the Stubenring. Not only is Surfland much more expensive. It is also much further away from the hotel than the shop at Stubenring.

But our visit to Krugerstraße does have one advantage: it leads us to the Haus der Musik, which is established on the corner of Krugerstraße and Seilerstätte. We see rooms that concentrate on the composers Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven . Other composers such as Mahler and, of course, Strauss are also presented.

By the way, we heard quite a few walzes by the latter composer in a film that was shown of a complete New Year's concert. At one moment all the orchestra members got out a football scarf, which they were wearing round their necks while playing a 'sporty' waltz by Johann Strauss. According to my sweetheart, who knows much more about sports than I do, this had to with the fact that Switzerland and Austria organize the European football championship this year.

orchestra members with sporty scarves

After our visit to the Haus der Musik we proceed to the Stadtpark. The park is transected by the Wien, a waterway that discharges into the Donaukanal.

Wien in Stadtpark

But as can be seen in the picture above, we are not completely liberated of monumental palaces. We find it surprising that the city of Vienna, which invests so heavily in prestigious stone, cannot find the means to keep clean a bench that is meant to accommodate the citizens who have to pay for the maintenance of all this stone. Or does the council of Vienna pay for all this from their own pockets? 

park bench with bird sh*t

Vienna is a city that keeps surprising. For instance, what to think of these icecream cones that adorn the four corners of this bridge? Or are they supposed to represent cotton candy?

mysterious statues on bridge

While under way we suddenly discover that so-called internet radios, which in Holland cost as much as three hundred Euros, are retailed here by the firm of Tchibo for less than half that price. Needless to say Tom yields to the temptation like a nobleman's head to the guillotine. By the way, later we'll find out that there is a Tchibo shop at a stone's throw of our hotel which stocks the same radio

Tchibo internet-radio

We have, however, not selected our route because we're looking for an internetradio. But we are so fed up with pompous edifices that we crave to see something completely different.

In the 1980s, architect Joseph Krawina and painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser obviously agreed that some counterbalance was needed against Vienna's grey, pompous mass of stone. On the corner of Kegelgaße and Löwengaße they built a house with an exceptionally imaginative and colourful appearance.


It's funny that a piece of conventional architecture is embedded into the exuberant  Hundertwasser structure:

We've done so much walking today  that we can afford ourselves the luxury of taking a taxi back to the hotel. A luxury that turns out to be less expensive than we expected. For, unlike his Paris or Amsterdam colleagues, this driver makes no attempt whatsoever to swindle us. For less than five Euros we are neatly dropped at the Postgaße. Bravo to the Viennese taxi-driver!


* * *

Our last day in Vienna! The weather may be sunny, but our nearing departure hangs over the day like  a dark cloud.

We decide to take our luggage to Westbahnhof. When we try to buy a ticket for the U-Bahn (underground railway), we have some trouble with the vending machine. We inquire at the office window whether it's not possible to buy a ticket there. To our utter surprise we are answered in correct Dutch. The woman at the window appears to have stayed at Doetinchem (a town in the Netherlands) quite a few times and speaks our language better than many a foreigner who has been in our country for a decade or more. We are advised in excellent Dutch and finally opt for a shopping day-ticket.

At Westbahnhof we put our bags in a locker. But how to lock the damned thing? We try to follow the manual, but however hard we try, the locker just won't lock. After a lot of messing about we try another locker, which appears to work perfectly. The first locker was just out-of-order!

Now that our luggage is safely stashed away, we wend our way to Mariahilferstraße, which is situated close to the station and offers much more variation than the rather ritzy shopping centre around Stephansplatz.

Mijn sweetheart discovers that quite a few restaurants offer salad with Kernöl. Needless to say that we are let down again by the Compact Dictionary For On the Road when we make an attempt to look it up. At a bookshop we inquire if the friendly saleswoman can help us out. Yes, she can: it's oil made of Kürbiskernen, or in English: pumpkin seeds. Of course, my sweetheart and I are eager to try the taste. So we get into the first branch we see of Austrian supermarket Billa and purchase a bottle of the mysterious liquid.


But all things in this world are finite; at a certain point this very diverse Mariahilferstraße changes into the kind of pompous structures we have grown so familiar with in Vienna.

end of Mariahilferstraße

As neither of us is looking forward to hours of ploddding through vast plains of stone, we decide to take a tram in Museumstraße. This enables us to experience an accelerated sightseeing tour. At a rapid pace, all kinds of sights pass before our eyes.

Vienna seen from the tram (1)

Vienna seen from the tram (2)

Vienna seen from the tram (3)

My sweetheart is employed in an institution where the theories devised by Sigmund Freud play a rather prominent part. Small wonder that she would like to visit Berggaße, a street where Freud lived and worked from 1891 to 1938. The house has now been converted into the Freud Museum.

The address can hardly be missed: a tall banner with the name of FREUDcan be seen from far away.

before the Freud Museum

For the same fee which allowed us to see the complete collection of the MAK Museum (see above), we may now behold a home-movie of the Freud family, Sigmund's restored waiting room and the good man's hat. But perhaps the true devotees still find they get more than their money's worth ...

Freud's waiting room

Freud's hat (and cap)

Now that we've come so close to the Donaukanal , it may perhaps be worthwhile to cross this waterway.

Roßauer bridge

After crossing Roßauer Bridge we get into a residential area where there is not a great deal to be seen. But for twenty Euros we have a complete meal at a Turkse pizzeria.

We cross the Donaukanal again in the opposite direction and soon find our path strewn with the familiar Viennese buildings. Instead of the two pictures below I could easily have shown twenty photos ... or two hundred for that matter ...


You'll understand how much pleasure I derived from taking a picture of this piece of delapidation that I found in the Spitalstraße.

Viennese ruin

But alas, we have to return to the Westbahnhof. Not far from the station, the imagination is aroused when we see a shop where naughty films can be watched in the company of a mature lady

But then there is Westbahnhof. Our train is already standing at the platform:


When the dining car is opened, we take a seat and find that the menu offers the seasonal dish Großer Hühnereintopf. Again we are let down by the Compact Dictionary For on the Road.


Fortunately, the menu has an English translation: Chicken Stew. You can imagine my amazement when I get a dish that can best be desribed as vegetable soup:

The rest of the journey passes without a hitch. In the morning I take a few pictures from the train window, to which I can add no further comment than that I don't exactly know what or where it is.


At Düsseldorf we witness a small tragedy. Two elderly people are hurrying on the platform obviously looking for the carriage where their booked seats are. But the conductor blows his whistle and the poor couple watch the departure of the train they should really have been on ...

Well, life is not always the kind of fun we'd like it to be.

But for the Amsterdam couple this trip has been less unfortunate ...

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