Vienna, Austria (Part One)
After entering Austria through a non-existent border crossing we drove on to Graz. Graz was fairly ugly to drive into but once was started walking around it became a little more appealing. Apparently Graz is all about architecture; there were several impressive buildings around although they were no more noteworthy than others we had seen on our travels. One building, the Kunsthaus (art museum), was so modern it looked like some sort of spacecraft. I'm not sure what they were thinking there.
We made our way up to the Schlossberg (a castle on a hill) via a lift through a mountain. The elevator ended up being the best part of the tourist attraction. At the top there didn't seem to be much evidence of a castle, just one small tower and a makeshift entertainment venue. The only positives were great gardens and decent views.
A few kilometres out of the city was Schloss Eggenberg, a palace set in huge parklands, apparently designed as an allegory of the universe. The gardens were spectacular and the building was excellent from the outside (we didn't go in), although I wasn't sure where the universe part came into it. We stopped long enough for a quick drink in the café before heading back towards the car for dinner.
After our soup and focaccia feast we took a stroll and found the biggest supermarket we had seen in a long time. We were so amazed by all the food that we stayed 10 minutes past closing time, much to the annoyance of the staff. It's amazing how something as simple as a well-stocked food store could brighten our day.
A four hour drive landed us in Vienna, where the closest we could park was about six kilometres out from the centre. First priority was lunch, for which Danny whipped up an incredible green chicken curry. With our bellies full we took a leisurely stroll to the Schönbrunn (Summer) Palace, 20 minutes away. Schönbrunn was set parklands so huge that they had room for a zoo out the back. The main palace was at the bottom of a hill in front of a gigantic water feature, although nowhere near as gigantic as the palace; I struggled to fit it all into one photo. The entire site was awe-inspiring: manicured gardens, trees perfectly in line, wide open spaces - it seemed never-ending. There was a wedding party posing for photos at the palace, which contained no less than 10 bridesmaids, all in hideous lavender dresses and each wearing different shoes. One even had a pair of white leggings on under her dress. Ridiculous.
It rained a fair bit overnight, which we noticed in the morning when we found part of our interior wall damp, just underneath the spot where I ran into the tree. We ignored it, hoping that the problem would miraculously fix itself. The day didn't end up getting much better weather-wise and we were soaked through by the end of the day.
We caught the tram and train into the city then spent far too long trying to find the info centre. As a last resort we had to ask for directions from men dressed up as Mozart, who were mostly disappointed that we did not buy tickets to the orchestra from them. Once we had acquired our map we walked over to the Belvedere Palace, another large tourist attraction on a hill overlooking the city. I decided to go inside to see the art gallery but Danny wasn't interested, so he went his own way. The gallery was quite compact and there were far too many paintings that looked exactly the same, all from the Renaissance era. They also seemed to be very proud of Klimt and Schiele, which were far better than older pieces in my opinion.
After the palace I found Danny and we grabbed some lunch from a street stall. Danny ordered a bratwurst, which he complained about for the next six hours for various reasons, whereas I had the largest slice of pizza known to man and was completely satisfied. Walking around the city took us past a few other sights, such as the Hofburg (Imperial Palace - they love a palace in Vienna), a Spanish riding school that was famous for some reason, various churches and a Holocaust memorial. We didn't feel the need to explore all the tourist attractions up close, as wandering the orderly streets with its centuries-old architecture was fascinating enough to keep us entertained.
One sight we did check out was the Haus der Musik, a museum set up to acknowledge Austria's classical masters (Mozart, Strauss, etc.) and the Viennese orchestra, plus some interactive exhibits exploring the nature of sound. The interactive pieces were the highlight and we had loads of fun acting like kids, making machines produce amusing noises. We even made a CD by combining and distorting different sounds, but we weren't willing to fork out the money to take a copy home. There was also a screening of the Viennese Philharmonic Orchestra playing at Schönbrunn Palace on New Year's Eve. It was surprisingly captivating.
We accidentally found an Australian bar (it turned out there were three in Vienna) that was run by an Aussie and was full of stereotypical Australian icons and signs. Which of course meant it was nothing like a bar you would find in Australia. They sold all the typical Aussie beers plus some less well known ones, so Danny was in heaven. He bought one he hadn't heard of but ended up sculling it so we could remove ourselves from the extreme tackiness as quickly as possible.
It was time for us to find a camp site, but when we arrived we found that the reception had closed for the night. Luckily there was a note on the door that informed us we could park anywhere and register in the morning. The caravan park actually had decent Wi-Fi that was free, a first in a long time, so we could finally update our Garmin plus download loads of TV shows and music for our nighttime relaxation.
To our amusement we discovered that the amenities block contained vending machines selling coffee (fairly common) and beer (weird). That was it, no other options. I can see where Vienna's priorities lie.