On Saturday morning I woke up in Auschwitz car park to the sound of heavy rain tapping on the roof. I was not too bothered as this would be a day of driving and since the cab does not have air conditioning the rain would at least mean lower temperatures.
I needed to make my way back to Slovenia to meet some friends who would be flying in Tuesday. The GPS indicated a route that would take me through the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Austria. Now all of these countries operate a vignette system for using their motorways and I intended to use motorways to reduce the amount of driving time. Whilst I could see the benefit of buying the vignettes for the Czech Republic and Austria it seemed costly to also buy one for Slovakia when the route would only briefly take me into the country on a motorway via Bratislava. Instead I selected a different route that would take me from the Czech Republic directly to Austria at a similar total mileage and time. Now all I had to do was work out where to buy the vignettes!
Whilst still in Poland but approaching the Czech border I decided to pull over at some services for a short break. Inside the main building was a booth where they would sell you vignettes for many countries. The cost of 10 day vignettes for the Czech Republic and Austria would cost me 103 Zloty. Since I knew I would only be in Poland a few days and their currency would be of no use anywhere else I had been deliberately withdrawing small amounts of Zloty. As a result I did not have enough to buy both vignettes but no problem they would surely take a debit card right? Typically it was cash only and naturally the services did not have an ATM / cashpoint machine! Fortunately I did have enough Polish currency to buy the vignette for the Czech Republic, the one for Austria would have to wait until later that day.
My stay in the Czech Republic was brief. I would have been good to visit Prague, somewhere I had visited some years before but unfortunately it would mean a diversion from the route. For much of the journey in the Czech Republic I was cursing having to pay the vignette for the Czech motorways since one long section that was a real bone shaker. There were no potholes but the surface was almost deliberately corrugated. It reminded me of driving over old cobbled streets like those in Bruges only I would never drive over cobbled streets at 60mph which is what I was trying to do now.
As the border for Austria approached I began to think about where I would buy the Austrian vignette. I stopped at a few services close to the border but none seemed to sell what I needed so I crossed the border and stopped at the first services in Austria. Buying the vignette was totally painless and they even accepted credit and debit cards.
I had to decide where to spend the night and the obvious place would be Vienna. It was on the proposed route and being the capital of Austria I had high expectations. For some reason the song by Ultravox sung by Midge Ure came into my head as did memories of that cool black and white video. I still can’t believe that it only made No. 2 in the British charts, kept off the top by Joe Dolce and ‘Shaddap Your Face’. Anyone who bought ‘Shaddap Your Face’ should be ashamed!
At around 5pm and in bright sunshine, I arrived at the campsite at Neue Donau which was the closest to the centre of town. It was slightly more expensive than other campsites I had used but that was to be expected due to its location, and besides it did have free wifi. Once checked in I took a free tourist guide from reception and set about planning what I would see the following day.
Sunday morning started hot and I could tell this good weather would hold the whole day. After buying a one day travel card it was time to visit some of the sights. Now I don’t know what it is about some Austrian men but they do seem incredibly highly strung. Bearing in mind it was a lovely sunny Sunday I could not quite understand the aggression I witnessed from two men within an hour of leaving the campsite. Firstly I was shouted at by a man on a bike. German is a very masculine language at the best of times and not at all attractive when yelled out by irritable Austrians. Apparently if you own a cycle and have an Austrian birth certificate you do indeed own the pavement, something I had not realised. I was tempted to get into an argument with this cyclist but being such a great day I did not want to let him spoil my good mood. Then shortly after, I witnessed another guy shouting and throwing things at two young men. As far as I could tell the young men had not done anything to warrant this tirade of abuse and they certainly seemed shocked by it. As far as I could make out the guy doing the shouting was fishing by the bank so perhaps the young men were speaking too loudly as they passed and had disturbed the fish.
The first thing I went to see in Vienna was St Stephen’s Cathedral. Like most large buildings in city centres it’s almost impossible to find a vantage point where you can get the whole thing in a photograph. In any case it was partly covered in some sheeting as if restoration work was being carried out. The sheeting was painted to match the building to try and give the effect that you were seeing the building but I always find this pointless and did not even bother to take a photograph of the outside. I did go inside however and being a Sunday a service was taking place preventing you from accessing the whole building.
Close by was another church with a quite spectacular interior.
It was just a short walk from here to the Hofburg Imperial Palace which was the home of the Hapsburg dynasty and birthplace of Marie Antoinette. The buildings around the central courtyard were very impressive. The place was crawling with tourists, some of whom were in horse drawn carriages which were popular in Vienna.
I continued to stroll about the city, passing the Rathaus (town hall) which had a jazz band playing outside and food stalls selling produce from many different countries. Being a warm day I needed to stop for a drink and since it was lunchtime it made sense to get something to eat as well.
After lunch I decided I wanted to visit Zentralfriedhof which meant taking a metro and then a tram. Centralfriedhof is a very grand cemetery where many famous people are buried. Most tourists come here to see the graves of Beethoven, Johann Strauss, Schubert and Brahms which are all situated close together. Beethoven and Schubert were originally buried elsewhere in Vienna but their bodies were exhumed in 1888 and moved here.
The cemetery also features a memorial to Mozart who is actually buried elsewhere in Vienna at Saint Marx Friedhof, my next destination. Whilst at Saint Marx Friedhof I bumped into a French couple who I had seen at the other cemetery who kindly offered to take my photo.
The day was coming to an end and there was only time to see one more tourist attraction so I headed to Schloss Schönbrunn for a brief look at the palace and gardens before returning to the campsite for my final night. On the Monday I would be leaving and continuing my journey to Slovenia.