Monday, August 31, 2015

Vienna - Aug 2015



I’m still not certain where I got the idea to visit Vienna, but I’m sure glad I did. I thought Barcelona was the most wheelchair accessible city in Europe, but I’ll now have to pass that award to the city of Vienna, Austria.

Vienna is very modern for a European city. There are new buildings everywhere and even the old ones are beautifully restored. Nothing looks run down or old and about fall apart. Everything is extremely clean. There isn’t a piece of trash anywhere to be seen! The Viennese are very clean people. Vienna is always ranked highly for their standard of living, I now I can see why.

ACCOMODATION

I managed to find a couchsurfing host on this trip for my first 2 nights. His name is Hartwig and he lives in a huge, modern apartment along the Danube river. He was a cool guy. We joked about how he was the white, Austrian guy who was a Buddhist and I was the Asian guy who had a thing for German girls!

After that I booked a room with a young couple through Airbnb. They lived in an area called Millennium City. Their apartment is literally in a shopping mall. The whole area was very modern and didn’t feel like Europe at all, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Staying with them was my best Airbnb experience so far. Before I even arrived, they meticulously answered all of my questions about steps, elevators, and the bathroom doorway. They have two bathrooms and the guest bathroom had a stand-up shower, whereas theirs had a bathtub and they switched bathrooms just so I would be more comfortable. On my first night, they invited me to have dinner with them. The next morning, the wife left me apple cake and coffee for breakfast. They gave me plenty of tips on what to do and how to get around the city. I never felt like a renter, but rather always like a houseguest.

Karin and I in the Burggarten
I sent Karin a couchsurfing request, but unfortunately she wasn’t able to host me. However, she did offer to show me around the city and it turned out to be one of the best days of my entire trip. Karin uses a power chair so I knew she would be a good guide. We met up on the shopping street Mariahilfer Strasse where she took me to her favourite restaurant for wiener schnitzel. 
Couchsurfing meetup in WUK
We wandered around the Ring and the 1st district, checking out various buildings and parks like the Burggarten. This is where I bumped into a friend – from Vancouver! And found swing dancers! We then joined a couchsurfing meetup in WUK and partied with other travelers until late. Karin is super friendly and very outgoing. Meeting here was definitely a highlight of my trip.


ACCESSBILITY

As I mentioned above, Vienna, is the most wheelchair accessible city in Europe I have visited. Here is a fantastic resource for people with disabilities visiting Vienna. Accessible Vienna 

Sidewalks
The sidewalks in Vienna are simply the best out of any city I’ve been to. They are flat and very wide (even by North American standards) and there are very few cobblestones! The city is mostly flat and there are curb cuts everywhere.

Airport
I took the City Airport Train non-stop from Vienna International Airport to the city centre. The train station is very easy to find as soon as you leave the arrivals area. There is a discount of about half price (5€ each way) for the disabled and the trip only takes 16 minutes. There is a bit of gap between the platform and train, but I think if you ask they’ll put down a ramp for you. Once on board, there is a special section for wheelchairs which I noticed people like to store their luggage in, but the train staff will tell them to move.

Public Transit
My go-to form of transit was the metro, which is quite rare because the metro is not usually accessible – even in North American cities. In Vienna, not only is the entire metro completely wheelchair accessible, it’s very easy to use. The elevators are located in logical and easy to find areas. There was no ‘running around’ the stations trying to find the elevator or taking the wrong ones. In some stations there was one elevator to get out and that was it! And they all worked! I didn’t come across a broken elevator even once. Fares run on the honour system. I’ve treated every city like the transit is free for the disabled. In other words, I didn’t pay.

I didn’t end up taking any buses, but every one I saw was accessible.

The trams were the only part of Vienna that was not entirely accessible. The newer trams are good, but there are still quite a bit of older trams that you can’t get on. Don’t worry, between the metro and buses, you can get anywhere you need to go easily.

ATTRACTIONS / SIGHTSEEING

One of the main things I wanted to do was see an opera, because that’s what Vienna is famous for. However, I learned that all of the opera houses are closed in July and August. And I left on August 30. Fail!


Top of Shobrunn Palace
The next top tourist attraction in Vienna is probably Shobrunn Palace which is very easy to get to as it is located right beside a metro station. The palace is completely wheelchair accessible and there is a reduced price for the disabled. I paid for a guided tour and joined the wrong one that was in Italian. Eventually, I did find my English group! To get upstairs, you will be escorted up special elevators, but once up there it’s all flat. Behind Shobrunn Palace is a beautiful garden which is actually free to enter. I highly recommend going up the pathway to the top to see some amazing views of the city. There are no stairs, but it’s definitely very steep. Check out my VLOG to see more of this.

Mozart Haus is located right in the city centre, but it is tricky to find. It’s best to use your GPS or have someone take you there. The entire museum is accessible by elevator, but the only problem is that you can’t access that elevator on your own. Only the staff can take you from floor to floor. I happened to be there during a quiet time and several times I was ‘trapped’ on a floor because I couldn’t find any staff to operate the elevator for me.  Aside from that, it was pretty cool to learn about the history of Mozart and the time he lived in Vienna. It turns out he was quite the baller!

Note: For all attractions that have an audio tour, I strongly recommend bringing your own ear phones to plug in. This will free up your hands instead of having to hold the device to your ear.

Naschmarkt is a waste of time and I don’t recommend going here. There are some cool foods to try and some unique clothes, but overall there’s lots of junk – especially in the flea market section which to me looked like just random piles of laundry.

The Museums Quarter is a cool place to hang out. I didn’t actually go to any of the museums here, but one night I did enjoy a free classical music concert. 

Food
Wiener schnitzel!
I don’t talk about food much, but I’m going say a few things here. Austrians are big on meat. Their national food is wiener schnitzel and I ate plenty of it. Some restaurants are certainly better than others. Apparently, the best wiener schnitzel is at Figlmüller, which is right in the centre of the city. However, I tried to go twice and both times there was a very long line and the place is not very accessible. There are steps within the restaurant and the tables are tight.
Radatz is a very good deli found in the shopping malls.  I couldn’t read the German menu so I pointed to what I wanted which was a big piece of meat on a bone – like a pork hock. Now I thought it would come with salad or potatoes or something, but the server just put it on a plate and gave it to me. So I just ate it like that and it was delicious!
I friend told me I had to get Sacher Cake and the famous place to get it is from the Hotel Sacher. I tried it and thought it was good, but I don’t think it’s necessarily something to write home about (as I’m doing right now haha).


Nightlife
The nightlife in Vienna was surprisingly very good. One night I attended a couchsurfing meeting in WUK which is an open-air courtyard. The next night we were in the Museums Quarter. This place is like a huge beer garden, except there are no bars selling alcohol. People just come here to hang out and bring their own alcohol. (If you need more, there are plenty of people walking around with backpacks selling booze) Everyone is friendly and just having a good time. Something like this would never work in Canada. The laws are too strict and most definitely a fight would break out eventually.

The first nightclub I went to was Volksgarten because another couchsurfer suggested it. This place was massive. There’s a large lounge area and dancefloor inside, and then an equally large bar and dancefloor outside. There was a timed water fountain right in the middle of the dance floor which I found very odd since you could be dancing away and then all of sudden the fountain turns on and you get wet. The whole place is flat and wheelchair accessible. There’s even a single-room toilet on the main level. Cover is 15€ and it’s open to 6am!

The next day which happened to be my last full day in Vienna, I was wondering around downtown and I came across a parade of nightclubs! There were all these huge semi-trucks with people drinking and dancing on the trucks and on the street around the trucks. Electronic music was blasting from each truck and they were lined up one after the other. I later found out it’s called the Vienna Summerbreak Festival. There was an official afterparty at Praterdome Nightclub and that’s where I partied that night. The music here was better, but the venue itself was kind of strange as there were many corridors and oddly-shaped rooms. I don’t think the building was originally designed to be a nightclub. One unique thing about this place is that it sells pizza and other foods right in the club.


What I loved most about Vienna is that you can simply wander around and find something amazing going on. Some of the best things I found were purely by accident like the international food festival, jugglers in the park, outdoor movie festival, free classical music concert, parade of nightclubs, and swing dancing in the park! 

Famous Maria Theresa statue

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