Vienna Hauptbahnhof – 424 miles into the trip
Day 3 of my round-Europe trip by train puts me slap-bang in the middle of Vienna, also in the middle of something else – a record-breaking heatwave. Still, I am staying in a hotel obligingly called AllYouNeedVienna, which only costs €49 a night but, given its name, is almost certainly going to be providing me with ice baths on the hour, a swimming pool, an assistant to follow me around with a fan, and a limitless supply of iced tea.
[*Examines small print and facilities, is astonished – astonished! – to find that the AllYouNeedHotel in Vienna would be better named the WhatDoYouExpectFor€49aNightHotel*]
There are no complaints about the train ride here, however, on the astounding Regiojet service from Prague (read all about that city here), which started with a very chirpy guard offering us free bottled water, a free Czech newspaper (it was the thought that counted) and then a free cup of tea. The tea, on inspection, was mint tea made with actual mint leaves, and honey – honey I tell you! – was optional.
The train was truly the gift that kept giving. There was a flower in the spotlessly clean train toilets, while sushi, ordered from Chirpy Guard, cost a ridiculous €2, with a chia and mango smoothie for another couple of euros. We clattered at high speeds through rolling Czech wheat fields and along somnolent rivers, stopping at occasional stations for towns with no vowels in them, and arrived in Vienna just the two minutes late after four-plus hours of absolute delightful rail travel.
Do & see
There are palaces, museums and galleries galore in Vienna – and an opera house the size of a small nation – but can you do better than a soaring glasshouse full of butterflies that land on your hand? You cannot, I tell you. Every word for butterfly is joyous – papillon in French, farfalla in Italian –but my vote is for the German, schmetterling, a gorgeous, dancing word that seems just right for these amazing creatures. Huge, colourful butterflies flit between the palms and exotic blooms, landing here and there, tumbling away at the slightest movement, disguising themselves cannily and then opening up to reveal wings of the deepest blue, red and orange. I absolutely loved every minute I spent in there, and it costs the princely sum of €7, which seems like a bargain to have a schmetterling settle on your t-shirt.
The street market on the edge of the monumental centre seems like the last place you’d head for dinner, but trust me. A run of twenty or thirty open-air cafes, bars and restaurants offer everything from high-end seafood to Asian street food, and I eat here at least once every time I’m in Vienna (and often twice, oh go on, thrice). I just had Vietnamese tofu-stuffed summer rolls, a plate of Malaysian pepper beef with fried rice, and a large glass of wine for €20, which for Vienna is pretty darned good. Stay late and there are DJs and cocktails – and if you watch my video, right here, you can see even more of the whole scene.
If it seems like cheating – it’s basically the cafe for the Butterfly House, I didn’t exactly have to go far to find it – then I make no apologies. It’s also a heatwave, did I mention that? I’m not walking any further than I have to. Either way, it’s another glorious spot, with seats either inside the old glass palmhouse or outside on the terrace overlooking the park. Saying ‘it’s not cheap’ also seems pointless – it’s Vienna for goodness sake – but a macchiato and a slice of Sachertorte – the best chocolate cake in the world – really does soothe the soul.
And that’s it from Vienna – not a city you should really do quick and dirty, but sometimes you only need to have one great experience – butterflies, on your t-shirt! – to remember a place for the rest of your life.
I am out of here, next stop Bratislava, see you there!