Traveling hints for Vienna

John Laudando
Roses abloom in Vienna’s Volksgarten.
The lively scene in Vienna’s Museums Quartier. | Independent/John Laudando

What is Vienna especially famous for? Opera, the Lippizan horses of the Spanish Riding Academy, pastries, and a whole lot of great art. Since much of what we include in our column is designed to help you make your senior budget travels flow as smoothly as possible, you’ll often find hints we wish we had known ourselves.

First hint on Vienna? If you want to go to the opera or to watch those incredible horses, book tickets in advance. We didn’t. The result? We mostly visited museums. Turns out that wasn’t so bad.

Our Airbnb was a lovely apartment with a rooftop terrace, just up the block from two delightful open-air restaurants which had always-busy tables we walked past each time we ventured out.

To start our adventures, we got a two-day Vienna pass, which gave us hop-on-hop-off bus privileges to attractions. Good thing. Second hint on Vienna — it’s a BIG city.

Our first stop using the pass was the Leopold Museum.

Its sweeping overview of Egon Schiele’s short life and his intense paintings blew us away. We hadn’t heard much about him before, but walking through the chronological exhibit of his works, liberally interspersed with biographical details, was mesmerizing.

Located in Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier, the Leopold also featured Gustav Klimt — including some glorious waterscapes — among other works accumulated by Rudolf Leopold, whose extensive art collection is the heart of the museum. When you identify a painter with certain works — Klimt’s Judith and The Kiss come to mind — it’s always amazing to see they had a much greater range than the style of the paintings that made them ultra-famous.

A major part of the MuseumsQuartier is the courtyard, where we enjoyed an imaginative, healthy, and reasonably priced lunch while watching all the passersby. The mumok museum, also part of the same complex, focuses on post-modern art and is another choice on the Vienna Pass.

In our meanderings back to our Airbnb, we did pass by the Spanish Riding Academy, which was buzzing with people, including many horse-drawn carriages. I felt we had left our own time period. We stopped at one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating for dinner that night — Italian, in Vienna.

The next day, we headed to the Botanical Gardens, and Belvedere Castle and its exhibition “Sin and Secession — Franz Von Stuck in Vienna.” Wow! Simply wow!

Huge sculptures, jewel-like small sculptures, paintings, paintings, and more paintings. My favorite was a sculpture of an angel riding on a golden turtle’s back and holding a large, luminescent seashell. That, and the poster for the exhibit, which featured Von Stuck’s haunting Medusa.

The Belvedere Gardens were another revelation. To begin, Belvedere Castle is huge, and its extensive gardens are filled with statuary.

Third hint on Vienna — and many other places in Europe. Always carry some spare change for the country you’re in. Here’s why.

We went to the Volksgarten — lovely gardens — and I spotted a restroom, headed in and, when I was about to leave, a man loomed over me demanding money. Now, he wasn’t there when I went in, else I would have gone back to where I’d left my purse with my husband and gotten some change. But there he was now.

“Pay me,” he demanded.

“I have no money,” I replied.

“Pay me, or I will call the police and have you arrested and sent to jail,” he threatened.

Just then, another woman walked up and greeted him and handed him some change. I chose that moment to escape, unscathed, but much wiser. Now I always carry some spare change and recommend that you do the same.

Next time . . . Budapest.

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