Austria 2010: 8 Things I Did For The First Time In My Life

My early trips outside of Ukraine, where I was born and raised, fuelled my hunger for travel and  helped me eventually end up in Canada. I s...

My early trips outside of Ukraine, where I was born and raised, fuelled my hunger for travel and helped me eventually end up in Canada. I should admit that I haven't travelled abroad until I was 22. In the mid-2000s, most people in Ukraine would still travel locally or wouldn't travel at all. Cheap all-inclusive resorts in Turkey and Egypt would still be out of reach for most people in Ukraine since it was considered a luxury. So it's pretty remarkable to see how much change this past decade has brought for international tourism. Internet and low-cost flights allowed people to travel quickly, easily and on a tight budget. Looking back now, Korea in 2008 was the biggest eye-opener for me closely followed by Vienna, Austria in 2010. And believe it or not, those 8 things I've never done or seen in my life prior to visiting Austria.

1. Rich Art and History.
The amount of art and history along Vienna's Ringstraße (Ring Road) can be overwhelming for first-time visitors like me. At some point I thought to myself - come on, Vienna, how else can you impress me? And yet, I would see another chef-d'œuvre around the next corner. 
For centuries, Vienna has attracted the best singers, composers, painters, philosophers and other talents like a magnet. Among them were Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Gustav Klimt, Otta Wagner, and of course - Sigmund Freud.
Vienna became a cultural hub in Europe that still continues to thrive and impress. No doubt given Vienna is literally at the crossroads of different nations, traditions and civilizations. 
The Danube River allowed easy transportation to and from Vienna to the rest of Europe, but not until the mighty river was restrained in a canal in the 16th century to prevent flooding. 
Mozart is definitely the most celebrated Viennese artist of all time. You can "see" him live on the street, on t-shirts, postcards, magnets, shopping bags, and - my favourite - on chocolate candies called "Mozartkugels". Delicious! Speaking about sweets: Sachertorte with apricot preserves is out of this world, the must try while in Austria.

2. Vibrant Fall Colours.
I thought my home city Kyiv offers beautiful fall colours (and it does!), but Vienna definitely took it to the next level. 
Well, now we all know that nothing can beat North America, especially Ontario and Vermont
But before going to Vienna, I'd never seen such a fall colour explosion in my life. I think that flowers probably helped do the trick.
These bunches of vegetables with oak leaves surely caught my eye. 
Cabbage and peppers? Why not!

3. Double-decker Train.
Did you know I have a secret passion for public transit and especially trains and streetcars?
Well, guess what - I rode my first double-decker train car as soon as I arrived at the Vienna airport. I almost had the whole car to myself. 
Growing up in Ukraine, I would often take three types of trains: subway trains (good for short rides, very punctual), commuter trains (usually crowded, smelly, with hard seats) and sleeper trains. Those last ones would differ, especially in the early 1990s. 
I remember taking an overnight train bound for Adler, Russia with literally a hole in the window. Not even thick leather blinds would block cold air coming out of a window. 
But never did I take a commuter or an airport train that looks and feels like an aircraft - quiet, smooth and comfy. That was exactly my experience in Vienna.

4. Online Booking System.
My first ever self-booking through an online giant was for Vienna. I was amazed at how easy and convenient it was to book a room online. 
Pictures, descriptions, reviews, maps - everything I needed was there. I believe I've been booking all my trips myself without any travel assistance ever since. 
My choice of hotel was pretty cheap even though I was travelling at my company's cost. I picked a tiny room without a separate bathroom in a historical building for like 25 EUR per night. 
It's all about location, location, location. My hotel was a walking distance from everything. But did I care about a separate bathroom when my days were jam-packed with the conference and sightseeing? Of course, I didn't.
Can you beat a view facing a posh government building from the Austro-Hungarian Empire period?

5. Luxury Religious Sites.
Vienna does not shy away from displaying all its wealth to visitors. 
I think Viennese luxury is most evident in cathedrals, however, I have to assume that the royal palace - Schönbrunn - can be a respectable rival, too. 
Karlskirche (St. Charles's Cathedral) and its high altarpiece made the biggest visual impression on me. You should take an elevator to the cupola to have a close-up view of all the church's frescos. 
The church's front façade reflected in a mirror pond is equally stunning during the day or at night.
Peterskirche (St. Peter's Cathedral) is a much smaller church, but super cozy inside. I really enjoyed their pipe organ concert. Like in most churches - the acoustics make for an exceptional experience. 
But most visitors to Vienna flock to the Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), the mother church and the city's most popular attraction. Built in the 12th century, this building and especially its artistic roof still invokes a sense of awe in visitors.

6. Bicycle Infrastructure.
As mundane as bike rentals, lanes and lights can be for people who live in developed countries, that was all shockingly new to me.
You can rent a bike with just a swipe of a card? No way.
Bicycle infrastructure is something that does not stop fascinating me about Western Europe even today - be it in Rotterdam, Ghent, Paris or London
Not only is it 3 times more efficient than walking, but you can also feel good about saving the planet by reducing your carbon footprint.
Biking is on the rise as never before thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

7. International Conference.
I travelled to Vienna to attend an international conference arranged by ISACA, a not-for-profit organization that brings together IT audit, risk and security professionals. 
The official reason for me to go was to prepare for my upcoming certification exam, but the real reason was that my boss at Deloitte was pretty generous as no other people in my department would travel overseas to attend such conferences. 
The conference was entirely in English. Despite my lunch break struggles to talk to other participants from Bulgaria and Germany, I was feeling very excited. We discussed how big a pension allowance is in each country and I remembered that a regular retiree in Germany would make around EUR 1,000 per month vs EUR 100 in both Bulgaria and Ukraine. This obviously does not take into account the cost of living which I'm sure is much higher in Germany than in Eastern Europe, but EUR 1,000 opens more doors than EUR 100. 
Tell me about a small world - I would then work with one of the workshop presenters in Toronto, Canada. 

8. Expensive Public Transit.
Public transit in my home country Ukraine is one of the cheapest I have seen. In 2010, the single ride was (and still is) around 25 cents. So imagine my shock when I had to pay EUR 2 for a single-ride subway ticket
I was sure people would think twice before going anywhere. 
I took a subway in Vienna a few times and it was ok - nothing fancy, fairly old cars, ordinary stations except for some contemporary ones on the line U4.
Viennese trams (streetcars) scored much higher on my list. Especially, red vintage Simmering-Graz-Pauker cars produced between 1959 and 1962. 
I find that cities that keep their vintage streetcars, especially in simple colours, are always much more attractive and authentic. 

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