Today, I proudly introduce our first Guest Blogger and my good friend, John Seale. John is one of my frequent travel partners, from across Texas to the other side of the world (2 trips to Kenya). From Texas to Beyond is excited to bring you his unique perspectives on travel, along with some fascinating locations. In this four part series, John takes us to Vienna, Austria, after which he leaves the conventional European vacation behind with destinations in Kosovo and Albania.
My wife Katie and I planned nearly the perfect itinerary for a three-destination trip. The weak Euro was making European travel cheap, and the threat of terrorism was making Kenyan travel cheap, so we were combining a visit to my sister with a visit to a former ministry I volunteered with for years. Most of our long-hauls were overnights so we could sleep, and we even had a long layover in Chicago, where my wife has family.
The only problem was a long layover in Vienna, Austria. Unfortunately long, really – over 9 hours. I’ve done my fair share of long layovers in airports, and nobody likes them. Naturally, therefore, I started looking to see if it was enough time to have a valuable visit to this beautiful, historic city. Turns out, it was plenty of time, and I’m here now to share how we did it and how you can make it work on your long layover too.
There was one crucial factor that makes or breaks any such expedition: luggage. As we were on a continuous itinerary, all our checked bags were taken care of. However, with our 3-week trip, we had sizeable carry-ons. Fortunately, the Vienna airport had us taken care of. They feature a “left luggage” station on the ground floor outside security near the train. For €4 per item per day, we could sightsee light. Apparently many US airports have eliminated them for security fears, so check ahead to see if it’s going to be possible in your layover airport. Without this feature, you’ll likely have to bribe ask a hotel bellhop nicely to store your stuff, or simply carry it. Some train stations may have luggage lockers, too.
The next step was transportation to the city. Vienna has a rapid train direct from the airport to a major station near the city center. It’s not cheap, but it only takes 16 minutes each way and is super comfortable and easy. Buy online in advance for a slight discount – it’ll be €17 per person round trip. You can do the standard public transit for cheaper (you can take the S7 subway for €9.20, and it’s 25 minutes) if you prefer.
Now that you’re downtown, you’re probably either at the Morzinplatz station or the Landstraße – Wien Mitte station (more like a mall). Now you just need to know where to go to see the sights! In a layover this length, we had enough time to walk the main city center, have dinner, stop at a pub, and that was about it. Fortunately, we found that length of visit to be just about right. You don’t need much longer to see everything if you keep moving. For this, I had done research on walking tours. I found a great printable map online. They offer multiple versions and they advertise that it would take about 2.5 hours at a leisurely pace. That was about right.
So how did we find Vienna? Amazing. We just observed it from walking alone down the streets, through the parks, and along the buildings. It’s probably my favorite style of architecture, and the awe-inspiring thing about it is that it’s everywhere. Every building was built with an attention to detail and ornamentation that is life-giving. You’re surrounded by beautiful statues and artwork. You’re also flooded with the history of the streets you are walking down. It was also awesome to stop and notice meaningful monuments, such as playwrights on the side of the theatre and busts of Austrian composers in the park.
For our walking tour, we pretty much just stuck to the map I gave above. Particular highlights were the Stadtpark, all the different parts of the Hofburg and different times they were built, having a bratwurst in front of the enormous St. Stephen’s, and standing in the Heldenplatz (found in every movie ever filmed in Vienna). Keep your eyes open for remarkable architectural details, people you recognize, and nondescript plaques noting significant events (such as the place where Vivaldi lived when he died). Also don’t be afraid to wander off the path – your printed map makes it easy to get back, and if you downloaded a map on your phone before you left the free wi-fi in the airport, you’ll have no issues.
We ate dinner at Café Central, a rather historic restaurant near the walking tour path. It was first opened in 1876 and was a meeting place of the intelligentsia. It was frequented by people such as Lenin, Trotsky, Hitler, and Freud. In 1945, it closed, but was re-opened in a different part of the building in 1975. The architecture is fabulous, and the food is solidly Austrian. Have a Gösser NaturRadler to cool off from the walking and enjoy your meal and free wi-fi.
After dinner, I had a vision of having a delicious Austrian beer in an historic pub. After some research, I had settled on the Gösser Bierklinik a short walk to the east. The place was everything I expected – felt like an underground hole where authors would hunch over their ideas and philosophies and the beer was served running over the sides of goblets. Actually, my wife had the “Pfiff mit Schuss”, a mini beer with a shot of elderflower cordial on the top. It was delicious if you like that sort of thing. My Gösser Stiftsbräu, however, was disappointingly light for a dark beer. Oh well, the experience was well worth it.
Don’t be afraid to venture out of the airport when you have a long layover. It takes a bit more research and planning, but the rewards are well worth it!
About The Author: John Seale might be called a “xenophile” – he loves geography, cultures, and people groups all over the world. He’s traveled through Central and South America, the Balkans, and East Africa with ministries that he volunteers with. He and his wife Katie live in Dallas, where he is the Director of Operations for LINC North Texas, a community ministry. He has a personal blog called Every New Day.