|Well, Vienna is as grand and beautiful as ever. If there is one thing about this city, aside from the superbly integrated transportation system that includes buses, trams, suburban trains and metro, it is the immense presence with which all the historical buildings tower above you. With a fantastic combination of baroque, gothic, classical, and renaissance styles, architecturally, Vienna has something for everyone. Accompanying all of these wonderful buildings is an endless supply of musical endeavours ranging from super talented street buskers to the most accomplished orchestras.
As planned, our city guide Werner met us at 1:30 pm precisely at Westbahnof (the western train station) to lead us on our city tour. Kristine had gotten in touch with Werner through her parents. Werner is an old friend of Kristine's grandfather who worked alongside him in Vancouver many years ago. Needless to say, I think this made for a very interesting visit for both Werner and Kristine. Our tour lasted two days and included all of the major sights including the Hofburg and Schloss Schonbrunn, the Hapsburg's summer palace just west of the city centre. At the end of the second day, Werner took us up to a fantastic viewpoint where we could see the entire expanse of the city and the mighty Danube flowing along side. However, I would not say that this was the highlight...
Perhaps our best time was the invitation Werner gave us to come to his home for lunch before touring on the second day. He gave us clear instructions on the back of his personalized business card on how to take the tram to his place. Werner lives with other seniors pretty much in the centre of the city (well close... I am sure he will tell me it is not the centre). We found our way there easily, and once there, we were treated to a great home cooked meal in the dining room - something that we have not had for quite a while. So, it was really great to have a full meal, with all the requisite components, including a sweet dessert that Werner ensured was still available for us by grabbing a couple of them early enough. We were also treated to copies of he newsletter Werner is involved in writing and publishing for all the other residents. How did he find the time to give us a two day city tour? Anyway, we were very grateful and it made for a completely different experience from that which we have had so far, and it's great to know that there is someone there waiting for you some of the time on a trip like this. I hope Werner enjoyed our company as much as we did. And I hope all of Kristine's kisses didn't embarrass him too much!
Vienna is an expensive city too. Much more expensive than places out in the Austrian countryside (well the whole country is expensive really), but we managed to do all right by visiting the local grocery stores where the food is better anyway. We did have to make one special visit though, and it was to Julius Meinl. JM is, or should I say was, the quintessential Austrian shopping experience. The company owned the market last time I was here and I remember Owen telling me that he loved shopping there when he lived in Linz. Well, as is the case with many endeavours, it sees that JM is shifting with the times, but they certainly made a strange transformation. They converted themselves into a bank. I instantly recognized the JM symbol (included here in the photos), and wanted to mention it for Owen, but the whole conversion to a bank thing makes me think of my friend Bob who used to work for Safeway. Safeway (not my favourite organization) seems to be forever looking for a way to improve it's bottom line. I remember chatting with Bob about how upside down they are as an organization. Well, maybe they should become a bank! Maybe in this way, they will become less annoying to less people. I don't know - just an idea...
Anyway, Julius Meinl did keep one flagship store right in the middle of the city and the place is like the Birks jewellers of grocery stores. It is immaculate with all sorts of high end things - a bit different from the original, but very entertaining for a stroll. Don't buy anything though - it will break the bank (ha,ha...)