Vienna Vignette

This global downtime has given me much time to myself, to ponder, reflect and reminisce. The future of the world looks uncertain, however, I can take stock and be grateful for the memories I have already created and hope that one day soon I will be able to create many more.

A visit to Vienna was one of the trips made and should have been one of my first blogs. Sorry. Time allows me to resurrect the photographic memories (both electronic and hard copies) from which I draw upon to write this blog. Five and half years later I’m finally putting pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) and composing my thoughts on my meanderings to the Austrian capital. Vienna had only become a capital again when Austria regained its sovereign independence from allied control (another part of the history of this world that needs further exploration). Vienna’s interesting history shows that it has had its fair share of challenges, from the very start of its existence, surviving sieges and capture, to a city of palaces and society that entertained many. Like so many European cities its intriguing history is what inspires you to visit today.


What had lured me to this city I know not. Looking back, it was probably a combination of being given a number of travel guides and finding a cheap flight and the need to use up my remaining annual leave entitlement. Whatever it was that brought me here I can only be thankful as I left amazed at Vienna’s beauty. I waltzed around the streets of Vienna, uplifted by the glorious winter sunshine, and followed in the footsteps of illustrious musicians and royalty. The city boasts an abundance of architecture. Baroque buildings combine with several imperial palaces. Dotted around are museums and statues of iconic people associated with the city and mainly connected by the Ringstrasse.


In my recent meanderings around England (York, Chester) I’ve discovered how the Roman Empire expanded (and ultimately declined). I’ve learnt that the Romans had a good eye for setting up their outposts/forts. Vienna was slightly different as it was established by the Romans and called Vindobona. They may have got this one outpost slightly wrong as by the 5th century the barbarian invasions had reduced it to ruins. Its apparent weakness was its location on the edge of the Hungarian plains, but surely a strength was the mighty river that flowed nearby, the river Danube. This waterway must surely have been part of the success of the city as it evolved into a major trading centre by the 13th century. Vienna, however, knew its ups and downs. The same can be said for much of Europe. In the year 1683 it had finally defeated the Turks, and this is when the city really began to flourish, and it was that part of the city that I discovered and admired. The Hapsburgs ruled this imperial capital and developed it on the grandest scale. This brought with it much wealth to Vienna and its music began to thrive. Now known as the music capital of the world, its classical tastes are a far cry from the modern beats, inappropriate language and distasteful subjects. Europe looks to be reorganising itself once again due to Brexit and coronavirus. Clearly it has been here before. In the year 1814 the European powers that had defeated the Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte met for the year to discuss how to restore the established order which had been thrown out by the Emperor. So, as you can see the city is rich in history that has fascinated me as I have discovered and explored more of the world’s history. Perhaps I didn’t do the city the justice it deserves in that the stay was short but hope (if I’m lucky enough) to return one day to explore further.


My first day was spent walking up into the vineyards of Vienna. I was perhaps trying to follow in my father’s footsteps when he brought us here when I was 11. There is a distant memory of getting off a boat in the middle of nowhere and exploring the city or so he thought. I had some sort of a plan for the day that involved walking up into the hills to enjoy the views of the vineyards of Vienna and the city. Rumour has it that there is no other city in the world that has vineyards in such close proximity to the city centre. At the time I didn’t appreciate the fine tastes of wine; oh, how I wish I was heading there now with these taste budslong to sample the wine. Instead I made it for the views and breakfast. I had no planned route but followed the signs that were placed on the pathways. My reward at the top of a hill was a glorious view of the River Danube adjacent to which the stunning part of this city is built. The sun hadn’t yet burnt off the morning haze, so the pristine clear views weren’t seen. It was still worth the effort; to the left from my viewpoint was the uglier side of the city that thankfully wasn’t going to get any of my attention. Lying beneath the morning mist was a city waiting to be discovered. My inquisitive mind and body were ready to explore.


After enjoying some refreshments, I returned back down the hills to edge of the river. I had a map but was looking for a route into the city to find the famous Ferris wheel that had been used in the Bond movie ‘The Living Daylights’. Had I reached there I would have immediately recognised it as the place where my dad was given lots of grief for the circuitous route he had made around the city. Instead I stumbled upon a number of football fans and mingled and walked with them in the direction they were travelling. I soon abandoned my plan and followed them in the hope that they might be headed to a game. It soon dawned on me that they were attending a local game. I quickly went to the ticketing office to enquire if there was a spare ticket and I was in. It set me back 32 euros as I got to watch SK Rapid Wien play SK Sturm Graz at the Ernst-Happel-Stadion. By the time the game had finished darkness had fallen upon the city. I did get to the Ferris wheel but had to make do with night-time shots. A wonderful first day in the city came to an end shortly afterwards.


My second and third days were spent exploring the city itself. What an absolute joy it is to look back at those photos taken and remember the grand imperial beauty of the city. At the heart of Vienna lies the 12th century Stephansdom cathedral (St. Stephens). Very little remains from its early days, and, like so many cathedrals across Europe, additions were made during different periods. When in Vienna you cannot fail to see the cathedral as it stands taller than all around with its stunning mosaic roof, which was laid to show the Royal and Imperial double-headed eagle and the coat of arms of the city of Vienna, sitting with pride of place on the skyline. It is quite distinctive and makes it one of the most recognisable churches in the world. Its famous spire, known as Steffl, stands at 450ft high. Inside the cathedral are many pieces of artwork, that survived a fire towards the end of World War II. That fire also damaged the potent symbol of the city known as ‘the Pummerin’. This bell reflects the turbulent history of the city and was made from the canons that the Turks left when were defeated back in 1683. The bell, like the roof, has since been restored. My walk around Vienna meant that I discovered many other smaller churches that were equally as impressive as the main one in the city.


I may have been a bit naïve as I did not want to spend money exploring the many museums and galleries the city boasts, but I could also add to that argument that the weather was too good to be inside. So, my youthful exuberance made for exploring the beauty that this city had to offer by foot. Being alone I declined the touristy Viennese way of getting around the city, the horse and carriage. These are iconic symbols associated with the city just like gondolas are in Venice or punts in Cambridge. A lot of money could be spent on these things.


I mentioned earlier the Ringstrasse which was a grand boulevard built by emperor Franz Joseph to separate parts of the city. Whether or not it still remains I’m unsure, but what looks to be the more modern development of it houses some of Vienna’s landmarks. Here I found the Neues Rathaus (new town hall) where the Christmas market was being readied. It meant capturing the perfect picture was difficult. Combined with the tall central tower it was almost impossible to get a full image. Also, in this area is the Burgtheatre, which has been restored following damage sustained  during World War II. Its beauty from the outside must be admired but rumours of its internal grandeur, must remain just that. Another building that stuck out was the parliament building. You might be mistaken at this point for thinking that you were in Rome or Athens, as Greek and Roman statues adorn the building. In front of the building lies the Athenebrunnen fountain, dominated by the figure of Pallas Athene (the goddess of wisdom). Two final buildings worth mentioning (as they have remarkable similarities) sit mirroring each other. These are the natural history and Kunsthistorisches museums. Rumours are these might be one of the top attractions in the city. I, sadly, must report that I did not step inside them. I remember seeing these wonderful buildings as a child but only from the outside.


The Ringstrasse was designed to separate the Stephansdom and Hofburg areas of the city. The Hofburg area is named after the Hofburg palace, which is one of three that I visited in the city. This complex of buildings right in the centre of the city shows how it was built through the ages, as differerent rulers wanted to leave their mark. I can remember walking through here in the evening with my family and remarking at the number of flags dangling around (as a child I aimed to collect a flag of every country I visited). I can’t recall going inside the complex and exploring the library or state apartments. Instead, along with all the other tourists, I tried to capture images of the outside of the buildings, statues, domes and their architecture and decorative detail. One day….

Coming a little bit away from the centre of the city you reach the Belvedere area of the city. As I mentioned there were more churches visited than the cathedral and one of these was Karlskirche. A grand dome with columns either side of it make it rather appealing. Yet another fine example of the wealth of architecture the city boasts.  My main reason for coming into this area of the city was to visit a second palace. The beautiful Belvedere Palace had splendid grounds with water fountains that had been wrapped up for the winter. I could only imagine how many people would have been present during the summer months.


The largely empty gardens gave a wonderful impression as they bathed in the winter sunshine. Again, I didn’t step inside, but found my way out the back where a large water feature provided that iconic shot. As the cold and night started to approach, I made my way towards to the opera area of the city. A glimpse was made of the state opera house, its grand entrance living up to the hype. I would have loved to have been a position to make an entry, and probably listen to the music of the city’s famous sons, but my tired and scruffy appearance would not have been welcomed in such a grand location. Perhaps when I’m older and can dress more suitably I could return and watch a performance of the highest quality. For now, I will have to just enjoy videos of the opera house that emerge of the inside on the internet and in movies.

My final day took me away from the city centre. A short train trip was made to the third palace of my trip, Schonbrunn Palace. What a day this was. The ticket I paid for allowed access to 3 areas if I remember rightly – the palace, the coach museum and the zoo. I made the customary visit inside but disappointingly I can’t remember anything of the inside which is a shame and as the rooms look incredible – perhaps photography wasn’t allowed. This might explain my lack of memory – how interesting it is that we need help to jog our memories. I wonder how much of what I remember is based upon stories that I was told by those who shared the occasion or photos/videos that were taken at the time. Enough of that for that is a vast subject. From here I went to the coach museum, where glorious carriages were on display in the former winter riding school. My afternoon was spent exploring the vast grounds, which boast an impressive green house and a zoo. I went into the zoo as my ticket permitted this, but soon left as the guilt of seeing these wonderful animals in captivity was too much to bear. I always say that once you’ve been on safari (in 2006) you will never want to visit a zoo/aquarium. The palace has a potent yellow façade which is best viewed when walking up to and from the Gloriette. The views were worth the walk. I took on liquid refreshments at Gloriette as it is now home to a café/bar. I can remember indulging in conversation with an old gentleman who was a resident of the city. It was a perfect end to my trip as I sat and talked away about my visit.


Hopefully I’ve manged to describe my trip to this beautiful city. Pictures have proved invaluable in enabling me to retrace my footsteps and put my memories into writing. I’m sure it will provide a delightful Facetime with my father when he reads it and we reminisce. As I’ve remarked before I have many regrets in life, none more so than not writing a blog/diary as a kid or of my earlier travels and all the trips that my parents took me on. So, as I sit and dream of days when travel may resume in a completely different form, I take the moment to remember that my early travel was never taken for granted but I considered it and still consider travel a privilege. It is something that I’m missing greatly.

Drinking Dublin

A small capital city with a huge reputation, it attracts visitors from far and wide. When the city is alive its hustle and bustle create an overwhelming sense of craziness. Certain areas of the city possess a constant, unique atmosphere. Although an incredibly touristy city, the locals are ultra-friendly and the crowds flock here to join the craik.

Sadly, my first visit here was far too short and rushed to enjoy this city to its full. Perhaps this is why I didn’t love it like everyone else appears to do. I shall return to explore further its charms and character and possibly some areas out of the main city. I only had 12hrs to explore this place, and while the city is small, trying to see everything by foot was never going to be achievable. There was a need for it to be explored by foot as my ever-increasing waist size was not being helped by the local lifestyle both north and south of the border. I was gutted not to have visited Trinity college area including the book of Kells and college library. I believe that everywhere else was at least seen, but what was missed provides me with the excuse to return.

They say that first impressions count; lets be grateful that Dublin’s didn’t. The city is ugly; it takes advantage of the tourist and, probably, the locals. The buildings look cold and dirty. The pollution and dirt make a face lift a necessity. The city attracts a lot of visitors; this clearly has its pros and cons. On the walkways this is definitely a con, due to the many drinkers/beggars and the build-up of dirt, litter from overflowing bins. The smell made for an unappealing walk. Add the fact that the sun wasn’t shining, and one can see why first impressions were poor. So much for “Dublin’s fair city”.

This the capital of Ireland sits at the head of Dublin Bay; it is a busy port, the financial and commercial hub of Ireland, backed up by its expensive lifestyle, as was pointed out to me by a local as I travelled down on the train. The first part of my walk took me along the eastern part of the river. Here one particular building catches my eye as it looks like it has a canned drink that has been misplaced and built into it. Close by it is anchored the Jeanie Johnston, whose links to the 19th century famine in these parts sheds a little light on some other parts of Ireland’s history.

My walk takes in all the areas detailed on my tourist/bus map. All the sights were very commercialised, and they were a huge disappointment, Christ church cathedral in particular. Crowds flock to them like bees to honey, and I couldn’t get out of them quick enough. I set off in search of other areas of interest, only to find bus loads of people arriving at them.

Guinness is perhaps Ireland’s biggest and most famous export. Personally, I can’t stand the stuff, even after trying it again over here. On arrival at those famous black and golden gates, I couldn’t be bothered to waste my time and money queuing for a view and perhaps a pint I wasn’t going to enjoy. Instead I headed to a local pub for a drink I would and did enjoy. Not understanding the man behind the bar, I still managed to order and a buy a drink.

From here I took on more walking as I pursued the further sites on my map. I discovered a charming building with quadrants all around; it was much more appealing and photogenic than that of Dublin Castle. From here I found some peace and solitude in the war memorial gardens whilst enjoying my daily packed lunch. From here I ticked off the Wellington monument. An old school bus provided some interesting photo opportunities before I decided to head back to Templar Bar. In no rush, I decided on a pub crawl back towards Templar Bar. Any pub that looked attractive or lively was entered to savour a pint but in each one that was visited the price rose as I got closer to that illustrious place.

Just before arriving at Templar Bar I discovered Ireland’s oldest bar!! Is it true? We may never know! Crowds flocked here and not for a pint but for the “I was here photo” for which people just strolled in and quickly left. Surprisingly I took no such photo; instead I enjoyed my pint as I photobombed everyone’s shameless pictures. Support these pubs!!

I left this pub in search of a more atmospheric location and by that I mean local, musical atmosphere. More by chance than by plan I came to Templar Bar, established 1870. I was drawn in and captivated by the two guys playing their tunes to the hoards of drunkards. Not coping well with the crowds inside I took comfort with the smokers outside. Conversation was struck up with people from far and wide as we all enjoyed each other’s company.

Dublin – I shall return; Trinity college, library and the book of Kells looks like a silly missed opportunity. And perhaps I’ll return to enjoy the evening of Templar Bar once more. Apart from maybe coming across to watch the rugby, my interest in this place is sadly lacking.

Dublin, Leinster, Ireland

Built in Belfast

The first of my four ‘Capitals of the UK’ blog takes me on a short flight across the Irish Sea to brilliant Belfast (although I booked to go to the wrong airport. I flew into Aldergrove rather than Belfast City which would have been more convenient for my pick up!!

What was once one of the richest cities in the world has gone from the industrial years as producers of the finest linen and, at the other end of the manufacturing spectrum, large ships in the famous Belfast shipyards. Belfast became a lively import and export hub. The times after the great wars were clearly marred and scarred by the horrific and horrendous 30 years of troubles. It is now forging a ‘better Belfast’ where the locals open their arms and their mouths very fast talking – it is difficult to understand them sometimes; a combination of the rapid speech and the accent to provide you with warm hospitality. Belfast captivates and fascinates.

‘Built in Belfast’ refers to the ship building yards. It produced a mind-boggling amount of ships both pre and during the war. One of the world’s most famous ships, RMS Titanic, was built in Belfast (as they say, ‘It was fine when it left here!!’). It’s incredible to think of the numbers associated with the yards. In their heyday some 30,000 people were building including my host’s father. Imagine the noise this would have created as rivets were hit all day long. An interesting fact to back this up; 3 million rivets were used to build the Titanic alone. These slipways are vastly changed as flats, hotels are built on them at an alarming rate. Its other addition, and the one that gives this area its name, is the museum to that famous ship. Isn’t it amazing how one movie can create such a tourist attraction!!! As I’m led to believe this is now one of the busiest tourist attractions in Europe. I didn’t find it that appealing – its cost, and commercialisation of a terrible disaster that happened thousands of miles away wasn’t that interesting. Perhaps a museum to Belfast’s shipbuilding past, celebrating the design and engineering feats may have been more appealing for me, as it wasn’t just the Titanic that was built here. My host’s father (my dad’s uncle) helped to build the Canberra.

The port is now a regular cruise ship destination; a record 117 will have stopped here by October this year. 10 years ago there were none. It still has managed to keep Samson and Goliath – iconic, bright and yellow they dominate Belfast’s cityscape. They are not used these days for ship building but for building renewable energy items, like wind turbines. Thankfully they have maintained the H & W letters on them (Harland & Wollf) which alone are 6m in height!

When visiting Belfast you can’t ignore its recent history. Perhaps this is why it makes it the most fascinating of the 4 capitals in my opinion. This terrible part of history finished when I was just 10yrs old (I was also in Belfast for the Good Friday agreement of 1998). I can’t begin to understand any part of it, but after visiting, reading and listening to the tour guides talk about it on every trip, it clearly can’t be ignored and looks like it is going to play a part in its tourist future. The two routes of conflict are religion and being part of the union. Perhaps this also highlights/mirrors some of Britain’s current problems. Belfast provides some monumental landmarks that are worth visiting, eye opening, slightly emotional and incredibly powerful. The peace wall and the murals in particular captivated my attention.

The city centre itself is built around the impressive city hall. A free visit inside is well worth it (that sounds a bit Irish but you know what I mean), and you are greeted by an incredible stairway, walls and ceiling. Around from the city hall lies all the normal shops and restaurants that any city boasts, although the recent fire had burned down one particular store. Anyone who visits Ireland/Northern Ireland will be lured into the many pubs providing good beers and regular music and a unique and lively atmosphere. One of Belfast’s names is ‘heart attack city’. It’s hard to disagree with this after indulging in a number of traditional breakfasts; they really are a heart attack on a plate (thanks 1st cousins once removed).

As I bring my visit here to an end and prepare for my flight home my final walk round takes me to the botanic gardens. I went in search of the Ulster museum, but it didn’t appear to be open. So instead I had a fascinating walk around the gardens admiring the brilliant art work portraying the recycling the city offers and the lack of it in the world in which we live. I found this intriguing and fascinating, and just as powerful as the many murals around the city.

‘Cities are built and rebuilt by people who love what they stand for’. Belfast can never forget its past, but this city has moved on as it leaves behind its famous industrial heritage and terrible troubles. It is forging a new and successful era as visitors are welcomed, with easy access from far and wide. Oh, how the modern means of easy travel and tourism is changing the landscape of the world….

Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom