Ah Vienna! In a city with such history, music and coffee houses, no amount of time spent can be enough. Here’s some questions and chunks of info that I hope make your trip better.
1. What’s with the Maria Theresa posters?
If you’ve heard of the Habsburgs, this should be a breeze. Maria Theresa was the only female ruler in the Habsburg dynasty. She and her son Joseph (who’s sculpture you’d see in front of the National Museum riding a horse) are credited with numerous reforms that were received well by the people. And so they are very famous and well respected. Incidentally, Joseph was the first one who decided that Sundays would be complete no-work days for all Viennese. So if you end up in Vienna on a Sunday and find more than half the shops/cafes closed, you know who to blame.
Another Habsburg, Franz Joseph, is tagged one of the factors responsible for WWI when he declared war against Serbia. In his defense, he did not really foresee what effects this little action of his would have, and he did think that the Serbians were responsible for murdering his nephew. Doesn’t reduce the impact of the war in any way, but an interesting thing to remember when visiting Vienna and seeing his name pop up in Schönbrunn Palace.
2. Why is everything closed?
Probably because it is a Sunday (read above). Well. Tough luck. All the options you have now are general sightseeing. You can still enjoy the day. Go to Schönbrunn Palace, hire a boat in Alte Donau (last I saw the hourly rates were on an average of 18 per hour for four people) or walk around Donaiunsel (and feel incredibly you- old watching the teenage crowd). Completely viable options. For your sake though, I hope you have another say in the city so you can see other places as well – like roam in Nashcmarkt, the food market, or check out the shopping scene in Mariahilfer Strasse or do everyday grocery shopping (even most supermarkets are closed on Sundays).
3. Is Schonbrunn worth it?
In one word. Yes. The major types of tickets available are (all of which include an interesting audio guide):
- Imperial Tour (€14,20) – Access to a few Castle rooms
- Grand Tour (€17,50) – Access to inner Castle rooms in addition to Imperial Tour
- Classic Tour (€24,00) – Castle rooms and other attraction in the garden (like the maze)
The Schonbrunn Palace is really beautiful. While the Imperial Tour covers the grandiose hall of the palace, there are many beautiful rooms which it does not allow access to like the black lacquer room which Maria Theresa had gotten designed in the memory of her late husband (a favorite). So I’ll recommend getting the Grand Tour at the least, if you hold even a teeny tiny interest in architecture or beautiful walls really. Oh and entrance to most of the garden area is free.
4. Coffee Kaffee
If you have coffee on your to do list, I’m proud of you. Vienna is well known for its coffee houses and rightfully so . They are the traditional socialization venues. You must try Melange here – espresso with skimmed and foam milk. It sounds similar to Latte but is incredibly smooth and really yum. If you’re a purist, I’d recommend Jonas Reindl. It has great coffee but not many options to eat except a few cakes. So if you need a plethora of snacks with your coffee, not your kind of place. In general, it’s hard to go wrong with the coffee houses in Vienna.
5. Which brings us to.. ice cream!
Yes they are worth it. And wonderful. And I would highly recommend Tichy. I was lucky enough to stay near the place on my visit and they completely justify the people crowded there at almost every hour of the day. Specially the fruit flavors (strawberry, blueberry) and coffee. It can get a bit far from the city center, but if you have a subway pass, enough time to spare or consider yourself an ice cream fan, do visit here.
6 Umm… Sacher Cake Torte?
Sacher Torte sits on the to-do list of many visitors to Vienna. And most of them end up at Hotel Sacher to have their first taste of the dessert. And it is good business for the hotel. Any hotel. So good that the Supreme court had to get involved in the debate of who can call their Sacher torte as the original Shacher Torte. Now Hotel Schaher might have gained the favor of the court, but if you want a more pocket friendly version, I found the ones sold at Demel pretty good too. I’ve heard Heiner has good ones as well so you might give them a shot too.
This is a bit tricky. I have realized, after much denial and as much as I like it, that opera is not for everyone. And giving it a shot for the first time can be a daring choice. Why? Because it’s costly af. If you’re a first timer, you can try getting standing tickets in Vienna Staatsoper (the major opera house in Vienna). They usually cost €7-10, but are sold out quickly. This way you can get a taste of the show without putting much at stake. If you’re feet hurt too much or you find you’re not interested, you can just leave. You can check out Theater an der Wien also, which is pretty good. It has comparatively cheaper tickets (if you don’t like the idea of standing) and there is a higher probability of actually getting tickets here (Staatsoper tends to get sold out really really fast).
8. Getting to all these places?
I’ve found the Vienna Subway passes to be a good deal. There are 24, 48 and 72 hour variants. They are approximately worth three trips on the subway and are applicable for all forms of public transport inside of Vienna. If you plan on using public transport, then this app on Play Store – Vienna Subways and buses – is very helpful. The best part is that it also works offline.
No matter where you end up going, Vienna remains a wonderful treat.
True I had been super excited to visit the Ghibli museum.
True I had expected it to be amazing (unsuccessfully trying not to get my hopes too high).
True I had been waiting for the originality and beauty of all those movies to flood my brain again.
But I was still unprepared. I had still undermined how perfect it could be.
With breathtaking manuscripts of stop motion animation, oil paintings that looked like windows to other worlds that I know all too well, little unexpected animated features and reels and reels of film, they flaunted their skills unabashedly. And I could only stand and watch, trying not to gape.
- I would suggest taking the JR Chuo line to Kichijoji Station and then walking to the museum through Inokashira Park. It’s not too far and the park is beautiful enough to make you forget about the distance.
- Alternatively, take the JR Chuo line to Mitaka Station and the bus to Ghibli Museum
Tips before going
- Tickets! Ghibli museum requires tickets to be booked one month in advance, so this needs to be planned. You can get them here.
- If you get the 4 pm slot, keep in mind that the museum closes exactly at 6, and you might not be able to see the remaining parts of the museum after that. You might also want to get to the Laputa robot before it gets dark, as there is not much lighting around it, so put that first.
- Brace yourself for the feels.
First, is the way to the museum itself. I had a 4 pm entry pass, but I left at 2 from Shinjuku station so that I would have a one hour margin. Though I had taken the ticket to Mikata, I got off one station before at Kichijoji, just because I could see a huge park in the maps on the walk from Kichijoji to Ghibli Museum. Retrospectively, this has been one of my best decisions of the trip. The Inokashira pond and the park enclosing it is a feast for the eyes. And as I was going to the Ghibli museum, the park and the autumn splendor really set the mood for it. It was a relatively peaceful place blanketed by shed leaves and dotted with numerous park benches. Here and there, you could spot students trying to capture the beautiful scenes in their drawing pads (I gave it a shot too, but the results weren’t exactly flattering). I spent an hour in the place, sitting and drawing and looking around, and almost got late to the museum. If I had any inkling about how pretty it could have been, I would have went with more time to spare.
You could imagine my excitement as I rushed to the museum. This could be the highlight of my trip to Japan. It was the first thing I had marked on the map when it was finally decided that I was going to Japan. Ghibli, and specially Miyazaki’s, movies have meant so much to me through all these years. They have been my inspiration, my solace, my musical haven and my friends during the shittiest moments of my life.
Inside the museum, I rushed to the Laputa robot at the rooftop as it was getting dark. The only way to access the rooftop is a spiral staircase which was a nice touch. Inside the museum, there are many rooms dedicated to the creation of Ghibli movies. The animation studio has wonderful live stop motion features that look magical even in real life. Then there is a catbus room where you can look through different models and sit in a life sized model of the bus from My Neighbour Totoro. My personal favourite was a room where original paintings and drafts by ghibli artists were pasted all over the walls. I was mesmerized by the level of detail that goes into each panel. The watercolors looked beautiful but the oil paintings were on another level completely. At first, I was sure they were photos and not real paintings. I could not imagine the skills, devotion, love and respect that went into each of them. And for the first time I felt as if the movies did not do enough justice to the quality of the artwork of Ghibli.
In addition, there is a shop, a cafe and many other rooms in the museum. They also showed a cute little motion picture about a dog, Koro, in the museum which was around a 15 minute short story. There were no Engllish subtitles when I saw it, but there was not much being said in the movie and the story was pretty simple to follow. I could not get any pictures in the museum as it was not allowed >.< But take my word for it, it feels like an escapade into the Ghibli world, the most beautiful there can be.
The museum closes exactly at 6, so I did not have much time. Leaving was much harder than I had expected, and I felt a little jealous of the people working there (though I guess dealing with ghibli crazed fans who did not want to understand that 6 is the closing time no matter what could be a pain). Even if I had not been a fan of ghibli movies before coming to the museum (in some impossible parallel world), I would become one yet again after a visit here. I believe that it is a must for all those who’ve been grateful to studio ghibli ever in their lives.
PS – While I loved the experience completely, I do wish there was something about ghibli music too at the museum. They covered just the animation part. For me the music, especially by Joe Hisaishi, is as wonderful as the animation and story in the movies.
More on travelling in Japan
After much deliberation (and postponing), I finally made a trip to see the wonderful and much hyped winter illuminations at Nabana no Sato flower garden; I found them to be one of the best illumination shows I’ve seen in my life and I’m glad I chose to go.
The major hurdle for me when considering the candidature of Nabana no sato was, as always, the yens involved. Being a student in Japan sadly becomes a constant drain on your purse, and so a wise, well-thought choice becomes paramount. The question for me was whether it would be worth it. But as you’ll find through the course of this review, it was indeed a wonderful experience.
Ticket fees for Nabana no Sato – ¥2300 (includes two ¥500 coupons which can be utilized anywhere in the park)
Winter illumination dates – Mid-October to May
Illumination starts somewhere around 6 pm
- A wonderful Begonia garden (fees – ¥1000)
- Lighting displays across the park
- Two Light Tunnels, one of which was Autumn themed
- Animated light show
- Rotating Observation Deck giving a bird’s eye view of the illuminations (fees – ¥500)
- A number of restaurants
- From Nagoya Station, take the Kintetsu-Nagoya line to Nagashima station (¥400).
- From Nagashima station, take a bus to Nabana no Sato (¥220). The final destination on the bus will be written as Nabana no Sato (in English too), and the bus stop is right at the exit of the train station.
Tips before going
- Nabana no sato pass is available near the entrance to the Kintetsu line at Nagoya station. The pass is for ¥3,170. It includes return journey from Kintetsu to Nagashima, return tickets for the bus to Nabana no Sato, park entrance alongwith coupons. It’s a great way to save on money.
- Check temperatures before leaving. It can get pretty chilly in the park (as compared to Nagoya), so dress accordingly.Otherwise you’ll be too cold to completely enjoy the park *cough* like me *cough*.
- Try to reach at around 4:00 so you can look around in the park while it is not completely dark. The lighting aside, the park itself is very beautiful, so it will be a good experience. It’s also fun to see the park completely transform as the lights came up.
- Carry some food with you if you don’t want to spend extra (as you will get hungry). But the food joints in the park are very good too.
I was quite skeptical about how good the park can be. I started with the Begonia garden. The entrance fee was ¥1,000 which I paid through the coupons I got with the ticket. The garden is a world of its own, seeped in a palette of colors. The range of flowers was huge, and across dimensions, with some flowers staring at you from small vases, some looking down at you from hanging pots and others tumbling down exotic shrubs. The garden ended with a small cafe amidst the hanging vines and a pond dotted with floating flowers, a scene as picturesque as a painting. Even with my poor skills with the camera, I couldn’t get it wrong.
Following the garden, which took longer than I expected, I moved towards the chapel while walking along the lake at the center of the park. Specks of golden had stated lining the bushes all over, and the people moving around in the park had also increased. I could hear bell tolls in the distance and as soon as I reached the chapel, with a final toll, the trees around me suddenly lit up in a blinding flash of white on one side and blue on the other. It was as if the entire park gasped silently as music began to pour in accompanied with light from all directions. I realized the show had started, and hurriedly moved to the other side of the chapel towards the lake. The view was breathless. Even as I tried to print it into my memory, the colorful lights running along beautiful paths chased each other into the distance. I stood, mesmerized and waiting for the people to clear up a bit so I could get a better view.
At 5:45, as it was dark enough, I moved towards the observation deck and stood in line to buy tickets and then to get into the deck. It took two turns for me to get into the deck, but the wait didn’t feel long (particularly because I was carrying food and the child behind me was convinced that the deck was a UFO). The deck was my favorite part of the trip. I have never seen a more colorful display of lights from this height and try as I might, I couldn’t capture it through my camera. The light animation was visible from the deck too, and I decided to go there next.
I was surprised to find that the way to the animation goes through a light tunnel (this day was getting better and better). But even the tunnel could not prepare me for the splendor of the light show. The theme was ‘The beauty of Mother Nature’ and it was grandly depicted in a sea of lights. There were small snippets of animations played on a large canvas of lights, paying homage to one or the other element of nature. The way back from the animation goes through a different tunnel, themed around ‘autumn’ and lit in alternating yellow, green and red.
The entire experience was much more beautiful than I had expected. I spent around four hours in the park and only after seeing it could I understand the throng of people who had traveled this far to be able to enjoy it. It just wasn’t another light show. And if you happen to be in Nagoya (or Tokyo) around that time, it is definitely a must experience.