I arrived in Vienna early Saturday morning after a long, sleepless plane ride. While Saturday wasn’t spent doing much of anything, I’d like to log my first few impressions of the city.
After landing, my group of fellow travelers and I caught the subway to our hotel, at a fairly reasonable price of €4.20 (less than $5) for the direct train from the airport and the general subway from there. One important thing about the subway, and transit in general here: I rode the train 3 times today, and though we had tickets for everything, no one and nothing checked them. The stations were wide open and had no checkpoints of any sort. Our guide and accompanying professor Alenka Poplin (see my earlier Vienna post) mentioned having gone for months without anyone checking tickets.
After finally checking in to our hotel, and sleeping for several hours, we spent some time wandering the seventh and first districts. The first thing that struck me was the walkability. It is extraordinarily clear that the city was built for people, not cars. Sidewalks everywhere are much larger than I’ve ever seen in the US, and in many places the streets are closed to all but necessary deliveries, and the line between pedestrian and automotive space all-but disappears. These rules are relatively recent, and have promoted large walkable plazas and shopping districts. While businesses along these routes initially complained, fearing lost business, they’ve actually seen an uptick as people walking past are far more likely to stop in.
One of my biggest takeaways from the first day was the juxtaposition of ancient and modern. We stopped in a beautiful baroque church from the 16th century, and then had dinner across the street in an extremely contemporary building (see the comparison below).
We also stopped in the MuseumsQuartier, and passed through the old city center. The Ringstrasse (Ring Road) around the first district stood out as another place where the modern cross the ancient. Lying along the route of the 13th century city wall, it is now home to cars, electric trams, buses, bike paths (with Citybikes) and subway stops, passing by historic parliament buildings, theaters, opera houses, and royal castles.
Finally, a few of the best pictures from my first night: