Travel Writing by Cory Hanson

Vienna Vignettes – The Ring and the Island


VIENNA–JULY 13, 2015 18:35

Last night, we jumped down to the Danube Canal banks near our apartment within the Ringstrasse. Vienna really knows how to showcase her own features; even though the water of this side channel of the great river was a sickly green color, both banks were accessible by a well-lit, wide trail for walkers, cyclists, and rollerbladers. Being an inveterate water-seeker, I have to applaud their efforts to present their waterside assets in such an attractive way.

This morning, I stepped out into a soggy Vienna morning as Sara went to her conference. Since most of the museums in town are closed on Mondays, I had decided to explore more of the outdoor attractions of the city today. The misty rain kept things comfortably cool as the miles stacked up, so I was happy for it.

First, I did a loop around the Ringstrasse – Vienna’s wide boulevard that encloses its cultural and political centers like the Opera House, Hapsburg Palaces, Stephen’s Church, the State Museums, and the Austrian Parliament. Some tricky road crossings were the only wrinkle in an otherwise fascinating walk. This city really knows (knew?) how to do conspicuous consumption the right way, and the modern Viennese benefit so much the more for it. The crossings were tricky as the Ringstrasse is a bit of a hub for the city’s various public transport systems, particularly the bus system and the electric trams. Combine these many diverging tram tracks with two-way cycle lanes and six lanes of cars for a walking experience that makes you really pay attention.

Front Entrance to the Austrian Parliament

Front Entrance to the Austrian Parliament

Near the end of the ring walk was Stadtpark, one of the largest and bustiest public parks in the heart of the city. Several of the city’s most famous creative types – most gaudily Strauss – are honored with heads of bronze, marble, and gold. I took a spin around the lake (the same color as the Danube Canal, an unhealthy green) and spotted some large carp nosing on the bottom. I could have stayed to watch them all day, but had to move on.

Strauss Gets Top Billing...Now as Then

Strauss Gets Top Billing…Now as Then

The next stop on my grand parks tour was Prater Park – home of Vienna’s iconic century-old ferris wheel. This sprawling urban park is dominated on its western corner by a surprisingly-large, cheesy amusement park. With the old wheel at its center, this very familiar-feeling park just kept going and going as I explored. Block after block of midway games, bumper cars, rides, haunted houses, and a very, VERY creepy mascot clown stretched out into the park. When I finally escaped the terror of the clowns, I happily moved on toward the next of Vienna’s great green spaces.

"Come sit with me children...FOREVER!"

“Come sit with me children…FOREVER!”

To the natural highlight of the day, the Danube River proper, and its unique human-made island. The main flow of the river through town is divided by a 21 km stretch of sandy earth created by piling up the silt of a huge flood-protection project. Today, trees cover most of the island, and paved trails wind through the shaded island from end-to-end. I only walked a short stretch between two bridges, noting a Razor Scooter gang of tweens hanging out under the bridge, a family of rollerbladers – but none of the nudist ‘bladers that are supposed to do their thing on the more remote corners of the island – and some fishers in small houseboats strung with large nets…my future dream home.

Wide, Safe Trails on Danube Island

Wide, Safe Trails on Danube Island

The stretch of the river closer to the canal – and the Ringstrasse – is the Danube (Donau) proper; the body on the other side of the island is the New Danube. I noticed a distinct difference in color between these two arms of the same river – the old river was the same pukey green as the canal, the New Danube was a pleasing blue…like the waltz. Maybe it was all that color when Strauss was naming his most famous piece, which I hear in the touristy neighborhoods all over the city, blasted out of speakers as orchestras in nineteenth-century costume scrape out the same hits over and over.

I made my way back to the apartment by way of another park, the Augarten. This mostly-walled park is hidden behind a large, loud shipyard and a workaday little neighborhood near the Danube Canal. I only peeked at the symmetrical rose gardens before continuing on to our temporary home to rest my tired legs and cool off.

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