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Things I love about Vienna

My dream of visiting Europe finally came true, thanks to Media MICE and the amazing opportunity to film at the ESCRS conference (The European Society of Cataract & Refractive Surgeons). 

Although my busy filming schedule in Vienna limited my exploration, I managed to squeeze in some precious moments to discover the city. Here are the things I love in Vienna.

What I did in Vienna: Running a massive filming project across four days of the conference.

Viennese love the Danube so dearly

Seeing centuries-old cathedrals and world-class museums wasn’t my top priority when I dreamt of Europe. Instead, I longed to stand on the banks of the mighty Danube, inspired by the vivid descriptions in Hector Malot’s “Nobody’s Boy.” When I finally witnessed the Danube in person, I understood why the locals cherish it so much.

It was September, and the weather was gracefully transitioning into autumn. The Viennese were savoring the warm days before the arrival of winter’s chill & overcast skies. I joined them for a couple of swims in the Danube, an experience I’ll forever treasure. I have always loved seeing rivers and admiring their significance to civilizations, having rafted on India’s Ganges the previous year, dipping in the Danube felt like checking a major European box. 

The city has created a unique gem in the heart of the Danube: Donauinsel, or Danube Island. Stretching for 21 kilometers, this slender, man-made paradise sits right in the middle of the river. Originally constructed for flood control, the island has blossomed into a haven for both locals and tourists. The eastern side offers various recreational activities like parks, beaches, and sports facilities, while the western side serves as a harbor for river cruises and boating. I noticed the water on the cruise and boating side appeared muddier, while the other side sparkled with clarity.

One day, as I watched the sun dip below the horizon by the river, something magical happened. Almost no one reached for their phones to capture the moment. Instead, they were fully immersed in the beauty unfolding before them, savoring the present. Vienna taught me a valuable lesson about living in the moment.

Sunset by the Danube River. The sun didn't set until 8 p.m. in the summer.

What Makes a City Liveable Lies in Its Public Transportation System.

Vienna is a pretty small-medium-sized city, with just under 2 million people, which is about the same size as Da Nang. But what impressed me was its seamless public transportation system.

It’s extensive and efficient, with buses, trams, subways, and trains all over the place. The subway system is super clean, efficient, and easy to use. Five lines crisscross the city (U1, U2, U3, U4, U6, seriously, where is the U5?), so you can get to any corner of Vienna with ease.

A single ride may seem a bit pricey at 2.4 euros, but you could plan your travel around and could opt for the 24-hour, 48-hour, or 72-hour pass, or even a weekly pass, saving substantially. The locals had it even better with an annual pass, priced at just 365 euros, meaning unlimited travel at a mere 1 euro per day.

One thing I love the most is that it’s an honest system. There are no ticket barriers at the stations, and there aren’t any regular ticket checks on the trains, trams, or buses. You just hop on and off. I admit that the temptation to skip buying a ticket crossed my mind a few times, especially on short rides. But in the end, I always bought one. Vienna’s honesty system made me think about the values it instills in people, like honesty and trustworthiness.

While I love the modernity and the vast metro system in Seoul or even in Singapore or KL, the nice mixture of buses, trains, trams and metro in Vienna has been a great pleasure for tourists to pick what you would like best.

Trams are my favorite mode of transportation in Vienna. It's a pity that Vietnam has removed its tram system, installed by the French, in Saigon and Hanoi.

If you are a cyclist, you will love living in Vienna. 

As an avid cyclist, I always check out a city’s bike-friendliness when I visit a new place. Vienna passed the test with flying colors. A huge network of bike paths connects the city center to the suburbs, and while it can be a bit annoying to wait for red lights in the city center, overall the bike paths are great.

Every morning, I was amazed standing in my room’s balcony looking down to see thousands of commuters dressed in suits, shirts, and elegant dresses pedaling to work. The bike lanes can get pretty crowded, which is a welcome change from my homeland of Vietnam, where motorcycles rule the roads, sidewalks, and everything in between.

I tried Vienna’s bike-sharing system, Next Bike, which was awesome. The bikes were in great condition, had seven speeds, and were easy to register. During my 10-day stay, I went on 10-12 rides, exploring tourist attractions, seeing different neighborhoods and taking leisurely rides along the Danube.

But it wasn’t just regular bikes that Vienna had; they’ve also embraced e-bikes. These electric-powered cycles zipped through the streets, offering a fast and eco-friendly mode of transportation. Imagine living 10 kilometers from your workplace, opting for cheaper rent, and commuting daily on a safe bike lane, with the subway or train as a backup on bad weather days.

If you are lucky enough to live in a cycling-friendly city, take advantage of it.

I couldn't remember how many bike rides I took in Vienna. It was just the sensation of riding alongside thousands of cyclists in the chilly weather.

The Viennese Take Immense Pride in Their City

I talked with many locals during my stay in Vienna, and many shared the same thing: 

“I’m fortunate to have been born in Vienna – we have well-paid jobs, high quality of life, clean air, and efficient transportation,” remarked an Uber driver when I asked if he was proud to be Viennese. He worked for a company contracted with Uber, ensuring he received all the rights and benefits of an employee, including 25 paid annual leave days. It was a world apart from the same driver working for Grab in Vietnam.

While I was in Austria, news broke about a tragic fire in Hanoi, Vietnam, claiming the lives of 56 people. In a 160-square-meter area, a 10-story building housed 150 individuals, and 56 couldn’t escape the fire started from the 1st floor. There were no adequate fire safety measures in place.

Karl Marx Hof, an interesting complex I stumbled upon while wandering around the outskirts of the city.

The issue of affordable housing has plagued Vietnam for decades, with little government intervention. Individuals are left to find a place to call home (if they can) that suits their budget. In contrast, Vienna has been constructing social housing units since the 1920s, known as “the Red Vienna” period, catering to the working class with houses, libraries, swimming pools, and all the necessary amenities. What sets Vienna’s approach apart is that these are not ordinary social housing units; they are high-quality residences with gardens, public spaces, and stunning facades.

As I strolled through different neighborhoods in Vienna, I stumbled upon a fascinating building named “Karl Marx Hof,” one of Vienna’s best-known social housing complexes. This 1-kilometer-long complex with over 1,200 apartments, built 100 years ago, stands as a testament to Vienna’s success in solving one of the world’s most challenging urban planning problems: social housing. 

Vienna’s approach is simple: build beautiful housing that even the rich want to live in, make it affordable and accessible for everyone, and maintain an efficient transportation system that connects it to the central public transportation system.

Ultimately, it’s the residents who make a place livable or not, and the ability to attract a wide range of people to stay in these social housing complexes has proven this to be true.

In less than three months, I had the opportunity to experience two countries with vastly different approaches to housing. In one, young South Koreans are reluctantly abandoning their dreams of homeownership due to a combination of bad government policies.

Meanwhile, in Vienna, Austrians revel in the joys of life, residing in beautiful and affordable social housing units crafted by their government. 

A huge vineyard area in the hilly northern side of Vienna. This is the first time I came across a vineyard. (Yeah, there are some in Vietnam, but they're quite different.)
At the Natural History Museum in Vienna, they have one of the world's best collections of all things in the natural world. It's truly eye-opening

Vienna’s Must-See Spots: Something for Every Traveler

Every traveler has their unique style and preferences. Some seek natural landscapes, others immerse themselves in history, while some are drawn to the arts or culinary delights. Vienna, it seems, caters to everyone’s tastes.

My visit to the Natural History Museum was truly unforgettable. It stands out from other museums I’ve visited in Asia due to its world-class exhibits and vast collection. The interactive approach, allowing visitors to touch dinosaur bones and hold meteorites, was a unique and engaging experience. All of this was housed within a stunning architectural masterpiece.

Another highlight was St. Stephen’s Cathedral, dating back to the 12th century. Its historical significance, colossal size, and intricate details left me, like many other tourists, in awe.

Having watched Eliud Kipchoge break the 2-hour marathon barrier in 2019, I couldn’t miss the chance to run on his course while in Vienna – a truly special experience.

My journey to Vienna marked my first trip to Europe, opening my eyes to the world in ways I never could have imagined. It was a valuable learning experience, and I am deeply grateful for the unforgettable memories. I look forward to returning soon, with Tien by my side.

I'm a video creator, tour guide, coffee addict and history buff.

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