By George Gentry (Photos: Christine Gentry)
The last time I saw Vienna was the summer of 1980, and that was only a very brief visit. The old city has not changed much, still a very beautiful city with much to see and do, but in some ways it has changed a lot. It is much more wheelchair friendly now than then. This time (October 2014), I was older, wiser, and had more money to spend. Using my Marriott points we had five free nights in an American style wheelchair accessible room – very nice (I highly recommend joining a rewards program, especially if you plan to travel to Europe), but less expensive lodging is available.
Vienna (Wien in German) is a magnificent city, former capital of the Hapsburg Empire. In early times, the old city of Vienna was surrounded by a wall, which was taken down in the late 19th Century and is now known as the Ringstrasse (Ring Street). The Vienna Marriott is located on the Ringstrasse, across from the Stadtpark (city park), where the Kursalon is located. Vienna is known as the City of Music, and the Kursalon is the venue where Johann Strauss, and sons, played their famous Viennese waltzes during the 19th Century. The golden Johann Strauss monument is in the Park just across the street from the hotel entrance.
We arrived late Monday, by train from Prague (an interesting experience). I had arranged for wheelchair accessible transport from Wien Meidling train station to the Marriott hotel (Fahrtendienste Jocher — €30 and well worth it). The Marriott is centrally located and we walked most places. However, the Vienna Strassenbahn (Street Cars) are wheelchair accessible (new lower-floor cars). They are free for wheelchair users, and I used them frequently. The operator will lower a ramp at the front entrance, if needed. It was only a small step, so I usually just popped up into the street car, with my wife providing minimal assistance (she rode free also, when with me). It is a very convenient mode of transport.
The next morning (Tuesday), we walked about a mile to the Spanish Riding School to observe the morning practice. The Spanish Riding School is part of the Hofburg (Imperial Palace) complex. A very nice employee showed us the wheelchair entrance, we paid the €7 for me (my wife got in free), and we were taken to a special VIP viewing area on the ground level, where you could almost reach out and touch the Lipizzaner Stallions as they were put through their practice routines (Note: performances are only on Saturday and Sunday, and much more expensive. Plan Ahead!). After the morning practice, we walked across the Hofburg courtyard for a tour of the Sisi Museum (a museum devoted to Empress Elisabeth of Austria), which included a tour of the imperial apartments and the silver cabinet, a collection of the Imperial dinner ware. We walked another mile back into the old city center to look inside Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral). Then we returned to our hotel for a bite to eat and some rest. That evening, we walked about half a mile to St Anne’s church for a delightful String Quartet concert (€29 p.p.). There are several options every evening for musical concerts.
The next morning (Wednesday), while I slept in, my wife took a walking tour past the Vienna Opera House, the Butterfly House, a number of museums, and the St Charles Church (not wheelchair accessible?). Together, we took the Strassenbahn around to the City Hall. There was a small circus there, and we enjoyed a Vienna Sausage midday snack (not at all like the little ones in a can that I supplemented my C-rations with in Vietnam). We walked through several lovely gardens and even had a Sacher Tort with Tea at the Sacher Hotel Restaurant. Then we got back on the Strassenbahn for a ride, just to see where it went – an enjoyable day. That evening we walked to Stephansdom for a Violin and Organ concert (€20 p.p.) – there were only about 200 people in attendance for this really neat experience in an awesome old cathedral.
Thursday was our day-trip to Melk Abbey. We chose a train and river boat tour. We took the Metro (U-bahn) to the West Bahnhof, and the train to Melk (about an hour ride). We walked from the Melk train station up the rather steep hill to Melk Abbey, and from Melk Abbey back down the steep hill to the boat dock. We cruised the Wachau Valley portion of the Danube River to Krems, and took the train back to Vienna. Another option would have been to rent a handicapped accessible van from AVIS (about €100 per day) – much less hassle, and you could drive up the very steep hill to the parking lot at the Abbey entrance. Melk Abbey is worth the trip. We took the 10:00 am English speaking tour of this old Baroque Abbey (well worth the €10 p.p. admission). The tour was very interesting, the artifacts were amazing, and the tour ended with the noon worship service in the fantastic Rococo chapel, accompanied by their magnificent organ. I enjoy these types of experiences very much. The weather was overcast when the river tour began, but eventually the sun came out and it was a relaxing cruise on the not-so-blue Danube. That evening we had a wonderful Wienerschnitzel dinner at a quaint sidewalk café near the hotel (I had to have a Wienerschnitzel in Wien). All in all, a very good day, even if we were too tired to attend the Strauss concert that evening.
Our last day (Friday), we had a relaxing morning. We walked again to the Hofburg to see the Crown Jewels in the Treasury (Note: the Treasury is closed on Tuesday, so we had to come back later in the week). Then we walked around more of the back streets of the old city, stopping to explore magnificent local churches and other interesting places. In the afternoon we attended a matinee performed by a section of the world famous Vienna Boys Choir in their new venue, the MuTH (€39 p.p.). We did not go to the Schönbrunn Palace, the United Nations Complex, the Prater Ferris Wheel, a Heuriger (Viennese wine pub) for a glass of Grüner Veltliner, and many other worthwhile attractions that Vienna has to offer — I especially would have liked to go to the Vienna Military History Museum, but I missed it (I need to plan better next time). However, we really enjoyed our time in Vienna and highly recommend a trip to see it.
On Saturday, we boarded a train for Nurnberg, Germany. But that is another story for another time. If you would like more details, or have any questions, please contact me through the CPVA office.
NEW ACCESSIBLE VAN RENTAL SERVICE – GERMANY AND AUSTRIA
By George Gentry
There is a new accessible van rental service available in Germany and Austria. It is offered by AVIS Car Rental Company and EUROPCAR Car Rental Company (I used the AVIS service because of my Hilton Honors discount – a considerable savings). Recently, these companies purchased several modified VW mini – vans and rent then through special programs.
They use a VW Caddy Maxi mini-van, modified by PARAVAN with a rear entry ramp and excellent tie-down system. However, to use it while remaining in your wheelchair requires an assistance who can deploy the ramp and close the rear door, and who can also drive the vehicle. The van is equipped with European Hand-Controls, but requires some agility to transfer from wheelchair into the driver’s seat (which I did not attempt). Please view the web pages. The pictures and videos tell the story. I recommend the service.
The sites are: for Germany, http://www.avis.de/Paravan-VWCaddy (in German only) and for Austria, http://avis.at/avisonline/at-gb/avis.nsf/c/Reservation,Special_Cars_Austria (in English)
I rented one of these vans for 13 days in early October 2014, and was very pleased with the results. My wife assisted me with the rear entry and tie down system, and drove the van – a diesel automatic with GPS system included. The cost was about $65 USD per day, including my Hilton Honors AVIS discount.