In Vienna I ate Wiener Schnitzel. I never really knew what this was, and being as naive as I am, I thought perhaps it was some weird type of sausage. I was so completely wrong. Wiener Schnitzel is a traditional native Austrian dish that is extremely popular in Vienna. It is a very thin cutlet of veal (or pork in some cases… veal being more traditional) that is breaded and deep fried. Typically served with roasted potatoes, a salad and cranberry sauce. And it was delicious! Vienna’s vibrant spirit and kind hearted community made me instantly fall in love with not only the Wiener Schnitzel, but the city itself.
It wasn’t my first time in Vienna, I was in the “Golden Apple” a few years back with a music group from college. Going on school terms is never quite the same though, so the experiences I had this time around were completely different… More meaningful in a way as I got to share them with my husband. Vienna’s restaurant, art and cafe scene were one to marvel about and the city’s center was so dynamic. We spent three amazing nights there and I could have happily stayed longer. There are few cities in the world I have visited that so effortlessly combine the past and present the way that Vienna does. Holding the worlds most effervescent Imperial Palaces, museums, beer gardens and cafés, it is a magnificent city to visit.
On Wednesday is what I would refer to as a travel day from hell. And that is me putting it lightly. We were bound to run into travel issues at some point, but it really took a damper on our day. We arrived Wednesday afternoon at the Venice train station by water taxi only to find out that our train had just been cancelled. Unlike the other rail lines that run all day long to closer cities, there are only two trains a day that run to Vienna – One being at 3pm (the original time we were supposed to leave) that takes 7 hours to get you there, and one being at 1am that takes 12 hours. Our hotel was booked in Vienna and we were dreading the fact that we might have to leave at 1am only to get to Vienna at 1pm the next day. That would have been putting a huge dent in our travel plans. So we got sassy with the Venetian Customer Service crew (who were no help at all) and explored every other option that we had. Unfortunately, the options were limited. What we ended up doing (a solution that put us both in the worst moods ever), was take a 10 minute regional train ride from Venice to the next town over. From there, we boarded a coach bus that took us to the Italian/Austrian border. A bus ride that was supposed to take 3 hours, actually taking 5. From there we boarded the midnight train to Vienna, getting us into the sparkling city around 3am. Starving and delusional, we checked into our hotel, dropped our bags off in the room, and headed out to find a Wienerbox. This is a real thing, I swear. We read a lot about Wienerbox’s in our travel guides on our 8 hour voyage to Vienna…. to us, they are literally just known as your typical food cart, but with amazing sausages. Luckily we were staying in a rather lively location and Vienna has a rather happening night life, so we weren’t the only two people getting brats and beers at 3:00 in the morning. Granted, we were the only sober folk, we were happy to see we weren’t alone!
Despite all the complaining and agony of having to travel longer hours and sit in an uncomfortable coach bus, I must say that the drive from Venice to Austria was quite beautiful actually. I was hoping to sleep majority of the way, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the scenery we were passing by. We passed fields and barns that looked like paintings you cross at an art museum. The trees, all sorts of really cool kinds I have never seen before, were so fascinating (my dear friend Alex shares the same passion and appreciation for cool trees as I do, so she would understand the joy I was feeling). We drove straight through the mountain range and passed by some of the most unique looking hills. Dr Seuss-like story boards and a screensaver sunset made the stressful day a little better.
Our hotel was located right in the heart of where we wanted to be in Vienna. We were staying in an area called “The Ring” and were just a hop and a skip from everything we wanted to do/see. It was really perfect! Our hotel room was huge and had the nicest walk-in-closet (very random), which was such a treat (even though I hardly brought any clothes to hang, I hung just about everything that I could, hoodies and all, just to make myself feel more at home). We were happy with our “home” for the next three nights!
On Thursday we started our expedition to explore the city with an amazing lunch at a restaurant we read about in our April issue of Travel + Leisure Magazine, in the section, “95 Places to Eat Like a Local” – Orlando di Castello was the name. We both got amazing sandwiches (hallelujah for Austria’s sandwich situation!!) and iced coffees. Iced coffees in Vienna are not what they are in America. They came in a tall, milkshake glasses and consisted of multiple shots of espresso, ice cream, whipped cream and cookies. There couldn’t have been a better way to start the day.
After experiencing a slight sugar high and espresso kick, we made our way to the Hofburg Palace – home of the Habsburgs from 1273 – 1918. Nothing symbolizes Austria’s heritage and culture quite like Hofburg Palace. We got a glimpse at the largest fine china collection I have ever seen (I love china, so I was in heaven!) and got to witness some really fragile antiques. It was fascinating. We then headed over to the Sisi Museum, which is a museum solely devoted to the life of Austria’s beauty-obsessed Empress Elizabeth. We got to learn about her life and how Vienna was back in the day. We followed a path that taught us all about her assassination and lead us to her old living quarters. My husband and I both enjoy seeing spaces where dated history was made. I also love the interior design style of old European royalty, I find it all really beautiful. After we spent some time there, we ended up at the Hofburg Treasury (also known as The Schatzkammer), where we saw a ton of fine jewels and precious gemstones (amazing!!), including that of a 10th Century Imperial crown made of emerald and gold. The museum is said to hold a supposed piece from Christ’s cross, which we saw, but I am skeptical of. And also…. A unicorn horn, which I am very, very skeptical of… Coming from the girl who believes in fairy tales.
We walked around some tiny residential streets and ended up at my happy place… Mozart’s apartment – where he and his family lived during their time in Vienna. We toured the rooms and got to stand in the space where Mozart wrote his infamous opera, Figaro. I was in heaven and my husband was such a good sport. So we got really big beers afterwards 🙂 We walked around what is said to be the Central Park of Vienna – so green and so beautiful! We wound up at a beer garden, spoke to one another in our angry German accents that we cleverly find so funny, and enjoyed the beautiful weather (which was roughly 78 and sunny!).
Europeans, or Austrians at least, take Bankers Day holiday, the 1st of May, very seriously. Resulting in many shops and restaurants being closed. Luck was on our side that night and although we couldn’t get a dinner reservation at the restaurant of our choice, we went anyways… snagging a seat at one of the outdoor “shared tables” (picnic-like tables where you share the table space with other people). It was a local brewery called Salm Brau that is famed for great beer and solid Austrian food. We each ordered the infamous Wiener Schnitzel and humongous beers. The outdoor space had what appeared to be a roof of trees. And each of the trees were sprinkled in twinkle lights. That, combined with the moonlight and the tiny tea candles on every table, made the not so fancy brewery seem really special. On our walk home, we tried to find a bar that wasn’t so disco-techy, which was actually quite hard, but doable. We ended up drinking Austrian schnapps at a bar down the street from our hotel while watching a big soccer game with local Austrians. This is the moment I came to realize just how kind and welcoming Austrians really are! I could hang out with them my whole life and be filled with happiness! It was a great night.
Vienna is known for their infamous Kaffeehaus’s (coffee houses). The cute structures that usually serve light meals alongside an array or cakes and pastries is actually a big part of Viennese life. The locals all go there for hours to hang out, chat, read, web surf and people watch. So Mike and I decided we would weigh in on the local experience and spend our Friday morning at a very well known Kaffeehaus right in an alley located in the city’s center – Cafe Leopold Hawelka Wien. Being impatient Americans (combined with being impatient humans), we were not expecting the experience to be as drawn out as it was. We got a lovely table outside, the weather was beautiful, and it was a prime location to observe the locals. We each got what is known to be the most popular coffee drink in Vienna – a Wien Melange (meaning: a Viennese Blend). It was delicious, however, the amount of time it took to order and get the coffee was a little ridiculous. We decided though, it is what it is and if we are going to immerse ourselves in the culture we needed to be patient. So we each had two Wien Melange’s in the 2 hours spent there. It was definitely an experience.
We had been reading a lot about a section of the city called MuseumsQuartier, one of the world’s most profound cultural spaces. The space combines a number of museums, cafés, restaurants and bars. Other than going there to museum hop, it is also well known for bar hopping and the restaurant scene. Already having tentative museum plans for the day, we decided to still make our way to MuseumsQuartier just to see what the hype was all about and grab lunch at one of the hot spots. The area was filled with really neat crowds, young and artsy characters with unique cocktails and vibrant energy. It was a different scene than we had experienced anywhere else and we were so happy we went. If ever in Vienna, I highly suggest checking this section out!
After MuseumsQuartier, we headed to the Albertini Museum – home to important works of art like the extremely famous piece, The Hare, amongst other masterpieces including Monet’s, DaVinci’s, Picasso’s, Renoir’s and Michelangelo’s. My husband and I both being huge Monet fans, this museum was far from boring to us. We spent a lot of time observing the works of art and taking it all in. It was really fascinating and a lot of fun. From there, we took a walk down to the river to see what that area had to offer. It wasn’t our favorite of areas, very crowded and not so charming, but still cool to see!
That night, we decided to make plans to go to a restaurant we had read about in one of our Travel magazines – it was called Fabios. We read that it was the perfect place to go if you wanted to witness the ritzy scene of Vienna’s elite. Naturally, I was dying to people watch there. The restaurant was located in The Ring and just a few minutes from our hotel. We started walking and low and behold got caught in the rain. Not just any rain though, a full on thunderstorm with buckets upon buckets of heavy rain drops soaking us from head to toe. Keep in mind, I do not look good with wet rain hair. We managed to find an awning where we stood until the rain died down. Thunder, lightening, ferocious winds, and non-stop down pouring were all holding us back from leaving this awning for at least 20 minutes. The storm finally died down a little, where the downpour just turned into a regular heavy rain. So we grabbed each others hands and puddle jumped to the restaurant. Where we got a lot of dirty looks from plastic women and well suited men, as we were not quite as presentable as they were. Embarrassed and a little insecure about my appearance, I ordered a heavy cocktail. Upon heavy cocktail. Upon heavy cocktail. And then I didn’t care as much anymore!
Aside from my wet hair and mascara smudges, my shoes were completely ruined. That night, I was wearing my tan Tory Burch Reva Flats. They got soaked….. and I wasn’t even that upset. I was actually just grateful for the fact that I wasn’t wearing my favorite oxfords I had also brought with me. I would have been beyond devastated if those got ruined. Moral of the story – my husband was right, again, when he told me not to pack any of my “nicer” shoes, because they might get ruined. I was happy I listened to him.
Saturday morning we boarded the fast train to Salzburg. Where we would be staying in the countryside. Stay tuned for tales on my DIY Sound of Music tour that I personally gave my husband. Songs and all. Until then, Prost!!