After a glorious 4 days in Vienna, we’re still reliving our visit to the capital of Austria. I have so much that I want to say that I can’t seem to get my thoughts in order! I’ve invited my husband, S, to recap our first day in Vienna while I work on a post about the second half of our trip. Take it away, S!
Thank You, M. This trip to Vienna was a kind of spontaneous idea. The first term of my school year had come to an end and a much appreciated week off was the reward. So M and I thought about a possible destination for a little getaway. Vienna has been on our list for quite a while. I have been lucky enough to explore this amazing city around the age of 18 when I had family there. Despite having been a hard to impress teenager I still remembered the pure awesomeness of Austria’s capital. M, on the other hand, had never set foot on these shores of the Danube river and so we decided to spend 4 days there, trying to cram in as many museums, Schnitzels and Apfelstrudels as possible.
We booked a flight from Stuttgart airport with Austrian Air, which would bring us to Vienna in about an hour. This was nothing compared to an 11 hours train ride that I once took to get there. I still look back to this with horror – there is only so much time one can spend in a train without becoming entirely bonkers. To our delight, the flight was even a few minutes shorter and after about 50 minutes we pressed our noses in awe against the tiny airplane windows when we flew over one of the most breathtaking cities in the world.
We knew that there was an express train (the CAT) going from the airport right into the city centre. We also knew, however, that we had a much cheaper and only insignificantly slower option with the S7 train. I asked at the train information desk for directions as well as the tickets because we were in a German speaking country and I had the honour of managing any interactions with the locals (only one of the benefits of having a bilingual marriage!). I always tried my best to throw in some subtle hints of my Bavarian heritage to achieve some friendlier and faster service at counters as well as bigger portions at the restaurants. You have to be aware of the fact that Germans and Austrians are not the friendliest of chums but there are undeniable cultural bonds between the South-eastern part of Germany, i.e. Bavaria, and Austria which can serve as an ice breaker (e.g. the greetings “Servus” or “Grüß Gott” which opened both doors and hearts). It was either my pure talent of mimicking an authentic Bavarian dialect or just the fact that we always bumped into people who had a generally positive view on life but the truth is that we never ever were given bad service or felt any sense of rudeness from the locals. Anyone who has ever been to Vienna knows that this is not exactly something you can expect to happen.
So off we went to our stay for the next 4 days, which was the InterCity Hotel, right at the Westbahnhof. Besides being a 4-star hotel with a great location, another reason why we chose this hotel was the incredibly useful public transport ticket that is given to every guest upon request. With that ticket we could ride subways, trams and buses inside the 100 zone (basically the inner city and a little beyond) for hours upon hours without paying a single cent extra. Needless to say we extensively used this precious little piece of paper during our time.
When we had arrived at the hotel and consulted the then still perfectly folded map for the first time to make our first moves we actually noticed that most of the museums in Vienna are closed on Tuesdays. This is a common phenomenon in Germany, but here it’s Monday when things are closed (just ask M about her first visit to Heidelberg). But Vienna wouldn’t be Vienna if there weren’t countless other things you could do instead. And since we hadn’t had lunch we voted to get some food at one of the great Viennese lunch institutions: Trzesniewski‘s (yes, that’s exactly how it’s spelled). There you can get lots of lovely little pieces of bread, topped with insanely tasty spreads in all kinds of flavours. To wash down the taste explosion of crab and egg, salmon, herring with onion, tuna, or egg and bacon, you can get lemon ice tea like M or, if you want the full experience, you get a “Pfiff”, an equally tiny glass of beer (0.2 l). To stay true to the doll house proportions, the restaurant itself is anything else than big and you must be one lucky guy to find a seat. But you can basically stand all around the walls to enjoy your unusual snack.
On our way to Trzesniewski’s we also had our first stroll through the inner city which constantly amazes you at every single turn. It really is impossible not to feel stunned as you walk around. Unless you close your eyes – and even then you would hit your head against a particularly beautiful wall. Seriously, there is a palace, monument, or church behind every corner and we really enjoyed just spending time on the streets.
One of those highlights is beyond all doubt the marvelous Vienna Opera House. It takes you right back into the good old days when music for the masses actually meant something and maestros like Mozart, Beethoven, or Vivaldi (whose flat was seriously right across the street) were the heroes. I would trade this outstanding culture for most of our “artists” today in no time – if it wasn’t for those ridiculous wigs.
The performance of this night, the famous Swan Lake, had obviously been sold out ages ago and we didn’t fall for the dressed up guys who tried to sell tickets to all sorts of concerts except those happening inside the opera house. We still got to see a guided tour, however, as well as hundreds of other tourists from all over the world. We had stood in front of locked doors 30 minutes earlier with nobody else in sight and went for another quick walk through town. When we came back, the queue made us wonder if we actually could get a spot for the tour. But it turned out that there were about 8 of them being held at the same time and in different languages – so all the German, Japanese, French, Spanish, and English speaking visitors embarked upon their journey through the labyrinth-like corridors of the vast opera house and almost never crossed paths.
The opera itself displays the glory of the long centuries of wealth and grandeur of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The emperors left their marks anywhere they went and we marveled at the royal seats in the huge theatre. We marveled even more at the the royal hang out area for intermissions and such and we marveled like never before when we learned that you can actually rent these rooms – for a mere 25 Euros per minute. A short birthday party indeed for most of us! But classy. Very classy.
If you want to enjoy the performance of maybe the most renowned Opera worldwide you can either try to get hold of one of the cheap standing tickets for around 3 Euros, which are sold up to 80 minutes before the event or you treat yourself to a 250 Euro ticket of the best category. The good news: Any seat, even the standing parts, have little screens for the subtitles of the songs so you know what the heck is going on on stage because the operas are always sung in the original libretto. The Vienna Opera prides itself in always offering a different performance than on the previous day. The reason? Well, being an opera singer is hard work and if you take it seriously you sweat away several kilograms of water each night. A break of one or two days in between surely helps your voice and body to recover. But because of this service, there is also an exceptionally large change of the stage to be done. They construct a new set several times a day (in the morning they take away the remains of last night, then build up the set for the rehearsals, then get rid of that and then finally build the set of the evening show). Because of the lack of space on stage, though it is twice the size of the gigantic auditorium, the different set pieces are transported back and forth on dozens of trucks. Now that shows some determination!
After having bountifully tasted the delicious yet unfilling splendor of art, we longed for a more concrete consumption. We noticed the famous Café Sacher on our way to the Opera and therefore were about to enter the famous world of the Viennese coffee house culture. Legend has it that the locals once falsely thought that the coffee beans left behind by the fleeing Turks in the 17th century was camel food. They quickly learned from that mistake and have been embracing the craft of coffee brewing ever since. Lots and lots of coffee houses in Vienna still give you an impression of what it meant to have a coffee in the 18th and 19th century. There were no leaky paper cups or sticky coconut sirup bottles. Having a coffee meant that you were going to enjoy at least an hour of your day while casually talking to friends or reading the newspaper, or coming up with bizarre theories about the human mind if you happened to be Sigmund Freud. Even though mass tourism took its toll, coffee houses in Vienna are still special places and allow you to slow down a bit. The cold wind on the street was a sharp contrast to the warm and cozy atmosphere inside the café and M and I almost instantly got a table in one of the impressively decorated rooms. We ordered two coffees, one piece of the famous Sacher torte and apple strudel. Everything was delicious and after having emptied our cups of water, which are complementary with any coffee order (as M first learned in Salzburg), we felt up for the challenge of stepping outside into the cold again.
Night was falling and we walked back towards the city centre, soaking up the special atmosphere of dusk. We walked through the big Hofburg, the Habsburg residence, walked across the vast Heldenplatz and ended up in front of the magnificently lit Rathaus. There was also a huge ice rink that hundreds of people seemed to enjoy quite a bit. We later learned that this was an annual thing and will attract up to 500,000 skaters until March.
Inconceivably we soon felt hungry again. After the Sacher torte there was only one more thing we could do to embrace the skill of tourism even further: eat a Wiener Schnitzel! Some research ahead had told us that the Schnitzel at “Figlmüller” were hard to beat and the line out onto the street showed that there had to be some truth to it. We needed to wait for another 30 minutes or so until we were seated in the surprisingly large restaurant. M ordered a chicken Schnitzel while nothing could hold me back as I ordered the original (“Wiener Schnitzel” has to be made of veal. Anything else must be labeled as “Schnitzel Wiener Art”). We both enjoyed our late dinner and certainly didn’t regret our choices.
The U3, our subway back to our hotel, was only a few metres away from the restaurant and planning the next day was all we could do before falling asleep.
Stay tuned for the next part of our Vienna trip in the coming days!