Monthly Archives: October 2011

Schnitzel, Cathedrals and Coffee

Note: As we settle in to living in London, I’m going to stop posting our activities every weekend.  They are getting a bit routine.  Never fear I’ll write about all the juicy bits.

Now on to the main show–On September 16-19 J and I went to Vienna with a friend.  Here’s a bit about what we did:

Friday

J and I woke early to tube to Heathrow to catch a morning flight to Franfurt and then on to Vienna.  Our first flight boarded late, for no apparent reason, and that combined with having to go through passport control and security once more in Frankfurt, made us miss our flight to Vienna.  Since Friend was meeting us in the airport with no cell phone this was a bit frustrating. Thankfully, we got on the next flight (delayed boarding again) and found her at the airport despite being late. We then trained into the city to find some dinner.

The Stephandom's roof at night

After wandering around quite a bit looking for a place that served traditional Austrian food, but wasn’t too expensive we settled for a pub-like place on a side street near the city center. We all tried the local beer (I had a beer with lemonade in it, delicious) and had a dinner of either goulash (meat in thick somewhat spicy brown gravy) and sausages.  Much more filling then I expected.  The bar was nice too, somewhat empty and dim.  With art and music posters on all the walls, I don’t recall the music, but I do think it was classic American.

Vienna street scene with horse carriage (I almost got ran over by one at one point, sort of)

Afterwards we wandered through the city center looking at some of the main sites that would become “normal” to us over the next three days: the great Stephandom cathedral, the large busy (and touristy) squares, etc.  We finished up with a trek to our hotel in the suburbs.  It was a tram and metro ride from the city center, but it was a nice little hotel and it was good to get a feeling for where most people live in Vienna.

Public Gardens and memorial to Queen Elisabeth

Saturday

We made it to breakfast before it closed at our hotel (bread, fruit, deli meat, cheese, etc) and hopped on the tram into the city. We began at city center, near the famous Opera House (yes the one that Hitler took over briefly) and did a slightly altered version of the Lonely Planet walking tour.  We passed by quite a few Franz Joseph statues (he is very popular), quite a few art/history museums, the National Library and the Lipizzaner horse stables. As we walked through Michaelplatz there was a band playing (full of tubas and drums) and saw the outside of the Imperial Hapsburg apartments. This square opened up into gardens filled with fountains, statues and roses.

Vienna's City Hall

After walking past the City Hall and Parliament buildings, we visited an outdoor food market for lunch.  It was a mix of outdoor cafes and fresh food stores (lots of seafood and fruit, even fruit I had never seen before). We stopped into a small cafe/pub for lunch and had schnitzel.  It was pretty good but still a bit much (really big) for me.  We wandered through a nearby flea market for a while before stopping in Dreschler Cafe for the famous Viennese coffee.  I ended up with a latte instead of tea, but it was still nice to be there and despite my dislike of coffee I could tell it was good quality. From there we walked back into the city center to try to go inside the Stephandom.  Unfortunately it was closed until Monday morning (after friend leaves), but we were able to score some tickets to a Mozart concert that evening.

Austria's Parliament building

To kill time we went to the Mozart House, but tickets were too expensive so we went to see the oldest cathedral in Vienna.  It was a beautiful (relatively) small church with vines climbing up its walls.  It was closed for the day, so after a short break to take in its exterior we walked through the Jewish Quarter (saw the park where the Gestapo house used to be) and walked along the canal looking at Graffiti that marked its walls.  Graffiti is actually allowed there and we even got to see some street artists painted over the old to make something new.  There were several closed up bars and restaurants along the canal, I wish we had been there a few weeks earlier so we could see them in full swing. We ended up at the Votive church built by Franz Joseph after surviving a near death experience.  It is soaring, beautiful gothic cathedral with pretty open spaces inside, though it was not well lit.

One view of the Votive Church

As we walked back towards Stephandom for our concert we stopped to eat at a pizzera.  It seemed very authentically Italian and was delicious despite having only minutes to eat before the concert began. It was wonderful to be able to see the inside of the Stephandom even though the event coordinators were trying keep concert goers from using it as a free pass to explore the cathedral (like we were…). The show went through 14 Mozart compositions with string instruments and a trumpet. It was really beautiful to look up towards the altar to watch them play, though I was disappointed the church’s two huge organs weren’t used. When the concert ended we wandered around the city at night, it was relatively quiet except for a club here and there, before heading back to the hotel exhausted from all the walking.

A fountain in the Schonbrunn's Gardens

Sunday

On Sunday (friend’s last day in the city) we visited one of the Imperial palaces, known as the Schonbrunn, which was conveniently on the way to our commute to the city center. The tickets to get in were a bit pricey, but they included 26 rooms in the palace, tours of the labryrinths, privy garden and the Gloriette (more on that later). The palace is such an attraction that we had to wait over an hour just to go on our tour. This annoyed me at first, but I soon realized that those rooms got crowded pretty quickly since you were only allowed to walk in a small roped off lane in each room.

Working our way through the mini labyrinth, sometimes being able to see where you are going doesn't help

We started in the labyrinths.  Designed by Schonbrunn (how the palace got its name) they were relatively tricky (though I don’t have a habit of growing through mazes).  The main labyrinth was quite large with bushes even over J’s head.  Once you got to the center you could climb a tree to stand on a platform to see the shape of the maze and, if you like, yell directions at the people below.  I didn’t yell at anyone, though it was tempting to give people misdirections. There should be a hidden camera show about that… Anyway, there was also a small labyrinth with little jumpy boards and a “foot” piano to play on and an amazing playground with all sorts of equipment.  To be honest, we could have stayed there all day even  if we’re about 13 years too old at least.

The view of the Schonbrunn from the privy garden

We lined up with the rest of our tour group when it was time and opted for the printed out tour guide instead of the audio one.  The tour gave you a great overview of the Hapsburg history and of how the palace was used and had changed over time, though I did get confused by the lineages. The rooms were opulent and filled with paintings, murals, gold trim and fantastic decorations.  There were a few surprisingly bare/humble rooms including Franz Joseph’s bedroom. The two main attractions of the palace were half covered for renovations which was disappointing, but it was still a great our nonetheless.  Afterwards, we went into the privy garden and then up the Gloriette to get a fantastic view of the Schonbrunn and the city.

View from Gloriette

We were all a bit starved, tired and dusty (gravel pathways) after our few hours at the Schonbrunn so it was into the city for a long late lunch at Figlmuller.  We rested there for quite some time and my pork medallions with bacon wrapped pole beans and noodles were delicious (though a tad salty, I was sick of fried/salty food by the end of this trip).  When dinner customers began to arrive we left and wandered the main street towards the Sacher Cafe for their famous Sacher cake, coffee and tea.  I had eaten it once before when I studied abroad, but it was even better than I remember and the Sacher tea (made specially for the hotel) balanced perfectly with the cake.  We spent the rest of the evening talking and wandering the city (friend’s last night), looking into stores before retiring early so she could pack.

View from an island in the middle of the Danube

Monday

Friend left before J and I really woke up and we headed out for a day alone.  We decided to see what the Danube River was like and metro’d to a little island in the middle of the river.  The weather had turned cloudy and cold, it was intensely windy on the island. We were two of maybe 6 people we saw on the island all day.  The others were fishing, biking or walking their dogs.  I didn’t bring a good jacket with me to London, so we ended up not staying out too long (and this resulted in a cold the next day).

Bridge across the Danube to the "boardwalk"

The island was mostly a park-like area with boat and jetski rentals on one side of it and a series of bars, restaurants and other beach themed entertainments on the other side. It was a lot of fun to see all the closed down beachy places, many of them made me laugh as they mimicked the corny places I would see back home (in Virginia Beach). We walked across a wooden pedestrian drawbridge, perhaps the first time I had ever seen one, to the other side of the river that had a boardwalk kind of feel.  Everything was closed down for the winter, but the chalkboard menus were still fresh and there were a few posters for events just a week before, this transition to fall must have been recent.  We passed by Spanish dance clubs, tiki bars, milkshake shakes and even a giant floating trampoline!

A view of the Danube with mountains in the distance

By this point we were starving (everything out here was closed) and I was freezing so we headed back to city center to get our last fill on traditional Austrian food (stuffed pretzel and goulash) before buying some necessities (macaroons and chocolate) for the plane and getting to the airport.  We dealt with further delays and managed to catch the last 3 tube lines needed to get home before they closed down for the night.  Overall it was a great trip, I’d like to see the more lived-in parts of the city next time and perhaps go when their “beach front” is open.

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Any ideas on where we should go for a 4 day trip in November for my birthday? Let me know!