Travel Notes: Vienna

In May and June of 2011, I spent 5 weeks traveling around Europe. This post is one of a series chronicling the different places I visited on that trip.

From Salzburg, we headed onto Vienna, where we stayed at Pension Hargita. Our hotel was definitely a “budget” accommodation, but other than a somewhat shady exterior (which I find is typical of cheaper hotels), it was perfectly nice. After settling in at the hotel and grabbing lunch at an Italian cafe nearby, we headed out to explore.

First stop: St. Stephen’s cathedral. Now, the thing about Europe is that there are a lot of churches. And yes, each one is important and beautiful and blah blah blah. But the truth is that, after you’ve visited like fifty of them, they all start to look alike, probably because most of them have the exact same floorplan. However, one cool thing about St. Stephen’s is how colorful the interior appears when the light shines through the windows. The windows are made up of long colored panels that almost look like strips of cellophane running down them. After some hard core googling, I figured out that the original stained glass windows were destroyed in WW2, and this was their replacement. It was pretty cool – and unexpected.

After St. Stephen’s, we wandered around the heart of Vienna for a little bit. My major impression of the city was that, even when crowded with tourists, it’s oh so elegant. All the buildings are shades of white, tan, and cream, and they all have a certain fanciness and distinguished quality about them. I have this vision of Vienna in the wintertime, with freshly fallen snow on the ground – magical.

We took the tram to the Freud museum, which my sister, the newly-minted psychology major, wanted to visit. I have to say it wasn’t even on my radar of things to see, but since I dragged her to a million art museums, it only seemed like a fair tradeoff. Unfortunately, we arrived after the museum had closed – so we pretty much only had the chance to take silly pictures with the Freud sign. Okay, this one’s not so silly, but I figure my sister would not appreciate me posting all the other ones.

After our Freud debacle, it only seemed appropriate to drown our sorrows in chocolate. I wanted to try the traditional Austrian sachertorte, and I heard a good place to do that was at Demel. The cafe was very elegant and had a beautiful display of mouth-watering cakes from which to choose:

I had my heart set on sachertorte, though, so I didn’t seriously consider any of the other options. Janelle and I also attempted to order an iced coffee because we had been wandering around all afternoon and wanted a refreshing drink. But, we ended up with gigantic ice creams instead – ooops. It was chocolate/sugar/calorie overload, for sure.

Our first night in Vienna ended on a glamorous note – at the laundrymat. I traveled around Europe for 5 weeks with only a carry-on sized suitcase, so needless to say, a little laundry was definitely in order. However, it took much longer than anticipated to get all my clothes dry, and being cooped up in a sketchy and very humid laundrymat for hours made us a little crazy. Well, some of us more than others.

The next day, we headed back to the Freud museum so we could actually see it. The museum was mostly a collection of random knick knacks and books from Freud’s office – not the most riveting display, but now Janelle can say she’s been.

In the afternoon, we headed to Schonbrunn Palace, the site I was most excited to visit in Vienna. I was struck by how similar it was to Versailles, from the design to the decor. While we took our audio tour, we heard a lot about Empress Elisabeth (also known as “Sisi“), and I found her life especially fascinating. Mental note: read a biography of her.

Also of note is how scary the sky looks in this photo – yep, it rained a lot in Vienna, just as it did in every other place we visited. What was up with the weather in Europe this summer??

Also similar to Versailles were the opulent gardens at Schonbrunn (though these were much, much less vast than those at Versailles). The gardens were lovely, but the flowers all seemed to be planted in intricate shapes – so the garden probably would’ve been cooler when viewed from above.

In the end, our favorite aspect of Schonbrunn was its maze, an elaborate labyrinth of hedges. We had a lot of fun running around (and around, and around) the maze. In fact, it took us so long to solve the damn thing that I was getting slightly embarrassed…

Nonetheless, we triumphed:

In the evening, we took the tram out to the very end of the line, into a suburb of Vienna, in search of a heuriger, or wine garden. I had read that dining at a heuriger was a quintessential Viennese experience, and we were eager to find out for ourselves what the fuss was all about.

The atmosphere at the heuriger was very relaxed and friendly – you order your food at a counter, drink cheap table wine, and dine outdoors. I chose traditional dishes – spargel and schnitzel.

We were loving our meal at first, but then it started to rain again. And then it poured. And then it downright typhoon-ed. All the tables inside the restaurant were taken, so we took cover under a table beneath an overhang. However, as it rained more and more, water started rolling down the bench toward us. Soon, we were practically shoveling in our food – and once we had eaten, we made a mad dash inside and drank the rest of our wine standing in the lobby, cold and wet. It was definitely a unique dining experience!

The next day, our final in Vienna, we spent at two great museums, both of which didn’t allow photography. I wanted to visit the first museum, the Belvedere Palace, because it houses one of my all time favorite paintings – Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. In addition to the Kiss, the museum is also home to several other pieces by Klimt and other artists. I ended up being most impressed by Klimt’s Adam and Eve – so powerful.

After the museum, we headed to lunch at Kurkonditorei Oberlaa for one of the best dining deals of our trip – a 3-course meal (soup, entree, dessert) for just 10 euro. Definitely a great bargain – and the food was pretty tasty too.

After lunch, we headed to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which I called the K Museum, for obvious reasons. The museum has a spectacular collection – works by Velazquez, Rembrandt, Rubens, Raphael, and Titian, to name a few. We saw a ton of good stuff, but the one that stuck out most was Rubens’s Medusa – disturbing, but really, really good.

For our last meal in Vienna, we chose the Austrian classic of…cheap Chinese noodles. Oddly enough, these noodles were a food staple of our trip. We ate them in Vienna, Berlin, and Paris – all of which, of course, are known for much fancier dining options. But hey, what are two girls on a budget to do?

And with that, our time in Vienna was done. Next up: Prague!

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