Vienna: A Taste of High Society

Hi everyone! We got back from Vienna a week ago and I’ve been dying to share photos, but the Apple “geniuses” had possession of my MacBook again so I had to wait patiently. Now that every piece of my laptop has been replaced at least once – this is its THIRD logic board – I’m hopeful that I can, at a minimum, get this post up successfully. Ready? Okay.

If there’s one thing that sums up my impressions of Vienna, it’s probably how the city serves its coffee: I tried out four of the many decadent cafes and found that, whether a hot, foamy melange or chilled with sweet vanilla ice cream, coffee literally comes on a silver platter. So fancy and so delicious.

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I may live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, but Vienna is surely one of the grandest. With its ornate museums and palaces, there is so much beautiful architecture to take in, it’s only a question of where to visit first. We decided to start with the Staatsoper opera house after discovering that the Friday afternoon tour was the only one available during our four-day stay. My husband Guillaume and I met my cousins at our hotel across the street – they were finishing up a two-week European adventure in Vienna and we booked our trip to coincide with theirs – and then the four of us got in line for tickets. Impressively, the opera house provides guided tours in several languages, but the hoard of English-speaking tourists was definitely the largest. They split the anglophones into three groups before taking us through the building, which, in addition to hosting operas and ballets, is also home to the annual Vienna Opera Ball.

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After the tour, we wandered around the Stadtpark to find the statue of Strauss (Gui is a bit of a classical music buff) before ending up at the Hotel Sacher to try  Sachertorte – a famous chocolate cake with apricot jam. It was good, but in my opinion, nothing to write home about. We ended the day at a beer garden near the Rathaus followed by a hearty Austrian dinner at a nearby restaurant. I watched Anthony Bourdain’s episode on Vienna before we left and expected it to be extremely difficult for my mostly-vegetarian self to find suitable food, but I was pleasantly surprised with the availability of interesting veggie options at all of the restaurants we visited. The broccoli and cauliflower dish I had that night was exceptional.

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The next morning, Gui and I met my cousins at the gorgeous Schönbrunn palace, which was the imperial family’s summer residence back in the day. After trying to sort through which type of entrance pass to buy (we went with the “classic”) we navigated through an outdoor maze in the palace garden until the designated entry time on our tickets. Admission included an audio guide that provided an explanation of each room as you walked through the massive apartments, including the parlor where Mozart performed for the empress at age six. Afterward, we climbed up to the Gloriette monument on the hill behind the palace to take in the view and get some iced coffee (aka coffee with ice cream) at the cafe.

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For lunch we looked up Café Central, based on one of the many fabulous recommendations of my friend with Austrian family. Past patrons of the vaulted-ceiling establishment included Freud, Lenin, Trotsky, Herzl and Hitler, per Wikipedia. I ordered some sort of yummy square pasta with cabbage and my first Aperol spritz, which *dangerously* does not taste like it has any alcohol in it. Then we headed to the State Hall of the Austrian National Library, which, as the New York Times 36 Hours guide promised, felt like we stepped inside a storybook. Absolutely beautiful. Afterward, we took the U-Bahn (metro) to the Prater amusement park to check out the giant ferris wheel, but ultimately opted to grab a few beers rather than go for a ride in one of its rickety cabins. Dinner that night was another great NYT suggestion at Gasthaus Pöschl, after which we stumbled upon an outdoor dance party in front of the Hofburg palace. Then we parted ways with my cousins, who were sadly making their return to the states the next morning.

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Day three kicked off with a delicious Viennese breakfast at Café Museum (melange coffee, fluffy brioche and a soft-boiled egg adorably presented wearing a red fez) before spending the morning at the Kunsthistorisches art museum. It was fascinating to learn how so many artists I associated with other countries were linked to Austria, and the museum itself, with ornate ceilings in every room, is gorgeous. We had lunch at a restaurant my cousins liked so I could order a plate of Austrian gnocchi and then toured the Hofburg palace, the former winter residence, which includes the gigantic court silver and porcelain collection and the Sisi museum. [Tangent: In Vienna, they reallllllly love Emperor Franz Joseph and his sad wife Sisi; the pair appears on Viennese souvenirs almost like mascots. My final set of photos includes one of tourists waiting to take a picture with a statue of the emperor.]

Next we visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which was unfortunately partially covered by scaffolding, followed by a pit stop at another cafe for iced coffee (amazing) and apple strudel (not impressed). Then we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon aboard – my cousins will be shocked – a double-decker bus tour. There are at least three companies that run buses in Vienna but we opted for Big Bus, which we know from DC, and ended up really enjoying it, despite the touristy-ness. The commentary pointed out some less-obvious sites, like the art school that rejected Hitler and one of Beethoven’s houses, and the weather was gorgeous. Dinner that night was outside of the touristy area at the well-reviewed Restaurant Finkh, where I put aside my aversion to meat to finally try some wiener schnitzel. We voted it our best meal in Vienna.

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Our last day included stops at the Belvedere palaces – home to Gustav Klimt’s painting “The Kiss” – and the Leopold Museum for more Klimt and a well-curated collection of works by Egon Schiele. Then we had a quick but delicious lunch at what turned out to be a French restaurant (we were thrown by the Austrian flags outside) and made a lightning-fast stop at the Manner chocolate store before dashing to the train station to catch a ride back to the airport. We’re already regretting not bringing home more Mozart chocolates, so please let us know if Vienna is on your travel itinerary 🙂

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