My incredible trip to Europe was already 10 months ago and yet I still haven’t finished writing about two of the countries we visited. I’m determined to remedy this before I hit the one year anniversary! And so here it is - highlights from Vienna, Austria!
If I were to choose a relationship status with Vienna on Facebook it would be “It’s Complicated.” There were a lot of things I liked about it, a few things that rubbed me the wrong way, and overall I just didn’t leave feeling the same way I had about our other stops.
I could have stayed longer in Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague and Cesky Krumlov - but when it was time to bid Vienna adieu (adieu, to you and you and you) I was quite OK with it.
I’ll take you through the highs and lows in chronological order -
After arriving to the hostel and not being able to check in, we stashed our luggage and headed out into the city with David for a walking tour to get our bearings. This was the least central of our accommodations, though it was very close to the central train station (Wien Westbahnhof) which was convenient for getting around.
Our first stop was Vienna’s largest food market - Naschmarkt. It’s almost a mile long and has been around since the 1780s. Like most of the food stalls that have become super touristy - as you walk down the rows you realize that things start repeating. Every couple of stalls there’s someone selling dried fruits and nuts, pastries, sausages and lots and lots of falafel and hummus along with the fresh fruit and vegetable stands.
The best part of Naschmarkt is the fact that vendors are constantly giving out samples - entire falafels dipped in hummus! You could walk through once or twice and leave completely full without spending a cent (or a euro, the currency in Austria).
Allison made it her mission to “sample” as many pieces of dried mango as possible. Then she got a little sausage baby - we were enthralled by the way they serve their sausages in a perfectly hollowed out bun filled with ketchup!
I filled up on free samples and finished it off with a “krapfen” - a Viennese doughnut, duh!
As David walked us around some of the major city sights, a few things stood out to me. First, was how beautiful, big and green the parks were. I love parks and green space and I also appreciated that it seemed like a lot of people were out enjoying them.
The second was how absolutely massive all of the statues were. I’m not a statue girl - I don’t normally pay them much attention (I like unique sculptures much better). But the statues in Vienna was so massive and over-the-top in scale that you couldn’t help but stop and stare at them in awe!
The third thing that stands out from the tour was when we got to Heldenplatz (Heroes Square), where a crowd of several hundred THOUSAND had watched Hitler speak in 1938. I got chills realizing that I was staring at the balcony on the Habsburg palace (The Hofburg) where Hitler had spoken. David had us spin around to look at all of the open space and just try to imagine it completely filled in with people crammed together. It was insane. And my one question was - how did they hear what he was saying? Were there microphones and sound systems in 1938? If anyone knows that answer, please let me know.
Yoga @ Yoga College Wien
After such an amazing fitness experience in Berlin at BECYCLE I was excited to get sweaty at a 90 minute Bikram yoga class in Vienna just a 10 minute walk from our hostel.
It ended up being a disaster. It wasn’t Yoga College’s fault, per se, but I was completely miserable for all 5,400 seconds of the experience. I should have realized that Bikram yoga is wildly different than Vinyasa, that 90 minutes in a heated room is a really long time, and that only understanding half of what was being said was going to end in frustration. That’s all on me. But being yelled at when I went into child’s pose because I needed a break (“We' don’t DO THAT here”) and being told to try not to drink any water - not a fan. My instructor also informed us that we were going to burn off as many calories as a Snickers bar with our next move - and proceeded to bring us into standing split pose for 30 seconds. Um, what?
By the time class was over I was more than ready to get the hell outta there. But the women’s locker room was a SAUNA. Unlike the US where most women at least make some effort to be modest in the locker room - covering up as much as possible with towels or limiting the time they spend walking around ass naked - the Viennese models I was sharing a room with seemed perfectly happy to prance around in the hellishly hot and humid space entirely naked. Looking back now, I can laugh, but in the moment I had a huge wave of anxiety as I tried pulling jeggings on my incredibly sweaty body, feeling like Danny DeVito among the blonde, slender, 6’ tall ladies surrounding me. I honestly couldn’t get my shirt on - I walked out with leggings and my winter jacket with nothing on underneath.
It gets better. I navigated myself to the restaurant where I was supposed to meet Allison. Oben was described online as an “informal vegetarian & vegan restaurant above the main city library, with a rooftop terrace & views.” I was excited! I gave Allison the synopsis of yoga, breathed a little in the fresh air, and then we went in to get a table.
Once we were seated we sat and waited. And waited. I went to the bathroom to put clothes on since I had finally stopped profusely sweating and when I came back, still waiting. Finally it got so ridiculous that we decided to leave. We couldn’t help but feel that from the moment we had asked if they had English menus, they wanted nothing to do with us.
So we meandered back to the hostel looking for food and ended up buying random things from the still-open train station. McDonald’s might have been purchased. I can’t confirm or deny it.
The next morning we set off to find a kind of random sight I was determined to see - and photograph. The more I travel the more I realize I really enjoy looking at unique architecture, something that started with Gaudi’s Casa Batllo in Barcelona.
The Hundertwasser House in Vienna was designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser - and while you can’t go into the building (people really do live there) it’s really cool to look at and take pictures of. Residents are allowed to decorate the areas outside their windows however they want.
Across from the house is another unique building filled with shops that you can walk around in.
A picture of the Hundertwasser now hangs in my living room!
…And Crisp Apple Studel
We would our way back through downtown, stopping to take pictures of St. Stephen’s Cathedral (the roof is so gorgeous!), the modern looking Do & Co hotel, and the Hofburg Imperial Palace.
Then it was time to sit down for some coffee and Viennese pastries. David had told us the only proper place to do so was at Demel, an institution in Vienna since 1786. Today, it’s still the “Purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court.”
Choosing what to order while looking at cases upon cases of desserts that looked like pieces of art was not an easy task, but we ended up going with an apple strudel (it seemed appropriate) and a vanilla cake with creamy/custard filling topped with fruit.
Obviously we ate every last bite - but I wouldn’t say they were even above average desserts. Sorry, Vienna! It’s worth the experience though, to sit outside eating fancy desserts in Vienna and drinking coffee just steps from the Hofburg. Definitely stop in to look around - you can just eat with your eyes! And it’s an absolutely beautiful old building. If you walk towards the bathrooms, you can even see the bakers at work.
Tip: Order your cakes/pastries at the counter and they’ll give you a slip of paper. Bring that back to your table and the waiter will take it and deliver to you. You can order drinks directly with your waiter! Demel was the epitome of what rubbed me the wrong way about Vienna - they are clearly a very very big tourist destination - but they may zero effort to make things easy for visitors who don’t know they’re system of doing things and then they act annoyed and bothered when you ask questions.
Next we walked to the Schonrunn Palace to walk around the grounds there (you can also pay for entry into the palace). I thought it was beautiful and loved walking around. It’s a massive area, and when we got to the top of the hill we sat out on the grass taking pictures and soaking in the views. We were in awe of how giant the palace is!
Naturally, just as I was beginning to soften to Vienna - everyone got kicked off of the grass. Apparently it’s not for sitting and enjoying even though it’s called a park. Typical.
Despite that, I loved Schonbrunn Palace because it reminded me of Central Park - there is a ton of things to do within the grounds and I even recently read that there’s a large swimming pool hidden somewhere (called Schonbrunner Bad).
Schonbrunn Palace is the number one tourist destination in Vienna and I would agree that you should definitely check it out (this article is helpful in determining what exactly you want to do while you’re there!)
When we got back to the hostel, we happened to stop in the kitchen and noticed that in the “up for grabs” portion of the refrigerator was an unopened bottle of bubbly.
So we took it, and managed to finish the bottle while we got ready for dinner.
Anyone who knows Allison and I know that we laugh A LOT and crack each other up about things that make absolutely no sense to people around us when we are completely sober - champagne just made this even more pronounced.
We giggled our way to dinner at Restaurant Wiener. The reason we were there was to eat authentic Vienna Wiener SCHNITZEL. The portions were insane and my dad still makes fun of me to this day that I somehow managed to finish a serving of schnitzel that was bigger than my head (I swear, there was a little left over).
Wiener Schnitzel is essentially deep fried veal, but flattened and very thin. It came served with potatoes and greens and the potatoes were so so good. Upon further research, Vienna has it’s own type of potato salad (“Wiener Erdäpfelsalat”) featuring potatoes, red onions, oil, vinegar and beef stock that is served lukewarm (I might need to try this recipe!)
Aside from the food, what stands out most from this dinner was that my wine was really good and our waiter was so incredibly nice and happy and such a stark contrast to almost everyone else we had met in Austria. David has been bringing tour groups to Restaurant Wiener for awhile now, and they recognized each other, which definitely helped us get the best service.
Originally Allison and I were planning on joining a bar crawl, but after our bottle of champagne and wine at dinner, we figured we didn’t need to keep drinking. The group decided to stop at Vienna’s amusement park - and if there is one thing I love it’s amusement parks in the middle of cities!
What started as “we’ll just walk around,” turned into “just one ride,” turned into spending a decent amount of money on various rides but it was a total highlight of the trip - we were all laughing until our stomachs hurt. Honestly, there is nothing better than an amusement park in the pitch black to make you feel like a kid again.
(Except maybe dancing through the streets singing “Favorite Things” and “Sound of Music.”)
And with that, our time in Vienna had come to an end. Something that I wasn’t necessarily sad about - but we went out on a high with a really fun night with the group!