Days 1-3: Vienna, Austria
Friday, August 2- We took a quick flight from Charleston to Chicago, and then Chicago to Vienna. The Chicago Airport International terminal had a currency exchange, so we got $300 Euro to have on hand. This was one of the best recommendations I got from our travel agent!
We landed at 8am and had a driver waiting to greet us. I won’t lie, we felt very fancy! She drove us to our small, beautiful, boutique hotel- Das Triest. We arrived so early in the morning, but we asked to leave our bags so we could go explore and they readily agreed. After freshening up in the lobby restrooms, we handed over our bags, asked directions to the Naschmarket, and headed off! Even though they had given us the world’s largest muffins on the plane, travel really takes it out of you, and I was ready for some pastry! We walked up and down the stalls, taking in the gorgeous fruit stands, ogling the restaurants of many different cuisines, passing by cute souvenirs--- until we reached a pastry and coffee area.
We picked a cheese Danish garnished with beautiful fruit and berries and each got an espresso. We sat at a tiny table and wondered that we were really there! After we had our fill of people watching, we went back to the hotel to get a map and talk about the city pass, which allows you on all of the buses and trains for a low price for 24, 48, or 72 hours. There was enough in our general area that we didn’t buy one right away.
We walked straight ahead for a several blocks in the direction of the Opera House. I had really hoped to go in or see a show, but I knew from my research that they are closed in August. It was still amazing to see it in real life! We learned about the Mozart concert at the Golden Hall there, but we weren’t ready to commit just yet. We went to the Visitors Center and talked about the Vienna Pass, which is great for discounts around the city, but I had a clear vision in my mind of what I wanted to do and see (with a sweet husband who let me lead the way). We made our way to the Hofburg Palace and wandered around a bit. I wanted to go to Vienna to follow the steps of Empress Sisi, and being at her palace was very special for me. After that, it was time for lunch, and Dusty had several restaurants scouted out. We walked about a mile to a restaurant….that was closed for a few weeks! So we talked on a while longer to Gmoa Keller, where he ordered the Weiner Schnitzel. It was beautifully fried and covered the entire plate—with a side of potato salad.
I ordered a delightful summer salad and we split the Wiener Schnitzel.
We took our time wandering back and found a beautiful fountain with a gorgeous building behind it. We never found out exactly what it was!
We set our sights on some beautiful green church turrets in the distance, which ended up being at Karlsplatz- the square only a few blocks from our hotel. We found an artist sketching local scenes, and another with beautiful paintings in the square. Artwork from locals is my favorite souvenir, so I snatched one up even though it was our first day. You can see the paintings in the bottom right corner of this picture.
We made our way back to our hotel, sweaty and tired but very happy. My husband had several restaurants in mind- as it was our 17 year anniversary- one of them being Collio, an Italian restaurant. It was a TripAdvisor “10 Best Restaurants in Vienna.” He had been unable to get a reservation, so he went down to the hotel front desk to talk to them about other possibilities, when he noticed that Collio was the HOTEL RESTAURANT!!!! He told them in was our anniversary and they made a call to get us a reservation! We got dressed and went to the hotel bar, Porto, where we met an amazing Irish bartender named Joe. We had drinks, and when it was time to go to dinner, we told him we needed to close out. He told us we could bring our drinks to the restaurant and had a member of the bar staff walk us over. We had a wonderful meal, and at the end of the meal, the restaurant staff told us that the drinks from the bar were on them for our anniversary. Also, we made friends with the couple beside us at dinner. The tables are always so close together in Europe that we can’t help talking to people. They thought our names, Dusty and Betsay, were hilarious—this became a running theme throughout the trip- and in her broken English she laughed that our names sounded like cowboys!
The next morning we had planned to have breakfast at the hotel. Despite setting an alarm on our phone, we accidentally slept until 11am!!! We wanted to visit a Heuriger- a restaurant of a family vineyard where they have wine tastings of their wines and a buffet of German traditional food. The closest ones were in Grinzig, about 40 minutes outside of Vienna. We got our 48 hour City Pass at the Front Desk, and headed out, planning to grab a quick breakfast on the way. There was a cute café on the right across the street from Karlsplatz, so we ducked in. I got some porridge (the greatest oatmeal with berries that I have ever had), and Dusty got ham and eggs. We took a train from Karlsplatz and then a bus. We arrived at this precious place, a little nervous about how this was going to work, but we walked on it. I wasn’t terribly hungry since we had just eaten, so we ordered what was described as a “typical German charcuterie board.” It had a pimento cheese-type spread, fried bacon fat, blood sausage with shaved sauerkraut, and bread covered in an cheese spread and topped with scallions. There was also some speck and mustard. There were 5 wines on the tasting- 3 white and 2 red. It was very affordable- maybe 10 Euro each for the wine tasting?
We wandered around the village for a while before heading back into town. We had plans to go to the Prater that night, but we wanted to freshen up and have a little rest first. We got back to Das Triest and went by the bar to see Joe to thank him for the drinks the night before.
We took the train out to the Prater, which is a huge amusement park right there in the city. I was really wanting to finally get our street vendor hot dogs here and maybe an apple strudel, but Joe had told us about the beer and the schweinshaxe (pork knuckle) that a restaurant at the Prater was known for. Once Dusty saw what that thing looked like, it was over. He got the Budweiser---NOT the American version!! And I discovered the Radler, a Budweiser mixed with lemonade. It became my go-to drink there.
Once we were stuffed, we went to the ferris wheel. There is a famous one, like the London Eye, but it was about 15 Euro each, was an enclosed carriage, and you were in with a lot of other people. We opted for the Blumenrad- a more traditional ferris wheel that was only 5 Euro each, was open air, and had enough seats for 4 people, but you could ride just as a couple. We got great pictures of the park from up there.
Vienna is not only the cleanest place I have ever been, but it is also exceptionally quiet AND safe! We talked back to our train station, took the train, and walked to the hotel with no worries.
We decided that night that we did want to go to the Mozart Concert on our last night, so I bought tickets on my phone and we went down to see our buddy Joe. We met an older gentleman who lives nearby and comes to Porto occasionally for the “best Manhattan in Vienna” and to mingle with the guests. He immediately struck up a conversation with us and asked about what we had seen/done. He knew of our Heuriger and gave it a thumbs up, but laughed when we told him about the concert. He said “that’s for tourists,” to which I replied- “WE’RE TOURISTS!” Seeing the music of a city is a big deal, and he conceded and said “the worst thing you can do is come here and pretend you aren’t a tourist.” He was quite a character.
The next morning we had breakfast in the gorgeous courtyard. The buffet was amazing- smoked salmon and cured meat, varieties of cheese and artisan bread. We felt like we were in a dream. We saw our friends from dinner the night before so we waved and talked about our plans for the day.
Today was our trip to the Schoenbrunn- the Summer Palace of Empress Sisi and Emperor Franz Joseph. We got off of the train at Stephenplatz and were looking at St Stephen’s Cathedral- one of the places on my list! We talked inside and I immediately got emotional. There are so many centuries of stories living there—I’m not sure how you could NOT be moved. There is a North and South tower, so we asked after the higher one, and walked around to the entrance.
We understood that we were going to be walking up 373 stairs, but it is straight up a tiny stone spiral staircase. If people were coming down the stairs, one of you would have to flatten yourselves against the wall to let the other pass. We were both huffing and puffing by the time we got to the top but the view of the city from that high up made it totally worth it.
We walked back down (I got a little dizzy!), and we walked through this district of Vienna. It was very different from our district- tons of tourists (I had been wondering where they all were!) and designer stores.
We FINALLY saw the hot dog stands we had been waiting for and got some massive grilled franks. They were everything I had hoped they’d be. They had a delightful crunch on the outside and were juicy on the inside!
After wandering around for a while, we headed back to the train station to carry on to Schoenbrunn. It was hot by their standards- 80 degrees, which we are used to, but this area was much less shaded, so it was warm. We went in to get our tickets and came back out to get some Mango ice cream at one of the vendors right outside of the gates. We had 2 hours before we could do our palace tour, so we set off to the see sights of this huge estate.
We walked through the garden paths and up to the Botanical Gardens, which was not covered in the pass we bought, but it was still cool to see. The next closest thing was Gloriette. We came out of the gardens to a huge beautiful fountain that can take your breath away. Up on a huge hill was Gloriette, which looks like a palace façade.
There is a direct uphill path up either side or a zigzag path up the front. We started laughing because 3 hours before we had climbed the St Stephens tower, but we couldn’t miss this, so we started walking. When you get up there and turn around, you are above Schoenbrunn and can see all of Vienna behind it. It was spectacular.
We enjoyed the breeze for a few minutes and started back down. We still had 45 minutes so we headed into the Labyrinth/ Garden Mazes before heading to the palace. We opted for a self-guided tour and received a MP3 player that allowed you to go through the rooms and hear about the daily life in and uses of these rooms. I got chills when I got to Empress Sisi’s bedroom and beauty rooms. It was incredible to see all of the things I had read about brought to life.
After our tour, we started to head back to the hotel because we had our Mozart concert at 8pm. One thing we had learned at this point is there is no quick meal in Vienna. You order, you get your food, and you hang out. You have to ask for your bill and even then it could be another 15-20 minutes before you walk out the door. We had been visiting the Billa grocery store daily for a bottle of wine (or two) and they had really good food. Since we wanted to shower and rest before the concert, we just grabbed to-go food from the Billa for dinner! We stopped by Porto to get Joe to take our picture and headed to the concert. It was only a few blocks away, and even though there was a light drizzle, we enjoyed the walk. The musicians dress in the traditional style of the Mozart -age, and the music was delightful. There were opera singers and amazing solos, and the hall itself is gorgeous. I would HIGHLY recommend this attraction!
The next day we went to breakfast again and saw our friends- it was fun to have a familiar face for a few minutes each day. We wished them a good rest of their trip and bade them farewell. We grabbed our bags and our driver met us outside to take us to the train station. We were on to our next stop---- Innsbruck. After these three incredible days, I couldn’t believe that we still had more adventures to go.
Having Beth at the Hello Agency set everything up for us made everything SO easy. The vouchers we had for hotels, trains, and cars, along with the detailed travel schedule, allowed us to be able relax and enjoy ourselves without worrying about logistics. As this trip went on, we continued to comment on how we could have never done this trip with this amount of precision without her help!