Wien. Home to the Habsburg empire and Sigmund Freud. It’s been called ‘The City of Music’ thanks to Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, Brahms, and other classical music greats.
I’ve only been to Austria once, somewhere in the countryside. We were en route to Switzerland from Munich. Frankly, I kinda forgot about it already.
My friend Keysi often gushed about Vienna, capital city of Austria. So I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was all about.
I visited Vienna end of November 2013. In the absence of a travel buddy, I decided to do this trip by myself. I did Paris solo once and that wasn’t too bad (although I recall talking to myself a lot). I stayed at a really nice hotel just two blocks from Naschmarkt, the most popular market in Vienna (which surprisingly did not make it to me Top 10!). The Inner City is easy to discover by foot. I felt safe as a solo female traveller.
Here are my top tens:
I’m a big Antoni Gaudi fan, so I was pretty excited when I found out he has an Austrian counterpart in Friendensreich Hundertwasser. He was an architect who transformed these council houses in the 1980s from dull/practical to beautiful. These apartments are homes to real residents, hence the perennial reminder to tourists not to disturb the peace. The coloured section marked one apartment. Best to come here by bus (Lowengasse), as the stop is just a few minutes away.
So where did Schnitzel really come from? There’s schnitzel in Germany, in Israel (where they have it with humus), and many other countries! Schnitzel is fried boneless meat, coated with bread crumbs, beaten eggs, and flour. I enjoyed my Wiener Schnitzel (Viennese Schnitzel) in Cafe Museum, where the service was pretty good and the atmosphere cozy. Gustav Klimt was a patron! Up front, I spied a nice spread of baked goodies. Cafe Museum’s Apfelstrudel (apply studel) is said to be pretty good. Anyway! I digress. Back to Schnitzel. Fried meat will always be fried meat. Lemon and lingon berries make it sing!
Würstelstand are abound in Vienna. And what will I find in this stall littered across the city?? Sausages! Lots of ’em! Frankfurters, bratwurst, curry wurst, and many others I can’t pronounce! I had my sausage fix at Bitzinger Wurstelstand, just outside the Albertina museum. The long queue was inviting and promised something worth waiting for. And the verdict? It was certainly was!
(7) Wiener Kaffeehaus and Sachretorte
Coffee runs through my veins, so I was pretty psyched to find out that Viennese cafes deliver on a high quality caffeine and a proper sugar fix. A diabetic would have a field day. All the cups of coffee I ever had on this trip was good. Even the coffee in the hotel!
Apparently, the Kaffehaus culture plays quite an important role in Viennese society. These cafes are fancier than your neighbourhood coffee house. Marble topped tables, chandeliers, plush cushioned seats, servers in black and white garb, velvet curtains… The fancy interior wasn’t intimidating. It was in fact, inviting! I could hangout here for hours.
Sachertorte, a chocolate cake especially made by a chef (Franz Sacher) for the Viennese king in the 18th century, is a source of pride in Vienna. It is an apricot jam filled chocolate sponge cake, topped with a chocolate icing. There was a dispute between Hotel Sacher and Cafe Demel (two of the most popular cafes in Vienna) about who had the ‘Original Sachertorte’.
Hotel Sacher won the dispute (DUH. The cake is named after Sacher after all.) It was a nice cake. The whipped cream balanced the sweetness. Coffee went great with it!
(6) Hearing Mass at Stephansdom with a chamber orchestra
Had I planned this trip better, I would probably be writing about hearing mass with the Vienna Boys Choir singing the mass hymns. But I was extremely busy with work, and the effort that goes into planning was less than usual. I heard Sunday mass at St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom). My mind was just about to float elsewhere when I heard the voices of angels. The atmosphere was transformed.
(5) Albertina Musuem
I’m a sucker for 19th century art, and I spent about two hours in the Albertina Museum. Mostly admiring Fauvism, which featured the works of Matisse, Moreau, Manguin, and a few others. There was another interesting exhibit of an artist who recreated the final scene of old movies. They looked like printed posters, but they were works of art!
(4) Demel Cafe
Demel Cafe is an institution in Vienna. The waitresses don white aprons and a friendly smile. Like most cafes, visitors are greeted by a wide, promising spread of mouth-watering baked delights! My timing was perfect, as a space cleared up by the cafe bar just when I arrived. I settled in comfortably, ordered a nice cup of coffee and two (not one, but two!) sweet Demel creations. And yes. I cleaned ’em out!
Even though I was dining solo, I quite enjoyed the atmosphere in the cafe. Excited wannabe diners looking over seated diners’ shoulders. What looks good?? Everything! There’s an old world charm to the place, and sugar’s in the air!
(3) Classical music show
I’d like to think that my taste in music is eclectic. I ought to thank Papa for playing Strauss (The Waltz King) and Beethoven when we were younger. A few years ago, we attended a 45 minute classical music show in Prague which we mostly enjoyed. I figured Vienna will not disappoint. And it didn’t!
I purchased tickets to an evening show (the Vienna Royal Orchestra) which featured a mini concert, a ballet performance, and opera singers! A pretty good deal for less than 30 euros. I was dubious if show was legit. I was relieved when I arrived at the Imperial Hall along Beethovenplatz and viola! The concert was real. And it was good!
No yawns stifled here (not from me!). The performers were energetic, the acoustics of the venue great, and even a hint of comedy. It was Strauss and Mozart’s evening, and their genius immortalised in symphony.
(2) Klimt’s the kiss
The largest collection of Klimt’s works of art reside in the Belvedere museum. So this was definitely on my list of things to do in Vienna! Similar to Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, there is something evocative about this painting that just draws people in. Maybe it’s the romance. Or the luminous colours. Klimt’s paintings look real, but feel dreamlike.
It was difficult to leave the Upper Belvedere. I wanted to stare at the painting longer. Art Nouveau at its golden finest.
Ahhhhh. When in Europe in December, it’s an absolute MUST to visit a Christmas market. Vienna’s Rathausplatz Christkindlmarkt was my first ever, and. It. Was. Awesome. Touristy, yes. Crowded, Yes. And the atmosphere?! Happiness! The stalls, Gluhwein, twinkling lights, colourful ornaments, all announce that Christmas is here! There is excitement in the air. It’s simply magical.