Vienna, Austria: Schnitzel, Strudel, and Schwanensee
It all started as a familiar feeling, universally known by travelers as we-need-to-go-somewhere-new yearning. And travelers know: there’s no remedy for that other than giving in to it.
There were some restrictions though: it had to be in Europe; we were on a budget. We had only six days and it had to be culture, beautiful sights and a romantic place in one.
At the last minute, we spotted cheap airline tickets to Vienna, Austria, and the destination question was sorted. Budget restriction also prompted us to choose a 7.5 rated three-star hotel at booking.com and off we went.
We tried to learn a lot about the sights and places of interest in Vienna beforehand: we searched the Internet and read reviews and advice of those who have already traveled there, and made our own list of things we wanted to do and see in Vienna during the six days period.
I even started to remember my German course, and scared my friend by reading out loud some useful words and phrases, with proper pronunciation.
On arrival, we bought a Vienna Card at the airport Wien-Schwechat. We paid 18.50 euro each, and it gave us a right to use metro, trams and buses for 72 hours, and offered discounts in a number of museums, exhibitions, tours, cafes and shops.
Together with the Vienna Card we got a coupon book, with all benefits listed, as well as instructions on how to use it. This coupon book got us a small discount when we bought tickets to Prater, Vienna’s big Ferris wheel, and Albertina museum. When those 72 hours expired, we bought a Netzkarte for another 72 hours. It was 13.60 euro, without any additional bonuses.
Besides metro, trams, buses, taxis and bicycles, there is one specific means of transportation you won’t miss in Vienna: plenty of horse-drawn carriages. They are organized in lines in the most popular central places, waiting for their turn to make a city round.
This is a costly affair meant for tourists only, but if you have always wanted to be carried away right into the past centuries by the time machine, the patter of hoofs and carriage rocking will do that for you.
Twenty-minute excursion is the most expensive, about 40 euro at Stephanplatz. Forty- and sixty-minute excursions were also available. Don’t be surprised if the coachman speaks only German and doesn’t care whether you get a thing out of his random excursion: that’s the part of the adventure.
The end of October to the beginning of November is a beautiful time in Vienna. The trees are magnificent in their gold and red and yellow, the air is transparent and fresh, and the chilly weather is just right for sightseeing, dropping into cafes now and then to have your mélange with a new dessert each time.
November can be fairly cold, so make sure you take a warm coat and a scarf, especially if you stay outdoors most of the day, as we did.
As I’ve mentioned mélange and desserts, I just can’t help extending the Viennese delicacies theme to some other tasty things we tried there.
First off, there are those famous Wiener sausages (Wiener Würstchen, Würstel). They may be similar in taste to hot dogs or frankfurters, but they are much longer, served with generous amount of spices, sour cabbage and pickles.
Sausages are different in color and texture, and it will take you several days to try them all and compare. To make things easier for you, my friend claims the dark one is the best-tasting, but you have to be very hungry to be able to eat it all up.
Proceeding with fast and relatively cheap ways to eat in Vienna, there are “Billa” and “Spar” supermarkets, where you can buy everything from a chocolate bar to a bottle of Laurent-Perrier brut.
Coffee and Deserts:
Coffee is great in Vienna, at least, in those few places we tried it. It is always served with a glass of water. They say that Austrians are so proud of the quality and purity of their water that they always offer it to their guests. It is ordinary tap water, which is not only drinkable but very good-tasting indeed.
Vienna is famous for its cafes and confectionaries. You can check out legendary and expensive “Demel” or “Sacher,” but we stuck to more democratic “Anker” and “Ada” cafes, which you could see at every turn.
Apfelstrudels or Nussbeugels, hot milk or any variety of coffee, the aromas are so tempting that you just find yourself indulging in coffee and sweets even if you normally prefer tea without sugar.
My special tip is to visit guest houses and traditional places in Vienna. I remember gorgeous schnitzels and salads we had in a guest house right as we left the metro on Gumpendorfer Straße. Cozy and very home-like, with elderly Austrians, policemen and service men customarily having their dinners there, it made a great impression of tradition and history.
I will never forget a Topfenstrudel, a melting-in-the-mouth dessert with a quark [curd cheese] filling and a warm vanilla sauce, we were served at Cafe Restaurant “Bellaria,” at Bellariastrasse 6. The restaurant dates back to 1870! The owner has photos of famous Austrians who have eaten there, including Arnold Schwarzenegger.
There is a chain of “Nordsee” fish and sea food restaurants, with take-away snacks available. The food is fresh and tasty, and the service is quick, but the prices are rather high.
A small Italian restaurant “La Norma” at Franziskanerplatz 3 made us believe we were in Italy for one evening. Very nice Italian dishes and nice atmosphere.
As you pay your bill, say how much you want to leave as a tip. We didn’t know this was a custom there, and as the waiter asked if it was OK as we handed the bill, we happily and absent-mindedly nodded. As a result, we didn’t receive any change, which was too generous a tip. But we had such a great time and such delicious food that we didn’t really mind and kept happily nodding as the waiter passionately thanked us at the exit.
Places worth Seeing and Visiting:
St. Stephen’s Cathedral in the Stephansplatz, the heart of Vienna, was the first amazing sight we headed for when started exploring Vienna. This is the most important religious building in Vienna. Its multi-colored tile roof is one of the city’s most recognizable symbols.
Among other outstanding palaces and churches we managed to see in 6 days were:
– Hofbur, a palace in the center of Vienna, which housed the Habsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian empire. At present, it is the official residence of the President of Austria;
– Karlskirche (the St. Charles’s Church), situated on the south side of Karlsplatz, 200 metres outside the Ringstrasse;
– Neo-gothic Kirche Maria vom Siege (Maria of the Victory Church), not far from the Westbahnhof station;
– one of the oldest (1217) Romanesque churches in Vienna – Michaelerkirche (St. Michael’s Church);
– and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) on Ringstrasse, with a beautiful park and topiary garden.
Using a Vienna Card, we paid 7.50 euro for Prater Ferris Wheel and made some wonderful pictures of the city views from it. Prater is a large public and amusement park. It is located near the city centre and is an ideal area for walking, jogging, cycling or resting etc.
The actual giant Ferris Wheel in Prater is called Riesenrad, and is one of the Vienna’s true symbols. It was built as far back as 1897 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the reign of Franz Joseph I, and was called a masterpiece of engineering of the 19th century.
The wheel of 15 cabins spans 200 feet (about 60 m). Surely, it is nothing like the London Eye, but it is over hundred years old and has a lot of history and charm to it.
Vienna is known for its palaces. Belvedere Palace is a wonderful baroque palace complex situated to the southeast of the city center in the third district of Vienna. Though quite far from the old inner city, it is easily reached with public transport.
So breathtakingly beautiful and properly organized, the Belvedere palaces and gardens are worth an early visit so that you can appreciate its beauty in the daylight. We spent most of the day there, and would spend even more if it were summer.
The Belvedere Palace complex consists of the Upper and Lower Palaces. The Lower Belvedere was the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, and The Upper Belvedere houses an extensive collection of Austrian art, including the world’s largest Gustav Klimt collection.
Albertina, located at Albertinaplatz, 1, is a museum which we visited mainly to see the works of world-famous impressionists. Besides, the museum houses modern graphic works, photographs, architectural drawings, and early 20th century art displays.
Hundertwasser House is an apartment house designed by a famous Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. It’s one of Vienna’s most visited buildings, a must for a tourist in Vienna who likes everything unusual.
We walked a long way until we found it in the Kegelgasse 34-38/ Löwengasse 41-43. If you start your walk from Landstrasse-Wien Mitte station, the signs on Marxegasse and Löwengasse must help you find the place.
Though rather controversial, Hundertwasser’s creation is brave and bight, in a way, reminiscent of Antonio Gaudi’s heritage. No strict rules or monotony, but a creative freedom and interesting philosophy instead.
The roof of the house is covered with earth and grass, and large trees grow from inside the rooms, right from the windows. Hundertwasser house contains 52 apartments, 4 offices, a number of terraces, and a total of 250 trees and bushes.
If you go from Stephenplatz to Kärtnerastrasse, right in the center of the city, you will see a Vienna State Opera House, which is as magnificent outside as it is inside. Its history dates back to the mid-19th century.
Opera was high on our list of must-dos in Vienna. Associated with classical music, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, etc., our Vienna tour could not be complete without a visit to their world-famous opera house.
It was easy to buy fairly cheap tickets for the next day even though the ticket offices were already closed.
We were lucky to get to the great Russian ballet “Swan Lake” by Tchaikovsky. We got seats in Box 4, Row 2, which was rather far from the scene, and we could see the ballet only if we were standing and craning the necks.
But it was a hundred times well worth it. This music and ballet is something magical. The odds are you will become a fan of ballet and Tchaikovsky after you’ve seen it in Vienna, and this devotion is rather costly.
On our way back we nearly missed the flight as the train to the airport suddenly stopped halfway and turned back. It still remains a mystery to me why. And I wonder how we noticed it at all, as we were involved in discussing the things we did and saw and Vienna, and were relaxing before the flight.
When we finally noticed we were moving backwards, we ran out from the train with our baggage at the nearest stop, and in a mix of English and German tried to explain the staff which train we needed.
Then we changed trains and still worried, ran out at every station to make sure we were moving in the right direction and tried to figure out if we still had time to make it by train.
Every time we were fussing on the platform, a member of the staff patiently urged us to get on the train again and showed us with his fingers how many stops we had left till our destination. We must have looked really dumb.
Everyone was very helpful, beginning with an Austrian girl who didn’t speak English, but still volunteered to help and showed us on the map where we should change, to the conductor who was the next to patronize us when we finally got to the right platform and on the right train.
Vienna is definitely one of the cities you can explore endlessly, due to the abundance of cultural heritage, historical places, outstanding architecture, unique atmosphere, great coffee, schnitzels and strudels, and of course, classical music. Besides outstanding views, Vienna offers wonderful smells and sounds.
Olga Volobuyeva, a Russian-based translator, editor and copywriter, keen on traveling, writing and photography. Loves her country and wants to see many others.
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