This article goes back to a summer weekend in Vienna, when I decided to play rebel tourist by replacing a few Vienna stereotypes with Viennese ‘zeitgeist’.
Where to Stay–Day One:
I naturally stay at ‘Hotel Papa’ when back home, but often sneak into the places of my dreams. As for the new generation of hotels Vienna Austria excels in dramatising tradition with good design, such as at Holmann Beletage.
Located in a 19th century townhouse it feels more like the home you always wanted: a stylish living room with coffee-table books, a piano, and an Apple laptop; a live-in kitchen and large dining table; a home cinema for Austrian movies and documentaries; a theatre salon; a spa; and a lovely baroque courtyard to relax. Sometimes I wish I’d be a tourist.
First on my sightseeing list: A guided Vienna tour, something that covers Vienna’s essential landmarks in a novel way. Perhaps on two wheels, but not a plain bike. And keep it small…. a city Segway tour ticked those boxes. I loved it because I brushed up on Vienna history and its main sights, and I learned a new skill in less than 20 minutes!
Tour guide Barbara, a law student, let us practice our Segways on a quiet bike path next to Ringstrasse Boulevard, and right in front of the Hofburg (Imperial Palace), before we whizzed along Ringstrasse, and through the old town. It felt good to connect with those local Viennese in the group who wanted to try out a Segway.
For a quick lunch bite, I consciously passed three Vienna sausage stands before bending off into Dorotheergasse where I disappeared behind a 1950s glass door and a thick woollen curtain. Few non-Austrians know about the Viennese’s love of bread spreads on fresh slices of brown sourdough bread.
Iconic Snack Bar
Trzesniewski, an iconic snack bar, has been obsessing about bread spreads for more than six decades, as my Vienna-born mother assures me. Hardly any of the almost two dozen recipes have changed since, including my favorites ‘Swedish Herring’, ‘Bacon and Egg’, ‘Spicey Paprika’, and ‘Gervais and Carrot’.
After lunch I wanted a good museum, something off the beaten track, very Viennese, engaging, small, and as close to real life as a museum could be. There are hardly more uninspiring places than banks on this planet.
Vienna restaurants TrzesniewskiThe Austrian Postal Savings Bank made the perfect exception.The somber grey building on Ringstrasse is a ground breaking master piece of Art Nouveau architecture by Austrian genius Otto Wagner. Having finished the structural work, he designed everything else in that place, from the counters and furniture to radiators, clocks and door handles. The small museum at the back, called ‘Wagner Werk’, represents a fine collection of the life and art of this architect who had shaped much of modern Vienna.
A Vienna coffeehouse was to finish off the afternoon. Not a traditional Wiener Kaffeehaus with chandeliers, plush velvety seats and oil paintings, but a more contemporary, such as the iconic 50s jewel Cafe Prueckel, opposite the Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art.
I was lucky enough to live just opposite in my student days, and quickly turned into a regular Prueckel visitor. My traditional Einspaenner (extended espresso with whipped cream) sipped on a faded greenish upholstered bench next to a marble coffee table tasted just as good as always. The ‘rebel cake’ I chose over good old Sacher Torte was a wickedly creamy Eszterhazy Torte, worth every bite!
My evening was booked with an opera and my mum. Doesn’t sound like a rebel programme, provided you visit the Vienna State Opera. However, that Vienna opera house is only one of four. The Theater an der Wien, for example, is the city’s avantgarde opera option and centre of excellence for lavish baroque operas.
The building’s architecture and interiors are modern and functional but pleasant. Not surprisingly we were surrounded almost entirely by local residents when watching the new production Il Ritorno D’Ulisse In Patria, a fine but rarely played baroque opera by Claudio Monteverdi.
A Danube Cruise Day 2:
Danube cruises Vienna BratislavaI like the Danube because it reminds me of many childhood weekends there, bathing and playing on its sandy shores. A Danube cruise? Maybe a little long. A mini Danube cruise that let me explore another site sounded like the right thing. My four- and my six-year old accompanied me on a high-speed catamaran boat ride from Vienna to Bratislava.
We whizzed across willow-lined shores, sand banks, fisher huts, stilted wooden weekend homes, and one or the other town before landing in the Slovak capital after 75 minutes. The catamaran was the most modern vessel I had ever been on the Danube. The ride was smooth, but the engine noise and wind on deck were certainly not that of a laid back cruise! My kids found it super cool and exciting, and actually so did I.
Bratislava itself was worth every minute. Most of the old town is pedestrian area, and full of renaissance and baroque buildings. Some of its coffeehouses reminded me of Vienna, and some in fact still had historic signs in German. At restaurant Fresco at the margin of the pedestrian area, we relaxed on a green velvet upholstered vintage sofa while having our lunch. There would have been time to visit Bratislava castle before the return journey, though I decided against a steep hill run with two small kids.
Conclusion: There are loads of things to do in Vienna for ‘rebel tourists’, or simply second- or regular visitors. Just scratch beneath the surface.
By the way, I ended up buying two Vienna souvenirs. Not porcelain maids with flower baskets, but one of those classical newspaper holders you find in every decent Vienna coffeehouse, and a set of 1/8 litre water glasses. My Viennese mother didn’t even realise those small glasses are typical for Vienna and surroundings. She has just always been using them.
Barbara Grüll-Cação is obsessed with Vienna. A native Viennese, she runs travel site Vienna Unwrapped, having lived in and around Vienna for 30 years. Since 2001, she regularly visits the city from London, where she now lives with her husband and two kids. On Vienna Unwrapped, Barbara shares her knowledge as a native, a former local, and a frequent Vienna traveler with you.
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