Willkommen! Today’s Wanderlust Wednesday highlights the opulent Austrian city of Vienna, or Wien (whoa so many W’s in one post—alliteration much?). Vienna is nicknamed the City of Music because of its history as a musical hub for famous composers and opera productions. Well, hold your nose ’cause here goes the cold water.
We arrived in Vienna by train and checked into our Airbnb. At this point in our trip, we really really really needed to wash our clothes. One thing I forgot to mention in previous blogs is that we both brought only carry-on sized rolling suitcases and planned our lodging strategically so that we could wash and recycle our wardrobe. (I highly recommend packing light if you plan on hopping around Europe since there is limited storage space on trains and planes–to get the most bang out of your bag, I suggest purchasing some packing cubes). It’s very difficult to find places with W/D in Europe so we made sure to pop our clothes in before leaving to explore Vienna. We ventured to a busy shopping street in search of… you guessed it, a SIM card. One of the inconveniences of Euro travel–there is no way to have a “universal” data plan. Makes sense since each country has its own cellular network, but it was always a challenge finding data SIM cards for our robot (iPad); our sole means of navigation, planning, and general contact with our family and friends back home so they would know we were safe. We got hungry on our quest for the SIM card so we stopped in at a restaurant at random. The food was decent but overpriced, and the restaurant reminded me of Korean coffee shops since there were smoking areas inside.
After a little R&R we went to check out Stephensplatz. This is the plaza where the famous St. Stephen’s Cathedral is. The plaza is always bustling and full of men in powdered wigs trying to hawk tickets to various orchestra concerts and such. We managed to evade the wigged swindlers.
Hungry and wanting to escape the rainy streets, we found a restaurant called At Eight. It was inside of Hotel Ring where apparently Ryan Reynolds and Scarlett Johanssen had stayed when they were in loooove. Not pictured: their autographed photos and the gushing review of their stay at the Ring. At least they’ll always have Vienna. At Eight was pricey and the food was not particularly memorable. They do a great job with creatively plating their dishes, though.
After dinner, we planned on catching the world famous Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. But… we got lost 😦 Performances do not allow latecomers so if you have tickets to a show, arrive a little early to be safe. Luckily we hadn’t actually purchased tickets so it wasn’t too big of a hit. We will have to come back to enjoy the Philharmonic some day. Since our original plan didn’t pan out, we decided to give ourselves a walking tour of the palaces around the city.
Pictured above is the Hofburg Palace, the former imperial residence of Austria. It was really beautiful at night, and surprisingly easy to explore random nooks and crannies without any guards to shoo you away. This is where the Philharmonic orchestra concert took place, but you can imagine how hard it was to find what with the size of the palace grounds. To cheer ourselves up, we went in search of sweets. We shall have our cake and eat it, too. Bechtel cakes at Cafe Leopold Hawelka were deemed a quintessential Viennese dessert, so we gave it a try.
Look at my pure expression of joy biting into my first bechtel cake. These cakes were not what we expected. We agreed that they were simply glorified Hawaiian rolls with prune filling. With our sugar cravings satisfied, we turned in for the night.
We woke up early to catch a tour at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, also known as Stephansdom. We weren’t able to make it in time to get the guided tour of the cathedral itself, but we did manage to get on the list for the catacomb tour. For the church itself, we did an audio tour with a portable device. I don’t have a good picture of the cathedral so the one directly below is from Wikipedia.
This cathedral was consecrated in 1147, and as such, is steeped in history and culture. Mozart was appointed adjunct musician and regularly attended mass here, along with Hapsburg nobility and other famous composers.
We went on the catacombs tour, but unfortunately were only allowed to admire with our eyes. The catacombs were super creepy, with rooms completely stacked with piles of human bones—casualties of the plague. There were also, of course, remains of nobles and clergymen that were given more proper burial vessels. Our tour guide looked exactly like Sam Tarly from Game of Thrones and pronounced century “TH-entury.” We got a kick out of that and kept giggling in speculation about Gilly’s whereabouts. Not to worry–we left him a fat tip to atone for our sins. After the tour, we ate at a nearby restaurant where i tried Wiener Schnitzel. This is a typical Viennese dish of breaded and fried veal. Super greasy, super filling.
With the rain putting a cramp in our plans, we decided to find a city bus tour. If you go to the tourist information centers in the city, they have pamphlets and information on all of the different tour options. They were helpful in coordinating our tour and also our plans to catch an opera later that night. The bus tours are hop-on/hop-off and come with earphones to listen to the guided tour in your language of choice.
The bus stopped at what seemed like tourist traps with not much to offer. The recorded audio tours were very informative, though. Most interesting was the story of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, A.K.A. Sisi. She was super vain, even having her servants sew her into her corsets. Something tells me she would fit right in with modern celebrities–IG famous for sure. Sadly, she lived through a lot of hardships with several of her children dying in infancy, and the one male heir she bore dying in a murder-suicide with his mistress. Sisi, herself, was assassinated by an Italian anarchist named Luigi. The legacy of her beauty lives on.
After the bus tour, we went to Ribs of Vienna for dinner. It was surprisingly overrun with Asian tourists. Maybe not so surprising. There are a lot of us, I suppose.
Filled with enough protein to last us for the next few days, we wobbled over to Wiener Staatsoper, the famous Viennese opera house (heh… wiener). Man, is it beautiful. It was pretty easy to track down a scalper, and we bought two tickets for The Tempest. Pretty cool, since this was the 6th grade middle school drama production where I played Shipwrecked Mate #3. Wooooo!
With tickets purchased, we had some time to kill so we went across the street to Hotel Wien for the famous Sacher chocolate cakes.
The cake was dry, actually, but we had already been tipped off that these cakes were no longer the gloriously decadent culinary creations that they used to be. Now, it seems, Cafe Sacher is coasting on the waves of their established fame. No matter—we can now say we have been there, done that. We headed back over to the opera house with still some time to spare, so of course I had to grab a pre-show drink.
The lighting in the opera house was amazing and the interior was so beautiful that, of course, everyone was taking selfies. We took an embarrassing amount, but for your sake I’ll just post the one.
We weren’t able to watch the opera in its entirety since we had to catch our night train to Venice, but the show was SPECTACULAR SPECTACULAR. It’s amazing what some people’s vocal cords can do. The night train was a very unique experience in and of itself, but I’ll let the video below speak to that.
That’s a wrap on Vienna. Make sure to check the video compilation below and—appreciate the little things, always.