Austria is so often confused with Australia by Americans, especially ones that haven’t traveled, that the souvenir shops in Austria are littered with trinkets making fun of it. So…no Austria doesn’t have any kangaroos, no they don’t say g’day mate, and no they don’t have vegemite. They do however speak German, eat goulash, and have an interesting and sorted history.
Before our flight departed Switzerland, our captain said that the flight was going to be beautiful so they were trying to modify the flight path slightly to get a good view of the Austrian Alps. Immediately Andrew and I switched seats since I got the view of the Swiss Alps. Our captain was actually a great tour guide and he pointed out different peaks as they came into view. We were also served these Austrian wafer cookies with hazelnut in them called Manners and they were delicious – we’d fly Austrian Airlines again!
Upon arriving in Vienna we had a small hiccup. We went to where our “hotel” was located (it was an apartment building) but couldn’t find it. We finally called the number on our reservation and were told that there were no rooms available even though we had paid in advanced. After a couple of hours sitting in a restaurant and multiple calls to Hotels.com (who we reserved the apartment through) we finally had a place to stay. It was a little stressful but it is ironic that the first issue we had was through Hotels.com and not Airbnb since most people seem more concerned about renting via Airbnb!
We made the most of our remaining afternoon time and explored the city. The first landmark we came across was Stephansdom – the main cathedral in Vienna. The most notable feature of it is the roof which is made of various colored glazed tiles and actually has the Austrian (when it was part of Germany – 2 headed bird instead of one) coat of arms on it.
Next we walked towards Hofburg Palace which was the seat of the Hapsburg empire and still used by the President. You can also take tours of it. We didn’t do a tour of it but we did see all the amazing fountains – one is actually a tribute to Austria’s naval forces, which is interesting for a land-locked country, but the Hapsburgs were heads of the Holy Roman Empire, which at one time included Spain, Italy, and much of the Americas.
After strolling through the Hofburg courtyard we came upon several more large ornate buildings that are museums. We were amazed by the numerous immense and ornate buildings that Vienna has, especially given that when I visited Berlin just 5 years ago it was still recovering from WWII secularization and occupation as well as the world recession.
What we learned from on our free walking tour the next day was that almost all the major buildings in Vienna were destroyed (he showed us a picture of the ruble that was the beautiful Opera House). However, the Austrians re-built these old buildings in the same style. The main reason they were able to rebuild is that they were secularized and occupied for way less time than Berlin was since they agreed to 3 terms: 1. They would be Democratic, 2. They would never rejoin with Germany, and 3. They would remain neutral. The third one really boosted their economy since many oil price negotiations (OPEC) and nuclear armament discussions are held in Vienna.
We walked through the rose garden next to Burgtheater while catching glimpses of the Parliament building and finally came upon Rathaus, which is probably one of the most recognizable and beautiful buildings in Vienna. There was a film festival going on so there were tons of different food carts out front – we took this as a sign and indulged in some international cuisine but tried a local red elderberry drink that was delicious and refreshing in the hot weather!
The next morning we got up and headed to Café Central before our walking tour. Coffee culture in Vienna is actually on Unesco’s world heritage list of intangible world sites and Café Central is one of the oldest coffee shops. The architecture inside is beautiful with marble columns and little alcoves for enjoying leisure time. Since it was still cool out we decided to relax outside and enjoy our breakfast. We later learned on our tour that the cappuccino was actually invented in Austria not Italy!
Our free tour was about 3 hours long and truth be told it wasn’t one of our favorites – we were really glad we saw so many buildings the day before. He did however show us the Gate of Violence memorial, which is a memorial to all the people who died in WWII and was built relatively recently. Our tour guide explained that the recent date is due to the fact that Austria has really had a hard time admitting and/or reconciling it’s involvement in the atrocities committed in WWII. I was amazed by that considering Hitler was actually from Austria and there are so many famous pictures of the people from Vienna and Austria welcoming the National Socialist German Working Party. Either way, the memorial is incredibly moving especially when you learn that in a period of a little over a decade, the Jewish population of Vienna decreased from 200,000 to 2,000 (one percent of the original amount). Over half of the Jewish population (130,000) were able to immigrate to the U.K. or the U.S. but it is still staggering.
The next stop on our tour was slightly less morbid. We saw the house were Mozart died. He was actually only 35 when he passed but he had been composing for 30 years and wrote 626 different compositions! We also saw the church where requiem 626 was performed for the first time (after Mozart’s death).
I think my favorite stop was at the Spanish horse training facility, which is actually part of the Hofburg Palace. During the Holy Roman Empire the Spaniards taught the Austrians the art of Spanish horse training and the Austrians embraced it whole-heartedly. Some people explain the training as horse ballet but our tour guide explained that it is more horse kung-foo because it was originally used as an advantage in battle.
After our tour we went to Figlmuller for lunch, which is the original restaurant for schnitzel (surprisingly schnitzel was actually invented by the Italians) but it was a favorite of the Austrian king! We ordered a pork schnitzel; which was GIANT, tafelspitz (boiled beef with horseradish sauce), and a mixed salad; which included potato salad and all sorts of pickled vegetables covered in lettuce. All of it was delicious and we had the schnitzel for dinner too.
Vienna has many different palaces but given our limited time we decided to just tour inside one. So in the afternoon we made our way to Belvedere. We chose it because it wasn’t as far as Schonbrunn and although Hofburg was a lot closer we’d already toured the outside and courtyard twice. The final reason is that the museum inside of Belvedere holds a painting that Andrew really wanted to see and I was impressed by his romanticism. Like many palaces, the Belvedere has impressively beautiful gardens flanking it on all sides – Andrew got some great photos.
We started at the top floor of Belvedere and made our way down. The top floor actually hosts several Monet’s and Renoir’s so we immediately enjoyed our experience. On the middle floor there is actually a grand ballroom still intact with beautiful views of the gardens. I told Drew that I could host some amazing parties with a ballroom like that – I think that scared him.
Also on the middle floor was the painting we came to see – The Kiss by Gustav Klimt – we even attempted to imitate it in front of a replica. However, instead of kissing me, Drew just put his cheek to mine so I don’t know why I was excited about his romanticism…
On the bottom floor we were greeted with medieval statues in a room painted similarly to that of Sistine Chapel – you don’t quite know where the architecture ends and the paintings begin.
All in all we were very pleased not only with our choice of the Belvedere but also of Vienna. If we get the chance to go back we have a long list of stuff still to do!