As soon as we got back from Madrid back in March, we dumped the suitcases, did a couple quick loads of laundry, and repacked everything again. 24 hours later we were on the train to Vienna. Time to continue our Habsburg week!
We caught the RJX 261 from Munich to Vienna, which takes about 4 hours. Since it was dinnertime, we used the train app to order food from the dining car and it was delivered to our seats. I couldn’t resist tweeting it to @_DiningCar.
— Kris Howard 💃 (@web_goddess) March 10, 2022
Once we arrived at Vienna, we caught a cab to our hotel and then crashed for the night. The next morning, we wandered around the corner to phil (a bookstore and cafe) for breakfast.
My friend Eileen calls Vienna “the Melbourne of Europe,” and yeah, I can see it. I went for the brekkie option that came with a glass of Prosecco.
We were staying in the Museum Quarter of Vienna, and I spotted this graffiti nearby: “Man tötet nicht aus Liebe.” (One does not kill for love.) This saying has been used a lot in conjunction with an Austrian campaign against domestic violence.
I also really liked this nearby intersection, with its rainbow pedestrian crossing and LGBTQI street signals. 🏳️🌈❤️
Our goal for the morning was to see some art, so we headed to the nearby Maria-Theresien-Platz. This public square sits between the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum) and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum). In the center there is a memorial statue of Empress Maria Theresa herself. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day in Wien!
We bought our tickets and headed into the Art History Museum. It turns out that Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria-Hungary commissioned these two museums to house the Habsburgs’ formidable art collection.
The entry to the Museum leads you into the ground floor of the Rotunda with its fantastically decorated ceiling. From there you can branch off into several different galleries.
We headed to the right into the Egyptian Collection. It was pretty much exactly what you envision as a kid – hieroglyphics on the walls, huge carved sarcophagi, and mummies in their painted coffins.
“Do you want to get cursed?” the Snook asked as I posed for a selfie with some burial idols. “Because I’m pretty sure that’s how you get an ancient Egyptian curse.”
I especially liked this statuette of a hippopotamus from Thebes. They’ve dated it to around 2000BC, so this little guy is like 4000 years old.
The building itself is a work of art, extravagantly decorated and carved.
I especially liked this Amazonian Sarcophagus showing the famous female warriors fighting against the Greeks.
The collection also includes a Roman mosaic depicting the story of Theseus. His battle with the Minotaur is in the center of the labyrinth, and around the sides are scenes with Ariadne. (The museum has spotlights that periodically turn on to highlight parts of the mosaic, which is why the scenes are lit up.)
A statuesque Mr. Snook, posing in a room full of Roman sculpted heads.
I love the stylised decoration on these Greek amphorae. This one depicts Silenus and the maenads, as well as more Amazons.
Another part of the museum is the “Kunstkammer” which houses its most fabulous treasures. This is the famous gold Cellini Salt Cellar from 1543, which was stolen in a daring heist in 2003 and not recovered until three years later. It’s insured now for like $60M.
Time to look at paintings! We headed up the staircase, which is ridiculously over-the-top and features paintings from famous artists like Gustav Klimt.
We’d been going for over three hours at this point, so I was feeling a little tired and had a rest on a bench.
We spent nearly five hours in the art museum, so it was definitely time to get outside and see more of Vienna. We walked along the Heldenplatz past the Hofburg Palace (where Marie Antoinette was born!), and through the archway next to the Spanish Riding School.
Our destination was St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the most important religious building in Vienna. It’s nearly 900 years old! I was not expecting the beautiful geometric designs made from glazed tiles on the roof. I’ve never seen anything like that on a church before.
The interior is also stunning, with paintings, sculptures, altars, and tombs wherever you look. We walked up and down the aisles. The cathedral was nearly destroyed in 1945 by retreating German forces, but the Captain saved it by disobeying orders to reduce it to rubble.
We walked all around the exterior of the cathedral too. The towers have many bells, and it’s said that Beethoven discovered he was deaf when he saw birds flying out of the towers but couldn’t hear the tolling.
Digression: The real reason for going to Vienna was to celebrate my 45th birthday. I had been thinking for a while about getting myself a nice wristwatch. (Not a smartwatch; a real mechanical watch.) I’d bought myself a beautiful Longines watch for my 40th, but a year later I accidentally left it in a hotel room in Singapore and I never got it back. I was heartbroken at the time and, though the Snook suggested repeatedly that we could replace it, I told him that I didn’t deserve nice things if I couldn’t care for them properly. Finally, several years later, I felt like it might be time.
As we walked through Vienna, we looked into several watch shops but I couldn’t find anything that met my requirements. I didn’t want anything too tiny or delicate, or with silly bits of diamonds stuck all over it. I wanted something simple and classic, and ideally I wanted it to be self-winding. What I really wanted was my old watch again, but even though we saw many Longines, I couldn’t find any just like it. The Snook convinced me to check out one more shop, Juweliere Ellert, a jeweler near the cathedral. The saleslady was very nice and showed me many different watches, but none of them were right. She asked me to describe my old watch, and when I did, she suddenly reached back into a cabinet and said, “Is it this one?” IT WAS. It turns out that the particular model had been retired in 2020 but they had one left, and she recognised it from my description. So I got my watch back! She even gave us a nice discount. It was the best, best birthday surprise, and I couldn’t be happier with it.
Anyway, after that excitement we were starving so we headed to 1516 Brewing Company for dinner and craft beer.
After dinner we walked back to our hotel, past the illuminated Vienna State Opera. I’d love to see a performance there someday.
Back at our hotel, it was finally time to relax. We were staying at Das Tyrol, which I picked mainly because it advertised having a private spa. (We’ve gotten a bit addicted to saunas!) We’d reserved a time slot so we put on our robes and slippies and headed down to the hotel basement. And, WOW.
It had a Finnish dry sauna, a steam bath, a big rain shower, and some couches to relax on. There was even an aquarium built into the wall! We spent an hour down there, and it was heaven. I highly recommend.
The next day we headed out to the Naschmarkt, Vienna’s famous outdoor market. We wandered down the aisles checking out the stalls and trying to decide where to go for breakfast.
We ended up at Cafe Do-An, where I had a very large cappucino…
…along with fried eggs and haloumi. The Snook went with a more traditional cold Austrian breakfast. And check out that bread basket! 😍
We caught a train and headed out to Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburgs. Little Marie Antoinette spent time here, and in fact it’s where she met the prodigy Mozart when they were both 7 years old. I had booked us into a tour in English, but we had some time before it kicked off.
We walked around to the Orangery. Sadly all of the plants were still locked up inside for the winter, so the gardens were bare.
We were excited to peek inside the windows though. The Orangery was famously the site of a musical contest between Mozart and Salieri in 1786. (Salieri won!)
We headed back to the Palace to start our tour. Rather than being guided, we had handsets that explained what we were seeing in English. Photograph wasn’t allowed, but you take a virtual tour on the website. Highlights for me were learning about Empress Elisabeth (aka “Sissi”) – a very complicated and beautiful woman from the Wittelsbach rulers here in Bavaria – and the magnificent Great Gallery.
We then headed out into the gardens to see the sights. Here’s the Snook with one of the Naiad Fountains. As you can see, it was still very early Spring so the trees didn’t even have leaves on them yet.
This is a weird sort of folly. The Obelisk Fountain (which sadly didn’t have any water in it) is decorated with all sorts of exotic statues and imagery. The obelisk itself isn’t actually Egyptian, and it’s covered in made-up hieroglyphs that are meant to tell the story of the Habsburgs (but it’s all nonsense).
This is the Roman Ruin, which is neither Roman nor an actual ruin. 😂 It’s yet another folly, essentially a garden feature meant to look picturesque.
Rising at the back of the gardens is Schönbrunn Hill. A zig-zagging path leads you up the hill and gives fantastic views back to the palace and across the city.
At the top of the hill is the Gloriette, a large monument and dining hall that now houses a cafe.
We went up into the monument to check out the sculptures and the view. (It was quite cold up there, and the Snook was happy to have his big coat!)
One last view of Schönbrunn from the Gloriette. We had hoped to check out the hedge maze on our way back down, but it was still closed for the season. Instead we headed back to the station and caught a train back to the city.
We were getting a bit peckish so we walked towards the Danube, hoping for a restaurant with a river view. Along the way we discovered the St. Francis of Assisi Church. It’s done in the Rhenish-Romanesque style, and to me it looked like a fairytale castle. We also discovered the Mexikoplatz on the side, which commemorates the fact that Mexico was the only country outside the USSR to object to Austria’s annexation by Nazi Germany.
For our very late lunch we ended up at The View, which overlooked the Danube. Of course I had to have real Wiener Schnitzel!
In the afternoon we headed over to the Prater amusement park. The best known attraction there is the Wiener Riesenrad (Vienna Giant Ferris Wheel), which for a long time was the tallest Ferris Wheel in the world. We decided to try to time our ride for sunset, so we walked around the park for a while.
Though the park wasn’t very busy, the rides were still operating. There were also a lot of weird sculptures, like these creepy fiberglass fairgoers behind me.
Here’s the Snook with the Riesenrad visible in the distance.
“The mascot for the park is Calafati, a 9 m-tall sculpture of a Chinese man,” says Wikipedia. Yeah, a lot of this stuff seemed problematic. 😳
Finally it was time to buy our tickets and board the Riesenrad. Before you get to the Wheel itself, you go through an exhibit that tells you about the history and has little dioramas of life in Vienna. They also take your picture which you can get printed to pick up when you leave.
Finally we joined the queue to board the Riesenrad. For a normal ticket you only get one trip around, and it moves pretty slowly so it takes 15-20 minutes. Each of the “cars” is like a little cabin that holds about 10 people with a bench down the middle. (There are also a couple special cars with dining tables where you can have dinner and presumably go around multiple times, but I looked into it and it was super expensive.)
We timed it perfectly. The sun was just going down, and we had amazing views over the city.
The Ferris Wheel has been featured in many famous movies, including The Third Man and (most relevant to Rodd the Bond fan) The Living Daylights.
I loved looking through the structure of the wheel with the city in the background.
Soon we were at the top and began our descent down the other side.
When we exited the Ferris Wheel, we picked up our silly novelty photo. It makes me laugh. 😂
Our final destination in Vienna was Restaurant Apron for my birthday dinner. I’d found it on the Michelin Guide (it has a star) and made a booking weeks in advance. We had a private booth and picked the 5-course menu, covering all the different options between us. But before the first course, we had the “Prelude” with several small bites served in very creative ways (including the use of dry ice).
It was that type of place. For “Bread time,” they brought out a candle made of butter that slowly melted so you could dunk your break in it. It’s a gimmick, but a tasty one.
Here are the dishes that I had over the course of the night. Every one was beautifully plated and combined ingredients in unusual ways. I was getting full by the end, but I was delighted when they brought me out an extra surprise little birthday cake.
To finish, they brought us a selection of “sweet delights,” little chocolates and petit fours. (The Snook was very amused by the weird tree thing and glass terrarium they were served on, which he planned to submit to the We Want Plates subreddit.)
It was a fantastic dinner and a lovely way to end the weekend. Thank you Vienna! ❤️