Vienna is my kind of city – palaces, fancy cafés, beautiful architecture, and an appreciation for coffee. Plus, Austrians like their desserts as much as I do. Excuse my language, but Vienna makes you feel like one classy-ass-motherfucker. Great vibes made for a great weekend.
On Friday morning, my friends Derek, Molly, and I hopped on the bus for a three hour ride from Budapest to Vienna. After flights and overnight buses for previous trips, a short bus ride was very welcome. We arrived around 10:30am and walked about 20 minutes to our hostel to drop off our bags and buy metro passes for the weekend. We each bought a “Vienna Card” because it was only a few more dollars than a metro pass and included the metro as well as other discounts to museums and restaurants around the city. Don’t buy this if you are a student. At every single place where the Vienna card gives a discount the student discount is either the same or better. It was only a few extra dollars though and we learned our lesson to research before we buy anything like that in the future.
From there we took the metro to the Naschmarkt, which is an outdoor market. It was raining but we still wandered around. We kept seeing a certain pastry at many of the stalls so each of us decided to try one. I can’t remember the name of it or seem to find on Google, but there were a few different fillings; poppy seed and walnut seemed to be the most traditional, but there was also sour cherry cheesecake, apple, and apricot. I tried the cherry and it was pretty good! We needed a little more nourishment than a pastry provided though so we found a restaurant for brunch. After some eggs and coffee, we started wandering the city.
We looked at the Secession, which is a beautiful art nouveau building. From there we saw the St. Charles church (Karlskirche), where we impulsively decided to buy a cheap ticket to go inside, which was totally worth it. The church is beautiful and there is a lift up to the dome where you are just a few feet from stunning frescoes and can get a great view of the city. One thing I love about Vienna is that you can literally just walk around and find something cool to see or do. You could spend the whole day walking without a plan and have a great day.
Our main destination of the day was the Belvedere Palace, which was one of my favorite destinations of the trip. The gardens are beautiful and provide for many photo opportunities. We bought tickets inside to see The Kiss, the famous painting by Gustav Klimt. I hadn’t actually heard of him or the painting before but Molly is an art history major so she filled in Derek and I throughout the trip on art facts. It really is a beautiful work so I’m very glad Molly was along to suggest we go there. We looked at some more art and then left the Belvedere.
On the way to our next destination I saw Kleines Café, which I had read about in a travel book so we decided to stop by for a drink. It seemed very local and non-touristy, which was nice despite the strong smell of smoke due to the allowance of indoor smoking. After I had a cappuccino and Molly and Derek had a beer, we went to St. Stephen’s Basilica. The basilica is a towering gothic masterpiece; it’s very hard to get a picture of the outside that captures the whole thing due to its size. It was evening when we went in so it was pretty dark inside but that made the candles stand out nicely. As we walked away from St. Stephen’s I noticed the Manner Chocolate store from across the street, which I likened to the Hershey’s store in Chicago to convince Derek and Molly to go inside with me… we all impulse bought a ton of chocolate. Last week I had some of the café latte flavored wafers I bought there for breakfast… coffee flavor equals breakfast, right?
After a delicious traditional Viennese dinner of Wiener schnitzel and potato salad we went back to our hostel to rest a little. Side note: Wien is the Austrian name for Vienna, so Wiener schnitzel means Viennese schnitzel. And the W is pronounced as a V. The more you know!
Around 11:00 we went to Jazzland, which is a live jazz place in an old basement cellar. The mean age was probably 55 and we seemed to be the youngest ones there but we enjoyed ourselves listening to jazz and having a drink. After one more drink at a very mediocre bar we went back to our hostel where we walked in to find our hostel roommate sleeping with weird music playing. It was dark so we couldn’t tell what he looked like but we sure heard him that night snoring like a freight train, sleep talking, and making some of the weirdest noises I’ve ever heard a human make. Molly and I were actually terrified; Derek slept through it all of course. In the morning we found out he was a nice old Canadian guy traveling by himself. Poor guy probably had no idea he was that loud in his sleep.
Anyways, after a not-so-great nights sleep, we set off in the morning for some more sightseeing. We saw a pretty church and the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial, also known as the Nameless Library monument, which commemorates the Austrian victims of the Holocaust. Then we went to Café Central for breakfast because I read that it had the best apple strudel in Vienna. The restaurant was really beautiful and classy feeling but the service was excruciatingly slow and everything was overpriced. I paid almost 10 Euros for two coffees because they were so small (don’t get me started on the size of coffees in Europe). The apple strudel was good, but to be honest I liked the apple strudel I got in Prague better. Sorry, Vienna. The rest of their desserts looked to die for though.
After finally getting the attention of our waiter so we could pay our bill, we decided to go into St. Stephen’s Basilica again to see it during the day. There was a mass going on and it was much lighter inside so we were glad we poked our heads in again. Next up we went to the Imperial Burial Chamber to see the caskets of the Hapsburg Monarchy. It was really interesting to see; they were the most detailed and exquisite caskets I have ever seen. The biggest one was the size of a car. We then walked to the Hofburg Palace, which is very grand and beautiful. We didn’t pay to go inside but we walked around the outside grounds and stopped at the palace’s café to try Sacher Torte, a traditional Viennese dessert of chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam. I’m a chocolate lover, so this is my preferred Austrian dessert over apple strudel.
Next to the Hofburg is the Volksgarten, which is a beautiful garden. We wandered through there on the way to the Rathaus, the city hall building. The building is really cool and there happened to be a little street festival going on which we didn’t know about. There were vendors selling food and handmade items. We walked past the Parliament and saw a few more cool buildings and monuments. Like I said, something always catches your eye in Vienna, even if you don’t know what it is.
We heard that the opera is a big thing in Vienna, so once again, being cheap college students, we decided to get the cheapest possible tickets – four Euro standing tickets. We waited in line for around 45 minutes, got our tickets, and as per instruction, tied a scarf around the bannister to secure our spot. I was the only one with a scarf so Molly and Derek used my sweater to reserve their spot. As we wandered the building before the show started we noticed quite a mix of people; tourists like us in jeans mixed with women in evening gowns and heels. We took our spots 10 minutes before the opera began and stood through the first half of MacBeth. We left at the intermission because it was only a 4 Euro ticket and well, our feet hurt. I’m glad I can say that I went to the opera in Vienna though!
Backs aching from standing at the opera and walking all day, we got dinner at the closest restaurant we could find – Wienerwald. I got a huge plate of spaetzle with egg and a bowl of soup. Tired and full, we retreated back to our hostel where we relaxed for a bit. Even though we were tired, we decided to go explore some more of the Vienna nightlife. We found a cool wine bar with peanuts all over the floor and locals playing a game involving hammering nails into a wooden block… I have no idea how to play. After a glass of wine and a great spritzer we decided to try somewhere else.
Molly was checking Yelp for bar reviews earlier that evening and one called Dino’s American Bar had great reviews. Yeah, American Bar. But we thought it could be funny to check out so we walked there. When we got there we looked into the window and saw a very classy looking bar with couples on dates… not exactly what we were looking for. However, literally right next door a drunk girl dropped a bottle on the ground and fell over, so naturally we thought that seemed like a good place to go. It was a pretty cool two story bar and we met some Austrian engineering students who showed us to another club as well. After hanging out with them for a few hours we walked back to our hostel and immediately passed out.
The next morning was Sunday and finding breakfast was a nightmare. We missed the hostel breakfast by 10 minutes, the hostel receptionist gave us bad directions to a non-existent market, and every quick restaurant was closed. After having such slow service at other restaurants in the city, we didn’t want to have a long sit-down meal. We took the metro to the same market we went to on Friday, but that was closed as well. The only place I could think of that would be open was McDonald’s, so we looked up directions to one. By that time we had missed their breakfast menu as well, so I settled on a grilled chicken sandwich. It was actually much better than any chicken sandwich I’ve ever gotten from McDonald’s in the US. Everything is better in Europe, right? We found a Starbucks a block away where I got my necessary daily coffee and hopped back on the metro to Schönbrunn Palace.
Schönbrunn was once the summer home for the Hapsburg family and now tourists roam through the gardens and buy tickets inside. We didn’t pay to go inside but we explored the gardens and took some beautiful pictures. We did buy entry to the maze for a small fee; finding our way through the maze was really fun and we joked that it was more challenging than some of our classes in Budapest. Derek was set on visiting the zoo at Schönbrunn, so Molly and I left him to go to the Leopold Museum. We saw some beautiful and interesting works by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele. I like art but Molly has a greater appreciation for it than I do, so I left the museum a little earlier than her and set off to find a Würstelstand. I was determined not to leave Vienna without getting some sausage.
I found a really cool one near the opera house and immediately embarrassed myself in true Cece fashion. First, I asked the worker if he spoke English. I should have learned my lesson by now that most people in Europe do speak English and it’s insulting to ask if they do or not, and if they don’t, they will just look confused and then you’ve got your answer. After he said, “Of course I speak English,” I asked him, “What is your best sausage?” He laughed at me and I blushed and quickly corrected myself, “Bratwurst. Which bratwurst is the best?” He recommended one infused with cheese, so I went with that one. Safe to say, it was delicious and worth embarrassing myself for.
I had some time to kill before we needed to catch our bus so I went to Starbucks for the second time that day… don’t judge me. I got a coffee and wrote for a while before meeting back up with Molly and Derek at the hostel. We grabbed our bags and walked to the bus station where we boarded the bus for our three hour trip home; we arrived back in Budapest around 10pm.
I really enjoyed my time in Vienna, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m mostly German and they speak German there, or if I really just liked the classy vibes, but I felt at home. The city is stunning, the food is delicious, and the people are welcoming. If you ever find yourself in Central Europe, I recommend putting on your fancy pants and giving Vienna a visit. Just remember: Wiener is pronounced as Viener.
Until next time, Prost!