It’s been too long since my last post! Things are shaking up in the Townsend household but I’ll share more on that as soon as we’re finished with Europe. Until then, let’s travel to Vienna for the next few minutes.
After a 15 minute walk from the train station Wein Westbahnhof, we arrived at our AirBnB apartment in the Neubau (7th district). The apartment was located on Burgasse Street just west of the Museum Quarter. It was a great location to access most of the city. We just ended a fabulous stay in Budapest, and Vienna was the 5th City/Country on our journey. After settling in to the apartment, we headed out to the Museum Quarter since it was just a five minute walk from the apartment. We stopped at a restaurant to check out a menu for later during the week and walked another ten minutes to a little market for a snack. Naschmarkt is a small permanent outdoor market with retailers, food vendors, flower shops, wine and beer, and gift shops. We were a little apprehensive for our first German encounter. I learned some special all-encompassing phrases like Bitte which can mean please, here you go, you’re welcome, pardon, may I help you and probably a slew of other things I don’t know. We wanted to order cheese and bread for a snack and decided on the cheese and salumi shop with young bearded men instead of the one across the aisle with older more rigid looking Viennese women. A good choice for us since I started with a rambling I don’t speak German… and he helped us select a not too stinky cheese to eat with our olive bread.
If you visit Vienna, there is no way you can leave without trying a street vendor sausage. These beauties are gigantic and perfectly packed into a roll. The roll is genius. They slice off the corner and place the cut side down over a metal rod. This creates a hole inside that they pump ketchup or mustard into and then slide the sausage in. They tuck the roll top back inside and hand it to you wrapped in a napkin. Amazing. Also delicious and mess free. No crooked-neck-hot-dog-eating for us. We tried them first at Bitzinger Wurstelstand and then at another random stand while we were shopping another day. Some stands also sell pickles and you should probably eat them too. Why? Because pickles are great! They also sell sausages without the bread, sliced on a plate that you eat with tiny forks. A lot of stands also sell beers so grab one and sip it while you enjoy a sausage (sorry vegetarians, I don’t know what is offered instead).
Michael and I decided to make Vienna a stop on our trip because his mom’s side of the family is of Austrian descent. His family has a few traditions that they have carried on since his great great grandparents immigrated to the United States and settled in Kansas. One of those traditions is a Christmas Bread called Strietzel. The bread is dense and sweet and is made with candied fruits (like the kind in fruitcake). We wanted to find out if you could get Strietzel any time of year and the answer was yes. The bread in Vienna didn’t have candied fruit, but the loaf was braided and came with toppings like almond slices, pearl sugar, and plain. One of the bakeries said that the candied fruit only came at Christmas and was called Stollen. Strietzel probably means different things depending on your region. I could get used to eating fruitless strietzel any time of year.
We had cake and coffee at Demel. “Coffee Shops” in Vienna are very common. Not at all like their namesake in Amsterdam, these cafes serve coffee and pastries all day long. Demel had a huge assortment of freshly prepared pastries, canned jams and sauces, cookies, and expertly packed chocolates all made in house. After eating we walked to St Stephens’s Basilica. The church was undergoing some restoration to remove years of pollution causing the exterior to turn black. The restoration has reclaimed a majority of the Gothic Cathedral which shines white once again. The roof is immaculately tiled, depicting the double headed eagle which is a symbol of the Hapsburg dynasty.
We wandered into Stadtpark, admired some flowers and the shear cleanliness of everything and plopped down in the grass to read a while. It was late afternoon and the sun felt nice and warm. We watched kids chase and feed ducks at the pond and left when the sun started to set. In addition to everything being clean in Vienna, this city has a ton of free public restrooms. They were also much cleaner than you might expect for a public toilet, just don’t forget your hand sanitizer.
On our way home we stopped for a beer. After three weeks of traveling I was learning to embrace the lighter beers. After our happy hour we walked back to Museumplatz for dinner at Glacis Beisl. We didn’t have a reservation but were still seated almost immediately. I had fish and Michael tried authentic Viennese cuisine. For his starter he ate Clear Beef Soup, a beef broth based soup with some veggies. He also tried goulash since he’d never had this before. All of the food was great and we were stuffed once again.
The next morning we decided to try out the City Bike program. All across Vienna there are stations with bikes you can check out and ride around town. Think of it like a library for bikes. The first hour is always free and each additional hour after that costs a few dollars. We picked up our bikes near the apartment and rode to a new coffee shop Michael read about, Caffé Couture. It’s across from the University at Garnisongasse 18, 1090. When we went, the concept was weird and there were no prices. You basically paid a price you thought the coffee was worth. Whew, not great since we didn’t know the going rate of a cappuccino or latte in Vienna. It was good and I think we offered around 3.50 Euros each. Not the best business model, but they are still around and have good reviews. Maybe you can go check it out and report back to let us know if they have set prices now.
From coffee we headed out on a self guided bike tour of the Danube. We bought a loaf of pearl sugar coated Stritzel from a random bakery along the road and took the opportunity to use the restroom. It’s really essential to make these pit stops when you’re out for the whole day. There is a fairly well maintained bike path along the Danube but the river is not as celebrated as it is in Budapest.
We exchanged our bikes near the Hundertwasserhaus. This is an iconic piece of architecture that you might have seen before. Friedensreich Hundertwasser was a jewish born artist who in the 1950’s got into architecture. He approached architecture much like his art, stating that “an uneven floor is like a melody to the feet”. We may not all agree that undulating floors are melodic, but we should agree that this apartment building is quirky and inspiring. We had a simple lunch nearby at Cafe Menta. There are not a lot of choices near the complex but this cafe did not disappoint.
We continued on our bike ride to Prater Park. I was really hoping to find a pasture with horses hidden in the park (I read about this on a random blog) but we either didn’t ride far enough or went along the wrong path. The Park is humongous! We only covered a small portion with our bikes before we spent some more time reading in the grass. We returned our bikes near the Amusement park entrance and happened upon an Octoberfest. Michael and I stood out among the thousands of people all dressed in lederhosen while sharing a gigantic beer. The only attraction I requested was to ride the giant Ferris Wheel. The Wheel is called Weiner Riesenrad and was built in 1897. It ranks among the world’s tallest ferris wheels standing at 212’tall. It was the tallest until 1985 (intermittently while others were built and demolished) when Japan built a 279′ wheel. We timed our ride perfectly with sunset and Michael captured some great photos overlooking the whole city. You get a real sense of how green the city is from 200′ in the air.
We checked out bikes again for the ride back home. By this time we were pros. We’d pick out the color we wanted along with a good corresponding seat height (since you didn’t want to spend a lot of time adjusting), click a few buttons at the machine and grab a bike. Michael was not very adventurous in his bike selection since he always picked silver. Boring! I on the other hand rode every color bike available, changing each time we checked on in and out. They came in yellow, orange, blue, purple and silver. The city is built for biking with separated bike paths or bike friendly roads. I believe the cars are quite used to bikes everywhere so we felt very safe riding. It’s definitely more dangerous to commute by bike in San Francisco, so riding without helmets seemed not as crazy. On our way home we rode to Burger de Ville located at the 25 Hours Hotel. They had opened the food truck/trailer earlier that year and it was pretty delicious. There are picnic tables and some two and four tops in the garden just outside of the airstream trailer. Burgers were great, beers weren’t over priced, and it was a beautiful night to sit outside for dinner.
The next morning we started off looking for good bakeries and bought bread from Joseph-Brot Bakery, and an almond topped strietzel from Aida (it’s a franchise in the city but it’s still good and easily recognizable in all pink). We had coffee and ate some strietzel before walking around the city looking for something we might be able to bring back for Michael’s grandparents. We wanted to get them a present since his ancestors are from Austria (they came on the Mayflower!). What we learned via Michael’s Aunt Tracy is that they are from a town located in modern day Czech Republic which was once part of the Austro Hungarian Empire. Most every holiday tradition that his family has kept stems from Austrian roots and finding the right present proved exceptionally difficult. We almost bought the equivalent of an encyclopedia on the history of the town his family came from but it was written in old German dialect. Michael’s grandfather only reads and speaks a little german and who knows how easy an old dialect would be to read… so we didn’t buy that gift and came back from Vienna empty handed. We do have something in the works though!
It was mid afternoon when we decided to hop back on the bikes and ride to the photography museum Westlicht. They had an amazing collection of Leica Cameras, one of the biggest traveling exhibits in the world that they were about to auction off! The main feature was World Press Photo Exhibition. This collection of photos was serious. Some photos showed incredible emotion some were just really difficult to look at. A few were quirky and happy, but a majority covered events that people don’t normally hear about or see photos from. After the exhibit it was time for more cheese and then a 20 minute bike ride to the Schonbrunn Palace on the outskirts of town. It’s like Vienna’s version of Versailles. We made it just in time to get into the gardens before closing, took some silly photos and hiked to the top. We ended the night reflecting on our trip at the top of the garden and Michael took a few more photos after the sun set and all of the lights came on at the Schonbrunn Gloriette.
We had a fantastic time in Vienna and the weather was pleasant. It’s amazing how bikeable the city is and how easy and quick it was to get around. If you’re not the biking type, there is also a great deal of public transportation to shuttle you around and when all else fails, walking is pretty easy since Vienna is not to hilly.
Next we head to Prague for our final stop on this glorious recount of our travels through Europe.