A two and a half hour train ride from Budapest brought us across the Austro-Hungarian border to the capital and the largest city of Austria, Vienna. For several hundreds of years, Vienna has been home to Austrian Royalty as the home of the royal house of Habsburg which served as the Imperial seat of the Holy Roman Empire, then the capital of the Austrian Empire, and finally, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Though the court fell more than a hundred years ago, it nevertheless still greatly influences the culture of Vienna today, both with its classical and operatic musical histories as well as the behavior of its residents. Residents of Vienna are noted for being more formal in manner, both in dress and behavior, often using polite forms of address in everyday conversation. These traditional attitudes, however, did not make me feel as welcome as I have in most other countries I have visited. As a tourist, it personally made me feel slightly out of place at times but as a whole did not mar the time I spent in the city.
With only a few hours in the city on our first night in Vienna, we took a specialty tram along the Ringstrasse (Ring Road) where the old city walls once stood until the 19th century and on which most of the cities most historical buildings lie, including the Rathaus (City Hall), the Imperial Palace, Vienna’s world famous Art History Museum (Kunsthistorisches Museum), the Vienna State Opera, and the Parliament building, all while receiving brief history lessons on the sights we passed along the way. Though not totally worth the 9 euros we paid for the quick journey, it did serve as a good initial view of the city and the important sights nearby. One thing is certain, Vienna’s architecture is a stunning array of multiple styles with amazing examples of Baroque, Art Nouveau, and neo-Gothic styles.
On the morning of our first full day in the city, the rest of the group went to check out a practice session for the city’s world famous Spanish Riding School while I chose to explore the city, going whichever direction tickled my fancy. From our hotel, I meandered past the oldest church in the city, St. Rupert’s, along the Ringstrasse toward the lovely Stadtpark. There, I came across the most photographed statue in the city, a monument to the famous Viennese composer, Johann Strauss who is the composer of the world-famous Blue Danube and is often referred to as the “King of the Waltz.”
From there, I continued through the city, making my way toward the 16th century Nachtsmarket which today is the Vienna’s most popular and largest market which stretches nearly a mile long. I spent a lot longer there than I had originally planned while wandering through stalls, awed at their variety and tempted greatly by the wonderful smells that wafted through the air. It being around lunch time, I eventually stopped to get what some call the best kebab in the city at a stall called Aycan. After, I got tempted by one of the many stall owners who flashed free samples in my face as I walked by and stopped to sample some of their goods, eventually buying a couple different types of Austrian cheese which were later to be one of the staples of a little wine and cheese party we threw on our visit.
Before meeting up with the rest of my family, I couldn’t resist visiting the amazing Austrian National Library which finds its way on many lists of the most beautiful libraries of the world, a distinction that definitely tickles my fancy as a lover of beautiful libraries. The highlight of the library is most definitely the Prunksaal or Grand Hall which holds over 200,000 leather-bound tomes, most of which date from the 15th century. The hall was absolutely breathtaking and the epitome of what I feel the perfect library should look like. Any lover of old books or libraries like I am should not miss this rather overlooked (in my opinion) gem on their trip to Vienna.
As you may hove noticed is our custom, we took another Walking Tour of the city which included an oral history of many of the amazing buildings along the Ringstrasse and the history of Vienna. Along with several of the buildings I mentioned previously, we also got a little musical history of Vienna, stopping at the city’s famous statue of Amadeus Mozart – who spent the last ten years of his life in Vienna – and later the spot where the building he died in once stood. Mozart is not the only famous classical composer that once called Vienna home. Ludwig van Beethoven also established his career while living in Vienna and would later die in the city in 1827. These two composers, along with the aforementioned Johann Strauss, helped to establish a musical history in Vienna that rivals any other.
If you have ever been to a German restaurant you may have heard of a dish called the Wiener Schnitzel, a thin, breaded, pan-fried veal cutlet that is often served with a small salad and some sort of potato. The dish actually originates in Austria and more specifically in Vienna where the city is actually called Wien which is where the first part of the dish’s name comes from. On our last night in Vienna we went to what was described by our native Viennese host as the best schnitzel restaurant in town. I was a little taken aback by how fancy it was seeing I wouldn’t call any iteration of the meal fancy, but I figured that would mean the schnitzel would be of the highest quality. Unfortunately, I have had much better schnitzels at much less fancy (and cheaper) restaurants. For the equivalent of 25$ we were all left rather disappointed in our experience.
Looking back at our experience, I can definitely see why Vienna is often listed among the most livable cities in the world and why a certain type of traveler would fall in love with the city’s history and beautiful architecture. As you may have guessed, however, the city was almost too clean and polished for me and I did not leave feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I visited it. I did, however, poll a few members of our group who greatly enjoyed Vienna and placed it among their favorite cities they visited. Your mileage my vary!
Thank you again for reading and be on the lookout for a post on our visit to Bucharest, Romania, but not before our little detour to meet the parents of our soon to be new addition to the family!