Vienna Revisited (Part One)

If you hadn’t heard, much of Europe is in the middle of an extreme heat wave, so I will try to write this post after a weekend of alternating between trying to catch last moments in Basel before we leave, packing/getting last-minute pre-move stuff in (mail forwarding and the like) and otherwise hiding from the heat.

In any case, we are going to rewind to Acscension weekend, a weekend I thought was warm at the time but was actually pleasant in retrospect. I take that back. It was still hot, just not oppressively hot. Anyway, we had a four and a half day weekend for the holiday which meant that we had a decent amount of time for a weekend trip. It was also the weekend Chris flew back to Europe for his last trip out here. We had an extended back and forth about what to do that weekend and there were many iterations of what the weekend would look like. We got priced out of a few of them (Portugal, Malta) because of holiday pricing and slow movement and others were just vetoed by one of the two of us. There’s also an alternate timeline where we were actually able to get tickets to the Champions League final through their lottery system, but that did not pan out for us in this timeline. In the end, we chose Vienna because that was still on Chris’s list. One iteration of that trip involved us also taking a side trip to Bratislava, but we decided to take it slow this time around. There was also another version where I came in on Wednesday night to do a day trip to Cesky Kumlov because that’s been on my list for a while, but I opted instead for the cheaper flight on Thursday. Like I said, a lot of discussion.

Chris and I met at the airport on Thursday night, but he ended up landing to a bit of a work emergency and worked most of the evening. That gave me some time to book some last minute activities for us and do some research on things I probably should have researched before getting to Vienna.

Our true tour started on Friday. We started at the Rathaus, which was mostly blocked because they were setting up a village for Vienna’s Pride week. Construction aside, it was also a little shocking to see how different that area looks when it’s not packed with a Christmas market and hoardes of people.

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We moved on from there to the Volksgarten, which is one of the city’s public parks. We spent some time taking in the rose garden before moving in to see other parts of the park.

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In addition to the roses all of the greenery, there are also a number of statues including one of Maria Theresa. We didn’t see that one until Sunday, but we did spend some time exploring the Theseus Temple.

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The neoclassical building feels a little out of place in the middle of the park, but was still strangely interesting. It wasn’t the exterior that Chris and I were as fascinated by, but what was on the inside. At first, you might think that the birds perched on the ledge at the top of the building are regular visitors to the building. If you read the sign, however, you will find out that they are stuffed dead birds. It was strange, but a reminder of why it’s always good to read the signs and plaques.

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We continued on our tour and ran into a climate rally in front of Neue Burg. This one seemed pretty harmless with the families and college students sitting on the grass listening to some performers sing about how there is only one planet Earth. We stayed around and watched a while before moving on.

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From there, we made our way towards the National Library, because I wanted to go again and decided Chris would too. I loved it the first time around and decided that he should also see it. We managed to get a bit of a discount because we were standing behind a group of French tourists who were two people short of getting the group discount. The library did not disappooint the second time around.

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There was an exhibit this time about Astronomy and Astrology. It meant that I got to look at old maps of the world (<3) while listening to Chris grumble about how astrology isn’t really a science. I told him that the Neil DeGrasse Tyson of that day would have disagreed. He didn’t buy it. Also, I feel like I should probably know more about history to know the actual scientitsts and not use Neil DeGrasse Tyson as a stand-in.

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We moved from there to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. I saw the outside last time, but had not been able to go inside. Once we stepped into the cathedral, we were reminded of why Vienna is considered a magical musical city. There was a choir performing on the inside, which made exploring the cathedral just slightly more surreal. There were also what looked like bloody rocks hanging from the ceiling down the center. I correctly guessed that this was a reference to St. Stephen’s martyrdom. Kind of dark.

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By this time, it was a little past lunch time, which meant that it was time for me to get Chris some true wiener schnitzel. Fun fact for those not reading from the US: there is a hot dog chain in the US called Wienerschnitzel, meaning that some of us (e.g., Chris and me) grew up with confused ideas of what wiener schnitzel actually is. In any case, I managed to do enough research the day before to find out where I could find some of the best schnitzel in Vienna and that there was no way we’d make it into some of the top schnitzel restaurants on this short of notice. It was fun, though, because we ended up at Plachuttas Gasthaus zur Oper, which had pretty delicious (and enormous) schnitzel.  The potato salad was also pretty stellar.

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We walked off a small portion of our lunch in the Stadt Park, where we saw the statue of Strauss and just enjoyed the pleasant park experience.

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After the Stadt Park, we decided we were due for a break and didn’t resurface for a couple of hours. I told you we were taking things easy. We got back out for dinner. Despite the heavy lunch, I was in desperate need of some good Korean chicken at the time, so we found a place in town called Das Kimchi. I was pretty impressed, in general. The service was a little slow, but the chicken and the kimchi jjeon were spot on.

The next day, we ventured back out to the city center for a more formal walking tour of the city. It meant we ended up retracing some of the steps that we had taken the day before, but we also got history of the city and got to see some other things we hadn’t seen before.

Highlights included:

Learning about the histories of Mozart and Franz Josef in the Burg garten.

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Taking in the history of Viennese cafe culture. No picture for now, but it was part of the reason we would later get lunch at Cafe Central.

Seeing ruins in Michaelerplatz that I completely did not notice when I was here last time, despite the fact that I know I took a mulled wine break at the Christmas market there. I blame the cold.

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Seeing the Ankur Clock, which is something I did not see when I was in Vienna in December. The clock is pretty big  and bridges two buildings. Every hour, one of twelve historical figures (or pairs of historical figures) makes its way across the bridge. Each day at noon, the figures will also parade across the bridge. We weren’t there at the right time for the parade, but the clock was still worth seeing. There’s also a key on the building so you know who’s on the clock at any given hour.

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Having done a lot of free walking tours in the past year, I have to say that this one was pretty long. It clocked in at almost 3.5 hours, which was a good amount of time IMO, but it ended well after lunch so we were exhausted and due for food. In any case, we ended around the Jewish Quarter and needed to find our way to food from there.

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As mentioned before, I planned our lunch around with the intention of experiencing more of Vienna’s cafe culture. I had been eyeing Cafe Central because they serve lunch and it’s one of the more famous ones. Some of the stories we heard on the tour were additional motivation. Cafe Central was frequented by many of Vienna’s famous residents, including Sigmund Freud, who would spend hours in the cafe. One writer, Peter Altenburg was known to have spent so much time in there that he listed the cafe’s address as his mailing address on his business cards. There’s even a statue of him inside.

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The food was pretty good, too. The highlight was the Kaiserschmarrn. It’s torn pancake served with stewed plums. It was incredibly heavy and probably should have been a meal in itself, but we got it as a dessert and were incredibly full after. There was a bit of a line to get into the restaurant, but it wasn’t really that long (maybe 30 minutes) and the whole experience was certainly worth the wait.

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We had a hotel interlude after lunch to change before our evening plans. I’ll start from there in the next Vienna post, however, so as to not make this one too long.

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