Vienna – Days 2-4

Better late than never…here are the highlights from the rest of our trip to Vienna last weekend:

Saturday, 13 February 2010

After breakfast at the hotel, we started the day at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
(Art History Museum). We basically followed the self-guided tour in the Rick Steves’ book to see the highlights from the Venetian Renaissance, Italian Renaissance, and Northern Art. It was a typical art museum. We saw some nice paintings, but nothing that we needed to buy a print of.

From there we headed to the Hofburg Palace, and started with the Schatzkammer (Treasury). We saw lots of sparkly old things, including the 10th-century crown of the Holy Roman Emperor. We grabbed some lunch right outside the palace and then toured the Sisi Museum and Kaiserappartements (Imperial Apartments). The Viennese seem to be obsessed with Empress Elisabeth known as “Sisi” (1837-1898). Here is how Rick Steves describes her:

Empress Elisabeth—Franz Josef’s mysterious, narcissistic, and beautiful wife—is in vogue. Sisi was mostly silent. Her main goals in life seem to have been preserving her reputation as a beautiful empress, maintaining her Barbie-doll figure, and tending to her fairy-tale, ankle-length hair. In spite of sever dieting and fanatic exercise, age took its tool. After turning 30, she allowed no more portraits to be painted and was generally seen in public with a delicate fan covering her face (and bad teeth)…Disliking Vienna and the confines of the court, Sisi traveled more and more frequently. As years passed, the restless Sisi and her hardworking husband became estranged. In 1898, while visiting Geneva, Switzerland, she was murdered by an Italian anarchist.

I found the Sisi Museum kind of interesting, especially seeing her fancy dresses with only a 20″ waist! Brandon found it completely boring and thought Sisi was pretty whiny. The Sisi Museum went straight into the Imperial Apartments. These were rather disappointing compared with the Schönbrunn Palace, but still worth seeing.

After so many museums, it was time to go back to the hotel to relax. We stopped at Starbucks again to get something warm to drink and were delighted to find that we finally had Internet access in our hotel room. We just don’t deal well without Internet access!

We went out to eat at the Zwölf Apostelkeller, which was recommended by our hotel. It was delicious and even had strolling musicians. The only problem was it was super busy and there was only one waiter for the entire room. We ended up passing on dessert just because we were afraid that we’d never be able to flag our waiter down again to pay!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Valentine’s Day was definitely my day in Vienna with lots of music and good food! It started with a tour of the Opera. We were able to see the different lobbies, backstage, and the auditorium. There is a different performance almost every night, so we were able to see them working on the set for Tosca that night. We also learned about standing room tickets that are available for €3-4 beginning 80-minutes before the performance. I was intrigued since this would be the only way to hear part of the Vienna Philharmonic. The orchestra is big enough to split into two halves. One half plays for the Opera, and the other half happened to be touring in Abu Dhabi and Doha that weekend.

A trip to the Opera is not complete without a trip to the Opera Toilet nearby. You just have to see it to believe it!

After all things Opera, I was ready for some chocolate. We stopped at the famous Sacher Café for a slice of the Original Sacher-Torte. OK, I had a slice. Brandon had really fancy Topfelknodle, cottage cheese dumplings. We had heard that the Sacher-Torte was rather dry, so I was expecting that. It definitely wasn’t the best chocolate dessert I’ve ever had, but now I can say I’ve tried it.

Next, took the tram around the city center (along the ring where the Medieval wall had stood) to get a feel for the whole area where we had been staying. Then we visited St. Stephan’s Cathedral, which is right in the center. We walked around the inside and tried to find the highlights described by RS. Of course the real reason to go to the cathedral was to climb to the top. Turns out that we haven’t actually seen a European city until we have climbed several hundred stairs to the top of some tower. It was 343 steps to the top of the South Tower. (Rick Steves claims this burns a Sacher-Torte worth of calories, so I no longer had any guilt over eating dessert for lunch.) The view from the top was good, but not spectacular since it was a cloudy, grey day.

Our last stop for the afternoon was the Haus der Musik. I probably could have spent several days exploring this museum. There was a small exhibit on the Vienna Philharmonic, details about famous Viennese composers (Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss, & Mahler), and lots of interactive displays about the physics of sound. I even got to conduct a virtual Vienna Philharmonic!

On our way back to our hotel, we stopped at a hot dog stand for a snack. These were the largest hot dogs I’ve ever seen! Basically, it was a large bratwurst in a hollowed out sub roll. It was good, and pretty filling for just a snack! At the hotel, we relaxed and took short naps before going back to the Opera to try to get standing room tickets for Tosca.

We got there at 6pm and were one of the last ones to be able to stand inside to wait for the box office to open at 6:10pm. The line moved pretty fast once it opened and we easily bought €3 tickets for the balcony. We followed the others and were let into the auditorium about 7pm to find a place along the rail to stand. It was a mad rush, but we got a good spot along the front rail that had translation devices. You reserve your spot with a scarf and then you are free to walk around until the performance starts. We went to find a beer to help Brandon make it through! I had promised him that we would only have to stay for one act since I knew opera wasn’t his thing and I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of standing for three hours either. The first act was wonderful! The music was awesome and maybe I could have stayed for all three acts, but we did leave after the first to find some dinner.

Going to the opera first on Valentine’s Day, made finding a restaurant slightly difficult. First, we tried a place that our hotel had recommended, but they were completely booked. I consulted RS, and found a restaurant that required about a 10-minute walk, which was about 10-minutes farther than what Brandon wanted to walk. But, we made it to Plachutta and were able to be seated right away. The restaurant reminded me of the Melting Pot, but instead of fondue, they serve Tafelspitz—a traditional copper pot of boiled beef with broth and vegetables. Luckily, our waiter spoke excellent English and was able to explain how to eat it in the proper order. It turned out to be a full, but fun Valentine’s Day!

Monday, 15 February 2010

We took it pretty easy on our last day in Vienna. After breakfast, we checked out of the hotel but were able to leave our luggage so we could do some final sightseeing. The temperature wasn’t quite as cold so we walked around the city center some to see Graben, the Plague Monument, Kohlmarkt, and Demel Bakery & Café. Convinced we had seen everything we were going to see this trip, we spent the remainder of our time at the Mozart Café. We enjoyed the Apfelstrudel, free Wi-Fi, and the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, we enjoyed it a little too much because we were slightly rushed getting to the airport. We had planned to take the cheap train that was slower, but ended up having to buy a ticket for the express train in order to make it on time. However, we didn’t have any trouble once we got to the airport and had an uneventful trip back to Großbissendorf and reality.

To see more pictures from these three days, please view my Picasa Web Album.

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Vienna – Day 1

Friday, 12 February 2010

Brandon and I are traveling again! It seems like our last trip to the Canary Islands was ages ago, so we were anxious to explore more of Europe. This time we are in Vienna for the long President’s Day Weekend. I found super cheap tickets on Air Berlin that were “Buy One, Get One Free.” However, getting here last night turned out to not be so easy. We have had lots of snow, like the rest of the world, so we decided to take the train to the Nürnberg airport instead of driving. That worked out fine, except we discovered that our flight had been delayed by 2 hours once we got there. While that gave us time to take the train back to the Nürnberg Altstadt for a leisurely dinner, it meant that we wouldn’t arrive in Vienna until after midnight. By the time we finally arrived (about 12:30am), the regular public transportation had stopped running, so we were forced to take a taxi to our hotel, Pension Suzanne. Thankfully, we had called the hotel when we found out about the delay, so someone was there to let us in.

The next morning, we slept in as long as could before going to Fruhstück. It was a typical German breakfast with cold cuts, cheese, rolls, etc. The Pension Suzanne is quite nice. Our only complaint is that we can’t get the free Wi-Fi to work. We have the passwords and get it to say that we are connected, but can’t load any web pages. But, at least we have a comfortable bed and a bathroom! And we definitely can’t complain about the location. We are just a block from the Opera House.

After getting ready, we went to Schloss Schönbrunn, the summer residence of the Hapsburgs. We toured the 40-rooms of the Royal Apartments first. There were lots of crystal chandeliers, hand-carved wood, and gold-leafing. The audio guide was very good at describing everything of interest. We stopped for lunch at a café on the grounds of the palace. We probably paid too much, but I had a delicious Amaretto Schokolade. It was also fun to play with my new iPod Touch, a Valentine’s gift from Brandon, since the café had free Wi-Fi. It was quite surreal to be able to check my email and Facebook while sitting in a Vienna café!

Next we braved the cold to explore the Tiergarten. Normally, zoos are not high on our list of sights to see since it is hard to beat the Henry Dorley Zoo. However, this zoo has pandas, and Brandon had never seen a panda before! He can now say that he has seen the back of a panda, but it was too busy eating his bamboo to bother turning around while we were there. Brandon quickly judged the poor panda as a “dick.” We enjoyed seeing some of the other animals in the zoo, also, including the bears, monkeys, penguins, rhinos, hippos, pelicans, and reindeer.

Our last stop at the Schloss Schönbrunn was the Wagenburg (Coach Museum). We got there right as they were closing, so we didn’t spend a lot of time there. Still, we got a taste of some of the fancy coaches used by the Hapsburg, including the gilded imperial carriage pulled by eight horses and the death-black hearse carriage.

After a full afternoon at the Schloss we made our way back to the hotel with a short stop at the Starbucks across the street. We felt a little guilty stopping at Starbucks when Vienna is known for its coffee houses, but none are as convenient.

We decided to eat dinner at an Italian restaurant just a few blocks from the hotel. It was delicious, but slightly dressier than we were expecting. Brandon was definitely the only one there wearing a long-sleeve Nebraska t-shirt!

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped in the Swarovski store. I’ve been looking for a particular bracelet and we found it! So, now I have a gold and a sliver Swarovski bracelet and should be set for awhile. 🙂

You can see more of our pictures here.