I wanted to like Vienna, Austria. I really did. I even fought to place it on our itinerary. I had heard such great stories about the city. Mates we met in Thailand raved about it. They dubbed it the best city to visit in all of Europe. My Grandma recalled tales from her Grandfather and his childhood in Bratislava. He went to Vienna whenever he had the chance and even lived there for a little while. And, I have to admit, the classic movie The Third Man did a great job at selling the city. But I didn’t like Vienna. I’m not blaming Vienna. Looking back, I think it could have been me. Signals were crossed and I misinterpreted them. Don’t get me wrong. Vienna was grand. It was Imperialistic. It was classical. It also felt boring and stuffy compared to the fun we had in Bavaria.
The leg to Vienna started off with a huge disappointed. A week before we arrived, we booked a day long bicycle excursion to the surrounding wineries. Upon arrival in Vienna, we learned that the tour company cancelled the trip do to a lack of participants. I don’t blame the tour company. We were in Vienna at the wrong time. It was early spring, and the tourist season just hadn’t picked up yet.
After we arrived in Vienna, we immediately dropped our luggage off at our suite at the Le Meridien (Being Starwood Platinum has its perks) and headed to Schonbrunn, the summer residence of the Hasburg family. Huge doesn’t describe the grounds nor the 2,000 room palace. We opted for the grand tour which showcased more rooms. I came away with mixed feelings after comparing the palace to the Hofgarten where we were just a few days prior in Munich. The Schonbrunn definitely was in better shape (not allowing photos helps with that). However, it seemed to be lacking in history. I don’t recall a single mention prior to Marie Theresa. The same goes for the Hofburg, the main residence of Austria’s imperial family, which we toured the next day. The whole thing focused on Sissi who came across as the world’s largest spoiled brat. I can’t imagine a reason for any nationalistic pride in her. She wanted to be a princess but did not want to play the part. That night we did stumble into what turned out to be a favorite of ours, Weinorgal, featured in an early post.
Breakfast the next morning aided in our mixed feelings on Vienna – and I do blame Vienna for this. Service at our hotel’s café was the among the slowest service I have ever experienced. Perhaps it was because we weren’t dressed in European trendy (read tacky) clothes, or because we weren’t some slobbish Russian politician spewing out communist rhetoric (table next to us). Either way, we were hotel guests and had to beg for food. After breakfast we headed to the Hofburg and then lunched at Naschmarkt, Vienna’s largest market. This was the highlight of Vienna for us. The market was lined with vendors selling everything from locally grown farmers fare to artisanal foods to fine wines. Several restaurants also operate amongst the food vendors. It is here where we dined on the best wiener schnitzel I have ever eaten. Tender, crisp, not to oily, and all kinds of perfect. After, we walked the rest of the farmers market and bought a local white wine for the room (when in Austria) and an artisanal cheese made with nutmeg and caramel.
That night we prettied up in the only nice outfits we brought and headed to an operetta at the Volkstheater. I was picky on the “culture” we took in. There were Mozart lookalikes on every street corner and in between selling tickets to tacky tourist traps with ridiculous costumes and cheesy dancers waltzing for your photo amusement. None of that was authentic though. I wanted to see a real classic not a watered down mimic of one. In the city most renowned throughout the world for the classics, can you blame me? The show we saw was Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss. I hate operas but was able to stomach an operetta. I actually kind of liked it even though I had no clue what they were saying. Sure, there were translated subtitles but the legal blindness gets in the way. The theatre was kind of disappointing though. I was expecting grandeur. Instead, both the outside and inside were plain. I guess it was the “people’s theatre.” Dinner was at Do & Co (but more to come on that in a future blog) and another visit to Weinorgal (told you we liked it).
We were tired by our last day. Nine days of nonstop travel and sightseeing had worn on us. I felt like I was walking on fluffy clouds in an utter daze. My legs and feet were numb and the ability to make a decision alluded both of us. We started our day out at Café Sacher for the infamous Sacher torte. The café was fancy and pretty and all kinds of other adjuectives I don’t know the words for. The picture says it all. After, we aimlessly walked the city taking in what sights we could. We dropped into Saint Peter’s church but were turned away due to mass. We got lost on side streets looking up at the imperial architecture. Finally we ended up on a tour of the State Opera House – a hallmark of Vienna. The exterior is most likely photographed in every tourist’s scrapbook, and it should be. The interior was lackluster at best though. It lacked the pomp. Of course, our guide gave us good reason for this. The building was bombed quite heavily during World War II and the government couldn’t justify rebuilding it to full beauty when the rest of the country was in economic turmoil. We were assured that acoustically, not a corner was shaved. What followed was a city bar tour that involved more walking, blurriness, and a strong desire for home. These are not feelings I am accustomed to while away. People often say, “I just couldn’t wait to get back to my bed.” I could never relate to these sentiments until Vienna.
I do realize this entire entry makes me sound like an uncultured, unsophisticated, and unworldly American. But none of these are true. I enjoy the arts and classics, and I am well-travelled. Read my previous entries. For example, I am a huge fan of Shakespeare and my travels cover four continents. I just felt Vienna lacked the laid back and welcoming vibe that I had experienced and enjoyed in Bavaria. I don’t blame Vienna for this. It was most likely me.