As Vienna, or Wien as it’s locally known, saturates every sense with its culture, I think this title sums up the Austrian capital well. Despite a comedy of errors, mainly due to a lack of sleep before our early flight, James and I nevertheless arrived in Vienna last Friday as planned for a long weekend to celebrate our first anniversary. An old and beautiful city concentrated mostly in a historic central ring, Vienna is rightly internationally renowned.
Of course, the first thing we did when planning this trip to a world music hub was to book tickets for an opera at the Wiener Staatsoper (Viennese State Opera). La Cenerentola, an Italian opera by Rossini based on the story of Cinderella, was playing during our stay. The director had chosen 1950s Italy as the setting for this version, complete with a classic car collection for the prince. Tickets for €12 got us balcony seats (literally, moveable chairs upholstered in red velvet) next to the stage where we could hear (but not really see) a fantastic musical performance.
During the day, the clip-clop of pricy but classy horse drawn carriages along both cobblestones and the more modern streets could often be heard. At nighttime these sounds were replaced by the unhurried whirring of roller blades and bikes. On the first night we saw police officers stopping traffic for a fleet of rollerbladers. This was also the primetime for teenagers laughing, singing along to pop music from their cellphones, and chattering in clumps gathered in parks and town squares.
While German is the official language of Austria, Austrians have their own particular greeting. “Grüß Gott” is the more religious-sounding equivalent of “Hallo” used here, as well as in Bavaria in southern Germany. We heard many other languages in Vienna too, as tourists from all over the world flock there to enjoy its rich history, music, and sights. In particular, Italian, French, Spanish, American English, Russian, and Japanese were often heard throughout.
I found the sights in Vienna created a very pleasant and relaxing atmosphere overall. The downtown area seemed designed to be as pedestrian friendly as possible, minimizing the usual crowded feeling found in major cities the world over. Parks and cafés can be found around many corners, and broad pedestrian-only streets lined with shops are common. Streetcars, subways, and buses seem to have limited the amount of traffic you would expect to find on the main roads.
Similarly, older styled and more modern town squares provide meeting places for people of all ages. The MuseumsQuartier, a public square bordered by modern art museums, has an especially cool set up. Blue plastic Ikea-esque couches fill the open area of the square and, particularly at night, are often filled with young people drinking beers and hanging out.
Needless to say, the main sights tourists come to see are the wealth of palaces, museums, and churches. Most of the sights are centered around or at least connected to the Habsburg family, the former rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even the museums housing artistic masterpieces and historical treasures can be considered works of art themselves. At night, many of the sights were lit up with rainbow colored spotlights, giving them a tie-dyed effect. So much history overflows from these buildings that I will describe them separately in my next post.
Possibly the best part of visiting another country is sampling its local fare, which we leisurely enjoyed from outdoor cafés, garden terraces, and occasional food stands. In general, the Austrian food seems very similar to food in Germany. For example, a typical basic breakfast consisted of rolls served with butter and jelly and/or eggs cooked in various styles. One day James tried the Katerfrühstück, which translates literally as “tomcat breakfast” or more figuratively as the “hangover breakfast.” This consisted of a beer (which we oddly saw many people drinking with breakfast), a long pretzel, and sausages.
Some of the local dinner specialties we tasted include Wienerschnitzel, a breaded veal cutlet, and Tafelspitz, a boiled beef dish. Of course, Wienerschnitzel is popular in Germany as well but originates from Wien, hence the name. The Tafelspitz is served with sides of grated horseradish and cooked apples, sour cream and chives, and potatoes.
Dessert seemed to truly be the specialty in Vienna. Apfelstrudel was, of course, a highlight with its light pastry crust and sweet warm apple center. One afternoon we had a mini cake sampler with three famous local cakes: Sachertorte, Topfentorte, and Mozartkuchen. The Sachertorte is a rich chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam that was created in Vienna. Topfentorte is a light cake with a cheesecake-like filling mixed with fruit – raspberries, in our case. The Mozart cake is a chocolate cake with a green layer of pistachio and marzipan, modeled after similar Mozart-brand chocolates. Italian gelato and other specialties were also easy to come by in this area.
All in all, a place well worth an additional post and a future visit!