After an eventful two nights in Prague, it was time for our next destination. Four hours (and a quick nap) on Rail Europe later and we arrived in Austria’s capital, Vienna!
Nicknamed the “City of Dreams”, Vienna was booming with taste-filled culture. Being the home of Mozart, numerous museums, lavish palaces, and decadent cuisine, there was no time to be wasted.
Pro Tip: If you plan to visit multiple museums, palaces, and galleries, etc., I would highly recommend purchasing the Vienna Pass. This pass gives you all-inclusive tickets and free entry to many of the spots you’ll read about below and other must-see sights.
After quickly dropping off our luggage at the hotel and a speedy walk across the city, we approached the first item on our list, the Hofburg Palace. Dating back to the 13th century, the Hofburg was once the imperial palace of the Habsburg family rulers, which later became their winter residence, and is now home to the President of Austria. We toured the Imperial Apartments, where each member of the family had their own apartment or suite throughout the palace wings, and were frequently used for entertaining purposes. Each room was more lavish than the last, complete with intricate molding and gorgeous detail.
Having worked up an appetite, it was time for our first meal in country number two. For dinner, we decided on a restaurant known for its “hipster and cozy” vibe, called Ulrich. It was modern, with an eclectic menu, and filled with options for all. Whether you were a vegan or a meat-lover, this place had the dish for you. While sipping our fresh basil shrub cocktails, we started with an appetizer called “Dip, Dip, Dip” (cue Freak Nasty’s, “Da Dip”). The dish included three different colorful dips with crisp, salty crackers. The first was a sweeter, butternut squash dip, the second an earthy, beet hummus, and the third was a guacamole. All were very different and tasty in their own unique ways. For my entrée, I went with a lighter option, knowing that we, like Prague, would be eating our way through this city as well. My dish was a white fish over a bright purple cauliflower puree, with a pomegranate and peach compote. My travel companions went the meat lovers’ route and ordered the lamb shank over barley with roasted orange and red peppers, and the “Ulrich Burger”, which looked fantastic.
The next morning, we set out early to ensure we could hit all of our stops and of course, check out the food scene. We arrived at the Schönbrunn Palace as it opened, at 9 am sharp, in order to avoid the crowds of tourists that would later occupy this sought-after sight. The outside of this palace alone was absolutely stunning. It was the summer residence of the Habsburg family and the place in which the longest-reigning Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph I, was born and died. It was also home to Mozart’s first concert, which he performed at only 6 years old (talk about an overachiever). We toured the Imperial Apartments of Emperor Franz Joseph I and his wife, Empress Elisabeth, also known as Sisi. It was hard to believe that these were even more spectacular and extravagant than those at the Hofburg Palace, but it was true. The vibrant colors, paintings that filled entire walls, and the gold trim that lined each room were magnificent and truly a sight worth visiting.
Next, we took a cab to the other side of the city to our third and final Austrian palace, the Belvedere Palace and Museum. Before going in, we stopped for a light snack at a Greek place across the street called Art Corner. It didn’t look like much from the outside but WOW, was it good. Everything that passed us looked and smelled phenomenal. Knowing we’d be eating again in a few hours, we ordered their hummus plate. It was creamy, fresh, garlicky, and delicious and paired perfectly with their house white wine. We even got a free round to encourage us to enjoy ourselves a bit longer. Free wine? There were zero objections.
A side note that I haven’t mentioned yet is how amazing Viennese wine is. Vienna is one of the few world capitals remaining that has its own vineyards. Typically, I’m more of a red wine drinker but I could not get enough of the Grüner Veltliner, a dry white Austrian wine. I pretty much ordered at least one glass wherever I went. A bonus - it was also the least expensive, being that it was local.
For dinner, we were excited to try a suggestion from the late Anthony Bourdain’s episode of “No Reservations”, that featured Vienna (click to watch here). The restaurant was called Wratschko and it was just as he described. In a dimly lit room, slightly smoky from the bustling kitchen, we sat at a small table and ordered our way through the menu. The first dish I shared included Austrian dumplings with chicken and the second was their most popular; minced meatballs with mashed potatoes. The chicken literally fell off the bone and was cooked to perfection. The dumplings were quite different from the Czech ones we’d had the day before and resembled creamy noodles. The meatball dish was our favorite, with so many unique flavors that we immediately regretted the option to share. It was a truly great experience and exceeded all expectations.
On our way to the train, we happened upon a long strip of street art along the Danube Canal. It was a peaceful walk, complete with bright colors and culture. I loved one piece in particular, which now, with our world’s current events, seems to carry more weight. A message everyone needs to be reminded of is to “Keep Smiling”. It was a lovely way to end our stay in Vienna and words I would carry with me to our next stop, Bratislava, Slovakia.
NEXT STOP - PART III: BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA
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