Vienna Wrap Up

I really enjoyed my trip to Vienna and loved that there was always something to do. In fact, I still have plenty of things on my bucket list, so hopefully I’ll make it back at a later date. Here are my tips and tricks:

  1. Vienna is a very walkable city (unless you’re going out to Schönbrunn Palace) and the subway is also easy to use. Note: Google Maps doesn’t really work well with Vienna’s public transportation, and I still have no idea how the trams or the buses work.
  2. I would say that depending on the length of your stay it might be more economical to buy a transportation pass instead of a Vienna Pass. The Vienna Pass gives you only around a 1 Euro discount on major sights as well as access to public transportation. Be sure to validate your transportation card if required (the week long passes don’t need validation).
  3. Make dinner reservations in advance or go to dinner on the early side (around 6 pm) for the more popular places. I would highly recommend At Eight, Plachutta (for tafelspitz), and Figlmueller (for schnitzel).
  4. When you are ready to order close your menu, otherwise the waiters will ignore you.
  5. Don’t forget to tip about 5-10%.
  6. Stock up on 50 cent coins since you need to pay for a surprisingly large number of bathrooms in Vienna.
  7. Go to a concert! Vienna is known as the City of Music and a concert is well worth your time. You don’t necessarily have to make reservations in advance since there are plenty of registered ticket sellers who will try to sell you tickets on the street. There are also plenty of free concerts that you can find, especially in the churches.
  8. Go to a café. Café culture is really big in Vienna so stop by one to grab either food or coffee.
  9. Be sure to have some Sacher torte even if it isn’t at the Sacher Hotel.
  10. For me the permanent must sees were: Karlskirche (take the elevator up to the top of the dome), Stephansdom (get all-inclusive tickets and prepare to spend at least half a day there), Prater Ferris Wheel, Schönbrunn Palace, and Imperial Treasury.
  11. The temporary must sees were: the Monet exhibit at the Lower Belvedere and the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien
  12. If you’d like to get a good and quick sense of the city and where everything is take The Ring Tram Tour (the yellow tram) starting in Schwedenplatz
  13. Keep in mind that most museums have strange photography policies (some things you can photograph, others you can’t)

Vienna Decked Out

The next day we returned to Schloß Schönbrunn. Our tickets still allowed us access to the Desert Experience, Palm House, Zoo, Carriage House, Strudel Show, and more. And while we wanted to get the most out of our tickets, we also wanted to see everything during the day.

We started out by walking somewhat aimlessly through the grounds and then climbed the hill behind the palace to the café. This ended up giving us quite a nice view of the palace, grounds, and the surrounding city.

IMG_7145  IMG_7173  IMG_7195We walked by the zoo but decided to pass on it. To our delight however we did manage to catch a glimpse of the rhinos on our walk by.

Because we spent about a solid hour walking around the frigid grounds, we were quite happy to enter the Palm House. What my Dad and I hadn’t realized was that this would cause enough of a temperature shift to completely fog up our camera lenses. While my Dad decided to wipe his lens off, I decided to leave mine the way it was and play with the effect it made on the pictures.

IMG_7211  IMG_7214  IMG_7220IMG_7229  IMG_7236  IMG_7223Once we finished walking around the Palm House and accidentally crashing a small wedding ceremony, we crossed the road to the Desert Experience. It was only slightly less exotic than it sounds. It turned out to be similar to a greenhouse but without the humidity. Similar to the Palm House, there were a variety of plants, or in this case cacti, but there were also animals! One of my favorite moments was finally spotting the elephant shrew below. After hiding almost the entire time we were there, he decided to dart out and say hi at the last minute.

IMG_7244  IMG_7302  IMG_7267IMG_7273  IMG_7288  IMG_7296As much as we enjoyed the Desert Experience, it was eventually time for us to return to the bitter cold. All we really wanted to do by then was just finish our walk around the grounds before heading back into the city.

IMG_7310  IMG_7312  IMG_7316But then I heard my stomach growl. So instead of going back into town we decided to go to the Strudel Show. The show was actually quite good–then again my apple strudel sample might have a large part to do with my satisfaction.

It was only after we cleaned even the crumbs off of our plates that we finally left Schönbrunn. My Lonely Planet book on Vienna had warned us that Schönbrunn was worth a day trip, and considering how much time my Dad and I spent there I would definitely agree, especially considering that we didn’t even manage to see everything.

After that we went to the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien. The exhibit was there to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Toulouse-Lautrec’s birth. Now if you have no idea who Toulouse-Lautrec is never fear. You probably recognize his most popular work Moulin Rouge-La Goulue, which also happens to be the work that made him an overnight success:

Lautrec_moulin_rouge_la_goulue_1891

Overall the exhibit was really great. It covered Toulouse-Latrec’s very short life and did a good job of chronicling his work. Half the fun was just seeing how his art developed over time. His posters in particular were great to see up close. If you happen to have the chance I’d highly recommend a visit.

Our next destination was the Imperial Treasury. I’ve always enjoyed looking at the various treasures that nations have so I was excited to see some of Austria’s crown jewels. They were impressive to say the least. My favorite piece (which unfortunately isn’t pictured) was a “unicorn horn.” The sign clarified that it was actually a narwhal tusk, but it’s always nice to dream.

IMG_7331  IMG_7337  IMG_7345IMG_7383  IMG_7391  IMG_7396IMG_7366  IMG_7371  IMG_7376After we finished with Treasury, we slowly walked back to our hotel. This allowed us to soak in a few more of the sights along the way, such as the National Library, Mozart monument, and Opera House. While we were at the Opera House we decided to look into tickets for the next day’s performance of Rigoletto. The ticket seller had only a few nosebleed seats left but my Dad and I decided to take them.

IMG_7417  IMG_7425  IMG_7429After that, we were off in search of the famous Figlmueller, a restaurant chain that claims to be the home of the schnitzel. Even though we didn’t have a reservation at the restaurant and when we called the restaurant claimed that it was full, my Dad and I decided to go early and see if we could just walk in. It turns out we made it just in time. We were just able to get some of the last seats available. I of course ordered the schnitzel and it was as delicious as advertised. Considering that the schnitzel took up my entire plate, I believe the restaurant when they say that they measure each schnitzel to make sure that it’s 30 cm (11.8 inches) in diameter. I have to admit that overall my Dad and I did a good job on the food front.

IMG_2080  IMG_2084  IMG_2079

Christmas

Funnily enough, more things were open on Christmas than on Christmas Eve, and most of them were open for longer. My Dad and I were pretty content to just call our trip our Christmas present, but our hotel had graciously given us holiday slippers and sweets the night before. So, after testing out the slippers and eating a few of the sweets we prepared to begin our Christmas adventures.

The first thing we went to was Schwedenplatz so that we could board a Ring Tram Tour. The Ring refers to the road called Ringstraße, which also happens to be where Vienna’s city walls were. The tour mostly consisted of riding a yellow tram around the Ring and listening to an audioguide point out notable sights along the way. All in all the tour took about 25 minutes. While the tour wasn’t particularly exciting, I still found it worthwhile since it pointed out some of the major sights in the city, taught us a little bit of history, and helped orient me.

IMG_6993  IMG_6982  IMG_6987After the tour finished, we made our way to the Belvedere museums. The Belvedere property contains the Upper Belvedere, the Lower Belvedere, the Winter Palace, and the grounds. Unfortunately it was raining, so my Dad and I decided against exploring the grounds and immediately made a beeline for the Upper Belvedere. The Upper Belvedere is famous for having a large number of Klimt paintings, most notably The Kiss, but it also contains other well known pieces such as Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps. I’m a Klimt fan so I enjoyed seeing his artwork, but I didn’t find much else in the Upper Belvedere particularly exciting.

I will also say that the Belvedere has particularly confusing photography standards. Some rooms you could photograph, others you couldn’t, some statues you could photograph, others you couldn’t, etc. Because I’m a shutterbug I was alternately yelled at and encouraged a number of times.

IMG_7025  IMG_7023  IMG_7026IMG_7046  IMG_7036  IMG_7052My Dad and I hadn’t originally planned on going to the Lower Belvedere since it mostly speicalizes in modern art, but a sign caught our eyes saying that the Lower Belvedere currently had a Monet exhibit. My Dad and I happen to be big Monet fans so we made our way over to the Lower Belvedere to upgrade our tickets. To our surprise, we ended up liking the Lower Belvedere much more than the Upper Belvedere. The Monet exhibit was fantastic and featured a large number of his paintings. The rest of the Lower Belvedere was interesting, but the Monet was what made the entire Belvedere trip really worthwhile.

IMG_7056  IMG_7062  IMG_7065Once we had finished with the Belvedere, we made our way towards Schloß Schönbrunn, or Schönbrunn Palace. My Dad and I initially had some difficulties remembering the name Schönbrunn and so my Dad decided to dub it “Sunnybun.” The palace lies just outside the center of Vienna so we had to take the subway to get there, but it was well worth the trip. Because we were going later in the day we only had time to do a tour around the palace. The guide that we were provided with turned out to be an audioguide, and while I’m generally not a fan of audioguides, this one wasn’t actually too bad. Some of the audioguide numbers were a bit outdated, but overall it was a pleasant experience.

Schönbrunn was originally commissioned in the 17th century to serve as a hunting lodge, but under Empress Maria Theresa it became the focus of court life. Since then it has hosted a number of momentous events and notable people. Some of the rooms that we saw featured great historical events, but the majority of the rooms were the private rooms of the Habsburg family. In retrospect, Schönbrunn was one of my favorite sights.

After we were done with the tour, we wandered around the grounds and paid a visit to the Christmas market.

IMG_7120  IMG_7092  IMG_7093IMG_7099  IMG_7108  IMG_7116IMG_7121  IMG_7140  IMG_7131Once we finished, we went back to our hotel before coming back again for the Christmas concert. The concert primarily featured two of Austria’s golden boys, Mozart and Strauss. The music was great and to top it all off there was also some opera and ballet mixed in. So, in honor of the concert I leave you with Austria’s unofficial national anthem, Blue Danube.