Beer. Sausages. Amazing architecture. Free hotel. More beer. What’s not to like?
My standby ticket was approved late on Monday. Great! Panic. A frantic search for a last-minute pet-sitter for the little rascals ensued, and luckily was successful. Wednesday night I threw a few things in a bag, finished up some work and Thursday I was out the door on my way to Vienna (via Joburg and Munich). Oh, the tales I could tell of the joys of standby travel, but I digress. This is a post about a fabulously delicious city.
I did the typical junior-year abroad during college and took advantage of being a Spanish resident to get cheap train fare all over Europe. Blame it on Italian wine, Irish cider or Spanish sangria, but I never quite made it to Germany or Austria as planned. So when the opportunity came up to join Nick in Austria where he was on training for three weeks, I broke my self-imposed travel embargo and jumped at the chance. And I wasn’t sorry – now I remember that traveling for fun is so much more enjoyable than traveling for work. I flew through Munich, an SAA destination, but just passed through on my way to the train station. A short four hour (and extremely pleasurable) train ride later, I arrived in Vienna.
I’m not usually a crazy trip planner (let’s be honest, I never have time), but I like to have at least an idea of a few must-see places and some off the beaten path restaurants to check out. For this trip, I honestly didn’t do a single google search before getting on the plane, so we just winged it. Nick had to study and I worked a bit while I was there, but we had a couple of good sightseeing days. We basically just took the train in from our hotel at the airport, started in Stephansplatz or Karlstrasse, and walked the city flat without too much of a plan, taking in all the gorgeous buildings, tons of history, and punctuating the walks with plenty of refreshment stops. We bravely took on the “Break Dance” ride at the Prater amusement park in Vienna’s equivalent of Central Park – I thought I’d smartly chosen one of the tamer ones, but I was definitely green by the end of the VERY long ride. I spent a Saturday while Nick was in the flight simulator browsing around the flea market at the huge Naschmarkt, finding all sorts of random treasures and people watching. One of my favorite sites was the Hundertwasserhaus, a quirky apartment complex in the middle of traditional Vienna painted in bright colors and all organic, curved lines and mosaics, very Gaudi-esque.
Food and drink are always central to my traveling experiences, and Vienna didn’t disappoint. It may be more than just a sausage, but they do have some damn nice ones! We sampled a few different late night stands, and I’m definitely partial to the kasekrainer (cheese sausage, no surprise there, right?). Though I learned the hard way that I have to be quick to get them to hold the ketchup and mustard (ew). I also loved the kasespaetzle – basically mac and cheese with dumplings instead of pasta. I did not eat traditional Weiner Schnitzle (not a huge veal fan) but tried the chicken, yum. And pretzels everywhere, so tasty. The food is heavy, though, so we basically sampled our way through town, sharing dishes so we could try as much as possible. As for drinks, we created our own beer tasting at various venues around town, sampling Weiselburger, Gosser, Villacher, Ottokringer, and lots of delicious house brews. I had mug(s) of local Viennese wine at a wine cellar restaurant dating to the 1300s. We only stopped at a Starbucks once, which I thought was incredibly restrained of Nick.
As if there wasn’t enough to do in Vienna itself, we hopped on a bus one day and took a quick trip over to Slovakia (as one does) to visit the charming old section of Bratislava. We trekked up the million stairs to the castle only to find that it was closed for tours that day, so we had a little picnic instead, admiring the view of the Danube. One of the most interesting things we literally stumbled into – what looked like a little building under renovation turned out to be a replica of the old synagogue that the Russians tore down to make way for a freeway on-ramp. It houses a 15-seat cinema that shows documentary footage on a loop that shows key moments in Bratislava’s history, everything from the war to the razing of the building. It was fascinating to get a glimpse of the city in other times. I especially loved the larger-than-life statue of Stalin just hanging out on a random street. Of course, to make the most of our little day trip, we tried out several of the local cafes for some Slovakian wine and beer, of course. Yum.
So, a fun little spur-of-the-moment, unexpected trip – sometimes the best kinds. I was in such a rush that I forgot to pack my camera, so I took random snaps on my phone. I would love to go back to the region – Munich seemed amazing on my way in and out, next time I’ll definitely make a detour there.
And now I detox.