This was a quick two-night trip to Wien Austria with a little bit of work while I was in the area. I got enough of a taste to know that I want to go back.
While in Wien I was attending a conference at TU Wien (The Technology University of Vienna). Those of you who know my German skills might ask how I could attend a conference in a German speaking country. The answer is easy; the international language of engineering is English. It was a small conference and there were people from Ireland (me), the US, the UK, Finland, Germany, Austria, France and at least one gentleman from Asia. The meetings were all in English.
Wien is a city of a little over 1.7 million people. Americans might be surprised that it is only a tad larger than Austin, TX. The city has a much more cosmopolitan feel than a city of its size in the US. I’d guess because it was the capital of the Austrian-Hungarian empire for about 600 years and has all the trappings of the capital of a far-flung empire. Remember the Austrian-Hungarian empire was the seat of power in Europe for about 600 years until the end of WWI. There are statues and large monumental building and arches everywhere … or at least in and around the Ringstraße the circular road that surrounds the government building and imperial palaces of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The emperors (Hapsburgs) for a variety of reasons, from statesmanship to vanity, had the need to show off their wealth and power, and it is evident, even today, that they did a very good job of it.
While in Wien we stayed at a hotel called the Hotel Johann Strauss. This was in walking distance of TU Wien and the Ringstraße, the area where you will want to spend most of your time sightseeing. The hotels here are relatively expensive; ours was a “good deal” through the conference for €145 per night for two with Frühstuck (breakfast).
The breakfast at this hotel was great … the usual German plus some extras and Champagne both days. The rooms were large and reasonably quiet, but the stairs, hallways, and elevator were a little worn. The staff was very friendly and some spoke English. The elevator was a standard European hotel size … it only fits two people who know each other very well, plus two suitcases standing up. The location was fantastic, only about .5 km to the Ringstraße and 20 or 30 meters to a U-Bahn station.
The U-Bahn system in Wien is extensive and relatively inexpensive. Our DB train from Nuremberg arrived at the Westbahnhof station and we took the U-Bahn to the hotel with no prep …. And included changing U-bahn trains… a very easy system to understand once you look at a map and know where you want to go. We bought the 48 hour ticket for a little over €11 each. A great deal that gives you unlimited use of the U-Bahn for 48-hours …. We definitely took advantage of this ticket. Be sure to validate your ticket at the machine before your first trip. I was asked to show my ticket at least once in 48 hours.. so they do check tickets.
Old Opera House - with Cafe Mozart
New Opera House
During our visit we booked a “walking tour” from the Tourist Information Bureau, marked by i . As we have seen in the past, the tour was well worth the €13 each. The tour gave an overview of the Ringstrasse area and went for over 2 hours.
The tour was meant to give us only an overview of the city and walked partially around the Ringstraße and through the center. We saw the imperial palaces, the Rathaus (or city hall), the new opera house, the old opera house, several gardens and statues, a few famous cafes .... a lot of stuff in two hours, but you should just consider this to be an overview of the city and a way to pick the two or three things to visit if you have a limited stay.
As part of the conference we had a special treat; we had the conference hosts give the attendees a personal tour on a private trolley that traversed the Ringstraße. This tour was even more enlightening as our narrator was a professor at TU Wien who was born and raised in Wien and was answering our questions. We followed the tour of the Ringstraße with a 1-hour tour of the Albertina Palais Museum. Our guide was very knowledgeable and gave us a tour of their newest exhibit, a modern art exhibit. Most of the art was not my “cup of tea”, but she explained the beginnings in impressionism and showed us examples of the different schools all the way to surrealism. My tastes trend towards either end of this time period, I liked the impressionist and the surreal paintings, the ones in between were very much hit and miss for me. It was a great tour that we capped off with a very good dinner and great beer at the Augustiner Keller, basically in the basement of the museum. The meal was good, the beer better, and the company and conversation great.
The previous night we had eaten at a well known restaurant in Wien called Plachutta. We shared a main course of their specialty, boiled meat …. not usually the form of cooking I would associate with "high class dining", but actually the meat and broth was very good, the bone marrow was even better and the horseradish applesauce was the best and the most unique. The potatoes were fantastic … it is probably not necessary to say that we really really enjoyed the meal. We also had a great bottle of Franconian wine to wash it down, and split a dessert for a total of about €95 … a little pricey, but very good and filling.
Soup with "pancake strips" (l) and Tafelspitz (r)
The meat dish was called Tafelspitz, a Viennese specialty, and came to the table in a large pot along with the side dishes. The waiter served us a bowl of the broth from the pot over "pancake strips" (similar to noodles). We then "dug in" to the meat and vegetables in the pot along with the great side dishes. Boiled beef in general is my least favorite way of cooking beef, but this dish could change my mind. It was much, much better than I was expecting.
At Plachutta we had a reservation, probably not absolutely necessary, but probably a good thing. The service was good and attentive but not overpowering. For those who absolutely can not stand to be around cigarette smoke do not sit outside on the patio ... this may seem counter intuitive but smoking is not allowed indoors, but the enclosed patio is considered outside and smoking is allowed, and during the winter is not as airy as one might think.
The Side Dishes: Potatoes and Spinach
We topped off the great meal with an after dinner drink in the hotel … quiet and very comfortable. We got a little taste of the “coffee house or cafe culture” in Wien at the hotel bar, but not near enough since we were in the town for a little over 48 hours and didn’t have the time to hang for hours watching people and reading.
We started our last day in Wien with a great breakfast and a few Mimosas before getting on the train for München…much more on Deutsch and Österreich trains in the next blog.
Things to do when we return:
- Visit the palaces
- Visit the art museums and the museum of technology
- Experience some of the cafes
- Attend an opera that is not necessarily intended for tourists
See You in the Pubs!
Jet Lag Jack