Lesson : The Stylish Heart of Austria, Vienna


Our first stop in our Europe tour was Vienna, Austria. We chose Vienna primarily because of its musical history, particularly the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I was happy to return to Vienna after all these years, as it is not that far from Burgenland, which is my mother's ancestrial home.

Burgenland is an Austrian state in the eastern part of the country, three hours south of Vienna by train. I visited a couple of the towns in Burganland where my grandparents were from, and met their extended family at that time. Unfortunately on this trip there was no time to make the trip there again, but I vow I will the next time we visit Austria. 


We stayed at the Steigenberger Hotel in Vienna. A beautiful hotel situated near the Cafe Central and the Sisi Museum, the Steigenberger was both modern yet classic at the same time.  Its classic facade blended in perfectly with the surrounding buildings, and its interior and rooms were modern and fashionable.  And the staff was very helpful during our stay.

One note is that breakfast is rather pricy at the hotel. There is a restaurant on the ground floor that has a very nice buffet breakfast, but it is expensive. Their ala-carte menu is more reasonable, but still more than most people want to spend for breakfast.


When you visit Vienna you will probably want to go to a concert. It is the music capital of Europe after all. We attended a concert at the famous Musikverein (Vienna Music Society) Golden Hall. All of the members of the orchestra wore period costumes - what you could imagine Mozart himself would have worn. The Golden Hall lives up to its name, with gold walls and fixtures. The music was wonderful, a nice journey through some of Mozart's work as well as other composers. We arranged tickets ahead of time; you can buy tickets at this website.

An unexpected opportunity to go to a chamber concert arose when we visited St. Peter's Catholic Church (Peterskirche). At the entrance to the church a man had set up a table with information about concerts that were held in the church on certain evenings every week. Though the church is fairly plain on the outside, the interior is absolutely gorgeous. It seemed like every space on the walls was adorned with some sort of beautiful ornament or statue. It was truly a great place to listen to a concert.

Finally, we caught one of the most famous choirs in the world, the Vienna Boys Choir, at The Hofburgkapelle, which is a chapel attached to the Hofburg complex of buildings. It has been the chapel of the imperial family for hundreds of years. We did not get tickets beforehand, so we were seated at the same level as the choir and organ, but in seats from which you could not see anything happening in the chapel. We had to stand up and peek out the "window" to see what was going on, or, watch on the closed circuit TV. The choir sounded beautiful, and so it was worth the effort. We highly recommend getting tickets beforehand so you can get better seats.


Before our trip I did a lot of dreaming about sitting in a cafe in Vienna, just relaxing, sipping some coffee, snacking on some scrumptious treat, and just watching the world go by. Well, I found out the hard way that you have to plan for even something that sounds as simple as this. In the end we did visit a couple of cafes, and they were both great.

On the day we went to the concert at the Musikverein, we stopped before the concert at the Cafe Schwarzenberg, which is a block or so away from the theatre.  Because it is a bit out of the way, it was not a big deal to get a table for dinner. I tried the weinerschnitzl there, which was good but not great. Then, I tried the apple strudel. Crunchy apples inside a crepe-like wrap with powdered sugar on top. Awesome.

On our last day in Vienna we did something different for breakfast. I had made a reservation at Cafe Central, and that turned out to be a good decision. We were given one of the best tables in the cafe. The inside of the cafe is like stepping back in time. Arched columns from floor to ceiling, beautiful pictures on the walls, and big windows that let in the natural light. The food was well prepared, and coffee was as you would expect in Vienna - superb.  We got so comfortable there that it was difficult to get up and leave.



If you are a museum lover Vienna will not disappoint you. There is so much history here! Sisi is the nickname of the Empress Elizabeth (1837-1898), iconic wife of Emperor Franz Joseph, the emperor of Austria (1848–1916) and king of Hungary (1867–1916).  Sisi married the young Austrian Emperor when she was a teenager, with dreams of a fairy-tale life as empress. But her feelings changed as she discovered how rigid the life of an empress was, and soon yearned for her freedom.

Another interesting museum is the Belvedere Museum, located southeast of the center of Vienna. Actually there are three main buildings that comprise Belvedere: Upper Belvedere, Lower Belvedere, and Belvedere 21. (Each of these buildings has its own entrance fee.)  Upper Belvedere is the main museum of art, and the only one we entered. The collection of art here is amazing. I particularly liked the art of Gustav Klimt, a native born Austrian painter. His most famous works, such as The Kiss, are ornately colorful depictions of women. 


Finally, we took a look at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. This place is huge, and has so many different pieces of art from all over Europe, it is just mind boggling. You will need a full day to even see a fraction of it. One "museum inside a museum" you might want to check out while visiting the Kunsthistorisches is the Kunstkammer. It has many displays of rare antiquities from all over the world - a truely unique place that is frankly hard to describe.


Other Stuff

We took a side trip to Nussdorf, a suburb of Vienna to see the apartment Ludwig van Beethoven. He spent the summer of 1802 there to rest and seek treatment for his hearing problems. Unfortunately, the apartment and museum were closed, so we walked the Beethovengang, the path along a creek that Beethoven was known to walk. We were lucky to find a nice Greek restaurant on the walk back to the tram stop. It was a beautiful day so we had our lunch on their covered patio area. Very nice food and atmosphere. We didn't want to leave.


I'd like to mention one more place we visited - the Vienna Naschmark. It's an outdoor marketplace with over one hundred shops. On Saturdays they have a flea market too, so we went Saturday to see if we could find any bargains. One funny thing we noticed was a Japanese film crew filming two Japanese women as they walked around the flea market. Apparently they were participating in a contest to find the best deal. We didn't hang around to find out who won. 


Gee, it just occured to me that I omitted one of the most famous places in Vienna; St. Stephen's Cathedral.  The cathedral is centrally located and is is enormous. Surrounding it were numerous kiosks that had art, souvenirs, even food. Quite a circus outside with so many people waiting to get in. If you go best to get there early.

One quick note about food.  The local restaurants in the area of our hotel were varied and fairly good. On our first night we walked towards the center of town and found a traditional Austrian pub. We all ordered the goulash, which turned out to be really good. Goulash is like a stew, with vegetables and meat awash in a gravy. Quite tasty.

So, we discovered a cheap alternative if you don't want to spend too much money and time on breakfast. Walk down towards the Sisi Museum and you will see a Billa supermarket on the right side of the street. They have fresh fruits, and a bakery - as well as seating both inside and outside. We ate there just about every day.


Ok, that's all worth mentioning about this segment of our Europe Trip 2023. The next segment will be about Florence, Italy.  Cheers!