Wanting to experience the original Oktoberfest for ourselves, we decided a trip to Europe in September was in order. Before enjoying a stein of beer (or two or three or four) in Munich, we first made a stop in Vienna to check out the beautiful city and catch up with some family friends. The result was a newfound appreciation for Vienna and Austria as a whole. Most Americans mention London, Paris, Rome and Berlin when talking about visiting Europe, but Vienna is a hidden gem, a beautiful city full of incredible history, excellent food, many museums and wonderful people. Thanks to our family friends we were able to experience not only the typical sight-seeing but also the rare opportunity to truly experience the local feel and way of life, something we are extremely grateful for.
Friday September 18th
We hopped on a red-eye out of JFK directly to Vienna. The red-eye flights really help optimize travel time; we were able to work a full day on Friday before heading to the airport. The 8.5 hour flight is the perfect length to get a decent night of sleep and then wake up bleary eyed in Europe! An even bigger bonus, we purchased the flight with United miles so we only had to pay taxes and fees out of pocket.
Saturday September 19th
We landed in Vienna around 8:30am local time and our friends Sabine and Hans greeted us at the airport. A quick backstory on Sabine and Hans, because it has become a small-world story that keeps getting smaller and better. Sabine has been a family friend of Emily’s for many years – Emily’s mother, Lisa, participated in a European exchange program the summer after graduating high school and one of the families she stayed with had a niece, Sabine, who was close in age. The two became quick friends and Sabine even visited Lisa in Missouri a few years later. In the mid-eighties Emily’s parents, Lisa and Randy, found themselves stationed in Germany for three years, where Emily was born. Lisa and Randy were able to visit Sabine in Austria several times. Emily even met Sabine’s parents before meeting her own grandparents. Fast forward to 2014 when Sabine and her husband Hans along with their two children traveled to Missouri to visit Emily’s family, with a stop in NYC along the way. We met up with Sabine and Hans in both locations and had a great time showing them the City, and an invitation to see Vienna was offered and quickly accepted. And that is how the Vienna leg of this trip became to be!
From the airport they gave a quick driving tour of Vienna as we headed to a park overlooking the city with amazing views. From there we went to their apartment, which is located just on the outskirts of Vienna in a town called Klosterneuburg. The town is surrounded by hills that are covered with vineyards harvested by the local monks for centuries for wine.
We spent the afternoon visiting Sabine’s family in Lower Austria (hint: “lower” means lower in elevation, not southern which is what we originally thought!), where there was a surprisingly emotional reunion between Emily and Sabine’s father. We had lunch at a local restaurant where we enjoyed our first authentic Austrian schnitzel while “catching up” with Sabine’s father. As he speaks little English, and we speak zero Deutsch, Sabine’s son Xandi helped translate our conversation.
The afternoon was spent walking around the park surrounding Schloss Grafenegg and hearing fascinating stories of what the castle went through during WWII. We also spent some time at Sabine’s family home in the town, walking around the neighborhood, and being presented with a hand carved gift from Sabine’s father to Emily’s father, which successfully made its way back to Missouri!
We had dinner at Wildpert, which is located in the wine region of Lower Austria called Krems-Langenlois. Our time there went far longer than we initially envisioned, as we seemed to overcome the language barrier more and more as more and more wine was poured. That night we drove back to Klosterneuburg and fell asleep right away, finally giving in to the jetlag, at Hans and Sabine’s place. This was our lodging for the duration in Vienna, which was extremely nice of Hans and Sabine to offer!
Sunday September 20th
Sunday morning we drove to downtown Vienna and Hans, Sabine and family gave us a quick walkthrough the pedestrian-only streets. It was great to get acquainted with the area before spending Monday and Tuesday visiting the numerous museums and sites .
The afternoon was spent touring the Klosterneuburg monastery, just outside of Vienna and close to Hans and Sabine’s place. This monastery was where the first school of viticulture was started in 1860, and its rich tradition in wine-making continues to this day. The tour took us through the many parts of the monastery, which was part church, part residential, and part wine cellar. An English audio tour for most of the time helped explain the history of the monastery, and we concluded with the purchase of some of that wine and a snack at the outdoor cafe.
Monday September 21st
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Monday called for a full day of tourist activities. We utilized Rick Steves’ Vienna travel book for our downtown exploration (it has lots of guided walking tours), which is beautiful and had so much to do and see. Our first stop was Saint Stephen’s Cathedral. This cathedral has seen and been through a lot of Europe’s history, and has a commanding presence in the central part of downtown. The roof itself is spectacular, the multicolor tile pattern enough to keep one entranced as they walk around the church. You can even find a cannonball still lodged in the side from when the Turks were attacking the city.
We decided to head to the Treasury next, but first a quick stop for a bite to eat was a must. We were recommended the Bitzinger sausage stand to try a traditional brat. The stand did not disappoint, and with free Wi-Fi at the stand as well, we were highly satisfied customers.
With so many options of places to tour with the ring of Old Town, we had to be somewhat choosy of where to spend our time. We decided the Hofburg Treasury would be a good choice, and we were not disappointed. Here we once again utilized the Rick Steves book to guide us through the Treasury, complemented by the audio tour they provide. Twenty one rooms full of some of the most well known jewels on the Continent are displayed, all used by the Hosfburg family to demonstrate the wealth and power of the Austrian Empire. Included in this abundance of treasurers are the Crown of the Holy Roman Emperors, Cradle of the King of Rome (made for Napoleon’s son), Imperial Cross, and a 2,680-karat stone given by Muslim Turks to a Hungarian king opposed to the Hofburgs. It was truly amazing to see so many of the priceless jewels of Western history all accumulated in this Treasury. After an hour and a half we had been through the rooms and departed richer not in jewels but in knowledge.
Vienna State Opera
Next up was the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper), where we saw firsthand how much Austrians appreciate music. Mozart himself was the first to perform here (built in the 1860s), and while it was initially rejected over time the admiration of Wiener Staatsoper grew. This building was one of the first major rebuilding efforts after World War II, and the rebuilt made it first-class in that it delivers over 300 operas or ballet performances every year. We plan to attend one of those many performances next time we are in Vienna!
One more stop for the day included a walk through Prater Park. The large park used to be the hunting grounds of the royal family, but today includes an amusement park with many rides for all ages. We enjoyed a ride on a small, but mighty roller coaster and the iconic ferris wheel provided amazing 360° views of the city.
That night we enjoyed a delicious home cooked Bavarian dinner, with homemade white sausages and pretzels, courtesy of Hans, who wanted to provide a preview of the delicious food we would encounter later that week.
Tuesday September 22nd
To start our day Sabine’s high school aged daughter, Kathi, invited us to visit her English class. We sat through a lesson on globalization and then ironically met a foreign exchange student from Kansas! The rest of the morning was spent in downtown Vienna exploring some more. The exploration of course had food stops sprinkled in throughout – a late brunch at the highly recommended Trzesniewski, followed by a late morning dessert stop at Demel Konditorei, before finally enjoying a lunch on the patio of a local restaurant.
We took a the subway and spent the afternoon at Schombrunn Palace, which was the summer residence of the Austrian monarchy. This magnificent palace, containing 1,441 rooms, offered a great audio tour (<60 minutes) through some of the main rooms, where they have been restored or kept in remarkable shape for viewing. Walking on the hilly grounds provided another perspective of what is often compared to Versaille in France. Finishing up after a few hours, we took the train back to downtown Vienna to meet up with Hans so we could work out our train the next day for Munich. Our original train, and those for the past week, to Munich had been cancelled as the European governments sought to figure out the correct processes for the refugees streaming across the continent. Luckily Hans was there to talk with the train official and work out a different route for us.
To finish off the night we enjoyed a pre-dinner drink at DC Tower (the tallest building in Vienna, you can see it best in the ferris wheel picture above), which had stunning views of Vienna at night. Dinner was at a local pizza joint in Klosterneuburg, a favorite of Sabine’s family. With a very early train the next day out of Vienna we concluded the night after a great time at dinner.
Wednesday September 23rd
We took an early morning train to Munich, where Sabine saw us off! It was so nice of her and her family to take us in and treat us like family, such generous hospitality we hope we can return one day.
(De)parting words of advice!
- SO much history in regards to Austria that few Americans realize.
- If you are looking to explore Munich, Budapest or Prague, Vienna is very close to those and easy to incorporate into your trip.
- Public transportation can get you all around the city.
- So many things to explore in regards to the old palaces and museums, we definitely did not see it all in one trip.
- Yes audio tours are touristy, but they provide so much insight you would easily miss viewing many museums objects.