Around 6.30 in the morning the conductor woke us up with breakfast, then returned shortly after with our printed reservation in hand. The three of us were sure that now was when we were going to be yelled at and dragged off to European train jail, but nope, he was simply returning the paper to us. (By this point, we were simply living in a state of constant fear.) We reached the train station and took a metro to the Wombat Hostel, a hip, modern looking place. While waiting for our room, we met up and chatted with Brendan, who was saying at the same hostel the night before with his frat brother and spring break travel buddy, Adam. Adam was studying in Uppsala, Sweden for the semester. We filled each other in on the highlights of our trip so far, got settled in our room, and set out with Brendan and Adam to explore the city.
Our first stop was Schönbrunn Palace, the ‘sumptuous’ summer residence of the Habsburgs and the surrounding gardens. We took the grand-sounding “Imperial Tour” and learned lots about the Austrian Dynasty as we traversed from room to elegant room within the palace. The audio guide was informational but had a particular fondness for the word “sumptuous,” which it used well over forty times to describe the forty ornate rooms. The surrounding gardens were equally gorgeous and we spent a few hours walking amidst them, near the Neptune fountain, and hedge maze. At one end of the gardens was a large arched structure, called the Gloriette, which offered a gorgeous panorama of the city.
We then split up; Brendan and Adam were only in Vienna for a day, so had a different itinerary in mind. The three of us walked around Karlsplatz and sat down in a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Despite its incredibly smoky interior and the frail-looking hostess’s poor English skills, the place proved to be delicious. I had a cold beer and some sort of wurst in rottwein sauce with knodel, all of which was incredibly tasty and spelled differently from the way I butchered it here. We walked by the Opera house and ducked into a patisserie for a few pieces of cake and our first taste of the amazingness that is apfelstrudel. We had intended to head back to the hostel to rest, a bit drowsy from our filling meal. Instead, we found ourselves lost (mentally, not physically) in the Naschmarkt, a bit open air market vending vegetables, drinks, chocolate, cheeses, hummuses, nuts, and much more, all of which looked scrumptious despite the fact we’d just eaten (haha, like that’s ever stopped us). I limited myself to a red wine and raspberry truffle, though an exotic selection of chocolate bars was also very tempting. We eventually meandered back to the hostel, rested, and chatted with Brendan and Adam for a bit before they hopped on a train to Slovenia.
After we mustered up the will to move, Michael, Alyssa, and I hopped on the metro and went west of the city center for dinner at a Trip Advisor-approved brewery called Medl-Bräu. We walked into a smoky, lively room but asked to be seated in the non-smoking area, a brighter, quieter room; the differences in atmosphere were palpable, though both were hearty and welcoming. We tried a variety of “Pfiffs” – adorable little 0.2 L mugs of beer – of a light (Helles), medium (Märzon), and dark (Dunkles). It was my first taste of dark beer and I absolutely loved it. I ordered a larger size of that and small goulash. Austrian goulash is thicker and more stew-like than its Hungarian counterpart, and even though I’d never had it before, it tasted like comfort food. As we were so enamored by the little Pfiff mugs, we each bought a few to take home as souvenirs. After taking the metro home, we grabbed some free beers from the hostel lounge, watched drunk people be stupid, and engaged in some hearty girl talk (after kicking Michael out). Good stuff.
The following day, we headed out midmorning, following a walking tour printed in the map given to us by the hostel, which took us around Ringstraße, a central part of the city. We first stopped for breakfasted at the acclaimed (but overpriced) Cafe Museum, where I downed a dark chocolate, caramel, coffee, and freshly whipped cream concoction called a schokochino. Our path then took us to a few gardens and historical buildings, statues of Mozart and Schiller, and Museumsplatz, where we bought entrance to the Natural History Museum. This had several rooms of interesting rocks and more taxidermy animals than you could imagine. We came by the city hall and found a dirt bike competition in progress, so we joined the rest of the Austrian hipster jock crowd for a bit to watch a series of flips and tricks. We kept walking and chanced upon Freud’s grave, a large marble table commemorating the formation of the European Union, the Franz Joseph I church, and Freud museum. The latter was very informative, primarily about his personal life, but rather time-consuming, leaving us a bit rushed.
We speedwalked down the canal with lots of cool graffiti then grabbed some delicious kebabs and walked towards the Stephansdom church. Before entering the church, we stopped at Manner’s wafers for some crispy goodness. Continuing on to the church, we climbed several flights of stairs for a lovely view of the city. En route to the Opera House, we stopped to buy a few souvenirs, then added ourselves to the massive line for tickets to that night’s opera. Alyssa fetched us some apfelstrudel and walnut cake which we ate like hobos while waiting in line. When the line started moving though, we were in pretty quickly and for just three euro, got standing tickets to Beethoven’s Fidelio. By accident, I was in a different section than Alyssa and Michael, but still enjoyed the opera, sung in its original German and supertitled in English and German on little hanging screens. The patrons for the normal seating areas were dressed up, donning nice suits and dresses, but we fit in fine with the other standing ticket holders, many of whom carried scarves to mark their spots along the bannisters where we stood. Though I moved around a bit during the show to optimize my position, I generally had a pretty good view of the stage and pit. The opera was about a woman, Leonore, who dresses as a man so she can free her wrongly imprisoned husband Florestan from the clutches of the evil governor Pizarro. Being the creep that I am, I struck up a conversation during intermission with a fine arts major who was working in Pennsylvania living near Berlin. I met up with my compatriots afterwards and we headed to another brewery for dinner. 7 Stern Brau offered us chili beer (spicy!), wienerschnitzel (crunchy!), and fried emmental cheese (gooey!) – all of which were freaking delicious. We finished up dinner and headed back to the hostel and to bed.