Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Vienna, Austria - Europe Trip 2012

I don’t think anyone in our group had major expectations heading into Vienna. I think it was the city we had done the least amount of research on and only had a couple of days in. Even though we didn't give it much attention beforehand, Vienna definitely came out swinging on our first day! Somehow we missed our tram stop and had some difficulty finding our way. Have no fear! Between Robbie’s internal sense of navigation and Sarah’s mobile minutes we were able to get back on track. We found our apartment, settled our things and then headed to dinner right away (because we were starving).

Dinner was quite an experience as well! I found a Bosnian restaurant not far from us, and everyone was game to give it a try. When we got there we were the only patrons in the entire place. On top of that, the owner barely spoke German (Austria’s language) and zero English. It definitely felt awkward as we struggled through our order, but things started to turn around from there. He connected an online media player to his sound system, and gestured for Ali and I to choose an online music station for the restaurant. My go-to, Pandora, doesn’t work outside of the U.S. because of copyright laws, so I had to pull Robbie in to help. As we were trying to figure out the music, Ian somehow made his way to the bar and was asking the owner (Jay) about his beer selection (note: they were struggling to communicate through German because English was NOT the common language). We were able to get Mumford & Sons to play and this led Jay to play the air guitar while the volume was much too loud. After dinner, Jay brought the entire table a round of free shots! It was gross and burned my throat, but it was such a fun experience. His excitement was contagious and a great way to welcome us to this city.

As we set out to explore the next day, we decided we should stop at the tourist office first so that we could get some good information. We grabbed transportation maps, and a city map with a walking tour of the city center. First stop on the tour: St. Stephen's Cathedral. Throughout Europe I was struck by how beautiful everything was; each church is unique, yet just as grandiose as the last. To get some background info as we walked through the church, Sarah and I listened to a bit of a Rick Steves' audio guide. After plenty of of pictures were attempted (the lighting was just too dark), we decided to hike to the top of the church tower. Boy, it was exhausting! It was around 20 stories, straight up (yikes!). Once we had a chance to catch our breath, we were able to fully enjoy great views of the city from the highest point in the Hapsburg Empire.

It actually rained on us pretty consistently the entire day. I'm talking soppy shoes and wet clothes kind of rain, and I was loving it! In hopes of not becoming miserable, Robbie, Sarah, and I purchased ponchos, looked like major dorks, and stayed dry. Ian didn't want to be a part of that, so he stayed damp.

We strolled through Graben Street and found a cute Austrian place tucked down a small alleyway. It was nice and warm and full of locals. There was an older couple who grabbed a window seat and were going over their map once they finished their meal. Ian leaned over to me and said, "That's going to be you and Robbie in another 35-40 years." I really hope so.

We went back to the house for a little break, met back up with Al and Lijah, and decided to get dinner at the NachMarket. The Nach is an outdoor market that sells fish, produce, meats, cheeses, etc. We agreed on a Japanese place for dinner and ended up eating mediocre sushi. Not to be a snob, it just wasn't as good as home (lesson learned). Before we left our apartment, Ian had done some research on where we could get an after-dinner treat. He found a place called Hotel Sacher and their claim to fame is inventing the Sacher Torte. Sacher Torte is a specific kind of chocolate cake that was accidently invented in 1832. The hotel was super fancy, and we were totally out of place in our casual gear, but the dessert and drinks were delicious so we didn't care!

We decided that we weren't done for the night, so we finished up the walking tour. We found ruins, the Royal Palace, and the Twin Museums. It was neat to stumble upon these beautiful building as they were lit up, with hardly anyone else around.

The next morning we headed back to the Nachmarket to explore and grab breakfast. It was fun to see the vendors alive with people and full of color. We found a cute place and had an Austrian style breakfast. The skies were blue and the weather was pretty lovely. After much discussion, Robbie and I decided to take a day to ourselves. To be honest, it was really nice. We love experiencing new places with such good friends and seeing things through a different perspective, but it was nice to have some alone time to ourselves. Time for just the two of us, time to talk about our hopes and plan for our future.

We kicked the day off at the palace we found the night before. Robbie was willing to listen to a bit of the Rick Steves audio guide (yes!), so we heard some great historical insight we would not have known otherwise. From here we embarked on some classic Robbie/Stacy exploring: see something in the distance, walk there, go inside (if possible), and then find the next place. We found a beautiful church with tall steeples and an awesome outdoor concert area that plays "re-runs" of classical music concerts for free. We decided to grab lunch in a small little neighborhood called Spittleburg and enjoyed the quaint views. It was about this time that the rain started again, so we headed back to the apartment to grab warmer clothes and to rest a bit.

We weren't quite ready for dinner so we stopped at a street side cafe for some warm beverages. I was able to enjoy a hot chocolate, listening to the rain fall on the city, with my favorite guy (3 of my favorite things!); I'm pretty sure I had a smile on my face the entire time. We walked further along Graben, past St. Stephen's, toward the river, and stole WiFi from Starbucks (we didn't feel bad stealing their wifi since they are such a huge organization, sorry Bucks!). While freeloading, we picked a French place on the opposite side of town for dinner, but the underground got us there no problem.

The restaurant was a tiny little place, in a local neighborhood, on a street with no name. Their lights lit the whole place and created a warm, inviting ambiance in contrast to the wet cobblestone street. As soon as we walked in we could tell that it was family owned and simple in spirit; no two tables were set up the same and everything was made of wood. We both ordered dessert crepes because we were so full from our coffee breaks throughout the day. It was a perfect little place to end a wonderful day with my guy.

When we got back the roomies had made their way to the roof of the building and were looking over the Vienna skyline. We each took turns pointing out the places we found and compared adventure notes from our day. Can you see St. Stephen's off in the distance?

Vienna is a beautiful city. Their buildings are powerful, but not overwhelming; detailed, but not gaudy. There is a mix of old and new architecture throughout the city, but neither feels out of place. The city itself actually reminded me of San Francisco because it felt manageable in size and was much more modern than most of the other cities we had visited. We got the sense that some people are resistant to changing the appearance for fear of losing the historical integrity, but that there are also those that push against that. This quote from the tourist center seems to sum it up, "At one point, old Vienna was new."

Is Vienna on your "must-see" list? It wasn't on mine, but I definitely want to go back now that I've been there.

(More photos after the "Read more" jump)


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