Eurotrip 2015 Part 1: Return to Vienna

Itinerary: 

Dates: September 18-October 5, 2015

Our Odyssey: 

A little over a year since our first visit to Austria, this
September we headed back over the Atlantic to embark on a 17-day stay in
Europe, road tripping through Austria and Switzerland, and spending a few days
in Germany for Oktoberfest and my best friend from college Tracy’s wedding.

When we stopped over in Vienna for a night last summer, we
absolutely loved it. We were both struck with how magical the city seemed all
lit up at night, and how music seemed to be playing down every street. (Read about last summer’s trip
to Vienna here).
After returning for a few nights this fall, we love it
even more.

When we got in to our downtown Airbnb rental from our long
flights, we were pretty exhausted, but after a nap we managed to muster up the
energy for a 4-mile run through the city and Stadtpark. Now, if you’ve followed
our travels previously, you’ll note that a run is not a typical way for us to
kick off a vacation. Earlier this summer, we began training for a half-marathon
taking place in November (this upcoming weekend!) in Madison, and in order to
stay on track with our training, we were going to have to run several 4-milers
and one 8-miler during our trip. We wanted to run first thing in Vienna to get
it out of the way and not have to worry about it again for a few days.

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Skateboarders at Stadtpark

Stadtpark was a great park around which to jog, with many
monuments, statues, a lake and river, and locals young and old enjoying the
green space. It was admittedly a refreshing way to shake off the grogginess of
the long flight and kick off our vacation on an energetic note.

If you followed our adventures in Europe last year, you may
recall how much we came to love Europe travel expert Rick Steves’
recommendations and self-guided tours. So naturally we weren’t going to return
to Europe without his guidebooks in hand. And once again he did not steer us
wrong.

We got dinner outside of the city at a wine garden about 20
minutes driving from our apartment. Rick Steves recommended several of these
traditional wine and food halls, and we opted for Heuriger Werner Welser, which
sounded the liveliest and happened to be in Beethoven’s hometown of
Heiligenstadt. These wine gardens are like beer halls with more of a cafeteria
feel – you get your food from a cafeteria line and carry it yourself into a dining
room, where a waiter or waitress then comes to take your drink order (hint –
you should get the house wine). We loaded up our communal plate with potato
salad, various meats, cheeses and pickles, and split a carafe or two of the
house red. A few tables down, a polka band played lively music throughout our
meal. Moreover, we saw no other English-speakers in the whole place. We were
definitely off the typical tourist track.

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All the deliciousness at the wine garden, and us too

The next day we visited Schonbrunn Palace, which was the
hunting palace of the Hapsburgs (the ruling family of the Austro-Hungarian
Empire for many centuries) and said to rival the palace of Versailles outside
of Paris in terms of size, grandeur and gardens. It was first built in the
1500s and then expanded over the following three centuries.

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Schobrunn Palace and gardens

During our tour of the palace we learned a lot about the Hapsburg
family tree, but I found two women and their families most interesting. From
1740 to 1780, Maria Theresa was the Holy Roman Empress of the Hapsburg Dynasty
and was the defender of Austria against their French enemies. She bore sixteen
children and was a master at using marriages to create political alliances. For
example, her daughter was Marie Antionette, the last (and later beheaded) Queen
of France. Maria Therese’s son Josef II was later emperor and a patron of
Mozart’s. At six years old, Mozart actually performed in this very palace.

A few decades later, starting in 1848 and lasting until
1916, Franz Josef, of the same family, was the emperor of the dynasty. You may
recognize his nephew, Franz Ferdinand, of assassinated-and-started-WWI fame. Franz
Josef’s wife, Elisabeth, or Sisi as she was popularly called, fascinated the population
of the Austro-Hungarian Empire then as she does the people of Austria today.
She was known for her beauty first and foremost, with ankle length hair and a
beauty regimen that took hours of her every day. Our audio guide of the palace described
how she wouldn’t eat and would skip the elaborate meals in order to keep her
thin frame, yet nowhere did hear or see anything specifically stating that
these are signs of an eating disorder. Admittedly, I couldn’t help but think
that the adoration of Sisi for her looks and health and beauty habits sets an
unhealthy example of body image for women. Anyway, Sisi was later estranged
from her husband after their son died in a mysterious double suicide with his
lover. She traveled often and was eventually murdered by an Italian anarchist
while traveling in Geneva in 1898.

That afternoon we drove over the border east to Bratislava,
Slovakia, which is just an hour away from Vienna. (Want to learn more about this half of former
Czechoslovakia? Check out what we saw and learned).

Back in Vienna that evening, we took a walk into the city
center, retracing many of the steps we made last summer, including dinner at
the Rathaus (basically a town hall, but in Vienna it has picnic tables and food
stands just outside of it). We enjoyed heaping servings of sausage, potatoes,
and veggies.

Last summer we also visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral at dusk
and happened to arrive when the organist was rehearsing. It was a beautiful
experience, and so we knew we had to go back. This time we caught the tail end
of Sunday mass before heading back through the brightly lit city streets where
we watched a string band perform classical music. What could be more Viennese?

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral

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