St. Augustine’s Cathedral – Austrian National Library – Hofburg Palace Plaza – Volksgarden – Austrian Parliament – Rathaus – Vienna Film Festival – Burg National Theatre – Hapsburg Silver Collection & State Rooms – The Albertina Museum of Fine Art – The Austrian Theatre Museum – Prater – Schweizerhaus Biergarten
We were a bit worried when we realized that we would be in Vienna primarily on a Sunday and a Monday. Generally this is the kiss of death for your sight-seeing plans in Europe as everything is usually closed, but luckily Vienna gets enough tourism to know that it’s better off keeping things open. And as it was Sunday, a lot of the churches have extended music programs before mass, so you can hop in and get a free concert. We decided to try this at St. Augustine’s Chapel, which was the Catholic church of the Hapsburg’s palace in Vienna and where the Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elizabeth “Sisi” were married. It is not a particularly grand church compared with St. Mark’s in Venice or even St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, but it had a certain majesty about it as it filled with locals ready for worship and reverberated with the orchestral overture. We waited until mass started and ducked out into the courtyard of the Hapsburg’s Spanish riding school where it was becoming a beautiful sunny afternoon.
Before going straight into the Imperial Apartments of the palace, we took advantage of the weather and made a full tour of the Hapsburg’s grounds. Going through the Volksgarten, we passed by Parliament and headed to the city hall, called Rathaus. We were drawn in by the sound of live jazz, and found a huge projection screen set up in front of the Rathaus where we learned it was the last day of the Vienna Film Festival. The courtyard was filled with every type of food stand imaginable and a jazz band was playing “Satin Doll” on a stage in the center. Since we were ready for lunch we grabbed a couple plates and made our way to the Austrian beer booth.
While no one in Europe has adopted the “flight” or “sampler” concept of our bars back home, the woman helping us let Andrew try a couple different brews before buying. She spoke English very well and told us about the Ottakringer Brewery and the famous beer gardens of Vienna. I had a Radler Citrus beer, which is a combination of light beer and lemonade, surprisingly refreshing (although our bar maid scoffed at its froufrou-ness), “If you want to drink beer, drink beer. If you want to drink lemonade, drink lemonade.”
Moving on from lunch we enjoyed a view of the National Burg Theater and jumped on a “ring tram” back to the start of the palace for a tour through the Hapsburgs’ kitchen and dining wares and the personal apartments of Franz Joseph and Sisi. As we had already seen Sisi’s rooms in Venice, some of it looked familiar but the scale and grandness of the palace still puts everything else to shame. The dining china, silver and gold alone filled twenty rooms and a scale model of the Hapsburg grounds made you realize how truly massive and impressive the palace was and remains.
From here we went next door to the Albertina Museum which houses some fantastic exhibits as well as permanent collections including Monet, Picasso, Cezanne, Renoir and Toulouse-Lautrec. After a couple hours we walked next door to the small Museum of Theater that had an interesting installment about the rise and effect of the operetta, but was unfortunately mostly in German so we read what we could and moved on. You could probably spend over a week in Vienna seeing every museum, there are so many and so close together, but we were museum-ed out for the day so we hopped on the underground and made our way to the Prater area for dinner.
Prater, while home to the “famous” beer garden Schweizerhaus, is also home to a permanent fairground for children with every kind of amusement ride imaginable. After getting a little lost amidst the roller coasters and cotton candy, we found the huge beer garden and nabbed a table outside. I had another lemonade beer while Andrew enjoyed the “house” beer (which was actually the Czech Budvar) which the bartenders expertly poured with a head of foam at least five inches high, rising above the lip like swirls of whipped cream.
We shared our first wiener schnitzel with pickled potatoes, cucumbers and cabbage and enjoyed people watching among the locals, tourists and many dogs that populated the patio. While content enough to withstand your presence, the Viennese people do not seem interested in chatting up visitors, probably due to the constant barrage of daily tourists the general lack of English skills from people who don’t have direct interactions with tourists. Despite having no one to talk to besides ourselves, we enjoyed our beers and headed home for some rest before attempting to take on two more palaces the next day…