To celebrate my completion of a Masters in Public Health program in August, one of my aunts invited me to visit her in Vienna, Austria for a week. I’ve been to Europe, but never Austria so I was more than excited to take the trip. Beyond having been forced by my mother to watch “The Sound of Music” far too many times as a child, and loving schnitzel and beer, my knowledge of Vienna and Austrian culture in general was pretty pedestrian. Obviously leading up to the trip, I got some travel books, spent hours on Trip Advisor, and even made some half-assed attempts at learning German on Duolingo (The app is great, I’m just a terrible student who would rather watch “The Wire” than study whenever I pull my iPad out).
The culmination of my Vienna 2014 Trip preparation came when I was on the treadmill one evening and an episode of “Keeping up With the Kardashian’s” came on. Obviously, like any true American, I couldn’t change the channel because Ryan Seacrest and Kris Jenner have cast some sort of spell on us. When this episode aired, the story seemed to be everywhere. In a nutshell, Kim gets paid by a super wealthy Austrian man to be his date at the Vienna Opera Ball and upon her arrival things start going poorly. Their luggage gets lost (or stolen?), people are running late, no one knows the plan, then she gets to the Ball and some very racist things go down. There’s a guy in blackface following her around pretending to be Kanye, then during an interview some comedian drops the N-word. Finally, on her flight home she is accosted and yelled at by an Austrian woman who is disgusted by her black baby and black husband.
Needless to say, after seeing this I was a little nervous about what I might encounter on my trip. Knowing that this story of mine will obviously go viral, I want to start out by saying that my experience in Vienna, and all of my interactions with Austrian people were wonderful. Of course, being Germanic people, they are not the most outwardly friendly and they definitely won’t chat you up like they would in Spain or Italy, but they are incredibly welcoming and service-oriented.
Before I start to talk about my actual trip, I should preface it by telling you that I'm an introvert, but a weird kind of introvert. While I seem to dislike most people, I fear the idea of being seen as a sad, creepy, antisocial loner. Therefore, traveling alone is equal parts wonderful and stressful for me. I love going to museums alone, but sometimes I’d rather starve than eat at a restaurant by myself.
If you love classical music, opera, art, or history (or if you’re wild and love art history) then Vienna and Salzburg are definitely the destinations for you. If you’re not really into any of these things but you enjoy good wine, good beer, potatoes, and pork in all forms, then Vienna and Salzburg are also for you. Personally I’m more into the food part, but I do my best to appear cultured, as to assure my parents that their efforts to expose me to the world were not futile. Over the course of my week-long stay in Vienna and Salzburg, I spent a lot of time walking through museums, eating and drinking at incredible cafes, and ambling down pristine streets with some of the most beautiful architecture I have had the fortune of seeing.
Like most European cities, don’t be afraid to walk around with your map and guidebook. While you will look like a dorky tourist, it’s not New York City; people won’t be annoyed with you or act rudely. From my experience, whenever I was lost, people were strangely nice and very forthcoming with directions and help. With that being said, don’t walk around the whole time with your nose in a book or you’ll miss out on the biggest attraction in Vienna, its buildings.
Belvedere - A palace turned museum and park. With immaculate lawns and an expansive collection of modern pieces by Klimt, Van Gogh, and Monet as well earlier works, it’s not to be missed.
Albertina - It has one of the largest collection of master prints and drawings in the world, as well as some of the most amazing impressionist pieces I’ve ever seen. The exhibits downstairs rotate often, but the upstairs collection is constant with some incredible Picasso’s, Matisse’s and Modigliani’s.
Hofburg - The former imperial palace is now the presidential residence and a compound full of some of the best museums in the city. If you’re into medieval stuff or just a big Game of Thrones fan, the Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury) will keep you busy for a while with it’s collection of royal attire, weaponry and crown jewels. It’ll also give you a pretty good lesson on the history of the Holy Roman Empire.
Salzburg - If you have the time, you need to go to Salzburg. About a 3-4 hour drive from Vienna, but you can’t go to Austria and not see Mozart’s birthplace and the Von Trapp’s hometown.
Café Central - You must, and this is an order, try their apple strudel (apfelstrudel). Regarded as the best in the city, it is served warm, and the apples are fresh and soaked in rum. If you don’t like food, still go to marvel at the interior of the café and its ornate ceilings. You might even soak up some lingering inspiration from Trotsky and Freud who frequented the establishment. Just avoid accidentally soaking up some of Lenin’s or Hitler’s….
Figlmülle r- Where I had my first wienerschnitzel (a very thin, breaded and deep fried piece of veal, typically served with lemon and a potato salad, dressed in vinegar and olive oil, not mayo). It’s definitely a tourist attraction, with its tuxedoed wait staff and wood paneling. However, if you can get a reservation or if you don’t mind waiting an hour or two to get a table you will not be disappointed with your meal.
Gmoakeller - For a less touristy schnitzel experience, this is your place. The schnitzel here is just as good if not better than Figlmüller, and you will have a more relaxed and spacious (read: not elbow-to-elbow with other patrons) environment to enjoy it in.
Beyond these three establishments, there is no dearth of cafes and restaurants to try. The food is heavy and the wine is good, so please take a break from your diets and just enjoy yourselves for a change.
By Roberto Henry
Edited By Kimberly Romanello