GETAWAYS: VIENNA

Trieste is inherently tied to Vienna. Having been under Austrian rule since as far back as 1382, when the main citizens of Trieste in petitioned Leopold III of Habsburg, Duke of Austria in order to become part of his domains. Subsequently Trieste gained wealth and importance as the port city of the consolidated Austrian Littoral. It became little Vienna on the sea, with the Castle Miramare as it’s Imperial outpost. To this day Austria lives on in Trieste, besides the architecture, many traditions and customs (and some leftover love for Austrian rule) can still be found here.Litorale_austriaco_1897.jpg

So if you are in Trieste then a trip to Vienna is mandatory.

I finally got to Vienna this winter, choosing to go a few days in the week between Christmas and New Years Eve and it was the perfect holiday trip.

Vienna is easily reached by car, in under 5 hours, although parking in Vienna is both costly and complicated. Or you can go by plane with tickets costing around $200 roundtrip – it is a 3 hour trip with a stopover in Munich on Lufthansa. Flix Bus takes a little over 6 hours with prices ranging from $30-$50 RT and you can also reach Vienna by train in about 7 hours at a cost of about $90 RT.

Everyone tells you that 3 days is enough to see everything, but I disagree….I was there for 3 days and I did not see everything. I would say that ideally 5 days would be best, if you want to experience the main attractions and experiences that the city has to offer. While Vienna is enjoyable even visiting it “on the fly” I would plan it out and make advance reservations if you have specific sightseeing goals as it does get crowded.

From the palaces and their sprawling gardens; The Hofburg, in the heart of the old city that was once the seat of the Imperial family and is now home to the Sissi  Museum, The Imperial Apartments, the opulent silver collection and for those of you growing up watching the Wonderful World of Disney, the famous Lipizzaner Stallions (aka “the dancing white stallions”).  Then there’s The Belvedere, home to the world’s largest Gustav Klimt collection including The Kiss and Judith.  And The Schönbrunn, summer home to the royals. Here the gardens are even more magnificent and the Maze garden, Orangerie and Gloriette are must sees. The Palace is also home to the Tiergarten, the oldest zoo in the world.

Then there are the museums: The KunstHistoriches Museums Wien with the Natural History Museum  on one side and across the way is the Art History Museum. The Natural History Museum is in the style of the WunderKammers; room after room of neatly catalogued display cases featuring collections with everything from exotic birds, to meteorites to gemstones. One highlight is the staute of the Venus of Willendorf a fertility figurine dating back to the Paleolithic Era.

The Art Museum is home to a seemingly endless collection of masterpieces by 16th-century Venetian masters (Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto), 17th-century Flemish masters  (Peter Paul Rubens, Sir Anthony Van Dyck), Early Netherlandish artists (Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden) and German Renaissance artists (Albrecht Dürer, Lucas Cranach) Among the other highlights in the Picture Gallery are its holdings of pictures by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which are unique worldwide, as well as masterpieces by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Raphael, Caravaggio, Velázquez and Italian Baroque painters. In addition there are artifacts from ancient Egypt, Greece and Roman Empire objects to a Coin collection comprised of some 600,000 objects from three millennia, a Library housing a total of 256,000 volumes. It also houses the Ephesos Museum, The Imperial Armory and the Kunstkammer Wein Collection. The latter is considered a “museum within a museum” of curiosities, tapestries, bronze statuettes, delicate and bizarre ivories and precious stones vessels, as well as valuable clocks, elaborate automatons, strange scientific instruments , extravagant gameboards and more.

Then there are the other art museums, from the Secession founded by Klimt and his contemporaries to revolutionize the art world which is home to his Beethoven’s Frieze,  and the Albertina once home to the archdukes and duchesses, is now a vibrant art museum featuring old masters (Michelangelo, Dürer, Rembrandt and Rubens to Picasso, Richter and Lassnig) as well as contemporary exhibits.  I was unable to get to The Mumoc, the Leopold Museum  or the Kunsthalle Wien Vienna’s modern art museum. It will have to wait until my next trip.

Nearby is the Naschmarkt, an outdoor market featuring middle eastern, asian and european cuisines and produce, meat, cheese and spice sellers.  It is a colorful and fun experience.

 

Just off of the Naschmarkt, is a concentration of Asian food shops and restaurants that are not to be missed, Karma Ramen is worth a visit as is Mama Liu’s.

Viennese cuisine is very rich, lots of fried foods, pork dishes or dishes smothered in sauces. A nice sampling of elevated Viennese cuisine is offered at The Guest House whereas, if you want a bonafide Austrian “tavern” meal then Stern is a good spot. I would strongly suggest buying sausages from the street vendors, they are really quite delicious — although I also like “dirty dogs” in NYC so there’s that to consider….

Take a stroll down the posh Kohlmarket to enjoy the luxury brand stores and then walk to the Stephansdom Cathedral , Vienna gothic masterpiece dating back to the 12thCentury with it’s amazing tile roof.

I am sad to say that I did not get to taste a real Viennese hot chocolate (the cafe Am Hof where we went was sold out) and the lines to get into Demel and Hotel Sacher — two required stops for authentic Viennese pastry tasting were ridiculous.

I would strongly suggest making reservations for dinners BEFORE you go, because it is notoriously hard to get into the more popular restaurants, especially during peak season.

As for getting in and out of Museums and around town, we totally regret having paid almost $300 for three days of Vienna Pass and Hop on bus tickets for 2.

Vienna Pass or Not? I would say  yes only if you are a power sightseer. There is no way that we could visit all of the sites necessary for it to make it worthwhile in the course of three days. The Vienna Card is far less expensive although it doesn’t include public transportation. To get around, we found that Vienna has a great Car-to-Go network and that was the most convenient way for us to get everywhere. The Hop on Hop off bus was never around when we needed it and the wait was always around 30 mins (which in Vienna is what it takes to walk across town…)

If you go at Christmas, the entire city is a collection of Christmas markets. There is nothing really that you will want to buy at them, but it’s fun to see the lights, and the kiosks and the food vendors and the hot mulled wine stands. It is the embodiment of the holidays. Even in front of City Hall (Rathaus) the park is converted into an ice-skating course that snakes all around it and frequented by locals and tourists alike.

I have to say that we really enjoyed Vienna and we were bowled over by the opulence and unbelievable Imperial residences and riches. Add to that the blend of European and exotic Eastern influences and the first-class cultural offerings and you have a very cosmopolitan city that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

There are so many things I would still like to see, the Judenplatz, the Pathology Museum, the Modern Art Museums, the Opera and I’m sure I’m leaving out loads more. Maybe a Springtime visit is in order so as to see all the Imperial gardens in bloom…. I am already looking forward to it!

 

 

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