While E. had already visited this beautiful city many years ago, it was my first time discovering it. And what a beautiful holiday that was! A lot of my favourite things reunited in one place: amazing art museums and delicious food. Add to this a sprinkle of wonderful Christmas markets and it makes for the perfect Winter holiday.
We stayed for three days and it was enough time to enjoy a lot of what this Austrian city has to offer: a multitude of amazing museums, beautiful sights and the most lovely coffeehouse culture (all of the cakes!).
However, I did not get much sleep due to the lack of curtains. The only option were blinds that let a lot of the street light in all night. Yes, I know, I hear you, I should have gotten an eye mask.
And as part of the minimalist features (I am guessing that is the approach the hotel is going for...), there was no storage in the room (just a bench and three hangers along the wall), no such thing as coffee and tea amenities in the room and a shower only separated from the room with see-through glass.
If you are happy to go along with a minimalist approach to hotel stays, this is your place. If you want value for money and things you usually expect to find in other hotels, maybe not.
As soon as we got off the tramway, we were welcomed by the most beautiful Christmas light show I had ever seen: a multitude of colours and shapes spread throughout the market and the nearby trees. To the left of the market, an ice skating trail which was illuminated and surrounded by trees covered in garlands of fairy lights. To the right, a beautiful old timey carousel, a small ferris wheel and more illuminated trees (one of them covered in huge red hearts lights). And in the middle was the centrepiece: the Christmas Market itself with the beautifully lit town hall in the background.
We are not talking about the type of markets that sell junk food and tasteless decorations. No. This was definitely on another level. I am talking incredible smells of roasting chestnuts, warm waffles covered in icing sugar, a huge range of appetising pastries, enormous strudels, rows of pretzels, bratwursts and käsekrainers stuffed in bread rolls with your choice of condiments, etc. You will definitely not go hungry there!
For drinks, you get to choose your hot beverage from one of the many stalls and options on offer. You pay a small deposit (€4 when we visited) for the mug in which your hot drink is poured and you can either keep it as a souvenir or hand it to any of the drinks stalls (they are all managed by the market) in exchange for your deposit back. We grabbed a Christmas punch for E. and an Amaretto punch for me and hugged our warm mugs while walking around the market. We thought the mugs were such a clever idea when it comes to respecting the environment (as well as the many recycling bins you can find; we passed by a Christmas Market that had just closed for the night one evening and there was not a single bit of rubbish on the ground).
The other stalls sold really tasteful gift ideas and Christmas decorations. There, I managed to find a beautiful wooden ornament for my grandparents (I have a little tradition of giving them one from wherever I am of where I have been on holidays each year). I also found a stall selling rows upon rows of incredible cookie cutters. I wanted a lot of them but settled for two cute ones that were perfect for my gingerbread biscuits this year: a little fox and a reindeer with a Santa hat.
We went back to this market the day before we left so E. could rent some ice skates and spend some time on the beautiful iced trail while I wandered around to marvel at the beautiful lights and decorations one last time.
We also spent a bit of time around the Maria-Theresien Platz Christmas Market. It is located between the natural history museum and the Kunsthistorisches Museum. This was perfect since we wanted to visit the latter. The surroundings of this market were just stunning. You will find a similar array of tasteful choices of food, drinks, gifts and decorations for sale as the Rathausplatz Christmas market with just a few differences in terms of the food and drinks. For example, there are varieties of hot drinks you will find there that you might not find in another Christmas market. I had a Lillet and apple punch which was really delicious. Just with the Rathausplatz market, the system is the same for mugs except the styles vary and match the buildings and surroundings of each place. We also got some delicious waffles while there. These and the hot drinks were perfect after having walked around the city in the cold and before stepping into a beautiful museum to end a lovely Winter day in Vienna.
Before we got to that specific part of the city, we stopped near our hotel at the Belvedere Museum. The buildings themselves, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are stunning and surrounded by beautiful gardens. We divided our time between the Upper Belvedere (which houses a permanent and large collection of Austrian art and renowned international masterpieces) and the Lower Belvedere (home to temporary exhibitions). A lot of Gustav Klimt’s paintings are in this museum but other Austrian artists not to miss are Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka. Actually, Egon Schiele’s works of art are currently part of a special exhibition beautifully curated and installed in the Orangery of the Lower Belvedere until 17th February 2019.
Since it was cold and rainy/snowy, we decided to make it a day of visiting museums and headed to the MAK (Museum of Applied Arts) after lunch. The Sagmeister and Walsh exhibition Beauty was on and we spent a large amount of our time there discovering it (it is on until 31st March 2019). This project makes use of multimedia to give an appreciation of beauty in a variety of ways: the effect it has on us, how we are attracted to it, what is pleasing in objects, buildings etc. We were given a type of bookmark as a ticket to the exhibition. Little discs could be detached from it and inserted in a variety of interactive boxes where you could vote for which colour, smell, photo etc. was more pleasing to you.
While there, we also visited the Design Collection which was really interesting. There is even a section with kitchen designs which are fascinating.
On our second day, after a breakfast that extended into brunch, we took a tramway to go and see Hundertwasserhaus which is famous for its unusual architecture and colourful facade. It was designed by artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser and constructed between 1983 and 1985 with the collaboration of architect and co-creator Josef Krawina.
You can only view the building from outside but it is interesting to learn that people who live there are allowed to decorate around their windows as they like. However, it seems they really stick to the original style because it matches perfectly.
After a last Christmas Market stop and while the weather was getting colder and colder, we escaped to the warmth of the Kunsthistorisches Museum. We spent a lot of time in the Picture Gallery marveling at masterpieces by Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael, Rubens, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Velasquez and many other great painters.
But to me, the highlight of this museum visit was the special exhibition Spitzmaus Mummy in a Coffin and Other Treasures curated by Wes Anderson and his partner Juman Malouf. They both combed through the museum’s historical collection and came up with a wonderful exhibition of 400 remarkable objects (some come for the museum’s storage and had never been exhibited before - a variety also comes from various other museums in Vienna). Those of you familiar with Wes Anderson’s work can probably imagine it was a collection of things that you would unlikely see in the same room in a museum but it was incredibly well put together. The exhibition is on display until 28th April 2019 and there is even a small trailer produced by Wes Anderson himself to get an idea of what it is about.
A lot of coffeehouses remain open late. This café was no different and even closed at midnight. This is really ideal when you have arrived in a city quite late and need to warm up and eat something delicious. After a lot of time trying to decide on a slice of cake (I was seriously overwhelmed by the amazing selection on offer), I settled for a piece of Landtmann’s Fine Cake which has thin layers of fluffy hazelnut sponge cake, orange-flavoured marzipan and hazelnut nougat. I also ordered a hot chocolate and it met every expectation I had about getting this hot beverage in Vienna: the most delicious smooth chocolate drink topped with whipped cream. My ideal hot chocolate. The cake was also lovely and the perfect first taste of the many delights we were expecting to try in Vienna during our little holiday.
For our first lunch in Vienna, we went to café Das Möbel (Burggasse 10) (link) which is part of a furniture shop. Each chair, stool or armchair you sit on has a different design and is available for purchase. As for food, we were there a bit late but still managed to order delicious things: a vegan plate with toasted bread, dried tomato dip, olives and a some very tasty humus for me; sausages with a bread roll, mustard and horseradish sauce for E. We finished our meal by sharing a slice of cheesecake tart with berries.The pastry was buttery and the baked cheesecake mix inside wonderfully creamy and moreish.
That evening, we stopped at Hotel Sacher (Philharmonikerstraße 4) for a slice of the renowned dessert served there: Sacher Torte. This chocolate cake is coated with apricot jam and then covered with the most delicious chocolate icing. As far as chocolate cakes go, this is one of the best I have ever tasted. I do not often order it for dessert because as much as I adore chocolate, I always find it too rich and favour a fruit version. I am ever so glad I made an exception that evening because it was quite wonderful.
The cake itself felt quite light and the fruity flavours of the apricot jam a welcome addition. And the chocolate icing, oh my! Yes, I am repeating myself but trust me, it was that good. (As a side note: make sure you order the original Sacher Torte while there; the people at the next table ordered the Sacher Torte Parfait by mistake and looked disappointed that it was not the same thing we were eating).
Phil (Gumpendorfer Straße 10) is not just a bookstore but also a café where you can grab something to eat while browsing for amazing books. We stopped for a late breakfast there. We both ordered trays with various things. Mine had a soft boiled egg, two bread rolls, butter, a plate with sliced ham, sliced cheese, a salad and freshly grated horseradish. It was delicious and sufficient enough to skip lunch altogether that day (in favour of a waffle at a Christmas market…).
I did not want to leave Vienna without having a schnitzel. So on our last evening there, we made our way to Figlmüller (Bäckerstraße 6) for dinner. We first rocked up to the address on Wollzeile but could not get in without a reservation (it is very popular). We were told the other address was right beside it in a little street nearby. We then proceeded to do that thing which consists of queueing for a little while in the cold with a bunch of other tourists. Was it worth it? It absolutely was!
From start to finish, we had a very enjoyable experience and this is not just the food, the service was quite friendly and relaxed. I know, I know, get to the pork schnitzel already!
Let’s get to it then: it was enormous. I mean bigger-than-my-head enormous. But it was wafer thin and so wonderful I had no problem finishing my plate. As a matter of fact, E. had ordered veal schnitzel so we shared half and half. The pork schnitzel is covered with a very delicious, light and crispy breadcrumbs coating. It is served with a wedge of lemon so you can season your schnitzel with its juice. I had a side of potato salad which was also quite lovely. Not the potato salad you would imagine with a lot of mayonnaise but a rather delicate dressing made with dijon mustard and a mix of salad leaves with the potatoes. For drinks, we ordered a lovely crisp Austrian white wine that was really refreshing with our meal.
Listened to: mindfulness on Headspace
Book read: ‘Killing Commendatore’ by Haruki Murakami
Have you ever been to Vienna?
What are your favourite things to do, visit and eat there?