Birthday trips are great! Pat asked what I wanted for my birthday and I immediately said I wanted to go to Budapest when our friends, the Hunters, would be there for Woody’s annual teaching duty at the Central European University (CEU). If you’re flying to Europe, it is better to be there 2 weeks than 1 week, so we decide to add Vienna to our itinerary. Our original plan was to visit Budapest for one week, then go to Vienna the second week. However, because of family birthdays, we switched so we would be in Vienna first, followed by Budapest.
After making these plans, we found out that our former exchange student, Olessia was moving to Vienna the week before we arrived! That made our planned visit even more special.
It was off to the airport in Miami via the train from Boynton Beach (about 2 miles from our place). MIA was crowded as usual.
The flight went through Paris’ Charles De Gaulle (CDG). The next flight was in a different terminal and to get there, we had to leave the secure area, go through Immigration Control and back through security. I hate having to go through security a second time, but it appears it happens quite regularly.
Tuesday, 5 November
We finally landed in Vienna, where we took a cab to our the Hotel Josefhof am Rathaus. Unfortunately for us, the driver spoke almost no English, so we didn’t have any conversation along the way on the 30-minute drive from the airport. This hotel was recommended by our friend Helga, whom we first met in Nepal. Helga was born in Vienna.
After checking in, we went for a walk through the neighborhood. Because it was both cold and raining, we didn’t stay out too long. One of the first notable things we saw were the diversity-themed crossing lights,
That evening, after her German language class, Olessia met us at the hotel. We all walked to the Palmhaus Restaurant for dinner. Olessia wanted to try this restaurant and we were not disappointed. We had a wonderful meal, good wine (our first taste of the local white wine) and fun conversations. We all highly recommend this restaurant.
We met Olessia for a pastry breakfast the next morning at the Naschmarkt as some of the shops and stalls were beginning to open. This market is a combination of stalls selling produce, candies, pastries, clothing, souvenirs. There is also a flea market and many restaurants. The restaurants were not open this early so we’ll have to come back later.
Across the road from the market are some very interesting buildings. These photos don’t really show off their painted surface. We planned to revisit the street for a better view but that just didn’t happen.
Olessia went back to her apartment and Pat and I continued to Donkirche St. Stephan, “reopened in 1948, the cathedral is one of the greatest Gothic structures in Europe” (Frommer’s travel website). The cathedral is located in a pedestrian dominated “square” (this is actually an area of many streets and open areas, often crowded with tourists). We saw many large tour groups from river cruises, particularly Viking – these groups were usually 20, or more, people.
As we always do when traveling, we sought out a nearby yarn shop, WolleWien, where Pat bought some yarn.
On the way back to the hotel, we passed Vienna’s oldest underground WC, built in 1905 and designed by Adolf Loos. We only discovered this while looking for a geocache. There is also a reference to it in Lonely Planet. Being curious, I went down to see it. There was a fee of 0.50 Euro. An attendant is there to close the door to the stall for you. The stalls are wooden with a floor-to-ceiling door with a cloudy window. I think it is well worth going in to see.
Tonight, Pat and I went to Hefenbrüdern, to sample some of the local craft beers and check out the bar food. We were not disappointed. We had a good discussion with Sender (pronounced “Sunder”), a young man from the Netherlands. His recommendations for beer were excellent as were 2 pizzas: Fig & Gorgonzola and Chorizo & Corn.
Thursday, 7 November
This morning we had coffee and pastries at Sluka Rathausplatz, not far from our hotel.
Then we walked to Augarten, another recommendation from Helga. The striking feature here is the World War II anti-aircraft towers, or Flak Towers. one round and one rectangular which loom over the quiet park. These towers were built in 1940 in several places – Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna, after a devastating bombing of Berlin. They were both anti-aircraft structures as well as bomb shelters for local residents. Helga grew up near the Augarten and remembers her mother stories of her time in them during air raids. There are fences around these 2 towers and they are slowly deteriorating. You can see large chunks of concrete that looks like it is about to fall. After the war, it was decided not to destroy them because there would likely do damage to the nearby homes.
From the Augarten, we walked to Hundertwasser Village, an apartment building that reminded us of Gaudi architecture in Barcelona. It was build in 1990 and 1991 on the site of a tire factory. We first learned of this building in an Atlas Obscura article and put it on our list of places to see. The day was overcast and dark so these photos do not do the buildings justice.
By the time we walked back to the hotel it was close to dinner time and because of tired feet and cold weather we didn’t want to go very far from the hotel. Gustwirtshaft Blauensteiner is a block away which we passed daily. It was very crowded and we had to share a table. Because we didn’t have a reservation, we were given an hour to eat before our table had to be given up. We didn’t see that as a problem. The food was very good; the location from our hotel, excellent. Pat tried some new white unfiltered wine and liked it very much.
Friday, 8 November
Today is the wine tour we arranged using point from our Chase credit card. The Chase travel site actually uses Expedia for its travel arrangements. Our tour was provided by Venture Vienna. The tour, Wines, Vines & Good Times, was excellent – I think it was the best wine tour I have ever done! However, Venture Vienna also does kayaking and hiking tours. When we go back to Austria, we’ll likely do more with this company. We highly recommend them.
Our tour group was led by James Robins, an Englishman living in Vienna. Besides Pat and myself, we were joined by 5 men from Porbandar, India, near Mumbai, and the home of Mahatma Gandhi. One man in the group had never tasted wine and another had never been out of India. We had a good time with them.
We all met at the Wien Hauptbahnhof, the international train station. After introductions, our guide purchased tickets to Guntramsdorf Thallern, south of Vienna and the site of our first winery, Freigut Thallern. This winery is small – only 30 hectares (just over 74 acres). After a quick tour of the facilities, our guide, Zita Porkolab, from Hungary, led us to the tasting room where we sampled 5 of their wines: (1) Gruner Veltliner 2018, (2) Gemischter Satz 2018, (3) Rotgipfler 2018, (4) Rotgipfler Reserve 2015 and (5) Thallern Reserve 2013, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. After the tasting, while some of our group purchased various items, I talked to a gentleman from London who was at the winery taking a sommelier test with other people from around the world. He was on his way home and expected to hear the results before he left for London.
From Freigut Thallern we walked through the vineyard to the nearby town of Gumpoldskirken where we would have lunch and visit another winery. As we walked we also sampled some grapes that were still on the vines, likely to be harvested for a sweet wine, maybe ice wine.
The village of Gumpoldskirken is home to many wineries and is a cute village, south of Vienna. Before we stopped for lunch, we walked up the Wiener Strasse to the top of the hill where the street dead ends.
Lunch was at Fassbinderhof, along the Wiener Strasse.at #22.
Following lunch, which we all enjoyed, it was off to the smallest winery (about 3 hectares, or 7.4 acres) we’ve every visited – Nostalgieheuriger Anton Luegmayer. Our host was Jan Luegmayer, the son of the owner, who will eventually take over running the winery.
After this winery we headed back to Vienna on the train. This week, Pat and I have been walking everywhere, with the exception of using Uber to get to the train station this morning. Once we got back to the station, James showed us how to get transportation tickets, good on the trams, buses and subway. We got a pass that was valid for 48 hours, giving us time to get back to the train on Saturday. Then he directed us to the first of the subways we need (required one change along the way). We should have been doing this from the start of the week – so convenient and cheap.
I have heard for years I should get a “chip and pin” credit card to be able to get tickets from the machines at train stations, since there would be no way for the machines to accept a signature needed on most credit cards from the U.S.A.. Dutifully, I got a Mastercard that claimed to be “chip and pin”. Turns out we didn’t need “chip and pin”! Android Pay and Apple Pay work in restaurants, stores and train stations and are about as secure as your can get since the merchant never sees your account number. Wow! I recommend anyone traveling in Europe, use one of these payment applications if possible.
Saturday, 9 November
After breakfast at another restaurant near our hotel, Eilies, we got on the subway (U bahn) and headed to the Karmelitermarkt, which on Saturdays includes a flea market. There were lots of stalls selling fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses. It was cold and rainy, so we stopped in a coffee shop for coffee and pastry (of course). We do love to visit markets around the world.
From here, we walked back toward Stephanplatz, to find a restaurant Pat knew served Salzburger Nockerl, a desert Pat had made many times but wanted to taste the real thing. I did not object. We located the restaurant, Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer (The White Chimneysweep), and texted Olessia to meet us there for lunch. We were there when it opened and were seated promptly. We ordered a Nockerl and 3 spoons for our shared desert. We were not disappointed.
We arranged to meet Olessia again for dinner, since this was our last night in Vienna. We went back to the hotel to rest; Olessia went home.
Dinner was at another restaurant Olessia wanted to try – Seven North. We got reservations and met her for dinner. This restaurant serves small plates to be shared. Our dinner: (1) Sweet potato brain & crème fraîche; (2) Spinach stems perfectly arranged in a paper envelope; (3) Freekeh: Roasted early green wheat with wild herbs, resting on yogurt; (4) Wild fish prepared using the Hraime (a spicy, middle-Eastern tomato sauce) method; (5) 3D Roast Beef (Viennese brick wrapped with thin roast beef slices); and (5) Two slices of wood oven cooked sourdough bread with tomato seeds squeezed on crème fraîche. In addition we had a bottle of white wine, a Gruner Veltliner. We all enjoyed the meal and would return again. The restaurant was attached to a hotel complex that looked very interesting, not as traditional as where we are staying.
We then walked Olessia to the tram to take her home and we got a tram back toward the hotel. It was hard to say goodbye to her but we sure took advantage of being in the same city.
Sunday, 10 November
Today we head to Budapest by train. We took the subway to the Hauptbahnhof, bought our tickets, boarded the 10:42 train and on to a new adventure in Budapest.