Any guesses?!?! We found it in Vienna, by chance! It was our first night in Vienna, we found our apartment and headed straight out to dinner. We were staying in the 2nd District which is the Jewish Quarter. We headed over the bridge to the 1st district which is the Old Town and we were on a mission to get a Schnitzel. Having just spent 2.5 months in countries where food has been very reasonably priced (Croatia, Bosnia and Hungary) it was a shock to our system to see meals for a minimum of $10 Euros. This isn’t that much but when we were trying to find Schnitzels they were all priced around 15 Euros which would easily mean we were up for a 40 Euro meal tonight. We searched and searched for the perfect looking restaurant and the best description for a Schnitzel when we stumbled upon Figlmuller. They had a green sign on the street advertising the “Biggest Schnitzel in the World” and then we followed a cute little alleyway to find an intriguing restaurant with a large queue out the door. We waited patiently and thought that if there is a queue than this is the best option. Little did we know that this restaurant is so exclusive that you need a reservation to get in or the wait would be easily over 1 hour. To our surprise they actually opened up a 2nd restaurant only 60 metres down the block. So we headed there and were lucky enough to be seated straight away. The restaurant had a very cosy Austrian feel with dark wood furniture and brick vaulted ceilings. We both ordered the “original Schnitzel since 1905”, the Viennese potato salad with pumpkin seed oil and of course 2 large beers! Our food arrived and we were shocked to see that the schnitzel was actually so big that it hung off the plate. I looked at Michael and he was in heaven! I absolutely loved the potato salad and couldn’t get enough of the potato seed oil. It was sweet yet savoury all at the same time! This was definitely our best meal in Vienna and because we liked it so much we returned on our last night.
There really is so much to do and see in Vienna. With only 2.5 days in the city we felt the need to do as much as we could but it would definitely be a place we would come back to.
We were in desperate need of an admin day so we pencilled it in on our first day in Vienna. Firstly we woke up early and decided that a good way to see the Danube River (which runs through the city) is to run along the shore banks so we headed out for a 5km run along the graffiti filled river (I will explain the graffiti a bit later) Then, with our laptop and IPad in hand, we found a really cute coffee shop near our apartment and camped out there for nearly 4 hours. It was a small family run shop with 1 lady who allowed us to use the internet and chill-out for a few hours. As we took care of some administration needs, we enjoyed nice warm coffees, Panini’s and of course dessert to top it off. It was nice just to relax and take our time for a change as we are constantly on the go.
Around 4pm we decided to head into the Old Town to explore a bit and get lost. We stumbled upon our ultimate favourite restaurants, Vapiano so decided that it would do for dinner.
The next day, I booked us into a city walking tour in the morning and then a Vienna outskirts bicycle tour in the afternoon with Vienna Explorer to learn a bit more about Vienna’s history. Before our tour, we returned to our favourite coffee shop for breakfast. By now the owner knew what our order would be! We felt like one of the locals J Then we were off on our walking tour. The past 2,000 years of Vienna’s history was skilfully explained to us in 5 minutes. Essentially it all started with the Celts. There were a bunch of Celt tribes which grouped together in fear of the Romans coming to conquer their city. After 150 years of resistance, the Romans eventually conquered Vienna and lived here for 500 years. The Hapsburg’s (from Switzerland) ruled in the 13th century and one of the most known Hapsburg is Franz Joseph who ruled for 68 years. Austria became a republic for the 1st time in 1915 and after WWII it became a republic for the 2nd time which is the Austria we know today.
We visited the old Jewish Quarter where nearly 90,000 Jews used to live, however due to WWII this is no longer the case. Around 30,000 Jews managed to escape, however the remainder of them were sent to concentration camps and never returned. The Jewish population is starting to return to Vienna however there is thought to be only around 15,000 -18,000 Jews currently.
We were also told about how the Ottoman’s tried to overtake the city multiple times but never succeeded. As the Turkish army was driven out they left bags of coffee which was unknown to the Viennese at this time. They thought that it could be food for camels, however there was 1 man who could speak both German and Turkish and understood what the coffee was for so he opened up the 1st coffee shop in 1685. At first, Austrians disliked it so much due to its bitterness and his café was struggling, but eventually they perfected their coffee making skills with sugar, milk and other items. So this was the start of the famous Viennese coffee shops which are actually UNESCO World Heritage. Coffee houses in Vienna are back in fashion through an interest in tradition and through tourism. These are not your typical cafes but much grander where it is common to sit for hours in a coffee house reading a newspaper, having a meeting or doing work. We passed by the Landtman café which is famous with the politicians.
Like the German’s have a purity law for beer, Austrian’s have a purity law for wine! They are very proud of their wine and are known for their dry white wines.
We also visited the Hapsburg’s winter palace. Like all Hapsburg’s buildings it was grand and luxurious. There were a few museums that we could go to if we had more time to see the chariots they used, crowns and jewels that they had and many other possessions on display.
Our last stop was St. Stephen’s cathedral which is the trademark of the city. It took 150 years to build and is actually the 3rd church built on this site. The St. Stephen’s cathedral was built in the 14th century and was actually built around the 2nd Romanesque church. While St. Stephen’s Cathedral was being built, people could enter it and get to the 2nd church for masses and prayer purposes. Once the Cathedral was finished, the 2nd church was demolished and the interior of St. Stephen’s was finished. The cathedral has the biggest church bell in Austria. The Turk’s didn’t only leave their coffee but they also left their cannons because it was too heavy to take with them. The church bell was actually made out of 180 Turkish cannons and only rings on special holidays.
After our walking tour and before our bicycle tour we decided to have lunch at one of the traditional coffee houses, Demel which has been open since 1786. Since it is near the main square there was a huge queue, however after some persistence we were seated after 20 minutes of waiting. Inside the café house you can actually see the people making exquisite pastries and cakes. The rooms were grand and luxurious. I was so excited to partake in this Viennese tradition. I have been craving dumplings so I ordered the egg dumplings and Michael ordered the Viennese sausage. I don’t usually have 2 coffees in 1 day, but since we were at a traditional coffee house I was obliged to have another coffee. We had a quick lunch and were off to our next tour.
For our next tour we were assigned our bikes and quickly headed out to the outside of the city. Our tour guide explained that since we did the morning walking tour inside the city, the sights we would see would be completely different. We rode along the Danube River inside the city and were told why there was so much graffiti there. It is actually legal to graffiti the designated areas which has deterred people from graffiting the Old City. He explained that there is a café on the river where world-renown graffiti artists meet up and exchange ideas.
We then headed to a very interesting social housing project! Check it out for yourself.
Many Viennese people live in Social housing, however there doesn’t seem to be such a big stigma around it. The buildings are quite beautiful and are in gorgeous areas of the city. When we first saw it we thought it was Gaudi’s work from Barcelona. This architect believed that we should always be using our senses and that stairs should not be straight or the same size, the ground should be uneven to test our senses and windows should be different depending on which room it was situated in. We loved his work so much that we bought a book about him. In the book it actually explains that he has been influenced by Gaudi which can be seen in his work across Austria, Japan and the US.
We then rode through beautiful parks and gardens which was previously used by the nobility for hunting. Instead of them going out into the woods, people would actually capture the animals and bring them to the park for the nobility to hunt at their leisure.
We also visited the bigger Danube River where a business district has been thriving. The UN and other big companies are located here. Vienna is one of the largest conference locations in the World as they have 3 Conference venues and they are considered to be a neutral country and centrally located in Europe. They hold big conferences for Radiologists and Cardiologists annually which brings in around 500 Euros/day per doctor.
We also visited an amusement park right outside of the city. It was pretty surreal actually riding through the park which all looked a bit scary. The park offers something for everyone, drinking is allowed, gambling is available for adults, and rides for kids. It had the largest “swings’ ride I have ever seen. It was 107 metres tall and provided a good view of the city! After driving through the park we slowly made our way back to the city for the end of our tour.
As stated earlier we had to go back to Figlmuller for another Schnitzel to finish our wonderful time in Vienna. If you ever visit, make sure you go to one of the traditional coffee houses, have a schnitzel and admire the beauty of the Hapsburg dynasty!