Travel Diary: 2 Days in Vienna, Austria
Updated: Jan 11
This post is a migration of previously documented travel diaries, plus recently added reflections now that my memories have had time to set. Vienna was the second stop on a group Europe trip that took place in 2016. The group included Will, Vanessa, Dennis, Kim, and Kevin and me.
What lingers from our visit to Vienna is the way the city inspired me to feel so excited about returning home to the beginning of fall. I'll also add this unhelpful and completely subjective assessment: it exceeded my expectations.
In truth, my expectations were low. I knew the city would be gorgeous and the desserts to die for, but I'd also formed an image of Vienna as opulent, high brow, and generally too too fancy... and that isn't my style. In planning our trip, the two night stop in Vienna accomplished a convenient check mark in our world travels, but in my mind it wasn't a destination if you know what I mean.
We left Budapest on a Saturday morning, narrowly beating a rain shower to the train station. There, we had coffee and pastries before boarding our train and settling in for a couple hours' nap. Train stations in Europe have all looked alike to me, and all of them exactly like the one that Ewan McGregor steps out onto in 1900s Paris in the movie Moulin Rouge. High ceilinged, hopeful, and impressive if you look up, gritty and kind of shady if you look anywhere else.
What I found when we arrived was a shy, silent place. There was an immediate chill in the air when we stepped onto the street. The taxi ride to our AirBnB followed a quiet route, and by the time we entered the apartment I felt completely surrounded by the color and the feeling of cool gray.
Our host suggested a nearby spot, Schilling, for an early lunch and even called ahead to let them know we were coming. Our second first meal. The restaurant and the meal were so simple, so opposite of fancy-pants, that it charmed the heck out of me. I got this very clean vegetable soup served in a cool looking footed bowl. The water came in tiny glass bottles (okay, that's a little fancy). The place was all wood with coat hooks along the walls, mismatched chairs, and pebbled glass interior windows and doors. It reminded me of the administration wing in a very old school building. So modest, I thought.
After lunch we decided to head toward the city center. Vienna took a little while to let us in: it was several blocks from Schilling before we came upon an open storefront. We entered the first cafe we saw.
I absolutely love that moment when you step indoors, somewhere with warm-toned lights and general coziness, still draped in cool air from the street. Even better when you're handed a cup of something hot to hold.
The counter and table tops were mostly dark stone, the signage featured deco-style lettering, and the lattes came in giant blue bowls. Bowls! Someone sat smoking by the large front window at a two top, smoke swirling and dissipating in the soft gray light. My mind started to catch up with my body. We're here now, words that have become somewhat of a mantra when I travel.
When we left the cafe we still had a ways to go before getting to the main part of town and so we made our way over leisurely, taking in the sights even as the temperatures dropped so much that Will buttoned his shirt all the way up to try to keep insulated despite being essentially choked by his too-small collar.
We passed by a fair with a vaguely autumnal theme, and got to check out a few vendor booths and enjoy the outdoor buzz of the event, as well as see a cool project where kids were invited to paint on giant canvases.
Crossing through Volksgarten into Innere Stadt, we headed toward the famous Cafe Central.
Dennis was the most excited of our group for Cafe Central. There was a line out the door when we arrived. When Kev returned from scoping out the entrance and joked that the line only wrapped around the inside once, Dennis was unfazed and 100% up for the wait. Luckily, the line was much shorter than that, and moved at a steady pace. We were seated within 30 minutes.
We ordered desserts to share and coffee drinks and took selfies with Will's selfie stick, (the more enthusiastic in our party even got a selfie while sitting on the toilet during a bathroom break).
The high ceilings, the white tablecloths, the gold leaf, the live pianist in white tails.. this place was a mood.
Returning to the apartment, we hung out in the upstairs living area and watched some tv, reviewed our days' pictures, and tried to decide on dinner before we got too hungry. We landed on Japanese - we'd all been craving Asian I guess, after being away from our usual diets that feature vegetables much more prominently than the cuisines we'd been enjoying in the past several days. We went to Hidori, sat on tatami mats, and had ourselves a good meal.
More wine, more games, and bedtime after another long and active day.
Kev and I had the second day in Vienna to ourselves while the rest of the group biked over to Schoenbrunn castle. I'd woken up not feeling well so we decided to take it easy in the morning. We started with brunch at Ulrich, lucking out with a patio table in great weather. (Think passing clouds and sporadic sunshine.) I remember the meal tasting like fall; there was a pumpkin soup and a beet purée.
Afterward we lolled about the city and climbed the tower of St. Peter's Church in the main square. The travel magnet selection at the gift shops in the square was lacking but we scored a simple little blue and white one with "Wien" embossed in gold. I note this detail because after ducking in and out of what seemed like a dozen stores, it really felt like finding treasure when I finally took the darn thing up to the cashier and checked out.
We'd agreed with the group to find a wi-fi connection after the last scheduled tower climb of the day and link up for dinner. We didn't connect with them right away and so we waited at a nearby wine bar (Bio Bar, which has since closed), using their wi-fi and trying various white wines while we waited for someone to respond. Not a bad way to pass the time.
Late afternoon was starting to turn to dusk. The chill was coming back into the air, but we were still warm from our activities so we continued to sit outdoors. At some point we ordered soup to keep us warm for longer and tide us over until dinner. Sitting on that quiet side street while sipping wine was another one of those moments like I had in Budapest when time slows just enough. We ended up getting in touch with the group eventually, and decided to all meet back at the apartment.
Let's talk about the sky that afternoon in Vienna - supremely blue, and despite the clouds, where it was clear it was so clear that you could see sunshine filling it up as if the light was suspended in water. Skies over cities are always interesting to me, and the one over Vienna is angelic. You can check it out on Google street view: I found our AirBnB. We stayed in the building behind that evergreen door between the pizza shop and the cafe. Point the view skyward and take a look for yourself.
Our return to the Airbnb, a long one as we stayed about a 30 minute walk from the main square, took place as the last of the day was fading and this allowed us to see Vienna's gorgeous, and yes, opulent, architecture made brilliant against the golden light. We walked through gardens, under a couple of arches, and across tree lined streets. By the time we were a few minutes from our apartment I had my camera out, held steadily in front of me, snapping the same picture over and over and over down our dingy, anonymous street - that sunset, that sky.
That was the few hours' difference by which the city entered my heart.
The others had gotten back a little before us and were out on the roof patio enjoying a bottle of wine. The wind eventually whipped us back indoors and after a little unwinding we set out for our last Vienna meal.
The place we'd had in mind was closed for a private party but the servers gave us a nice little recommendation for Amerlingbeisl, which Kim refers to as "cute place." (As in, our two Vienna dinners were "Japanese and cute place.")
Walking up to the front door felt like we were coming upon a tavern like the one in The Beauty and the Beast. Inside we found indeed a cute place that was barely populated as the other diners were all seated in the open air garden out back. It must have been heated; if I recall correctly the evening was cold.
These group meals in new places are treasures found abroad and brought back home. No memory exists of what we talked about but there is the certainty that we were enjoying ourselves. The coziness of that dinner and the bright yellow street lights which illuminated our last walk back to the apartment sealed my experience of this city. Gray and beautiful, a city under a majestic blazing sky. Wien, for all its autumnal solemnity, was full of moments of warmth.
Read more about the other stops from this trip: