May 9, 2019

Vacation Recap: Five Days in Vienna

Last week, I took a last minute whirlwind vacation to Vienna, Austria – and it was fabulous!

Work has been incredibly stressful lately, so when my friend Craig (who’s spending six weeks traveling in Africa and Eastern Europe) invited me to join him for a few days in Austria… I said yes. Thanks to my stash of airline miles, it didn’t cost anything out of pocket for me to book flights there and back. The only challenge was the itinerary: I’d fly Denver to Chicago on Tuesday for meetings, Chicago to New York for more meetings, New York to Richmond to run Ragnar Virginia, and finally drive up to DC to catch my international flight across the pond. That was a lot of travel, and a lot of packing! For the first time in probably a decade, I had to check a bag for those flights. While I probably would have been okay if it hadn’t been for Ragnar, the need to bring a sleeping bag and pillow made a duffel bag an extra necessity.

After Ragnar wrapped up on Saturday afternoon, I drove several of my team members to Richmond, then snuck a quick shower in one of their hotel rooms before getting on the road again. There was a lot of traffic going into DC, so I was glad I had left early! I ended up with an extra thirty minutes of waiting time at the airport, and was able to grab a quick free dinner in the Lufthansa lounge before I headed to my flight. That meant as soon as I got on board, I could don my Trtl and sleep mask, pop my headphones in and white noise app on, and go to sleep. After 22 miles, you can imagine that I conked out pretty quickly!

I woke up only when our captain announced we were landing in Munich – which meant I got a solid 7.5 hours of sleep. Perfection!

Good morning, Munich! How beautiful are you?! I still haven’t been here to stay, but (spoiler alert) I’ll be fixing that in just one more week.

And I was thrilled to be connecting in Munich Airport, which frequently wins passenger experience awards as the best airport in the world. After going through customs (easy breezy!), I headed to the Lufthansa lounge to wash up and have lunch. The spread was fantastic, but I opted for the not-so-German lemongrass curry soup and a salad. There were tons of delicious-looking baked goods, but I wanted to arrive in Austria feeling health and refreshed rather than already tired and bloated. There would be plenty of time for schnitzel and bread when I landed!

This really hit the spot. It can be so hard to find salad / veggies when in transit, so I was thrilled for this salad bar!

Once I landed in Austria, I was relieved to find that my checked bag made it to the baggage carousel. Not that I needed any of it – I had carefully packed only my sweaty running gear / Ragnar supplies in it – but it would have been a pain to deal with chasing it down. I was able to easily hail an Uber to take me downtown, and my Uber driver spoke fantastic English and gave me lots of tips for my visit, which was great.

I checked into our hotel, the Steinberger Vienna Herrenhof, and headed straight for the bathroom to shower. Although I had washed my face / brushed my teeth in Munich, it felt good to get truly clean! Craig wasn’t due to get in for about another hour, so after getting myself together, I logged onto my computer to take care of some work emails and get ready to mostly unplug for vacation.

Upon Craig’s arrival, we headed out for a late dinner at Zum Leupold, which our concierge recommended for traditional Viennese cuisine. It didn’t disappoint! Craig enjoyed the wiener schnitzel (while I stole a few bites), I loved my salmon, and we both enjoyed catching up over a glass of gruner veltliner while catching up on adventures. I had lots of Ragnar stories to tell (still laughing at myself for wading into the stream during my night run!), but Craig easily topped those with his adventures in Africa (summiting Mount Kilimanjaro) and Budapest (caving under the city). It was the perfect night to kick off this new adventure!

Ahhh… so happy.

We slept in till 8am Sunday, and woke up to find it was pretty cloudy and rainy. Fortunately, there was a highly recommended cafe just a two minute walk away. Demel was established in 1786 as a pastry shop and chocolaterie, and while I didn’t want to pig out the whole trip, I couldn’t resist starting breakfast with the apfelstrudel, which was awesome. I followed that up with some scrambled eggs, salmon, and schwartzbrot, and it was phenomenal. I love really hearty bread with tons of seeds, and this didn’t disappoint!

The Viennese coffee I enjoyed with my strudel was also outstanding, though I was a typical ethnocentric American in wishing it came in a larger size 😉

After Demel, we stopped back at the hotel for a little bit, then ventured out to Stephansplatz to check out St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Craig had found a free app that let you download walking tours, and we had a lot of fun counting to three to press play so we could listen to the tour in sync on our Airpods as we wandered inside and outside the cathedral.

I loved the temporary art installation of rocks floating in midair inside the cathedral.
My pic of the south tower of St. Stephen’s managed to catch a bird in flight against the cloudy sky, which I thought was pretty cool.

Not included in the audio tour was a trip up the 350 steps of the south tower. It was so narrow climbing the steep turret steps, and if you came upon another tourist going the other direction, it was a delicate dance to pass each other without one of you falling down the stairs. Not for the faint of heart! It also didn’t help when Craig told me a joke halfway up that had me laughing so hard I nearly fell down all on my own 🙂 But the views at the top were amazing.


We wandered around for a little longer after leaving St. Stephen’s, treating ourselves to ice cream cones since we had skipped lunch. While we originally didn’t have evening plans, we decided to pick up tickets to a Mozart and Strauss concert being held that evening at Palffy Palace, a hall where Mozart himself originally played! Although the dress code was casual, I thought it would be fun to get a little bit dressed up for dinner and the show, so we stopped back at the hotel, then headed to dinner.

Craig had picked out Huth Gastwirtschaft based on reviews, and it didn’t disappoint – this was one of my favorite meals of the trip! I ordered a chicken cordon bleu that was stuffed with ham and cheese, but regretted my choice when I saw delectable fried goods coming out to the other diners. Lo and behold, mine was not grilled as expected, but fried – so I got exactly what I wanted. Unfortunately, Craig went adventurous with roasted calves liver, which neither of us loved… but I had more than enough fried chicken to share, so it worked out. From there, we hustled up the street to our concert, arriving a few minutes late but still with plenty of time to enjoy.

We had great seats, too! Though the hall was so small that there probably wasn’t a bad spot in the house.

The first half of the program covered Mozart, and the second half Strauss. However, it was a mix of mediums – opera for one song, ballet for another, and pure orchestral for another. The pace moved quickly, and we loved the performance… even if we started a running joke about the soprano reminding us of Jan from the office 🙂 It was a fabulous way to end our first night in Vienna, and I was excited for what the rest of the trip would have in store!

I didn’t think we’d be able to top that delicious breakfast at Demel, but another spot, Cafe Landtmann, managed to do just that when I ordered the semolina porridge. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but it ended up being cream of wheat, with butter and sugar stirred in. That was one of my favorite breakfasts as a child, and I loved the taste of nostalgia!

And the taste of the Viennese coffee in these beautifully delicate cups.

From there, we headed to the Hofburg Palace complex, where we started by checking out the silver and glass collection. It might sound kind of boring to be looking at old dinnerware, but there were some really neat pieces in there!

Though not silver or glass, I was particularly impressed by the elaborate folded napkins that were popular in the 1800s. The audio tour device that came with our entrance fee said that these figures can only be made with special napkins that are incredibly thin and at least one meter square.

Next, we headed upstairs to the Sisi Museum and Imperial Apartments. Neither Craig nor I knew much about the beloved Empress Elisabeth (aka Sisi), and while we really enjoyed the museum, it seemed a little bit incomplete. It started by talking about her unexpected assassination by anarchists, then made it sound like it was going to walk us through her early life… but then skipped over most of that to focus on how depressed she was after she had been Empress for a while. From the brief overview in the ticket room, it sounded like Empress Elisabeth was a really beloved ruler (the “Princess Diana of her time”), so I was disappointed not to understand her early life and what made her so unique. However, in the gift shop I discovered an interesting-looking novel about her rise to power and subsequent reign, so I’m excited to learn more now!

I did love the ornate gowns that were preserved. How gorgeous is this coronation dress?!

The Imperial Apartments, though, didn’t disappoint us one bit. The opulence was fabulous, and the guided tour on our audio devices gave us lots of neat factoids and insights as to what royal life was really like. I would definitely recommend this tour to anyone visiting Vienna!

Here’s a picture of the royal dining room, which was stunning.

We wrapped up our museum tour mid-afternoon and realized we had once again skipped lunch… oops! Rather than eating a full lunch so late, we instead headed over the Hotel Sacher for champagne and the famous sacher torte.

Our table was right by the window, which made for some great people watching.

Over sips and bites, Craig got me to take a variant on the cube test, which alternately had me cracking up (“what do you mean, there’s a horse? Does there have to be a horse? I don’t want a horse in my room!”) and getting into some fascinating and deep discussion. It was the perfect antidote for a rainy afternoon!

Tea, champagne, and sacher torte. This felt delightfully luxurious 🙂

Finally, we headed out for the night to the Bermudadreieck (Bermuda Triangle) bar area. We found a bustling pub for dinner (I loved the cheese spaetzle, which I had been on the lookout for all trip after loving the spaetzel at Dano’s on Seneca in the Finger Lakes), and then ended our night with not-so-authentic-but-still-delicious tropical cocktails at Ron Con Soda, a Cuban rum bar. Although we had planned to go bar hopping to more place, that was plenty for the night!

Wednesday was our last full day in Vienna, and once again, we started it with a classic breakfast – this time at Cafe Mozart. On every breakfast menu so far, we had seen the brioche as an option, and this morning I finally got it. Oh my gosh, why didn’t I get this every morning I was in Vienna?! It was fluffy and pillow-y and light and sweet and delicious.

I may need to check out the Viennese bakery in Arvada when I get home to see if they have anything that compares.

Where we really lucked out, though, was that the weather was finally beautiful – which meant we could slowly wander the streets of Vienna without much of agenda, and without toting an umbrella. Wednesday was a national holiday (their equivalent of Labor Day), and we found ourselves in the middle of not just one but two labor protests, which was a little bit uncomfortable due to the police presence and fact that neither Craig nor I spoke German. We saw many banners about kapitalismus but weren’t sure if the protestors were “for” or “against”. I later learned that a big part of May Day is honoring socialism, so these protests were rather expected!

Detouring out of the crowds, we decided to head for the Sigmund Freud museum, which both of us were eager to check out. Unfortunately, the Freud Museum had a temporary location while Freud’s actual home underwent renovations, and was a little smaller and less exciting than we had anticipated. It was still interesting to learn more about his life, and it inspired me to add a few books about him to my reading list.

For once, we didn’t skip lunch, and headed to a charcuterie we had passed several times near our hotel. Riserva Iberica was delicious, and we feasted on tapas, meat, and cheese, along with a few glasses of some full-bodied Spanish red wine. It felt so decadent to relax and have wine during the day, with no agenda and nowhere to be – this is my idea of vacation!

This kind of crusty sandwich is SO delicious!
A few more of the delicacies…

Over that relaxing lunch, Craig and I decided to give up on trying to get tickets for the Elton John concert playing that night, and instead just wander the city checking out whatever struck our fancy. First up: the Lamée Rooftop bar, which had been suggested to me by someone who follows me on Instagram. It did not disappoint! The drinks were delicious, and the city views were fabulous.

I also loved the palm frond umbrellas, which gave the rooftop a laid-back and somewhat tropical feel. Ah, vacation!

Next, we ventured over to Joma Brasserie, where we snagged a table inside but still under the rays of the afternoon sun; and from there, meandered until we found a cute little cafe with heat lamps and blankets so we could enjoy people watching without getting cold. (Okay, so I’ll admit I was a little too optimistic about the sun finally coming out, and wore a light sundress that wasn’t really weather appropriate.) Finally, we headed down the cobblestoned streets to Da Capo Ristorante for a hearty Italian meal to toast to a great trip, and ended our night with one last nightcap at First Floor, a trendy ocean-themed cocktail bar back in the Bermudadreieck that had a fishtank of seagrass glowing all along the back wall.

My pictures each of those places didn’t come out great, but I love this sunset shot I got while we were traipsing around. If you want to see the fishtank, click through to First Floor’s actual website for a much better pic 🙂

But there was still one morning, and one breakfast, left before I had to bid auf wiedersehn! The famed Cafe Central had always had a long line by the time we slept in late and made it there other days, but finally on Thursday, we set an alarm and arrived before the crowds. The interior was beautiful, and the pastry case was unparalleled – I indulged in a purely decadent croissant and don’t regret a single bite.

A look at both the pastry case and the beautiful architecture, which dates back to the 1800s. Cafe Central was frequented by Freud, Stalin, Hitler, and Trotsky, and was a key meeting place of the Viennese intellectual set.

And then, alas, my flight home 🙁 I was so sad for this trip to end!

I walked into the airport and immediately saw an advertisement for my company. Ack, not yet! Can’t I be on vacation one more day?

Luckily, my travels went really smoothly. It’s always a long journey going west across the Atlantic, and going all the way across the country to Denver makes it even longer than when I used to just fly back to New York. (I think this is the first time I’ve gone from Europe straight to Denver?) On the bright side, while I didn’t get an upgrade, I did have an exit row seat, and I managed to get a solid eight hours of work in on the flight – which meant that although I barely touched my laptop while I was actually on vacation (a first!), I didn’t feel too far behind when I launched into a full day of back-to-back meetings on Friday.

I haven’t taken a full vacation like this in forever, and it was just perfection all around. This trip was the perfect blend of sightseeing and relaxing, and it was so luxurious not to have any schedule and do whatever we felt like doing. My outlook whenever I travel is not to worry if I don’t get to all the “must-see” touristy spots; I always figure that if I miss something and am really desperate to see it, I can always go back. In this case, I think Craig and I hit most of the main sights, but even if we missed a few things (like strolling along the Danube), it was so worth it for the bliss of avoiding a schedule and living in the moment. I can’t wait for next time!


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