Springtime in Vienna

April 23, 2012  •  Austria, Europe, Travel, Vienna

Vienna has long been on my list of “want to visit” places. My parents vacationed there for the millennium, attending a Viennese ball where they waltzed with 2000 other guests, and they always talked about how pretty it was. As luck would have it, my college best friend and roommate was running a medical conference in Salzburg, giving us just the reason to head to Vienna before meeting up with her and her husband in Salzburg. Are you wondering why I opened this blog post with a photo of a restaurant sign?

Well, Figlmuller is the home of the most famous schnitzel in Vienna, and schnitzel just might be the most iconic dish in Austria.

The schnitzel laps over the plate (see it compared to the size of my husband’s hand?), comes with a simple lemon to squeeze over it, and is delicious. It quickly became my husband “safe” dish to order if he was unsure of other items on the menu.

I opted for the goulash, made from veal shoulder the chef told me, and obviously simmered for a very long time to make it so tender. They say it’s served with dumplings, but to me, those dumplings were spaetzle. So this is how our dining began on a trip we had been told would feature a meat-centric diet. (If you want to eat at Figlmuller, either make a reservation or be prepared to wait a long time – there was a line out the door every single time we walked by the place.)

Our hotel for the visit was the Hollmann Beletage, just around the corner from Stephensdom, the imposing gothic cathedral that towers over the center of old town in Vienna. I don’t know why I didn’t snap any pics of the hotel or the incredible breakfasts they served us each day, but take my word for it, this is a great medium priced spot to stay in a perfect location for walking all over the historic parts of Vienna.

We spent our first full day in Vienna actually outside of the historic center at Schloss Schonbrunn, the palace that served as the former summer residence of the Habsburgs. The entire site reminded me of Versailles in France – just a different ruling family and a different country!

Part of the Schonbrunn’s gardens include the Schonbrunn Zoo, the oldest zoo in the world. Since it was quite warm out and Easter week (kids off of school), the zoo was teaming with little ones enjoying the spring weather and the animals. There are a few cafe / beer gardens like this one scattered through the grounds, but we chose the main one in the center to eat lunch.

I asked the waiter what “onion pie” was and he said it was pie made with onions. Thanks for that clarification! It’s actually a kind of classic dish of Austria, drizzled with sour cream and herb sauce, and is a bit like a quiche, but no so egg-y.

Sitting in a cafe late in the day, I decided to order an Aperol Spritz, seeing so many other people enjoying them. It became my favorite late afternoon aperitif for the entire trip – I need to call Barb from Creative Culinary to let her know, as she guest posted for me with this very drink not that long ago!

Inside the grounds of the Hofburg Palace in central Vienna, you’ll see a bunch of horse drawn carriages lined up for tours. Tired from jet lag on day two of our trip and worried about my bad feet holding up for two weeks of heavy walking, we decided to hop aboard for a tour.

In about 45 minutes the driver covers most of the historic center of the city, giving highlights and history along the way, and it was the perfect way to acclimate to a new place.

I’m always a bit obsessed about trying the specialties of any place I visit, and the Sacher Torte, a dense chocolate cake covered in fudgy chocolate frosting is one of those very things. I was enjoying it with a nice Viennese coffee, amused to see Starbuck’s right across the busy pedestrian only street of Kartner Strasse. If you like rich chocolate desserts, you’ll love this – for me, a couple of bites was all I needed.

Another classic dish of Vienna I had read about is tafelspitz, and in particular, the tafelspitz at Plachutta. Beef rump roast, boiled in a rich beef broth with vegetables, and served in the pot tableside. Sounds boring and dull, but it’s tender and delicious. (Again, if you want to go to Plachutta, make a reservation!)

For our final day in Vienna, we chose to take a long walk outside of the historic center, past Karlskirche which is a huge and very pretty church and on to the Liberation Monument, where the fountains offered a nice mist to cool us off on a pretty warm day.

From there you can walk through the gardens to the art museum in the Upper Belvedere. Do you recognize this scene? It’s where Dr. Freud and Dr. Jung walk in the movie A Dangerous Method, which I happened to have been watching on the plane!

Walking back towards the center of town, you can stop for lunch at this park cafe, which was delightful in the warm weather. These sausages, iconic in Austria, are so good, but I’m guessing not so good for you. They seem to be always served with mustard and horseradish, and are usually accompanied by potatoes.

Vienna was lovely – an easy city to navigate on foot, with good restaurants and reasonable prices. Because we were there during Easter week, it was filled with tourists. If you like to sit in an outdoor cafe sipping a drink and people watching (like we do), be forewarned that just about everyone smokes. Not a single cigarette, but one after another, so choose a spot where you can get some fresh air. We departed Vienna in the morning to catch the train to Salzburg to meet our friends. Stay tuned for details!

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