Friday, June 29, 2012

Vienna, Austria

Today, we took the train from Praha Hlavni Nadrazi (Prague's Main Train Station) to Vienna's Meidling station, aboard the EC 79 Gustav Klimt (departing Prague at 2:42pm). We purchased the train tickets in advance, online using the Czech Transport website. The cost for eTickets was 44 Euros (for two passengers).

The train ride was uneventful, though we had a hard time finding our seats (I purchased assigned seats, but they were difficult to locate on the long train). Next time, I would not bother purchasing assigned seating. It seemed that no one cared about assigned seats and everyone sat wherever they liked. On the way to Vienna, we passed the beautiful rural Czech countryside. 

Once we arrived in Vienna or Wien (as it is known in Austria), we took a taxi to our reserved Spiess & Spiess Pension Apartments, in Hainburger Strasse. We checked in and dropped off our bags and rested for a moment. As we were hungry, we decided to go to  Gassner's Wirtshaus - the local nearby restaurant suggested by Ulla (the manager of Spiess & Spiess). It was really hot in Vienna and we decided to eat outside, although it was noisy (cars were driving by) and there were a few people smoking. The food was good but nothing extra-ordinary. Everyone was very polite and spoke excellent English. Gassner's Wirthaus is closed on weekends (Saturday and Sunday), so we never got the chance to eat there again.

After dinner, we went back to our apartment and rested. It was really hot and we turned on air conditioning to cool off and relax. We had a much smaller, more modest apartment in Vienna (in comparison to Prague). The prices in Vienna are much higher for the same level of luxury and accommodation.

June 30, 2012

After a wonderful breakfast downstairs (provided by Spiess and Spiess), we talked to Ulla and decided to head to Hofburg Palace. We purchased U-Bahn subway tickets at Rochusgasse and took the train to Herrengasse (the closest station to Hofsburg Palace). Only 4 short stops away, and we were there. Surprisingly, no one checked our subway tickets the whole time we were there in Vienna!

Inside the Hofburg Palace, we purchased tickets to see the Imperial China and silverware. Later, we also purchased tickets to see the Imperial Treasury.

There were some very nice imperial china and silverware on display, made in Austria, France, and China.

As it was extremely hot, we decided to cool off by drinking some iced coffee. The variety of iced and hot coffees in Vienna is truly astounding.  The menu at Hofburg Cafe listed 9 different concoctions on each page. We only tried a few and they were delicious and very sweet.

After the delicious coffee break, we went back to look at the Imperial Treasury. There were some beautiful coronation items on display.

We rented  the English-speaking audio guides and listed about all the interesting items on display, used to reward and crown princes.

After exploring the Royal Treasury for a bit, we looked at the living quarters of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elizabeth of Austria, also known as "Sissi". There were many beautiful rooms and well furnished tables with beautiful paintings through the living quarters. We learned that Emperor Franz Joseph worked hard, getting up early each morning and that he preferred Viennese Tafelspitz to French dishes (which were usually served whenever he was entertaining).

In the palace, there is a whole section dedicate to the memory of Sissi, displaying her gowns, writings, and her tragic life.

According to Wikipedia:
Elisabeth of Austria (24 December 1837 – 10 September 1898) was the wife of Franz Joseph I, and therefore both Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary. She also held the titles of Queen of Bohemia and Croatia, among others.[1] From an early age, she was called Sisi by family and friends.
Although Elisabeth had a limited (but significant) influence on Austro-Hungarian politics,[citation needed] she became anhistorical icon. The Empress is now thought to have been a non-conformist who abhorred conventional court protocol, as well as a free spirit, who valued an individual sense of freedom above anything else. Following the suicide of her son Rudolf, she withdrew from public life. She was murdered by an anarchist in Geneva, Switzerland in 1898. Elisabeth is the longest serving consort of Austria.

Being tired and hungry from all the walking, we decided to stop by for lunch at Cafe Demel, which was located nearby to Hofburg Palace. Cafe Demel turned out to be out favorite cafe in Vienna for light lunch and desserts. Demel has a huge variety of the most delicious Viennese pastries, including a large assortment of various cakes.

For lunch, I ordered Gazpacho, which came in a nice cup with all the sides separately. The Gazpacho was delicious and was a perfect antidote for the hot afternoon. Inna ordered a delicious cake, which we enjoyed immensely.

Since it was still very hot outside, we decided to visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which was nearby. It was definitely a lot cooler inside the beautiful museum.

The museum has a vast collection of Raphael paintings, which we enjoyed. We hope to go back there again.

As the museum closed at 5:00pm, we didn't completely finish seeing all the beautiful art work, but we saw the essential paintings. We hoped to go back there again (if we had time), but never did. Next time in Vienna, we will definitely go back to Kunsthistorisches.

We were hoping to get an early dinner, so we stopped by Cafe Demel. The small sandwiches and other Viennese dishes were delicious.

Afterwards, we strolled along the Kohlmarkt Strasse - a wide street with multiple shops on each side. There are a lot of  luxury shops here, including Louis Vitton, Burberry, Gucci, etc. We eventually ran into St. Peter's Church in Petersplatz. St. Peter's is ornately decorated and has free organ concerts. We were hoping to listen to some organ music and we got to hear a small sample.

As we had tickets to hear a Classical concert at the Hofburg Palace, we hurried there. It was a bit trick to find the actual concert hall, as there was a lot of construction going on. The performances were fine, with some singers singing arias from popular operas.

July 1, 2012

In the morning, before most museums open, we decided to visit the beautiful Stadtpark. The park has beautiful trees, multiple statues of famous Viennese composers, and a small lake where birds congregate.
It's a great place to relax and hide in the shade from the hot, burning sun.

After visiting the park, we stopped by at Cafe Sacher for some dessert. Cafe Sacher invented the famous Sacher Torte and we wanted to try the original. It was certiainly delicious, but a bit dry. We preferred the version severed by Cafe Demel. I really liked the apple strudel!

As the famous Vienna State Opera was nearby, we decided to get an English speaking walking tour.
The Opera building is extremely beautiful and I would love to see an opera here one day.

The Vienna State Opera has an enormous stage and is able to change to different operatic performance daily.  When we visited, there were no opera performances scheduled (most scheduled performances end in June).

In addition, our guide told us the opera house has been hosting the Vienna Opera Ball, which is an annual event where prominent names in business and politics attend. 

After the opera, we decided to see St. Stephen's Cathedral at Stephansplatz.

According to Wikipedia:
St. Stephen's Cathedral (GermanStephansdom) is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of ViennaChristoph Cardinal SchönbornOP. Its current Romanesque and Gothic form seen today, situated at the heart of Vienna, Austria in the Stephansplatz, was largely initiated by Rudolf IV and stands on the ruins of two earlier churches, the first being a parish church consecrated in 1147. As the most important religious building in Austria's capital, the cathedral has borne witness to many important events in that nation's history and has, with its multi-colored tile roof, become one of the city's most recognizable symbols.

To get to the top of the South Tower, which has beautiful overlooks on entire city of Vienna, I walked 343 steps in a narrow, winding staircase, reaching the top, but sweating quite a bit. Fortunately, the view from the top is amazing and you can purchase water to cool off (or various gifts).

While I was climbing the stairs of the South Tower, Inna stopped by at the Haas & Haas Tea House to cool off. She ordered a nice cup of tea and a croissant, and I ordered an iced tea and sandwiches. Afterwards, we had some delicious dessert.

From Stephensplatz, we took the U-bahn to Lower Belvedere. It took a bit of a walk to get to Lower Belvedere and we got lost a couple of times.

Lower Belvedere is a museum with numerous paintings and sculptures. The ceilings are ornately decorated with gold leaf.  We saw a wonderful exhibition of Gustav Klimt. There were many wonderful paintings there, including "The Kiss".

After all the walling around Lower Belvedere, we got a bit hungry and decided to find a good restaurant. We searched Rick Steve's Vienna guide and found that Plachutta Restaurant to be highly recommended.

We didn't know what "Tafelspitz" was - boiled beef in broth - but soon fell in love with it. It is the national dish of Austria and a favorite of Emperor Franz Joseph. We liked the "Tafelspitz" at Plachutta so much that we came back for it the next day! The desserts at Plachutta were wonderful as well.

Being full, we stopped by at St. Peter's Church, on our way home.

In the evening, Vienna looks different (and feels a lot cooler on a hot summer day).

There are lots of trendy shops, as you would find in any large city.

I liked the Wedding Gown cake advertised in the Cafe Demel window. That's a work of art!

July 2, 2012

In the morning, we had a wonderful breakfast again at Spiess & Spiess Apartment-Pension with Viennese pastries, scrambled eggs, fruits, yogurt, and deli meats.

After breakfast, we took the U-bahn and head to see the famous Schönbrunn Palace.
According to Wikipedia:
Schönbrunn Palace (GermanSchloss Schönbrunn [ʃøːnˈbʁʊn]) is a former imperial 1,441-room Rococo summer residence in modern ViennaAustria. One of the most important cultural monuments in the country, since the 1960s it has been one of the major tourist attractions in Vienna. The palace and gardens illustrate the tastes, interests, and aspirations of successive Habsburg monarchs

Inside, the palace is resplendent in in luxurious ornaments. The palace is fit for a king. It reminded me of the splendor of Versailles in Paris.

The grounds behind the Schönbrunn Palace are decorate with enormous gardens and flowers made up is special patterns.

In the distance, the beautiful building is called the Gloriette. It houses an overlook and a restaurant.

Around the gardens, there are many beautiful statues. We really liked the Roman Ruins below:

There are also many beautiful fountains:

As it was hot out, we decided to head to the Gloriette, to cool off inside the restaurant. We ordered some iced coffees, Viennese style.

The iced coffee was delicious and extremely sweet.

After our snack, we walked around Gloriette and saw an amazing view of Vienna.

Since there is a wonderful zoo - the Tiergarten Schönbrunn - next to the palace, we decided to stop there, to look at the animals. We saw a lot of interesting animals and especially liked the Anteater.

After walking around the zoo, we got a bit tired and decided to head back to our favorite watering whole - Cafe Demel - for a bit of coffee and cake.

We decided to have a light dinner here followed by dessert. Inna and I really liked the Russiche Punschtorte (Russian cake) but all the other cakes were also very delicious.Too bad that we didn't get to try all of them!

Just look at those lovely Viennese cakes. Can anyone resist them? We planned to try one of each but failed in our mission.

As we were tired, we headed home (with an extremely full stomach).

July 3, 2012

After breakfast at Spiess & Spiess Apartment-Pension, we decided to head downtown and get a bus tour of Vienna.

We purchased the tickets for the bus tour next to the Albertina Museum and got on the bus.

I have never seen anyone use a scooter to get around the city, but this is something we observed a few times while in Vienna.

It's not all Viennese food in Vienna - we saw lots of Pizza, Kebab, Falafel places.

On one of the bus stops, we got off to take a closer look at the Hundertwasserhaus.
According to Wikipedia:

The Hundertwasserhaus is an apartment house in ViennaAustria, built after the idea and concept of Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser with architect Joseph Krawina as a co-author. This expressionist landmark of Vienna is located in the Landstraße district on the corner of Kegelgasse and Löwengasse.

We got back on the tour bus and continue our journey across the Danube river.

There are a number of boat tours on the Danube but we decided not to take one, as we had limited time.
On the other side of the Danube is a more modern Vienna with the Donauturm Tower, Millenium Tower, apartment buildings, and many contemporary-looking buildings.

We found a few people in a pool on the river - this was something I have not seen ever before.

There were many outdoor sculptures on the bus tour, and here is one of Ludwig von Beethoven:

After the bus tour, we decided to stop by for a quick coffee and cake at Cafe Sacher. Cafe Sacher's interior is extremely ostentatious - it looks like a cafe for royalty.

After our snack at Cafe Sacher, we decided to visit the Albertina museum. Albertina exhibits photographs and modern paintings. As I was not allowed to take photos inside, I don't have any photographs to display. I found Albertina's collection subpar to my tastes.

Outside Albertina and purchased a hot dog. Hot dogs are famous in Vienna and we wanted to try one out. It was very good but we were so full that we could not finish it.

For lunch, we decided to go back to Cafe Demel.

Finally, our favorite torte:

After lunch, we walked around the beautiful St. Stephen's Cathedral nearby.

The streets around the Cathedral were bustling with people shopping and strolling.

We decided to take the U-Bahn underground subway from Stephensplatz to Stubentor, to have dinner at Plachutta - our favorite Viennese restaurant.

There were so many desserts options, but we settle on one.

The dessert was marvelous, but I don't recall what it was called.

After the wonderful dinner at Plachutta, we took the U-Bahn back to our Spiess & Spiess Apartement-Pension.

July 4, 2012

In the morning, we had another wonderful breakfast at Spiess & Spiess.

We decided to go back to the Hundertwasser house and explore it in more depth. Hundertwasser believed that architecture should be ecologically friendly and should blend into nature. All of his buildings are visually interesting and easily identifiable.

Afterwards, we continued to the indoor Museum dedicated to Hundertwasser.

We had a little bit of time left, before taking the train back to Prague (for our return flight to San Francisco).
We had to stop one last time at our favorite coffee and dessert restaurant - Cafe Demel. We had another absolutely delicious lunch that will be hard to forget. I must have gained more than a few pounds eating all this delicious food. Everything is so fresh, and delicious, it's hard to stop eating.

It was time to head back to our hotel, to pack our bags. Vienna was fantastic (though a bit hot in July). We loved the food (coffee and pastries especially), the "Tafelspitz", and the wonderful museums. The only thing that annoyed me was the smoking. Everyone is smoking and I dislike the smell of tobacco.

We would love to go back to Vienna and attend a live opera performance at the Vienna State Opera and return to the wonderful museums.