When I think of Vienna, I think of an old fashioned, classic and a bit boring city. I have a vision of Vienna being the perfect city trip destination for old(er) people. But colleagues tell me that this is not the case! So when I get the chance to go on a promotional trip, I accept. And I am so glad I accepted the opportunity, because Vienna is anything but an old fashioned, boring city!
Day 1: From Amsterdam to Vienna
The invitation for this trip came from Sunair (city trip specialist in the Netherlands) and Austrian Airlines, with whom we fly from Schiphol/Amsterdam to Vienna. It is November and it is cold in The Netherlands, so the entire group of travel agents (including me) is warmly dressed. We meet at Schiphol Airport; all of us are excited because a promo trip with Sunair is always good fun! Once we board our plane, the temperature is quite high, so we quickly take of our coats and sweaters.
Our flight is on time and the flight time is less than 2 hours. We get a tasty snack on board and the time literally flies by. Once we arrive at Vienna International Airport we quickly collect our luggage and head to our private transfer bus. If you do not have a transfer, you can easily take the train from the airport to the centre of Vienna. The trains depart frequently and the ride is short, something I appreciate when going on a city trip. And if you want to be real quick at your destination, you can take a taxi! On our way to the hotel we get to see a glimpse of beautiful Vienna; the city is getting ready for Christmas.
We arrive at Hotel Regina, where we will be staying for the next 2 nights. The hotel is owned by the Kremslehner family (who also own Hotels Royal and Graben). It is a beautiful 4-star hotel, centrally located next to Votivpark with its Votivkirche at the Ringstraße and Vienna University. The hotel has Viennese art nouveau hotel rooms, which are lovely (you feel right at home) and there is a restaurant with Viennese and Austria cuisine. What a great place to stay! The friendly staff checks us in and I share a room on the top floor with another travel agent. In the hotel the temperature is nice and warm, just like on board of the airplane; I guess the Austrians do not want to feel cold.
We have lunch at the hotel and receive a Vienna Card; the perfect gift for this city trip. The card will help us save money while we discover Vienna. With this card we do not only get discount on tickets for museums, etc, but you can travel for 72 hours on all forms of public transport within the city. During city trips you always end up walking quite a lot, since it is the best way to explore, but if you want to do and see a lot in Vienna in a short period of time, this card is useful for sure!
After lunch we meet local guide Gabriela, who is waiting for us in the hotel lobby. She will take us with her for an introduction to Vienna. We go for a nice, long walk and put our warm coats back on. Our first stop is the Christmas market on the Rathausplatz. Vienna looks amazing during Christmas time. The entire city is beautifully decorated, you can hear music everywhere and you cannot help but get in the Christmas spirit. At the market there are lots of stalls with gifts, food and drinks. A stop at a Christmas market is not complete without drinking a glass of glühwein (mulled wine). So, we have to have one 🙂 and it keeps us warm!
We continue our walk and see all kinds of classic buildings. Gabriela tells us what the buildings are and tells us about their history. The city looks classical, baroque, but not old fashioned. I think Vienna look stylish, just beautiful really… We pass by Michaelerplatz, Hofburg, the Imperial Treasury, palaces and churches before we stop at the Albertina Museum. The sun has set in the meantime and it is getting dark.
We go inside and visit the Picasso exposition and have to get inspired by his paintings, for next on the program is a painting workshop in the museum. We get drawing paper, find ourselves a spot and start making sketches before we go downstairs to a “class room” where we work out our sketches and start to paint. How cool and how much fun is that?! We paint our own Picasso and once it is dried, we get to take it home with us. I will be hones when I say that mine did not turn into a Picasso, it will not make me rich, so I will just give it a spot a home. It is a lovely reminder of this museum visit and the Vienna trip.
In the evening we go to restaurant Mayer am Pfarrplatz for dinner. By the way: in 1817 Ludwig van Beethoven lived in this romantic listed suburban home on Pfarrplatz. During his time in Heiligenstadt he worked on his greatest creation: Symphony No. 9. The restaurant is a typical and extremely cosy Viennese restaurant. We listen to Austrian folk music and eat typical appetizers, such as black pudding and lard. But there are plenty of other tasty dishes and I enjoy my dinner very much as well as the wine which is being served!
Our first day in Vienna has come to an end. With lots of impressions and happy faces we go back to hotel Regina, where we enjoy a good night sleep in our comfortable beds.
Day 2: Schönbrunn
The next morning we have a delicious buffet breakfast at the hotel. We leave hotel Regina to visit sister hotels Royal and Graben. The entire group of travel agents, including myself, book these hotels quite often for our clients. It is always good to see the hotels and the rooms, which we book for our clients, for ourselves. The Kremslehner family is doing a great job in all their hotels and restaurants and I never had any complaints! At the Graben we visit the roof top and admire the wonderful view over the city. After our “inspection work” is done, we get offered a cup of tea or coffee. When leaving the hotel, we take a short walk through city centre. We pass by the Stephansdom and walk over Graben and Goldschmiedgasse. In Vienna you can really shop till you drop; but my bank account is grateful we do not have time for shopping!
We take the underground to Schloss Schönbrunn. You cannot go to Vienna without visiting Schönbrunn. I am sure most of you have seen all the Sissi movies (whether you wanted or not), so Schönbrunn is a must see! Schönbrunn Palace is one of Austria’s most important cultural assets and since the 1960s it has been one of Vienna’s major tourist attractions, having millions of visitors each year. In 1996 Schönbrunn Palace was put on the list of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites and it deserves to be on this list! The palace and its gardens, a unique Baroque ensemble, are of great importance. When entering the palace I can see the beautiful gardens, but it is winter and I hardly see people outside. We do not have time to visit the gardens, but I hope to come back someday, hopefully during spring!
We walk through the palace where Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Sissi lived. Gabriela takes us on a tour and tells us beautiful and amazing stories. But even without a guide it appeals to the imagination and if you want to you can have an audio guide in your choice of language (there are about 12 languages to choose from). But I love to have a real guide when visiting places likes this. They just know so much, love their work and you can ask them questions; an audio guide does not answer! Apart from visiting the palace and the gardens you can book tickets for different kind of performances held at the palace. My advice is you want to book a ticket for one of these performances: book on time!
The most interesting story Gabriela tells us, is about the marriage of Fransz Joseph and Sissi. I have to warn you now, here comes a spoiler, so skip a few lines in case you want to keep on believing in the beautiful Sissy fairytale! The story of Sissy and her husband is not as romantic as shown in the famous movies. They were not happy all the time and naughty Franz Joseph had quite a few mistresses.
A tip for when visiting Schönbrunn: do not visit the palace in the morning, but in the afternoon when it is quieter. Make sure you have a few hours, as there is a lot to see.
We leave the palace and take the underground back to city centre to have a late lunch in trendy café-restaurant Halle. Now this is what I meant when I said I was so wrong, thinking Vienna is not hip and trendy. Vienna is a classic city, but it is also hip and trendy and has lots of amazing places like this to prove it! Our lunch is really delicious, I eat trout with walnuts and have tiramisu as dessert. Halle is located on Museumsplatz 1 and is a real hot spot; I enjoyed this place very much!
The rest of the afternoon we have nothing on our program. We do however get a list of hotels we should visit in small groups. The hotel visits do not take too much time since we use our Vienna Card to get from one place to the other. We visit hotel Das Triest, a modern and trendy 5-star design hotel, 3-star hotels Carlton Opera and Admiral. All the hotels have a great location. We walk through city centre for a while, admiring the beautiful buildings before we walk towards Marie-Theresian-Platz. Here we meet the rest of the group in front of the Museum of Natural History. At the square there is another Christmas Market, giving it a warm atmosphere.
We go into the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum), which lies opposite of the Naturhistorisches Museum (Museum of National History). The interior is absolutely stunning, very richly decorated, maybe even overwhelming… We go to the roof terrace which offers a truly spectacular view of the city, especially now when it is dark. Christmas lights light up the city. We get to enjoy a warm drink and are grateful since it is very cold out here. A visit to the roof terrace can only be booked through the museum; it is normally not accessible.
We go for dinner in restaurant Palmenhaus (behind the Albertina Museum), which is less than a 5-minute walk from the museum. The Palmenhaus is one big surprise. Let me share its history: in 1822 a 128-meter-long greenhouse was erected, in the Hofburg palace gardens, incorporating part of the old city wall. And in 1901 the architect Friedrich Ohman was commissioned to build this splendid Jugendstil palm house which stands on the site today and replaced the original structure. It took quite a few years (5 actually) to build the Palmenhaus and it is now a major tourist attraction. People say it is probably the most beautiful Jugendstil greenhouse ever built. The building houses all kinds of plants and having dinner here in this beautiful setting is just amazing. The food is delicious as well; what a treat to be on this trip! I have a sauerkraut soup, fillet mignon and chocolate mousse as dessert. We are not in a rush to leave this place at all and keep chatting away while drinking wine. At some point we have to leave though. We had another great day, are content and maybe a bit tired. It is really cold outside and we take the underground back to Hotel Regina.
Day 3: Hundertwasser House, Spanish Riding School and a lesson in how to make apfelstrudel!
After breakfast we check out of our rooms and place our luggage in the luggage room. We have some free time and team up in little groups to do some sight-seeing. Some go shopping, some just want to relax and go for a coffee. I team up with a group that wants to go to the Hundertwasser House. The Hundertwasser Haus is a colourful apartment building, built after the idea and concept of controversial Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, together with architect Joseph Krawina as a co-creator. Opposite lies the Museum Hundertwasser in Kunst Haus Wien. This unique museum upholds the philosophical and creative principles this famous and exceptional artist. I love the exterior of the Hundertwasser Haus, so colourful and playful. A lot of cities are filled with grey buildings and houses and need more colour! We visit the Hundertwasser village as well, I buy myself a poster at the museum and then we move on.
We go back to city centre to visit the Spanische Reitschule (Spanish Riding School). I have always loved horses and horse-riding. As a young girl I spent all my free time at the local horse-riding school and was in awe whenever I saw something on tv about the Spanish Riding School. We cannot attend a show today, but on certain days and times there is the possibility to visit the training sessions (which is almost every morning). The building that houses the riding Spanish Riding School is classic, really pretty. The Lipizzaner horses and their riders are magical. I have been to one of their shows while they were on tour through Europe, so I have seen what the horses and their riders can do. Today we see young studs who are grey and still have to get their white colour and are at the beginning of their training. I sit down for a while, but could easily spend a few hours watching. We are not allowed to take photographs, something I can understand and respect!
If you want to book tickets for a show, you really need to book ahead (not days in advance, but weeks or even months, otherwise you will miss out)!
The rest of my group has to come and get me; I do not want to leave the riding school. But we do not have a lot of free time left. We sit down at the Spanish Riding School café for a warm drink and a piece of Sachertorte. Seriously, you cannot go to Vienna without having a piece of this famous cake and actually we should have gone to Hotel Sacher for this! But there is no time. Around lunchtime the entire group meets at Café Schottenring for lunch (OMG, we just had a piece of Sachertorte). Lunch is again delicious and I can hardly get out of my seat afterwards. But I need to find more room in my tummy, because we get a demonstration on how to make apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel). And after the demonstration we have to make one ourselves and eat is as well. I seriously cannot eat the whole thing and just have a taste, but it does taste pretty good!
Around 4pm we all walk back to hotel Regina, where we sit down and chat about these last 3 days. We discuss Vienna, the hotels and the amazing places we have seen and the things we have done. It is always good to exchange experiences, especially since yesterday afternoon and this morning little groups went different directions.
At the end of the afternoon we go back to the airport; our trip has come to an end. Our flight back to Amsterdam is just as comfortable (and warm) as the outward journey and within 2 hours we are back at Schiphol!
I will definitely go back to Vienna someday. I have to see a show at the Spanish Riding School once, I want to visit the Sissi Museum and the famous wine village Grinzing. I would like to go to the Prater and see an opera! Vienna is a very impressive baroque city with a high K&K (Königlich und Kaiserlich, which means royal) content. The city is one large imperial monument. Vienna is also the city of (classical) music; who has not seen a New Year’s concert from the Musikverein on television?! But Vienna has so much more to offer, it is a comfortable and friendly city, for all ages, families, singles, couples or friends.
Travel Blog by Elisabeth, One Lucky Traveller
November 25, 2010