We started the morning with a bit of a sleep-in, considering the fact that we didn’t have any scheduled morning activities. By 9, we were on the bus, making our way into the city center of Vienna. We had beautiful weather in the morning, so the whole city looked clean and inviting under the golden sun.
Speaking of shiny things, one of our first stops was at the Swarovski flagship stores. There are three in Austria. One is in Innsbruck, which I got to visit last year. Now I can say I’ve been to two out of the three. It’s fun to just go in and look. I swear there’s nothing as sparkly as a Swarovski crystal. The funny thing was that anyone who bought anything from Swarovski got a “free gift” if they were traveling with Contiki. Last year’s as a small little white crystal pendent that I actually made into an anklet and wore for the duration of the trip. This years is apparently a giant honking star crystal the diameter of a silver dollar that looks like you could buy it for a ten-year-old at Claire’s. Not a single person on the tour would consider actually wearing it. Mine might go on the rear mirror of my car. I dunno what else I’d do with it.
We continued along the main shopping road of Vienna, which quite reminded me of Newbury Street in Boston, except with European architecture rather than old brick row buildings. It was also a pedestrian street, which of course meant we could walk it without feeling like we’d be hit by a car. We popped into Forever 21, which the Australians wanted to experience. I also found some $4 leggings, which was a steal, considering all of mine are dirty and I wanted something comfy to wear on the bus.
Our next stop was St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Brodie, Katy and I all marveled at the artistry of the old church. I’m not religious, but if there’s one thing religion has given the world, it’s some beautiful architecture and artwork. This church proved that for sure. We also got to ride in the world’s tiniest elevator to go up to the top of the church’s bell tower for a panoramic view of the city. We also got to see a close-up view of the church’s multicolored roof, which was really unique.
Upon the suggestion of Emma, we then went in search of hot dogs, which are apparently a Viennese specialty. First of all, these hot dogs are twice the size of what you’d consider to be a hot dog. Secondly, they give it to you in a baguette that they stab with a spike to put a hole in it. Thirdly, you can get a dog stuffed with cheese. As in, there’s cheese already in the meat. Mind-blowing. How? What has humanity done to deserve this? I feel like we’re not worthy. Then of course they pack it with ketchup and Dijon mustard and hand it to you. Sweet. Lord. I could only eat about half of mine, but I enjoyed every bite. You win hot dogs, Vienna.
Our next venture was just out and about around the city. It’s fun just to walk around. It’s impossible to not feel like a princess walking around Vienna. The buildings are so grand and the people are so nice, you feel like royalty. Austrians have been, by far, the nicest people we’ve met on tour so far. Germans in Munich had been nice last year, but the Berlin Germans were kind of scary and mean. The Czechs were hit or miss, some were kind, but at the end of the day, very few smiled. The Austrians were smiling all the time, and always asking where we were from and if we were having a good time. Even the hot dog lady made absolutely sure we were getting condiments on them to make sure we were enjoying them to the utmost degree. Austria wins for nicest people.
One of the “must sees” on our list was the Maria Theresa statue, centrally located in the city. Maria Theresa was the first and only empress of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She hadn’t been groomed by her father to take over leadership, as he intended to pass his crown to her husband. When she got married, she pretty much said, “Nah, I’m the one born to take over, this empire is mine.” Her lack of experience led her to have some unique ideas about how to rule, which allowed her to reform trade and tax regulations and lead Austria to becoming one of the wealthy nations it is today. Oh, and she did all this while having SIXTEEN children. Maria Terezia is my everything. Life goals.
After taking some photos with our boss bitch role model, we felt we deserved some chocolate cake. So we went to the famous Sacher Hotel to get the original Sacher Torte chocolate cake, a Viennese delicacy. It was made when a baker was sick one day and didn’t feel well enough to bake a cake for the royal court, so a waiter at the restaurant said he’d give the feat a try. He made a rich chocolate cake with a hint of orange, and everyone loved it. Now the city’s famous for it. Katy and I split a slice, each with a coffee on the side. My coffee was called a Maria Terezia Coffee, and it had orange liqueur, so a bit of a zing too it. Very tasty.
Before returning to the coach we stopped by a cheesy souvenir shop to pick up some curios. I found a little music box that plays “Edelweiss,” despite the fact that I’d JUST found out was not authentic to Austria, but whatever. We also each got a bottle of Almdudler, an apple soda you can only get in Austria and Germany. It was so good! It was very light, crisp, and refreshing. It’s also the most fun word to say. Say it with me. Almdudler.
In case I hadn’t had enough alcohol, we were off to the Fischer Schnaps Museum. Yes, in Austria, schnaps has one P. The schnaps producer we visited are one of the most famous in Austria, and even had dealings with the Austrian Emperor, for whom they were the exclusive producer of schnaps. We got to go to the tasting room and taste a variety of their liqueurs. We tried mostly the “milk-based” liqueurs, which tasted like cookies and coconut and all kinds of tasty things, plus a little alcohol. We also tasted their orange schnaps that was filled with flecks of 23 karat gold. So, if you want another reminder about how fancy Vienna is, I drank gold while I was there.
After an hour at the hotel to freshen up, we were off to our “fancy night” on the trip: an evening at the Viennese orchestra and dinner afterwards. Now, I’d been looking forward to this. I had a really swanky black dress that I’d bought at TJ Maxx for $25, and I felt like I looked REALLY good in it, so I was so ready for that. I got lots of compliments. Heehee.
We all piled onto the bus, looking our classiest and went into the palace for the concert. Yes, I said palace. It involved walking up a red-carpeted staircase and entering a circular hall lit up by crystal chandeliers. It was probably the fanciest room I’d ever been in. Then came the performers. The musicians were all wearing tuxedos and big poofy pastel dresses. In true Austrian style, they wore big proud smiles. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the music as much as I did. There were only ten musicians, and they were playing such rich, beautiful music that just lit up the room. It was so incredibly beautiful. And very recognizable too! Mostly Mozart and Strauss, who both have pieces everyone recognizes. If you don’t believe me, look up “Over the Blue Danube.” You’ve heard it. You just don’t know it.
There were also opera singers that joined the orchestra at times, and also a pair of ballet dancers. Both the male singer and ballet dancer wore the cheesiest, happiest smiles. You could tell that they were having more fun than anyone else in the room. As for the female opera singer, I felt very bad for her, considering during one of the songs, she had only one line, which was “Meow” over and over again. I’m sure that made sense in the context of whatever opera it was from, but we were all kind of at a loss. Also that song was stuck in our heads for the rest of the night.
Following the concert we were off to dinner, where I sat with Brodie, Rogelio, and Elaine. Rogelio and Elaine are brother and sister and from Mexico City, which is so sweet. Drew and I would kill each other on a trip like this. We all got a delicious schnitzel and strudel for dessert. I live for strudel. Though, I would say the strudel I got last year in Innsbruck was a little bit better. Probably because there was thick whipped cream on the side instead of cream sauce on the bottom. But still. Strudel. Love.
At the culmination of dinner, Brodie and I went on a jaunt around town with Rossene (from Adelaide, Australia) and Britney “Bee” (we have two Britneys) from Canada. We went on a stroll through the beautiful streets of Vienna before settling in at a rooftop bar right next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We drank Pimm’s Cups and chit-chatted, as usual, about the differences between Australia and the US/Canada. For instance, apparently at birthday parties in Australia they have this thing called “Fairy Bread” which is white bread topped with butter and sprinkles and cut into triangles. Like what the hell is that? I promised them I’d try it and then instagram it to them once I’m back in the states. Oh Aussies.
After an Uber home (with a driver that gave us chocolate!) we were back in our lovely hotel a bit before midnight, feeling fulfilled in having seen the city at night.
Vienna, Vienna. What a gem. If I were to move to Europe, I’d move to Vienna. It’s happy. The people are nice. The buildings are beautiful, there’s great shopping, amazing food, nice views, classical entertainment, modern touches. It’s just so wonderful. I’m not saying I liked it better than Prague, but I did find it more potentially livable. In the Uber ride home, we decided Prague was the adorable village town from the Disney movies, while Vienna was the fairy tale castle. Who wouldn’t want to live in a castle.