Vienna: Day 1
It was Easter Sunday and we were visited at breakfast by the proverbial Easter Bunny whose only trace was a series of chocolates placed on green napkins at the hotel restaurant. Who needs a “real Easter” when you can spend it in three countries?
Originally our itinerary called for us to drive from Budapest to Vienna with a stop at a rest area. But thanks to my previous experiences in Europe, I knew there was a “scenic route” that we could take through Slovakia. After having each kid check with their parents to make sure their banks and cell phones would be equipped to handle another country, we added the stop in Bratislava for lunch.
On the road we listened to “Budapest” by George Ezra, a must-do played by Vera. After checking off that box, I requested “Country Road” by John Denver, which is the song my kids this year have typically played every time they wanted a sing-along. And, without fail, we had a lovely road trip sing-along. Family bonding at its finest.
We had a quick pit stop at a gas station for the bathroom and some last minute souvenirs, (I bought a jar of paprika shaped like a bell pepper that I’m stupidly excited about) we were back on the road and Slovakia bound.
Soon after crossing the border we were in the capital city of Slovakia, Bratislava. We asked our bus driver, Andre, who is from Slovakia, how to say “hello,” and “thank you,” and we were dropped in front of the “yellow church” for our lunch time adventure.
We had also gotten some advice for what to seek for Slovakian food. I’d been to Bratislava once before but didn’t have time to sample any of the food—we’d gotten some French fries at McDonalds and explored the town instead. But today we had time to do both. So we sat at a restaurant for a little while, enjoying the perfect weather and eating what basically tasted like mac and cheese with bacon crumbles. Bravo, Slovakia.
After lunch we had time to run up to the city’s castle. It was a steep walk up some cobblestone streets, but we knew the view would be worth it. On the way up, we had a close run-in with some pickpockets who tried to target Farrah, but she caught them before they made any progress. Of course at this point we sent out an alert to all of our kids to be watchful. We didn’t want a close call to turn into a tragedy.
Once atop the hill, we were able to sample the beautiful view and take some pictures. Meanwhile the Balfs, Farrah, and I were all comparing Game of Thrones theories in preparation for our watch party.
After snapping a few photos, we had to run back down the hill to our meeting spot. I’d wanted to stop at the Drak and Finch, a coffee shop I’d discovered on my first trip, but we didn’t have time. But I was able to take a couple pictures. Look how cute it is!
Upon reaching the “ground level” of the city, we realized, there were a lot of yellow churches in Bratislava. And the one I had popped into my GPS was the wrong one. So there was a little bit of a last minute scramble to find the actual meeting location. We did make it back, albeit about five minutes late. But on top of that, one of our student groups got trapped at a restaurant that was running way behind. They’d put their order in and still hadn’t gotten their food 45 minutes later. So they asked for to-go boxes and ran to the bus, finally clocking in about ten minutes late. And one of the poor things was given a piece of cake instead of his meal! Poor babies. At least they knew a schnitzel dinner was coming their way in the evening.
We drove another hour, very quickly crossing into Austria after our stop. It was pretty uneventful, until our driver took us the wrong way through the border crossing. One of the Austrian cops got a little suspicious and boarded the bus to talk to us before waving us forward. I’ve never seen a group of high schoolers go silent so quickly. After a few terse German questions, he hopped off and waved us forward. I’d never heard our bus go quiet in such a short period of time.
Unrelated, the cop was pretty cute.
Before dinner, we gave our kids some time to run around Prater Amusement park, a little park with carnival-ish rides, fair food, games, and other stuff that would entertain them. We spent some time following the kids around from ride to ride, laughing at the expressions they made when they where whipped all around by some flippy and spinny contraptions. Watching was more fun than riding those.
I did pay for one ride, the drop ride. I hopped on with a big group of the kids and we rode it, 90 meters to the top. Upon reaching the top, we spun around slowly, getting a 360 degree view of Vienna. We didn’t know how many times though, so I just kept waiting to be dropped to the ground without warning. After four nerve wracking spins, we went plummeting, quick as a bullet, back down. I came off shaking—and usually drop rides don’t rattle me. It was fun though! I’d do it again.
After that some of the boys wanted me to race them on this race track ride—basically go-karts but on a loopy track. My response was, “I’m not paying 5 euros to drive. I can do that at home for free.” Their response? “Alright, let’s pay for Ellis.”
So I hopped into my go-kart and raced the boys. They kicked my butt. I’m going to blame it partially on the fact that I got stuck against a wall by a girl whose kart kept breaking down. So I was immobile for abut thirty seconds. But then the boys started lapping me, so that was pretty humbling.
After re-gathering at the entrance, we were ready to depart for our wiener schnitzel dinner. Bless Austria for the invention of schnitzel. We all piled down into the cellar and gathered to feast on chicken schnitzel and potatoes. This one did not disappoint. But then again, it’s hard to disappoint with fried chicken. And then strudel was for dessert. I’ll still say the Innsbruck strudel is my favorite, but if this one had a giant dollop of whipped cream, it would have given that one a run for its money.
After dinner we piled back on the bus and headed to our hotel in one of the outer districts of the city. In no time, we had distributed keys and settled into our next sleeping quarters. I spent some time organizing my Budapest blogs and pictures, and after staying up a little bit later than I should have, I collapsed on my memory foam mattress and called it a night.
Vienna: Day 2
After breakfast we met our local guide, Marley, who would give us some insight into the history of Vienna. We hopped on the bus and we were off to the inner district and Vienna’s famous Ring-Road, which marks the historical center of the city. She pointed out some important landmarks, like some of the old Habsburg residences, which, after the collapse of the monarchy were mostly repurposed as classy hotels. Turns out the only people who could afford to buy such a residence were owners like Hilton and Ritz Carlton.
The first stop of the tour was at the Hundertwasser house, a famous building in the center with funky architecture. It reminded us of Barcelonan architecture, modern art and curved lines, bright colors and mirrors. I tried to stand on a cobblestone hill to get a better look but I wound up slipping on the stones and completely wiped out in front of my students. No physical injuries but a scrape on my shin. Plenty of emotional damage done to my pride and dignity.
But at least we got a good HB chaperone photo so I can remember that spot forever.
We continued driving through the beautiful city and made a loop back towards some of those outer districts until we made it to the one that housed Schonbrunn Palace, the summer palace of the Austrian Monarchy. This is one of the few places on this tour that I had not yet visited—and one I’d wanted to see since I was a little kid and saw the framed watercolor my mom had of it in our dining room. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day for a visit.
Unfortunately we were limited to the outdoors for photos. The jerks want you to buy one of their photo books—and also it was really crowded in there, so I’m sure they wanted to keep people moving. Either way, I didn’t get a picture of the big beautiful ballroom or the chandeliers or anything like that. So this is my cue to tell you to Google it.
We did get a lot of information about Maria Theresa Habsburg, the only female monarch of the Austro-Hungarian empire. She inherited the throne from her father and made sure to hold power. Her husband wasn’t the Habsburg, so even though he was a prince of France, he was really just there to look pretty. She got all the say over the government, the army, her people, everything. Oh and she ruled while also having sixteen children. She’s an absolute BOSS. #GirlPower
Our kids found it so weird that at wedding ceremonies in the palace, they would allow the peasants to come into the dining hall during the ceremony to watch the royals eat their wedding feasts. This was a days-long ceremony, so we were talking hours of time people were allowed to just hop on into Schonbrunn and watch some rich people eat. I reminded them though–that’s not much different than watching the Kardashians do nothing on TV.
After our tour, we wanted to go out to the top of the hill outside and have a cup of coffee in the café, where Maria Theresa herself used to enjoy her breakfast every day. But unfortunately we got lost in the gardens and didn’t make it with enough time. But at least we were able to take some pretty pictures.
After gathering everyone back together, we were ready to head back into the city center for some exploration and lunch. We had wanted to either sample Sacher Torte—Vienna’s famous cake—or take a pit stop by the Belvedere museum to see some of Gustav Klimpt’s famous paintings. But before we did that we needed to get some food. So we found an outdoor café, which was apparently one of Vienna’s more famous for wiener schnitzel. I mean, if there’s anything anyone whose followed these blogs for more than a hot second knows about me, it’s that I love a good schnitzel. Unfortunately this one was veal. Veal as a concept kind of breaks my heart, but nothing else on the menu caught my eye….so I broke my moral compass for a moment and at the veal. It was soooo good. Probably the best I’ve ever had. I’m going to black out the whole baby cow thing and just appreciate the fact that I had true wiener schnitzel for the first time. When in Vienna, right?
Well, after lunch…we didn’t have time for either of our top choices. The Belvedere was too far away, and there was a crazy line outside the Sacher café. So we settled for a café on the walk back to our meeting spot. It wasn’t a total loss, because theses were the best espressos—and the cheapest!—that we’d had all trip. Plus the barista was really nice.
It was about to get real. It was time for our Viennese scavenger hunt. We were armed with a list of instructions and questions. We broke into our chaperone groups and set off to find many different sites and landmarks in the city. I said to my group, “Not to flex or anything, but your chaperone is the only one of us who’s been here before.” Their response: “LET’S GO!”
We made a big loop around the city center, starting at the Maria Theresa statue, heading up to the Hofburg Palace, through to the Spanish riding school. We went on a couple wild goose chases to find some more obscure landmarks, including a public restroom that was underground. It was supposed to be a “fancy bathroom” but after the boys thought they’d found it, they said it was a gross, smelly subway bathroom. So we knew we’d messed that one up.
My yellow team (Team Starburst, on account of the fact that I ran out of yellow bandanas and so someone had to be pink) and Jenn Staub’s red team, (the Stauberries, obviously) were neck-and-neck at the end of the day. Meanwhile Team Navy was not into the scavenger hunt, Green Team got very lost and gave up, and Team Blue (or Blue Team Six, as they liked to be called) spent the whole time trying to rent scooters.
These are our kids.
After meeting at the end of our scavenger hunt, we took a walk to our restaurant for the evening. Most of us were literally limping, on account of exhaustion and blisters. Soon we settled into our cozy nook of another basement eatery and began to dine on chicken, mushrooms, and rice with a cream sauce. I was still really full from my schnitzel, but did my best to eat as much as I could. It was so good!
Meanwhile Becky had one above ground to see if the souvenir shops would still be open after dinner. We realized that we hadn’t seen her for quite a while, so we got a bit worried. I popped upstairs out of the restaurant where I had data and tried to call her, but a German-speaking woman picked up the phone, so I must have dialed the number wrong. But it was okay, because seconds later she came around the corner looking like she’d just completed an Odyssey. Turned out she had taken the VERY scenic route.
She came down and finished her dinner while the rest of us were served yet another very tasty strudel. This one came out warm with a dollop of whipped cream. I almost cried. It was amazingly delicious. I’ll give it second place to the Innsbruck one, and a very close second at that.
We gave the kids a little bit more time to walk around and get some souvenirs. I bought some marzipan truffles (new obsession) and we found a café that had Sacher torte. It wasn’t from the original café, but we knew it would still be good. I also stopped and bought a watercolor from a woman who pretended she didn’t have change, even though we knew she definitely did. We scrambled to come up with a dollar in coins to avoid paying an extra five euros, and made it happen. Good job, team.
We got back to the hotel and awarded the prizes for the scavenger hunt. It was a tie between the Stauberries and the Starbursts. Jenn and I shook hands to demonstrate good sportsmanship, but our kids definitely both wanted wins. Eh. They’re fine. They can all go home and tell their families they won.
Finally, after a full day of avoiding social media and comparing theories, we were ready to watch Game of Thrones. We arranged the beds in my hotel room so we could have seats and all gathered around Farrah’s laptop to watch Season 6 episode 2. We laughed, we cried, we held hands. It was a beautiful bonding experience. We’ll now always remember “Oh yeah, that’s the episode we watched in the hotel in Austria.”
As Billy Joel put it, “You’ve got so much to do and only so many hours in a day.” I know that song is symbolic about other stuff, but it’s still relevant. Vienna is a city with so many sights to see and never enough time. We enjoyed our day but are leaving with many “If only we had time to see _______s.” I’d love to return again. But then again, I could say that about nearly every place. But if there’s any place I know I’m welcome back to, “Vienna waits for you.” I’m pretty sure that also applies to me and my colleagues.