One of my true joys of Central European living is train travel. It’s efficient, economical and civilized. Plus, everything is so much closer here. Derek and I hopped on a train from Keleti Station and in less than three hours we were on the metro leaving Vienna’s Hauptbahnhof station.
We arrived for 28 hours in the Austrian capital to wine, dine and checkout architectural points of interest. Just like all the cool kids do. Obviously. In preparation for our trip, I was brought back to the travel tricks of pre-3G travel: researching restaurants from home.
Yes, it’s simple and nothing new. I remember the days before cell phones and (gasp) before internet. I held my first cell phone when I was 22 and living in France. It was smaller than my credit card and could do much less. I note my familiarity with these quaint times to preface that I understand that my idea of researching restaurants from home is nothing novel; it’s how people have traveled for pleasure for most of recent tourism history.
However, with the convenience of 3G and TripAdvisor, I had lost the discipline to properly prepare my dining plans before departing. I would land in a new city or town, and rely heavily on online reviews and maps, supplemented with reception directions and extra-old fashioned street meandering for menus. I’ve had some great meals, some overpriced ones, and many meals an hour or two later than I would have liked. This method lends itself to deciding where to eat when you’ve already decided it’s time to eat. A situation that’s unpleasant for everyone: hangry (def: state of anger caused by lack of food).
But not this time. In Vienna, I planned. It was delicious.
The first meal was a picnic lunch in Augarten park. Green space bustling with people, manicured tree cones, sunshine and one “virtually indestructible” World War II anti-aircraft bunker. As Vienna is known to be expensive and I am known to be frugal, we brought a picnic of tasty Hungarian produce and cheese that we paired with Viennese baking. The sesame bun was the winner, if you’re wondering.
For supper, my research led me to book a reservation at Melker Stiftskeller. A feeling of relief came over me in the early evening when I realized that my supper was decided and waiting. The restaurant lies within the former wine cellar of the Melk Abbey, a structure that was originally built in the early 1400’s, but re-built in the 1800’s. As you walked down into the cellar, the vaulted stone ceilings provided an impressive yet cozy ambiance. When in Wien, get the wiener schnitzel. I’m generally a vegetarian (a flexitarian, if you will) but I love to travel via cuisine, so I’ll try the regional, meat-y fare if that is part of the local diet. It was delicious. With cranberry compote and fresh lemon, the schnitzel was decadent but light. As it’s my first schnitzel, I can’t compare but Derek noted it’s the best he’s ever had.
Hallowe’en in Vienna yields a surprising peak in skeleton costumes, though the football match was certainly the more significant event of the evening. We took in the screening of Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Haydn Keno English-language theatre with a particularly well-dressed (or perhaps under-dressed) crowd.
Sunday mornings are meant for brunch. Research notes from our apartment led us to Joseph Brot, a very stylish bakery and cafe with great natural light and highly hipster design. The Viennese breakfast of a simple roll and soft-boiled egg indicates to me that Vienna does not traditionally have significant breakfasts. Yet, the brunch menu here was hearty with all the right amounts of egg, cheese and bread. And caffeine. My vegetarian omelette held an arugula fennel salad. A delightful and healthy start that revealed an omelette packed with veggies, including the surprising but welcome sweet potato. Derek’s egg+arugula+pancetta+parmesan structure was a delicious as you might imagine it to be.
After brunch, my research ended. We continued our meandering through Vienna with a continual upward gaze in awe of the architectural testaments to music, culture and even social housing with the Hundertwasser-haus. In our walk, we stumbled upon a corner pub for a late afternoon, pre-train snack. Planning your meals when traveling is a time-saving, hanger-avoiding trick, but flexibility and spontaneity should also be welcome travel partners. At Bettel Student, we enjoyed earthy Austrian beers and four-cheese Brote. (I’m still getting used to the European four-cheese combination included blue cheese; the first bite is always a surprise but always a good one.) Exactly what we needed, found without research or reviews, just by curiosity of what was down that next street.
Vienna is a beautiful city and a delicious one. I’ll be back with a pocket full of research notes to finally visit the classic Kaffeehaus (when the lines are shorter) and the Musikverein (when I brush up on my Beethoven).