From Venice my G Adventures tour group said goodbye to Italy and headed for Vienna. And for this leg of the journey, getting there really was half the fun: We took an overnight train out of Venice, arriving in Vienna early the next day.
I’ve taken plenty of trains around Europe, but never an overnight train. All I have to say is thank goodness we were all sharing compartments with each other, because it’s very close quarters and I’m not sure how comfortable we would have been with some strangers mixed in. When you first go in the compartment you have regular benches to sit on, but there are two more beds that fold down on each side, so you can sleep six people to a compartment. Throw in luggage for six people and it’s extra cozy.
The coziness made it feel like a big slumber party though, and having a bar on board helped some people have a big night out, while still staying in. I don’t know how much sleep people got, but everyone agreed it was a whole new experience.
Vienna was a little drizzly when we got in, and since it was too early to check into our rooms we stashed our things and went on one of Zsofia’s little five-mile walks around town. She took us from our hotel near the central train station down a main boulevard where all the shopping is. At first I was a little disappointed in Vienna. It looked like every other bog city, full of H&Ms and Starbucks and other big chain stores. But then we arrived in the Museum Quarter and the city got far more charming.
The oldest buildings in Vienna make you feel like if you hung around long enough you might just see Mozart walking around, or at least someone in a powdered wig. They’re grand and detailed and have fantastic gardens all around them. You need sustenance to have the energy to take it all in though, so a few of us decided to stop at the Cafe Mozart for breakfast.
The Best Viennese Cafes:
The Cafe Mozart turned out to be the perfect place for breakfast. It may not have been the cheapest, but it was reasonable considering that the portions were good and the quality was amazing. I’ve had hot chocolate at fancy places all over the world (it’s my thing), and the one here has to be one of the top three richest, creamiest most delicious I’ve ever sampled. I’m still disappointed that I didn’t make it back there again for another one. The pastries and other breakfast goodies were equally yummy and we all agreed that it was the perfect meal to refresh us after a night on the train.
There’s no shortage of cafes in Vienna though and over the next two days we sampled others. Demel is one of the oldest and most popular, and you can get cakes and drinks to take away or you can eat there. We got a table outside to do some people watching on the second afternoon once the weather cleared up and ordered a selection of cakes to share. The chocolate and caramel cakes were really good, but it was the passionfruit cake that really blew me away. I would say Demel alone would be a good reason to move to Vienna, or at least do a semester abroad there.
Oh, and be sure to go all the way to the back of the cafe. The kitchen is glassed in, so you can stand and watch as the expert bakers assemble and decorate their goodies.
The most well known cafe in Vienna – and one of the most famous in the world – is at the Hotel Sacher. The hotel has both a restaurant and a cafe and both serve their namesake dessert, the Sachertorte. I’d been looking forward to trying this cake for years. It’s the stuff baking legends are made of. So maybe it was inevitable that the cake turned out to be a massive disappointment. A little dry, bland, and nowhere near as good as anything we tried at Demel, the Sachertorte just couldn’t live up to the hype. Maybe we got a bad slice from a bad batch, but I wouldn’t tell you to waste your money there, especially with so many other tasty things available nearby.
If you’re looking for a quick meal, try one of the sausage carts. We saw a few of them downtown, and you can go up to the window, point at whatever looks good (if your German is a bit rusty) and then take your food away to sit somewhere sunny and have a little picnic. There are way more types of sausage than I ever imagined, so you’re bound to find something new to try. When in doubt, go with currywurst.
Our first night there Zsofia took us to a pub down the street from the hotel where we were able to try traditional dishes, including enormous schnitzel, German potato salad, soups and dumplings. It’s almost impossible not to find something delicious for every meal and snack in Vienna.
We needed to work all this food off though, and Vienna is a lovely city for walking. We did cheat a few times and take the U-Bahn (get a 24-hour pass and ride as much as you want) and it was the cleanest public transportation system I’ve ever seen. Riding it was delightful. The train helped us to quickly get back to the Museum Quarter and the Belvedere Museum.
The Belvedere is beautiful inside and out, and you can almost spend as much time admiring the gardens as you can enjoying the artwork inside. They have a good mix of classical art and modern, but the highlight for most people is the collection of Klimt. If the crowd around “The Kiss” is too much for you, wander around and enjoy the Monets, Munchs and Rodins while you wait for people to thin out.
The Leopold Museum also has works by Klimt and Munch along with modern works by Shiele and other artists. We were a little worn out by the time we finished there, so we took advantage of their cafe, which almost seemed more like a bar/club than a museum cafe. Nice views, too.
I think my favorite place in Vienna though was the National Library. I first heard of it through Pinterest (because I have a board just for books and libraries, as I’m sure you do, too) and it was at the top of my Must See list. Unlike the Sacher Cafe, the library did not disappoint. It’s not as old and dusty as the famous book room at Trinity College in Ireland, but it’s still a majestic temple of books, with vaulted ceilings, lots of light, and hundreds of shelves of antique books. They also have rotating exhibits there, so you may get to see other artifacts and artwork.
A Little Night Music:
One of the ladies in our group had planned ahead and got herself a ticket to see a performance of Mozart before she left on the trip. I figured that if I was ever going to hear Mozart performed live, this was a pretty good place to do it, so me and one other woman from the group got tickets to join her. We went to the Wiener Musikverein, a renowned concert hall in Vienna, and didn’t just get to hear music from Mozart’s time, but also got to experience it the way audiences did back then. The musicians dress in period costume, allowing you to imagine how it felt to be an audience member (although once the person next to you gets out their phone to take pictures it sort of loses something).
It was a really good night out if you’re looking for something other than bars, but finishes early enough that you still have time for a drink or two before heading home for the night.
Hard to believe, but our tour was almost over! We were definitely going to end on a high note though, because our final destination was Prague.