Vienna, Austria: sausages, waltzing, and famous dead people

November 17, 2018
by Dan

Waiting to greet us upon our arrival in Vienna was a wonderful friend we hadn’t seen in over a year. When we were couchsurfing in Costa Rica we met fellow traveler Kathi, who happened to be from Vienna. So we all made grand plans to catch up in Vienna over a year in the future, and as with most causal plans for the distance future, none of us were totally convinced it would happen… but it did! And it was wonderful!

On our first night Kathi had other guests in town, so she set us up with her friend Felix, who kindly hosted us sight unseen (thank you!!!). He lived out in Ottakring on the edge of town, home of the Ottakringer brewery and the popular Manner wafer cookie. He took us out for some dinner and drinks and we had a great time talking travel. On the way back we found a beer vending machine. They exist outside of Japan! But we couldn’t use these ones because we didn’t have an EU ID card for age verification.

The next day we moved over to Kathi’s place and had a lovely breakfast with her neighbor Sebastian, who turned out to be a regular in the apartment. He made us think of the cool sitcom neighbor, always popping by on some pretext or another to liven up the scene. We had a great time staying with Kathi and cooked a few dinners and ate breakfast together when she was available.

For our touristing activities, we first went out to a few of the local churches. St. Stephen’s Cathedral had really phenomenal architecture. The day we went was a bit foggy and so it was surreal seeing the top of the church disappearing into the fog. The inside was also excellent. The most notable factor was an enormous story book type display thing at the back of the church. I’ve never seen something like this in a church before and I’m not sure of what it was or when it is open, but it was certainly interesting.

We also took a trip to visit the campus of the University of Vienna where Kathi studies. The library was beautiful and the whole campus was ornate well beyond anything that you would expect from a university in the USA. A really cool place to study.

Also nearby the university was another church, Votiv church, and after parting ways with Kathi we went to explore it. The outside just blew my mind. Inside about half of the church was housing some art exhibit that we didn’t visit, but the inside had some nice stained glass.

On our next day in town we took a run along the Donauinsel island on the Danube. It’s an artificial island built from dredging a secondary canal along the river. It was a long cold run, but beautiful and we did alright overall.

We finished the run at Leo’s Wurstel Stand. This is a typical Austrian street/drinking food which usually seems filled with cheese. This particular stand came highly recommended (thanks Sebastian!). It was a great introduction to the wurstel. We went all out and got the Big Mama and a second smaller sausage. After ordering we saw that the Big Mama apparently is intended for 4 people. Guess we shouldn’t have also ordered a wurstel box… but we made quick work of it all.

Vienna has a lot to see and we found a few oddball sights that topped our list of places to visit. The first among these was the Museum of Art Fakes. It is a museum that collect and displays forgeries. We learned a lot here, including that there are different classifications of forgeries. Identical forgeries are replicas of actual known artwork. These can be a bit harder to pass off as actual originals if are known to exist elsewhere. More popular though are forgeries that are done in the style of a famous artist and then passed off as a previously unseen work.

I don’t have the art history background to appreciate any of this, but I loved the stories behind the forgers. Typically they are very skilled but disillusioned with the art world and decide to show their skills by making forgeries. The famous forgers become famous in their own right and often their works will be worth almost equal as originals, but unfortunately they often seem to find themselves facing a lot of jail time and tragic deaths. There was even a forgery of a forgery, a work passed off as the work of a forger who had gotten famous. Amazing. Overall it was a great find.

Right next to the Museum of Fakes was the wacky Hundertwasser Haus buildings by artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser with architect Joseph Krawina.

We also discovered the tiny Esperanto museum. The idea of a global language fascinates me, but we both kind of thought that Esperanto had died out. It hasn’t and there are a significant number of native speakers. The museum was tiny and, but we did learn a few cool facts. (And Christina got the high score on the Pac Man themed pedagogical Esperanto game, which yes, actually exists.)

The museum attributed the language’s burst of popularity on the expansion of the Austro-Hungarian empire, where the kingdom had a large number of languages existing and a common language with Latin and Slavic roots would be a huge benefit to the empire. Apparently the numerous fascist and communist political leaders of that time were not so supportive and the fuss around the world wars squashed further expansion (aside: same with this brilliant calendar system that was gaining momentum at the same time).

There were also some exhibits on other planned languages and all of it was interesting but mostly the museum was posters from Esperanto summits, books written in Esperanto, and pins that Esperanto speakers were encouraged to wear to promote finding other speakers.

Along with our entry to the Esperanto museum we also got entrance to the Globe Museum in the same building and a papyrus museum down the road, but based on our timing we were only able to visit the globe museum. We quickly realized that we actually purchased entrance to the Globe Museum and it was the Esperanto museum that was included in the ticket price.

The Globe Museum was many times the size of the Esperanto museum, with tons of globes of varying sizes. Some of the early globes were intended to educate Europeans about the people in the new world… usually with super racist caricatures. There were also some really cool devices that simulated planetary motion with fun complex gear systems as well as lunar and martian globes.

Over the course of the week we spent a few nights hanging out with Kathi’s friends. The favorite hang out spots were Huerigers, which are local Viennese taverns/wineries. They have some connection with vineyards that are located within the city limits or have some special contract to serve new wine. I don’t really get it and I think the status and term has changed a bit in recent times, but the point is these are awesome local taverns.

The drink of choice was spritzwine, the mix of the house wine (typically white) and sparkling water. I found this to be a delightful mix and only upon careful reflection did I realize that wine spritzers are actually the same thing and definitely something that I’ve seen in the US. But whatever, it was fantastic especially in a group since you would get two pitchers of each fluid and mix your own around the table. I was told that it’s all the same price to order individual spritzwine, but the ‘style’ is better when you get pitchers to share with the group.

The great thing with the huerigers is that they also serve delicious traditional food. Our absolute favorite was krautfleisch which is just sauerkraut and pork.

One night Christina managed to sneak in a work out at Fitness Club ISC, and she was very happy with the facilities there, particularly the squat rack and gymnastic rings.

Christina also celebrated her birthday in Vienna, so we did a few special things to celebrate. First up was a visit to the Vienna Central Cemetery. Such a traditional birthday celebration, but that’s our Christina. We went primarily to see the burial place of the physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, but the more popular gravestones belonged to famous Austrian music talents like Strauss, Mozart, and Beethoven. Overall the cemetery was phenomenally beautiful. It was a massive place with some really ornate sculptures and a whole seemingly abandoned section that looked exactly like the set of a movie.

After pondering gravestones, we headed off to a Viennese waltz lesson. Christina already knows the dance, but since I’m not so skilled in these areas, a dance lesson was the best way that we could dance Viennese waltz in Vienna. We signed up for a group lesson, but ended up being the only ones there so we go to advance pretty rapidly. It’s a lot of spinning and quite dizzying. I think I held my own. Many circles were made.

For a birthday cake we got the local specialty Sacher Torte. It’s a local invention of a chocolate cake with some apricot jam and a hard chocolate shell. We got ours at Aida, a recommendation from our dance teacher for a place that wouldn’t be too crowded. The Sacher Bakery where it was invented is known for the line out the door. We were very happy with Aida’s and its sacher torte.

In general Vienna is famous for it’s sweets and cakes and cafes as well. The Viennese seem to have quite an affection for cafes and so we visited a few during our stay. They are all over the city. The most notable was Vollpension, which employees pensioners to bake cakes. It’s a noble goal to keep retirees active and to encourage interaction between generations. It was a lovely spot to spend one of our afternoons.

My favorite aspect of Vienna though was definitely the architecture. It was quite similar to Budapest, but just more. More quantity and more crazy statues on every ledge/door/whatever. I usually spend a lot of time looking at my feet when walking, but Vienna definitely kept my head up.

Our last morning in Vienna we got up bright and early for a coffee with Kathi. (Thank you so much luv for having us! It was such a wonderful week!!! xoxo) She had to leave early for work, and after that we made our way to the train station for our next destination: Berlin.

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