Yes I know I’ve only just come back from Spain so this next break is a pretty fast turnaround. It’s come about because my daughter Nicola is at a conference in Vienna next week and she suggested I join her for the weekend before so we could have a little break together. She’d booked an Airbnb studio apartment for the week, so there was even somewhere to stay. Nicola had to be at work this morning so is flying out late from Birmingham via Frankfurt and won’t arrive until after midnight. I meanwhile took a morning flight from Heathrow and arrived early afternoon. My ‘job’ was to get the keys to apartment, get in some basic shopping and do some reconnaisance – check out the area we’re staying in and get a sense of the layout of the city, especially in relation to places we want to visit.
Vienna is a city I’ve been longing to visit for ages. It was even in my bucket list of places I wanted to go to, which I published on the blog about three years ago. I’ve been to Austria before but not for ages. As a child I holidayed near Innsbruck a few times; when Nicola was a babe in arms, we had a skiing holiday in Lech. However, Vienna has evaded me. But now I’m here!
The Austrian capital has a wealth of cultural and historical attractions to offer. From the imperial grandeur of the Habsburgs to the birth of psychotherapy with Sigmund Freud who lived and worked here; the rich musical legacy of Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, Brahms and many others. There’s the art of Klimt to be found at the Belvedere palace. And then, of course, there are the famous coffee houses. The playwright Bertolt Brecht described Vienna as ‘a small city built around a few coffee houses’. From the 18th century they attracted poets and musicians, artists and writers; radical thinkers like Freud and Trotsky would be found talking in groups in them. And you do actually drink coffee in them – and glorious cakes such as Sachertorte and apple strudel are to be found. One can only ask why it’s taken me so long to get here.
Mina, who owns the apartment, helpfully arranged a taxi to pick me up from the airport (€25) to bring me to Kochgasse in the Alsergrund & University District in the north east corner of the city.
Mina met me with the key and showed me round. She took time to look at a map with me too to show me how to get to places we want to visit; she recommended areas for cafes and told me where I’d find shops. She assured me I could call at any time and made me feel so welcome. What a lovely start to our stay. The studio is simple and has an arty minimalist feel. I love it.
It’s very quiet and cool (it was about 30C outside) and looks out on to a garden.
Mina showed me a bowl of red gooseberries she’d picked for us – organically grown – from her garden.
I followed her directions to a main road at the top of Kochgasse – not even 5 mins away. She’d told me about Denns, which is a kind of Austrian Wholefoods or Planet Organic store. I bought healthy almond milk, muesli, nuts, hummus and apple juice. I reckoned I was going to need some healthy input before finding my way to the coffee and cake houses! I didn’t buy water though as Mina told me the water from the tap was very pure and came from the local springs – it is healthier than the water in bottles.
After unloading it all back at the studio, I did indeed go in search of coffee and cake. However, I didn’t have much luck. I was obviously in the wrong part of town; I needed to study the guidebook more seriously. I was hungry though. A tiny roll on the BA flight for lunch wasn’t going to keep me going until supper time. Well, if you can’t find cake – eat ice cream. I was walking down Stiftgasse and saw a cafe overflowing with people. Always a good sign. But this cafe was actually an Italian gelateria – Gelateria La Romana.
There wasn’t a free table outside so I went inside. I was so hungry I ordered a Sicilian style brioche with ice cream and a cappuccino.
Oh my word! The ice cream was wonderful, really amazingly good. I was able to choose three flavours so had mascarpone, white tiramisu, and chocolate fondant. The coffee was good too and very much Italian style. A delightful find – even if my first ‘meal’ in Vienna hadn’t been very Austrian!
I took a look at a couple of places near the studio that Mina recommended for supper but decided to go further afield. I’d tried to book at one place that had a great review in my Lonely Planet and I liked when I went in – Schnattl – but they were closed for a party this evening. They don’t open over the weekend but I may go back for lunch on Monday before my flight home. I chose instead Amerlingbeisl, a kind of bistro pub, that had excellent reviews in Lonely Planet and on TripAdvisor. I liked the busy buzzing atmosphere in the courtyard and was given a friendly welcome.
On such a warm and humid evening it was great to be outside. I chose a very Austrian dish of fried chicken with potato salad and also ordered a side of green salad to go with it.
It was a very mediocre meal. The chicken a little dry, the salad swimming in too much dressing so soggy. As for the potato salad, in UK this would be potato in a mayonnaise or vinaigrette dressing. The Austrians however make it completely differently. Cooked and still warm potato is marinated in hot beef broth, vinegar, oil (or butter) and sugar. Then diced red onion is mixed in. It’s left to marinate for a little while but served warm. The mixture thickens due to the release of the starch from the potato. It didn’t look very appetising but it was also far too sweet for me. I can see I’m going to struggle with typical Germanic cooking. I know you can get brilliant cooking in top restaurants (such as I’ve enjoyed in the far past) but the kind of simple, everyday Austrian-Germanic cooking isn’t really my thing. Though I’m hopeful of a good wiener schnitzel at some point. Meanwhile, I have yet to find that Sachertorte I’ve been looking forward to and I know that the Austrians make the most amazingly delicious cakes.
I slowly walked back to the studio in the dying light, passing attractive buildings and shops – including chocolate shops!
I’ve had a lovely first half day and look forward to exploring further afield tomorrow with Nicola, finding some of the famous sights and maybe taking a look at the Danube.