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Trip Report Vienna in winter

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We left Cleveland November 30 at 1557 and connected smoothly at Ohare and Brussels, although at Brussels Austrian Air made my wife gate check her roller bag because they considered her shoulder bag a piece of luggage; this policy was not applied uniformly as we observed later arrivals with two pieces of luggage, but why fight (her worry was we lost all checked luggage for a few days on our last trip, so she wanted some clean clothes in her hands). I figured a gate check minimized the chance of it getting on the wrong plane, and it did arrive with us. I asked if we would pick it up on the ramp, or at the luggage carrousel, and the attendant said they had been using the luggage carrousel for decades

We flew economy plus this trip, for the first time. It cost less than a quarter of what business would cost (absent sales) The seating was adequate (this was a 767 with 2-4-2 seating, and we had the 2. The food was not bad, a litle less variety and quantity than business class, but frankly business class food is not that great (I wouldn’t patronize a restaurant that served the equivalent). We had wine and beer with our meal, courtesy of some old coupons continental had given us with no expiration date. I thought the wine was of comparable quality to that in business class, but there was less of it, which is probably better for my health.

We had rented an apartment , and part of the package was that a taxi would pick us up at the airport. Unfortunately, our plane was a little late and the driver apparently left. I didn’t have a sim card for my phone, but the information office was quite nice in calling the company and having another driver pick us up, but we ended up getting to the apartment a couple of hours late. It was late Saturday so we rushed out to get provisions for breakfast, which we usually eat in the apartment. By then, we were exhausted and went to bed early.

On my early visit to the bakery, I stopped at the Ubahn station to buy our passes. They have closed the offices at the stations on weekends (some stations had an open office during the week, and some didn’t), and left only a machine, but since it was early and not crowded, I was able to take my time and figure the machine out, which was much easier when I noted the English option down at the bottom. Tickets are more expensive than in any guide book I saw. The 24 hour ticked is now 6.70; the 48 hour ticket is now is now 11.70, and the Monday through Sunday ticket is now 15.00. Since the weekly ticket is Monday through Sunday, we couldn’t just buy a couple of them, but any of these is a good deal for unlimited use of public transportation for the time specified. I tried repeatedly to use a 50 euro note for the 30 charge (two weekly tickets) but I could not get one accepted. A clerk at a bakery said they would only take smaller bills or coins, and kindly broke a 50 for me.

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    Today we started with the 1100 Mass at Augustiner Kirch. It is a very attractive venue and the music was superb. We both agreed it was a must-see. We had reservations for a puppet show at Schloss Schunbrunn, so we grabbed a metro and went there for lunch, followed by a wander through the Christmas fair, which was crowded but pleasant. The Marionettentheater has a small store/museum and café, where they play a tape showing how the marionettes are made and operated, so we went there early and enjoyed that. The show was The Magic Flute, with recorded music and puppetry of the highest class. It was hard to believe how well operated the marionettes were, and the staging was superb. They are at, and we again rated this as a must see.. They invited the audience back stage after the performance to see how the magic was performed, so we didn’t finish until atfer 1800. It was snowing by then, so we took a few pictures at the Christmas Fair, then came home to eat near our apartment. There were a lost of musical performances at the fair, and they were quite good. I am starting to think I have not seen a city as musical as Vienna or Dublin.

    Monday most museums are closed, so we took a train to Melk to see the town and tour the Abbey. They discount your train fare if you have a pass for Vienna (our one-week ticket served) and, I think, if you are old. They no longer ask if we are old; they just somehow know. During the winter you can’t take a boat, which was a disappointment, and the tour excludes the gardens. We enjoyed wandering around the old town below the Abbey, but could not make out the signs on how to walk to it (no great loss, it is seriously up hill), so we went back to the train station and grabbed a taxi. After seeing the route, we could probably have walked it.

    We ate lunch at Ihr Schmankerlfleischer Josef Straule at Hauptstrasse 2, which is easily found by the delicious aromas. It is a butcher shop with a few tables in the back room with a wood burning stove. I had roast pork with sauerkraut, my wife had a ham sandwich, and we each had a beer. The food and beer was excellent; the tab was about 14 euro.

    We arrived quite early for our 1400 tour, so we walked around a bit and then waited (and perhaps napped) in the staging area. There were only three people for our tour, and the guide said it was nice because in the summer they are very crowded. The guide was excellent, well spoken, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic. I thought it was a nice way to spend a day, but I’m not sure it would be as pleasant when it is crowded. There were other tours going on, but they were well separated. We were the only people in the church when we got there and you could see whatever you wanted.

    Tuesday I finally got a sim card for my old phone, so I can make local calls now without taking out a mortgage. We started out for Museumquartier, but stopped at Karlsplatz, as a vender had stopped us Sunday and I didn’t have my schedule with me. So tonight we are going to a concert where Mozart once played. After buying the tickets, and checking where the palace is, we tried to walk to Museumplatz, which is not far on the map, but far enough to get me lost. We returned to Karlsplatz and caught U2 (our original plan) and rode one stop to Museumplatz. We left the U just across the street from the art museum, so we went in and bought Jahrkartes (a yearly membership for 29Euro, which makes good sense when you are visiting very large museums and can’t see everything in one or two visits. On the first day we toured ten galleries, which is just a fraction of the museum, with time out for lunch in their restaurant. A bowl of soup, a sachertorte, a coffee, and a small wine was 17 Euro. It is a very elegant restaurant, but service is rather slow. We did find Vermeer’s Artist in the Studio today, which had been at the very top of my list.

    The restaurant has a gourmet dinner Thursdays, and the museum is open late for the diners. We tried to sign up, but they were sold out until after Christmas, which is understandable.

    We left early for a little rest before we got to dinner and the concert. We ate at Café in Palais Palfy, next to the performance venue. It seemed a very local place, although they had translations on the menu. We had rindgoulasch and naturschnitzel, both very good, with a half liter of local wine, two apfelstreudels, and two cafe’s. I think they don’t do plain coffee in Vienna; my wife had a wiener melange and I had a Maria Theresa (espresso with orange liquor and whipped cream, it was quite tasty. The tab was 42.80 and I think, being a small establishment, they didn’t take credit cards, but I didn’t ask.

    We then window shopped for half an hour, then went to the performance by Wiener Royal Orchester. It was in the music room of what was once a palace. The ensemble was small, only seven players including strings and piano. They had a soprano and a pair of ballet dancers for some numbers. The music was good. The first half was items by Mozart (who they say once performed in this room) and after intermission they played Strauss, finishing with the Radesky march and an encore, as we were an enthusiastic audience. After attending this, there was no doubt that we were in Vienna.

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    Wednesday up early to go grocery shopping. We buy eggs, yoghurt, orange juice, and some clementines which are oranges a bit larger and jucier than the clementines I find in the us.
    My wife hard boils all the eggs and we make coffee and have a nice breakfast with little work or cost.

    We then returned to the Art museum and spent a relaxed morning there. At lunch time we got instructions on getting to the Theater Museum, and since Café Mozart was on the way, we lunched there. Two nice pastries, a Maria Teresa coffee and a white wine filled us nicely. The quality was good, but the tab was 24 euro. Service was fairly good, in part because my wife is becoming increasingly demonstrative in asking for the check.

    The theater museum had a section on design of theaters and sets, which we breezed through, and a room of old puppets, which we enjoyed. But the puppet museum in Munich has far more extensive exhibits, and would be a better place to go if you could visit only one.

    This left us way ahead of our schedule, and since the Albertina museum was in the neighborhood, we went there. I’m not sure how extensive their permanent collection is (it was labeled contemporary, and we were tired, so we skipped it). But they had an extensive exhibit of Albrecht Durer, mostly drawings (the Art museum has some Durer paintings, but I think a lot of people are more interested in the drawings), And an exhibit displaying progression from Monet to Picasso, which was excellent.

    By this time, we were really tired and returned to our apartment to rest. I am starting to realize that we will not be able to see all we had planned, partly because we are slowing down, but mostly because what we have been seeing is more extensive and interesting, and takes more time than I had anticipated.

    Thursday we started at the Belvedere as it was convenient to our apartment. We toured only the upper Belvedere, and a Christmas festival in the courtyard. The festival was smaller than the one at Schonbrunn, but larger that the one outside the art museum. The goods seemed to be of good quality, and we bought a nice ceramic bird (made in Poland). I am starting to think that some of these fairs are better for goods, while some seem more entertaining and for eating and drinking, although each has both. We then made a quick visit to the Art Museum, then set off to find Naschmarkt for a look and lunch. I was relying on a Garmin locator, which is marketed in the US, but will sell maps for selected overseas cities. It was good in getting you on the right public transportation, but once you left public transportation, it fell short. I think a part of the problem is that many streets are not clearly marked, if at all, and when they tell you turn left at X street, and it isn’t marked, so you don’t, they don’t seem to have much capacity to tell you to go back, or to come up with a new route. They seem to do this well in the US when you are driving, but not at all in Brussels or Vienna (my only experience walking overseas). Anyway, we asked our way and found the market. There were many food vendors there, even in winter, with attractive looking goods. There were many vendors of goods, but we didn’t look closely enough to ascertain the quality. The vendors who have tables are all eager to have you come in, and we succumbed to a place that had an Italian aura. They made us a platter of antipasto, meats, and cheeses that was quite good (and large, we couldn’t finish it) but with two glasses of wine it was 40 euro, which was a bit on the high side compared to our typical small lunch.

    We then returned to the Art museum for our daily dose of culture. We then tried to find Zur Schwarzen Kameel, a noted restaurant and food vendor, but the Garmin got me hopelessly lost. We did pass near St. Stephansdom and were set upon by an army of agents. I think Vienna has a number of organizations that offer similar musical shows, usually consisting of Strauss and Mozart, and some dancers and singers. They loose an army of agents in brocaded costumes that approach tourists and try to sell them tickets, often in a venue that has some musical historical significance. We had been to one, and enjoyed it, but I wasn’t eager to attend a substantially similar offering. Nothing I have found says that any of these is better than any of the others; their brochures, of course, make theirs look wonderful. The one we went to had limited stage space, which limited the dancing, so there was no grand waltzing, and I was a bit worried that the ballerina would put her toe in the violist’s ear, but she didn’t. I think anyone who visits Vienna should take in one of these shows; it would be nice if there were a way to find out which is the best.

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    Friday was a busy day. We started out visiting St. Stephansdom (again dodging an army of ticket vendors outside). We took a mass of pictures; I have a Canon that is particularly good in taking pictures, without flash, when there is apparently not enough light. I have my wife shoot the pictures, as her hand is steadier, and we were both oohing and aahing when a picure came out showing details we had not been able to see with our eyes. There are a number of stores surrounding the cathedral, not all of which are terribly expensive. My wife wanted some gloves and got a real nice pair for 18 euro. I found a wine merchant who, while not inexpensive, had a very good selection, including Calvados (my pet vice) that is not found in a lot of places. I returned later in the day to buy some wine, as I didn’t want to carry it all day. For lunch, with the Garmin and two maps, we finally found Zum Schwarzen Kameel. On entering, it is a crowded bar, with many people eating and drinking while standing. If you ask for a table, they have some in the back, but you will have passed from a bar into a gourmet restaurant. We are not gourmets, but this food was obviously of the highest quality, preparation, and presentation. My wife had soup and a coffee, I had the midday menu with four courses and a white wine. My wife stole my desert and said it was delicious. The cost was 67.60, and I don’t doubt it was worth it. I suspect eating in the bar might have cost less, but I don’t like to stand up while I’m eating.

    From there, we found our way back to Stephansplatz. filled my knapsack with good wines, and staggered back to our apartment. We needed some rest because this promised to be a big night.

    I had bought tickets for The Merry Widow at Volksopera. The curtain time was 1900, and since we had never been there, I decided to go early and dine in the neighborhood. It turned out that the Volksopera is right next to a Ubahn station, so getting there was easy. We picked out a pizza place just down the street from the operahouse, and had a decent pizza and two beers for 18 euro.

    The opera was wonderful; we have been to a lot of operas, and none was performed better than this. We left the performance wondering why Lehar is almost never performed back home.

    Saturday we were up late, and my wife is suffering a cold. We planned to go to a grocery and an apothecary, but all were closed (the local apothecary had a line of about fifty people being waited on one at a time at a door?) I don’t know the cause, as we arrived on a Saturday and the groceries were open. We did find a package of Riccola, so that will have to do.

    With our late start (and since we still have some time left) we decided to forgo the planned museum visits and find a Heuriger, so we U4'd to Heiligenstadt to visit Grinzing. If anyone tells you to visit a Heuriger in Winter, don’t believe him. They are closed. We did find Weingut Hajszan which has a nice inside restaurant. We had two soups (pumpkin soup, and celery cream soup, a coffee, a white wine, and a chocolate tarte, for 26.90, all of high quality, and a pleasant atmosphere, as we were the only customers there. We returned to our apartment, and I wrote this while my wife tries to recuperate.

    Sunday morning my wife was better, so we set off for Museumquartier. That is the U stop near many of the museums. We spend the morning going through the art museum and making sure we hadn’t missed anything, while revisiting the items we particularly enjoyed. We ended up buying a print of the Vermeer; we’ve been bringing home prints for a number of years and I am running short of places to hang them. Each is a treasured memory of somewhere we have been.

    We then crossed the street to Museumquartier to visit the Leopold museum. It has a lot of impressionist art and some Klimpt, and much newer art, primarily by Austrian artists. We had lunch in their café, which was nice but crowded. An apple strudel, a Sachertorte (a bit dry), a coffee and a glass of white wine was about 11 or 12 euro. I thought it an interesting museum because I like impressionist art. There are interesting views of the area from some galleries, which seemed to be very popular.

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    I think they may have a Christmas fair here, but it was not operating during the day when we were there.

    We returned on the U to Karlsplatz. We had been at Karlsplatz very often, as it is a terminal, and also an entrance to the central city. We had always left the station going north, and didn’t realize that behind us, half a block away, we a Christmas fair in front of Karlskirche. Today we found it and I’m glad we did. It was very busy (this was a Sunday) but had a lot of vendors with goods that appeared to be homemade and of good quality. The atmosphere was pleasant, and we ended up buying a number of gifts, and enjoying a cup of mulled wine. I had been under the impression that you could keep the mug from your mulled wine as a souvenir, but the place we bought charged 3 euro for the mulled wine, and 2.50 euro deposit on the mug. I decided the mug wasn’t nice enough for the cost.

    After the mulled wine it was a little cold, so we are back in our apartment warming up.

    Break 4

    Monday we slept in, at least as much as possible when there is a large church just down the street with a lot of bells. Our plan was to visit the Christmas fair at the art museum, then go to Spittelsburg (very nearby) and eat lunch, since the Spittelsburg fair did not open until 1400. Since we had to pass through the Karlsplatz U station, we decided to walk over and visit Karlskirche. The advent market was not open yet, but the church was. It is a lovely facility. We paid 12 euro for admission for two, which included a visit to a small museum, the church itself, and an elevator to near the top of the church (they have scaffolding up for repairs, but we were able to get a close view of the art on the dome. They had another eight or ten stories of scaffolding to the top, but we decided not to climb there. We did pick up a brochure for the advent market, and they have a lot of musicians and performers in the evening, so I think that would be the best time to visit.

    We then hopped U2 to the museumquartier stop and visited the fair outside the museum. It was more extensive than I had realized, with a good mix of foods and goods.

    We then walked to Spittelsberg, which is behind the museum quartier complex, and is said to reflect the old Vienna. Many cafe’s we passed were not yet open, but we finally found one and had some authentic viennese comfort food. I’ve forgotten the name as they didn’t take credit cards. After stretching our lunch to 1400, we went to the fair. Other fairs have a park or plaza for the fair; Spittelsburg just uses some side streets, so it is pretty convoluted, but the vendors were quite friendly, with some good merchandise, and this seemed more like a neighborhood fair than the others.

    By 1530 we were drained, so we returned to our apartment to rest. We decided to have dinner early, then stop by the Karlskerche fair to see a fire dance, then to to the Rathaus to see that in the evening. We missed the dance at the Karlskerche fair, but noted that it was very full of visitors. The fair at the Rathaus was also very full of visitors. The decorations were worth seeing, but my wife felt the majority of goods were not impressive.

    For our last day we shopped in the inner city near Karlsplatz, lunched at the café at Hotel Sacher (elegant surroundings and service, I had a sachertorte with a Maria Theresia coffee, while my wife had soup and a Melange coffee (coffee with a lot of foamed milk) for 24 Euro, which I thought was fair considering the venue and the quality of food). We then returned to Schloss Schonbrunn to see the fair in the snow, since we had previously seen some items we wanted as Christmas gifts. We then returned to our apartment to pack, as we were leaving very early the next morning.

    Our flight home was on Lufthansa from Vienna to Frankfort and Frankfort to Newark, then United fom Newark to Cleveland. I had bought the original tickets from United and in their wisdom, they had surrepticiously split our ticket into two . As a consequence, I had been unable to sign in on line when we left, which kept us from being put on the upgrade list, and Lufthansa had no idea we were traveling together, so I had to scramble at the Vienna airport to arrange seats together. I wrote United asking for an explanation, but their answer made no sense, so it is apparent that their problems with the merger have no been adequately addressed. Lufthanza offers better food in tourist (from our limited experience, and does provide wine and, I believe, beer. Our section of the plane was filled with children who were prone to act up, and parents who were prone to look the other way. I started thinking that, with tourist class seats being so inexpensive compared to business or first, one might consider buying two tourist seats and sitting in the back one, with no one in the front one to recline when you are trying to eat or use a computer.

    One interesting experience: I had come to believe that we no longer had to remove our shoes to go through TSA screening, and in fact we didn’t on leaving the US or passing through security in Europe. However, when we were rushed to rego through security at Newark, I approached the screening machine with my shoes on and a rather excited employee asked me how old I was; when I revealed that I was an adult, indeed an old adult, he started screaming that I, and everyone else in the area, had to remove our shoes; I complied since I didn’t want to hold everyone up, but if he ever has children, they will be harelipped.

    In any event, we really enjoyed Vienna in the Christmas fair season.

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    I was enthralled by Vienna over the holidays. I visited there over Thanksgiving 2010 (I typically travel at this time, fewer vacation days needed!). So glad you had a good time.

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    Very much enjoyed your report, and your writing style. We are enjoying the Christmas markets, as well. They are all a little different, so each one is its own little surprise.

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