Back in Vietnam, we met Alena, a girl traveling on our bus out of Ho Chi Minh City who was from Austria but studying and traveling in Vietnam. After running into her again while wandering around in Da Lat one night, and then meeting up for dinner in Hanoi, she made us promise to call if we made it to Vienna during our travels. Unfortunately, she was out of town when we visited, but she sent us an unbelievable list of sights and restaurants to check out during our stay.
Since Vienna is known for its desserts, Jenn had made it her primary goal to get through as many different types of cakes as possible in the few days we were there, which seemed like an admirable plan. In the time spent digesting our sweet treats, though, we did find a few moments to see the city and tackle Alena’s comprehensive list.
Vienna’s churches are scattered throughout the city, and proved to be quite spectacular and incredibly varied. The oldest church in the city, St. Rupert’s Church, is a small, simple stone building with a single bell tower. It’s thought to have been founded in 740, though nobody is quite sure, as the earliest written records start around 1200. In stark contrast, the magnificent structure of the Church of St. Francis of Assisi towers over its surrounding neighborhood, its many steeples and belfries overlooking the adjacent Danube – a truly stunning structure. The Votive Church, which was built in celebration of Emperor Franz Joseph’s survival of an assassination attempt and consecrated in 1879, is different still, with intricately carved spires and buttresses soaring overhead, seeming almost fragile despite its immense size.
While perusing for some local fare, we read about Figlmueller, a restaurant that’s been serving Wiener Schnitzel since 1905. Since the very beginning, even during war times, they’ve been providing a 30-centimeter (12-inch diameter) serving of the pounded meat dish that hangs liberally over the edges of the plate, ensuring that customers feel they are getting their money’s worth. We were seated opposite an Austrian couple, who chatted with us during the meal and insisted I try some of their potato salad, saying that it was a “must eat” with the famous schnitzel. I walked out in triumph, having conquered the giant dish and gazing scornfully at everyone around us who acknowledged defeat, meekly asking the waiter for a to-go bag. Another day, we tried lunch at Gasthaus Kopp, a local restaurant that Alena had recommended for a true Viennese experience. We stumbled through their German, handwritten menu and I eventually settled on schweinebraten & Waldviertler knodel, receiving a huge portion of pork and a softball-sized potato dumpling, served in a lake of gravy. I also somehow managed to find room for some tafelspitz while I was there – a boiled beef dish served with potatoes and a mix of horseradish, chives, and apples – a pretty amazing flavor combination.
Elsewhere in the city, we enjoyed a number of artists who exhibited their sculptures, photographs and paintings alongside a pleasant walkway that traced the edge of the Danube. A quirky, Art Nouveau clock called the Ankeruhr, overlooking the High Market, provides an amusing procession of historical figures such as Charlemagne, Joseph Haydn, and a number of significant rulers or military leaders throughout Austrian history. One figure slides along per hour, except during the noon bell, when all of the characters parade by in a long processional. Another highly regarded Art Nouveau feature in the city, the zigzagging pattern of the Strudlhofstiege staircase vaguely reminded us of Lombard Street in San Francisco, and was virtually deserted, allowing us to take in the beautiful landmark in peace. During our wanderings, we also made our way through a number of large, public parks, each providing tranquil greenspaces in the middle of the busy, modern city.