By Chef Dad
I don’t think the Habsburg dynasty was the greatest dynasty, but I think it was the classiest.
Vienna is the architectural center of the Habsburg/Austro-Hungarian empire, though it hasn’t always been the most powerful capital city in the realm. We struck out quickly for Schönbrunn Palace, the summer home of the royals, and the most impressive of three great palaces in the city.
The palace is surrounded by acres and acres of gardens, including a couple of mazes to walk through. We never did solve one of them. Mr. N and Miss A had a good time walking through the grounds. At the far end of the gardens, atop a big hill, sits the Gloriette.
I am fairly certain the Gloriette was built simply to ensure that the Habsburgs had the absolute best wedding venue on the planet. It’s a long walk up the hill, and it was a hot day and we were tired. We were going to skip it and until we turned around, that would have been my choice. But the view from the hill is magnificent.
In the evening, we were joined at the palace by 100,000 Austrians who had come to see the Wien Philharmonic put on their annual free Sommernachtskonzert. We actually had no idea that such a thing existed, much less that it was on the day of our visit, but we stuck around and had a great time.
I should mention, though, before I get too much further along, that we were also joined by two other guests–Maggie and Allie, Kristy’s cousins, who we picked up at the airport a day earlier.
We started them off easy, with a restful visit to the Museumquartier, which is a really cool building with a lot of different, edgy exhibits and modern art, set in an old building with a courtyard that’s got shops, cafes and live music, along with benches to rest on.
Not a bad way to kill some time in Vienna, but before too long, we had to go for some of Vienna’s–nay, the worlds’s–most famous chocolate cake, the original Sacher Torte from the Sacher Hotel.
I don’t think Vienna is my favorite city that we’ve visited on our trip, but it’s probably the deepest in terms of the sheer number of great sites. In addition to Schonbrunn, the Hofburg Palace and the museum and apartments that surround it form a beautiful city center.
But that’s not all. There’s a third palace, Belvedere, just down the road. We didn’t get to spend much time there, but we did take a stroll through the gardens and grounds.
There’s also Parliament, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Naschmarkt, and a thriving, walkable historic old town with classic architecture everywhere. On Maggie and Allie’s first full day in town, we walked over 25,000 steps and 11 miles according to my iPhone. They also went through a few bandaids to cover up blisters from shoes that weren’t quite broken in.
With all that walking, it’s good to squeeze in a break now and again, and the river, complete with a makeshift beach and reggae band, was a perfect spot to relax.
Sadly, the bar didn’t have Red Stripe, but we made due with some really good Gruner Veltliner. Like I said, Vienna is classy. We took in some of that class with a trip to the Wien Operhaus too.
The operahouse has a deal where you can go for 3 Euros and watch from standing room seats at the back of the theatre. Seats are quite a bit more expensive. We went the value route.
The standing room seats are incredibly crowded and hot. The kids couldn’t see and were tired and fidgety. People were jostling for space everywhere. Miss A especially had a really difficult time. I told Kristy when it was over, I didn’t enjoy a minute of it but I’m extremely glad we did it. The opera house is beautiful, the staging was wonderful and it’s an experience that I’m really glad we had. We stayed until the first intermission–staying longer would have been cruel to our children, but it was well worth the price (in dollars and patience).
A visit to Vienna wouldn’t be complete without a trip to a Heuriger. Heurigers are massive wine bars that sit on the outskirts of Vienna, but still in the city limits. Winemakers serve their proprietary wines, along with heapings of traditional food in a way that resembles a cafeteria. We visited two.
It’s a fun experience, though we were thwarted at the first place by an inconsiderate group in front of us in line and thwarted at the second place by torrential downpours (not something we could have predicted from the photo above, taken a few hours earlier).
I’m struck looking back on our trip at just how many fun things there are to do and see in Vienna. The Habsburg dynasty may have ended with World War I, but it left behind a beautiful city and a beautiful legacy.