I am not normally one to stand by first impressions, aware as I am that opinions are subjective and are often mostly based on transient things such as mood, age and context. I first went to Vienna when I was 12 on a school choir trip (yep, rockstar from an early age), and to be honest I just wasn’t impressed. I can’t quite put my finger on why exactly I wasn’t enamoured – I mean it was a full 14 years ago – but something about the city left me cold. However in recent years I’ve been hearing good things about Austria and destinations like Salzburg and Innsbruck has begun to sneak up my list. I was ready to give Austria another shot; writing off an entire country based on a 3-day trip when I was 12 isn’t exactly the most logical thing to do. However destiny aligned in that an opportunity to hop back to Vienna for a couple of days presented itself, and so before we knew it it was a cold November morning and B and I were Vienna bound.
The main reason we were in Vienna was to attend an exhibition on Pieter Bruegel, a 16th century painter famous for his landscapes (Tower of Babel, anyone?) and his championing of the everyday peasant in his art. The exhibition took place at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in the centre of Vienna. A beautiful building housing permanent exhibitions on all things from the Egyptians to Natural History, we spent a merry few hours before and after our allocated Bruegel slot poking around the floors and generally filling our heads with niche facts to impress my parents. Definitely recommend for a rainy winter’s day. On the Saturday, we popped along to Schönbrunn Palace, an old summer resident of the Hapsburg rulers. We didn’t pay to go inside and opted instead for the gardens, although truth be told November probably isn’t the best time to visit an ornate set of gardens. Unless, of course, you enjoy looking at twigs of varying sizes. Nevertheless they were beautiful grounds with stunning views over the city. On Sunday morning before our flight, we managed to squeeze in a quick stroll around the Winter Palace to work off our pastry breakfast (I mean, you don’t go to a city famed for its pastries and not try every single one you possibly can, do you?).
In terms of food, Vienna was very kind to us. Food for us is always a priority; I like to argue that it’s a novel way to discover a culture, to learn about the customs associated with dining in each country and to find a new respect for the people. In truth, I’m just greedy. Top of my list for Vienna were sausages and schnitzel, and boy did we deliver on that promise. For real Wiener schnitzels, we opted for a dinner at Wiener Wizhaus and we were not disappointed. Beer, schnitzels and great value for money – what more could you want? Heads up: they only take cash. To answer my sausage craving (get your mind out of the gutter), we preferred grabbing ours on the go rather than a formal sit down meal – most streets have a sausage vendor on their corner, ready and waiting to provide sausage perfection in a matter of seconds. Would recommend keeping an eye out for the ones with queues as we found quality could vary; in this case following the crowd definitely pays off – sorry hipsters.
Cultural and foodie excursions aside, I have to confess that I am still not 100% sold on Vienna. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an incredibly beautiful city; every street seems to jump right out of a postcard, and Vienna’s rich cultural history is plain to see on every corner. However there’s just something about it that leaves me a bit cold, like I don’t get a strong idea of the personality of the city – it’s pretty but it’s not all there behind the eyes. Maybe it’s because we didn’t go out much in the evenings – a bad cold and a bad bout of anxiety will do that to you – so we didn’t get to see much of the nightlife, sticking instead to the cultural centre of the city. Or maybe we just chose a bad time of year; few places in Northern Europe are breathtaking on a dripping November day. Whatever the reason, I’m not ready to give up on the Austrian dream. Just maybe for my next Alpine adventure, I’ll break out and try somewhere that little bit different.