Ah, the holidays. This December is by far the busiest I have ever experienced. Last week started with luncheons, vet appointments, scheduling appointments for time in the states, and packing until 1am for our Thursday 9am flight to Vienna. It is easier and cheaper to fly about Europe from Aberdeen, but unfortunately our airport only goes direct to a handful of cities so you most likely need a transfer. So we were set to go from Aberdeen to Amsterdam to Vienna. With a couple hour layover in-between. Our flight was at 9 and E left at 6am to take Stella to where she ‘boards’ out in the country in our rental car. I drove our new car (post coming, but we finally got our car!) to the airport and was going to park in long term while he returned the rental once and for all.
Well we both hit awwwwwful traffic. Somehow E beat me to the airport…and once I got in long term parking and the shuttle, arrived at Aberdeen airport 29 minutes before our flight. I am so pleased to report that we made the flight- weren’t even the last on! I will try to remember this and the joy of Aberdeen airport when it next pisses me off. But it was extremely stressful. And if I hadn’t finally mastered the art of carry-on luggage for international flights we wouldn’t have made it. HOLLA! I’ve come a loooong way. Don’t get me wrong; I generally check whenever one or more of the following situations occur:
- I actually need to look good and need more hair products
- The trip is longer than 5 days
- There are no iffy time crunches to make a bus or connecting flight
- I’m going back and forth to the states (I need to fill up that extra luggage!)
It was a little tricky…5 days in Vienna in the winter requires a lot of bulky sweaters…
Anyway so after a super stressful morning (E always has anxiety going to the airport until he is actually seated on the plane) we chilled out at Schiphol for our layover. E got some work done…and then powered his phone via energy he created on a stationary bike! Man, Schiphol is so damn cool. And to top it off, the starbucks staff were the best I’ve ever encountered. How can an airport be any more awesome?
We got into Vienna, walked right onto a shuttle for 8 euro, and were dropped off not to far from Stephansdom and our hotel. It was already dark out after 4 pm, the city was pretty packed, and it was an easy walk. Unfortunately we walked to the wrong hotel (the sister hotel of ours) which was much nicer- so after really high hopes, we got to our hotel that was 2 blocks further and were a bit disappointed. It wasn’t awful; it just was really old and European. Although the room was large and the location was fantastic…so there’s that. We got the hotel via Chase Sapphire points. We had a very expensive November (flights home, flights to Vienna, ordering stuff to take back in the states, Christmas shopping) and December (my impending root canal and crown, Stella’s teeth cleaning, more Christmas presents, our late ‘going away’ party) that we decided to cut some of the cost and use our points. So it was a free hotel. So free, big room, good location… it did the job.
We had a dinner reservation at Mini on Thursday night. A bit further outside the city, but we took the underground that is so freaking easy and cheap and great. Vienna public transit has trams, busses, and a subway- and they’re all fantastic. Super easy for tourists. Super clean. Just great. And dinner was just great. I was so full but then I had to order dessert and I was so glad I did. It was a great meal with great drinks. I was so pleased.
Friday morning we went to a café down the street. I had toasted egg and cheese sandwich…E had a pretty strange omelet that had basically a stew mix inside it- little cubed carrots, potatoes, peas… Then we headed to Shonnon Palace (via subway) where we shopped around the super cute Christmas market in front. Which actually turned out to be my favorite market. It seemed much more authentic and real handmade crafts and great vendors. We bought tickets for the palace tour and the zoo- a combo pack. The palace was definitely worthwhile- if not just for the décor. They do the little audio guide and you get to hear about great love and forcing your kids to marry for political gain. Pretty good drama. And the wallpaper….god, I was just lusting after the wallpaper.
The zoo is on the grounds and walkable from the palace and I can’t recommend it more. It was the best zoo experience I’ve ever had. We love going to the zoo: it’s been my dream to work at a zoo forever, when we lived in San Diego we were members and I went every week, at the free Lincoln Park zoo in Chicago we’d go a few times a year, and who I’ll refer to as one my mentors (or The Reverend)- his favorite book is Setting Free the Bears which of course I read per suggestion and needed to see the zoo the book is about. While it’s not huge and fancy like San Diego, and not as well laid as other newer zoos- I have never seen such activity! Every animal was awake! We saw seal shows! Watched the elephants get baths and show off their tricks! Got to see the tigers, polar bear, and leopards get fed! Howled along with the 3 artic wolves! It was great! We were there for hours just enjoying the action, snacking on the big ole pretzels that got at the market. Despite the cold it was a pretty great day- no rain!
Afterwards, we took the subway to Gasthaus Elsner for the legendary schnitzel and goulash. Definitely recommend but reservations are pretty much required. We were there early so as long as we wrapped up in an hour they let us sit down. Then we headed back into the city center for the Rathaus Christmas Market. I will say it was really lovely and decorated and…stunning…from across the street. I thought it was too packed and crazy and commercialized stuff that could be made in China on the inside. I did get a reindeer I’m madly in love with…
On Saturday we headed to Stephansdom. We stopped for breakfast at a café off the square and even though we found out to go upstairs not to be sat next to smokers…the upstairs reeked like cigarette smoke. It seems the one downside of Vienna is the archaic smoking policy. From Wikipedia: A January 2009 law mandates that all restaurants, bars, discos, and pubs larger than 50 m² must either be non-smoker or introduce separate smoking rooms. Below 50 m² the owner may opt to either make the establishment a smoking or non-smoking place. The law provided for a long transition phase ending July 2010. The smoking ban has since been a subject of controversy, as the rules are widely ignored by bar owners and not actively enforced by the authorities. Anti-smoking campaigners claim to have filed 18.000 reports with the authorities on non-compliant businesses since the bans were introduced, to little effect.
So yeah, our breakfast smelled like smoke, I kept coughing, and unfortunately ordered an omelet with something in it I didn’t know…which turned out to be mushrooms…which turned out to be sautéed mushrooms with a sprinkle of cheese and a dash of egg white. I like mushrooms, but this was too much and way too rubbery for morning. I messed up the time for the English speaking tour of Stephansdom so we missed that. But we did catch the tour of the crypt (I think it was £5 each)- pretty awesome. Rooms full of real human bones. There is a mass plague grave, piled high with bones. Real bones. But no pictures due to respecting the dead and all. And now I am feeling a little sick and I’m thinking it might be the plague. BRB- checking for buboes.
After that we paid £4 each (church itself was free) to climb up one of the towers. Unless you are in shape I do not recommend as I watched some poor souls whom we had passed long ago finally make it up and literally collapse on the stone floor sweating and gagging. A little funny. But the view from the top of the tower was fantastic…and the church itself…so gorgeous. We’ll come back to the church.
We grabbed lunch at a little café- E had some hotdogs, I had apfelstrudel (obviously). We then went to Maria-Theresa Platz Christmas market. This was much smaller than Rathaus but I also wasn’t too crazy about it. Then walked all the way down to Nascht Markt, which is a huge stretch of stalls and restaurants and wine bars (over 1.5 kilometers). Lots of fresh seafood, meats, exotic fruits…really anything and everything you could want to eat. And then just pop up tents (or just a blanket on concrete) of flea market type vendors. We got mulled wine and walked the whole thing. I really liked a few charm bracelets but E assumed they were previously owned by people who died from the plague and could be haunted or something…I don’t know he was really creeped out so I didn’t get them.
We went to Augustiner Keller for dinner which is an old monastery cellar, which was a neat setting. E got a big beer. I got something (beef) I did not want to eat so ate E’s goulash. I did get the lentil appetizer that must have been cooked in bacon fat…and had bacon throughout it…and it was the best thing ever. And probably was enough for a whole meal so…I highly recommend that. So good. We then went to check out Loo’s American Bar…and it was so packed and they weren’t friendly and pretty much not letting anyone even try to get in…that we went to the (relatively) new Roberto American Bar that E read about in Thrillist. Other than the smoking inside (that was rough until we were lubricated) it was a pretty good time. It was super packed but we weaseled into some bar seats before we had finished our first drink. It was very small and had a 20’s feel. And for some reason the bartenders loved us, and stated in their broke English told us, “We decided to get you guys wasted.” And that they did. 4 free shots and 1 free round later (and the 3-4 rounds we had ordered) we were wasted. I have not done shots (or even a singular shot) in over a year. I don’t know how we made it home. But we did.
Sunday morning was obviously rough. Very rough. It took everything we had, but we went to see the horses at the Spanish Riding School. We had bought tickets the day before and I hate wasting money, so I was determined to get there. It was standing room only though and really crowded and then standing and leaning for 80 minutes the while I’m moaning and longing to lay on the floor…..but it was worth it! Both the hangover and forcing ourselves to go. It was really incredible. No pictures, they are not allowed. I will say unless you can get front and center tickets, the standing tickets were fine and much better value. I’ll assume when you go you won’t be hungover and can handle standing for 80 minutes.
We were starving afterward and went to Haas Tea Garden and grabbed one of the last 2 tops. Got all kinds of breakfast goodness. Back to the hotel to nap lots. No plans for dinner so we found this random steak place where the only thing on the menu was steak. So we got steaks and baked potatoes. Not too bad. And then back to Stephansdom for a Christmas Advent Concert. There were only about 200 tickets sold and it was at 10pm. Very intimate and a really fantastic experience. I love me some Christmas music. They played wonderfully and we got a much less crowded hour at the cathedral to take it all in. Afterwards we went to the Hotel Sacher have the famous torte. It was a lot better than I anticipated for chocolate and apricot. I got another torte but had about 5 bites total between the two. The ice cream and coffee though…that was amazing. Everyone should pour their coffee over ice cream.
Monday- Packed up and checked out and left our suitcases at the hotel. Went to breakfast at a little café where I realized I didn’t have my phone. I leave E to race back to the hotel, search the room, can’t find it. Get my suitcase out of the storage area and find I’ve packed it into my suitcase. Crisis averted. Had strange bread COVERED in chives? Went shopping- got a scarf I’ve been wanting for over a month and the perfect faux fur vest I’ve been seeking for the last 4 years. Swung by a ice cream parlor where I had poppy seed ice cream that was amazing. Took the coach back to the airport early so E was stress free. Flew in to Paris, had time to get 8 macaroons from Lauduree. Sat on our connecting flight for 45 minutes. Got crabby. Finally landed and headed off to get Stella out in the country. Didn’t get to her until 10, back home at 11. EXHAUSTED.
Seriously a great trip though. Long recap but worth it. I don’t think you need to go at Christmas time (although it is extra pretty)…you just need to go to Vienna.