Central Europe (A Globus Tour): Vienna, Austria

On the morning of the third day, I finished packing and left my suitcase outside my door for it to be collected and placed on the bus.  Your tour director gives you a luggage tag to attach to you bag to make it easy for it to be collected and placed on the correct bus.  After having breakfast, I went back to my room and saw my bag had already been picked up.

At the designated time, we went down to the lobby and then boarded our bus.  Because we were split into two groups, the bus was not completely full so single travelers had a row to themselves.  Our group was a mix of ages both young and old with younger couples, older couples, families (but no young children) and older women traveling together.

During the drive to Vienna, our tour director went over the optional excursions that were available while we were in Vienna.  There were more options this time because our second day in Vienna was an entire free day.  There was one option for the same day and two for the next day.  The one for the same day was for an Austrian dinner in a fancy (cluttered) restaurant that was promised to be quite an experience on the outskirts of Vienna and was €59 per person.  We chose not to join this excursion.  The two excursions for the next day included a tour of Schönbrunn Palace for €57 per person and a classical music concert in the evening at a beautiful music venue for €55 per person.  We did choose to participate in the latter two.

During our drive to Vienna, we stopped at a rest stop to use the restrooms.  During the tour, the guides and tour director were very good about giving enough restroom breaks or pointing out restrooms at the beginning of free time.  Restrooms here were similar to most where it was a euro to use the facilities or a little less in local currency.

After our break at the rest stop, we continued on and arrived in Vienna where we were joined by a local guide who walked us into the city center by St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  There, she gave us some information and then gave us I think about one and a half hours of free time for lunch after which we were to meet up again by the cathedral for a walking tour.

In previous years, my brother had flown through Vienna and spent about a day in the city and he loved it.  One of his favorite things was the bread he bought from a bakery recommended to him by a friend who had previously lived in Vienna.  I looked up the bakery which has multiple locations and discovered there was one near the cathedral so we decided to go to Joseph Brot during our free time.

Joseph Brot vom Pheinsten

Führichgasse 6, 1010 Wien, Austria

I’m not sure if all locations are like this but this was both a bakery and cafe, split into two sections.  Since we were planning on eating lunch, we sat on the cafe side.  They had both a regular menu as well as daily specials.  The place was decorated very nicely and had a bit of the hipster/Scandinavian vibe to it.  Many of the customers were on the younger side.  I ordered the avocado spelt toast, my mother ordered what they called “the Healthy” but was similar to smoked salmon toast with a side of chia granola pudding and my father ordered the daily special which I remember not being able to pronounce and cannot quite remember what it was.  However, it was all very good and compared to what we had been eating, was much healthier and lighter fare.  We also ordered a few bakery items to go.

 

After lunch we met up with the group, just barely making it in time and we started the walking tour with the local guide inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  The inside was quite beautiful with intricate designs.

 

After visiting the cathedral, we began walking through the streets of Vienna, stopping by the Hofburg Palace and Heldenplatz Square where we were picked up by our bus and taken to our hotel.

 

In Vienna, our group would be staying at the Austria Trend Hotel Savoyen located just beside Belvedere Palace.  Apparently the other group was staying further outside the city center so we were lucky we were more centrally located.

Austria Trend Hotel Savoyen

Rennweg 16, 1030 Wien, Austria

This hotel seemed larger than the one in Budapest as it had two sets of elevators.  My room was also surprisingly spacious.  When I think of Europe I think of smaller rooms but thus far it had not been the case.  In fact, there was a nice-sized seating area in my room.

 

My room was also directly across from my parents’ room which made it easier to meet up.  In Budapest, I was on a different floor and would have to go out of my way to get to their room.  There room was pretty much the same as mine except the two beds were separated versus mine which was pushed together.  I did overhear a couple in our group complaining about the beds being separated when they wanted them to be pushed together.

Because we had chosen not to participate in the optional excursion to an Austrian dinner, we had the rest of the evening free.  One of the main reasons I wanted to come on this trip was for the Christmas markets and Vienna had quite a few so we decided to go visit some.  We started by walking to the one in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral since we had seen that earlier in the day.  So while Budapest did not do this, Viennese Christmas markets do have the collectible mugs.  Basically, we you order a hot drink such as mulled wine or punch, they pour it in a mug that you pay a deposit for.  If you want to keep it, you lose the deposit.  If you do not want to, you just return the mug.  Each Christmas market had their own version of the mug so you could potentially collect quite a few different ones.

I think we ended up going to three or four different Christmas markets this night and I ended up collecting two different mugs.  Some of the markets were very small with very few stands while others are much larger.  We also tried to stop by Demel, a dessert shop, but they closed earlier than we expected so we only took photos outside in front of their beautiful display windows.  Also, because it was nearing Christmas time, the city itself was beautifully decorated with lights and it really felt like it was the holiday season.

 

For dinner, we were not that hungry so we decided to go to a McDonald’s to see if they had any different menu items.  I think the best part was that in the McCafé section they had different cakes and pastry items that were actually pretty good.  Too bad we American McDonald’s does not have that.

 

After dinner we walked back to our hotel where I wish my first two Christmas mugs and began looking up other Christmas markets in the city.  If there is one thing they were not short of in Vienna, it was Christmas markets.

IMG_8954

 

The next morning we started with an early breakfast (included) in the hotel.  There were a lot of options and even more bread items to choose from.  The bread in Europe is just so good.  The dining room was pretty large with different sections of seating.  We went not long after they opened so it was fairly empty but the next day we went on the later side and the outside dining area was completely full so we ate in the smaller inner area which was mostly empty.

For the morning, we had signed up for the optional excursion to Schönbrunn Palace.  A local guide met us at the hotel and then those who opted in got on the bus and off we went to the palace.  At the palace our tour director left us and actually went home since it was nearby while our local guide took us into the palace and toured us through various rooms.  We were one of the first groups that morning so we mostly set our own pace but as we finished and was back in the lobby area, there were a lot of people entering and I imagine it would be much more chaotic inside.

Outside of the palace, there were the large gardens which is probably extraordinary in the spring/summer but it was a gloomy winter day so while still very grand, I’m sure it cannot compare to a beautiful spring day.  There is also a zoo but once again, the weather was not really ideal.  Since we had free time after finishing the palace tour, we walked a bit around the gardens until the Christmas market in front of the palace officially opened for the day.  At the market we bought a pretzel that was just alright and some hot punch.  Eventually we returned to the bus that drove us back to the hotel.

 

After being dropped off at the hotel, my parents and I decided to go next door to Belvedere Palace.  We did not go inside the actual palace but instead strolled the grounds and grabbed lunch from the Christmas market outside the palace.

 

After leaving Belvedere Palace, we made it a point to pretty much hit as many Christmas markets as possible.  This included the Arts Advent market, the Christkindlmarkt at Rathausplatz, the Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz and perhaps another one or two.  I will say that the items sold at each of the markets are very similar with perhaps the exception of the Arts Advent market since it had more focus on the arts.  Also, another market had a very large ice skating area.  It was more of a winding path than a large open rink.

 

When we started visiting the markets my parents found it very interesting but after the sixth or seventh, I’m pretty sure my father was over Christmas markets.  Therefore we did also stop by Naschmarkt which is more of a food market with food stalls, produce stalls, etc.  It was not very busy while we were there though and was a little underwhelming.

For dinner, we were pretty tired from walking around all afternoon so we stopped by a small food stall near our hotel and ordered Mediterranean wraps and sandwiches that we brought back to our rooms to eat.

After dinner, we met up with our group again for the evening’s classical concert.  The tour director had advertised it as a classical concert in a beautiful music venue.  While the building itself, especially on the outside was quite beautiful, we were led into a plain room with a simple stage set-up and rows of folding chairs.  Everyone in our group was pretty angry when we were seated.  It looked like we had been placed in a rehearsal room and I would never call that room a “beautiful music venue”.

When the orchestra came out to start tuning their instruments, there was more grumbling from the group.  The musicians looked at best in their 20s.  One person in our group described it as the junior varsity squad.  We all felt like we had been tricked.  After all, this excursion has cost us €55 per person.  Luckily, things got better once the concert started.

The first violinist that led the orchestra was charming and funny as he announced the songs.  The orchestra, though young, were very very good.  Also the dancers and singers that performed with the orchestra were also very good and the performances brought a lot of comedy.

There was one intermission and we were brought to an adjacent room and provided a glass of champagne.  During the intermission, everyone was saying that they were quite pleased with the actual performance but still a bit annoyed about the actual venue.  I thought it was especially annoying they placed us in such a plain room with folding chairs when I know for a fact there were actual beautiful venues that you could visit for a performance for the same cost or less as I had been doing some research prior to this trip.  We decided to go with the tour company’s excursion since it sounded similar but they took care of everything but in hindsight, we should have just found our own concert to attend.

Overall, the performance ended on a high note as the performers were really good.  However, the chairs were very uncomfortable and the venue forgettable which detracted somewhat from the amazing performance.  Lesson learned, book your own concerts.  And really, shame on the tour company for selling the concert as a being in one of Europe’s “prettiest concert halls”.  They’re lucky everyone enjoyed the actual performance or there probably would have been a revolt.

The concert was our last activity in Vienna as we left for Prague the next day.  Vienna is a beautiful city that is very easy to get around as it is not too big and has great public transportation.  We spent a lot of our time in the Christmas markets so there was still a lot of the city that we did not see.  We also did not make it to many restaurants, cafes or dessert shops which Vienna is known for.  That’s okay though, it just means I have a reason to come back.

 

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