As an Australian living and working in Europe, I find it incredible how often I m confused as being an Austrian. I was in Minnesota for work last year and someone congratulated me on my flawless English! I’ve also been asked multiple times what the official language is in Australia, presumably mistaking it for the EU member state. There are no kangaroos in Austria people, nor any alps in Australia. Look at a map! I hadn’t thought of it from the other perspective however, but my Austrian friend who lives in Vienna (and happens to love surfing) says he’s constantly mistaken for an Australian during his international travels!
Read the sign people
Following a 3 day work trip for my wife in Nettingsdorf (in western Austria) we took the opportunity for a quick weekend break in the capital, Wien (Vienna). Previously we’d only been through Vienna’s airport on the way home to Australia, so while I could comment on the quality of it’s airport lounge (very high), there wasn’t much else I could say. I was excited to finally visit this famed European capital and catch up with my “pseudo-Aussie” mate Martin and his girlfriend.
If I was to use one word to convince you to visit this city, what word would I choose Opera? Viennoiseries?
No, the most persuasive word I can think of is schnitzel. Wiener schnitzel to be precise. A thin piece of pounded veal covered in delicious golden breadcrumbs, with a perfectly-balanced side of lemon wedge. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s up there with France’s hallowed baguette for pleasure-to-simplicity ratio. I must mention that have a slight predisposition to the schnitzel I once indulged in a 9am breakfast schnitzel in Munich airport (a considerable feat considering it was after a weekend at Oktoberfest, where almost every meal was some variation of the deep-fried veal delight).
One of the standout (read: few) memories from my bachelor party in 2011 was of my friends from Germany, Italy and Austria arguing over the origin of the schnitzel. Each of them was convinced their own country deserved recognition and nobody was willing to concede. The more important issue though is which country has now mastered it. I’ve tried each, and while cranberry conserve is a nice accompaniment in some parts of Germany, the Wiener Schnitzel from Austria takes the prize for pure unadulterated simplicity.
Cultivating more chest hairs at Figlmüller in Vienna
A word of warning before you go – try not to compare Austria or Austrians to Germany or Germans (think: New Zealand and Australia or Canada and the U.S.). The countries are completely different and both worthy of a visit for different reasons. Having good friends in both Austria and Germany, I’ve come to realise that apart from sharing a language they generally don’t appreciate comparison.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from my first trip to Vienna – I knew it was world-famous for its viennoiseries (pastries), although Paris seems to have stolen that title in recent decades. My wife also informed me to expect plenty of gro ßer braüners (double espressos) available in the hundreds of traditional coffee houses across the city. My Austrian friend Martin has lived in Vienna for the last couple of years and was nice enough to take us for a personal tour of the city. Turns out that as well as having flawless (non-accented) English, he’s also pretty knowledgeable about the Capital considering he grew up in a smaller town 200kms to the south.
While not as cosmopolitan as some other European capitals, Vienna has an impressive list of attributes an understated regal facade, a long and interesting history, dozens of world class museums and expansive public spaces. It s a place you could easily imagine living and a painless city to navigate as a tourist. With such a rich musical history (Viennese composers include Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn) it s a shame we didn t get the chance to visit one of the concert halls in Vienna, but a weekend trip is just too short to enjoy all the city has to offer. Besides, if it s a choice between being cultured and eating schnitzel, I know which way I m going to lean.
If you re a sucker like me for anything food related, make sure you visit the Naschmarkt, a 1.5km long fresh food market close to the city centre. The market has a huge collection of colourful fruit and vegetable stands and just about every other culinary offering you could imagine. It would be easy to spend an hour or two here strolling down down the lane-ways, stopping for felafel or a glass of wine along the way (we begrudgingly skipped the wine as it was still only 9am, but certainly didn’t have the same reservations about hummus and felafal). Eventually the food stalls give way to a full-blown flea market which is held every Saturday – we didn’t feel like tussling with the masses, so made a speedy exit to one of Vienna’s many typical coffee houses nearby.
All smiles despite no breakfast wine
You may have heard that Vienna has some of the best museums and art collections in Europe. In fact, Vienna’s Museumsquartier is the eighth largest cultural area in the world. For reasons unknown, we shunned the historical cultural gold-mine on offer, and instead visited 21er Haus – The new Museum of Contemporary Art. At the time, a photo exhibition was showing Points of view in Austrian photography from the 1930s until today. It was interesting enough, but to be honest I struggled a little to see the art-value of some of the photographs, such as a naked man sitting on stool looking pensive. I did appreciate the general vibe of the collection though, and the modern steel and glass building that it’s all housed in is a stark contrast to the regal architecture of the rest of the city.
During the evenings we hit some rooftop bars with Martin and his girlfriend Verena, one at each end of the spectrum. The Sofitel Vienna Stephansdom has an amazing panoramic view from its top-floor restaurant / bar, Le Loft . While we felt seriously underdressed after seeing Vienna’s VIP theatre-elite enjoying pre-drinks in the corner, we were welcomed at the bar and treated to some amazing cocktails while soaking up the view. Then it was a change of scenery to the 25hours Hotel. a design hotel in the very cool 7th district. Full of hipsters, its rooftop bar Dachboden gives another expansive view of Vienna’s night lights. On a snowy winter’s night you can’t really make the most of it but I imagine in Summer there’d be no better terrace in town to enjoy a drink!
Night lights from rooftop terrace at 25hours Hotel
Overall, Vienna is a thoroughly enjoyable travel destination. It may not feature big hitting monuments like some other European cities, but it has a distinct culture and something to please everyone. Below you can find further travel inspiration to plan your trip (click images to view full screen) and travel tips from locals living in Vienna.
The historic Heldenplatz, notable as the place where Adolf Hitler announced the Anschluß (annexation) of Austria to Germany in 1938. The Naschmarkt, a 1.5km long fresh food market close to the city centre