I live in the Czech Republic, and my parents recently visited me from the US. During their visit, we went to Vienna, Salzburg, Brno, and Prague. The first part of this trip report deals with the Vienna portion of the trip. I will post the other installments in the Salzburg and Prague forums.
We were in Vienna from Aug. 30 to Sept. 2. We stayed at the Senator Hotel, on Hernalser Hauptstraße. When I first looked at the map, I was dubious -- the location is not exactly close to anything. But tram 43 stops right outside the hotel, and we found it to be frequent and convenient. The hotel was not fancy, but it was fine, and the staff was helpful. Best of all, at $109 per room per night, the price was right.
We all arrived late on a Friday afternoon, and we decided to have a glass of wine before dinner. The neighborhood outside the Senator is a bit bland, but at the suggestion of the desk clerk, we walked a few doors down to a cafe. The cafe didn't look like much from outside, but it has a pleasant garden courtyard, and the server was nice.
Afterward, we got dressed and headed to dinner. I already had a tram ticket, but my parents did not; fortunately they were able to buy tickets at the hotel's front desk. Our first dinner was at Lebenbauer Vollwert Restaurant. I chose it because I am a vegetarian, and I had heard that it had some veg entrees. To get there, we took the 43 tram to the Schottentor stop, and then walked about six or seven blocks. We did not have reservations, but we were seated with no problem. I honestly cannot recall what I had for dinner, which probably sounds like a bad sign, but we enjoyed the meal and especially the atmosphere of the restaurant. The dining room is relatively small, with high ceilings and a pretty white or off-white decor. It's elegant but not stuffy. They also have a patio, but I didn't really notice what it was like. The service was good and we had a nice time.
We began with a visit to the Senator's breakfast buffet. I wasn't too impressed with it, but I rarely get excited about breakfast buffets.
We decided to spend the afternoon at Schönbrunn Palace. At the hotel's front desk, they said that the easiest way to get there was bus 10A. It departs from a spot about six blocks from the hotel and takes you right to the palace entrance.
I had visited Schönbrunn before, and it was just as spectacular the second time around. We did the grand tour with audio guides. The guide is quite good, with just the right amount of detail on both the building and the many notable people who have lived in it and visited it (Mozart, JFK, the young Marie Antoinette, and of course the various Hapsburg rulers). But as much as the tour, I really liked strolling around the grounds. We walked up to the Gloriette and had lunch there. There was plenty of outdoor seating, but the interior is so pretty, we decided to sit inside. I had the vegetable strudel, which was delicious. The server was the same one I had had on my first visit to Schönbrunn, and he was very good. Before leaving the palace, we visited the gift shop and stocked up on postcards, stamps, bookmarks, and a few other small trinkets. It was a great visit.
Getting home was not as straightforward as getting there. The 10A bus stop for the return journey was not right across the street from the one where we got off, as you might expect. It turned out to be closer to the U4 Schönbrunn subway station, a 7- or 8-minute walk away from where the bus had dropped us. Not terribly far, but not really intuitive either.
That night we had been planning to dine at Wrenkh. Before setting out, I checked my email and found a message from the restaurant saying they were going to be closed that night and were sorry to have to cancel our reservation. Disappointing, but at least they emailed us.
We were all pretty hungry and, because I am the only one with dietary restrictions, it was on me to pick a new place. I chose India Gate, which is on Franz-Josefs-Kai. I was a little concerned when we arrived to find that only one of the restaurant's tables was occupied, and the interior dining room looked a bit sad and rundown. We decided to sit outside, even though the street was busy. Things started well when the server recommended an excellent Indian white wine. On the downside, the naan didn't taste like the naan I am used to (it was a bit stiff and dry). Also, the sauce that came with our appetizer was a red color that I doubt is found anywhere in nature (I'm not a big fan of food coloring). However, we all thought the entrees were good, and we enjoyed the evening quite a bit, until the staff started bringing in the tables and closing up around us. Despite these quirks, I think we were all happy with the meal.
On Sunday, we decided to visit Zentralfriedhof cemetery to see the graves of Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss, and Schubert. To get there, we took tram 43 into town, boarded the U3 subway to Simmering, then got on tram 71 to "Tor 2." The cemetery was quite pretty and peaceful. The graves are in section 32A, which is the second section on the left as you enter the cemetery. We also found the grave of physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, whose headstone is emblazoned with a formula he discovered.
My parents really liked all the ornate monuments in the cemetery and would have been happy to walk around longer. But we all wanted to see Belvedere Palace -- so after a bit, we headed back to tram 71 and took it to Unteres Belvedere. We thought that once we got off the tram, it would be obvious where to go, but it was not. Eventually, we found the Lower Belvedere entry point, which was a bit northwest of the tram stop on Rennweg. First, we walked through the grounds toward Upper Belvedere. The gardens are colorful, and the fountains make them quite charming. Not as dramatic as Schönbrunn, but very pretty. At the other side, we bought tickets, which come with audio guide, for upper Belvedere. Unlike Schönbrunn, upper Belvedere is set up more as an art gallery, with the highlight (IMO) being the works by Klimt. I have loved Klimt since someone gave me a calendar of his works when I was in school, so it was exciting to see his paintings up close. The exhibit also includes one of Van Gogh's last works. My parents commented that, in Schönbrunn it was a little easier to imagine people living there because of all the period furniture. That's true, for sure, but this was nice as well. Afterward, we visited the busy cafe; we had cappuccinos and cake while enjoying a view of the gardens. In the gift shop, I bought a small journal with a Klimt cover and, on our way out, we got some nice photos of the front of upper Belvedere with the pond in the foreground.
To get home, we walked about a block and boarded the D tram, which gave us great views of some beautiful buildings along the Ringstraße, including the Rathaus, Parliament, and so on, before depositing us at the Schottentor stop. Back at the hotel, we got changed and headed right back out for a concert at Mozarthaus. To get to Mozarthaus, we again boarded tram 43 to Schottentor, then took trams 1 and 2 to the stop along the Ringstraße closest to Mozarthaus. Trams 1 and 2 went along much of the same area as D and were also a nice ride.
If you don't know Mozarthaus, it's the only remaining one of Mozart's residences in Vienna. Concerts are held in a small room with frescoed walls and ceilings. It's a charming and intimate venue. A string quartet plays for about 90 minutes, with a 10-minute intermission during which you can buy champagne or water in the little outdoor area right outside the concert room. The evening we went included works by Mozart, Haydn, and Dvořák. This was my second concert at Mozarthaus, and I really liked it, though personally I think the period costumes worn by the musicians are a bit silly. Also, on this occasion, a few annoying people in the audience took flash photos of the musicians, prompting the cellist to hold up a hand and said "please, no" to an offending photographer, right in the middle of a piece. Hopefully the photographer will think twice next time.
For dinner, I had wanted to try Vegetasia, a vegetarian Chinese restaurant, but it was not close to where we were, and since we were all pretty hungry, we just went across the street to a small Japanese restaurant called Akakiko. The food there was good, but the atmosphere was somewhere between cafeteria and mall food-court. The steamed-dumpling starter we ordered was excellent, and the vegetable bibimbop entree I had was quite good, if a little heavy on the rice.
We all loved Vienna and were sad to leave it. But that is what we had to do on Day 4, when we boarded a train for Salzburg from Wien Westbahnof. More on Salzburg in the next installment of this trip report.Edited: 14 September 2013, 14:28