We started the morning with a latte and plum pastry at Aida before crossing the street for our 10 a.m. tour of Staatsoper, the venue for music here in Vienna. It was built between 1861-1869 but was largely destroyed during the war. Our guide showed us the lavish lobby and intermission rooms before taking us on stage, where crews were frantically scrambling to prepare for the evening’s performance of La Boheme. It was an interesting, behind-the-scenes look at one of the world’s most famous opera houses — plus, at 3.5 euros, cost us a whole lot less than tickets to a show would.
Our next stop wasn’t far, just a 5-minute walk to the Albertina, said to house the greatest collection of graphic art in the world. The museum was featuring exhibits on Picasso and Monet, which we enjoyed, along with some really cool contemporary, mixed media pieces.
The main attraction in Vienna is the Hofburg, the former imperial palace of one of Europe’s most powerful empires, so we made our way there next. We first checked out the NationalBibliothek, which was once the imperial library — and is now the largest library in Vienna. Our ticket granted us entrance into the Prunksaal (Grand Hall), an absolutely amazing space whose walls are lined with 200,000 leather-bound volumes dating back to the 15th century. Pictures don’t do this place justice.
The Schatzkammer, which was next door, showcases all of the Hofburg booty and treasure. The precious-stone encrusted crowns and other opulence — like a 2,860-carat Colombian emerald — were pretty amazing.
We saved the best for last with the KaiserAppartements, the former living quarters of Franz Josef I and Empress Elisabeth. These “apartments” offered insight into how royalty once lived — and how they often faced the same issues as us laypeople. Elisabeth was neurotic about her appearance and weight. She rarely appeared at dinner and had exercise rings installed in her door frame so that she could get in workouts before bedtime. No photos were allowed inside, but here’s me in the courtyard.
It was a lot to take in and we were getting famished. For lunch, we picked out Figlmueller, a Vienna institution known for having the city’s best (and largest) schnitzel. We ordered a Figlmueller Schnitzel to share along with a side order of potato-field salad. Not disappointingly, the huge schnitzel, deep-fried to perfection, hung off of our plate and went well with the mustard-y salad. Good pit stop.
We detoured to Judenplatz, the old Jewish Quarter. It’s a maze of tiny, cobblestoned streets but we found our way to the Holocaust-Denkmal, a memorial to the 65,000 Austrian Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. The names of concentration camps line the base and the spines of thousands of stone-carved books face inward — representing the untold stories of those lost. The square was appropriately quiet and solemn as we took it all in.
Having saved some room from lunch, we stopped at Café Sacher on our way back to the hotel for a cappuccino and the famous Sacher Torte, a rich chocolate cake that was once favored by Emperor Franz Josef.
Properly in a sugar coma, we arrived back at the Meridien and promptly hit up the gym — which strangely, like the rest of the hotel, had mood lighting. Try reading the display of your treadmill bathed in purple ambient lighting. Form over function, anyone?
Being in Vienna, we had to hear some classical music so got spiffed up for a Strauss & Mozart concert called Sound of Vienna at the Kursalon. The tour buses out front were an ominous sign, but we entered anyway and bought the cheapest tickets in the house. Inside, we were shown to the back before promptly moving up about 20 rows when the ushers weren’t looking. The orchestra was actually quite good, which more than made up for the absolute tourist cheesiness of some of the guests in attendance.
We bolted downstairs after the encore to beat the masses to the coat check and then made our way back to Stephansplatz. Across the street from the grand church is the DO & CO, whose Onyx Bar, with fantastic views, is one of Vienna’s hippest spots. We grabbed a table and ordered a couple rounds of cocktails (including, a Frozen Blackberry, Monkey Business and some dirty martinis) as well as Asian inspired appetizer sampler to nosh on. A hundred something bucks later, with the clock striking one, we made our way back home.