My love of Vienna goes back 20 years before I ever stepped foot in the place, probably before I ever even knew where it was. At around 8 years old and a voracious reader, I discovered the book As the Waltz Was Ending by Emma Macalik Butterworth. In love with ballet, I read every word about this young ballerina growing up in Vienna during the Depression and World War II. It was through Emmy that I learned about the Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna Opera House) where Emmy was a young dancer, the majestic Ringstrasse, the big ferris wheel at the Prater, Vienna’s large amusement park, and the Hotel Sacher, where her favorite Viennese cake, Sachertorte was created. I also learned about the Gestapo, air raids, and what life was like when your whole world is falling apart. Her father lost his job, the family lost their home and loved ones to the war, and their Jewish friends disappeared. Over the course of my life, I have read that book at least twenty times, likely more than that, until I knew virtually every word, every street name. Despite the many horrors portrayed in the book, Emmy’s Vienna was a magical and beautiful place that I could not wait to visit for much of my life.
Fast forward two decades, planning a winter holiday with my husband, and he wants to go to Vienna!!! I can not even tell you how excited I was boarding a very early morning Sky Europe flight from Amsterdam to Vienna. Amsterdam had been mild for December/January, but we landed in Vienna to a fresh coating of snow. I would not have had it any other way. Retrieving our luggage and boarding the S-Bahn was so easy. It was a very quiet, clean train, and we were in Vienna in under half an hour. The hotel that I booked via hotels.com was Hotel Capri, about a 15 minute walk from the station. My husband speaks fluent German, so checking in was a breeze (English was widely spoken as well), and our room was lovely, clean, and had a balcony looking out on to the main street.
We took off instantly to explore Vienna, and in my mind, Emmy’s Vienna. Everywhere I turned, there was a street, a café, something that reminded me of my favorite childhood book. It was like I had stepped into someone else’s world, and it was so amazing.
Our hotel was very close to the subway which ran perfectly on time and was uber clean. When we stepped out of the subway in the city center, there was St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stefansdom), the gothic, foreboding, and beautiful structure whose bells ring clear throughout the city. This building in various forms has been there since 1147 AD, was partially destroyed by Allied bombing in WWII, and stands tall today as a symbol of the pride and stature of the Viennese people. It is surrounded by cosmopolitan shopping areas, which I enjoyed thoroughly. The Viennese are gorgeous, fashionable, and friendly people, and I felt extremely welcome in their city. In my book, Emmy received her confirmation at Stefansdom, and I was really excited to finally bring to life the images I had in my mind all those years.
One of the things that I had to do in Emmy’s Vienna was to drink coffee and eat pastries. The Viennese coffee, mélange is coffee with steamed milk, and it is delicious. I felt like a real Viennese lady from days long ago sipping mélange and eating apple pastries. But what really made my holiday (my year??) was going to the famous Hotel Sacher for sachertorte, coffee, and port.
I wish I was a food blogger at this point in my life because I would have taken a million photos inside the Hotel Sacher. Its majestic warmth and style gave way to a relaxing afternoon over this dense chocolate cake with apricot jam filling and a light chocolate frosting. The port was leggy and slightly syrupy and went perfectly with a rich Viennese coffee and some German newspapers which I actually was able to read a bit before our Austrian/German/Swiss holiday was done.
Another culinary delight was Naschmarkt, Vienna’s 1.5 km outdoor market. Here you can buy and sample anything from bread to cheese to sushi to nuts and candy. Literally an entire kilometer and a half of food and drink. It was cold outside, but the closeness of the market stalks kept us warm. Here I tried sweet red peppers stuffed with fresh goat’s cheese. The textures worked together perfectly, the slight crunch of the partially cooked pepper with the cold creaminess of the goat cheese. This snack was rich enough to fill me up for quite awhile. Nashmarkt is a place that I could, and did, spend hours just marveling at the types and beauty of the food. No foodie visit to Vienna is complete without a stop here!
Even when traveling, we like to eat some of our meals in, and Vienna was no exception. It was quite funny because while our hotel room did not have a fridge, we did have a balcony, and it was quite cold outside! We shopped at the Spar right down the street from the hotel and bought a couple of types of cheese, some fruit, yogurt, Viennese sausage, and of course, some Franziskaner beer from nearby Germany. With our little makeshift “fridge” we were able to eat healthy inexpensive breakfasts and have light dinners and snacks back at our room. There really is nothing like opening your balcony door and grabbing a cold one!
My final Vienna favorite, and one that I discovered through research and not through Emmy, was Austrian wine taverns. Heurigen, as they are called, dot the Austrian countryside, serving local wine, bits of food, and lively singing. We were staying in the city so we visited one of the city taverns, Esterházykeller on Esterhazygasse, incidentially, one of the streets that Emmy lived on as a child. Esterházykeller has been operating since 1683 and has quite the history and a very old, otherworldly feeling. In order to reach this tavern, you descend several flights of stony stairs to a cave-like tavern. The walls are stone, and the benches are old wood, the rooms lit by very dim lighting. We did not eat here, but each had Welschriesling, a light and refreshing white that almost had the effervescence of a vinho verde. Not knowing about Austrian wine, I was pleasantly surprised at its taste, and really enjoyed the medieval-feeling surroundings of the heuriger.
On our walk back to the hotel on our last night after one last lap around the city, we stopped at one of the many Glüwein stands on the streets. Glüwein is a hot, mulled red wine that is popular in many European countries around the winter holidays. Its warm spiciness heated us up as we walked along the DanubeCanal , looking at the holiday lights, and never wanting to leave Vienna.
This trip also included several days in Amsterdam (a trip I have made many times), Munich, and Lake Lucerne, Switzerland. I am planning upcoming posts on those stops as well as on our visit to Dachau, which will be a heavy post, but one I feel the need to share.
I am hoping to spend some more time in Austria in the very near future, perhaps a summer trip that includes Salzburg and the Vienna Woods. I would recommend visiting in the winter though, the magic of the holidays just seems to truly bring out the spirit of the city!
This post is dedicated to the memory of Emma Macalik Butteroworth as a thank you for sharing her story with little girls all over the world.