Vienna, Austria

Vienna is one of my favorite cities.  Putting everything else aside, the external architecture is simply amazing.  I could wander the streets for days and just admire the buildings.  Add in the music, the museums, and the churches and you have a wonderful city to visit.

The city is very walkable.  It’s not too big, the streets are very pedestrian friendly, and the center has plenty of pedestrian only space.  The subway is also very good.  We have never had to wait longer than 2-5 minutes for a train, and even when we need to change trains, the walks aren’t too long.

This is also a very kid-friendly city.  While the entrance fees for adults can sometimes be a bit steep, many of the museums are free for kids.  For performances, tickets for kids are often significantly discounted (e.g. our opera tickets were 75% off for kids).  We were a little too early for this one, but once schools let out for the summer, children can ride free on the tram, bus, and subway systems, as well as free on Sundays and holidays all year long.  The food is also very kid friendly.  You can easily find sausage/hot dog stands, pizza stands, and bakeries with delicious pastries and sandwiches.  On top of the things listed here, there are many other programs and discounts for kids.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Today we arrived in Vienna after a night train from Milan.  The boys loved the bunk beds, and thankfully, they both agreed that they would take the top bunks.  The last time we were in a night train, the boys were 1 and we had to figure out how to keep them from falling off the beds.  This time around was much easier.

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We were two hours late, but given that we couldn’t check into our apartment until 4:00, a 10:30 arrival seemed slightly better than an 8:30 arrival.  The kids usually get a bit tired in the afternoon and it is always nice to let them rest for a few hours after lunch.  Seven hours of sightseeing without a break may have been a bit much.

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The views from the train were quite amazing and we were glad that we were awake long enough to enjoy some of them.  If the train would have been on time, we probably would have missed a lot of this.  For whatever reason, the Swiss, Austrian, and German countryside or mountain regions always make me feel at home.  Why don’t we have views like this at home?

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We started by storing our bags in a locker at the main train station.  Quite inexpensive, particularly when compared with Milan!  We then went to get metro passes and hopped on a train to Stephansplatz.  St. Stephen’s Cathedral was beautiful from the outside.

And equally beautiful from the inside.  The only downside was that it was mobbed with noisy tourists and it felt a bit like a zoo, rather than a place to worship God.  The inner portion looked very peaceful, but was roped off, so we stuck with the hordes.

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We wandered around a bit, stopping by the Vienna Opera House or Wiener Staatsoper.  John paid more attention to it when Jeremy told him that this was in the recent Mission Impossible movie – John then remembered the scene with the people rappelling from the roof.

Everyone was getting hungry. We saw some touristy restaurants, but then we found a nice looking restaurant, Reinthaler’s Beisl, with specials only written in German, so we decided there was a decent chance the food would be tasty.  It didn’t disappoint!  The food was super tasty and felt authentically Austrian.  They did bring us some bilingual menus, but the specials weren’t translated.  I decided to order a mystery meal, where all I could translate was “green noodles.”

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When I ordered, the waitress asked if I was sure that I wanted chicken livers with a mushroom cream sauce.  I was tempted, but Jeremy’s face indicated that he may need to leave the table if I actually ordered it, so I decided to switch to something from the English menu.  Roasted pork with dumplings and sauerkraut.  Delicious!  The pork was very flavorful and probably the most tender, most delicious pork I have ever had.  The sauerkraut was also quite good.  The gigantic, single, steamed dumpling didn’t taste quite done and left something to be desired, and almost everything on the plate was the same color, but the meat and sauerkraut made up for it.

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After lunch, we wandered to St. Peter’s Church.  The Baroque style with beautiful paintings made me feel very peaceful, so we just sat a while and enjoyed our surroundings.  The signs warning people not to treat this place as a sightseeing excursion seemed to work, and the result was a much more worshipful atmosphere.  They offer quite a few free concerts (donations desired), so we may try one of those at some point.

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Next up, we decided to try and find the Lutheran Church, but accidentally passed it and ended up at the Augustine Church.  This church was much simpler than the previous two churches, but was still quite impressive with its strong lines and tasteful choices in decor.

After leaving, the boys saw some beautiful crystal carvings of various birds.  John liked the owls, where James like the kingfisher.  We managed to find our way to the Lutheran Church, but it was closed.

Our exploration continued by walking to from Michaelerplatz to the Volksgarten, then to the Rathaus (a funny German word for City Hall).  The kids saw a playground that had a sign saying that it was closed, but since there were a ton of other children already inside, we let the kids hop the fence and play with the super fun water pump that fed into a maze of canals.

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At this point, it was getting close to 4:00, so we took the subway back to the main train station got our suitcases, got back on the subway, and checked into our apartment.  The apartment is fabulously spacious, has bunkbeds for the kids, a washing machine to get our clothes clean, feels like we are in a real neighborhood, but is steps away from old world charm.  It is just across the river outside the city center, only a 10 minute walk from St. Stephan’s Cathedral.  Just across the river are several bakeries, kebab stands, sausage stands, and pizza stands, plus tons of restaurants.

We rested a bit, then took a walk in the rain and got coffee, pastries, and ice cream for dinner.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

We slept in, enjoyed breakfast in the apartment, then headed out for the Naschmarkt.  It wasn’t raining, so we decided to walk, which turned out to be quite pleasant.  Once we got there, we wandered through the entire market, enjoying all the different foods on display.  We weren’t very hungry, but decided that we should at least snack before going to our next destination.  I found some very delicious looking cheese and/or nut stuffed veggies.  The spicy peppers were my favorites, but the dates were a close second.  James was fascinated by the red olives, but was a bit disappointed when he ate them.  They tasted like any other olive.  John enjoyed some fruit, where Jeremy got a tasty lamb kebab.  We sat on a bridge above the train tracks and enjoyed our meal.

Our next stop was the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which ended up being free for the boys.  This was probably my favorite of all the museums we have been to on this trip.  We started with the Egyptian section, which would have been particularly interesting if we hadn’t just been in Egypt.  As a point of comparison, the stuff in this museum was very nice, almost nicer than many of the things we saw in Egypt.  It really highlights the colonization philosophies where people took the best of what they found and left the discards for the locals.  We could have spent a lot of time here, but given the boys’ low tolerance for extended time in museums, we breezed by both this section and the following Greek and Roman section.  Again, the Greek and Roman section was quite amazing, but it reminded us a lot of our time in Alexandria, so we didn’t feel the need to burn the boys out here.

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The museum continued into the Kunstkammer Vienna section, which highlighted the time of the Hapsburgs.  We really got a feel for how powerful the Hapsburgs were.  In modern times, Austria is often overlooked, but when you combine both the beauty of Vienna with the elegance and beauty of everything in this museum, the history books really start to come alive.  The gold, the stone and wood carvings, the vessels and serving platters, the clocks all show both the wealth and the technology available to the Hapsburgs.  Not only are you looking at amazing artifacts, but they are carefully displayed in gorgeous rooms that radiate wealth and power.  The walls and even the ceilings are adorned with beautiful paintings, the molding is both intricate and lined with tasteful statues, every care is taken to make you feel what it must have been like to live like a king in a palace.

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The next floor, the Picture Gallery, was my favorite.  I love art from the 1500’s through the 1800’s and could have spend hours enjoying this collection.  Unfortunately, my boys aren’t very patient with it and can’t handle that slow of a pace.  The floor was divided into two sections, the Italian, Spanish, and French paintings, and the Dutch, Flemish, and German paintings.  The boys enjoyed it when they found some of the hidden stuff in the paintings.  Looking for animals is always fun for them.  They particularly liked one with an alligator that had one child on its back and another inspecting its teeth.  Of course there was a hungry looking tiger at the back of the second child.  They found another that had someone holding an upside-down knife and two babies underneath.  The description indicated that the person was deciding whether to do away with erotic love or brotherly love.  A bit beyond what I wanted to explain to them, but interesting to ponder.

We briefly stopped by the top floor and looked at the very extensive coin collection.  A bit boring, but if you are really into coins, it is probably really cool.

Everyone was quite tired at this point, so we went back to the apartment to rest, then went across the river to get an early dinner.  I found a delicious sandwich with goat cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and an orange-colored sauce on a piece of olive focaccia.  Everyone else got pizza or other bakery items.

Introducing the boys to opera was next on our list.  We would have loved to take them to the famous Staatsoper, but we weren’t a fan of what was playing.  However, we were excited about taking them to Mozart’s The Magical Flute at the Volksoper, so we opted to get tickets there and told them that if they got bored, they could take a nap.  Surprisingly, they loved it, particularly John.The story line was quite good, there was a screen above the stage that had English subtitles, the orchestra was very good, and the soprano was awesome.  Who knew that someone could sing like that?  It was definitely worth attending. And, with the heavily discounted kids tickets, there is really no reason to leave the kids with a babysitter unless they can’t sit still for that long (I believe the minimum age was 6?).  The only disadvantage of the kids tickets is that you have to pick them up between 6-6:30, even if you pay for them in advance, and then you are stuck waiting until the performance at 7:00.  Adult tickets can be picked up at a variety of locations with better hours.  Luckily, there was a cafe next door, so we enjoyed a pre-opera drink.

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The boys were quite tired at the end, but were happy we brought them.  We hopped on the subway and had a nice walk across the bridge by our apartment.

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Friday, June 29, 2018

With the late opera, we had another slow start.  Once we made it out the door, we decided to wander down to the center again, then try a museum.  We picked up some coffee and pastries for lunch, then headed towards the Hofburg Imperial Apartments.  When we got there, we realized that the kids tickets weren’t free, and started questioning whether we really wanted shell out the money for it, given that we were on the fence about going anyway.  We have seen a ton of palaces, museums, and churches in the last couple of months, and honestly, some of them are starting to blend together.  This is a big part of the reason we started this blog.  When we look back in a year, or two, or ten, we want to remember what we saw and where we saw it.  Our conclusion is that this was a place we felt we should go, rather than somewhere we were excited about going, so we decided to pass.  While I am sure it would have been amazing to see, none of us felt bad about the decision.

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Instead, we decided to head towards the Museum of Military History.  We hopped on the subway and started our “25 minute” journey.  Twenty minutes later, Google Maps still said we had 25 minutes left.  Fail!  We wandered around a bit, near a random subway stop, then decided we had enough and went back to our apartment to rest.  Maybe we will try this one again tomorrow.

After resting, we went to a free organ concert at St. Peter’s Cathedral.  A choral concert was just ending, and we wished we would have been able to see that too.  Oh well.  The music and setting were nice, but the kids were a bit bored and the acoustics could have been better.  John got a nice nap, so everyone seemed happy.

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The kids were particularly happy when we finally took them into a chocolate shop to get the very touristy, but quite delicious, “Mozart Balls.”  Yum!

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John was tired, so I took him back to the apartment, while Jeremy and James continued exploring.  They went back to the park with the water pump, then joined us for dinner.  I got another of my delicious goat cheese sandwiches!

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Jeremy took an evening walk and stopped by a Handel’s Messiah concert at St. Peter’s Cathedral.  It was crowded and the acoustics weren’t great.  The city, however, is beautiful at night.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Today we got up a bit earlier, packed all our stuff up, and took it to the main train station to store for the day.

John is a big fan of military museums, and Jeremy and I tend to like them too, so we headed towards the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum (the Military History Museum) that we passed up on Friday.  Good choice!  The museum was fabulous, particularly the WWI exhibit.  One of the first things we saw was car and uniform that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in, creating an escalation that quickly got out of control, and started WWI.  This is the type of stuff the kids can’t get in school.  Sure, they learn the facts, but seeing where it happened really helps the lessons sink in and helps them remember it.  The exhibit continued year-by-year, with very poignant exhibits.  One fascinating piece was a huge steel test plate that was used to test penetration of various explosives and to see whether it was thick enough to use as a shield in the trenches.  The kids also got to try to lift various weights that showed different things that soldiers had to carry.  The WWII exhibit was quite a bit smaller, but reminded us that Hitler was born in Austria.  Upstairs was less recent Austrian history.  The knight suits, swords, and other weapons were quite impressive.

We finished just in time to head to St. Stephan’s Cathedral for Saturday mass.  We were hoping for an English service, but alas, our night train is traveling during both the Saturday one in Vienna and the Sunday one in Lviv, so we decided to try a noontime Catholic service in German.  Unfortunately they didn’t have printed bulletins (unlike the service we went to in Italy last week), which made it much harder to follow along or understand the service.  The music was nice, and we knew a couple of the hymns, even if we couldn’t sing them in German.  The best part ended up being that we were admitted into the worship only area of the cathedral and got a much better view of the beautiful altar and stained glass behind it.

After the service, the “three” boys decided they really wanted McDonald’s for lunch.  The specials seemed to have an Italian theme.  What I really liked, was the Greek Salad and McBeer.  Delicious!

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We wandered around the center a bit, then the boys decided they wanted to go back to the park with the water pump, so we hopped on a trolly car.  Unfortunately, the playground was mobbed and there was a long line at the pump – it was a Saturday after all. So the boys didn’t want to stay  We wandered through the park, then headed over to the Volksgarten again and wandered through that park.  After some ice cream and coffee, we headed towards the train station to catch our night train to Lviv, Ukraine!

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