Our last morning in Budapest, we had a little extra time to get ready, pack up and get to the train station since our train to Vienna didn’t leave until after 1:00. We hung out in Keleti train station which was quite old and run-down with very little in the way of food to grab for the train, drinks, etc. Not that train stations in Europe are typically super-posh, but this one was definitely the yuckiest of all the train stations we’ve spent time in.
Lucky for the boys, there was a KFC right across the street (more yuck) so lunch was eating a bucket of chicken tenders on the floor of a gross train station. Not one of our better parenting moments. Oh well.
Speaking of sitting on the floor, we ended up sitting on the floor of a PACKED train for the next 3 hours stuffed between our bags and a bunch of exhausted twenty-something concert-goers that were on their way out of Budapest to Vienna. If you’d told me at the beginning that we’d all 5 be on the floor of the train, outside the bathroom and in between cars for the next few hours, I don’t think I could have done it.
At first, we didn’t think anything of it when seat numbers were missing from our tickets, we just assumed that it was “open seating”… in fact, we got on the train 30 minutes early just to be sure we had seats and put all our bags up, settled in, headphones on, snacks out… within 10 minutes a very nice young guy and his friend approached us and told us that they had tickets with the same seat numbers that we were sitting in.. he felt so badly and apologized profusely but it was no problem, we just needed a few minutes to gather up our stuff we told him. As we gathered everything, the dread started to sneak in… where were OUR seats? A sleepy girl sitting across the aisle mentioned that if there were no seat numbers on our tickets, it meant that we didn’t have seats and that often the train ticket websites will sell you tickets without seats, similar to general admission, standing only tickets to a concert. Yikes.
We bumped our way down the aisle with all of our things (minus our big bags, they would have to stay put… big prayers no one would steal our bags AGAIN) and we went 2 cars over to where we could find some space to fit all 5 of us which happened to be out in the “hallway”, outside the bathrooms. More great parenting moments. We stacked our things down the steps and I sat down next to the door, again, prayers that it wouldn’t open and I’d fall out.. the boys settled onto the floor, Chuck climbed down and onto the train deck to ask the conductor about our seats, only to be told “the train is sold out”, a shrug of the shoulders and he turned on his heels and walked away from Chuck… OK. The possibility of seats was dwindling quickly as more and more people were spilling out into the hallways with their giant packs, tents, sleeping bags, all things you bring to a music festival when you are staying for a week, so we took the only space we could find.
Looking out the window, I saw these barbed wire fences along the ride and it made me feel like we were in a prison of sorts..
When we finally arrived to Vienna, we have never been happier to arrive to a new city. Of course, it also helped that it was a beautiful coolish sunny day with blue skies and a super nice cab driver with a nice big brand new Mercedes van who happened to speak great English.
As we drove along, I could tell within minutes we were going to love Vienna.
All the beautiful old white, baroque style architecture buildings, big lush gardens and clean streets!
Vienna has always been one of Chuck’s favorite cities in Europe. When he was studying for his International MBA, he spent some time here as part of one of his classes and the trip was organized around all the great sites, in-house tours, great food, all which was very impressionable for him and left him with lasting memories and another visit as high up on his bucket list.
We had tried to visit Vienna our first October in France (in fact the entire trip was planned), but it had to be cancelled at the last minute when our permanent travel visas were not ready in time at the prefecture in Clermont. Something about someone out on maternity leave and no one to replace her or close files that had been opened on her watch… sigh…..
Anyhow, we were here now, so excited, and so so thankful to finally visit Vienna!
Our Air B&B was a bit out from the city center in a more quiet area, a new condominium complex along the Danube river. Though we had to walk 10 minutes to the metro station and ride into the city, it was nice and quiet out where we were.
We made stop at the Billa grocery store next to our building and it was one of the nicest grocery stores we’ve been to! Just a lot of fresh produce, plenty of Austrian sausages, pastries, an insanely long aisle of chocolate bars- Swiss, French, German, and my very favorite Mozart Kugen! Small gold foil wrapped chocolate truffles stuffed with chocolate and marzipan…
These babies are EVERYWHERE in Austria and were one of my very favorite treats as a child… as a piano player, I was slightly obsessed with Mozart when I was a young girl and when I came to Salzburg with my family at the age of 9 and visited his childhood home. These chocolates were everywhere and were my absolute favorite…
….and some American products we’ve missed- like taco shells, spicy salsa, clif bars, and Juicy Drop Pops- one of the boys’ fave candies back home.
And then there was some very unique things, like…
and perhaps the most unique thing we’ve found in a grocery store…
even this cute bag of salad mix with flower-shaped carrots!
We were looking forward to a few lazy evenings with dinner at our apartment and with such a great grocery store right next door, it was easy to go pick up what we needed for that night and be able to avoid having to eat out!
Our first day in Vienna, we took the metro to the center of the city. One place we wanted to visit was St. Stephen’s Cathedral, a beautiful old gothic-style cathedral built in the 1100s that stands where 2 previous churches have stood. The 13th tallest cathedral in the world, it has a very unique colored roof made of colored glazed tiles, exactly like the roof we’d seen in Budapest on St. Mathias’ Cathedral.
On one side, you can see a double-headed eagle, the symbol from the House of Habsburg (also called House of Austria), a highly influential royal family that produced Kings and Emperors throughout Europe for over 300 years (1400s-1700s)… this is the same family I mentioned in the Budapest post!
On the other side of the roof, there are the 2 coat of arms side-by-side, one for the city of Vienna, and the other for the Republic of Austria. (But sadly, somehow we missed a pic of this, so I borrowed one from the internet (source: familypedia.wikia.com)
Seeing the Austrian national flag’s intricate tile image on the roof of this giant Roman Catholic cathedral was fascinating- how intertwined the Catholic church and Austria’s governing body have been for hundreds of years!! We tried to imagine a cathedral in the US with a colorfully-tiled roof depicting the US Flag!!??
We walked inside, but because it was the Feast of Assumption, there was mass in progress and there were gates around the sanctuary.
Most stores and many restaurants were closed due to the holiday, but we had a nice lunch at a little outdoor Italian café, Trattoria Martinelli. Because it had been 2 weeks since we’d been in Italy and had a real Aperol spritz (Germany and Hungary have lots to learn) we tried an Aperol soda (no prosecco). It was good! We didn’t even miss the prosecco 🙂
Charlie and Owen’s tiramisu…
Charlie has gotten really creative with taking pics of different unique foods/meals we’ve had. Sometimes I tease him that he should be a food photographer. Most of these things are of course delish, but the pics make them look even better!
After lunch, we walked around this beautiful old city. There are old plazas surrounded by historic white buildings…
and horse carriages winding through the streets…
the Museum Quarter…
Mozart monument in the Burggarten park…
So many beautiful sites in this city.
…loved these ivy covered buildings that are tucked back in corner next to Greek Orthodox church built in 1010…
As we were walking home, Wells smacked his cheek with his hand and out popped his tooth onto the sidewalk! The shock on his face was the funniest part 🙂
The next day, we took the metro to Schönbrunn Palace- the summer home of Habsburg family, a huge estate with lots of different things to do and see.
In our research, we’d found an apple strudel cooking demonstration and tasting and though our tickets were for 11, the metro was under construction and after having to completely reroute, we missed our time slot!
Luckily, the staff were very understanding and told us to come back the next hour.
It was worth the wait! We were each given a big warm slice of apple strudel to nibble on as we watched a pastry chef demonstrate how to make it.
After finishing, we headed out onto palace grounds to walk through the expansive beautiful gardens that stretched out in every direction. It was hard to imagine living in a place like this. Noted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for it’s expansive gardens and Baroque style, this incredible property was originally bought and constructed into an estate in the mid 1500’s(!) and has been both home and vacation home to various Emperors/Empresses over the last 4 centuries until the early 20th century, when the Habsburg Empire collapsed and it became a museum, now owned by the Austrian government.
It was absolutely beautiful. The fountains, flowers, the paths…..
Every corner we turned, there was another long path lined by the most perfectly manicured columns of trees… following them to the end would open into a beautiful courtyard with statues or fountains…
The boys were less than impressed by the incredulity of this whole estate, but they had fun taking selfies…
Next, we walked through the gardens to the Tiergarten Zoo, the oldest in the world!
We had really hoped to be able to see the pandas, but when we arrived, it was starting to drizzle a little and the pandas were brought inside just as we were walking up.
We also were sad to miss the tigers, the polar bears and the giraffes too. All were inside.
But, we had lots of fun seeing other animals- especially the koalas!
We saw animals we have never seen. Like pygmy marmosets, and these meerkats…
As the rain started to pick up, so did our appetites, and there aside from a stand selling hot dogs, fries and beer, there was only one other restaurant, a Biergarten.
The fact that there was only outdoor seating with limited overhead coverage and that we hadn’t brought our umbrellas didn’t really dawn on us until we sat down.
We all got wet, but Charlie got soaked! I just remember having to eat quickly so that we could get out of the downpour. Which was kinda a shame, because the our meal was really good!
On our way out of the zoo, we walked past a Lindt chocolate store. We had seen some different flavor truffles than they typically have in the US, so we went in to check it out and walked out with white, milk, dark, praline, pistachio, orange, champagne, mint, you name it… WAY more chocolate than we’d planned!
That night, we decided to stay in. Chuck had discovered at some point that Metallica was playing an outdoor concert at a nearby park that night, and since seeing Metallica play live has been on his bucket list, he went and I stayed back with the boys.
Though we didn’t stay in downtown Vienna, we really loved the area we did stay. It was so quiet, the condos were brand new and modern and there were walking paths along the Danube river.
One morning while out for a run, the path ran along a busy inter-city highway and I had to stop to take a picture of this sign. Seriously? I couldn’t get over how the highway indicated routes to 6 different cities in 6 different countries!
Saturday was our last day in Vienna, and we still had several boxes to check. And, not surprisingly, these boxes had to do with food. And coffee. And markets.
So we had to wake these lazy bones up out of bed and get busy!
We had places to go!
Naschmarkt is the big market area in downtown Vienna with restaurants, food stands, produce, etc and a big Saturday flea market.
This was a big market! 1.5 km long, the market has been in place since the 1500’s where it opened to sell milk (sold in wooden bottles). We walked and wandered through these long corridors of restaurants, making our way to the antique/flea market…
There were tons of tables set up like this, selling glassware, linens, vases, tableware, etc. and clothes. TONS of clothes.
But in the end, we were pretty disappointed. The clothes were kind of just haphazardly thrown on tables like this, rather than arranged in a more organized way in which to hunt. It seemed like we walked in circles searching to find something different or unique to Vienna, but it was mostly vendors selling cheap T shirts, tapestries, lots of N. African wears, etc and JUNK. Each row of vendors had the same things as the ones before. We left with nothing. Even the boys didn’t find one tiny thing, a treasure or souvenir. Not even Wells! Our tiny souvenir guy.
Considering how refined and classical Vienna feels, we expected more. Sadly, I think one might fall at the very bottom of our list.
Next, it was time to explore the Kaffee und Kuchen (Coffee and Cake) tradition. First of all, can I say that I love that perhaps 2 of my favorite things in life are both spelled with a “K” here in Austria.
Cake is very very important to Austrians. So much so that they traditionally take time each afternoon to enjoy a piece alongside coffee!
The idea of pausing in the afternoon to sit and have a snack (usually a muffin, cookie or something else baked) with tea or coffee is nothing new to us after having lived here in France for 2 + years. “Gôuter” (sounds like goo-tay) is a BIG deal and whereas the idea is to offer a late afternoon snack to children leaving school, adults have continued to embrace it and it often serves as a time to socialize with friends in cafés and restaurants late in the afternoon over some type of dessert and coffee.
But here in Austria, they are purists and stick to cake and coffee. Smart.
Because there are so many different types of cake, it seemed helpful to take a picture of this menu we found that offered a tutorial of sorts regarding the names of traditional cakes. Sachertorte, chocolate cake with many thin layers and icing in between, being the most popular.
Café Central in the center of Vienna is the most popular and well-known spot to find Sachertorte, but we decided to skip the hours + long lines and odd reservation times and find something off the beaten path. Whereas many of the more traditional touristy and popular spots are super fancy and way overpriced (though it still may be worth the cost), we wanted something unique.
Lots of reading and research led me to Cafe Vollpension several times and it peaked our interest.
This family-run cafe was the most kitschy, fun and unique place we’ve been, definitely in Austria, but maybe (at least in my opinion) in Europe!
And you gotta love a place where the logo is their grandma’s cute face!
The goal was to find good Kake and Kaffee, but the menu was huge and had breakfast, lunch, brunch and everything in between, so we opted for a noon reservation and figured we could have both brunch and cake (and coffee).
Walking in, it feels like you are literally going into your grandma’s dining room. Or living room. There were old pictures on the wall, old parlor lamps, velvet curtains, all different fabrics, all mismatched. It was so cute!
We sat on old upholstered couches around a coffee table.
I got a little carried away with the coffee section of the menu and ordered this, what I thought was an “Iced Coffee” with a little extra love poured in. But I missed the part about the ice cream, the whipped cream, the chocolate drizzle, the cookie straw, etc etc etc. so we passed it around and each tried a little, but then it was regular coffee for me. I don’t like a lot of distraction around my coffee.
It took us a while to decide what we wanted, there were so many unique choices. Both traditional, and not!
Charlie opted for traditional. Viennese wursts, pretzels and mustard… yummy…
Chuck had the yogurt and granola..
I wanted something light to save room for cake and had the most unique veggie and cheese platter. And it came with that dark, pumpernickel bread which is so yummy and somehow didn’t make it into my picture.
And then it was time to decide cake. Whereas you order food/drinks from the menu with your waitress, for cake, its more ceremonial. You walk up and choose one of the 3 or 4 choices offered that day, and place your order with Grandma. The cakes are cooked in these ovens that slide up and down the wall.
There are 3 or 4 older ladies with hairnets and aprons making cakes over and over again! Somehow, we didn’t get a photo of them in action, so I stole this one from their website. Just so we could remember.
We chose a lemon cake and a chocolate/cherry cake, which tasted almost like a brownie. Both were so delicious…..
Stuffed to our limits, rather than metro back to our station, we decided to walk back to the main station and in our travels, we came upon Bobby’s market, a UK market selling all kinds of English and American favorites! Think A&W root beer, Kraft mac-n-cheese, Aunt Jemima, etc. All the processed stuff! After the meal we’d just had, it seemed comical to even think about food, but we couldn’t pass up the chance to stock up on a few of American junk food faves! And his prices were the most reasonable we’d found so far in Europe. It just feels wrong to pay $7 for a box of mac’n’cheese, but sometimes you get desperate so you do it. But here, they were more like $2 or $3!
It was such a beautiful blue-sky day. And not super hot!
Probably one of the most famous buildings in Vienna… the opera house! Sad we never made it there!
That evening, we were excited to finally have Wiener Schnitzel. This thin, breaded, fried veal cutlet is quintessential Austrian cuisine and was one of the most memorable things I remember about visiting Salzburg (also in Austria) years and years ago on a college trip. It was something so simple, on a plate, with a sprig of parsley and a slice of lemon, but I remember sitting in a beergarden, wondering how I could ever finish the huge plateful, only to learn that I would have no trouble. Lovers of all things fried, I knew the boys would love it.
Our search kept leading us to Figlmüller, one of the oldest and what seems to be the known as the best in Vienna, but it was no secret, because reservations were recommended a month or two in advance, especially in prime summer vacation season! We weren’t able to get a reservation for lunch or dinner within the 5 days we were there, we even checked with their smaller, more casual sister restaurant around the corner, and no luck. We decided to check different menus around the city and see with our own eyes which one might look good and we found Lugeck, a more modern, less touristy spot, also owned by the Figlmüller group. Stopping in a few days before, we were able to get a reservation for that Saturday night and it was incredibly well worth the wait.
To kill some time before dinner, we stopped at a winebar and played UNO. The boys had giant bottles of icy cold apple juice.
When we arrived to Lugeck, we asked the waiter for suggestions about what to drink with wiener schnitzel….what would be best- beer? wine? a cocktail? He made some great suggestions- a local craft beer for C and for me, a sauvignon blanc.
Ordering our food was the simplest part. We all ordered exactly what we came for- wiener schnitzel which came with a side of potato field salad (German potato salad, my fave) and for the boys, fries.
We looked around the restaurant. Every single person at every single table was eating the same exact thing. Once again, it initially seemed insurmountable, the size of our plates, but once again, it was too good to leave even one bite.
The boys loved theirs too, they couldn’t stop talking about how good it was.
Charlie had skipped cake earlier in the day, holding out for after dinner which was a tiny dessert- baked cinnamon buns in a little pot, with vanilla ice cream on the side.
The last day we went to the Spanish Riding School to watch the morning exercises of the Lipizzaner stallions.
This elite school is world famous as the oldest riding school still in existence which has been training horses in the classical Renaissance style for more than 450 years and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list of intangible heritages of humanity.
For the last 100 years, it has been more well known to the public for its performances of the Lipizzaner stallions, a highly unique breed of horses which are very muscular and have a distinct smoky grey color in their younger years but typically lighten to a pure white before the age of 10 years.
Lipizzaners are still bred today at a stud farm in Slovenia and are the oldest European breed developed by the House of Habsburg in the 1500s and are the horses trained at the Spanish Riding School, where they are known for their mastery of “above ground” exercises, which are meticulous and extremely difficult stylized jumps and prancing gait which make them so unique.
The Riding School opens its doors for a short time each day to allow visitors to view the morning exercises. The hall where the exercises are performed and viewed was like a grand ballroom, with large crystal chandeliers, only with a dirt floor and viewer stands overhead, allowing a view down into the arena.
Unfortunately, cameras and cellphones are forbidden in the hall/arena during the performance, so we were unable to record or take any pics, but I was able to find some great images online to help us remember what the horses looked like and the type of stunts they could do!
The horses are each led by a trainer in traditional dress who him/herself, as trainers at this highly prestigious equestrian academy, are each some of the best in the world and follow a choreographed routine which includes their “Work in Hand” and “Airs Above the Ground” exercises.
It was all magnificent. The precision with which each of the horses perform such technical and difficult stunts was very entertaining to watch!
We enjoyed this last day in Vienna wandering around but almost all the stores were closed, so it was a low key day. And besides, we had lots of packing to do. 3 weeks worth of clothes, souvenirs, etc to fit into our suitcases was going to take some time.
We had a long journey ahead of us as we headed home. Vienna back to Munich (4 hours total with stops) and then a 8 hour drive back to Clermont. We stopped in Switzerland overnight and planned to drive the bulk of the trip home the next day. But first, we had a very important stop to make. It was time to pick up the souvenir we’d all been hoping for, thinking about, reading about, searching for and lastly, waiting for over the last 2 years since we arrived in France.
Meet our girl, CoCo.
It was after months and months of searching and researching that she stole our hearts with that white toe.
It took studying lots of French- a complete new set of vocabulary about French bulldogs, dogs, puppies, and studying about the breed itself for several months before we felt ready to take the plunge. I picked up the phone and called a complete stranger in the Rhone valley of eastern France to inquire about this girl and she became ours.
The French take their bulldogs seriously. All over the internet and social media, there are beautiful grey, shiny silvery french bulldogs (“blue”) spotty ones, swirly ones, you name it. But one thing we learned in our research was that there are really only 3 color patterns recognized as pure French bulldog (white with black spots, tan with tan or black face, and brindled) and we had only first seen brindled when we moved to France and had decided that was what we wanted. Black with some tan sprinkled in, and a white chest/neck.
On our way to Italy at the beginning of August, we went to visit the breeder and meet “Perle Noir” (black pearl).
She was too little to leave her mommy and daddy quite yet…
so we said goodbye to our little girl and let her play with her sisters and brother and grow a little more so that she’d be ready for us when we came back by on our way home to Clermont…
So, stopping to pick her up on our way home from our vacation was what we’d all been waiting for.
Sad to say goodbye to her friends..
first of many rest stops 🙂
she slept the whole way on Owen and I as we drove the 3 hours back to Clermont….
and to her new home with us.