Vienna is deceptively compact. It took us over half an hour on the metro/commuter train to get to central Vienna from the airport. Our hotel, the Kaiserhof (a Best Western Premier) is just outside the Ringstrasse.
But once we checked in, had a short nap after our overnight flight, and started to explore, we were struck by how close together all the main sights are. The Innere Stadt, the old inner city, was originally enclosed by city walls. In the mid-19thcentury, Emperor Franz-Josef had them torn down and replaced by wide boulevards called the Ringstrasse. The Innere Stadt’s widest extent is only about two kilometres, so it’s very easy to walk around—unless it gets too crowded, which tends to happen on the main shopping streets lined with the usual high-end jewelry and clothing chains. But there are many, many sights worth seeing: the spectacular Stephansdom (St. Stephan’s Cathedral); several other medieval and Renaissance-era churches well worth visiting like St. Peter’s and St. Charles; the Hofburg, home of the Austrian emperors and actually comprising several palaces and museums; the Musikverein, home of the Vienna Philharmonic; the awe-inspiring opera house;
the Museumsquarter, a large section of the city with a number of big, impressive museums like the Naturhistorichesmuseum; the Rathaus, or old city hall; the current offices of the federal President and much more.
There are streetcars (sorry, trams) and electric or hybrid buses all over, and it only takes a few minutes to walk from one Metro station to the next. But it’s so easy to walk around the old city, we didn’t need it. We thought we would ride around the Ringstrasse on the tram, but found ourselves walking from square to site to the next interesting spot before a tram came along. And everywhere you go, you’ll find something to capture your attention.
Dinner with Beethoven
Walking around to choose just the right restaurant is one of Roxanne’s favourite activities. It drives Nicolas crazy, because when he’s hungry, he just wants to eat wherever is closest. But after a little walking through the oldest part of the Innere Stadt, near the Danube Canal and the Fleischmarkt—once the place to buy meat—Roxanne selects an old place by its menu: Griechenbeisl, which refers to the old Greek church next door. Griechenbiesl is listed in both our travel guide books, Frommer’s Austria and Lonely Planet Austria. It turns out that the restaurant was founded in 1450, and according to Frommer “it’s still one of Vienna’s leading restaurants.” Previous patrons have included Mozart, Beethoven and Mark Twain. According to the restaurant’s own brochures, it was one of Beethoven’s favourite places.
It’s easy to see why: service is swift, and the food is excellent. For our first evening in Austria, both Nicolas and I choose Wienershnitzel; Roxanne picks out another traditional Austrian dish. I have an Austrian beer, too, she an Austrian white wine; everything is excellent. A comparable Canadian restaurant would cost, for three meals, appetizers, drinks and coffee, over $100. Griechenbeisl costs 98 Euros, and I add a tip. Frommer advises us to tip about 10 percent in Austria, as service is not included in the cost of meals. I don’t see service or gratuity listed in the menus or on the bill, either, so I guess Frommer is right.
The restaurant is on the opposite end of the Innere Stadt from our hotel, but we take a slow, exploratory walk and make some very interesting discoveries, including a Ukrainian Orthodox church named for St. Barbara, and next to it, a bust of Ivan Franko, the 19th-centruy Ukrainian novelist and activist.
The Kaiserhof, our hotel, is kind of tucked away on a small street, but it’s only three short blocks from the Ringstrasse. Getting to it takes us through the pleasant and at the same time impressive Karlsplatz and the beautiful Church of St. Charles.
Tomorrow, I’ll add a complete description of the hotel. But it’s great.