Travel Writing by Cory Hanson

Vienna Vignettes – A Walk in the Woods


VIENNA–JULY 13, 2015 18:22

We grabbed an early flight from Dublin Saturday morning, having finally readjusted our internal clocks since returning from 10 wonderful days on the US West Coast with family. Dublin Airport was packed with fellow getter-outers, fleeing Ireland despite the unusually warm and sunny summer weather. Well…travel plans have to be made well in advance!

Landing in Austria, we took the incredibly efficient S-Bahn train from the airport directly into the heart of the city, transferring to the underground (U-Bahn) for free with our ticket. How great are the Central Europeans at building efficient, reasonable public transportation infrastructure. Dublin, you are officially on notice!

We checked in to the AirBnB studio apartment in the very heart of the city (at less than half the cost and twice the homey amenities of a hotel room) and kicked off Vienna with a trip to the neighborhood Aldi supermarket for our vittles. We grabbed a supply of cheap and easy ingredients – and a week’s supply of coffee – and I went a bit overboard with the flavorful German-style sausages that I can enjoy so seldom in Ireland. Notable was the collection of American-style foods, branded with Americana images and colors. Marshmallows, hamburger buns, and other US approximations were sold to the Austrians as a taste of America without all that annoying smiling and friendliness. The American food love went farther; our apartment had on the bulletin board a recipe clipped from a local magazine for “Peanut Butter und Jelly Sandwiches.” Reading it in German was a hoot.

American Bread at Aldi

American Bread at Aldi

Kitchen stocked, we took the Rick Steves audio walk through the First District of the city – inside the Ringstrasse – the cultural heart of Old Vienna. We elbowed our way through the tourists, joining them in a group gawk at the State Opera, St. Stephen’s Church (where Mozart was married), and the other -Strasses and -Grabens of the capital of Europe’s last great empire.

The Hapsburg family – the former Austrian Empire’s ruling line – are a bit like the Kardashians of Vienna; the people have something of a love-hate relationship with them. They are adored for their power and wealth, but locals seem to wonder what they did to deserve such notoriety and influence. After they caused (and lost) WWI, the family was mostly exiled to other countries, but they are still looked on fondly by the locals. “Remember the good old days of…godlike emperors ruling with an iron fist? At least they were better than the Nazis!”

The Hapsburg Palace...Some of It

The Hapsburg Palace…Some of It

The grand palace of the Hapsburg emperors is a beautifully disgusting display of wealth. Its many-acre sprawl is packed with little nooks and naves of intricate statues and carvings, dwarfed by its massive front facades and pillars and scrollwork and… 

It has been and will be our main landmark in the central part of Vienna.

After the walk, we went BACK to Aldi to pick up some wine for a picnic lunch the next day. We picked up a bottle of red and a bottle of white (how could we not, at 1.99 per bottle?) and a curious 1.5 L plastic bottle of Austrian beer for 99 cents. 

Venturing back out, we stopped by a beisel – an Austrian pub/cafe – recommended by our little sister who was recently in Vienna for a few months. It was a great recommendation; we enjoyed local beers (a dark dunkel, a light marzen, and an unfiltered lager and wheat beer) and wood-fired pitas on the ivy-covered patio in the cooling air of the evening.

Pitas and Bier

Pitas and Bier

The local City Hall is currently running a midsummer film festival – as many of the opera companies and orchestras are on summer break – to provide some free culture to the Viennese. Food and drink stalls are open several hours before sunset near the huge outdoor screen and stadium seating. We scoped it out – enjoying another round of local Pils and helles beers – for a night out later this week.

Early this morning, we packed a lunch of sausage sandwiches with mustard, hard-boiled eggs, and a bottle of that cheap white wine, and took the D tram to the Wienerwald, the Vienna Woods. These forest- and vineyard-covered hills just north of the city are crisscrossed with walking trails for walkers, joggers, dog-walkers, and well-conditioned mountain bikers. 

Walking in the Wienerwald

Walking in the Wienerwald

We enjoyed a long, leisurely stroll up the (mostly) gentle slopes once walked by Beethoven to the summit. There, at the top, we enjoyed fantastic views of the whole city, the Danube River, and the surrounding hills from Klosterneuburg Church, a landmark abbey on the very crest of this hill overlooking the whole valley.

A Hazy View

A Hazy View

On the long descent, we opened our lunch – and popped the 2-euro white wine – only to be chased away by some very aggressive yellow jacket bees. A local hiker gave us a friendly, “Guten appetit!” when he walked by and saw us attempting to shoo the bothersome bees away. Undeterred, we turned our picnic into a mobile operation, continuing the walk as we enjoyed our glasses of wine, sandwiches, and fruit on the go. We only stopped to crack our hardboiled eggs on a handy trailside rock.

Somehow, we missed a turn, and thus part of the big loop trail (City Walk #1). Thankfully, our wrong turn led us back to the first stage of the trail, at which point we decided to simply take it back to the tram stop and call it a morning. The sun was getting high, the temperature (and humidity) were climbing quickly, and our water and wine supplies were dangerously low.

Home and clean, we spent a noisy hour at Vienna’s famed Cafe Central – once home to dignitaries like Sigmund Freud, but now home to tourists like us. We enjoyed cheaper-than-coffee beer and more-expensive-than-beer coffee and a tasty dessert before Sara jumped on to the opening night of her science conference (the real reason for our Vienna Venture) and I sat down to watch the Wimbledon men’s final.

Another walk for tonight, and visiting some of Vienna’s fine parks tomorrow!

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