Austria, home of strudel, snitzel and the Sound of Music, has a sense of regality that makes you feel momentarily like royalty. History seeps into every grand avenue of Vienna, lined with enlightenment era white marble buildings and ornate cafes. Two days in Vienna allowed me to appreciate the cultural richness of the city from the classical music to the turn of the century art movements that define the golden era of the Habsburg empire. Across the country, lays Salzburg, in the mountains, where both Mozart and the Von Trap family originated. I regrettably only spent one night in Salzburg, but that was enough for me to fall in love with the alpine charm and natural beauty of the area.
Vienna appears surprisingly like a modern busy city from the outskirts in with plenty of energy and vibrance. City center, however, old town charm is abundant. The churches show the best of baroque architecture, marked by the massively elaborate St Stephans Cathedral with its intricately colorful mosaic roof and spires. I happened to walk into a service at the church and got to hear the organ play while taking the elevator up to the rood which was quite an experience (imagine hearing the lords prayer sung in German). The cathedral boosts wonderful views of the city, along with views of the unique roof. The famous opera house, where Mozart, Strauss, Beethoven, among others, casually premiered much of their most well known work, is right across from the Sacher Hotel, home to the original Sacher Torte. I enjoyed the famous chocolate and apricot cake at the Sacher Cafe which was magically upholstered in deep red velvet and magnificent chandlers. The apple strudel from the cafe is also amazing and the atmosphere itself is worth it, even if you don’t like chocolate cake.
Schoenbrunn palace is a quick 15 minute subway ride outside of the city center and holds so much history from Austria’s Habsburg glory days. The giant palace sits on beautiful gardens and is well worth an inside tour since the rooms are perfectly preserved, including the grand ballroom and the big portrait rooms. From a historical standpoint, the audioguide offered a lot of insight into the palace’s history and the lives of the people that lived there which was extremely fascinating.
Belvedere palace is actually an art museum, yet looks extremely regal from the outside. The palace hosts many of Austria’s most famous works such as Klimt’s The Kiss and other works, and the big Napoleon painting that is instantly recognizable. The museum is really well done with a beautiful neoclassical marble interior and a great collection of art spanning many centuries.
Beyond desserts, Austrian food is hearty and comforting. I tried both pork and veal weiner snitzel served traditionally with potato salad, lemon and cranberry sauce. The breaded and fried meat pairs perfectly with the sweeter garnishes. It’s disgustingly delicious and definitely a must-try. Austrian beef-broth soup is also very tasty, served with a big singular dumpling (think matzo-ball soup with beef instead of chicken). Bratwurst stands can be found all over Vienna and they might seem sketchy, but they serve up the best hot dogs in soft baguettes. I tried a cheese filled one with mustard and I’ve been dreaming about it ever since. Cafe Central is a famous belle époque era cafe that mimics a gothic cathedral and has had many famous intellectuals as regulars over the years. I had apple strudel for breakfast there and have no shame about it.
Traditional Austrian dinner
Salzburg, at the foot of the alps, is a mountain city, full of both regal and charm. The Sound of Music tour was the perfect way to see the city and the surrounding area in a short time with unmatched panoramic vistas. You get to visit all of the filming locations and sing along to the music on the bus. The town makes Mozart’s presence know, with monuments and squares all over dedicated to him. Walking around Salzburg at night was surreal, as the hill top castle and other landmarks are lit up, along with the incredible rock face that the town is built into.
Cafe Sacher: famous and beautiful
Cafe Central: also famous and beautiful with good breakfast
Weibel’s Wirtshaus: great classic Austrian food in a nice setting
Zum Zirkelwirt: Fun atmosphere and casual Austrian food in Salzburg