Day 6: A Day Among Music and Royalty in Vienna

Sunday started out as a bit of a lazy day, beginning with breakfast at a local café called Aida’s.  Jim had a decadent buttery croissant; I made a more tragic choice of getting the topfenstreusel (a streusel filled with ricotta-like cheese).  With a bit of a sore gut, we walked around Vienna before getting to the Opera House for our 10:00 am English tour.  It was a great tour, taking us behind the scenes at the famed Opera House and learning that they put on a different production every single night for 10 months out of the year.  It didn’t seem to be very cost effective to us, but it appears to have worked well for them for hundreds of years.

A circle of greatness

After the Opera tour, we followed the transit advice of our extremely helpful concierge named Ralph, and went a couple blocks down to catch the #71 tram that would take us directly to the Zentralfriedhof Cemetery, Tor #2 (gate 2), a site that had been on our To-See List.  The ride took exactly 25 minutes as Ralph said, and we were dropped off right at the main gate.  Despite the fact our day at the cemetery involved fighting gale force winds, we toured the immense property, seeing the graves of Beethoven, Mozart (in the middle), Liechtenstein, several of the Strauss boys, Schubert, Brahms, and many other musical notables.  We also saw the graves of Austria’s past presidents (including Kurt Waldheim), and ducked inside the church on the premises.  Next, we headed towards the Old Jewish section, seeing a stark contrast to the well-kept graves of everyone else.  For some reason, the graves in the Old Jewish section were completely overgrown and unkempt.

We wandered around (or, rather, were blown around) for a bit more, before I decided that we just couldn’t leave without seeing the New Jewish section, which turned out to be a few gates (and about ½ mile) down from the main gate (you couldn’t access it from inside the main cemetery, you had to walk outside and down the perimeter of the grounds to a separate entrance).  Jim was not overly thrilled about this, as it was cold outside, but he kindly indulged me and we made the trek.

Once we had seen the New Jewish section (which was filled with well-kept graves and Jim remarked it was like checking off the names of people in his congregation), we once again boarded tram #71 and headed back into the city center.  At this point, we were in dire need of a coffee house in which to warm up and take refuge from the mach winds, so we first found a place that turned out to be fancier than we were dressed (and everyone looked up and stared at us when we entered), before quickly making an exit and finding a café that was more suited to our needs.  Or, rather, more suited to the way we were dressed.  This café wasn’t a charming as others we had been in, and the waiter was a bit of a douche.  But it was one fine coffee (ok, Jim had a Diet Coke).

Recharged with a little caffeine, we decided that it was high time we visited the Hofburg Palace, the official residence of Austria’s former emperors/empresses.  Although it is a rather large crib, we had a bit of trouble finding the place since every building in Vienna is impressively large and seems suited for royalty.  We finally got our bearings and made our way to the Imperial Rooms in the palace, entering for a cost of €10 each.  VFM it wasn’t.

We started in the exhibit showing the royal porcelain and silver collections, marveling at the impressive collection of centerpieces, candelabras, flatware, dishes, and glassware.  I would have hated to be invited to one of their shin-digs, as each table setting had a confusing number of silverware pieces and glasses from which to eat and drink.  A faux pas would have occurred, for sure.

Next, we toured the lavishly furnished apartments of Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elizabeth (Sisi) Josef, and learned of their lifestyle and of the tragic story that was Sisi’s life.  She was some sort of anorexic workout fanatic (with very long hair) who appeared to have hated her royal life and was ultimately assassinated by an Italian wingnut.  Very sad.

After touring the rooms, we headed downstairs to the Treasury and paid another €10 each to see the crown jewels.  This exhibit was only so-so, and Jimmy assured me it was nothing compared to the House of Windsor crown jewels.  We also saw a crucifix that had been made allegedly with a fragment of wood from the cross Jesus was nailed to (and even had a nail hole to prove it), but it seemed a little suspect given the fact that in Trier, Germany, we saw an alleged nail used to affix Jesus to the cross, and their stories didn’t match up.  This nail hole was far too small for the large nails we had seen, so someone is making something up.

Frescoes, statues, goldleaf… this building has it all

Nevertheless, we exited the Treasury and walked around Vienna a bit more, taking in the gorgeous architecture that makes up this fine city.  A quick side note:  as with many impossibly old European towns/cities, sometimes you just have to look up to see the beauty that adorns many of these buildings towards the top, whether it be impressive frescoes, busts, or just lovely, detailed craftsmanship in the building’s construction.

We found ourselves heading toward the Secession museum, as our hotel had given us free – FREE – passes upon check-in.  This was a €6.50 per person value, my friends, something that we couldn’t overlook.  Normally a museum such as the Secession would have not made our radar, but, as they say, Free is for Me.  As it turns out, we aren’t even sure the lure of free made this oddball little place any better.  After some confusion as to how to get in (which would have been helpful to learn from the man taking our tickets, that we had to go back outside and down a little set of stairs in the back of the building to get in), we made our way through a bizarre set of dark rooms, many of which had full-on porn showing from giant screens.  What was even more bizarre is that these same rooms had mattresses on the floor and boxes of Kleenex everywhere.  Mmm-hmm.  Interesting.  Scratching our heads, we made our way to the basement where the pièce de résistance was, Gustav Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze.  Never mind the fact neither of us had heard of it before.  But there she was, a giant mural done as a tribute to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  The problem was, the room was very dimly lit and the museum also had a jungle-y theme going on, with fake palm trees and the like that obstructed part of the view of the frieze.  Oh, and there were more mattresses and Kleenex.  Cross it off the list, we aren’t cut out for such modern art nonsense.  But I’m sure Klimt’s mother was proud of his art.

Back outside and in a fit of giggles, we went back to our room for the early evening respite before dinner, but only after using the computer at Le Meridien to suss out a suitable Italian restaurant for dinner.  Once we had rested, we set out to find our target, which was a restaurant called Da Capo that had won the hearts of many on  Although we didn’t have a reservation, they sat us immediately and we quickly learned that their high marks on were well merited.  Jim had spaghetti Bolognese with a side of the most delicious garlic-drenched breadsticks, I had the Pasta Federico, which was penne pasta mixed with sun dried tomatoes, spicy salami, and arugula.  Fantastic!  We also switched things up from our usual beer nights and had wine, which made the meal not only wonderful, but fancy, too, and a pretty good value (compared to Chicago) at €40.

We weren’t quite ready to call it a night after dinner, so we strolled along for a while before deciding we should stop somewhere for a Sambuca.  This took some doing, as it turns out not many bars in Vienna serve Sambuca.  But we ended up in a place called the American Bar, which turned out to be precisely what we were looking for:  dark, lounge-y, comfortable, and with plenty of Sambuca (like an old school cigar club).  We loved the environs so much that we ended up staying for 3 Sambucas each, and at €7.20 apiece, our bar tab ended up being higher than our entire dinner bill.  As we were settling up, Jim asked our lovely waitress if (or what) the Austrians tip, and added that he’s heard the Germans are the absolute worst when it comes to tipping.  Thus, he was curious to know about how Austrians feel about parting with their money since you need a crowbar with the Germans.  She just sort of stared and said the Austrians were ok in the tipping department.  Jim then asked where she was from, and her one word answer said it all:  Hamburg.

A little red-faced, we stumbled out of there at around 12:30 am and headed back to the ranch.

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