I went to Vienna for three-and-a-half days and this is what I saw: a beautiful new boutique hotel (where I stayed); two construction sites (yes, hard hat jobs); three bakeries (including tours of the kitchens); part of the large Kunsthistoriches Museum (where I could easily have spent longer) and all of the small Augartenstrasse Porcelain Manufactory Museum (with a behind-the-scenes tour); six restaurants; a small private contemporary art gallery; the Naschmarkt (Vienna’s largest food market, where we went to a vinegar-tasting). We had a night at the opera. We took a tram ride to the 19th district and hiked through part of the wine region just outside the city. And then it was time to leave.
We walked a lot in Vienna, and caught the tram and the underground. It was a wonderful way of getting around. But every time we left the hotel, our route took us past – or near – the imposing Stephansdom (St Stephen’s Cathedral). I wanted to go inside, but there was never time. I imagined coming home and having someone say: “Oh, you went to Vienna…didn’t you just love the cathedral!” And having to say that I hadn’t seen it, despite staying within a block of it. So near, and yet so busy…
The top two things that every tourist wants to see in Vienna are the Vienna Boys Choir and the Spanish Riding School. But my work is not how most people imagine it, and I won’t see either of those wonderful attractions. I’m not complaining about that (they might not be on my personal top 10 anyway) but if you want to know what travelling as a professional travel writer is sometims like, this trip might be a good example. Our program is set and very full, and there’s usually little time to divert from it. Travelling as a small group, we are looking at the city through a specific focus, and we see and do things that normal tourists might not; we also get to see and do things that others don’t, which is sometimes a rare privilege. But there is little time to linger, wander or savour.
We meet people too. In this case, I got to meet the stylish and artistic Petra Bacher, who makes the most lavishly decorated and sculpted cakes you’ve ever seen, Sartori Torten. I also sat at lunch with Australian author Tim Bonyhady, author of Good Living Street: The Fortunes of My Viennese Family and his wife Nicole. Tim was in town to give a lecture at the Wien Museum, and joined us for lunch at the best restaurant in Vienna, Steirereck (it has two Michelin stars, four Gault-Millau toques and was ranked 11th in The World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards). The thing I remember most about the food was the plates of wafer-thin slices of meat presented hanging on tiny clotheslines, complete with miniature wooden pegs. And that it was incredibly interesting and delicious, each new dish’s arrival being greeted with gasps.
And the construction sites? The first was the renovation of the Liechtenstein Palace, scheduled to reopen early next year and which will largely be available for private functions. The second was the new concert hall for the Vienna Boys Choir, also expected to be completed by early 2013. But no choir.
I left Vienna having had a tantalising taste of what I might see on a private visit. My best memories were these: walking to a restaurant at night and chancing on buskers (violin, piano and bass) playing classical music to a large gathering; sausage and canned beer at a hot dog stand behind the opera house; riding the tram through the suburbs. The big attractions will have to wait till next time. Except the cathedral; it nagged at me until I found a spare half hour at the end of one day, when my colleagues went back to the hotel, and slipped inside with the other tourists for a few minutes. Tick.
A Glass Half Full travelled to Vienna as a guest of the Austrian National Tourist Board.