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Guest: Vienna
horse buggy taking visitors through the streets of Vienna
Fiaker (horse buggy) shuttles visitors through the city in noble splendor

Waltzing Through Vienna
Story and photos by John Blanchette

ienna is the capital of Austria and its cultural center. It is the city built by the Hapsburgs, who ruled from the 13th to the 20th century. Freud is its most famous resident and Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, several Strausses and Vivaldi composed here. It is the headquarters for OPEC, It’s the only city which lends its name to a waltz, cuisine and coffee, and its major food group is desserts.

Food, pastries and drink are as much a part of the city as commerce and culture. Viennese live for the sensual and spiritual pleasures of art and life, and enjoy them fully.

roadside cafe in Vienna
Hundreds of cafes dispense some of the best coffee and pastries in the world and are packed at all times of the day

A grande dame with beautiful boulevards, large expanses of parklands, many walking streets and impressive buildings, Vienna supports over 100 museums and is packed with magnificent sculptures, fountains, palaces, concert halls, cafes and wine bars.

During World War II about a fourth of the city was destroyed by bombs, but much was rebuilt in the original style, integrated with modern architecture.

St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, showing scaffolding on its steeple
St. Stephen’s Cathedral is at the center of Vienna. Unfortunately its steeple is currently shrouded in scaffolding which obstructs views from the windows

A city of 1.6 million, about a fifth of the countries population, the old city swirls in concentric circles from a center anchored by St. Stephen’s Cathedral, out toward the Danube, the Vienna Woods and the commercial and industrial zones beyond the river.

Arts and politics are very accessible in this sophisticated city. During intermission at the Historic Vienna State Opera House (tickets from 2 - 100 euros) I met Dr. Heinz Fischer, the much beloved President of Austria and later that night while dining at the Sacher Hotel, Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek, the 2004 Noble prizewinner for literature, was sitting at the next table.

Wien, pronounced Veen, is the Austrian name for Vienna. Now you know the derivation of the words Wiener schnitzel and wieners.

An anagram of wine, Wien is the only capital in Europe that has large commercial vineyards within its borders. Over 1700 acres of exceptional wine grapes ripen on the hills above the city, adjacent to the Vienna woods. Whites do very well here, especially Riesling and the local grape, Gruener Veltliner, similar to a fruity Sauvignon Blanc.

In a matter of minutes you can reach the wine country on the number 38 tram and transfer to the Heurigen Express, a funky little train that will ferry you around to the local tasting rooms (7.5 euros). The Viennese often spend the late afternoon leisurely dining at the winery cafes.

Fritz Wieninger in his vineyard
Fritz Wieninger in his award winning vineyard

One of the finest is Napa Valley trained Fritz Wieninger’s. Some of the best salads I tasted in Vienna accompanied the vineyard's wonderful wines. Fritz’s Vienna Blend won this year’s contest for the “Best Oyster Match” held at The Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station in New York.

Vienna celebrates its wine harvest every year with tasting events, vineyard tours and concerts in October and November.

Many consider Viennese coffee to be the best in the world. Its reputation is certainly enhanced by the pastries.

Perhaps the most famous is the Sacher Torte, created at the Sacher Hotel. A rich cake bathed in apricot syrup and frosted with a shinny chocolate glaze, it is traditionally served with a dollop of whipped cream (mit schlag) and a cup of good Viennese coffee at the Sacher Cafe. Incidentally, Graham Greene lived in the Sacher Hotel and his book “The Third Man” was filmed in Vienna.

Wolfgang Leschanz, the Chocolate King
Wolfgang Leschanz, the “Chocolate King"

The most famous pastry shop in town is Demel’s, worth a pilgrimage to taste the cakes and fruit tarts. The city is full of pastry and chocolate shops. Manner is famous for its chocolate wafers and packaged candies, Suesses Eck is a traditional Viennese sweet shop and Altmann & Kuehne specialize in Viennese chocolates.

Visit Wiener Schokoladekoenig to meet Wolfgang Leschanz, the “Chocolate King” and the greatest chocolatier in Vienna. He grew up with Wolfgang Puck, was his pastry chef at Spago in Los Angeles in the 1980s and pastry chef at the Sacher Hotel and Demel’s before opening his own shop a few years ago.

the Sauerkraut Man serving his product from a 30 gallon barrel, Naschmarkt, Vienna
It cost me the price of one pickle to take this photo of the “Sauerkraut Man” doling out the best sauerkraut I ever tasted

One of my favorite gastronomic areas is the Naschmarkt (literally nosh market) where you can find all things sweet and sour, cured, fresh and salted.

This is the city’s most lively food paradise, especially on Saturday during the flea market (originally named for the practice of hiring monkeys to preen your hair of unwanted critters).

This is where I was able to end my sugar binge with the best tasting sauerkraut in the world, according to the “Sauerkraut Man.” He made me buy one of his pickles to take his photo serving up kraut from one of his two 30 gallon barrels. It was so good I also purchased a handful of kraut.

Just down the way was the vinegar baron Erwin Gegenbauer, who sold 27 varieties (20-30 euros a bottle) like perfume, putting a drop on the back of your hand so you could appreciate the aroma.

Across was the cheese and cured meat stand Urbanek, where 80 local farmhouse cheeses were available along with wursts and cured hams, which you chased with a glass of the local wine. My favorite stand in the market.

Erwin Gegenbauer's vinegar for sale, Naschmarkt, Vienna
Vinegar sold like perfume

Urbanek: cheese and cured meat stand at Naschmarkt, Vienna
Urbanek for meat, wine and cheese

A good place to start sampling Viennese cuisine is at the Oesterreicher im MAK, the stylish restaurant at the Museum of Applied Arts where Vienna’s top chef Helmut Oesterreicher prepares traditional foods at affordable prices. Don’t miss the tafelspitz (braised beef), Wiener schnitzel and the apple strudel.

Landtmann Café serves filling bowls of Goulash and Frittatensuppe, beef soup with pancake stripes (6 euros). Also try Zum Schwarzen Kameel and Viennese Beisl Zum Huth for Viennese specialties.

a statue of Hapsburg Queen Maria Theresa with the Museum of Fine Arts in the background
A Statute of Hapsburg Queen Maria Theresa, mother of 16 children, includiing the "hapless" Maria Antoinette, fronts the Museum of Fine Arts, which serves a sumptuous buffet on Thursday nights.

On Thursday nights the Museum of Fine Arts offers “Art and Pleasure,” a buffet of Viennese foods, including pastries, local wine and beer, and access to the museum’s impressive art collection including works by Bruegel, Rubens, Titian, Tintoretto, etc. (34 euros).

If you want to learn to prepare some local food, take the one-day Viennese Cooking Class offered at various locations (www.kochen-in-wien.at).

In addition to its wine and coffee, Austrian beer is also quite nice; hoppy, crisp and refreshing. Ottakringer, Hainfelder and Goesser were my favorites.

There is a hop on hop off tourist bus that travels the city (13 euros) and you can also purchase a 72 hour city transit pass at the Tourist Office good for all the buses, trams and trains and over 200 discounts at cafes, shops, restaurants and museums (17 euros).

A popular, if expensive transportation mode is the horse buggy (Fiakers- 95 euros an hour). And stay out of the bike paths at intersections. They look like crosswalks to the uninitiated, but the speeding bicyclists pay no heed to the ignorant tourist.

bicyclists on a street in Vienna
Watch out for bike paths that look like crosswalks

The two worst bargains were the three euros I paid to climb the 343 narrow, winding steps in St. Stephen’s steeple, risking heart attack and experiencing vertigo, to arrive at four tiny windows at the top that were covered in scaffolding, obliterating the view!

The Freud House (7.3 euros) has very little left from the days Freud lived and practiced there. The couch is in London, only a few photographs and personal effects are left in his office and the house is packed with disappointed visitors.

If You Go

Austrian Airlines offers daily flights to Vienna from New York. Washington D.C. and Chicago. For housing options, wine and restaurant information, shopping tips, event listings, guidebooks, brochures and maps, contact the Austrian Tourist Office (212) 944-6880, www.austria.info.

Related Articles:
Vienna: The City that Endures; My Vienna, My Native Cuisine; Salzburg, Austria; Innsbruck, Austria


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Let John know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for South of the Border Wine Country

Hello John – I enjoyed reading your article. I live in La Bufadora and have friends visiting next week, so you have given me some good tips on where to go in our wine country. We have always called Cetto – L.A. (like Los Angeles) Chet-o and it might have been worth mentioning that it is actually Italian in origin. Also, I don't know about when visiting the Valle, but when in town, it is better to have pesos than dollars. Right now the rate is approx. 11.70 for each dollar. Just sayin' and like I said good article!

--- Ella O'Bryan, La Bufadora, Baja, MX

Hi, We here at Country Living Magazine are working on a story about hotels around the US. We would like to feature the Paso Robles Inn. I have to find photos to go along with the story. I was wondering if you could please send me any images of the hotel. This can be anything from the rooms to the food! All images can be submitted low res and if selected I will ask for hi rez later. Also, if you know of any photographers that have photographed the hotel can you please give me the contact info? Thank you so much!

--- Will Morel, Assistant Photo Editor, Country Living Magazine, New York, NY

I am looking forward to my "silver" years, which in my case, will be the years (if fate is good to me) that I will finally be traveling. New Zealand is at the top of the list - I have always been drawn to it.

--- Sandra Mines, Seattle, WA

Yes, was a fun city. Bad wine though.

--- Bo, Portland, OR



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