Fiaker (horse buggy) shuttles visitors through the city in noble splendor
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, Its 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.
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
St. Stephens 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. Stephens 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 award winning vineyard
One of the finest is Napa
Valley trained Fritz Wieningers. Some of the best salads I
tasted in Vienna accompanied the vineyard's wonderful wines. Fritzs
Vienna Blend won this years 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
The most famous pastry shop in town is Demels,
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 Demels before
opening his own shop a few years ago.
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 citys 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.
Vinegar sold like perfume
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 Viennas top chef Helmut Oesterreicher prepares traditional
foods at affordable prices. Dont 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 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
museums 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.
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. Stephens 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
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.
The City that Endures;
My Vienna, My Native Cuisine; Salzburg,