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Vienna Takes the Sachertorte

[Vienna, Austria]

Here it is, before you know it – the last day of my trip! How did this day come so quickly! I am by no means ready to go home yet!!! Honestly, I have so quickly gotten used to the public transport and the amazing food and the architecture and real coffee (espresso) and al fresco dining and castles and high speed trains and such. Alas, I had one more day left and I needed to make the most of it rather than wallow in pity.

Our morning started with breakfast at Naschmarkt – this is Vienna’s biggest and most popular market. One side of it is lined with stalls selling all kinds of things – from your basic fruits and veggies and meat to exotic spices, breads, vinegar and other goodies. Vienna’s top chefs like to get their ingredients here. The other side is lined with restaurants, and several of Nina’s favorites in the city have their homes here.

We sat for brunch at Tewa, where I indulged in the Viennese breakfast (croissant, nutella, a bread roll, butter, jam, a soft boiled egg served with juice and coffee), Sarah opted for the Turkish breakfast (feta cheese, fried roll, egg, pickles, olives, tomatoes, butter and jam) while Nina got an omelet. All of these were quite tasty and satisfying without being huge. Portion sizes are so much more reasonable in Europe!

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After breakfast, we headed just a bit out of the center towards the summer residence of the Habsburgs, Shloss Shonbrunn. With 1441 rooms, this palace is grand, but only 40 are open to the public.

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At any rate, I had been to the palace on my first visit in Vienna, and Sarah and Nina were ok with just strolling through the garden, which is free, so that’s what we did. And let me tell you, the garden was a treat that I enjoyed immensely, especially since it wasn’t nearly as colorful and pretty during my December visit some 20 years ago.The gardens stretch behind the palace and lead up to the Gloriette, a monument celebrating an Austrian military victory.

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Half way up to the Gloriette is the Neptune fountain; a path leads directly behind it, and from there you can see the palace itself behind the fountain’s wall of water.

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Neptune fountain

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View from behind Neptune Fountain

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Great effect behind the fountain

We spent a good hour meandering around the gardens and by the time we were done, we were hungry yet again.

And for lunch, we had dessert!!! No visit to Vienna is complete without sampling its signature dessert – the Sachertorte. It’s a dense chocolate cake with apricot jam in the middle and covered in dark chocolate icing. Franz Sacher created it in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich. My guidebook noted the Hotel Sacher and its cafe as the place to get the original Sachertorte, but I had learned during my tour of the Hofburg palace that beloved Austrian queen Sisi had ordered all of her chocolate from Demel. Demel actually bears the title of “Purveyor to the Imperial and Royal Court’ to this day, so it seemed like a good bet to try it there. However, Sarah wanted to get a Sachertorte to bring back to her class in Florence, so we went by Cafe Sacher and I also ended up purchasing the “original” version to bring home for people to try. The torte sold by Cafe Sacher came in a beautiful engraved wooden box – definitely gift-worthy!

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At Demel, where we felt weird walking in with our bags from Cafe Sacher, we tried the Sachertotre but I also indulged in another Viennese classic – the Einspaenner, which is simply espresso with a dollop of whip cream. We call this simply Viennese coffee in Bulgaria, so I am pretty sure I’ve had it before but there is nothing like trying the original! So there I was, with my Einspaenner and my Sachertorte (which I ordered with more whip cream!), getting my sugar fix. I have to say, both the Einspaenner and the Sachertorte were really good, although upon return home I tried the Cafe Sacher version and I liked the chocolate icing on it better. Service at Demel was appalling as well – they were busy, and our waitress seemed to not care about bringing us the bill when we were done. We almost walked out without paying – that’s how bad it was! I have come to expect this at popular places, but it was still a bit disappointing.

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Einspaenner

In the evening, we attended a concert organized in solidarity for the Syrian refugees. This is a hot topic here, of course, as Austria has been very welcoming to the refugees although public opinion seems to be divided about whether to accept them long term and if so, how to integrate them. Austria is about to have elections in a couple of weeks, and this situation is being exploited by all parties involved. Attending this concert moved me immensely, as I witnessed Viennese of all ages and backgrounds band together in solidarity. People brought their kids and picnicked at Heldenplatz, the marvelous square by the Hofburg palace where the concert was taking place. Although the concert itself was free, funds for the refugees were being raised via straight up donations and food and beverage sales. More than 60,000 Viennese were expected to attend, and indeed, Heldenplatz was packed.

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Concert for refugees

It’s too bad we couldn’t stay long, because the highlight of our evening was another Viennese classic – the Opera! But before that – dinner!

One Viennese culinary classic we had not tried yet was the wurst, and there was no better place to remedy that than at the most popular wurst stand in the city, which just so happened to be right next to the Opera. The list of wursts was unpronounceable and therefore intimidating – even I can’t remember the name of the wurst I had, but it had cheese inside and it was delicious! It was served already cut with a piece of bread and mustard on the side, and I finally was able, after many unsuccessful previous attempts, to pair it with this city’s best beer – Ottakringer. The foodie in me, which had somewhat taken a backseat to the power tourist in me, was quite satisfied with today’s tastings. I was now ready for the Opera.

Ahhh, the Vienna Opera. Where else would one want to go to the Opera than the city known for classical music? The idea actually came to me while watching the newest installment of the Mission Impossible movies, in which Tom Cruise is doing all kinds of stunts inside and outside the Vienna Opera. I thought to myself, wait, I am going to Vienna in a couple of months! A quick check of the schedule had me giddy with excitement – The Barber of Seville was playing on my last night there!

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The Opera House

This experience was one of my favorites on this trip and also my favorite opera experience to date, period. We had seats in the balcony but we were in the middle of the row, so we had a very good view of the stage and could see parts of the orchestra.

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The Vienna Opera House is beautiful on the inside!

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A marvelous chandelier sparkled in the middle of the ceiling, and the red velvet covering the seats and walls gave the auditorium a luxurious feel.

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Each seat had a little screen with prompts, and you could choose between German and English since the opera was sung in Italian.

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The opera itself was awesome. I recognized the overture – a vestige of my childhood in Sofia, where the Bulgarian National Radio played classical music on Sundays. I was pleasantly surprised that the opera was very lively and well acted – it felt more like theater with singing than opera. There were plenty of laughs, too – The Barber of Seville is opera buffa, or comic opera. It was a great time and a wonderful way to spend my last night Vienna.

This trip has been so much more amazing than I could have ever expected. I saw some of the greatest art pieces ever created and visited places of great historical significance.I spent time with dear friends, learned a bit of Italian and refreshed my German, and ate some of the best food I’ve ever had. I couldn’t have asked for more, and I am incredibly grateful for my friends who hosted me and for being healthy and physically able to do this. I am positive this will remain one of the best trips I’ve ever been on… but here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

Ciao! Wiedersehen! Till next time and thanks for reading!

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