(Yes, there’s more to travel than hotels, airplanes, and airplane lounges; and unlike some other bloggers, I’ll share LGBT attractions of interest I’ve seen from the road.)
It was a gorgeous day in Vienna when we arrived, and we figured we’d wander and explore the neighborhood around our hotel. As we approached the Hofburg Palace, the Habsburgs’ Winter Residence, we learned that not only was it Pride Weekend, but it was Fashion Night Out in Vienna, and the Hofburg was actually serving as the home of a runway show, which was an interesting sight. We didn’t actually go into any of the museums of the Hofburg, but the complex itself was majestic and beautiful.
After we passed through the Hofburg, we encountered Vienna’s “Pride Village.” Most cities have some sort of festival associated with their Pride celebration, where both community groups and corporate sponsors set up booths, and, in most cities but New York, drinks are sold. Usually this is a one, or maybe two, day affair on the day of or before the parade. In Vienna, though, the Pride Village goes the whole week leading up to the Regenbogenparade (Rainbow Parade). Literally every gay bar in town had a booth set up with a temporary bar and seating, in addition to community groups and merchants. In the evenings, there was a DJ, and a beach that turned into a mini dance party. Folks came by after work and stayed until closing at around 10pm. It was a really wonderful community-aspect, particularly since it was right outside the Hofburg – the equivalent of Pride being held on the National Mall or on the lawn of Independence Hall for an entire week.
We stayed for a bit, but figured we’d come back over the course of our stay, so continued walking along the Ringstrasse, findin the Burggarten a wonderful park, packed with Viennese sunbathers and picnickers enjoying the beautiful weather. The park is known for its statutes of Mozart and Emperor Franz Joseph. We sat for awhile and enjoyed just being there.
From there, we headed to the main shopping area of the Inner Stadt, along two walking streets. Apparently, another part of Fashion Night Out was special late nights at many Viennese clothing stores and some discounts. We browsed, and stopped for a sausage, before reaching Stephansplatz and St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which, as luck would have it, was having choir practice as we walked in. Now, as a Jew who has been to European and Latin American countries, I have been to a lot of cathedrals, and generally can zip out in a minute or two. But there was a certain something added by a live choir singing in Latin, resonating throughout the magnificent space. It was great.
After a mediocre dinner, we headed back to the Pride Village for a drink before getting a much-needed good night’s sleep.
In the morning, after a workout at the Radisson’s gym and breakfast at a wrap place across the street, we headed to Schloss Schonbrunn – the summer palace of the Habsburgs, and one that remains restored as a palace. It was an easy ride on the U-bahn, and was an interesting site. The inside of the Palace itself was pretty meh. If you’ve seen one Palace, you’ve seen them all. But the grounds were gorgeous, with huge gardens and a maze. The day started to get a little gray, so we only wandered a little bit after our interior tour, before heading back into the Inner Stadt.
In the Inner Stadt, we had another mediocre meal, followed by an exploration of the Jewish Museum. I was a little surprised by how small the Jewish Museum was, considering how rich a Jewish history Austria has (or had). Most remarkably, the Museum has one huge room of thousands of cultural and religious objects in a massive glass vault, only a small portion of which are viewable. There are no descriptions, and they’re clearly just being stored temporarily. The museum is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to build a permanent exhibition, which could be amazing given the wealth of treasures in its possession. The most notable happening of our trip to the Jewish Museum, though, was that the key to our bag locker broke off when I was trying to get my backpack and leave, necessitating a wait for building maintenance. Whoops.
That evening, we had one of our better meals in Vienna, which, alas, wasn’t saying much. I think there are good restaurants in Vienna, we just had trouble finding them, or getting into them without reservations. For Friday night, we were able to secure a reservation at Plachutta, a classic, heavily-touristed restaurant in Vienna. Their signature dish is Tafelspitz, a piece of rump steak beef, served in a pot with beef broth, bone marrow, and root vegetables, a potato and onion side, applesauce, and sour cream and chives. Our pictures didn’t come out great, but the pictures on tripadvisor, such as this, are pretty accurate. It was an interesting meal in a white-cloth restaurant, and wasn’t super-pricey, but I’m not quite sure it was worth the hype. After, we had a fun night out on the town, and were able to take advantage of the U-bahn even late at night.
The next day was Pride, so we woke early for a workout, followed by a decent, but expensive (though not as expensive as the Radisson) breakfast at an outdoor café, Café Central, right next to the hotel. Then it was off to the Pride Village, where the Regenbogenparade both kicks off and ends. The parade was one of the best pride parades I’ve ever been, with a range of community groups, corporate sponsors, and political groups participating, starting off with special rainbow painted trams leading it down the Ringstrasse. After an hour or so of watching, we decided to head back to the Radisson to pick up our bags and head to the Hilton. On our walk, we were shocked to find that the end of the parade was immediately followed by a “parade” of street sweepers. Now that’s an efficient cleanup!
After we got to the Hilton, we had a not-very-fancy, but very tasty meal at a great little brewpub/steakhouse, Gmoakeller, which has been there for decades. We wandered around for a bit afterwards, having a disappointing Sacher Torte on the Southeastern portion of the Ringstrasse. Then it was to bed to get ready for an early morning car pickup and drive westward!
There’s a lot more to see and do in Vienna, and I feel like I only scratched the surface. But it’s not a city with a ton of must-sees/must-dos. I’d definitely return, though, and perhaps check out Bratislava, Slovakia, under an hour drive east of Vienna.