Vienna (Day 3 & 4)

Our flight from Dublin to Vienna was at 7 am. While not ideal, it did provide the maximum amount of time in a new city, and so when our alarms woke us up at 4:15, James and I trudged downstairs to be greeted by a tiny Irish man cab driver (he self proclaimed himself a leprechaun) who told us all his travel hacks to fly to Bangkok for $365 (okay, Euros but finding that shortcut on my keyboard was too difficult and the dollars almost matches it right now!).

We arrived at the airport around 5 am, checked our bag (I know, I know, we never check, but carrying ballgowns and tuxedos around has made us compromise a few things), and sat down to a full Irish breakfast. Our plane boarded via the tarmac, so our super early arrival ended up working in our favor, since the time spent at our gate was about five minutes. The trip was painless and quick, and we landed in Vienna around 11 am, picked up our baggage and were on the 11:45 train into the city.

We opted to stay in an AirBnb during Vienna, and I’m really glad we did. The apartment is beautifully light, spacious and perfect for our few day stay in the city. We immediately made our first home cooked meal since we hit the road on December 26, and then spent the rest of the afternoon running errands, grocery shopping and doing a little bit of exploring.

For dinner, I made reservations at Gauthaus Nestroy, which is known in the gluten free world for their gluten free schnitzel. We walked in to a massive cloud of cigarette smoke. I gagged, almost turned around, but made multiple inquiries about a non-smoking section. They had one, but if you were around in the 90s, you remember the “non-smoking” sections of restaurants. It’s a bit of a stretch. I had of course, the gluten free pork schnitzel (James had the same, but not gluten free) as well as a gluten free beer.

When we arrived back at our AirBnb I was notified by Aer Lingus that we were upgraded to Business class and I proceeded to do a happy dance throughout the entire apartment. Pro tip: want to fly business on Aer Lingus? If they have seats open, they offer you the opportunity to bid for them. I put in the lowest bid possible, and because no one else actually bid for these, I scored seats for James and I. (This makes our tickets home about $600 each, vs. the normal $2,500+ you pay for business class).

The following morning we booked a walking tour for 11 am. Learning from our past travel experiences, we decided to take it easy beforehand and relax in the AirBnb before picking up our tickets to the New Year’s Eve ball at Hofburg Palace.

The walking tour was booked through Prime Tours. Our tour guide, Wolfgang, expertly brought us around the city, with stops at the Opera, Crypt, Hofburg palace, Spanish Riding school, Imperial residences and more. Highly, highly recommend as you will learn a significant amount about Viennese culture and history in about 90 minutes. My only complaint was the cold, which is just unavoidable in late December.

Following our tour guide’s recommendation, James and I headed to Cafe Tirolerhof to warm up and for some lunch. I had the Maria Therersia coffee (Viennese coffee with orange liquor and whipped cream) and the farmer’s omelet (hoping to get some vegetables but it was really just frozen carrots and peas!). James had a pot of tea, the apple strudel and sausage. Finally being able to feel our feet again, we headed to St. Stephen’s cathedral to see the inside. St. Stephen’s is beautiful, filled with candles and stained glass windows.

Afterwards, we decided to go to the Albertina museum to check out their Still Film gallery (photographs taken on set during movies from 1901 – 1970s). The museum also happened to have an entire exhibit of pointillism, which I find fascinating technique. This exhibit included pieces from Matisse, Van Gogh, Picasso and many, many more. There are also contemporary galleries, as well as impressionism (of course). It was small enough to conquer in under two hours, and an audio tour would have likely been doable, but we were itching to take a quick rest before our evening at the Spanish Riding School performance.

The Spanish Riding School is definitely something that you will never see anywhere but Vienna. The horses are trained for 5 – 8 years to perform the utmost fantastical and ridiculous steps (prances?!) you will ever witness. They unfortunately don’t allow photographs or videos, so we didn’t capture any footage, but if you’re in the city, it is definitely worth going. We purchased the standing room only seats, and I’m glad we did, because unless you dropped 150+ euros on a first row seat, you stood anyway.

Dublin (Day 1 & 2)

We didn't go into Guinness, but we passed it!
We didn’t go into Guinness, but we passed it!

Here is what I have learned about Dublin:

  • They are incredibly proud of earning their Independence from England
  • Beer is really everywhere
  • Donuts are the new cupcakes

Okay, and plenty more too, but I think those nicely sum up our two days in Ireland’s capital city.

To start off our whirlwind trip of Dublin, I booked James and I a walking tour for our first activity. We landed on Tuesday at 8:30 am, arrived at the hotel by 10 am and proceeded to take a two hour nap. Once again, we were on a plane with a SCREAMING toddler who did not at any point take a breath of air or pass out from the exertion of full on temper tantrum in the six hours we flew. It was only ear plugs, noise canceling headphones and Beach Houses’ Depression Cherry that made a few light hours of sleep possible.

James was not into taking this picture, but it is the only proof of his massive burger.
James was not into taking this picture, but it is the only proof of his massive burger.

Following our nap, we made our way to Avoca, a store filled with wool sweaters, blankets and scarves, as well as a quaint cafe. We headed to eat first. I had Avoca’s take on the Irish breakfast (scrambled eggs, leek pork sausage, bacon, roasted tomato and roasted mushrooms). It was amazing. James ordered a massive burger with Irish cheddar, cabbage and an aioli. We then proceeded to purchase our weight in sweaters, scarves and blankets (oops!) before heading on our walking tour.

We booked the tour with Sandemans New Dublin  and were taken on a three hour trek of the city – starting with Dublin Castle, weaving our way through the temple bar (an area, not an actual place, though plenty of places call themselves that because tourist trap), Trinity College and more. We learned a significant amount about Irish history, including Viking rule for a few hundred years, English rule for more than 700 years and eventually the rebellion that brought about Ireland’s independence – the Easter Rebellion of 1916 (it’s also the 100 year anniversary). The 1916 rebellion was a failure but considered the starting point of Ireland’s path to independent in the early 1920s.

James outside the Dublin Castle.
James outside the Dublin Castle.

Midway through the tour, we stopped at House of Cha, a tea and coffee shop, for a black spicy chai (recommend!). A few folks on the tour opted to drink a Guinness in fifteen minutes instead.

For dinner that evening James and I made reservations at Gallagher Boxty, a potato inspired restaurant. The majority of the menu is gluten free – and it’s a good thing they list allergens everywhere because I would have been super skeptical otherwise! James and I split potato pancakes with syrup and bacon. For dinner I had steak wrapped in a potato pancake with a cream sauce. James had potato dumplings. We split vanilla ice cream with toasted almonds and honey figs for dessert.

Because I’m in Europe, and I have a plethora of delicious wine available, I picked up a bottle of pinot grigio rose to enjoy back at the hotel room. Being crafty, I stored said one in the window sill to keep it chilled. The maid luckily left it there!

The following morning we made our way to Kilmainham Gaol, the famous jail that housed many of the political rebels from 1916 (and then subsequent rebellions until Ireland was granted freedom). We opted to walk versus taking one of the city’s buses, which proved to be an enjoyable adventure. Breakfast however proved to be a bit difficult to track down. Disgusted by the options at my hotel (the usual cold cuts, hard boiled eggs and bread I can’t eat), we stopped at Kaph for lattes. Sadly their only food was pastries, so I ventured on until I found a small grocery store, and to James’ disgust, I proceeded to eat a cold paella in a cup dish. 

For seven euros, Kilmainham Gaol includes a guided tour, and we learned about how the jail was a reformist prison (similar to Eastern State Penitentiary in Pennsylvania) in which prisoners were subjected to complete silence and solitary confinement. As I mentioned, this is the jail with the political rebels, but the majority of the prisoners committed petty crimes, or more “run of the mill” crimes such as assault, murder, etc. During the potato famine, the jail housed more than 9,000 inmates over the course of one year, vastly over capacity. 

The tour lasts about an hour, and there is a well thought out museum that follows, allowing you to view some of the prisoner artifacts, as well as letters, jewelry and clothing from the rebels. Definitely worth a visit, and is conveniently across the street from the National Museum of Modern Art (free but we had plans so weren’t able to go).

Our next stop was Hatch & Sons, an Irish bakery and cafe that boasted to have some solid Irish food (including a very good Irish breakfast). I ordered beef stew and a flourless almond and orange cake. James had smoked salmon on brown bread and a piece of carrot cake. Full to the brim, we headed upstairs to The Little Museum of Dublin which also includes a guided tour of a few rooms filled with Irish artifacts from 1900s – 1990s. It was most definitely a nice summary of Irish history (both political and pop culture), though at this point we didn’t want to hear one more peep about the 1916 rebellion. So we headed over to the National Museum of Ireland Archaeology. Here is where the bog people live (persons who had the unfortunate event of being killed and then thrown into a peet bog, preserving them for thousands of years). I of course found this fascinating while James could have probably gone without seeing this exhibit.

We meandered through the streets of Dublin back to tour hotel, popping into shops and finalizing our journey by a trip to a gourmet grocery store to pick up some goodies one can only find here. The gluten free biscuits are my jam (pun intended?). We cozied up at the hotel in what looks like an Irish grandmother’s living room for a few hours before our dinner at the Pig’s Ear.

The Pig’s Ear is fabulous. Michelin star rated (which doesn’t always mean delicious, but this time it did). The restaurant was cozy, made up of multiple floors and covered with stuffed bunnies and statues of pigs (don’t worry, not stuffed). I had celeriac soup to start, with salmon and cauliflower and a buttermilk custard. James had a lobster crab salad to start, Shepard’s pie made from venison and cheesecake in a jar.  I sadly was glutenized – it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault, it was definitely my own and I should have been more wary of something, but sometimes I play chicken with my stomach. And even this didn’t sour my overall opinion of the restaurant. That’s how good it is. I highly recommend it – reservations definitely required!

The remainder of the evening we spent packing our suitcases and preparing for our 4:15 am wake up call.