Vienna (Day 5 – New Year’s Eve)

The whole reason for our trip was here! New Year’s Eve. We started the day by visiting the Belvedere, an art museum that is made up of multiple palaces in the city. The palaces were built in the 1700s and were the summer residences of Prince Eugene of Savoy (late 17th century, early 18th century). This is also the home of Gustav Klimt’s famous “The Kiss.”

This isn't the original (the have a dedicated selfie room)
This isn’t the original (the have a dedicated selfie room)

We arrived around 10 am and started in the Upper Belvedere. Unlike a lot of museums we have been to, these were a series of bite size exhibits, which made it quite enjoyable to walk through and prevented “museum fatigue.” We made our way through many Klimts, as well as plenty of impressionist pieces and of course your typical medieval art. The palace is breathtaking and we were not disappointed!

These were exercise balls covered in VELVET!
These were exercise balls covered in VELVET!

Following, we headed to the museum cafe in the Upper Belvedere and were pleasantly surprised by how tasty the salmon prosecco risotto was. It was a good thing we did the Upper gallery first because by the time we left two hours later, it was jam packed. We headed over to the Lower Belvedere, which houses temporary exhibits. Currently, Hubert Scheibl’s exhibit “Fly” is up in the Orangery. I’m not alway a huge fan of modern art, but this exhibit was breathtaking. Massive pieces with thoughtful color and techniques used throughout. I highly recommend checking the artist out, and if you have a change to see the exhibit (in Vienna or wherever it goes next), definitely do so!

The final stop of the museum was the Winter Palace, which is about a 15 minute walk from the Upper and Lower Belvedere museums. Here we walked through an exhibit featuring work from the sculptor Johann Pinsel. Pinsel worked in wood and produced pieces during the Baroque period for churches. Up until very recently, art historians did not even know his name and can only guess his approximate birth/death years as limited information exists.

Our final stop before heading back to the AirBnb was SPAR gourmet, a Whole Foods-esque type grocery store, to stock up on chocolates and other goodies you can only find in Austria/Germany. At the AirBnb we packed, made dinner and finally started getting ready for the Silvester Ball.

The Silvester Ball was absolutely magical. The people watching is superb, and the Hofburg Palace is opened up to attendees to roam. Each room held a different activity or musical performance. There was a DJ in the Disco room, a blues band in the Lounge, performances throughout (ballet, singing, dancing) and of course, a ballroom to dance the evening away.

To start, we gathered around the grand staircase and enjoyed glasses of champagne (I did, James simply held my second one for me!). The staircase opens with a ballet/dance performance, and then everyone walks up to where they spend the rest of the evening.

We roamed around for the first 45 minutes or so, taking in performances, listening to music, and watching partners do the Austrian Waltz. The Austrians are so serious about their waltz that you can actually be asked to stop dancing if you can’t do it incorrectly! We luckily avoided that, though we used the massive crowds to help hide our horribleness.

The rest of the evening we spent on the ball room floor, dancing, people watching and counting down to midnight. At the stroke of 12, silver streamers came flowing down from the ceiling and the bell of St. Stephen’s cathedral is broadcasted indoors. It was an incredibly unique and wonderful experience, and I am so glad that we were able to make this happen. I told James it was on my bucket list, but now I might have to convince him we go back a few more times in our lifetime.

Happy New Year!

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.