Some of the best and easiest guides to follow when traveling come from Rick Steves. He hits you with the highlights, opens the door to a few out of the way places, and doesn’t waste any of your time.
Beyond his library of books, Steves also has a tour company to guide you through some of his favorite places. My parents took a Rick Steves tour of eastern Europe and my mother has been sharing some of her insights along the way.
I awoke early (like 0230 early) to the promise of a beautiful day and that it was. Sunny with a nice breeze. We spent some time going over our plans for the time here and decided to confirm our train/ boat tour on the Danube. The gal at the front desk called and arranged our tickets so we avoided an excursion to the train station. We can just use the trusty self serve machines to pick up our tickets.
We headed out to follow the Rick Steves walking tour of Vienna. The starting point was the Opera House. We were certain we had a rough idea where it was and headed out for the day trusting our instincts and not the map. We came upon St. Stephen’s Cathedral and decided to “do it now”.
The cathedral is known for its 450 foot south tower, it’s colourful roof and it’s role in putting Vienna on the map in the 13th and 14th century. It is a wonderful structure and will be even more so when they complete the work of restoring the dirty grimy exterior. There are reportedly stunning views if you tackle the 343 steps up the tightly wound spiral staircase- we unanimously gave it a miss.
We continued our quest to find the Opera House but instead stumbled upon Hofburg Palace. It was due up later in the tour but we decided to “do it now”. This was the first and consistent winter residence of the Hapsburg rulers for 600 years from the 13th century until 1918. The vast complex is now owned by the state and is home to many government offices including the President of Austria and several important museums and the world renowned Lipizzaner horses.
After we wandered the various courtyards, it was time for our first apple strudel. It was delicious as was the perfectly brewed tea. We toured the Hofburg Imperial Apartments including the porcelain and silver collection, the Sisi Museum tracing the life of Empress Elisabeth the wife of Franz Josef and the apartments themselves.
The story of Sisis reminded me somewhat of Princess Diana. I was most impressed with the collection of various porcelain dishes. They had themselves some glorious plates to eat from! The audio guide was very informative, not too long winded and is included in the 12.50E admission.
When we exited the tour we were of course not in the same spot as when we entered and we’re still on our quest for the Opera. Our tour companion took out the map, tried in vain to explain to me exactly where we were and my husband asked an employee – we were finally on our way to the Opera a mere 10 minute walk away.
We found the Opera House (unfortunately no tours offered today) and the door where we will enter later to buy standing room tickets for tonight’s performance of the Barber of Seville. There is quite a process to follow when buying these tickets. We followed the advice offered here.
We were rewarded with a great spot reserved our place with a scarf while we went for drinks and a canapé. The interior of the building and the performance hall are spectacular.
The opera had an impressive set and we had individual screens which translated the singing. Although we left at intermission (one and a half hours of standing) we were all glad to have had the experience but I have to say I am not likely to become a fan of opera.
We headed across the way to the Sacher Cafe for a light supper and the famous Sachertorte. It is basically dry chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam and chocolate icing served with whipped cream.
A wonderful first day in Vienna!