Two months before our trip . . .
It was a Thursday night in mid September. My roommates and I were eating dinner and sharing 2 euro bottles of wine. As one does in Spain.
At one point, a few of us were trying to figure out how to plan a weekend wine trip to Bordeux, France. So far, all of our options were either too time consuming, or too expensive.
So we started looking for cheap flights elsewhere in Europe. And at one point, one of my roommates said, “There’s a 70 euro flight round trip to Vienna. Early November. We’d leave Friday night, and come back Sunday night.”
In a matter of seconds, everyone grabbed their laptops, opened Iberia’s website, and found the flight.
“On the count of three, book it! One, two, three!” Click!
And that’s how my friends and I decided to go to Vienna, Austria for the weekend in early November!
The last time I’d traveled with a group had been when I studied abroad in Argentina. Since then, I’d been traveling alone, or with whoever I was dating at the time.
As much as I love traveling alone, there’s something magical about traveling with a group of friends, and being strangers in a new city together. Even the most seasoned solo traveler gets lonely on the road sometimes.
There were six of us total: five of us in our teaching program, and a friend of one of the girls in our program who’d been solo backpacking through Europe for the past few months. We had around 48 hours to explore the city.
Without further adieu, here are ten interesting things that happened during those 48 hours in Vienna, Austria.
1. We went the wrong way on the metro.
The cheapest way to get to the airport from our apartment is by metro. There are two ways to get to the airport:
Option A) Take the gray line to the stop “Nuevos Ministerios” to switch to the airport line. This is a pain because the stop is HUGE, and always packed with people either going to the airport, taking the train, or switching metro lines.
Option B) Take the brown line to the stop “Mar de Cristal” and switch to the airport line. I don’t usually take the brown line, nor had I ever been to this stop, but I assumed it was less crowded and much smaller than Nuevos Ministerios.
I asked my roommate if she’d be down for Option B to avoid Nuevos Ministerios, and she agreed. When we got to Mar de Cristal, it was indeed much emptier, especially for a Friday night.
We got on the airport line. Everything was going fine, until we arrived at the stop “Colombia.” That’s when I felt something was off. Was this the right way?
One stop later, we arrived at – guess where… “Proxima parada: Nuevos Ministerios!”
So much for avoiding that stop.
Since the airport line ends at Nuevos Ministerios, we just sat on the metro line and waited until it started taking us in the right direction. Thankfully, we still had plenty of time to spare.
2. We made two Austrian friends in a creepy bar (and one may have given me a new tagline for my blog).
After my friends and I arrived in Vienna, met up with one girl’s friend who was joining us, and put our things away, we headed out to paint the town red.
Or so we thought. It was Friday night in Vienna, and it was dead. Not a soul on the streets. After several minutes of searching, we finally found a bar that was open. It was empty, and it felt creepy, but at least something was open at midnight.
After ordering something to drink and talking for a bit, a few more people walked in the bar. And a few moments later, one guy grabbed a chair and scooted right to my left.
“Hi! Where are you from?” he asked. “I’m Lawrence.” Lawrence started talking to us, and asking where we were from, and all of the typical questions you’d ask a stranger in a bar when you approach them.
A few minutes later, another guy pulled a chair to my right side. “Hi everyone! I’m Lucas,” he said, asking us the same questions, and also giving us travel tips for the weekend.
At one point, I mentioned to Lucas that I have a blog. “Oh, I guess we should worry about what we’re saying,” he joked.
“Don’t! I don’t judge! I need material for my blog!” I countered.
“That should be your tagline,” he said. “I don’t judge – I publish.” I loved it. I’m still debating on whether I should change that to my blog’s new tagline.
Lucas eventually went outside to smoke with a few of my friends, so the rest of us talked with Lawrence, who proceeded to state numerous times how drunk he was. He was also baffled when I told him I’m 29. “I thought you were just 21!” he said in shock. God bless drunk Austrians.
After finishing our beers, my friends and I decided to call it a night. When we were walking back to our Airbnb, however, we heard someone shouting . . . and then realized, to our horror, that it was Lawrence following us.
Thankfully, for only a block or so. He was probably too drunk to keep up with us.
The next day, though, I may have learned why he was following us . . . .
3. A first (and hopefully last) accidental dine and dash.
The next morning, when we were paying for our breakfast at a local café, I asked my friends, “Who paid for the drinks last night? I have change now.” The previous night, I only had a 50 euro bill.
One of my friends looked at me bewildered. “The bartender split the bill. Everyone paid for their own drinks,” the said.
I gasped. My face went white. “Oh no . . .”
And perhaps that was why Lawrence was following us after we’d left the bar.
(For the record, I paid for all of my bills the rest of the weekend. And I had five people reminding me to.)
4. I arrived inappropriately dressed. Again. AND YET I SURVIVED.
I didn’t bring a winter jacket to Spain. My arguments were: one, a winter jacket will take up a lot of space in my luggage; and two, it won’t be that cold in Spain in the winter.
I failed to take into account that I may travel to other places where it is as cold as Michigan in the fall or winter, and yes, I would need a winter jacket.
When my students saw the spring jacket I was going to bring to Vienna, they were extremely concerned. “You’re going to freeze!” they said.
However, I did survive. I brought a hat, wore a scarf, and layered up. While some people said they were so cold they couldn’t feel their fingers, I was fine. I’m from Michigan, after all; unless it’s minus fifteen windchill and a foot of snow outside, I’m not complaining.
5. We walked around the city and took a bunch of selfies and GoPro group photos of whatever looked interesting.
When I asked my friends, colleagues, and students what there was to do in Vienna, I got the same response: a shrug, confused smile, and an “Uh…?”
Vienna doesn’t have a must-see attraction like Paris or London. My students told me that it was a pretty city. And they were right: it was almost too pretty.
One of my friends and I joked that it looked like a movie set, and at any minute, the cardboard was going to fall down at any moment.
As much as I do like seeing the famous sites when I travel, I’d rather aimlessly walk around. There are some famous sites I do want to visit; however, often, I’ve found they’re just good for a cool picture for Instagram.
Taking a picture of the leaning tower of Pisa isn’t going to change your life. It’s not going to make you enlightened, or wiser, or whatever us travelers claim to be searching for.
Instead of going on tours, I’d rather create my own tour, and imagine what it would have been like to live in a palace 200+ years ago, or how the locals’ daily lives are similar or different from my own.
So that’s what we did. We wandered.
(And some of my best travel stories have happened by me aimlessly wandering or getting lost.)
6. We stood close to an hour in line outside in the drizzling rain for a 5+ euro cake slice.
Fun fact: I used to work in a bakery. I loved it, but oddly, I did not eat much cake while I worked there. When you see cake every day, the novelty is gone.
So, when my friends wanted to go to Cafe Sacher to eat sachertorte, I was indifferent. But it must have been good: there was a line outside the door, in the drizzling rain, for close to an hour.
Once we were inside though, the interior alone was worth the wait.
We knew Vienna would be expensive. These cake slices and coffee drinks were expensive. 5 euros for a slice of cake? We hoped it was worth it.
And? It was good. Not the best cake we’d ever tried, and probably not worth 5 euros for the cake, but we got to sit in a fancy café for an hour. I can’t complain.
7. We drank a liter of beer at 4 o’clock in the afternoon (which also happened to be around sunset).
Because what better way is there to try Austrian food at sunset?
The restaurant reminded me of Frankenmuth (a town outside of Detroit known as “Little Bavaria”) and the Oktoberfest we’d attended a few months prior. Except less line dancing, and more coziness and warmth from the brisk fall air.
Due to the fact that I like to make things more complicated than necessary, I requested a vegetarian meal in a restaurant that primarily serves sausage for food. Thankfully, this restaurant did offer vegetarian options for these strange people such as myself. I ended up having a saurkraut concoction, baked in what appeared to be a hybrid of an empanada and a pasty.
I don’t even like saurkraut. But at that point, it had been hours since I’d eaten the bundt cake, and one liter of beer later, I found it delicious.
8. We had another interesting nightlife extravaganza at a bar (which had more foreigners than Austrians).
One of my friends’ friends recommended us a bar. I don’t remember the name, but I remember that, upon hearing the name, I knew there’d be more foreigners than locals. And when we arrived at the bar, such suspicions were confirmed.
The bar was interesting, though. It had several rooms: one main room, one game room with several pool tables, another room with a bunch of picnic tables, and a karaoke room that was blasting 90s hits.
Even though the bar wasn’t one of my favorites that visited, I was glad I went out. I spoke with a group of Italian students completing their PhD. And eventually, I did have a few conversations with some Austrians. The most memorable one went down like this:
“What are you doing here?” I was asked.
“I’m looking for my friends,” I said.
“Oh, I hope you find them!” He gave me a hug, ran off into the crowd, and I never saw him ever again.
Honestly, that conversation pretty much sums up the vibe of the bar. Odd. Perplexing. But I still had fun. And I did end up finding my friends. (Just call me the queen of getting lost in the most fascinating of places.)
9. One of my friends was served guacamole in a syringe during brunch.
I have no words for this.
10. We hung out in a palace where Mozart once gave a private concert.
After brunch, we visited a palace. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside, but here’s what it looked like from the outside:
I wondered what it was like to live in a palace. It’s gorgeous inside, but I wonder if the people who lived there also felt trapped. But a couple centuries prior, were there many other better options? Probably not.
Also, fun fact! Mozart once played a private concert in this palace.
BONUS: I learned that “Gesundheitszentrum” is indeed a word.
In conclusion, here are my thoughts on Vienna from our 48-hour visit:
1. The city looks very picturesque and organized.
2. The nightlife, from what we experienced, was very mild compared to Spanish nightlife.
3. If you don’t know German, you can use English; most people seem to know it. (Though I imagine you’d get points if you know some German.)
4. German words are very, very long.
5. The city, while it wasn’t as big as Madrid, had plenty of things to do for the weekend. It was also very easy to walk around and use the tram.
Would I go back?
I would enjoy visiting Austria again, but I would like to visit the smaller cities and towns. I’d be curious to see how they differ from the picture-perfect buildings in Vienna; in particular, the villages and towns near the mountains.
I’d also like to learn more German to be able to properly pronounce words like Gesundheitszentrum.
And, should I ever visit that bar again, I would like to pay for that beer I had and extend my deepest apologies.
Have you ever been to Austria? Where did you visit? Do you have any recommendations for places to see for any future visits?