I have always wanted to visit Vienna, Austria.
I grew up hearing stories of the six years my Grandparents spent there, imparting to me a fondness for a place I had never even seen. Unfortunately, visiting Vienna during our trip simply wasn't in the cards. Logistically it was too difficult.
Then God had heard my unspoken prayers, and we received a very surprising and flattering invitation:
"My family is going to Vienna next weekend, do you want to come with us?".
I went into cardiac arrest from excitement and we accepted the invitation. Several days later we piled into Anda's car with one other friend, and set off on an estimated 9 hour road trip to Vienna.
In approximately three hours we crossed into Hungary. At the border patrol we pulled out our passports and ID cards to show the guard. He checked each of us, saying our name and looking for us to respond. I waited in that singular weird anticipation I always felt for roll call.
I looked at him in confusion.
Uhhh... then it dawned on me. He thought my middle name was my first and that Chelsea was my last name. I nodded my head and he looked at me like I was an idiot.
Cleared through border control, we made a stop for some nice Hungarian Goulash and proceeded on to Budapest. The plan had been to spend a couple of hours exploring Budapest, however by the time we arrived and actually located the city center, it was dark and we needed to move on to Vienna.
We parked the car and hopped out for a few precious minutes.
Invigorated by the fresh and (unseasonably warm) air, we piled back into the car for our final 3 hour leg to Vienna. We crossed the border into Austria while Jacob and I quietly rejoiced that we had managed to visit three countries in one day.
After a couple extra hours of Three-Stooges-like shenanigans trying to get our bearings in Vienna, Jacob and I finally arrived into our apartment. Our 9 hour drive had morphed into a grueling 13 hours. (Anda deserves to be sainted after that drive.)
In the morning Jacob and I set out early to make the most of our short time in Vienna. It was love at first sight.
The city is beautiful; wide avenues lined with trees and gorgeous old buildings. We quickly stumbled onto one of my favorite places in all of Vienna: Burggarten, a big park flanked by the back of the Hofburg Palace and an enchanting building called the Butterfly House. Inside of the Butterfly House is a botanical garden that is home to thousands of free-flying tropical butterflies. What a magical idea.
It seemed that every time we turned a corner we found another beautiful sight. Climbing up a set of stairs behind Burggarten, we were found ourselves on a museum terrace that overlooked the Opera House and surrounding streets.
In front of the Hofburg Palace
Next we moved on to the Hofburg Palace, where we spent several fascinating hours in the Sisi Museum, one of the best museums I have ever visited. The subject of the Sisi Museum is Empress Elisabeth, married to Franz Joseph I of Austria when she was only 16. Empress Elisabeth was assassinated in 1898 after which she was elevated to legendary celebrity status a la Princess Di. In reality Elisabeth was a reclusive (and rather selfish) woman who probably suffered from acute depression. The museum does an incredible job juxtaposing the person of Elisabeth against the idealized myth she became after her death.
From the Sisi Museum Jacob and I visited the Imperial Apartments in the Hofburg Palace, a gorgeous display of the home life of the Hapsburg family. I spent a good deal of time drooling over the finery.
After our time in the museums we set off into the cold again and passed through the famed Spanish Riding School of the Hofburg Palace.
We quickly found ourselves on a massive shopping street filled with beautiful stores and cafes all decorated for Christmas.
At night the street magically transformed.
We took a corner down the shopping street and peeked into a small church. We were not expecting to encounter this:
As night fell we headed over to City Hall for a true christmas market, Vienna-style. Many European countries feature Christmas Markets, although the tradition is most prevalent in German speaking countries. We visited no less than 6 christmas markets in Vienna, each with a unique theme or style. Every market features little wooden booths that offer gourmet local specialties, mulled wine, pastries, and gifts of all kinds. They are a lot of fun to explore, and even more fun to eat-your-way-through.
The market in front of City Hall was spectacular - mostly because this City Hall is unlike any you have seen before. (It looks like yet another palace.)
Jacob calculated that we had walked about 7 miles that day alone. We met up with Anda in the evening for a stop in a lovely little cafe, then dragged ourselves off to bed - we still had one full day left in Vienna and were determined to make the most of it.
Stay posted for Vienna, day 2!