We’re just over half way through out time in Vienna. And it has been magnificent. We’ve been able to see and do some of the wonderful tourist activities such as museums, but for us, that is not the main draw of Vienna. Those things are all great, but what makes us love Vienna so much is simply the way life feels here. The city is set up for Gemütlichkeit. You may recognize that word from the title of our blog, A World and Gemütlichkeit, and it was being here two years ago that (re)introduced us to the term and reminded us of the importance of the concept. Gemütlichkeit doesn’t have a direct translation but means, roughly, comfortableness or friendlyness or unhurriedness. To me, it means enjoyment of life, taking time to enjoy the good things that we always have available to us but that we often neglect. So while we’ve been here we’ve been going often to cafes, taking lovely hikes through the forested hills that surround the city, drinking incredible and cheap wine, and generally enjoying life.
Most days we spend the morning in our apartment, working, reading, or studying, and then head out after lunch for some adventure. Sometime just a lovely cafe, sometime the opera, sometimes a museum or a hike.
Our time here started with a wander from our apartment into the center to enjoy one of our favorite Austrian treats, prosecco mit Aperol, at the Kunsthallencafe. (For more on Aperol, see Bowen’s blog here and here.) I had set a goal for us not to use any public transportation until after our first weekend so that we would have to get out and walk the streets. So our second day we walked the nearly three miles up to the Brunnenmarkt market in the 16th district, which was lovely. And we bought a lot of cheap and delicious produce, cheese, dry goods and chicken and walked it back. Which was … uncomfortable. I didn’t get sensation back on the tip of one of my fingers for about two days after carrying heavy plastic bags.
The first weekend we spent wandering and sampling some classics, including our first of many visits to Aida Cafe for Sachertorte and a visit to Zwölfapostelkeller for wine and liptauerbrot. On the first Monday we explored the city a bit on the free (for the first hour) City Bikes that are stationed all over the city.
The next day we went on our first hike, Stadtwanderweg 3. The city has a set of 15 hikes in and around the city, 11 of which are short hikes in scenic areas, two of which traverse the city and two of which are 5-6 days trips around the city (seriously). Each of course is well maintained and has lovely cafes along it to refuel weary walkers. And each is served by public transit. Gemütlichkeit!! This hike took us through the western hills through a couple of vineyards, but mostly through forests and meadows.
The next day I went to the Opera. Opera is a big deal in Vienna. In fact, my understanding is that there is a general belief that every Wiener (person from Vienna, or Wien in German) has a certain right to access opera and other elements of culture. Thus, while there are fancy seats that cost 185 euro, there are are seats for about 11 euro, and perhaps most impressively, standing tickets (stehplatz) for 3-4 euro. That’s right, anyone with 3 euro and some extra time to wait in line at the Stehplatzkasse can see the some of the world’s best opera. By comparison, the New York Met has standing tickets as well, but they cost $17-40. So to finish out our first week in Vienna, I waited in line for an hour and a half, paid 3 euro and then stood through four and a half hours of Wagner’s Die Walküre. And it was awesome. I don’t generally like opera all that much, but this was fantastic.
On the one weekaversary of being in Vienna we headed to see the Klimt and other great art at the Belvedere. The Belvedere not only has great art, it has lovely gardens and is only about a half mile from our apartment, and recently we’ve been joining the locals on morning jogs through the gardens. I can guarantee the scenery is much nicer than looking at a TV screen or out the window at the gym. We started the weekend with dinner at Esterhazy Keller, a local institution with great wine, and then found a lovely little festival at the foot of Stephansdom (St. Stephens Cathedral) where we drank fresh raspberry wine and admired beautiful local crafts. The next day we wander through the Prater, the very large park in the city and home to the Reisenrad (a giant Ferris wheel) and the Liliputbahn (a tiny train about which my sister and I made up many songs when we were children) in the Wurstelprater amusement park. The day was intermittently quite rainy, so we escaped into Cafe Prückel, which has become our favorite cafe in the city.
On our second Monday in town Bowen came with me to the Opera, and we saw Carmen stehplatz. This was fun, and the stage direction by Franco Zefirrelli (seriously) was great, but it was much more of a standard opera experience in which the characters sing five times about what they are going to tell you, then sing what they are telling you, and then remind you five times what they just told you, when all they are telling you is that the sun is out today. The next day we headed in the afternoon out to Nußdorf, an area at the edge of town that has many vineyards and heurigen, small and often informal places to drink new wine and eat simple food.
In the remainder of the first half of our time here, we went for a walk at Schloss Schunbrunn, I went back to the Opera for more Wagner (Götterdamerung, even longer than Die Walküre), we headed back to Prückel, we wandered through the second district of the city and we took two more great hikes, one up near the northern vineyards and one across the Danube (and also near vineyards; there are lots of vineyards here).
So in a word… gemütlichkeit. Life is good. The weather has taken a turn for the worse (as I learned yesterday from Rosetta Stone, “Dieses Wetter ist am schlechtesten.”), but we’re still finding ways to enjoy life every day. Stay tuned for more.