Vienna Austria: A True Tale of Express Finesse

Beyond its tumultuous past (if you don’t know, Austria is renowned as Adolf Hitler’s home), Vienna offers so much beauty, history, art, and some of the best d**n Christmas markets in Europe. 

This trip was wild—in the best of ways. Planned out in just a few days with one of my closest childhood friends, Adekemi, the mission was to attend the opening ceremony of my professor, Eli Reed’s, photo exhibit on the Jeju Haenyeo Female Divers of South Korea, hosted by the Korea Kulturhaus in Vienna.

Here’s Eli; shaking hands with collaborators and attendees following his talk and exhibit launch at the Korea Kulturhaus.

(*Note: Eli Reed is a world renowned photojournalist, Pulitzer prize nominee, resident Magnum photographer whose work you’ve definitely seen; i.e. Tupac Shakur, Janet Jackson, expressly the Poetic Justice film cover, and so much more  exhibit, on the #jeju #haenyeo #womendivers held at #vienna’s #koreakulturhaus . I was blessed to be a part of and witness this experience, firsthand. In addition to assisting, and seeing one of my professors and mentors (shout out to #dahlby and Dr. Mc) in action, I got an adventure. Thank you Adekemi, Eli, Choi, Elizabeth, George (my new bff), Arif, Mi-Ja and every member of the Korea Kulturhaus family.

The Run-Down

Up next is a breakdown of what my days (there’s a time change so I left the states Wednesday, arriving in Austria of Thursday), looked like.

**Note: Whenever you see the “∆” symbol, this signifies a key FYI tidbit.

Thursday

*All things through Christ who strengthens me.*

Those were the words I repeated over and over in my head, as I recall how real the struggle of flying standby can be. Yet, the rewards are so sweet.

Basically, it was touch and go when my Austin-Detroit flight went from 82 open seats to none. Feeling slightly skressed, I moseyed over to the desk to chat with two kind flight attendants to discuss options, got rerouted through my hometown of Cincinnati, OH just to then be told I “might get sent back by Paris.” (All you need to know is that some major drama went down related to my name and how it appears in the airline’s system, which doesn’t need to be revisited in its entirety. Just know some flight attendants were concerned, with one warning that Paris’ TSA might not let me through because my boarding pass displayed my first and middle names, flipped.)

Needless to say, when I landed for my final layover in Paris, I was HYPE. Kinda feeling myself. (BECAUSE I MADE IT! [BLEEP] I MADE IT!*Drake voice* So much so that I strolled through customs listening to Jay-Z and pre-Trump Kanye’s “N*ggas in Paris”. 

From there I transferred to the Vienna flight. (Note: Europe has GREAT deals for flying between countries. I’d recommend checking out the airline, Level and for sure looking into Vueling.com for deals. (Ryan Air used to be the plug before all of the racist incidents *sigh*) My flight to Vienna was $77.11. If that price seems a bit steep to anyone, keep in mind that this ticket was purchased very last minute, so likely it’d be more affordable with better planning.

Sooo, about Vienna.

Travel to and within the city is super affordable! From the airport, you have the option of traveling to by city center by taxi (Uber), train or bus. In terms of train, you have three options: the CAT (City Airport Train), the S7, and the ÖBB railjet train. I’d recommend the latter as it takes 15 mins to get from the airport to the city and the ticket is 4-5 Euros.

All trains are located about a five minute walk away from the the Check-In hall and the baggage claims area. After you collect your luggage, just follow the train signs. The train station and airport are connected so the entire stroll is indoors.

Should you get lost while trying to learn the ropes (no shade, I did), Uber isn’t too expensive. (I actually got one from Bregenz to the hotel for 11 Euros. Adekemi, on the other hand, was successful with the ÖBB railjet and attests to its efficiency.) Speaking of the hotel, I decided to splurge a little bit both because this was my first time in the city and since I’d be spending my first 18 hours alone. I really mean a little bit because there were deals being offered on Expedia. The selection was Le Meridien which is completely gorgeous and within walking distance of most, if not all, the major sites. Check-in was a cinch. My room wasn’t ready so I started exploring.

A snapshot of traditional Hungarian, goulash. Photo courtesy of Spend Time With Pennies.

That night I stayed in, worked on a final (yes, I had a final due for school), and ordered goulash— a traditional Hungarian stew that typically consists of meat, noodles, vegetables (especially potatoes), paprika, and other spices. 

Friday

The majority of this day was spent walking along the Viennese roads just seeing what the city had to offer, peering into shops, all while avoiding using GPS. I wanted to familiarize myself with surroundings. Given that everything was no more than 15 mins (walking) from the hotel, I wasn’t too worried. Activities included: 

  • Sitting in one of the nicest Apple Stores I’ve seen, and the FIRST EVER in Austria! I bestow this praise mainly because this one has large bay windows with humungous sills where customers are encouraged to sit while they charge up #fancy. At this particular moment in time, my phone was on 2% and I didn’t want to head back to the hotel. So, I sat and charged completely for about 2 hours. While here, I bought an all-in-one adapter that allows me to charge 2 phones, and one laptop all at once. AMAZING investment for all future Euro-Trips.
  • Bought a street ticket to a show
  • Linked with Professor Eli at Akaiko Sushi. Now, a funny thing happened here…

Eli’s flight was delayed from London. So, while we were initially set to meet for lunch, we rescheduled for dinner. I received instructions at 6:24pm to meet him and the team at a restaurant that was 12mins away walking, at 7:00pm, and that he’d be turning off his phone once he left where he was staying. Now I’m all for- and capable of- a quick glam-up, but needed to ensure I was ready to go straight from dinner to the show I’d bought a ticket for earlier in the day. Needless to say, I arrived a bit after 7.

Akakiko, Sushi & Asian Fusion, is the restaurant where I met Eli and company for dinner, is located at Rotenturmstrasse 6 — inner city, Vienna. Photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.

I walk into the restaurant and do a quick scan not seeing Eli in any of the cozy, first-floor seating sections. I head upstairs to the second level, and still don’t find him. (∆ Mind you, by this point it’s been feeling like folks have been staring all day, and while I’d like to think it’s my fashion catching their eye, I couldn’t help but notice there weren’t a ton of black folks around.)

So, I go inside one more time and after no success, decide to step outside and attempt calling him. His phone goes straight to voicemail, turned off as he’d said it would be. Fed up with the cold I head inside one more time to conduct some investigative journalism and ask around to determine if anyone’s seen Eli– who, at over six feet tall is hard to miss. As I turn to go up the stairs, descending them is a fly lady, dressed in a super cute blue blazer, smiling at me. I start to ask if she’s seen any other black person in the restaurant, motioning around my face to show skin color. We get our wires crossed and— bless her heart— she tells me I’m beautiful. Thanking her, I immediately follow up by re-asking my original question. She points upstairs and says: “One”.

Teeming with hope I head upstairs and repeat this process with a young waiter. With the language barrier, I tell him I’m looking for a black guy who’s about 6’3. We determine there’s only one in one of the back rooms (AKA the VIP area I didn’t see when I’d first gone up there). He escorts me back and immediately I see Eli with an entire crew!

While greeting everyone and relaying that I’d been looking for them for the past twenty minutes, I move to sit in the only open seat but am told it’s reserved for the owner of the restaurant. No worries, though. Everyone in the party graciously adjusted to make space. They welcomed me with open arms and immediately encouraged me to indulge in the assortment of appetizers on the table and to order anything I wanted.

The conversation and energy was great, despite the fact that I speak ZERO Korean.

About ten minutes later the owner rejoins the table and the two of us are introduced. To everyone’s surprise, we both simultaneously burst out laughing. Turns out the owner was the woman in blue I’d spoken with earlier. She translated our initial encounter to the table, and it wasn’t long before everyone was rolling.

Moving right along…

I scarfed down some appetizers and then hit the Royal Orchestra Performance at Imperial Hall.

I highly recommend checking out some kind of musical performance while here. After all, Vienna is the home of Mozart and the stage for the groundbreaking musical, The Sound of Music. What was evident with the musicians of the Royal Orchestra is that they genuinely enjoyed playing, and doing so together. (How many times have you seen orchestra members laugh out loud and smile as they play?) In addition to great music, the show was interactive and incorporated opera singers and ballet dancers.

∆ For my fam who tend to run late to functions, JUST DON’T. The maestro of the Royal Orchestra did not come to play. He waited 2 minutes to start until people who were running late and making noise were seated and quietly. Moral of the story: no CP time in Vienna; at least to the performances.

Following the show, I met some cool folks from London, had great conversation and was advised to be “a rule breaker in life.” Sounds good.

Saturday

One less lonely girl; in short, Kemi arrives!

Having estimated how long it’d take Kemi to arrive to Le Meridien from the airport, I set my alarm for 9:00am. Promptly at 9:00am there was *knock knock*. Sitting and catching up was awesome! But our curiosity to see the city and growling stomachs let us know it was time to move it. Below are the things we saw and what we did.

  • Imperial Palace: This is located almost directly across the street from Le Meridien. Here, I taught Kemi the basics to taking a dope photo for the gram *wipes proud tear*
  • Schmetterling Haus: This literally translates into Butterfly House and was so colorful and unexpected amid the gray stones and structures in the heart of the city. If you venture inside, you can see hundreds of free flying butterflies up close and personal throughout the warm, tropical setting. Right next door is the Palmenhuas, a gorgeous cafe with the same high ceilings and large glass windows also decked out with tropical plants and a nice atmosphere. We popped into the latter, although we didn’t stay to eat. The general online consensus is that it has a great atmosphere and good food, but is a bit pricey. 

∆ Speaking of “price”, here are a few tips regarding money and the Schmetterling Haus

1. If you want to visit Schmetterling, ensure you have change and/or small bills. We, and at least three other parties, were asked for smaller bills when presented 20 €. 

2. If you’re contemplating waiting to exchange money once you arrive to Europe or Vienna, don’t. Complete the exchange while in the states. If you need an incentive, check with your personal bank as many offer free exchanges if you have an account with them.

  • At La Cure Gourmande Vienna we tasted delicious chocolate-filled biscuits, made in-house. (Vienna is known for its sweets!) This place had taffy, cookies, chocolate— Willy Wonka would be proud.
  • St. Stephen’s Cathedral: While perusing the Christmas Market of St. Stephen’s square, we ran into two Americans girls (shout out Portland and San Diego) who currently teach in Madrid. Did you know, even prior to Christmas, kids in Madrid get a 4 day holiday?
  • Lunch at Hungry Man: While the food was alright— and there are options for meat lovers and Vegans alike— we waited no less than 45 minutes for our food. On the plus side, the atmosphere is super cute, the people are nice, and they make their own bread in house.
  • Albertinaplatz: The heart of the city, here you can take in some of Vienna’s most striking buildings and structures, including: the Monument Against War and Fascism, which commemorates the nation’s dark years and those killed when Austria came under Nazi rule; Hotel Sacher; the Opera House; the Albertina Museum, one of several former palaces within the square that previously belonged to royals but now serve as museums or government buildings.

The rest of the day, we adventured to shops in the city located along the famous pedestrian strip, Kaerntnerstrasse Seriously, it was busy and beautiful with the Christmas market decorations on full display. #iGiveEuropeThat #BallerChristmasMarkets

And what’s a trip without a full blown photoshoot? We commandeered the steps of the Albertina for about 20 minutes— no big deal.

Immediately following, we rushed off to meet my crew from Friday’s dinner at Ribs of Vienna. ∆ Only upon arrival did we learn how fancy this place is. The structure and layout of the establishment is amazing. To enter you descend down a staircase, and are underground. Reservations are required well in advance (typically weeks out). And because we stuck out as the only chocolate chips in the joint, we repeated my same process from Friday: look for and inquire after the only other Black person. Eli and company were back in the cut, in a VIP section!

Pictured is just one level of the popular restaurant Viennese restaurant, Ribs of Vienna. Photo courtesy of the venue’s website.

∆ For all of my pork lovers, this place will be your paradise. Remember though: make reservations well in advance! The person Kemi and I originally engaged with while our hunt for Eli through the restaurant— who we later learned was either the head chef or manager— informed us that there was no availability for at least two weeks.

Post Ribs of Vienna and the great company, we enjoyed non-alchoholic punch and flu wien (hot wine) from one of the Christmas market street vendors. Enjoying the sites and lights of the Goldenes Quartier, we made our way back to Le Meridien— specifically the hotel’s attached restaurant, Le Moet. Ya’ll, it was here that discovered some DEE-LISH dessert, Burned Chocolate and Sweet + Sour Spring Rolls. Yum.

Photos courtesy of Le Meridien’s website.

∆ Le Moet, and Vienna in general, offers and assortment of wine and beers. There are even non-alcoholic drinks, like Null Komma Josef. (If you enjoy beer, NKJ is worth a try.)

We went upstairs with the full intention of allowing me to work on my final. While Kemi decided to take a nap, a few solid hours were invested in this endeavor. However, when she popped up at 11:00pm saying she wanted to go out, guess what the move was?

Yep! We googled the top clubs (specifically searching for R&B and Hip-Hop), and the below are the names and our notes around what we discovered:

  • Floyd’s: no longer exists
  • Sass: totally Techno
  • Goodmann’s: in a sketchy part of town (creeped us out)
  • Danzon: the best place to be. This place was poppin’. Dope music provided by @DJ_Reynier_iglesias Acevedo. He played a nice combination of Hip-Hop and Latin music. Cost of entry was 10 €, and worth it. Plus we met good people, George and Arif, who helped make the rest of our trip even more memorable. 

Sunday

We scheduled a FREE Vienna walking tour for 10:30am, but missed it. Luckily we were permitted to reschedule for 2:30PM.We passed the time with croissants at a bakery shop, and then hit the Kunst Museum. This impressive host of art and history houses exhibits on Egypt, Greece ad Rome, and is massive. (It’s a photoshoot) Honestly, you might need a few days to explore everything the museum has to offer. ∆ Recommendations: Buy tickets online in advance, and be sure to apply that student discount if possible!

Housed right next door to the Kunst Museum was another Christmas market, where we discovered napkins with maps of all of Vienna’s Christmas markets

After the Kunst we headed to the Monument Against War and Fascism— the meeting place for the walking tour. Again it’s free, and lead by Vienna natives who know the city in and out, and are certified tour guides. ∆ Though it lasted for 2 hours, it was super informative and rather intimate (about 20 people or less, from countries like Canada, Australia, UK and Poland.) Learn more here.

If you’re not so much into tours, it’s all good! We passed several sites we’d come across during out independent explorations. However, without the help of Ingrid (our Viennese guide), we would’ve never learned about the Blue Danube Waltz, Sisi, Sacher Cake, or the cities architecture.

∆ Following the tour we went to the Christmas Market in front of St. Stephan’s Cathedral to enjoy hot, German Christmas punch served in seasonal mugs. (Some are in the shape of stockings, others Santa Claus, gingerbread cookies— they make awesome souvenirs and gifts.)

Enter the Authentic Experience

After St. Stephan’s, we linked with George and Arif whom we met at Danzon (da club). More specifically, they came and found us in a gift shop where Kemi was looking for a postcard and I was crouched on a mannequin display charging my phone. #DoBetterThanMe. They took us to enjoy a traditional Austrian meal of Wienershnitzel. Wondering what that is ? I was too! Wienershnitzel is a type of schnitzel made of a thin, breaded, pan-fried veal cutlet, or baby cow. ∆ Fun fact: “Wienerschnitzel” is actually a geographically protected term in Germany and Austria and can only be made with veal, though traditional German schnitzel is typically made with pork.

Kemi and I trying veal for the first time. Photo courtesy of George.

It was cool, but just a huge serving. They recommended we check out Puerstner for “the best”, but both locations were packed with people. From there the gents introduced us to another, larger Christmas market located next to the mayor’s office

*cough cough, mayor’s palace* and the Vienna theater. Unlike any of the other markets, this one boasted an incredible and unique display of lights (a tree with hearts, a ferris wheel, rides, etc.) But the best part of all of was, hands down, ICE SKATING!!! 

∆ Ice skating in Vienna + a Christmas market = pure magic.

I managed to not fall (Jesus was looking out), and once the four of us were hungry from going around the maze, Arif led us back to the market to enjoy more punsch (punch) and lahgos— Hungarian fried bread doused in garlic. After that, we called it a night.

Monday

Finally the time had come to conclude our stay at Le Meridien. The timeframe on the discount had run out; plus we desired lodgings closer to the main event— Eli’s exhibit on the JeJu Hanyeo women divers, hosted in the Korea Kulturhaus. 

In all honesty, most of the day was spent finessing my final. After switching to the Hilton Vienna we checked out Wien Mitte (the mall) located directly across the street from our new spot. Having packed light we needed to pick up appropriate outfits for the exhibit; changed and then caught an Uber to the kulturhaus which is located in the business district. 

∆ The business district is home to Vienna’s largest park, which makes navigating at night difficult.

After a bit of wandering, and running into another attendee who was also lost in the dark, we found the venue. Eli killed his presentation, and thoroughly impressed everyone with his amazing work.

From there, we caught an Uber back to Vienna to hit up the Sacher Hotel, home of the famous Sacher Cake and melange. No joke, the cake is hyped. (If you like flavors of rich-chocolate and apricot, you’ll be fan.) Even if that doesn’t sound appetizing, I’d highly recommend going if only to experience the atmosphere and classic interior deco. It’s historically welcomed visitors who serve as politicians, artists, leaders and in entertainment.

My expression after tasting Sacher Cake.

Our host for the night, George, then recommended going to the restaurant “Marrakesh” known for it’s authentic Moroccan dishes, sheesha, and tea. To wrap up the night and the trip, we kicked it with G, learning about Russian rap, Armenian and Turkish music, and how to play a popular, Russian game called “The Fool”.

As I hope is evident, Vienna was jam-packed with amazing experiences, opportunities, food and people. It’s truly an incredible city, and I can’t wait to check it out again– this time during warmer months.

Things to Know

  • AirBNBs are super inexpensive! Just don’t wait to book and select a place that is central. Doing so will enable you to cut down on transportation costs since you can walk because the major monuments, restaurants, etc are easily accessible.
  • While visiting in the winter makes for a fabulous experience, the only downside is it gets cold with a heavy windchill. The upside: the Christmas markets. So if you visit during the winter months, make sure your wardrobe is right.
  • There’s soooo much to do! Do your research and make a plan of the ground you’d like to cover. This is especially true if you’re a fan of art or history because there are 150 museums in the city.
  • The free walking tour is helpful to take in the beginning of your trip. We did this in reverse and found it lays a good foundation around what to see and establishing your bearings of the city.

My goals for the next go’ round

  • The Ferris Wheel, which is one of the oldest in the world
  • Arif’s bar! Yes, our new pal owns a spot. First round on him?

Until next time, Vienna!

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