travel, trip, Vienna

A Short Tour of Vienna

A couple of months ago, as Josh was planning a work trip, he asked if I wanted to meet him somewhere in Europe when he returned. It would be a free stopover for him, and we could use points for me, creating a not-so-expensive and fun adventure.

Now, my inclination was to say no. No, it’s too hard when he’s away and I’m juggling all the kids and work to then extract myself and take off as well. No, it’s too scary to fly by myself. No, there are too many things that could go wrong when two people fly from opposite ends of the world and try to meet up in an airport in Vienna on a Friday morning.

So, I said yes.

I think I surprised both of us when I did. I’m trying very hard, when I’m able, to put aside my fears and worries and ‘but this and that’ attitude and just do it. Whatever it might be.

So last week when I packed up the kids to their various friends, wrote out the long list of carpools, obligations, babysitters and whatnot, and got myself ready, I certainly had those moments of thinking I was crazy. But then I got to the airport, got on the plane and arrived in Vienna to find Josh waiting. Yeah!

And Vienna was just stunning. I’m offering our itinerary here mostly because we’ve been asked about our travels to Cyprus and other trips more times than I can possibly count. So now if anyone wants suggestions to Vienna, it’s a link they’ll get.

Friday, we checked into our adorable and perfectly located hotel called the Hotel Marc Aurel and headed out to explore the city. We first checked to see exactly where the Stadttempel Synagogue was, which was right around the corner from our hotel. Our dinner reservations at a beautiful and delicious restaurant, Alef Alef, were also in place and right next to the shul…a two minute walk from the hotel.

Now it was time to explore. As we were walking through central Vienna, we suddenly heard a huge wave of sound and saw a protest a few blocks away.  Our inclination was to do an about-face and walk the other way, not knowing what the protest might be.  So we took a different route and stumbled upon one of my favorite stores, Lush. We ducked in and asked the staff if they knew what the march was about and they told us it was a demand for policy changes in the face of global climate change. After buying some of my favorite soaps, we made our way to the Hapsburg Palace and managed to smack right into the end of the protest march and thousands of young people (and not so young people) with creative signs and a powerful energy….what a sight they were and what a site it was!

The Hapsburg Palace complex is enormous and we must have spent an hour trying to figure out where in the world to begin! We finally found the right location and bought a ticket which takes you into the silver/china exhibits, the Sisi Museum (named after Empress Elizabeth)  and the Imperial Apartments. The whole tour was under two hours and was well worth the time.

On Shabbat, we had an amazing experience at the beautiful Stadttempel Synagogue. This is the only synagogue to have survived the Holocaust in Vienna. They hired their first cantor in something like 1823 and have had a cantor and choir ever since (with one unique tune written by the composer Franz Schubert and used only in that shul for the past almost 200 years). It was a breathtaking building and I felt privileged to be able to enjoy the magic of the building and the davening for Friday night and Shabbat day. Alef Alef was delicious and we really enjoyed our Friday night meal. After lunch on Shabbat, we had a small walking tour guidebook from the hotel and we took a 3-4 hour walk around the entire city. It’s an incredibly easy-to-navigate place and a very walkable one. Of course, I found a clothing store that I loved and told Josh that we had to remember where it was so that we could go back on Sunday when we had money on us!

Saturday night we went to a Mozart concert. They have concerts all over Vienna in beautiful old buildings. The musicians all wore period dress and there was actually a bit of opera and ballet that accompanied the music. It was quite entertaining and great fun.

Sunday was our big sightseeing day. We started at Freud’s house, which is unfortunately being renovated. So the exhibit was nearby, but wasn’t as interesting as it would be if we were able to see Freud’s actual house and therapy rooms. From there, we went to the Jewish Museum which is actually two museums in two locations. One tells the much older history of the Jewish life in Vienna from the 1400s and has an incredible excavated synagogue from that time period. The other is about the Holocaust and life for the Jews since that time period. We went by the Vienna Opera as well (of course) but they said that you couldn’t pre-order tickets for their tour. You had to stand in line (at least an hour before the tour) and hope to get a spot. We were sad about that, but decided not to wait.

Ancient synagogue underground, Vienna

From there, we walked across the Danube to the kosher restaurants (and there are actually quite a few for a religious population of 1000!). None of it is far away, so we walked to the kosher sushi restaurant called Mea Shearim. We were so excited to find a modern, elegant sushi place that we over-ordered and waddled back across the Danube afterwards to Belvedere Palace. This palace has a lower and upper section and stunning grounds. It’s enormous and you could spend quite a lot of time enjoying and getting lost around the area. The lower section is for temporary art exhibits and the upper section houses many Klimpt pieces including the famous artwork The Kiss.

After enjoying ourselves and marveling at the palace, we went to dinner at an Italian restaurant (again on the other side of the Danube) called Novellino. We stumbled upon a kosher vegan ice cream shop on the way and vowed that we would fit that into our schedule the next day.

On Monday, we started our day with a delightful tour of the Stadttempel Synagogue where we had davened on Shabbat. Molly was a very knowledgeable tour guide who really brought the history of the shul to life.

Then, it was time to find the cute clothing store from Shabbat. We managed to get ourselves back to the store and I had a great time buying an end-of-season winter coat and a dress.

We spent the rest of the day shopping and relaxing. We went back to Novellino for lunch, but saved room for Veganista, the vegan ice cream store that I now want to open in Israel! It was absolutely delicious and we had such a fun time trying flavors and enjoying. And that’s it!

We had a wonderful time. Three full days of touring was great. There were certainly more things we could have done including many more museums and palaces (and places outside of Vienna as well), but we thought that we got a nice short glimpse into the city and its unique vibe. As we were leaving Vienna, we found the Simon Wiesenthal Museum and I would certainly have liked to have seen this. If we had another day, we would also have enjoyed the Shoenbrunn Palace.

Time to recover, enjoy Purim and plan the next trip!

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