Finally, we feel like we are on European time, getting 8 hours of sleep and waking up in our AirBnB Vienna home that is more like a grandmother's museum, filled with pretty but uncomfortable nineteenth century Biedermeier furniture, crystal and porcelain with a few precious pieces that were gifts from the royal family. Our host bought the apartment specifically to house his family's memorabilia, then decided to rent it out on AirBnB. Located in an interior courtyard, the apartment is as quiet as a tomb though only a 5-minute walk to one of the busiest boulevards in Vienna.
Even though this world-class city is no longer the center of the Habsburg's Holy Roman Empire, its grand architecture and wide boulevards continue to exude old world charm, elegance and grandeur. So much like Paris, but with far fewer crowds, Vienna makes being a tourist almost too easy. The words "exotic" and "foreign" never come to mind except when touring the interiors of the palaces and imagining what it must have been like in the days of the Emperor Franz Joseph I and his beautiful though enigmatic wife, Empress Sisi (Elizabeth).
We search for the ultimate Viennese pastry experience but, after several calorie-bomb fiascos, we realize that we prefer Ellen's own baking accomplishments, which excel over anything we have tried. We are happy to save the calories since the Central and Eastern European diet consists of heavy meat and starch-laden dishes. Desserts are the last thing we need now! Instead, we dream about green salads.
Where Vienna never disappoints is in its architecture. Just wandering around and happily getting lost in this beautiful city, we stroll down block after block of elegant buildings that look like they should be major tourist sights, even though they are not even mentioned in our guide book.
A bit out of the city center, we visit a museum dedicated to the multi-media artist, architect and environmentalist, Hundertwasser. After visiting the museum, we walk a few blocks along the same street to see Hundertwasserhaus, one of the exciting housing projects he designed. As an architect, his work is reminiscent of the Spanish master Antoni Gaudi. Like Gaudi, he was at war wih the straight line giving his buildings a kind of inner-city Hobbit feel.
Leaving town is a snap: one short subway ride followed by one short train ride to the airport, all for a mere €2.40 per person. We feel like locals and are pleased by our efficiency, but we wonder, isn't travel supposed to be a bit more challenging?
After Vienna, we visit the much smaller Austrian city of Salzburg. It is Mozart's birthplace and the town honors him with many memorials, museums, and musical memorabilia and performances.
The royal red floor beneath the quintet is actually indoor-outdoor carpeting. We sat that close to the stage, in the first row inside a parlor of the Mirabell Palace. The carpeting seems at odds with this baroque room, white with gold detailing and carved wood paneling, as we listen to a Brahms quartet. The performance is great. The cellist and violist with knitted eyebrows attack the pizzicato part with a determination to put it over the top before diving into a melody that is part anthem and part victory march.
We are able to walk to most of the tourist sights from our apartment. Built along a river, Salzburg's old town is visually stunning and romantic and an easy one-directional stroll along cobbled lanes past baroque churches, vast public squares, and busy shopping streets. The construction of most of the squares was influenced by Italian renaissance architecture and is reminiscent of Rome or Florence. At dusk, we have an empty square to ourselves except for a woman singing an operatic aria which echoes off the surrounding buildings.
A monolithic wall of rock contains the old town on two sides making us feel tiny in comparison and giving a very dramatic appearance to all of our photos.
Although there is a funicular and an elevator to the top, we opt to walk up, which turns out to be far less arduous than we expected. On the crest, there is a meandering country road with forest on both sides and some stately homes. It feels rural even though this is still part of the city. Looking down, we get an airplane view of the old town and, in the other direction away from old town, a view of the Alps and the valley below. At a small park overlooking this alpine view, lovers kiss, while others sunbathe as we tourists snap our photos.