Until last week, no one in my family had ever been to Vienna before. More to the point, none of them had come to visit me in Vienna before. That all changed when my mom arrived on Palm Sunday. She was here for all of Holy Week (what the Austrians call Karwoche) and it was so great to see her, and hang out, and show her this city that I love so much. So what to do, when you have family or friends in from out of town?
First, get a good hotel. If, like me, your space isn’t up to holding guests (or you just don’t like sharing your space), this is key. You want something comfortable, well-located, and ideally not too expensive. We went with the Hotel Johann Strauss: high ceilings, great breakfast, and near an U-Bahn station. Added bonus: it was really close to my place, so we could use either location as needed. Double added bonus: bathtubs! I really am a bath person, and while there’s nothing wrong with showers, I was just so glad to really just revel in a nice hot bath.
Second: develop an itinerary! To a certain (large) extent, this really depends on the personality of the person who’s visiting. In this case, my mom likes museums, classical music, knitting and handicrafts, and cake. Coincidentally, these happen to be things I like, so I figured this would go rather well. Even though I’m technically a local by now, we still purchased the Kindle version of Rick Steve’s Vienna, Salzburg, and Tyrol (particularly since we were planning a day trip to Salzburg). It was useful for the day trip, as well as for finding restaurants that I, as a student, was too cheap to ever eat at.
So, without much more ado, here are the things we did:
- Sunday: try and get dinner at Café Sperl. Find out the kitchen is closed, and go to the Asian restaurant around the corner.
- Monday: shopping on the Kärtnerstraße. We got some great new gloves and hats at Oberwalder, the sort of place that asks you what your glove size is and keeps everything in big deep drawers, plus a new ball gown for me at Peek & Cloppenburg. In the afternoon, we got tea and cake at Demel, then hit up the Hofburg to tour the Silberkammer, the Sisi Museum, and the Imperial Apartments.
- Tuesday: Braving the snow, we checked out the two temporary exhibitions at the Lower Belvedere. There was a really beautiful one about the history of the Baroque (and its contemporary incarnations), and an eye-rolling one about Friedenreich Hundertwasser and the influence of Japanese art on his work. Suffice it to say we were not fans. Then, in the afternoon, it was off to the main location of the Jewish Museum on Dorotheergasse for a look at their temporary exhibition on Jewish humor. After closing time, we dashed back to the hotel to get ready for our trip to the Staatsoper to see Tanzperspektiven, a collection of four contemporary ballet pieces. Afterwards, we grabbed some Käsekrainer hot dogs at a nearby stand and called it a night.
- Wednesday: we dedicated the morning largely to the running of errands (take the ball gown to be altered, dropping shoes off to be repaired) and prepping for our trip to Salzburg (including a—memorable—interaction at Westbahnhof). In the afternoon, we went to the other location of the Jewish Museum at Judenplatz, the site of the medieval synagogue, whose foundations are on view at the museum.
- Thursday: Salzburg! We got up early and took the train out to Salzburg, where we had time for a bit of wandering around the city squares (and accidentally heading up to Nonnberg Abbey, where Maria von Trapp had been a postulant) before grabbing a lunch at Fisch Krieg and meeting our bus for…the Sound of Music tour! Don’t you dare judge: it was actually a lot fun, and we got to see some cool stuff out in the countryside we wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to see, like the lakes, or the church where they filmed the wedding scene. Yes, it was kind of schlocky and touristy, but that doesn’t have to make it any less fun.
- Friday: We hit up St. Stephen’s Cathedral, as well as the Easter markets! This was easily one of my favorite bits: hot pretzels, hot waffles, cute little wooden toys (that I manfully resisted buying en masse for my nephew), and the Easter eggs. They are so pretty! They’re terribly delicate, having had their insides blown out, but the shells are elaborately painted in all sorts of colorful designs. I even have a few hanging up on my very own Easter tree (pussywillow in a vase). After checking out the final Easter market at Schönbrunn, we decided to take the palace tour before going to the Musikverein to see the Vienna Mozart Orchestra. These are the guys who play Mozart while wearing 18th century dress. I know what you’re thinking: “but that’s so gimmicky! They’re just appealing to ignorant tourists!” To which I say, “Baloney.” Yes, there were a lot of tourists at the performance. But you know what? Sometimes there are really good musicians who like playing great music and also like playing dress-up. Let’s be real: if I got to wear fun costumes in my daily life, you can bet I would wear the everloving tar out of those costumes. It’s just cool. So there.
- Saturday: we went to the Naschmarkt to pick up some groceries, gawk at the amazing assortment of produce, and grab falafel wraps at Dr. Falafel. We did more grocery shopping elsewhere (because my mom is awesome, and stocked me up before she left), and then just had a quiet rest of the day at the hotel: knitting, reading magazines, listening to BBC Radio 4 and watching old episodes of Midsomer Murders on YouTube. We were too lazy to go out for dinner, so I exercised my sweet ordering-take-out-in-German skills and got us some Chinese food from the place down the street.
- Sunday: Easter service at Christ Church, the Anglican church here in Vienna. Sadly, we had to ditch the linger-longer after the service to walk back to the hotel (through the Belvedere gardens), check out, and enjoy our last tea and cake (from Oberlaa) before getting Mom to the airport.
So that’s everything! It was a really successful visit, not just because I really like my mom. We paced ourselves, and only did the things we really wanted to do. Sure, we could have spent that Saturday visiting the Riesenrad and going to see The Third Man, but it was cold and rainy, and we knew it was more important to enjoy ourselves than it was to tick off every little box. And that, I think, is the most important part of successful travelling: do what you’ll actually enjoy. It’s your trip, after all.