I am so glad that Schmoopie insisted I find a tour with Vienna included. I didn’t really even think about it at the time, I was just happy that he had any suggestions at all, really, and it wasn’t just me dragging him off to Europe and forcing him to spend lots of money. Vienna has been our favorite place on this trip so far. Prague was a startling discovery, Rome and London and Paris we expected to be wonderful, but Vienna really stood out. It might be the influence of the concert we went to the previous evening talking, but the entirety of Vienna is like a serene and beautiful piece of classical music. It’s easy to see why this is the place to sit back with a rich, hot beverage, a slice of decadent pastry, and just exist for a while. In Italy if you order nothing but a cup of coffee, or even a hot sandwich, you are expected to chug it down while standing at the bar and then leave … if you so much as think of sitting down you must pay extra.

Our tour today took us from the Hofburg to St. Stephen’s cathedral, which strangely is right in the middle of the high class shopping district. Weird place for a cathedral but very convenient for us. Then Joe took us to the place better known as Lulu’s Bane: The main Swarovski shop in Vienna.

You know how they say diamonds are a girl’s best friend? I say screw diamonds, Swarovski is Lulu’s best friend. And worst enemy.

I thought of just leaving the tour and going on our planned excursions for the day but in the end I followed Joe like a sheep to the slaughter. I ended up buying something for Little Sis there, which allowed me to claim the free gift they were offering our tour group on all purchases. The free gift was a small starfish pendant which will look very nice alongside the Doruna rain pendant Schmoops got me a few years ago.

The Graben, the premier shopping street of Vienna

After this Schmoops and I were off! From St. Stephen’s we backtracked to the venerable Demel’s and had lunch. We discovered that unfortunately it is one of those places that has a diamond reputation, but doesn’t really live up to it. The sachertorte in particular was not up to par, being rather dry. Schmoops didn’t even notice it had apricot jam on it until I told him that it was supposed to, because the layer of jam was so thin. We also had a decent dobostorte, an avocado and smoked salmon tart (for me, since I insist on having something salty for lunch), and coffee.

Sachertortes being made in the kitchens of Demel

This coffee redeemed Demel’s completely. I took a sip of it and did something I have never done before in my life: I said, “This coffee is delicious.”

From there we went to St. Charles church, which had the most fabulous Baroque interior I have ever seen. You have to see to believe how bright and joyful this church looks on the inside. St. Paul’s in London is the church that feels most ethereally beautiful and holy, but St. Charles in Vienna is the church that will make you feel like worshipping is a form of celebration.

From St. Charles we went to Schonbrunn Palace. This is a place we will definitely have to come back to someday, because the gardens look like they will be utterly fantastic in the spring or summer. Plus I skimped and went for the Imperial Tour instead of the Grand Tour, and so we didn’t get to see the rooms of Maria Theresa. We saw the people from our tour group there, they paid 40 euros to the tour company to go while we paid 15 (including transportation). And my god, they try to get you to pay these inflated prices by saying that you can skip the line but first of all, there is no line in winter, and second of all you can skip the line by buying tickets online. It’s just a ridiculous rip off. Plus the public transportation is so good we got there and back faster than they did in the coach.

For dinner we went to Augustine-Keller and had the wiener schnitzel with German potato salad and two types of traditional Viennese soups. Everything was absolutely delicious. The potato salad stood out because it was vinegar based (so you don’t feel quite as guilty gobbling it down as you do a mayo based potato salad), and the flavor was a great counterpart for the very well fried veal. Our two soups were a liver dumpling soup and a potato pancake soup. Both were made with the most intense beef broth I have ever had. The difference between this stuff and your typical canned beef broth was like the difference between heavy cream and skim milk. The liver dumpling was unexpectedly good, with a texture like a stuff pate, and the potato pancake broth was slightly lighter and infused with herbs.

Liver dumpling soup at Augustine-Keller in Vienna

After dinner we walked around the Ringstrasse from the Hofburg to City Hall, and took pictures of all the beautiful, beautiful buildings. My favorite is the Vienna City Hall, which looks more like a palace to me, and when illuminated is transcendant. There was some sort of winter festival going on, and we watched the people ice skating for a while and bought a mulled Kirsch Amaretto punch from one of the food stalls before heading back to the hotel.

It was a fantastic day. I keep using the same words over and over, fantastic, utterly fantastic, amazing … I am not usually so effusive, but really, everything has been beyond expectation, everything has been wonderful.