Vienna: Schönbrunn, Strudel and a Spa

I had a wee lie in on Monday morning after my long day trip to Bratislava the night before. So far, I felt I hadn’t really done too much touristy stuff in Vienna. Monday would see me try to put that right by visiting what’s probably top of most tourists’ list of things to see when visiting the city.

A bite of breakfast

First though, I was going to start the day with a bit of breakfast in the hotel. I do like a hotel breakfast! I could have got it for €19 if I’d pre-booked it on arrival (and chosen it for the whole of my stay), but I wanted to keep my breakfast options open during my trip, so I ended up paying €21 on the day.

The restaurant had looked absolutely packed every night I’d come back to the hotel – with a permanent queue of people waiting to be seated. Thankfully in the morning it was a bit quieter! Just a smattering of tables were occupied, although I was perhaps a bit late for the breakfast rush, not taking a seat until 9am.

There was a decent spread, leaning heavily towards the European continental style of foodstuffs – so cheese, salmon, and vegetables. I made a vague nod towards being slightly healthy with some of that (Yeah… er I couldn’t get the cheese separated so had to go with two slices)…

Before moving on to the less healthy options….

I’d probably had to have eaten a lot more before I feel I’d got full value for my twenty-odd euros, but it was chilled out way to start the day, and what food I had was tasty. I grabbed a coffee to go and went back up to my room to get ready to head out. 

My hotel

I’ve got to say I enjoyed my stay at my hotel. After staying at the 25hours hotel in Berlin and loving it, I’d booked in to the chain’s sister hotel in Vienna. This time, rather than an ‘L’ or large room, I’d decided to splash out on a suite as the difference in price was negligible when I booked.

I wasn’t quite sure what the room was going to look like when I arrived – it was difficult to work out the layout from the pictures online. I was happy with it though! Coming in the door, there were two big wardrobes (one which had bicycle wheels attached – very quirky!)

Then the room was laid out along a corridor.

At one end lay the bedroom, with yet more wardrobe space, a big TV on the wall, and a very, very comfortable bed. Which I was pleased to see came with a double duvet rather than the two single duvets I’ve encountered a lot in Europe.

The bathroom had a shower and sink – while the toilet was in a separate room….

And then the living area had a big TV, a small desk and sofa, and a kitchenette. That had a dishwasher, microwave and Nespresso machine. Only the Nespresso machine got any use from me, but I think the rest would have been handy if you were in the city on business and didn’t want to dine out every night.

While there wasn’t a bath, I did read on the hotel’s website that from around the end of March large rooms have a bath on the balcony. This room did have a massive balcony, so I think it probably would have had a bath out there if I’d arrived later. I’d have loved to have tried that! Not sure how that would have worked with the offices opposite though.

Overall the room was perfect for me – little touches like it coming with a Bluetooth speaker were really handy, and saved me bringing my own. The hotel had a fitness area which I’d check out the day before I left, which was cool, and there was a good vibe throughout. I think I probably preferred the design of my room in Berlin – with it being a bit more cool and less bohemian, but the layout and features of the room were pretty spot on. The only thing I did miss from the hotel overall was a cafe area. That was a feature of the Berlin hotel too, but here there was no place to sit and read or do some work – unless you didn’t mind sitting in the lobby with the noise coming from reception and the restaurant, or sitting in your room. A minor grumble overall though!

Strolling round Schönbrunn

I’d left what is the most visited attraction in Austria to the Monday to visit, as I reckoned that would probably be the quietest day to go and see it. 

After grabbing my camera and umbrella, I headed along the street and jumped on the U-Bahn – or underground – to the Schönbrunn stop on the U4 line. 

The first thing I saw after getting off the underground was a long line of coaches parked on the street – maybe where I was headed wouldn’t be that quiet after all!

I wandered around for a while trying in vain to find an ATM, before turning back and arriving at my destination.

Schönbrunn Palace was the Summer residence of the Habsburgs. Now I’m not a history expert by any means, but I think I’ve worked out who they were! From 1806 up until 1918 Habsburg rulers were the Emperors of Austria. And they were one of the most influential and powerful royal houses in Europe. Someone correct me if I’m wrong please! 😉

The palace is absolutely ENORMOUS. 1,441 rooms enormous. With only 45 of those being open to the public, I wasn’t in danger of getting lost inside, but after entering the ticket hall I was going to be completely bamboozled by the different ticket options available.

There were four ‘individual’ tickets to various parts of the palace, and a children’s museum. Then there were four ‘combined tickets’ combining areas of the palace with attractions in the palace grounds or the children’s museum, then on top of that another four kinds of tickets offering access to various bits of the grounds. So all in all 12 different kinds of tickets!

I’d tried to work it all out online before arriving, but it was all just too complicated. 

Thankfully there was zero queue when I arrived at the ticket counter – Monday had been a good day to visit after all!

After gazing at all the different ticket options for what seemed like twenty minutes trying to get my brain around it all, I decided to go with the “Classic Pass”. For €24 (minus a small discount for having a Vienna City Card), I’d get access to the Grand Tour of the Palace (basically letting you in more rooms than the other “Imperial Tour”), the Orangery Garden, maze and Privy Garden in the grounds, plus the Gloriette building with its viewing platform.

I asked for my ticket…. only to be told that because of the weather (it was pretty cold), the maze, orangery and gloriette platform were closed. So I could only get some other kind of ticket – a Grand Tour ticket. It was cheaper than the Classic Pass – although I wouldn’t get a discount for having the Vienna Card. To be honest I didn’t have a clue what I was buying. I tried clarifying it, still couldn’t get my head around it, so I just handed over my credit card.

After all that I took a map of the palace and grounds and sat down for a coffee in the little cafe beside the ticket desk.

I wanted a coffee with whipped cream on the top like I’d had on my first day in Vienna, but when I asked for the same coffee I just got a normal black one. 🤔 I never did manage to work that out! After downing my boring, normal coffee I decided it was time to venture into the palace, so I headed back outside.

There was an Easter fair in the grounds, but after having a quick look at the stalls, it seemed to be the same kind of stuff sold at the Christmas market in Belfast – nothing which really appealed to me. It was all painted door hangers and stuff like that. Or weird things made out of glass.

I passed through a doorway and entered the palace building. After seeing other people put their bag in the cloakroom, and deciding it would be handy to get rid of mine, I headed to the counter. Only for the man to tell me that “No you can take that with you” – man this place was totally confusing me! I grabbed an audio guide (at least that part was pretty straight forward) and headed into the body of the palace.

One of the first things I saw was that there was no photography allowed. Which kind of sucked for writing this. I had thought it might have just been flash photography that was banned, but it turned out there was no photography or filming allowed at all.

So did I sneakily take some photographs? Of course! Starting with the sign at the entrance telling me you’re not allowed to take photos.

Apologies for the weird angle there – I was trying to be surreptitious.

After taking the stairs up to the first floor, I put the audio guide headphones on and started wandering around the rooms open to the public. They were extremely ornate.  As you wandered around, the guide filled you in on various part of Habsburg history as well as that of the palace. I don’t know what it is about me, but literally anything to do with history from before 1900 just goes in one ear and straight out the other. I literally just can’t process it. So although I really tried to concentrate and actually learn something, my memory only seemed to retain little nuggets of information.

Like how the palace was full of ceramic stoves like the one below to heat rooms. To avoid disturbing the royal family though, the stoves were heated from corridors running behind them, where wood would be inserted. I thought that was quite interesting!

I carried on walking through the different rooms – and it was hard not to be impressed by both the decor and scale of everything. There was a lot of history that had taken place within these walls – including a performance by a six year old child prodigy named Mozart.

One other piece of information that stuck with me was about two of the palace’s inhabitants. 24-year-old Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria married a 16 year old girl called Elisabeth in 1854. It was originally planned that he’d marry her sister, but when Joseph caught sight of Elisabeth, he was immediately smitten. What made the story sad was that while it was clear Joseph was madly in love with Elisabeth all his life, it was far fro certain she felt the same way about him. After the pair’s marriage, Elisabeth apparently struggled with the strict protocols of the Viennese Court.

Some 45 years after she married, Elisabeth was assassinated while in Switzerland. On receiving a telegram about her death, Franz Joseph’s first reaction was that she must have committed suicide. He reportedly said at the time “you will never know how much I loved this woman”. I just thought it was sad that he obviously loved her so much, but she didn’t seem to feel the same way.

After just under an hour, my tour of the palace had come to an end, so after buying a tacky postcard for my niece and nephew in the enormous palace shop, I handed in my audio guide and left the building to explore the palace’s grounds.

It was pretty chilly outside, with a cold wind blowing. The grounds extended as far as the eye could see behind the palace. Away in the distance I could see the palace’s gloriette – that’s it waaaaaay at the back in the picture above. I hesitated for a minute as to whether to trek away up to the building to see if I’d get a good view of the palace, but then decided to go for it. After taking a photo for some Chinese ladies, I set off.

Wandering by some barren flower beds and past a non-functioning fountain with scaffolding at it….

I was soon climbing a steep zig zag path. Fifteen minutes later I’d arrived. The gloriette was worth seeing up close – it was a classically pretty building.

There was a small shop – more of a cabin and display – under one of the arches, while inside was a cafe I didn’t bother going into. I think the viewing platform which was closed due to the weather was probably the section on top of the building.

Turning back towards the palace, it looked like I’d walked a lot further than I felt I had. The view had been worth the trek, but I couldn’t help but feel the scene would be much nicer in the summer with the sun shining and the gardens in full bloom.

With the only other part of the grounds I’d wanted to see – the maze – being closed too, I checked my watch and saw it was approaching half past two. There was a show I wanted to see at 3pm, so I made my way back down the hill, and around the front of the palace.

I felt I hadn’t done many weird or ‘lols’ things on this trip, so I’d decided to go and see the “Original Vienna Strudelshow” which was in the basement of a restaurant building adjacent to the palace. 

Once again, the ticket options were anything but straight forward!

I nipped to the toilet where I spotted these amusing instructions…

…before waiting until the ticket area for the show opened.

I went for a €6 ticket which included the show and a small piece of strudel, and then paid an extra €4,60 (ouch!) for a small coffee. They saw me coming! No cream on the coffee either.

Soon I and other tourists had taken our tables in front of a long, chintzy looking kitchen, and five minutes later the show started. Lasting about twenty minutes, it involved a chef showing us basically how to make apple strudel. It was pretty funny – he was engaging and had some cheesy lines. I’d grabbed some recipe leaflets for strudel on the way in, but any thoughts of actually making my own when I got home disappeared when I saw a) how thin he rolled the pastry and b) when he started doing this 😩

I’m not sure how authentic our strudel was that we were given to eat (pretty authentic I guess!) but it was warm and deliciously sweet. I was glad I hadn’t gone for the bigger portion too.

Yet again the strudel show people saw me coming when I bought a souvenir strudel show chef’s hat for my little sis’ and what I originally thought was a tea towel for my Mum. The latter turned out to be a sheet for laying out strudel party, but I’m sure Mum’ll find a use for it!

A quick wiener

I jumped back on the U-Bahn, and instead of changing line at Mitte station, I decided to go above ground and see if I could find a quick snack for a late lunch. I was in the mood for a hot dog, and I’d seen loads of old fashioned street stalls selling wieners all over the place. Of course when I got out on to the street, there wasn’t one in sight. After Google Maps yet again came to the rescue, I found this one about just under a ten minute walk from the station.

There were several different kinds of sausages to choose from but thankfully the guy serving me spoke English. After he had reeled off the options, I asked for a spicy sausage (I do like it spicy!) but was slightly taken aback by what happened next. He basically grabbed a full length baguette. And stuck it on a big metal spike to make a hole in it. After I said I’d like mustard and ketchup he pumped what looked like loads into the baguette and then stuck the sausage in. That all happened in about ten seconds.

So much for a snack – it looked like enough for a meal for four small children! With snow falling, I sheltered in a bus stop and took a bite. It was quite the spicy sausage – I could already feel the indigestion building with each bite. Still the ketchup and mustard infusion had worked ok and hadn’t just gathered at the bottom of the bread as I thought it might have!

Walking back towards the station I stumbled upon the Museum of Applied Arts – which had a design shop just around the corner. I decided to turn around to go and check the shop out, but after walking halfway around the massive building I discovered it wasn’t open on a Monday. So much for that then!

With it being still relatively early, I opened up the app I use to keep track of things I might want to see while I’m away, and saw I was only about a ten minute walk away from an unusual apartment building I’d read about. So I went to check it out.

Hundertwasserhaus

Hundertwasserhaus was built between 1983 and 1985 and was designed by artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser working with two architects. 

It certainly looks different!

There were lots of people standing around taking photos of the exterior, but a sign at the building’s entrance reminded us that the building contained people’s homes and wasn’t open to the public. As my eyes roamed over the building, I noticed little odd features everywhere I looked.

The building, which runs around a street corner, houses 53 apartments and some offices, but what makes it unusual – apart from its colourful exterior – is that the apartments have undulating floors. Large trees also grow in some rooms, with their limbs extending from windows. I wandered around taking the building in from different angles.

There was what looked like a small indoor shopping centre called Hundertwasser Village just opposite the building. I guessed it would be full of tacky souvenir shops, but I read later it had been created by the artist himself in the early 1990s, so I regret not checking it out. Instead I had a quick peek in the shop on the bottom floor of the apartment block, which mainly sold paintings of the building, then headed back to Mitte station to grab the U-bahn back to my hotel.

Attached to the station is what’s meant to be one of Vienna’s biggest shopping centres, so I had a quick wander around that, but I didn’t see any shops really worth checking out. The mall was actually pretty small, but I think it’s still seen as big because most shops in the city are in the street rather than in shopping centres.

I did stumble upon an interesting stall selling what looked like lots of very dried out looking hams and sausages though.

After a quick nosey at them, I jumped back on the underground, and grabbed my swimming trunks and goggles from the hotel before turning around and heading out again. Every time I go away I always try to either get to a local swimming pool or a spa for a bit of rest and relaxation after what always tends to be hectic sightseeing.

Spa time

I’d checked out a couple of options for pools and spas in Vienna. I’d been really tempted by Amalienbad – which is meant to have an amazing Art Deco interior. In the end though, I decided to head right to the end of the U1 U-bahn line – and the Oberlaa stop – where there was more a modern facility.

After a short trek across a pedestrian bridge from Oberlaa station, you couldn’t miss Therme Wien. It looked absolutely massive!

Yet again, on checking out the website, I’d been a bit confused – there seemed to be loads of different ticket options, and loads of different pools, saunas, and therapy pools. I couldn’t really work out what the deal was. And unfortunately that didn’t get any clearer when I went in!

I had found an ‘after-work’ ticket on the website, which seemed perfect for a visit to the complex in the evening. For €23, as well as access to the pools, you either got a €5 euro voucher towards food, or a beach bag which contained a towel, bath robe, flip-flops and shampoo and shower gel. The ticket also gives you a changing cabin as opposed to just a locker. Entry with a cabin, but without the beach bag is usually €21, so I felt spending the extra €2 to avoid the hassle of carrying a wet towel – and getting a bath robe – was worth it.

Next came the confusion of exactly what to do once I got inside though! The nice lady at the ticket desk only spoke a smattering of English. She waved away my credit card when I went to pay, handed me my beach bag and a wrist strap.

I didn’t even know where to go, but followed my instinct and headed downstairs. There, rows and rows of lockers and small changing cabins stretched as far as I could see. It was enormous! I gazed at my wriststrap for any clues, and saw there was a number on it. Could that refer to a cabin?

After walking for a good five minutes, I found a cabin with the same number as my wriststrap, and tried touching the wriststrap against the lock on the cabin. Wahey! It worked, and I was in. I got changed, but then wasn’t sure what to take with me, or where to go. So I gingerly just grabbed my towel and got in a lift after following some other people.

I got a better feel for everything after getting out the lift on the pool level, which once again was massive. There were plenty of people around, but it wasn’t mobbed or too busy. And people had brought their phones, bath robes and drinks and just left them on loungers by the pool. I headed back downstairs, put on my bath robe, and went back up to the pool level to have a proper look around.

I think there were at least three big pools from memory – but no-one really seemed to be swimming in them – they were just paddling about, and chatting and relaxing. I took off my robe and got into one of them. I have to say it was really nice feeling I didn’t have to worry about keeping an eye on everything I’d left on my lounger – I just felt everyone here was trustworthy (as I often find elsewhere in Europe!)

The water was pleasantly warm. And as an unexpected bonus, all around the sides of the pools were jets of water which you could stand against. They were numbered, and at different heights with diagrams showing you if they’d hit your thighs, bum (or buttocks to be more polite), or arms. That was pretty neat!

The pool in the picture above had an exit to an outside pool – so I waded through the plastic flaps and stepped into the cold air.

That’s just one of the outdoor pools in the picture above. Again it had jets and areas where bubbles would pummel your feet and back. There’s just something about being outside in warm water when it’s freezing – I love it, and it was really relaxing. I just sat in the water and paddled about as snow fell all around. I felt totally chilled out, and any cares or worries I had literally seemed to float away.

After a while I headed back inside and watched people to see where they were going, so I could work out what else there was to do. I followed a couple of people through a door and along a long corridor filled with sunbed rooms and found myself back outside, beside another pool. It was empty, apart from an older man doing slow, deliberate lengths up and down, so I figured this was an actual swimming pool.

I put my goggles on and tentatively dipped a toe in the water. This one wasn’t heated nearly as much as the other pools! It was pretty chilly. I actually prefer that when I’m swimming though, as I find a hot pool makes me feel a bit nauseous when swimming, and I always warm up quickly!

After swimming about twenty five lengths, I got out of the pool and grabbed my freezing – and slightly damp with snow – towel, and headed back inside. I decided to have a quick go on a sunbed to see if I could get any kind of tan while I was away, so found a helpful member of staff to explain how it all worked. Basically you pressed your wristband against a box on the wall and then selected how long you wanted. The fee would be applied to your band.

After a quick go on that, I decided to go and check out the complex’s sauna areas. I knew three things about them – 1) you had to pay an additional fee (again with your wristband), 2) you had to be naked to use the saunas and 3) there were single sex, and a mixed sex area and saunas. But were there changing rooms up there? Did you have to get undressed, put on a towel or a robe and then head up? Again I had no idea – what the deal or the etiquette was.

I saw a sign for the sauna areas pointing upstairs, so poked my head around the corner and then headed up. I saw a fully dressed man go through the turnstile, so at least that answered THAT question! I grabbed my stuff and headed upstairs.

I tapped my wristband against a box on top of the turnstile, which would charge an €8 additional fee to my account. I then followed the signs for one of the saunas, and found myself in a massive open area with televisions, magazines, loads of seating areas, and showers. There seemed to be two saunas, and one steam room in this part.

Signs explained the saunas operated on a traffic light system. But I could not work out what the deal was with the different lights. I think once they went red that meant you couldn’t enter or exit but it was ok if you were already in or something? The signs were in English but I still couldn’t work it out, so I just went in when it was amber.

The sauna was pretty hot (although not as hot as the ones I’d had in Finland), so I didn’t last too long. I could see steam rising from another pool outside, so I grabbed a towel, wrapped it around me and then took a dip in that.

I don’t have any pictures of the sauna area sorry – for obvious reasons!

After a refreshing shower, I headed back downstairs and went for a wander around the other pools. There was a children’s area with flumes which I was DYING to have a go on. I couldn’t see any signs to say adults weren’t allowed on them, then saw a man head up the stairs to their entrance, so I grabbed a tube and followed him.

They were just around the corner from that picture above. It was quite late by now, so there weren’t many kids around – which meant no queue at the flume’s entrance! I jumped on the tube and launched myself down one – it went pretty fast.

Next, I decided to climb to the next level and take the Black Hole slide – which was higher, and dark inside. There weren’t any tubes allowed on this one, so I left mine at the top and once again launched myself down the flume. I loved it – I hurtled around corners and flew down steep dips – it gave me that kind of thrill you only get when moving fast and not quite knowing what way you’re going next.

I think I maybe went down the flumes a total of five times….

I headed back to the stuff on my lounger and saw that it had been nearly two and a half hours since I’d arrived – so it was time to go! I’d definitely recommend Therme Wien if you’re in Vienna. The after-work ticket offers good value, and means all you need to bring with you are your swimsuit.

After getting changed, I handed over my beach bag at the ticket desk, and paid a total of €39 – for the entrance, beach bag and stuff hire, sauna entrance and sunbed. It’s not that cheap, but I felt it was worth the price.

Another fast food dinner

By the time I got back on the underground, it was just after 9pm. I wanted to be up early the next morning, so decided just to take the easy and fast option and head to McDonald’s again for dinner.

I got off the underground at Karlsplatz, and using Google Maps actually managed to find McD’s, even though it was underground.

The clientele of this McDonald’s was a little different from the other ones I’d visited in Vienna. Maybe it was due to the time of night, but there were a couple of people wandering around shouting at people and objects, and others that looked like they’d spent the whole day drinking.

So I didn’t hang around long. I ate my burger (a Hot and Smoky again) and curly fries and got back on the underground back to the hotel. Now if I’d bothered to check , I’d have discovered that McDonald’s was actually only a fifteen minute walk straight along the road from my hotel. But I guess it’s like getting on the tube from Covent Garden to Leicester Square in London – if you don’t know the city you just don’t know how close together places are!

A quick drink before bed

Once back at the hotel, I decided to head for a drink in the bar, and have a quick read of my guide book to work out how to spend my last day in Vienna. I knew I wanted a relatively chilled out day checking out shops and so on, but I wanted to plan which restaurants to visit.

The bar – like the one at the 25hours hotel in Berlin – was a rooftop one, and just like the German one was seemingly very popular with locals. I met a guy in the lift one day who was moaning at being turned away from the bar for the second time that week because it was too busy.

That is not a very good photo sorry – it was pretty packed, and I was trying to be a bit subtle when taking a pic! I also got this one (not much better):

Yeah er actually I’m not even sure why I bothered uploading that. I think I was trying to show the view outside!

It was standing room only, so I stood at the bar, and ordered a glass of Austrian wine. I don’t think I’ve ever tried Austrian wine before, but it was pleasant enough! I flicked through my guide book and did a bit of people watching as I sipped away. Before I knew it, I’d reached the bottom of my glass. Although I was tempted to have another one, I decided to take the sensible option and head to bed. I took a quick glance at the view from the balcony outside…

And then turned in for the night. After my McDonald’s for dinner, tomorrow I was determined to try some more typically Austrian cuisine!

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