The Travelogue You’ve All Been Waiting For: Austria
Okay, okay. I know travelogues aren’t really the most fun types of posts to read, and they often come across as, “I’ve been to this really cool place and you haven’t.” However, despite my awareness of this, I’m going to do just that today. I went to Vienna, Austria, a few weeks ago to present my research on the female inventor of the dishwasher at the European Social Science History Conference. While I was there, I did a lot of sightseeing and eating. This post is mostly about those two things.
Our first day there (I went with my Dad and his partner), we walked around Vienna and oriented ourselves to the city. We rode one of those tacky and gigantic tourist buses that go around in a circle with headphones telling you all about the major landmarks. After that, we got off at the Stephen’s Dome Cathedral and planned to climb some 300 stairs to the top of the tower. Just as we were getting ready to do so, my dad realized that he no longer had his camera!
The camera was still on the sightseeing bus, so I suggested that we run and meet it at the next major stop, which was at the Opera House. I ran there with my dad not far behind. I kept telling him to let me go alone and that I wouldn’t get lost. But he kept up. We got there, caught the bus, and found the camera. And then we walked all the way back to the cathedral, climbed all 300 stairs up and down, and then almost died of exhaustion. European vacations usually require a lot of walking and not much laying on the beach and sipping limonadas, so we had used up our week’s worth of energy in that morning. The next day, we were sore and tired. My knee hurt and I started walking with a limp. But I got to rest it later in the week, and it started to feel better.
But we saw so much in the city, even as out-of-shape Americans. We visited Freud’s house, Mozart’s house, the Museum Quartier, Schönbrunn Palace, Belvedere Palace, the Naschmarkt, Vienna University (where I presented my paper), the Rathaus, the Jewish Quarter, The Hofburg Palace Complex, the Royal Treasury, the Spanish Riding School, and every single café and pastry shop along the way.
No, I’m exaggerating about visiting every café and pastry shop. There were too many to choose from, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that we ate dessert twice a day. It was hard to resist having it with lunch and dinner since it stares you in the face from a glass case at the front of every café. You walk in and the first thing you see are Mozart bombes, truffle tortes, apple strudels, Sachertortes, etc. etc. On the last day, I decided that we should’ve planned a month-long trip just so we could have a chance to try every kind of dessert before we left the country.
My favorite meal was Tafelspitz. It is boiled beef with garnishes of chives, pureed spinach, and applesauce with fresh horseradish mixed in. There were also potatoes and carrots. I can’t even describe how good it is, and we ended up going back to Café Mozart to have it again the night before we left. My dad and I loved it. He’s planning to figure out how to recreate the recipe at home, and when he does, he has strict instructions to fly to my house and teach me how to make it as well. My dad and I also developed a taste for himbeer (raspberry) soda. My dad texted me the day after I got home, saying: “I want Tafelspitz, himbeer soda, and Mozart torte, now!” Here is a picture of Tafelspitz and some of the various foods we ate.
In the middle of the week, we rented a car and drove to Salzburg. There, we wandered around the city square, ate more delicious food (I had Salzburg schnitzel, which was a thin breaded pork cutlet stuffed with mushrooms, onions, and bacon, among other delicious things), and took The Sound of Music Tour.
Yes, the tour was cheesy, but it was the most efficient and easy way to see Salzburg and the surrounding areas without getting lost. When we first arrived in the city, we missed our exit and got a little lost (but it wasn’t a situation that our GPS system couldn’t fix), and we went down a one-way street the wrong way. A kind older gentleman calmly motioned to us to turn around, and we did before causing any head-on accidents. So, we took the tour in a van with a guide who told us all about the history of Austria, the Von Trapp family, the making of the film, and the area itself. We drove into the Alps and saw Lake Wolfgang, named after Mozart because his mother was born in the town on its shores. There, I posed for a non-cliched picture of spinning with my arms extended and the towering green hills surrounding me. The hills are alive!
We also visited the cathedral in Mondsee where the wedding scene of the movie took place. There, I bought a CD of The Sound of Music soundtrack. The lederhosen-clad guide, of course, had it playing in the van strategically as we toured around, but nobody felt comfortable enough to belt it out. We were with a couple from Colorado. I felt like singing, but I couldn’t; I’m too shy. So my dad and I sang the entire soundtrack on the three-hour drive back to Vienna that night. We looked at mustard fields and castles in the countryside while singing, “Doe, a deer, a female deer…”
On Thursday, I presented at the conference. It was held at Vienna University, which is gorgeous and old and has a wonderful courtyard in the middle of the building for sunning one’s self. In the center of the courtyard is a statue of Eve, fitting given that she was the first human being to seek for knowledge. I loved the symbolism of it.
My presentation went exceptionally well. My panel was called Nineteenth Century Technologies @ Home. I went last of five presenters and shared my research on and stories about Josephine Garis Cochran, the female inventor of the dishwasher. I got most of the questions at the end during the question and answer session, and a few people stayed afterward to talk with me. I had a great time; it was a confidence-building experience.
We had a great time and learned a lot about the history of the country. Apparently, it was settled by Celts, while Germany was settled by Saxons. The tour guide in Salzburg explained that the difference between Germans and Austrians is similar to the difference between the British and the Irish. Many of the old Celtic ruins are visible in Salzburg, and there’s a place in the center of Austria where archaeologists have dug up some of the old city walls from earlier centuries.
We also learned about the royal families of Austria. Franz Joseph was a much-loved emperor who, in one tour, was described as living a simple and frugal life. While, I admit that his small iron bed seemed spare, the room and palace in which it stood were not. This description rankled me somewhat, but it seemed that the people of Austria loved him and his wife Elizabeth, better known as “the famous” Princess Sisi. Franz Joseph did have the distinction of waiting to put down his knife and fork until all of his guests had finished dining, for the rule was that when the emperor finished eating, all of the plates were immediately cleared, no matter if the guests were finished eating or not.
Sisi liked ice cream. So do I. It’s inevitable.
I learned a few German words. My favorite? Schlagobers. What does it mean? Well, it’s my favorite “food:” whipped cream.
I haven’t been able to stop singing The Sound of Music songs since I got home. These are interspersed with the Frozen songs, as my children can’t stop singing those or watching the movie. I want you to know that I hummed The Sound of Music songs the entire time I prepared this post. I hope you enjoyed it!