07/18/2012 03:24 EDT | Updated 09/17/2012 05:12 EDT

How to be Classy in Vienna


My personality changed with each city I visited in Europe, just like how the people changed. I've always wondered: Is it the city that makes the people, or the people that make the city?

Vienna was classy, refined. "Refined" might be an inaccurate word, belittles the qualities of Budapest and Prague. But it's the place of strudels and Mozart and the Hapsburgs, and these things stayed at the back of my mind wherever I went in the city.

Cafe Sacher

We went to Cafe Sacher, a traditional Viennese coffee house. Its Sacher-Torte has been around since 1832, a chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam whose history is as noble as its commissioner.

One evening in 1832, Wenzel Clemens Prince Metternich ordered the creation of a special dessert for his fancy guests. But with his chef unavailable, the task was delegated to a 16-year-old apprentice named Franz Sacher.


Photo credit: Candice Walsh

Imagine the pressure...and then the relief when the dessert turned out to be a total success!

I don't even like apricot, but who turns down a $6 piece of cake and an equally expensive cup of coffee?

Picasso and Monet at the Albertina

Claude Monet was an artist I admired in my teenage years, although I knew nothing about art. Still, when I saw that a Monet to Picasso exhibition was being displayed at the Albertina, I decided I had to go.

But not until after an afternoon of shopping. When I finally arrived at the gallery, I had just an hour to run through some of the greatest artistic works of all-time.

I entered the first room of the exhibition and immediately headed for the first painting I saw.

"Oooh..." I cooed.

"That's not Monet..." Natalie said.

"Oh. I knew that," I said.

With the clock ticking, we dashed through Degas and Monet and Matisse and Mueller. I scribbled down notes and pretended I could read the German script underneath Degas' Two Dancers and Emil Nolde's Moonlit Night.

By the time we got to Picasso, we had to leave.


One of our activities incorporated a tour of the Swarovski Wien & Essl Museum. I was too terrified to touch anything, but dazzled by the jewels around me and the skill it took to perfect them. People can afford this stuff in real life? Who decides they want jeweled panthers?

Our guide was an eccentric blonde lady who pointed at an art display on the lower floor and asked us what we thought of it. It contained a plaid egg sprouting fuzzy pink grass, a carousel horse, a giant silver skull, and a gorilla's head perched atop a stick.

"Interesting..." said Levi, not all that convinced.

"Yes, some people think it is crap," she replied.

Mozart Concert at Schoenbrunn Palace

I don't know much about classical music, but apparently the Mozart concert at the Hapsburgs' former summer home of Schoenbrunn Palace is the best in town. I can't compare it to anything else, but I'll take our Contiki guide Hugh's word for it.


Photo credit: Candice Walsh

With warm summer air creeping in through open doors and Japanese tourists snapping photos despite the "no photography" policy, the combination of violin and cello and that delicate triangle was like the chocolate icing on the Sacher-Torte of the day. And what do you call the triangle player, anyway? Is he a trianglist? Beater of triangles? Do you attend music school to do so?

The one folly of our entire group, however, was that we had visited the Alt-Wiener-Schnapsmuseum beforehand, and had downed several free shots of absinthe. Our heads nodded in time with the music, because completely wrapped up in the music of masters, we kept falling asleep...