How to Make the Most of Your Time in Bratislava and Vienna - A 2-in-1 Experience!
Updated: Oct 28, 2022
What would you do if you had the opportunity to fly to one of a dozen cities in Europe to see a few musicians that mean a lot to your life story?
Where would you go?
I was gifted with that exact opportunity last week, and it didn't take too long to set my sights on Vienna, Austria - a place I didn't even recall having traveled to as a child. (But spoiler alert: I did!)
So this was, for all intents and purposes, a very new experience for me, and lucky for you, I've got some stories and tips to bridge the gap. Before The Scientist and I left, so many friends and acquaintances proclaimed their wide love for this city: "Oh my God, I love Vienna! It's so ornate and beautiful - the history! You're gonna love it." Actually, as I think back on it, people lit up around Vienna in a way that absolutely parallels when I share my own stomping grounds.
If seeing one of my favorite bands wasn't enough, y'all know I'd already spotted the fact that Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss" was in Vienna, as well as a museum dedicated to one of the most unique characters on the world stage in the 19th century. Between my love for art history, storytelling, and epic orchestral folk, I was ready to dive in - but I got a few surprises in, too.
First off, let's talk about the Sisi Museum at the Hofburg Palace. I'm a big fan of the podcast The History Chicks, which explores women throughout history in a way that's both digestible and entertaining. I hadn't listened in a while, but I'd remembered seeing a post about someone named Empress Sisi of Austria - who was that? - so I decided to listen in while chopping vegetables for dinner. Y'all, I was transfixed by this person's life - there was so much to cover that they had to do a two-part episode. She was free-spirited, quirky, idiosyncratic, more than a bit emo, and straight up unconventional. Big Princess Diana vibes. I got my husband to listen in, myself already emotionally invested in visiting the Hofburg Palace, a place she felt so trapped in. It was a truly rewarding and unique experience to learn about someone's life and then fly to said country and visit their home - something I absolutely do not take for granted about moving to Europe. After perusing through the gift shop and letting my husband buy me a Sisi-ified necklace, we were off.
There were so many museums and buildings just attached to the Hofburg Palace - including the Weltmuseum, one I'd highly recommend for its collection of old instruments, some played by the greats. But the thing about Vienna is that everywhere you looked, you'd find rich, ornate buildings about five to six stories high, replete with reliefs, columns, something out of a storybook. It was a little disorienting - how to find the North Star? While I didn't go in, I made a point to acknowledge the building on Maria Theresien Platz that housed the Venus of Willendorf, only one of the most important figurines in my world. Vienna truly does have so much culture and history - I was just steeping in it. We loved the eccentric environment of Das Käuzchen, which provided me the opportunity to try Viennese schnitzel - not bad! And an important note: I wouldn't recommend getting the Vienna Pass unless it's really impactful for you - it wasn't worth the money-spend for us - but the ÖBB single or day passes definitely made a difference in our vacation quality.
Pictured: palaces, schnitzel, sounds, kisses, and Slovakian cheese
But the real treat of this trip took us off itinerary a bit - to Bratislava, Slovakia. A new friend from Girl Gone International tipped me off to Bratislava's close proximity to Vienna, so we chanced it and bussed over to Slovakia for a day trip. (Highly recommend Slovak Lines!) More than anything on this journey, I feel like The Scientist and I were absolutely giddy to have lolled over to a new country, one we would have never ventured to visit otherwise. That's the honest truth. Much like Lithuania, our knowledge on Slovakia prior to arriving was, well, next to nothing.
Right off the bus, we walked into the Old Town to see an extensive outdoor exhibit on the huge former synagogue that used to stand in that exact spot. I understand the synthesis and cohesion it must have taken the Bratislava Jewish community to create this exhibit - it viscerally touched me in a deep way. In a world of antisemitism and dark corners, I felt proud for something I didn't even do. I can't say why I didn't expect any Jewish history, but here we were in Slovakia, and I was completely surrounded by it. It remains one of my favorite unexpected moments within this move to Europe.
Making the most of our day trip, we walked around Bratislava and found that we loved it - genuinely. It shone with a voracity completely different from Vienna's aura; it was a bit more like Vilnius, actually. Comfortable, beautiful, warm. (Hey, Vilnius is warm in spirit!) I'd love to go back for their garlic-cheese bread bowl soup, pierogis, and surprisingly good matcha alone. I mean, they had a vending machine at the bus station just for Slovakian cheese - come on! I'm endlessly grateful to GGI friends for their own tips on Bratislava and Vienna - this community is so valuable.
Back in Vienna, we snuck around Schönbrunn Palace, a place I'm now paying very close attention to while watching The Empress on Netflix about - you guessed it - Empress Sisi. (Some of the show is filmed in Vilnius, too, so it all comes around full circle!) I'd definitely recommend Vienna if you're interested in history: art history, music history, royal history - and Bratislava if you're after something a bit more, well, grounded.
My next big trip is back to America to visit friends and family, but I'm curious to uncover where else we head next - in Lithuania and beyond. I wouldn't say I have consistent wanderlust - more like a curious adventurer - but I'm always grateful for these opportunities to explore a new continent. If you would have asked me what I'd be doing ten years ago, this would not have been it - but past me would have been open to it. I guess that's how we got here in the first place - so here's to many more adventures!
As always, feel free to subscribe at the bottom of this page to receive a bi-weekly email from me on whatever's on my heart that day! And as always, I'll see you next time here at Into the Forests I Go - iki pasimatymo - see you soon!