Five faves: Things to do in Vienna

5 fave things to do in Vienna

The gardens at Belvedere Castle, Vienna

Vienna surprised me. Born of a long history of wealth and empire, modern-day Vienna struck me as likable, livable, underrated—a city that wears its historical, artistic and cultural treasures with an easy, quiet grace. Though I was there 10 years ago and stayed a full week, I don’t remember liking it as much as I did on my recent trip to meet up with my friends from the Ateneo Chamber Singers.

Apart from being a choir groupie, I got to explore Vienna on my own and was pleasantly charmed. A list of things to do in Vienna should be way longer than this, but for a quick city trip or weekend break, I’ve chosen my personal top five.

See Klimt’s The Kiss at Belvedere Castle.

As a lifelong fan of both Art Nouveau and Gustav Klimt, I couldn’t miss seeing Klimt in his hometown. Nestled among manicured gardens, Vienna’s Belvedere Castle houses the largest collection of oil paintings by Klimt, including Lovers, more popularly known as The Kiss.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Taking photos of The Kiss is forbidden, but I couldn’t stop the goosebumps. Seeing Klimt’s masterpieces up close, it’s amazing how bright and bold they are—just as if they were painted yesterday.

Gustav Klimt The Bride Belvedere Castle Vienna

Detail from “The Bride”, Gustav Klimt

The Belvedere Castle is also a wonderful introduction to the art of the Vienna Secessionists, and the haunting pieces of another famous Austrian artist: Egon Schiele.

Egon Schiele The Family Belvedere Castle Vienna

Detail from “The Family,” Egon Schiele

The Belvedere consists of an Upper and Lower part, with separate admission fees for each. If it’s Klimt you’re after, head straight to the Upper Belvedere.

Have a Viennese kaiserschmarrn and a Turkish coffee at Cafe Central.

Vienna is a star of turn-of-the-century European cafe culture, like Paris, Prague and Budapest. Built over 130 years ago, Cafe Central is the city’s most famous cafe, where intellectuals such as Freud, Lenin and Trotsky were regulars.

For a royal experience, combine a visit to this empress of cafe culture with the emperor of Vienna’s dessert scene: the Kaiserschmarrn.  Plainly said: you have to try the Kaiserschmarrn, and you have to have it here.

Vienna kaiserschmarrn at Cafe Central

The modest description “shredded pancake” did not prepare me for this fluffy mountain of cake, crowned with crunchy jewels of burnt caramel and a glossy, ruby-red sauce of stewed plums. It was my first meal of the day, so I attacked it with gusto; however, faced with a serving platter that could easily feed two or three (for just €8.50!), eventually I surrendered to the mighty Kaiserschmarrn.

Why a Turkish coffee and not a cafe Vienna? Personally, I found the Wiener Melange, a kind of Viennese cappuccino, kind of bland. This Turkish coffee, served in a copper pot, is the real stuff—a potent brew worthy of the magnificent Kaiserschmarrn.

It’s also a nod to Viennese history: at the height of its power, the Ottoman Empire attempted to capture Vienna twice, with two sieges 150 years apart. If the Turks had managed to capture and rule Vienna, who knows how Europe might look today?

Oh, and hey, Cafe Central is gorgeous too.

Vienna Cafe Central interior

It’s a celebrity in the cafe scene, but there are many others worth visiting in Vienna. Check out this great guide to Vienna’s cafes—I’ve bookmarked it for a return visit.

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Amsterdam with kids: Westerpark kinderbadje

You know what’s a godsend for people in Amsterdam with kids? The kinderbadje at Westerpark, that’s what!

Westerpark kinderbadje Amsterdam with kids

Thanks to last weekend’s spectacular sunshine, we’ve practically been living at the Westerpark kinderbadje, or paddling pool, for the last couple of days. It’s a wonder we haven’t grown webbing between our toes. Now that quite a few of my friends and I have little ones, it’s much harder to get together for a picnic on a sunny day. I blame the kiddie pools—it’s next to impossible to tear friends away from their neighborhood kinderbadje.

Amsterdam with kids kinderbadje Westerpark

Naturally, I think the one in our neighborhood is the coolest. A few reasons why:

  • Water is changed daily, and contains no chemicals because it’s recycled to irrigate the greenery in the park. Clean and green!
  • A grassy, sunny slope right next to the pool is perfect for sunbathing and picnics.
  • Right around the corner from a good lunchwood-fired pizzaquality coffee (they have flat whites!), even mussels and gin and tonics. Not that babies should have coffee or gin and tonics, but hey, we parents need to get through the day somehow.
  • Ice cream! How can you not end a summer day at the pool with ice cream? Just a few meters away, Ijscuypje also makes sorbet milkshakes with rum—strictly for Mama and Papa, of course.

It was Tala’s first time at the pool last Friday, and this certified water baby is hooked. She loves crawling on her hands and feet in the shallows…

Tala crawling in the pool Westerpark

then taking great shaky strides with one hand with a death grip on Mama, the other splashing in the water.

Amsterdam with kids Tala at the baby pool Westerpark

Most of all, she’s fascinated by the older kids, squealing in delight (perhaps even envy) when she sees them swim, splash and run. I’m hoping it inspires her to get up on her own two feet and run after them… or am I?

Amsterdam with kids after paddling Westerpark

These pictures of Tala at the kinderbadje were enough to get Papa packing up and leaving the office at 3:30 p.m. on a Friday! Thankfully, this is the Netherlands, where doing so is considered totally normal on a warm day. Marlon wasn’t the only dad in his office clothes at the pool, I can tell you that.

Amsterdam with kids bike ride in Westerpark

Having Tala is making me rediscover my city in a whole new way—call it Amsterdam 2.0, or Amsterdam with kids. With her chubby little hand in mine and the sun on both our faces, I can’t wait to experience more.

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Brunch in Rotterdam: Memory Lane

If you think a good brunch is an essential part of a perfect weekend, then you’re a lot like me. And if you just happen to be in Rotterdam for the weekend, I’ve got a gem of a brunch place for you.

Rotterdam brunch Memory Lane

For a delicious brunch in Rotterdam, look no further than Memory Lane. Situated on Hoogstraat in the city center, this casual, cool restaurant serves both breakfast and a proeverij (tasting) lunch until 5 p.m. from Tuesdays to Sundays.

Marlon and I started our 24-hour date night in Rotterdam with brunch here. I was already charmed by their hilarious Twitter come-ons, but when we walked in we knew we had chosen the right place.

Rotterdam brunch Memory Lane restaurant

It’s homey, cozy, unpretentious, and casually cool without trying too hard. The relaxed combination of recycled wood, old cafeteria-style tables and chairs, and haphazardly piled cookbooks appealed to the deepest recesses of my eclectic granny heart.

Rotterdam brunch Memory Lane cookbooks

And then there was the food.

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Date night: Rotterdam edition

It’s Date Night. And the crowd goes wild!

WWE Live in Rotterdam Randy Orton

With a beer in one hand, a cone of mayo-slathered frites in the other, I navigate the sea of neon-clad 10 year-old boys who are crazed with the first hormonal stirrings, accompanied by gym-ripped dads dressed in the tiny muscle tees and leather chokers they seem to have saved from their gigolo glory days.

I sidestep pimpled teens who are communicating to each other entirely in football jargon and curse words, and push past a handful of (surprisingly large) women sporting big blond hair, fake tans and slick faux-leather leggings.

I hand the beer and frites to my husband, who’s as excited as a puppy, and settle down for the main event. As sweaty brutes in one-shouldered Spandex onesies toss each other into the air and smash metal folding chairs into each other’s ridiculously muscled backs, as a wife, I wonder: “Whose idea was this again?”

Oh yeah. Mine.

WWE Live in Rotterdam

When I first bought tickets to WWE Live in Rotterdam as a Christmas present for Marlon, a lifelong WWE fan, it seemed like a stroke of genius. Hey, I liked Hulk Hogan when I was four, so I totally get it! I boasted, feeling like a cool wife. Let’s go to Rotterdam! We’ll make a weekend of it!

Sitting in that teeming mass of testosterone, I wasn’t so sure. My eyes clung desperately to Randy Orton (above), the wrestler who seemed the least like a caricature and most like a real person. Also, he’s cute. Eye candy makes a world of difference.

Somehow, I made it through the evening without turning into a hormonally crazed tween or an ex-gigolo dad. We left Ahoy Rotterdam with Marlon looking chuffed and acting suitably grateful for my wifely sacrifice.

Rotterdam Erasmus Bridge by night

As for me? I needed a stiff cocktail. Let the real Date Night begin!

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Where to eat in Copenhagen: Hallernes Smørrebrød

Don’t these Danish smørrebrød look absolutely delicious? If you’re wondering where to eat these in Copenhagen, I’ll get to that in a minute.

Torvehallerne smorrebrod Copenhagen

First, I have to say: If there’s one way you don’t want to end a weekend away, it’s spending three hours in a hospital emergency room. But that’s exactly how I spent the hours of 3 to 6 a.m. on my last morning in Copenhagen.

I woke up i gasping from an excruciating pain right below my ribcage, and after an hour in godawful pain (like, vomiting and unable to stand up straight kind of pain), I hopped in a taxi to the emergency room at the nearest hospital. I got asked several times if I might be pregnant, and when the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me they wheeled out an ultrasound machine. You cannot imagine how terrified I was that I might see another Little Mango waving at me! Yeah, yeah, I’m not ready for Baby #2, but that’s another blog post all together.

It turned out to be a teeny tiny gall stone. Whew, yay, it’s not a baby! The doctor gave me extra strong painkillers and sent me home in a taxi. “My Copenhagen weekend cannot end like this,” was my last thought before I passed out in my hotel bed at 6:30 a.m, exhausted and miserable.

All this is why the last thing I did before catching my flight back to Amsterdam was drag myself to the Torvehallerne, the biggest food market in Copenhagen. I had to have something Danish, something delicious, and something good to remember Copenhagen by.

Torvehallerne market smorrebrod Copenhagen

I got all all of that in the fresh, flavorful and artfully stacked little package known as smørrebrød. Hallernes Smorrebrod at Torvehallerne makes these traditional Danish open-faced, brown bread sandwiches from a selection of local ingredients that changes daily.

Hallernes smorrebrod Copenhagen

They all look so appealing that it’s hard to choose! In the end I filled my plate with three, which makes a light and satisfying lunch. I chose juicy roast beef topped with pickles and crispy fried onions…

Hallernes Smorrebrod Torvehallerne Copenhagen

… and leverpostej, or chicken pate with bacon, home-pickled cucumber salad and beets (at the top). It was surprisingly tasty considering I hate chicken liver! My favorite was the laks, or citrus-marinated salmon with fennel cream, lemon and dill.

Now this is the way I like to leave a city: with its flavors on my lips. If you’re wondering where to eat in Copenhagen, look no further than Torvehallerne… and be sure to give Hallernes Smorrebrod a try!

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