Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Back Home in Style on Austrian Business Class

We were able to upgrade our seats to business class on Austrian Airlines from Vienna to Chicago O'hare, but unfortunately the second leg from Chicago to Orange County would still be in coach. We arrived at the airport about 2.5 hours before our flight left. After a very quick check-in and security check, we were through passport control in no time. The Austrian business class lounge was right next to passport control so we went there to wait until the flight boarded. The lounge has great views of the tarmac and it has some snacks and beverages. 

We ended up doing some duty free shopping for Kinder Bueno and the Mozart balls candy. All of the shopping is in one area of the terminal which is convenient. Once at the gate, they check passports and boarding passes and keep you in the gate area. Business class passengers were the first to board and I quickly found my seat after turning left from the boarding door. The seat itself is really nice and comfortable. Our plane was a 767-300 named Salzburger Festspiele.

The seat control panel looks like it is an LCD screen but it isn't. There were lots of bells and whistles. The seat itself does go completely flat. The only strange thing about the seat is that bottom cushion inflates every now and then on its own or at least mine did.

The entertainment system was very nice and the screen was huge. I ended up watching a couple of movies and some TV shows. They gave out noise-canceling headphones along with a nice amenity kit case with the usual stuff in it.

I really liked having both a window seat and an aisle seat. Having no one next to you is such a unique flying experience. This particular version of Austrian's 767 has 7 rows of business class with only 4 seats across in a 1x2x1 configuration.

After take off the chef came around and took meal and drink orders. I think he was the one who arranged all of the meal trays and the other flight attendants served it. It's a classy touch to have the chef on board.

On my side of the cabin, the purser was doing the serving. The amount of food was really plentiful. Just about everything was good and I really enjoyed the Austrian wines. Below is the first snack service.

The purser asked what I wanted for appetizers and I actually wanted to try everything. He had no problem with that and gave me some of everything. It was delicious.

This was the same consommé soup with dumpling that I had the night before at Cafe Landtmann in Vienna.

I ordered the chicken that was cooked in the schnitzel style. It was really tasty and I was practically full after the appetizer and soup courses, but oh well.

I thought it was very cool that Austrian Airlines has their logo engraved on their Riedel wine glasses.

After the main meal, there was the dessert and cheese course. I didn't take any cheese even though it looked great.

I ordered the kaiserschmarrn and the Mozart ball tarte thing. They were both outstanding. Because Austrians are so serious about coffee, there was a separate coffee menu after dinner. There were probably 14 different items on the menu. I ordered the Maria Theresia which was coffee with orange liqueur.

Once we were somewhere between Ireland and Iceland, the purser came around and drew my attention outside. We were flying over the Faroe Islands and he said it is a rare treat because they usually only see them once every 5 years because of the combination between the cloud cover and the flying route. The archipelago is incredible and the size of the islands made it look like we were flying very low. It was an amazing site. Later on our route took us over both Iceland and Greenland, but neither was visible because of the cloud layer.

This is a picture somewhere over Iceland but it is not visible. 

At less than 2 hours before landing we were served another meal. I chose the cold cut plate and the apple dessert thing was really good.

The flight and service experience was wonderful and it was disheartening having to leave the plane and get back to reality. Getting through customs in Chicago was very easy, but once again we had to use the train to change terminals to get back to the United Airlines terminal. This was the view from my seat at the United Club in Terminal C.

My experience in Austrian Airlines business class ranks up there with one of the best flights I've ever taken. Just about everything was perfect. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Hello, Vienna Calling

Once we arrived in Vienna we had to wait for about a 1.5 hours before leaving the airport until the rest of the group arrived on various flights. There were several cafes in the airport including a little market. We decided to eat at Caffe Ritazza. I ordered the Viennese breakfast that is pictured below.

Viennese breakfast at Caffe Ritazza in the Vienna Airport
Coffee in Vienna is a serious thing and it is wonderful. My cup of coffee at Caffe Ritazza was my first of amazing Viennese coffee.

My first cup of coffee in Vienna
After breakfast we were able to leave the airport for the hotel in the center of the city. Our hotel was the K+K Hotel Maria Theresia, which is across the street from the Museum Quarter. The location couldn't be better. It is down the road from a ton of shopping and across the street from a ton of museums that are all clustered together. If you don't know who Maria Theresia is, you must google her. She was the empress and part of the Habsburg family that ruled for something like 6 centuries. She had a ton of kids and one of them was Marie Antoinette. She had a fascinating life and it was very cool to learn about her and the Habsburgs throughout the weekend in Vienna.

After we took a nap, we decided to walk around the city. We found the Naschmarkt, which is what it sounds like. It is the nosh market, where you can get just about any kind of food you want. It is several blocks long with stalls and tiny restaurants all selling food. It was fantastic. Then we found a cool looking cafe and went in for afternoon coffee and cake. Cafe Sperl opened in 1880 and the inside feels like it hasn't changed since. 

Just like most places in the world besides in the U.S. the cafe had free wifi. I did a quick google search for Cafe Sperl because it had such a historic feel to it. As I typed in "Cafe Sperl" google suggested "Cafe Sperl Hitler". So of course that's what I went to. It turns out that this cafe was one of Hilter's favorite places to hang out. Yikes, but totally understandable. The cafe is really cute and has a ton of character. People brought in their little dogs and the coffee and studel were amazing.

Apple Strudel at Cafe Sperl

The first day went by quickly especially being so jet-lagged. Our dinner consisted of appetizers at the hotel. The next morning breakfast spread at the hotel was pretty good. The coffee was great, of course, and the pastries were great too. 

Breakfast spread at K+K Maria Theresia

Perfect way to start the day

The view from outside the room

The view looking the other way

After a tour of the summer palace called Schönbrunn Palace and learning more about the Habsburg family, we went back to the Naschmarkt for lunch. We found an Asian place and I ordered Thai tom yum soup and shu mai.
Lunch at the Naschemarkdt
Later on after a nap, we went to the Starbucks right near our hotel on the major shopping street a block away. They had the same coffee flavors as we do in the U.S. but they also had sweet waffles. I love that the coffee culture in Vienna includes afternoon cake or sweets. What could be better?

The best Starbucks experience ever
Dinner that night was at a restaurant in the basement of the Rathaus, or city hall. The building along with most in Vienna is just so grand and old. The restaurant, Rathauskeller, was like Hogwarts but underground. There were large dining halls and smaller rooms each decorated completely differently.

The Rathaus

Dinner was set up with long dining tables like at Hogwarts and the food was excellent. Austria has wineries and this was the wine I ordered.

Dessert consisted of this "mess" of chopped up pancakes and a fruit compote. The dessert is called kaiserschmarrn, which was a favorite of the king's, hence the name.

Famous dessert called kaiserschmarrn
After dinner we walked back toward the hotel in the rain and went up to the bar on top of the 25 Hours Hotel. It has a really nice view of the city because most of the buildings aren't more than about 4 or 5 stories high. This one was only about 10 or so stories.

View from 25 Hours Hotel
More of Vienna
The next morning was a fantastic breakfast again at the hotel. Seriously who doesn't love chocolate cake with breakfast? 

Croissant and chocolate cake for breakfast

We had a morning trip out of town due west of Vienna to the small town of Melk, where there is a really old and historic Benedictine abbey.
The Abbey in Melk
The building itself is gigantic and we took a tour of some of it including the cathedral that is decorated in the Baroque style, which is really over the top. It is quite incredible.

The town of Melk
A canal leading to the Danube

Melk Abbey
This is the very cold view of the hills from atop part of the abbey, just in front of the cathedral.

The hills are alive

After returning to Vienna around lunch time, we met up again with our group for a walking tour to the Hofburg Palace and the famous chocolate cake at the Cafe Hofburg. This building is quite famous for more than one reason. It was the winter palace for the royal family and then Hitler claimed the annexation of Austria from the balcony in the center. It was all quite amazing.

Hofburg, Winter Palace
Ever since I had heard about the famous sachertorte, chocolate cake, on some travel show, probably one of Anthony Bourdain's shows, I have wanted to try it. This is not the version from the famous hotel that started it, Sacher Hotel, but it's the next best thing. The cafe was quaint and cute with delicious coffee.

Cafe Hofburg
The cake itself is a little on the dry side and it is not so sweet. The side of whipped cream with every bite of the cake makes it very very good. It was a lovely (last) afternoon in Vienna.

Sachertorte, famous chocolate cake
Our final farewell dinner in Vienna was at Cafe Landtmann, which has been there since 1873. So cool. And it looks like it hasn't changed in about as long.

Final dinner in Vienna
This consomme soup was so good. It reminded me of matza ball soup, but the dumpling was made of a different flour. 

This was the definitive apple strudel. It was covered in powdered sugar and sat in a vanilla sauce. It was wonderful and it brought my short trip to Vienna full circle since it started with apple strudel at Cafe Sperl and ended with apple strudel at Cafe Landtmann

Ich liebe Wien