After knowing Birgit (Olfactoria) for 4 years now, I was beyond excited to accept her kind invitation to come and stay with her family in Vienna, Austria at the start of this month.
The city was everything I had hoped for and more. I found it strikingly beautiful, incredibly civilised (yet welcoming) and embedded with culture at its very core. From a practical point of view, it is also spotlessly clean and easy to navigate. It’s clearly a great place to live, so I can completely see why it hovers at the top of the list of cities with the highest quality of life in the world.
Having a sight impairment and never flown alone before (plus being a nervous flyer), I was anxious about the journey. However all went well and Birgit, The Husband and their two adorable boys (Niki, 5 and Pauli, 8) were there to meet me at Arrivals.
As anyone with a family will know, you don’t lie-in when young children are around and this worked out well for making the most of each day. Bright and early on Sunday morning we had a superb breakfast cooked by The Husband, which included bacon – of course! – done with maple syrup and a touch of chilli.
Then we were off to Schönbrunn, the former imperial summer residence and the largest palace in Austria. It has a stunning façade as you can see from the pictures. It also has extensive gardens which must be quite something when in full bloom. We looked around the exquisite rooms of the palace but for preservation purposes you’re not allowed to take photos.
In the afternoon we visited Prater amusement park, with its 212ft tall Ferris wheel built in 1897.
We took a ride on the wheel but didn’t realise The Husband was worried about the height until we neared the top. Being the consummate medical professional he is, he was more interested in observing his body’s reaction to his rising sense of panic than actually giving-in to it.
Monday morning I happily got to meet the lovely Sandra who also writes for OT. An American who has lived in Vienna for 20 years, she was even more warm and generous than I expected she would be. It was a pleasure to get to know her on this trip and to meet her gorgeous son, Sean.
After a good chat over breakfast, Birgit and I set off for Time Travel Vienna.
This entertaining guided tour really was a hoot and a half. It’s down in the cloisters of an old monastery and is a fun way to learn some facts about city and its history.
The highlight was a multi-media cinema experience which had us whooshing through time and landing at various significant points in Vienna’s history. We could feel the wind in our hair, our seats tilt during a carriage ride and even the rats’ tails flicking against the backs of our legs at the time of the bubonic plague.
Later in the day we visited The Hofburg, which used to be the main royal residence and is situated in the centre of the city.
This and the Schönbrunn were especially interesting to me because I have started reading a novel about Sisi, Empress Elisabeth of Austria (The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki).
Sisi was a complex and fascinating character who married Emperor Franz Joseph in 1853. It was great to see the famous painting of her in real life and to stand in the room where she sat for 2-3 hours a day having her ankle-length hair coiffured.
On Tuesday I got to see Birgit’s much loved, Kunsthistorisches Museum (The Vienna Art History Museum).
The building itself is just as breath-taking as the vast collection of artefacts it holds, accumulated by the House of Habsburg over their reign of around 600 years. It was good to see B’s favourite pieces such as the Fury and Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s Hunters in the Snow, after reading about them here.
Later that day I was very pleased to finally visit St.Stephen’s Cathedral – which is the symbol of Vienna – after catching glimpses of it from afar.
Churches rarely fail to inspire me and Gothic churches such as this feel particularly special. The architecture, both outside and in, is remarkable and the fact that it was bathed in a soft violet light for Lent added to its otherworldly beauty.
Wednesday was perfume day! After breakfast, B left me in the capable fumie hands of Sandra and Val the Cookie Queen – who had travelled down especially from her town near Salzburg for the day. It was a real thrill to meet up in her home country for once and to have the opportunity to get to know Sandra better. We hit four niche perfumeries which were all within walking distance of one another.
First was Le Dix Neuf which is compact in size but has a nicely displayed and curated collection of fragrances. Here they stock Histories de Parfums, Parfumerie Generale, Nasomatto, Byredo, Agonist, SoOud, The Different Company, Mona di Orio, Montale and more.
Next was Le Parfum which I was eager to see because B had mentioned it on the blog a number of times. It was a bright, luxe looking boutique with upscale brands such as By Kilian, Xerjoff and Tom Ford, as well as Penhaligon’s, Serge Lutens, Ramon Monegal and the exclusive Guerlains among others.
Kussmund Wien at Habsburgergasse 14 is a brand new store which stocks niche perfume lines such as Etat Libre d’Orange, Phaedon and Frapin, as well as top beauty brands like Lipstick Queen and By Terry. The staff were very helpful and I’m sure they will be a great success. Val tried Rien Intense Incense by ELd’O on skin. The dark, leathery, smoky incense made me think of India and Val liked it a lot.
Finally we went to Duft und Kultur which has a quirky selection of toiletries, jewellery, clothing etc. as well as perfumes from companies including Diptyque, L’Artisan Parfumeur and Eau d’Italie. We tested Cuir Cuba Intense, the new fragrance by Parfums de Nicolai. Val pegged the powerful opening spice note as caraway seed. It was a pungent and distinctive beginning but may have smoothed out over time.
At the Hermès boutique I contemplated purchasing Hermessence Cuir d’Ange but was still unable to make up my mind. No perfume purchases this trip.
We met up with B again at the tram station where we said our good-byes – for now.
I loved Vienna, but more than its many wonderful sights, I loved getting to spend some time living with B and her family.
The Husband is just as witty and multi-talented as you would gather from reading about him here. From surgery and art, to carpentry and cookery (plus a little accessory-making on the side), he seems to be able to turn his hand to just about anything. By all rights he should have an ego the size of Austria, but instead, this Renaissance Man is incredibly down-to-earth with a ready smile and a self-deprecating sense of humour.
As for the boys, I could go on all day about how amazing they are. I didn’t anticipate getting quite as attached to them as I did. Both very different in character but equally kind, bright and extremely loving. Pauli is a thoughtful, polite and quietly confident young man, while Niki is a bundle of energy, fun and pure emotion – with a big appetite! They completely stole my heart.
Getting to see my great friend in her roles as a caring wife and mother also revealed other sides to her I hadn’t seen before.
I’m very grateful to have been accepted so completely into their home. Living in the midst of such a warm and affectionate family was a privilege as well as a joy.
I will be back!