Vienna Underground

Touring Vienna brought us past many historic sites—the Opera House, countless Viennese cafes, Roman ruins, Holocaust memorials,

as well as this more contemporary “love is love” set of stoplights.

So cool.

We also went to the Schönbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Habsburg clan. With over 1400 rooms and 50 hectares of gardens, it really reminded me more of a rustic cabin…

When Austria became a republic in 1918, the palace was opened to the public for the first time. Sections of the residence operated as apartments, and even as a kindergarten for a short time, but it was all eventually preserved as a museum.

I wandered through at least 26 rooms, then stopped by the gift shop cafe. A hint for travellers: the Esterházy Cake at that shop is approximately 75% buttercream. In a good way.

During our tour of the city, we also passed by a few entrances to the underground cellar system that spans many kilometres in Vienna. There is something about historic cellar systems that totally intrigues me; I think the town of Elliston in Newfoundland was initially responsible for this fascination.

After a full day of exploring Vienna, you can imagine my delight when I found Brezl Zwölb, a restaurant that opened in this building from 1341.

Even better, their lower dining room actually occupies a small section of the cellar system. It was gorgeous, and just dark enough in some corners to make it creepy. Again, in a good way.

I was served two soft, salted pretzels first, and ate both very quickly. I love pretzels, these were the best of the trip, and I was in a cellar, damnit! What could be better?

Next, I ordered the Tafelspitz, which is considered the national dish of Austria and a classic Viennese meal. Beef is boiled in water with root vegetables and spices until tender, and it’s served with a side of potatoes. The potatoes were a combination of roasted and grated raw, which were then pan-fried. The resulting texture was both creamy and chewy and incredibly satisfying. The last time I had a mixture of cooked and grated raw potatoes was when we made Poutines Rapees with the Camilla and Claira Vautour in New Brunswick. Clearly, the combo works in numerous contexts!

The Tafelspitz was served with chive cream sauce and horseradish apple sauce. As in Passau, this meal was certainly not in the running for any beauty pageants, but it sure was tasty.

Few things are as satisfying as eating a hearty meal in a 700 year-old cellar. I never imagined I could state that with such certainty. Thanks Europe!