Remember when I tried a vending machine kebab sandwich, found it disgusting, but then admitted that I’d eat more weird vending machine food if I found it?
Well I’m a man of my word.
I was at the Prater amusement park the other day to ride the ferris wheel, and I figured I’d walk around a bit and check the place out. And that’s when I saw it: a pizza vending machine.
I knew it wasn’t going to be good, but I couldn’t stop myself. I ordered the cheese pizza (or käsebaguette) because it was the cheapest one at €3.30, and I wanted to pay as little as possible. The machine whirred to life, and within a couple of minutes, it spit out an inoffensive looking rectangular pizza.
It was so bad.
Featuring some kind of slimy cheese-like substance resting atop a crust that tastes like a bundle of Kleenex that’s been soaked through with sea water and left out to dry in the sun, it was actually kind of surprising how bad it was. Like, you expect a vending machine pizza to be gross, but this was next-level bad. There was absolutely no texture here other than soft and mushy and gooey, and the flavour was just saltiness and fake cheese. It was absolutely horrific — it made the vending machine kebab look gourmet in comparison.
You know how some people say that even bad pizza is pretty good? Those people need to come to Vienna so they can see how wrong they are.
The Vienna Central Cemetery is actually one of the largest cemeteries in the world. Going to a graveyard isn’t exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you travel to a new city, but there’s something grimly fascinating about wandering around a cemetery so large.
But of course, the biggest reason to go here is for the very notable people who are buried here. Beethoven, for one.
And several others, including, randomly, Falco. Yeah, the Rock Me Amadeus guy.
There’s also some other stuff to see as you wander around, including a few monuments, such as this one to fallen soldiers.
And, my favourite part, easily the most badass grave that I’ve ever seen (I wish I had taken a better photo. You don’t really get a good sense of it, but the statue of the kneeling knight was huge and impressively detailed).
There’s a restaurant here in Vienna called Heindls Schmarren & Palatschinkenkuchl that serves a dish called kaiserschmarren, which, I’m pretty sure, is the best version of pancakes that I’ve ever had.
It’s kind of like a traditional pancake, only more dense and rich, with an eggy, almost custard-like flavour. A big part of its appeal is the way they serve it; they cut it up and then put it in the oven just long enough for the edges to crisp up. The contrast between the lightly crispy exterior and the moist, cakey interior is the stuff dreams are made of. Sprinkled with icing sugar, topped with cooked raisins, and served with a tart cherry compote, it’s pretty much pancake perfection.
If you’ve seen the Third Man (and seriously, you should see the Third Man — it’s one of the greatest film noirs of all time), then you’ll remember that the city of Vienna features very prominently in the film.
One of the most famous scenes is the one in which Orson Welles’ character attempts to justify his misdeeds while riding a giant ferris wheel.
Well, that ferris wheel is a real thing, and it still exists — it’s called the Wiener Riesenrad, and for ten Euros, you too can go up there and justify killing a bunch of people.
Or take in the view. Probably just the view thing.
And as you can see, the views you get of the city as it goes around are pretty spectacular.
For the uninitiated, a sacher torte is a chocolate cake that’s layered with apricot jam, covered in ganache-esque icing, and served with whipped cream.
While doing research on what to eat in this city, I’ve seen a lot of people say that the sacher torte actually isn’t that great — that it’s too rich.
A dessert that’s too rich? Is that even a thing?
Whether or not it is (and let’s face it; it isn’t), that’s definitely not the case here. The cake itself is actually pretty light, and the slight tartness of the apricot jam balances out its chocolatey sweetness.
It’s actually quite good, though the icing is a little bit grainy, and I agree that it’s nothing too mind-blowing (and at €6.90 for one small slice of cake — over ten bucks Canadian! — it’s almost comically over-priced).
One of the first things I ate when I got to Graz was a wiener schnitzel from a fairly well-regarded restaurant, and it was fine, but the meat was a little bit dry. I’ve had better back in Toronto. And it’s like, what the hell? I’m in Austria. This should be the best wiener schnitzel of my life.
So I figured, okay, I’ll try again when I get to Vienna.
There’s a place in Vienna called Figlmüller that’s quite famous for their schnitzel — I went at around 4:00 on a Sunday, at there was a half-hour line just to get in, so I figured this was going to be the mind-blowing wiener schnitzel I was hoping for.
It was definitely better than the one from Graz, I’ll give it that. The seasoning was outstanding and the outside was perfectly crispy, but again, it was a bit dry.
I wasn’t planning on eating this much wiener schnitzel, but just on principle, I had to try again. It shouldn’t be this hard to find amazing wiener schnitzel in Austria.
I did some googling and found myself at a place called Cafe Rüdigerhof. I had a good feeling about this one. And…
It was the worst of the bunch. The meat was, yet again, fairly dry, and this one wasn’t even particularly well seasoned. I had to add a very liberal spritzing of lemon just to give it any kind of flavour.
That’s it, I give up. I’m not eating a fourth wiener schnitzel. Thanks for nothing, Austria.
I had some flat-out awful meals at McDonald’s in Spain and Italy — meals that were so bad, they made me look at my life and think “am I doing this right?” Well, here comes the land of Arnold Schwarzenegger to hold out a hand and let me know I’m doing just fine. Because McDonald’s in Austria knows how to do it.
I had a few things: a McCountry sandwich, waffle fries, and a beer.
Yeah, that’s right, McDonald’s serves beer here.
The McCountry sandwich was kind of like a McRib, only with red onions instead of regular onions, and curry sauce and mustard instead of BBQ sauce. So… not at all like a McRib, actually. But it’s made out of pork!
This was surprisingly decent. The pork patty was dried out and nothing particularly special, but the combination of the sweet curry sauce and the mustard was satisfying. I’m not a fan of raw onions, but even those were fine — the sauces were strong enough that they really only added crunch.
The waffle fries were pretty good as well. They were nice and crispy, and whatever they seasoned them with worked fairly well. I ordered the “Hot Devil” dipping sauce to go with these, and oh man — that sauce is not kidding around. There’s no way in hell a fast food joint back home would serve something even close to that spicy. Legit hot.
The beer (!) was good too. It was a pretty run-of-the-mill lager, but still… beer at McDonald’s!
The meal was such a pleasant surprise, I figured I may as well get a dessert. I got the raspberry cream cheese pie, and first of all, it was fried, so it’s automatically amazing. The day McDonald’s at home started baking instead of frying their pies was the day that joy died. Fried is so much better, it’s ridiculous. I mean, look at that crispy, crackly exterior!
The inside was pretty good, too — satisfyingly tart and not too sweet. A solid ending to a surprisingly decent meal.
When you’re in a place like that, you have to wonder how much of the design/decor is earnest, and how much is just them playing up the stereotypes to appeal to tourists.
(Not that they get many tourists in Graz — even my Airbnb host was a little puzzled as to why I was there, so I explained that I was visiting for the Arnold Schwarzenegger museum, and he feigned interest, like “oh, I was thinking about going there…” You’re clearly not interested, Airbnb guy. We don’t need to play this game; I know I’m a weirdo.)
Either way, the food was delicious; it was a great example of a really simple, comforting meal, with fork-tender pork, semmelknödel (which tastes kind of like an Austrian version of the stuffing you might eat on Thanksgiving), and cabbage, all topped with a rich gravy.
Tasty Treat Number Two: Hofbäckerei Edegger-Tax has been around for almost 500 years — since 1569. Coming from Canada, where there was a pretty huge deal made about our recent 150th birthday, going to a bakery that’s more than three times older than that feels a bit strange.
The lady behind the counter spoke perfect English (which is delightfully common here), so I asked her what she recommended, and she suggested the Mozartkugel.
This consists of a marzipan centre, surrounded by what basically tasted like thick chocolate buttercream frosting, a cakey pastry, and more marzipan, with the whole thing covered in a generous coating of good quality dark chocolate.
Marzipan is one of those ingredients that can magically make pretty much anything more delicious, so I enjoyed this quite a bit.
I think everyone can agree that Austria’s greatest gift to the world is the fact that it’s the birthplace of the greatest movie star of all time, Arnold Schwarzenegger. They’ve converted his childhood home into a museum; as soon as I found this out, I knew a stop in Austria was a must.
(Yeah that’s right, literally the only reason I’m visiting Austria is to see the Arnold Schwarzenegger museum. I am, however, going to go to Vienna while I’m here and see all the usual touristy stuff — I’m a weirdo, but I’m not that much of a weirdo.)
I’m staying in Graz, but the museum is actually in Thal, a small village that’s close enough that you can get there by city bus. It actually requires two different buses — and then you finally get there and you’re kind of in the middle of nowhere and you’re wondering if you’re in the right place. Then you see this and you realize that yeah, it’s definitely the right place.
So you walk a bit, and when you finally get to the house, you absolutely can’t miss it. There’s this:
Not to mention a big statue of Arnie flexing in front of the house.
The “museum” (it’s really just a few rooms that you can see in about 15 minutes) is small and kind of underwhelming, but as an Arnie fan, it’s still absolutely worth a visit. There’s something special about being in Schwarzenegger’s actual childhood home.
You can see the bed he slept in.
Some of his first bodybuilding equipment.
Props and costumes from his movies.
Not to mention a painting that I absolutely need to hang up in my house.
You can probably give the museum a pass if you’re not an Arnold Schwarzenegger superfan, but then aren’t we all Arnold Schwarzenegger superfans?