Posts Tagged ‘austria’

Wine Tasting Outside Vienna

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Hugh Agnew is a Professor of History and International Affairs at George Washington University. He has taught courses and published books and numerous articles about the Habsburg Empire, the Czech national identity, and Czech heritage and history.

This fall Hugh led a group of Smithsonian Journeys travelers on a tour of Old World Europe.


A classic traveler’s dilemma: here you are in a lovely, historic, culture-filled place and you have only a limited amount of time to devote to activities. Do you try to devour as many galleries, museums, and historic buildings as you possibly can, or do you take a little time to step off the treadmill and relax, perhaps in some way capturing an echo of how the locals relax when they are off the treadmill themselves? Of course, in any major tourist center there are practically no places “untouched by tourism” because tourism is an essential part of the economies of such places. Yet even now it is possible to experience moments where the impact of tourism is lightly-felt, if at all noticed. That’s one of the things I like about Vienna.

Vienna is a major tourism hub, and it is also a very international city with institutions such as OPEC, the United Nations, and the European Union (among others) housing many offices and headquarters here. But it is also home to thousands of Austrians, and in their own ways they continue to live as Austrians and relax as Austrians.

The green lungs of the city, the famous Vienna Woods (Wienerwald), are one place where everyday Austrians like to go to relax. And thanks to Vienna’s world-class transportation system, park-goers simply hop on one of the several tram lines that run from the center of the city, ride it to the edge of town, and begin walking.

And once you’ve started walking, typically it isn’t long before you find yourself among vineyards – and if among vineyards, then how much farther is it to one of the informal Austrian wine garden restaurants? In the villages that used to be outside the city, and which are now being swallowed up as its extended suburbs, the local winegrowers have had the right, since Emperor Joseph II confirmed it in 1784, to offer this year’s vintage for sale in their own establishments. In the southern German dialects, of which Austrian German is a standardized version, the term heuer means “this year’s” – and so these institutions have come to be called “Heurige.” When the year’s vintage is ready to be released, the vintner typically hangs a bunch of pine twigs over the entrance to the courtyard or house to let everyone know that he is open (“hat ausg’steckt,” as the Viennese would say).

The Viennese microclimate seems to me (not an expert) to be kinder to white wine varieties. Rieslings and Austrian varietals, such as Grüner Veltliner and Müller Thurgauare, are becoming better known abroad. Reds are typically the central European varieties such as Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger), St. Laurent, or a successful cross between the two: Zweigelt.

Austrians share the famous Heuriger locations with tourists by the busload, especially in centers like Grinzing, perhaps the best known of the winemaking former villages, or Beethoven’s summer retreat in Heiligenstadt. Slightly further away, and therefore less crowded but still easily accessible from the city center, is Nussdorf. This is where I, and a few other travelers, went on this journey. Even though it was not the best weather for sitting in a Heuriger garden, we still enjoyed this year’s Gemischter Satz “gespritzt” with carbonated water. Typically the new wines are also accompanied by a buffet of light dishes, with some institutions offering hot meals (including gluten free and vegan!). We stayed with the classic snacks: a few spreads (Aufstriche) including the famous Liptauer cheese, a salad of salsify in a creamy sauce (Schwartzwurzel Salat), Austrian-style potato salad, and a wonderfully sour Viennese rye bread. We ended the afternoon fortified for the evening’s cultural activities and in an overall mood that could only be described as “gemütlich.”


Classic Viennese Snacks- Smithsonian Journeys. Photo courtesy of Hugh Agnew


Read more about our small group journey to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic here.

Christmas in September?

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2009

Vienna's City Hall, decorated for the holidays.

It might be a little early for Christmas shopping, but if you’re thinking of traveling for the holidays, consider visiting one of Europe’s historic Christmas markets. Across the continent, large outdoor markets open at the beginning of Advent, selling food and drink, as well as holiday gifts and decor. Some of the most famous markets are in cities like Strasbourg, Glasgow, Dresden, Stuttgart, and, of course Vienna.

Vienna’s Christmas Market has been open in some form since 1294, and the Viennese take pride in dressing their city to the nines with lights and ornaments. Mulled wine and gingerbread can be found for sale on almost every corner, and there are plenty of handcrafted gifts for sale.

See it for yourself this year on our Christmas in Vienna experience, or click here for our other holiday tours.

What’s your favorite way to celebrate the winter holidays? Share below.

Lured by Eastern Europe

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Dr. Ursula Rehn Wolfman is a perennially popular Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader. An adjunct professor at Georgetown University, her field of study is the relationship between literature, painting and sculpture, architecture, and music. Here, Dr. Wolfman will introduce you to Eastern Europe, destination of her next tour. Click here for more information on Ursula and travelling with her.

Prague Castle on the Charles River

Prague Castle above the Charles River

A journey through Eastern Europe takes you along ancient trade routes which have existed since prehistoric times, linking the Baltic region to Southern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea. The great powers of Europe — Prussia, Austria, Russia and France –have clashed here throughout history, altering borders by changing allegiances, devastating cities and countryside well into the 20th century. With the fall of the Communist system and the rebuilding and restoration of the many cities on our tour, we can experience their past glory, magnificent architecture and extraordinary art collections.

This entire region has nurtured some of the greatest of European arts, architecture, music and literature: having traveled extensively in these countries, I am passionate about sharing my fascination with its many riches.

These cities and landscapes evoke many musical and visual memories – whether it is sitting in St. Katjan, a baroque Church below the Hradčany, Prague’s Castle Hill, listening to a concert on a baroque organ and trumpet with the sounds soaring into the painted heavens, or wandering through the romantic gardens of Zelazowa Wola, Chopin’s Birthplace outside Warsaw, with one of his haunting Nocturnes drifting from the concert hall.

In Krakow resides one of my favorite paintings, Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Lady with an Ermine’ in the Czartoryski Museum, and in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum the wonderful ‘Brueghel room’, in the extraordinary collections of the Habsburgs.

The Old World coffee house culture is very much alive in Krakow, Budapest and Prague, with many coffee houses retaining their Fin-de- Siècle atmosphere and authentic Art Nouveau furniture and decorations. In Vienna, at Zuckerbäcker Demel’s, one of the 19th century coffee houses, people share an ‘Apfelstrudel mit Schlag and a Grosser Brauner’, watching elegant Viennese walk by.

Where is your favorie cafe? Share below.

Click here for travel to Eastern Europe.