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Travels With My Parents: Vienna

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When you're older, family holidays take on an interesting dynamic. My parents and I live on opposite sides of the world, so we tend to plan trips that enable us to spend time together while also discovering a new city.

They're quite easy travelers, relaxed, mobile, happy to just go with the flow.  Me? Not so much.  Lord knows how they manage to cope with day-to-day life without me there to bossily organize and supervise them.

Getting into the city from the smallish Vienna airport is a breeze on the smart and efficient City Airport Train (CAT), and after a short taxi ride we were soon checking in to the Radisson Blu hotel - a little bit tired and dated, but friendly enough, free wifi, and in a good central location.

First stop was lunch.  The receptionist at the hotel recommended Cafe Diglas, a short walk away.  A great recommendation, this seems to be a bit of a Viennese institution and we feasted on massive schnitzels. Everybody loves schnitzel.  The cakes here looked spectacular but we were too full to do anything more than admire them.

Vienna is a compact city, and it was just a short stroll to St Stephen's (a massive cathedral) and St Peter's (a fantastic historic church).

My parents love to walk for a bit and then stop for coffee, and this city is obsessed with coffee. Not in an Italian, fussy-about-quality kind of way, but the Viennese pride themselves on offering all sorts of inventive ways of serving coffee - most seem to come with a huge dollop of cream and a slug of alcohol. First stop was Cafe de l'Europe in the centre of town - I opted for a Mozart Kaffee which was really amazing, a short, strong coffee, topped with some whipped cream and then (on the side) a small bottle of Mozart chocolate liqueur that you pour on top.  Genius. In the tradition of Freud and many other great Austrian thinkers and writers, you really can while away hours in Vienna's cafés, eating, reading, and talking. My parents love cafés.

After chillaxing back at the hotel for a while (where they serve free drinks in the bar... tick!), it was on to dinner across town at Vestibul - a beautiful space at the rear of the famous Burgtheatre.  Our young and very good-looking waiter explained that the Burgtheatre building used to be the home of Emperor Franz Joseph (Emperor of Austria 1848-1916) and that restaurant Vestibul occupies the rooms where the Emperor was driven in by his horse and carriage - effectively his garage.

My parents love their wine, and are understandably quite biased towards Australian wines, but while in Europe are keen to try anything that's going.  Austrian wines are something you don't really hear a lot about, but there is a rich tradition of viticulture here where wine-growing has been underway since Roman times and the climate lends itself to maturing wines with plenty of character.  35 grape varieties are used by Austrian vintners so there is plenty of variety to be had.  White wines are the country's strengths, with Gruner Veltliner, Zierfandler and Rotgipfler the local favourites.  Local red varieties include the Blaufrankische and the St. Laurent.

Back to the hotel where we sampled some schnapps - the plum or the pear (as recommended by the friendly barman) were definitely my favourites.

We kicked off day two with a huge assault on the hotel's impressive breakfast buffet.  My parents, wanting to have a relaxing weekend away from it all, decided not to bring any of their technology with them - unlike me who had come fully equipped with all forms of communication.  As a result, breakfast was spent with my parents borrowing my laptop and both my phones to check emails, catch up on Australian news and share photos.  I was left with the International Herald Tribune which is a particularly uninspiring newspaper.

With our sensible shoes on, we set off in the general direction of the Hofburg precinct.  As we were walking up past Josefsplatz, we stumbled across the stables of the famous Spanish Riding School and saw half a dozen of the attractive white horses being led back to the stables after morning exercises.

We pushed on and walked up towards the University before stopping for coffee at Cafe Landtmann.  Their signature coffee is the Franz Landtmann Kaffee - a double espresso with brandy, coffee liqueur, whipped cream and cinnamon - which really is a work of art, and goes perfectly with a slice of Gugelhupf cake. Sacher Tort is what the Austrians are famous for, and it is possible to spend hours debating the endless cake options, but I liked the drier sweetness of Gugelhupf - goes perfectly with a boozy coffee.

The Austrians clearly knew how to build with an eye for grandeur - lots of sweeping vistas showcasing very impressive buildings.  We walked down past the Town Hall, the Parliament and the Museum Quarter (all of which are post-card worthy), before finishing up at the Albertina museum where they were showing an extensive exhibition of the drawings of Gustav Klimt (a famous Austrian symbolist painter who specialised in the female body).

A quick stop into nearby Cafe Mozart for some beef soup with liver dumplings (surprisingly tasty) and then it was on to the iconic Loos' American Bar which is super cool and the kind of small, warm and cosy bar that I could happily move into. As you would expect, this bar does very good cocktails. My parents were feeling the cold so opted for Irish Coffee, but I was feeling adventurous so went for a Danish Manhattan which was excellent, just like a normal manhattan really but with some kirsch and a maraschino cherry. I do love Denmark.

According to my father, his two favourite composers are Mozart and Strauss, so it was almost inevitable that we ended up that evening at a concert where they were playing a selection of the best loved tunes from Mozart and Strauss.  It was a pretty touristy affair, but it was all nicely done and we came away feeling a little cultured.

After fueling up on the breakfast buffet, Day 3 of our Vienna adventure began with a visit to the Naschmarkt - a massive food market which is particularly busy on a Saturday. There's plenty of places to eat in the market but we stumbled upon the nearby Cafe Savoy where we had a quick lunch of goulash. The Cafe Savoy was proudly displaying a rainbow flag and was awash with confirmed bachelors of all ages - my parents didn't buy my protestations that it was just a happy coincidence that we'd ended up here.

We spent the afternoon exploring the impressive summer palace at Schonbrunn palace - a short train ride from the centre of town. Schonbrunn is quite spectacular and worth the visit. Always busy, it is best to go on a sunny day when you can take your time exploring the extensive gardens while waiting for your allocated time to wander through the extravagantly decorated rooms of the palace.

Dinner was at Zu Den 3 Hacken, a restaurant that is literally hundreds of years old and serves spectacular traditional Viennese classics.

On our final day in Vienna we checked out of our rooms and ventured out to the beautiful Belvedere museum to continue our Klimt education - the Belvedere has a massive collection of his work. My parents now love Gustav Klimt.

At some point I realised that I'd forgotten to pick up my passport from the safe in my hotel room. Having endured the entire trip being constantly reminded by me of all kinds of superfluous logistics, my parents struggled to conceal their delight at my schoolboy error as I rushed back to the hotel to retrieve it.

It's hard to imagine a city that ticks as many boxes for a family mini-break but I've begun my research for our next trip already - it's not surprising that when you Google "city+cake+coffee" the number one search return is Vienna.