Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week’s travel diary: A 28-year old solo traveler tries her best to walk through every museum gallery and shop for bespoke shoes in Vienna as she tracks 15 of her 22-day trip.
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Occupation: Senior Software Engineer
Salary: $0 because I’m in between jobs. My last total comp was $127k gross pre-tax pay and $102k post-tax in 2018. I was underpaid so I changed jobs. My new upcoming job has a total compensation of $300k pre-tax which includes a $25k one-time signing bonus, $185k base, and 50% annual target bonus.
Hometown: Oakland, CA
Trip Location: Vienna, Austria
Trip Length: 22 days
Costs: I booked a roundtrip flight from JFK to LIS then to VIE. Even though I live in Oakland, I was able to stay with my parents in NYC for several days so the time zone differences would be easier to adjust. I booked on March 16 which is fairly late to book a flight. I think the deal is average.
Flight: from JFK to LIS and to VIE: $763.67
Airbnb: An entire beautifully-designed Airbnb house with a private bathroom, private balcony, and a fully equipped kitchen in a small town outside of Vienna, for 22 nights.
– 6-day Vienna Pass: $173.22
– Walking Tour of Vienna (booked on Airbnb): $28.93
– A classical music concert at St. Anne’s Church: $32.62
– Universal Adapter: $21.82
Afternoon: I check in at the Priority Pass lounge at Lisbon airport. It is a quiet calm space with lots of chairs and day beds. I recharge my phone as I drink tomato juice and apple juice and eat sandwiches. There’s even a wine bar but am allergic to alcohol. The Priority Pass is included with my Amex Luxury Card, which has an annual fee. I buy a spray bottle and essential oil from Muji at Lisbon airport because I forgot to pack bathroom spray. $18.78
8:00 p.m. – I arrive at VIE airport and take an Uber directly to my Airbnb located on top of a hill. I meet my host at the front door, I unpack my luggage, figure out how to use the shower, call my mom to let her know I’ve arrived at airbnb, and go to sleep. $39.80
Daily Total: $58.58
10:00 a.m. – I wake up without an alarm clock. Grocery shopping is a top priority. I walk 12 minutes to SPAR to buy groceries and walk back up the giant hill to my Airbnb. $52.46
I don’t know German but I know raw vegetables look the same in any part of the world. I buy eggs, asparagus, tomatoes, bell peppers, yogurt, parsley sprigs, raspberries, cabbage, chocolate bars, onions, and garlic. I like that the products are labelled organic and cost way less than Whole Foods. I cook lunch and turn on boiling water to hard-boil a half-dozen eggs. I figure out where all the kitchen appliances and tools are. I eat a Mozartfugel from the grocery store and it is a delicious chocolate nougat.
8:00 p.m. – I plan out my museum stops for the week. I fall asleep early to catch up on time zone difference.
Daily Total: $52.46
12:00 p.m. – I have more errands to run today. I walk to the train station and I buy a weekly public transport ticket ($19.24) and I take the bus north to a phone store to buy a SIM card in cash which is about $28. $47.24
The phone store is a 10 minute walk to Klosterneuburg monastery. When I arrive, I scan my Vienna Pass and go through the audio tour. I am sad that I had missed the tour of the imperial apartments in the monastery in the morning. I visit the permanent exhibit on the history of the monastery and I really like the room with the embroidered religious vestments.
4:00 p.m. – I take the bus to Vienna. This is my first day in Vienna. My current leather ankle boots are a size too small and will certainly hurt when I walk long distances. My orthotics makes shoe selection very difficult because any read-to-wear shoes must be able to fit them. I walk into Ludwig Reiter, the shoe store. It is a family-owned Vienna shoe business that was founded in 1885 as a bespoke shoe business that has now switched into exclusively ready-to-wear shoes and dropped its bespoke business. The shop owner directs me to the ladies’ shoes section. In the next hour, I try on 2 of the same pairs of black leather chelsea boots in different sizes. I finally select and purchase a classic pair of black leather chelsea boots. $672.80
6:00 p.m. – I arrive at Der Wiener Deewan, a pay-what-you-wish Indian buffet restaurant. The food is amazing and I plan to go here as many times as possible. I pay 5 euros in cash because this is a cash-only restaurant. $5.60
8:00 p.m. – I take the train to St. Anne’s Church and listen to a classical music concert that I had pre-booked before arriving to Austria. The concert is pretty long and I doze off in the back row of the church where I am sitting alone.
9:00 p.m. – Concert ends. I wake up from my nap.
10:00 p.m. – I am bad at directions and Google Maps. I eventually make it to the last stop on the train station and then I fail at finding the bus. It is late so I take an Uber directly back to my Airbnb and make a mental note to take the train tomorrow instead. I am so excited to start breaking in my new leather boots the next day and start doing even more intense walking. $12.29
Daily Total: $709.93
11:00 p.m. – I arrive at Schönbrunn Palace and get a ticket (free with the Vienna Pass) for the grand imperial tour that starts at noon. While waiting, I walk a few steps to the Schönbrunn Café outside and go downstairs to see an apple strudel cooking show for 20 minutes. I eat a sample of apple strudel while recharging my phone. I am always recharging my phone everywhere I go.
12:00 p.m. – I go through the audio tour through 40 palace rooms, each decorated in a different color scheme and style and filled with oil paintings, porcelain, and antique furniture. Schönbrunn Palace is my ultimate dream Baroque palace of over 1,400 rooms.
2:00 p.m. – I walk around the palace gardens and find the Imperial Zoo. I, once again, scan my Vienna Pass to cut the line and enter quickly. I see lots of penguins, lions, cheetahs, and other zoo animals.
5:00 p.m. – The zoo closes and I go back to my Airbnb and stir-fry some vegetables to eat. I book a half-day bus tour of Mayerling Woods and a boat tour of Seegrotte underground lake for next Wednesday. $64.13
Daily Total: $64.13
11:00 a.m. – I wake up late because it is Saturday and take public transport into Vienna to get Saturday brunch.
12:00 p.m. –I’m at Der Wiener Deewan again for lunch and I pay in cash. I’m sure the waiters will recognize me as I come here more often. $5.60
I get addicted to learning German on Duolingo while on my commute from the Airbnb to museums, so I buy an annual subscription. I use Duolingo on the commute within and to Vienna often to learn German vocabulary. I don’t want to be a dumb American tourist who can’t speak any European languages. $83.88
1:00 p.m. – I visit the Albertina Museum using my Vienna Pass. The locker room is 1 Euro.
4:00 p.m. – I get tired of walking and breaking in my new leather boots so I walk to a random coffee shop Gerstner K. u. K. Hofzuckerbäcker. I later learn that it has a royal seal for providing baked goods to the Habsburg royal family. The coffee shop is full so I sit at the bar and order 2 pots of tea while I recharge my phone and read a book. $16.87
5:00 p.m. – I walk back to Albertina Museum. The security guard recognizes me from earlier and lets me back in.
6:00 p.m. – Museum closes. I’m glad I saw all the 3 exhibits while taking many photos. I go back to my Airbnb via public transport and cook a simple dinner with chicken, rice, and vegetables.
1:00 a.m. – I finally fall asleep watching an art documentary about the masterpiece oil paintings at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
Daily Total: $106.35
11:00 a.m. – I wake up very late again. I can do that because I am traveling alone and it is Sunday.
3:00 p.m. – I arrive at the Imperial Treasury, scan my Vienna Pass, and look at hundreds and hundreds of silverware, porcelain, and big sculptural table centerpieces owned by the Habsburg family.
5:00 p.m. – Museum closes. I am usually the last person to exit the museum because I take my time to see every object and read every label. I walk around the Museumsquartier and refill my water bottle at a public fountain. I am impressed to see a half a dozen museums in the same area.
6:00 p.m. – I take the train and bus to Danube Tower and scan my Vienna Pass to take the elevator to the tower. It is dark and I only see bright lights. I cannot see any buildings. I spend <5minutes at the cold windy rooftop tower.
6:30 p.m. – I take an Uber back to my Airbnb where I cook a simple dinner. $15.77
1:00 a.m. – I finally fall asleep watching the same art documentary series about the masterpiece oil paintings at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
Daily Total: $15.77
9:00 a.m. – I wake up early.
10:00 a.m. – I arrive at the Hofburg Palace again and scan my Vienna Pass at the same location as yesterday. I do the audio tour of the imperial apartments of Empress Sissi and her husband, Emperor Joseph Franz I.
1:00 p.m. – I walk to the Natural History Museum about 30 minutes away. I scan my Vienna Pass and look at thousands of dead animals, dinosaurs, worms, butterflies, and insects on display in over 50+ rooms. This is the best natural history museum in Europe ever.
I get tired easily and sit on a bench in the dinosaur exhibit to charge my phone and watch as tourists get spooked by the robot Tyrannosaurus that roars.
6:30 p.m. – I go to the Museum of Illusions where it is full of teenagers. Unfortunately the entrance is not covered by the Vienna Pass so I pay in cash. I play some puzzle games and get bored in an hour. I get annoyed at the loud teenagers running around the museum and taking many selfies in each station. $13.50
7:30 p.m. – I arrive at my favorite Pakistani buffet restaurant, Der Wiener Deewan. It is crowded so I sit on a long table where there are many groups of friends talking loudly. I am the only solo traveler eating alone and it doesn’t feel weird here. It is a good dining area for solo travelers. I really like the milk rice dessert.
9-9:30 p.m. – I’m back at my Airbnb.
12:00 a.m. – I fall asleep reading museum websites to plan my next day and I have too many tabs open.
Daily Total: $13.50
9:00 a.m. – I wake up early thanks to my alarm clock.
10:00 a.m. – I arrive at Belvedere Palace, scan my Vienna Pass, and instantly find Gustav Klimt’s iconic masterpiece, The Kiss. I’m glad there is no line this early in the morning. I spot the original painting of Napoleon crossing the alps there. I walk through each of the rooms filled with masterpiece oil paintings and take hundreds of photos on my Samsung Galaxy.
6:00 p.m. – I exit the Belvedere Palace and I am disappointed that I couldn’t walk to the far side of the garden to continue exploring the second part of the palace. I take the bus right outside the park surrounding the palace.
6:30 p.m. – I once again arrive at my favorite Pakistani buffet restaurant, Der Wiener Deewan. It is crowded and noisy so I sit on a long table again. I’m so hungry that I eat 2 full plates of food. I can never tire of Pakistani or Indian food, even if I eat the same dishes everyday. I pay $5.60, in cash. I am out the door in 30 minutes. $5.60
7:30 p.m. – I scan my Vienna Pass to the House of Music. I sit at a music station with chairs and rest my feet on the extra chair as I listen to classical music on headphones. After 30 minutes of resting at the music station, I start to walk through the exhibits.
9:30 p.m. – The museum security finds me still in the 5th room and tells me that I have 30 minutes left before the museum closes. There are at least 12 more rooms to explore. I walk past 6 more rooms very quickly and sad that I couldn’t learn more about Schubert, Beethoven, Strauss, and many other composers.
10:00 p.m. – I exit the museum as it closes.
11:00 p.m – I’m back at the airbnb and fall asleep eventually.
Daily Total: $5.60
7:30 a.m. – I wake up super early.
9:00a.m. – I arrive in Vienna at a meeting point for the Mayerling bus tour to visit the restored hunting lodge and museum where the Crown Prince Rudolph committed suicide with his 18-year old mistress, Mary Vetera. I had pre-booked this tour last week.
10:00 a.m. – We arrive at the museum memorial of Mary Vetsera where there is a lot of in-depth hour-by-hour detail about the events leading up to the death of the crown prince and his funeral procession. The end of the exhibit features Mary Vetsera’s empty coffin. I am once again the last guest to leave the museum as I read about the details of the suicide. I buy a jar of local honey and bee propolis lip balm in cash at the museum gift shop. I like to mix honey and yogurt for breakfast. $11.23
11:00 a.m. – The bus tour arrives at Seagrotte underground lake. We walk underground to visit the caves and memorials of miners. We go on a boat tour of the silent empty underground lake.
12:00 p.m. – Bus arrives at the same Vienna meeting point.
12:30 p.m. – I walk to the Imperial Vienna Café, located inside the Imperial Hotel. I know the hotel has beautiful bathrooms so I use the bathroom there often. I order an overpriced salad and tomato soup because I am so hungry. I spend a few hours at the coffee house to charge my phone from 0%. I remind myself to buy a super-fast phone charger cable and a portable phone battery on my next trip. $26.01
5:00 p.m. – I walk 15 minutes to Vienna Opera House and wait in standing room line. I pay $3.37 to see the Orest opera. It has a very confusing plot about serial killer siblings who murder their own parents but it is just one act. I am glad to be done. $3.37
9:00 p.m. – Opera ends and I take public transport back to my Airbnb. On my way back to the Airbnb, I learn basic German vocab on Duolingo. I make a mental note to research beginner German language classes in the Bay Area. Back at Airbnb, I research museums and shoe stores in Vienna.
Daily Total: $40.61
9:00 a.m. – I do laundry and wait for the clothes to dry on the rack because there is no drying machine in the Airbnb. I cook lunch with lots of leftovers. I enjoy the sunshine in the balcony while brewing and sipping a cup of tea.
4:40 p.m. – I arrive at Maftei bespoke shoe store and browse dozens of shoe samples. The sales associate is very kind, is fluent in English (thank goodness!), and enjoys explaining the various styles and leathers to me. His passion for shoes is infectious and we talk for an hour about handmade shoes. It is my dream to own a pair of bespoke boots that fit perfectly on my irregularly-shaped flat feet. No more will my feet be in pain from many hours of walking in shoes that cause blisters and bunions.
6:00 p.m. –I walk 10 minutes to the Opera House. I wait in a very long standing room line again at Vienna Opera House. I pay $3.37 again. I learn German vocab on Duolingo while standing in the same standing room line for 90 minutes before the box office opens. $3.37
7:30 p.m. – La Bohème, the opera, starts. It is very sad because the main female artist character gets cancer and dies because she is too poor to afford a doctor. This opera is especially sad because it reminds me of the American healthcare system.
10:00 p.m. – The opera ends.
11:00 p.m. – I’m back in the Airbnb, heat up a simple meal with vegetables and rice from this morning on the electric stove, and eventually fall asleep while watching an art documentary.
Daily Total: $3.37
11:00 a.m. – Wake up and make lunch. I don’t want to head out into Vienna too early because my 3-hour walking tour later today will be physically tiring.
2:00 p.m. – I arrive at St. Stephan’s Cathedral. I buy a combined ticket that includes an audio tour, visit to North Tower, South Tower, and the catacombs. I complete the audio tour. I take the elevator to North Tower. I walk around the cathedral and find South Tower. I try to climb the 300+ spiral twisty steps to South Tower and I give up halfway through because I get dizzy from the twisty repeating staircase. I plan to visit the catacombs in the next week. $17.86
3:00 p.m. – I arrive at a meeting point for an intensive walking tour of Vienna. We visit more than 6 sites including buildings by Otto Wager, the hipster artist neighborhoods, and a futuristic buildings at the WU (Wirtschaftuniversitat Wien).
6:00 p.m. – The walking tour ends at Prater Amusement Park and I sit on a public bench to rest. I have never felt more tired in my life.
7:00 p.m. – I eat at Der Weiner Deewan and eat a lot of Pakistani food. I pay in cash. $5.60
9:00 p.m. – I arrive at the Airbnb after walking up a giant hill from the bus stop.
10:00 p.m. – I fall asleep.
Daily Total: $23.46
I wake up late in the morning and I buy another week’s worth of groceries. I make lunch & dinner. I hang out at Airbnb all day to rest my tired feet mostly watching art documentaries. $28.00
Daily Total: $28.00
11:00 a.m. – I arrive at Kunsthalle Museum, which is pay-what-you-wish every Sunday. The exhibit on Peter Teatro was so boring and I walked through in <15 minutes. I understood none of his art. I walk up a staircase to see the Mumok museum a modern art museum. I take hundreds of photos in the MuMok including the description labels of the material used, year the artwork was made, and the name of the artist. $13.59
12:00 p.m. – I take the train to Centimeter for lunch and order a rice dish. The waiter is unfriendly and seems disappointed that I wanted to pay in credit card. $16.98
3:00 p.m. – I walk 15 minutes to the Hofburg Palace and visit the Imperial Treasury where I purchase a combo ticket that includes admission to the Kunsthistorisches Museum. I look at crowns, capes, imperial thrones, imperial baby beds, and antique jewelry. $ 24.92
5:00 p.m. – I exit the museum as it closes.
6:00 p.m. – I arrive at airbnb and make a simple meal.
Daily Total: $55.49
10:00 a.m. – I take a bus and train to Leopold Museum. $15.85
1:00 p.m. – I take a train to dine at a different Centimeter, where I make the mistake of sitting in the smoking area inside where men were smoking. I eat a big meal of spare ribs and French fries which is an Austrian version of Texas BBQ that was too oily but so deliciously filling. $21.50
I take public transport to Leopold Museum to see more Austrian artwork by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. I learn all about the Secession art movement.
6:00 p.m. – I leave the museum and I’m glad to have seen all the artwork.
7:00 p.m. – I arrive back at the Airbnb and cook a simple stir-fry meal from scratch.
Daily Total: $37.35
10:00 a.m. – I use the combined ticket from 2 days ago to skip the line and go inside the Kunsthistorsiches museum, which is now one of my favorite art museums in the world. Every wall has oil painting masterpieces and there were hundreds of gallery rooms. Each oil painting has its own Wikipedia entry like the Tower of Babel painting. I am also hungry after 2 hours of looking at oil paintings that have shaped European civilization in the past 700 years.
2:00 p.m. – I get lunch at Vienna Live Tunnel which has a number of traditional Austrian dishes, Middle-Eastern dishes, and Indian dishes. I get a lomok, a rice meal with minced beef flipped upside down where the minced beef is on top. $19.80
3:00 p.m. – I stroll around the Michaelplatz tourist area where the Hofburg palace is located. I walk into Scheer & Sohn, one of the best bespoke shoe makers in Central Europe, to browse their leather handbags and shoe samples. I talk with the nice sales associate and ask about seeing women’s shoe samples. I touch a lot of soft python skin, lizard skin, alligator/crocodile skin samples.
Bespoke shoes start at €6k. Each pair of shoe lasts is hand-carved in wood for an individual customer and there’s a waitlist of several months because they have capacity for 300 pairs of fine bespoke shoes a year in which every part is made by hand. These shoes are works of art heirlooms that can survive centuries and be resoled over and over. I don’t intend to buy anything at Scheer today, but I can still dream.
As I leave the store, a tour group stops in front of the store and the tour guide talks about how this shoe maker created shoes for members of the Habsburg Royal Family and is the oldest bespoke shoe maker in all Europe.
4:30 p.m. – From Hofburg Palace, it takes me 20 minutes to walk to Gerstner K. u. K. Hofzuckerbäcker coffee shop which is across the street from Vienna State Opera House. I drink a glass of hot chocolate for 30 minutes, keeping track of time. I recharge my phone at the bar as always. $5.60
5:00 p.m. – I walk across the street to the opera house and wait in a long standing-room line. I pay $3.37 to see Turandot opera that stars Alfred Kim as Calaf. This is the best use of 3 Euros ever for a 2 hour opera. I wait in line for 2.5 hours while learning German on Duolingo. I earn a lot of in-game currency by getting the quiz questions right and earn many achievement badges on Duolingo. $3.37
7:30PM: Opera starts.
10:00 p.m. – I almost cry at the ending and hold back tears. It is a standing ovation for a long time as the singers do multiple curtain calls. It is such a special incredible performance.
11:00 p.m. – I arrive back at the Airbnb and make a quick carrot and cheese snack.
Daily Total: $28.77
How did you prepare for this trip?
I used TripAdvisor to research budget restaurants. I Googled a lot of museums and churches when I got to Vienna. I didn’t read any tourist books or check social media.
What was your favorite part of the trip?
I like the standing room at the Vienna Opera House because this is the cheapest ticket you can ever buy for the best opera shows in the world. The key thing is to line up 2-3 hours early to get the best standing room area. I watched 6 operas and a ballet for a total cost of 20 Euros in cash ($22.47).
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there?
I really like Pakistani food at Deewan and Indian food at Daily Imbliss. I didn’t try any traditional Viennese food. My trip wasn’t about the food and was all about the art & architecture. I also can’t eat gluten which is present in all Viennese pastries. I enjoyed the hot chocolate at Hotel Imperial Café even though it is an overpriced coffee house.
Would you stay at your Airbnb again?
Yes, it came with a private bathroom, private balcony, and a fully equipped kitchen. All the furniture was wooden and so were all the walls. It is a beautifully designed rustic home that is shaped like a cylinder with tall glass windows that open into the outdoors. The host helped me with the bus and train directions and translated several German words for me.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t?
I wish I had more time to visit the Kunsthistorisches museum, the Belvedere Palace, and the Imperial Furniture Museum again because they both can take several days to see all the artwork. I would also like to visit the Anatomical Pathological Museum which has very limited public hours. It is a museum of medical horrors and strange medical specimens. The museum is located in the same building as a defunct insane asylum. There is also an entire special medical exhibit inside that is by appointment only.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time? Would you have come home sooner or stayed longer given the chance?
Yes, 22 days is the right amount of time. I would’ve even stayed longer in Austria so I could have visited more Austrian towns like Modling and Salzburg in a slower travel style. Vienna has over 100 museums and I’ve hardly visited more than 15 in total. You can easily spend months in Vienna and not see all the sights. Ideally, I would stay for 2 months or more in each country I visit and learn the local language to truly understand its history and culture in addition to visiting all the museums and palaces.
What advice would you give someone who is travelling to the same location?
1. If you’re into slow travel, buy groceries first. Even if you’re staying for a few days, buy groceries and snacks to keep you energized as you take breaks in between sites.
2. Bring your own water bottle and fill it up when empty at the water fountain at Museum Quartier and Reselpark in Karlsplatz.
3. You can visit many museums at once at the Volkstheater and Museums Quartier which is in walking distance to Hofburg Palace.
4. Hotels are the best places to use public bathrooms. The more luxurious the hotel, the more beautiful the bathroom.
5. If you are looking to see Vienna on a tight budget, visit the public gardens, parks, and churches which are all free.
6. Do NOT ever use the bank currency exchange at airports.
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