Tim Foolery

Austrian Airlines VIE-IAD (OS93)

My flight to Vienna was direct on Austrian, but they don’t offer a direct return on Sundays (at least during the off season), so I had to connect.  I found a connection through DC on Austrian in Business Class (with a return to Vienna a few months later in coach) for only $1,300.  It was a great deal and since I’d be flying Business, I’d be earning double elite qualifying miles which is a great leap to retaining Platinum Status on United.

I arrived at the airport for my return flight home to Chicago after my quick and wonderful weekend in Vienna.  The morning was a bit snowy but because I was taking the CAT (City Airport Train) I had no issues with traffic or timing.  The CAT is really the best way to and from the Vienna Airport.

Arriving at the Airport, walking up the stairs into the main terminal where Austrian operates, you could easily miss the Business Class and Elite (HON Circle Members, Star Alliance Gold, etc) check-in area.  While it is well marked, it is something you could just walk by and never notice.  Not all of the check-in lines were open, but the ones that were had only about 4-6 people in line. Unfortunately, those lines didn’t move very fast and each  person in front of me had more luggage than a refugee.  Again, I decided to check my roller suitcase, as Austrian can be sticklers when it comes to hand luggage rules.

The elite check-in area for Austrian Airlines. Business Class, HON Circle and Star Gold Members can use this area.

The elite check-in area for Austrian Airlines. Business Class, HON Circle and Star Gold Members can use this area.

I made it through security and immigration pretty quickly and found my way to the Austrian Lounge – there are two lounges, one for Business Class Passengers and one for Star Alliance Gold.  I was very disappointed when I was told I couldn’t enter the Business Class Lounge, because I was a Star Gold Member, even though I had a paid Austrian Business Class Ticket.  The Star Gold Lounge was completely packed – not a single seat was available, people were standing around, it was miserable and reminded me of the Swiss Lounge at O’Hare.

I decided to pop over to the Priority Pass Lounge a few meters away.  It sure wasn’t fancy, but I managed to get a seat and had a couple tomato juices and a bloody Mary before heading off to the gate.  I left the lounge about 20 minutes before boarding and as I walked to the gate, I snapped the Boeing 767 that would take me to Washington.

Austrian’s Boeing 767 parked in Vienna.

The gate area was blocked off into a standard economy section and the business class section – you were put into your section after your passport and boarding pass were checked again. Boarding began about 25 minutes before our scheduled departure.  There were about a dozen people who hopped on the plane before me.  We boarded through door 1L.

Flight: Austrian Airlines OS93 (Business Class)
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Seat: 7K
Departure: 10h35 (11h50)
Arrival: 14h30 (15h31)

I was seating on the other side of the plane this time, in seat 7K – again, the seat closest to the window with the side table on the aisle, really, the best of the seating options on this flight.

As soon as I stowed my briefcase and sat down, I was approached by the flight attendant with water, apple juice and champagne as pre-departure beverage options.  Of course I enjoyed a lovely glass of champagne while the rest of the plane boarded and our menus were distributed.

Pre-departure champagne.

Pre-departure champagne served in a beautiful Riedel Glass

Like the previous flight, the chef came by and took our orders for lunch and the pre-landing snack while we were still on the ground, and I was served another glass of champagne.  Unfortunately the snow had picked up and we were told we’d need to head over to be de-iced and we were fifth in line for the procedure.  I started to get a little nervous since I did have a connection in DC and I really didn’t want to get home too late as I had to work the next day.

We waited on the de-icing pad for about 45 minutes until it was our turn.  15 minutes of de-icing and we were ready to take off.  The snow was really limited and I was surprised that we actually needed to be de-iced, I think we’d have just taken off if we were on a US based flight, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

An Austrian Airbus painted in classic livery.

The business class cabin was quite full and some people tried to take a nap before take off.

About two hours after our scheduled departure time and about 45 minutes after we actually took off service began.  I had another glass of champagne with some mixed nuts.  The nuts were ice cold, which was a little disappointing – I think the warm airline nuts are a nice treat.

Continuation of champagne and fresh nuts. Cold Nuts.

The meal service moved quite quickly.  The antipasti trolley made it’s way down the aisle and I picked one of everything, excepted for the smoked salmon – I am really not a salmon guy.  The octopus was quite good, and no one else on my aisle seemed to like it, so the flight attendant returned and offered me a substantial refill.

I sampled most of the antipasti from the trolley.

The next course was a very lovely tomato soup that was a little smokey and had a few small pieces of bocconcini mixed in.  I was very nervous about eating this soup – a deep red tomato soup on a plane always makes me think I’m going to be wearing the soup with just a touch of turbulence.  Luckily, I wasn’t covered in this tasty soup….this time.

The smoked tomato soup with bocconcini.

For my main course, I had the Viennese style veal goulash, which had a shockingly sweet sauce.  It wasn’t bad per se, it was just not at all what I was expecting and it actually paired horribly with the red wine the flight attendant suggested I have with this course.  The sauce was sweet and the wine was extremely dry, making for a cloying combination.  The spaetzle was really done perfectly though.

Viennese style veal goulash with homemade spaetzle

I was utterly stuffed after this course and couldn’t even bring myself to have cheese or dessert on this flight.  Take a look at my previous Austrian flight review to see how that turned out – the desserts were exactly the same (which is why I chose to steer clear this time).

After lunch, I decided to watch some movies on the in-flight entertainment (IFE). Again, since I had just flown this product 4 days earlier the movie and (dismal) TV selection were unchanged.  As I rewatched Murder on the Orient Express, I napped for a few hours.  I didn’t want to get too much sleep because I had to work the next day, I tried to focus on getting reacclimated to the Central Time Zone.  I also spent much of the flight watching TV shows on my tablet.

We ended up landing in DC about an hour later than scheduled, which meant we picked up about 30 minutes in the air.  Many passengers had tight connections and deplaning was a bit of a mess.  I got off pretty quickly, but then remembered the awful part of Dulles – those people movers that look like they belong on the moon.  I don’t know if you can bypass these monstrosities and just walk, but I boarded these futuristic contraptions and waited.  And waited. AND WAITED.  It took about 30 minutes from the time I hopped aboard until we started to move, then once we stopped everyone began pushing to get off.  Often times I’d rather have a long walk – at least I’m in control of that situation. Being at the mercy of these Star Wars style people movers just made my frustrated.

This was my first time flying Austrian Airlines westbound.  Heading this direction you aren’t focusing so much on sleep as you are on the eastbound journey, so I was able to slow down and enjoy the product and the service of it all.  I really do think that Austrian offers the best Star Alliance Business Class Product out of Chicago to Europe.  I’ll have to expand my horizons and try British, Iberia, Air France or KLM soon though.

Have you flown Austrian Airlines in Business Class?  Which direction is your favorite?  Don’t you just love the onbaord chef and the BLAZING Red Uniforms of the cabin crew?

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Stitch Fix: A Tale of Two Boxes

I decided to give StitchFix a try a few weeks ago.  I’d been thinking about using this service a while and when I saw American Express had a spend $50, get $25 back deal, I had to pull the trigger.

For those who don’t know what StitchFix is, I’ll give you a quick summary. Basically, it’s is an online service where you complete a style/clothing/sizing survey on their website and they send you a box of clothes.  You can choose casual or professional clothes.  The service costs $20 for the styling and if you choose to keep any of the clothes they send you, this $20 is credited back to the cost of your clothes.

The clothes are moderately priced. $100 pair of jeans, $50 casual shirts for men, $150 blazers.  If you buy all five items in your box, you get an additional 25% discount.

The StitchFix contents come wrapped in fancy butcher paper.

I don’t need any professional clothes.  I’ve got a tailor in Hong Kong that makes all my suits and dress shirts and I find that Banana Republic pants work perfectly for me – and they are almost always having a 40% off sale.  I just don’t have many casual clothes.  In the summer, I live in BR linen shirts.  If you’ve followed me on other social media (and here), you’ll see that I am often wearing a casual blue shirt from BR – it often ends up as my travel shirt.  It’s comfortable, inexpensive and has a pattern that can hide a stain should we hit turbulence and I spill on myself.  I need more casual clothes.

How did it work out for me?

I signed up and anxiously awaited my first box.  It included:

  • Unstructured Navy Blue Blazer
    • Sleeves were way too short on me. I liked the style and wished it fit properly. Pass.
  • Blue Polo Shirt
    • Standard Blue Polo – I have too many of these as it is. Plus the mid-section didn’t fit properly and it was quite long.  Pass.
  • Black Mavi Jeans
    • The pants fit well and the color looked nice, but there was so much stretch to the pants, I felt like I was wearing spandex or pajamas.  Pass.
  • Two Pair of Socks
    • The stitching was great and the pattern was fun. Two pairs were $28. That’s too expensive for me. Pass.
  • Performance Fleece
    • A basic grey fleece, with long sleeves.  Nothing stellar, but with the AmEx credit, it was totally worth the net $35 cost. Keep.

So the first box didn’t do it for me.  When you checkout online with StitchFix, you have the opportunity to tell them why you are returning.  You answer questions on fit, cost, color, general style, etc – plus there is a freeform section that allows you to include a narrative as to what you want to change.

I decided to give StitchFix another try – especially since I had a second AmEx card with this spend $50 get $25 back credit.  I reviewed my style profile, made some minor changes and then waited for my next box.

My second box arrived a couple days ago and it included:

The winning box – I kept all of these items!

  • Heavy Twill Shirt
    • This long sleeve burgundy shirt was a little big in the mid-section, but fit well otherwise and I thought it was a nice casual weekend shirt for cool weather.  The $68 price tag gave me pause though. Keep.
  • Printed Poplin Shirt
    • I really liked this short sleeve casual shirt from the second I opened the box and it fit well in both the sleeves and the waist – two areas where I struggle in shirts.  For some reason many designers have arm holes that are way too small for me, and I don’t have big arms and the mid-section is either too tight (for my big belly??) or way to big (for my lean stomach???).  Keep.
  • Poplin Shirt
    • This grey long sleeve shirt immediately made the mental rotation for a great travel shirt. It was a light heather grey, so when we hit turbulence and my red wine goes flying, I won’t be able to hide the stain, but the shirt is so comfortable and soft. For $44, it was a no brainer – although I have switched to drinking white wine or prosecco whilst wearing this shirt. Keep.
  • Joe’s Jeans
    • A simple, straight legged pair of jeans that fit almost perfectly.  Honestly they were a little baggy in the seat, but very comfortable in every other part.  $138 and they made it into my closet.  Keep.
  • Jersey Tipped Pocket Polo
    • A burgundy polo, with slightly tighter arms than I like, but a good fit everywhere else.  I wasn’t a big fan of the pocket on this shirt, as the material was a bit thicker, so if the pocket isn’t laying perfectly flat, it enhances your bosom in a very unflattering way.  For $59, I was going to send it back, but I remembered that if I buy all five items, I get 25% the total price. Basically, if I spent $49 on this shirt, I’d save $93.50 on the whole order. Keep.

The total price of this box was $374.00, minus the 25% savings for buying all items, minus the $25 AmEx credit for spending $50 with StitchFix.  I’m pleased with this box.

While it isn’t cheap, that’s for sure and it isn’t a solid win on the selections, I think I’ll continue to try StitchFix from time to time.  I’ll get one more box and see how that turns out and then I’ll likely turn off the subscription for a while.

Do you use StitchFix?  Have you thought about trying it?  Feel free to use my referral code,  Full disclosure, if you follow that link, I’ll get $25 off my next order.  If you love StitchFix, I’d love to hear about your experiences and definitely leave your referral code in the comments.

The Bristol Lounge

We made the mistake on our first visit to Vienna of not eating dinner before the opera – thinking we could grab a meal nearby afterwards.  We were sorely mistaken – we ended up at an awful tourist trap with mediocre food and a surly staff.  This year, we decided to eat before the opera and then grab a simple dessert afterwards.

We had eaten an enormous and long dinner the night before at Steirereck and weren’t interested in another 700€+ dinner, but I really wanted something traditional and Austrian.  We hadn’t planned on dining in our hotel, but after a rain soaked afternoon of exploring the city, we found ourselves back in our hotel grabbing a drink at the bar.  While relaxing we were researching restaurants and the Bristol Lounge (the very place we were sitting) had many good reviews about their creation and presentation of Austrian Cuisine.  Plus it was right across the street from the Opera House.  But could we get reservations?

At first the restaurant was sold out, but as we left, we walked to the concierge at the hotel and asked if he could get us a couple of seats and we reminded them that we were going to the opera (I’d been working with the concierge staff trying to get tickets for weeks) and that we’d be out and they could reseat the table by 19h00.  The concierge hooked us up.

We ran upstairs and changed into our tuxes then popped right back down for our dinner.  We arrived a little before 18h00 and were escorted to our table in the Winter Garden, which is just a glass enclosed area of the restaurant that is fully heated and covered, so it didn’t feel like you were outside at all.  The stylish Art Deco design made for a comfortable place to dine.

The menu was full of great traditional Austrian courses, but also with more classical fine dining options as well.  As we were in black tie, the waiter immediately confirmed that we were going to the opera and he guaranteed that he’d pace everything to get us out on time – but we had to put our order in within 15 minutes or he couldn’t guarantee our timely departure.  Fair enough.

We had already scoped out the menu and decided on our selections before the menus were even delivered.  We also ordered a bottle of Austrian Pinot Noir, which was light and delicious – it even had a little of that dirt/soil flavor that I love so much from Oregon Pinots.

The bread course came out with the wine.  The breadboard was great – with a small cutout for the butter, which was topped with pink salt flakes – we devoured the bread, which was served very warm.  God I hate when you get a cold piece of bread and cold butter – you just end up tearing it to shreds.  Everyone should serve bread like they did at the Bristol.

The bread course was served piping hot with rich olive oil and creamy butter topped with pink salt.

Dinner started with an amuse bouche chilled beets, which was surprisingly tasty.  So often, I find the complimentary amuse to be…well, not amusing, just forced and wasteful — or at worst, designed poorly and can start to wreck your palette.  This was neither – I did want another bite though.

The beet amuse bouche was quite chilled and refreshing

The beet amuse bouche from elevation.

I continued on with the Champagne Risotto, which had great flavors with mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, but was piping hot.  When I make risotto at home, I always make mine nice and creamy, which is easy to do with Arbolio Rice.  This risotto was pretty dry – it wasn’t quite a pilaf, but it felt closer to the pilaf side of the spectrum than the risotto side.  After it cooled quite a bit, I dug it.

The Champagne Risotto with mushrooms and tomatoes tasted great – it wasn’t a creamy risotto which disappointed me.

Finally, the entrees arrived – my Weinerschnitzel almost covered the whole plate and was served with half a dozen small potatoes with parsley.  I really hate when you get a schnitzel larger than your plate and find that the meat somehow shrunk and mostly what you have is breading.  This wasn’t like that at all – every bite had a lovely thin slice of veal and with the lemon juice sprinkled on top, made for a perfect dinner.

The Weinerschnitzel was the best I’ve had and the parsley potatoes were perfect.

We wanted dessert, but didn’t have time.  Unfortunately we still had about a third of our bottle of wine left too.  Our server suggested he reserve a table for us after the show so we could have dessert and finish our wine.  Stellar idea!

After seeing Carmen, we walked back across the street, in the snow and wind, to the Bristol Hotel to find the Lounge completely packed.  The opera let out and people flooded into the lounge for a cocktail.  We found our server who greeted us with a big smile and a hearty handshake.  Leading us to a corner table that would seat six (but just for us two), we found two wine glasses and the dessert menus waiting for us.  We had just walked past three couples waiting in line too.  It was a wonderful way to close out the day – a delightful chocolate cake and finishing off our Austrian wine.

The service and the food were really top notch.  Unless I have a compelling reason to eat in our hotel’s restaurant, I’ll usually skip it and explore more of the city – in this case, I recommend you stop by the Bristol Lounge for a wonderful dinner and if you are heading to the opera afterwards, even better.  Just be sure to let the server know you want to come back for dessert and they’ll take care of you.

What are your thoughts on dining in your hotel’s restaurant?

Standing Room Tickets – Vienna Opera House

Earlier this week, I wrote about a recent trip to the Vienna Opera House. I mentioned how I struggled to get tickets to the show I wanted to see and how the opera offers same day, standing room tickets. A few people asked for some more details on how that process works. First, let me say that I’ve never actually grabbed these type of tickets, I did a bit of research and ask my friends who recently enjoyed a performance from these seats. Here’s the process:

The ticket office begins selling tickets to the show the same day of the performance and these tickets actually go on sale 80 minutes before the show. Now, just because the tickets go on sale at that time doesn’t mean you should show up then. My friends who snagged these tickets actually arrive 2.5 hours before curtain time and found the queue already forming.

The same day, standing room only tickets are sold from the box office on Operngasse, so get their early to increase your chances of seeing a show.

Once you’ve gotten your tickets, you’ll go directly to your assigned area. You’ll be required to check your coat or any bags you brought in with you, but don’t worry there is a complimentary coat check. If you are traveling alone, you’ll need to bring something to mark your SRO spot – like a scarf to tie around the railing – while you check your coat or go to the washroom….or get a cocktail. If traveling together, one of you can just hold the spot. The people I talked to said they never really had a problem with someone taking their space, but it has been known to happen. You’d sure hate to wait in line for two hours, get your tickets and wait another hour for the show to start, just to have your space snaked by some unscrupulous patron!

The Beautiful Staircase in the Central Hall

These SRO spaces still have the small screens with subtitles too – so you won’t feel lost if you aren’t fluent in German, French or whatever other language is being sung.

The best part about these SRO tickets is definitely the price. Instead of paying 100€+ you can see a world class opera for just a 3-4€. You can’t beat that.

Have you used the SRO tickets at the Wiener Staatsoper before? What advice do you have for fellow frugal travelers and readers?

Going to the Opera – A Night Out in Vienna

Each of my visits to Vienna, I’ve been fortunate enough to snag tickets to the Saturday night opera.  The first time we saw Elektra.  While I didn’t really dig the story or production of Elektra, I did enjoy the experience of going to the opera.  This year, we were able to see Carmen, interestingly enough, Carmen was on the docket for our first trip, but last minute changes in our plans meant our only opera option was Elektra.

Tickets to the Vienna Opera can be quite expensive, coming in at several hundred Euros a ticket.   You can get standing room only tickets for select shows too – these tickets are only 4€.  Some friends did this a few years ago and loved it.  They aren’t big opera fans, but taking in a show whilst in Vienna seemed like one of those once in a lifetime experiences, so they pulled the trigger.  You can only get these standing room only tickets the day of the performance – you should line up 2.5-3 hours before the show and plan on going right to your area.  Be sure to eat before hand.

We struggled getting tickets for Carmen and even had calls in to ticket brokers, the AmEx Platinum Concierge and through the opera house’s ticket office.  We didn’t actually get confirmed tickets until three days before the show – the day before I left for Vienna.

Both times we’ve gone to the opera in Vienna we decided to wear tuxedos.  Like many experiences in the modern world, your can get by with quite a wide range of attire.  Just like us at Steirereck, you can easily feel comfortable at the opera in jeans and a polo shirt, but you won’t be the odd man if you are in full black tie.  I would say most men ended up wearing a jacket and slacks and most women were either in pant suits or nice dresses.  Not many women were wearing evening gowns, but there were a few.

I’m all ready for the opera

The opera isn’t an every day experience, so I say dress up and make a night of it.  That being said, it’s not the most efficient thing in the world to pack formal wear on a trip. I abhor packing items that can only be used once on a trip, but I will make an exception for a night out in this glorious city in this fabulous building.

Carmen had two intermissions and at each one, we popped out and grabbed a glass of champagne.   The intermissions were about 25 minutes each and allows us plenty of time to stretch our legs, use the washroom and grab a glass of bubbles.  This was also the perfect time to grab some action photos of the opera house and people watch.

At the end of the show the building empties very quickly, which allows you some extra time to take pictures of the amazing interiors.  You can’t spend a ton of time after the show, but you’ll have at least 15-20 minutes with a relatively empty opera house.

The Beautiful Staircase in the Central Hall

The View Across the Atrium with Classical Sculptures Make a Perfect Photo Op.

The whole experience at the Vienna Opera House was great.  The performance and seating area isn’t huge, so you’ve got really good views of the stage.  Our first visit had a Marge Simpson look-a-like sitting in front of me, so it was a bit hard to see the stage.  Each seat is outfitted with a small screen that displays transcripts of the performance.  For Carmen you could read it in English, German, French, Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Korean.  I only remember English and German when we watched Elektra.  I watched the second act of Carmen with French subtitles (the woman in front of my had English subs, so I could practice my listening and reading skills while cheating and looking at her screen if needed).

Stunning Paintings Adorn the Walls of the Vienna State Opera House

No matter what opera is playing when you visit, you should plan on visiting the opera house – take a few hours out of your trip to experience the high art and stunning architecture.  If the ticket price is outside of your budget, try for the standing room only tickets – if it is meant to be, you’ll get your tickets, if not – head out and grab a coffee and a lovely pastry.

Have you visited the Vienna Opera House? What show did you see?  If you had the standing room only tickets, how was the process and did you enjoy seeing a show like this?