Sunday, January 8, 2012

Gestern in Wien

I spent a great day in Vienna yesterday.  I went to see the Lipizzaner Stallions morning exercises at the Spanish Riding School in the Hofburg.  It was 10 Euros for 2 hours and was really nifty watching their riders put them through the paces.  I felt sort of ignorant though, not being an equestrian myself, of their steps and how they differed from other horses.  I did just watch a YouTube video of the stallions (see above) and was able to identify some of these steps in hindsight. 

I went to visit Cafe Central after the performance and took several pictures with the life-sized Peter Altenberg, sitting in the entryway.  Cafe Central is the Viennese coffeehouse that Altenberg liked and visited so often, that he had his mail delivered there.  I did not think he was that well-known during his life time though, so I'm not sure how much the cafe would have appreciated that kind of familiarity at the time.  The food was good though and I tried my second apple strudel.  The dough really is very similar to phyllo, just not cooked to the same extent as it is when making baklava.  The dough is still soft and sprinkled with powdered sugar on top.  This one was more flavorful than the first one I tried and contained raisins and nuts that either were not present or just not apparent in the first version.  What I noticed in particular though was the strong flavor of lemon juice that contrasted with the sweetness of the apples.  I'm not really sure what the "ideal" apple strudel tastes like (what balance of flavors) but I've decided to scrap that effort.  I'm wasting so many desert opportunities on something that hasn't been super impressive.

After lunch, I went on an extensive trip around town and bought two historical fiction books on my way.  I was really thrilled to have found such a great bookstore.  I finished White Queen, by Phillipa Gregory, and had resigned myself to not finding the sequel, but there it was!  Absolute joy.  The persistent disappointment I have in traveling alone are the mealtimes.  What is the point in going out to dinner if there is nothing or no one to distract you from the eating?  I suppose I focus more on the food, but I find myself lonely and finishing my food quickly, just in my haste to get out and do something else.  I had some trouble signaling the waiter but eventually got it down.  Austrian restaurants seem to prefer the "Seat Yourself' rule but without signs, that too wasn't readily apparent to me upon my arrival.  I find myself missing some American traditions, particularly the "service with a smile" approach in restaurants.  Several times in the last few days, I have needed some additional something after the food was brought and not once do the waiters think to come over and ask if the food is alright! Different cultures, I know, but I think we got that one right.  Just tonight, I ordered a Cafe Melange and a small meal and the waiter did not bring silverware! So I sat there, trying to catch his eye, and finally gave up as my food was getting cold and walked over to ask for some.

I walked along the Danube and while it wasn't "blue", it was pleasant.  By that point in the afternoon though, the rain picked up and the temperature started to drop.  I had mapped out a route around the historical city center I wanted to take and was reluctant to give up on it.  I walked to Stephansplatz and all around the cathedral.  Austria has strong catholic roots and the cathedral was especially beautiful at night.  I decided to go on a tour of the catacombs, which was definitely worth it.  The tour guide had impeccable English but his accent was terrible!  He is one of the first Austrians I have met or listened to, where the accent was such that it was almost hard to understand.  Still, his tour of the catacombs was fascinating.  Did you know the dead Hapsburgs are separated after death?  The catacombs of St. Stephans are only the location for the burial of their inner organs (except heart).  Their hearts go to another church and their hollowed out bodies to another.  Very strange. 

After the catacomb tour, I saw the memorial to Mozart (who's funeral was conducted in St. Stephan's) and walked the rest of the way home.  By the time I got back to the hostel, I was soaking wet and freezing.  I changed and got into bed and stayed there, with my new books and Viennese wafer cookies, for a while.  It was great!  I'm not sure how much I like the main character of my new book though.  What is interesting though, is contrasting the historical characters and how they are viewed in the two books (White Queen and Red Queen) by the different main characters, considering that both books are by the same author.  

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