Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Tales from Vienna...

We arrived in Vienna after a 1.5 hr boat ride from Bratislava. It was more overcast that we would have liked but we caught a few photos as we passed Bratislava Castle and St. Martin's Church, Devin Castle, some river traffic, and Hainburg an der Donau, a town just into Austria, with a church and castle.
After checking into our hotel we went to a local restaurant, Pfudl, for lunch.  Pat’s Schnitzel was wonderful while Bill wished he had had the liver instead of the recommended Tafelspitz (boiled beef) with hash brown potatoes. The wine, a Glatzer Rubin Carnuntum Zweigelt 2013, went very well with both dishes. (Thanks to our friend Richard for suggesting we try this variety.)

After lunch we went to pick-up our Vienna PASS tickets... Along the way we passed through St Stephens Square and managed to more or less limit our photo taking.

With our Passes in hand, we then rode two of the six Vienna Sightseeing Hop-on/Hop-off bus routes as a relaxing way to get a sense of the city. One notable view is of modern Vienna...not at all what you imagine.

We passed by an impressive church that Pat was determined to get a photo off. We later learned that it is the Church of St Francis of Assisi…but it is commonly known “The Mexico Church”. It is located on Mexico Street, as the formal name is much too long to bother with.

We were less than 10 minutes from our hotel when we hopped off the bus. We spent a quiet evening at the hotel planning Friday and drinking our bottle of complimentary wine, a very drinkable Karner Cuvee Noir 2015

Friday, we are off on a self-guided walking tour starting at St Stephens Cathedral. After reaching St Stephensplatz we first climbed the south tower of the cathedral (343 steps!) for a few great views of the city, worth the MANY!! steps. Inside the cathedral was quite interesting, easier to see than describe.

Then we walked along Graben Street and noticed another church, St Peter's with a simple facade.  We went inside and discovered an extremely baroque interior. This church was built as a thank you to God for ending the 1679 plague.

From there we walked along Kohlmarkt Street, famous for its designer shops and the Demel Bakery/Candy Shop. Sweets aren't really our weakness (have you noticed?) so we took a couple photos and moved along. From there we moved on to the Hofburg Palace to tour the Imperial Apartments. The visit starts with the extensive Silver Collection, with an absurd number of silver and ceramic collections. And much more including ornate serving dishes and samples of napkin folds.

One of the ceramic collections and one of the silver utensil collections.

The "super secret" napkin fold that includes a croissant and a roll.
Other ridiculously complicated napkin folds
We next visited an extensive exhibit on the life of Empress Sisi (the lovely but reclusive wife of Franz Joseph) and the Royal Apartments. No photos allowed. Sigh. Note: The story of Sisi in some ways compares to Princess Di. Sisi was born royal but much preferred a less public life.  She was very beautiful with hair that hung to her feet. She had a very strict, self-imposed beauty regime (careful diet, hours of hair treatment...while a tutor worked with her on mastering various languages, and her self-designed exercise regime.)  She died prematurely, being assassinated by a political discontent who meant to assassinate someone else and saw Sisi as a convenient alternative.

We then headed the the nearby Central Cafe for lunch. Bill had calves liver and a red wine while Pat went for the salad with smoked salmon and a white wine. All were quite tasty.  The apple strudel looked great but we decided to wait and have some as a snack.

We returned to the Hofburg Palace and to view the Treasury (including the Royal Art Collection and Chapel). There were numerous crowns and coronation robes. The most impressive piece was the Unicorn Horn. 

Unicorn Horn gifted in 1540. It wasn't until 17C that it was recognized as a Narwhal tusk!
Details from the Royal Chapel
On our way back to the hotel there was a little window shopping and a stop for coffee and pastry, apple cake (they were out of strudel!).

That evening we went to the nearby Vinothek W-Einkehr for a little wine tasting, starting with sparkling Zweigelt followed by a tasting of 6 whites and 4 reds, finishing with 2 dessert wines, accompanied by cheese, meats & bread. It’s a tough life but... Note: Zweigelt, developed by Dr Zweigelt, is a cross between Blaufrankish & St Laurent, two other common grapes in Austria.  

Saturday we went to the Upper Belvedere Palace to see works by renowned local artist Gustav Klimt (they have a range of his works with the two most notable being “The Kiss”. They also have a nice range of impressionist works.
G Klimt - The Kiss
G Klimt - Cottage Garden with Sunflowers
Then we headed to the Leopold to see works by the local impressionist, Theodor von Hoffmann. Impressive. The museum also features works of another local artist, Egon Schiele, said to be better than Klimt or Hoffman, but personally we enjoyed the works of the other two more.They also have a notable Klimt work, “Death and Life”.
Ceramic Putto (cupid) in front of a design for a Stained Glass Window
G Klimt - Death & Life
Later we took a tram to Grinzing in the Vienna Woods. Grinzing is a local wine region within the city of Vienna. The ride up was so hot (no AC in the tram, but serious sun beating in the windows) that we wandered only briefly before returning to our AC’d room to recover… only to find our AC wasn’t working. Thankfully they got it fixed quickly

Once we got cooled down, we headed out to Vinothek W-Einkehr again for a glass or 2 of wine. Over the course of the evening we had 3 sets of neighbors…a young man from Norway, a couple from Sarasota FL (one being a professional photographer) and a couple from Germany with a friend from Vienna and a younger guy from Serbia.  The Austrian is also a professional photographer. Additionally he is officially a member of the magicians’ guild with his forte being card tricks.  The Serbian is quite skilled with cards but still trying to prove himself to the guild. For us, we were entertained by an array of card tricks.

Sunday we took the train to the Wachau Valley starting in Melk with it's massive Benedictine abbey, Stift Melk, located on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Danube river. The now magnificent baroque building started as a fortress in Roman times, became a palace for the Babenbergs who ruled Austria from 976 until the Hapsburgs took over and in the 11th century it was granted to the Benedictine monks who turned it int a fortified Abbey that grew to be an influential center of learning and culture. The Abbey suffered damaged during the Reformation and the 1683 Turkish invasion. It's reconstruction in full Baroque style was completed in 1736. 
Inside the courtyard at Melk Abbey
A view from the Abbey
We wandered through the Abbey skirting the crowds as much as possible and were rewarded by arriving at the Abbey Church just as the service was wrapping up with the choir singing accompanied by the pipe organ. Later we explored the gardens and then went to relax in town while we waited for the 1:30 cruise down a lovely stretch of the Danube. 

During our break we enjoyed a couple white wines (Gruner Veltlinger and Sauvignon Blanc), followed by carpaccio of beef with Zweigelt and Blaufrankish (red wines) and finished with apple strudel and expresso.
Carpaccio of beef
Finally, apple strudel
A short walk got us to the Brandner Lines craft to Krems. This was a 24 mile cruise passing villages, vineyards, fortresses / castles and more ships, most with passengers on day or longer cruises. We saw only one small craft with freight, maybe because it was Sunday. 

Boat Traffic
Cute town with castle ruins above

Another cute town with castle ruins above.
One of these towns is allegedly where Richard the Lionhearted was held captive.

On the train back to Vienna, we passed hillside vineyards, and fields of grapes, grains, sunflowers and vegetables.  There waw a brief shower, after which we saw a hare in one recently mown field and soon afterward we saw ring-necked pheasant in another. 
After a brief rest in our room (and after a downpur) we decided to return to the nearby Pfudl for dinner. Pat had scrambled eggs and roasted dumplings and Bill went for the minced veal patty and potato. We wrapped up with a chocolate soufflé with intense chocolate sauce and expresso (two desserts in one day, we have to exercise more). While we ate (outside, under a canopy) there was another downpour. Interestingly enough, the wait staff just casually walked back & forth between the tables and kitchen as if the weather was a delight (and maybe it was more comfortable than working in the hot sun...)

On Monday we had an early breakfast and caught a taxi to the Vienna Haupt Bahnhof for our train to Prague. The Czech Republic is our 7th country of the trip. 

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