My, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? But we’ve been busy, busy, busy. So busy that I think I’ll have to update you in stages. First on the list is our trip to Vienna, where we were joined by our American friends Terri and Charlie; Ed and Cindy; and Ed’s parents, Ed Sr. and Bunny.
As usual, Ed was the impetus behind this European adventure, and he had done such a good job spearheading our trip to Amsterdam two years ago that we asked him to take control of this one, too. “I’m warning you, if you put me in charge this thing is likely to turn into one big pub crawl,” he said. “Cool,” we replied. Just like Amsterdam, where we had the following conversation: “Ed, can we go see the Rijksmuseum?” “Umm, let me check,” he said, consulting his four-page list of must-see pubs. “Sure, I’ve got four pubs in that area. Let’s go.”
Ed had done his research and had just as long a list for Austria. Predictably, after dumping our suitcases at the hotel, a microbrewery with an open-air beer garden complete with rose vines climbing the walls was our first stop. I ordered a beer made with hemp, which the menu said was a beverage formerly outlawed in the belief that the brew inspired “anti-religious sentiments.” After one, I felt pretty much the same, so I ordered another. Still no change. You must really have to drink a lot of them.
After that, the six of us went in search of a pub that served food and would be showing that night’s soccer game. With that accomplished, Cindy and I had a seat outside and caught up while Ed, Johann, Ed Sr. and Bunny trekked through a nearby public garden, a garden that I never stopped hearing about the whole rest of the time we were in Vienna. It was so beautiful. I can’t believe you missed it. You may think this is great, but it doesn’t hold a candle to that garden you missed the other day. Well, I’m waiting for the pictures, people, and they better be good.
We had dinner in the cave-like lower level of this pub while watching the game on a big projection-screen TV. It was here that I had my first of many experiences with the fried meats of Austria. Wiener schnitzel is a cutlet of veal pounded flat, breaded and fried. It can also be made with chicken, beef, pork and even liver; sometimes all on the same plate, as Cindy later discovered.
The next day we headed for Hofburg, the former Habsburg winter residence, passing the State Opera House, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum along the Ringstrasse. We took a tour of the rooms in the Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Silver Collection, which were all breathtaking. In fact, photos weren’t allowed but Bunny was so captivated by the pictures featured in the tour brochure that she didn’t even notice the text was in Romanian.
Now Sisi, in case you didn’t know (we didn’t), was a reluctant empress of Austria, married to her cousin as a teenager and temperamentally unsuited for life at court. She was best known for her great beauty, melancholy poetry, exercise regimes, 20-inch waist and excessively long hair, which took an entire day to wash (in a mixture of eggs and cognac) and dress. Additionally, it would take them three hours to get her all fixed up each morning (dressed, hair done, facial treatments, etc.). No wonder the poor thing was depressed.
She was murdered in Geneva at age 60 by an anarchist named Lucheni whose target had originally been someone else. According to Wikipedia, “Other anarchists considered Lucheni inept at understanding the philosophy of anarchy and often referred to him as ‘the stupid one.'” So, when the original target’s travel plans were changed, he decided to just kill whomever happened to be in town. That happened to be Sisi. So if you are dim, homicidal and rather lazy, don’t despair. Anarchy may have an entry-level position for you.
The Imperial Silver Collection was breathtaking as well. Porcelain was formerly considered too fragile for everyday use (understandable when “everyday” use includes serving meals to more than 5000 people) so meals were presented using silver or gold services. The only problem with these was that they kept getting melted down and made into coins to fund costly wars. The surviving collections are impressive, though, and the intricate place settings and centerpieces were well worth the trip. We were all intrigued by the Hofburg napkin, a specially-folded napkin design that supposedly only two people in the world know how to create. “Now that’s job security,” Ed Sr. quipped.
After this, we visited the Spanish Riding School to see the famous Lipizzan horses in training. The training arena alone was stunning – enormous arched windows, rococco-detailed ceilings, chandeliers and classical music playing in the background. These horses train in style. We seemed to have arrived either too early or too late for anything exciting like jumping, though, and after about a half-hour of seeing the horses slowly trot in a circle, we moved on to the Mozart café for a cold beer and some samples of Vienna’s renowned desserts.
Terri and Charlie had finally rolled into town at this point, so we went to meet them in the plaza at St. Stephan’s Cathedral. The plaza was pretty touristy, and it was here that I first saw what would become a series of hats, coasters, postcards and t-shirts that read “No Kangaroos in Austria.” Is mistaking Austria for Australia really a big problem here? Do tourists actually get off the plane in Vienna and walk around town asking for directions to the Outback and the Great Barrier Reef? If so, I’d pay good money to see the looks on their faces when it is explained to them where they really are. They should put that on some kind of tour.
After a quick tour of the cathedral and a trip to its tower (from which you could see all of Vienna) we went to lunch. What can I say about lunch? More sausages, fried meat and beer were consumed and poor Terri bravely survived an encounter with a self-cleaning toilet seat, thereafter becoming our official bathroom tester. Is it downstairs? Were the doors coin-operated? Was there an attendant? How much did you tip her?
We next visited a park featuring duck-filled ponds, sunbathing Austrians and statues of famous composers such as Schubert, Strauss and Beethoven. Conveniently, the park had a beer garden, so we stopped in for a drink. Now I’m not placing blame for this on anyone, but Ed’s choice of accessories had gone unnoticed until this point. About now, it came to the group’s attention that his bag (essentially just a messenger bag the right size to hold a file folder containing a list of foreign pubs) looked suspiciously like a man-purse when slung diagonally across his chest. He also kept an impressive amount of stuff in it. You need sunscreen? Want to look at a map? Bottle of water? Kleenex? Pen? Change? Vienna sightseeing guide? There may have been even more in there, but once we started teasing him about carrying a man-purse, he stopped offering us stuff.
Then it was on to dinner, followed by drinks at a bar close to the hotel. Johann somehow discovered that the place served Absinthe (modern-day absinthe, without all the hallucinogenic stuff, but strong all the same) and everyone changed their orders from schnapps to this. Johann went through the procedure with us. First, pour most of the alcohol over your sugar cube, which is balancing on a tiny slotted silver spoon over your glass of ice. Then pour the water. Then pour the rest of the alcohol over what’s left of the sugar and light it on fire. Blow it out after a minute or so and slide it into the drink. It’s important to blow it out first, he emphasized, lest the entire drink (which is still strong, even with the water added) go up in flames and singe off your eyebrows. Alas, it was more fun to prepare than it was to drink. Ed Sr. and Bunny called it quits at this point, but the six of us pressed on to another bar and had one last (good) drink before staggering back to the hotel.
Friday took us to the Habsbur
g family’s magnificent summer palace, Schönbrunn, by train. “I’ve got mad public transportation skills,” Ed promised. And sure enough, he got us there, as well as to the cemetery where Schubert, Strauss, Beethoven and Brahms are buried. Johann was most impressed with the war memorials, including one headstone featuring the fallen soldier’s helmet, complete with the fatal bullet-hole. Later that evening, Ed’s mad skills got us on a tram to dinner at a winery, Vienna being the only capital city in the world with a vineyard. It was here that we finally had a taste of Vienna’s famous apple strudel and Sachertorte.
Think all this sounds fun? Just wait until you read about Salzburg. In the meantime, please check out the pictures at right under “photos” and the quotes below.
OVERHEARD IN VIENNA
“Johann’s in charge? We better not end up at a bowling alley.” – Ed Sr.
“Are you a heckler?” – Terri
“Bunny wants the audio guide in Romanian.” – Ed Sr.
“Just listen to all those loud drunk people.” – Ed Sr.
“That’s your son.” – Bunny
“Hey dad, remember those loud drunk people from last night? Right now, that’s you!” – Ed
“Ed keeps making us walk. I think he’s trying to kill us. He wants his 33% of the inheritance now.” – Bunny
“Tim. That’s the name Charlie goes by when he’s at strip clubs.” – Johann