May 2012

Day 1
We'd paid easyJet a bit extra for speedy boarding, so some queue-jumping at check-in. But by the time we got to the gate the plebs had already started boarding. Duh! All smooth apart from that - tasty and dainty open sarnies from Trzesniewski at the airport before we caught the CAT train into town. After checking in to the good old Hotel Stefanie, where we'd stayed last time, we went for a pre-prandial stroll, window-shopped and caught some very enjoyable buskers. Two violins, a cello and a large zither-y thing, sounding very 'modern classical/home listening/ambient'. I even nearly bought their CD. Went to the same fine Italian as often last year (Ristorante da Gennaro) as they have many seasonal asparagus dishes, and Jane loves asparagus. And I tried some, and amazingly liked it a lot! At the age of 55 - eating my first asparagus! I think that I'd avoided it because the tales of it making your pee smell rank made me think that it was going to taste pungent, but it tastes all nice and green! Then for main course penne all'arrabbiata, followed by strawberries and gelato and an early night.

Day 2
So, breakfasts. The Hotel Stefanie has an incomparably fine selection of options, and so one can't help but compare them with, say, the breakfast choices in the equally swank **** hotel we stayed at in Florence last month. In Florence the orange juice was only distantly related to the fruit itself, here it tastes of, well, oranges. In Florence the choices of fruit were both in syrup, here there are four syrupy options, as well as several prepared fresh, including fresh pineapple slices, and piles of actual fruit, like nectarines and plums. In Florence the coffee pot brought to one's table barely contained two cups, here I managed a comfortable five. And as for the comparison.
Emerging into sunshine, full of breakfast, we noticed that most of the shops were shut, leading to suspicions of a Bank Holiday or some such. A suspicion confirmed later when we noticed that the, um, banks were all shut. As the weather is supposed to warm up considerably later in our week we decided today would be a good day for art, and the Kunsthistorisches was open, and not busy. First treat was a special temporary bridge of scaffolding over the entrance staircase, built to let visitors up to see the Klimt brothers' sexy spandrels (see right) at eye level. The rooms themselves were mostly comfortably sparsely visited, the many Giorgiones (real and attributed) as fascinating as ever, and we even had the gallery's superior Vermeer to ourselves for a bit. In one room there was a shouting match going on between a room attendant and a wild haired woman (scarily reminiscent of a certain bonkers individual who used to attend Stoke Newington library) about her use of flash. Not something which allows nuanced discussion I would have thought.

The first two potential lunch venues we tried had discouraging clues, but we ended up finding somewhere called the Levant, which did the likes of borek, hummus, falafel and such stuff like what you get at Taz in London. Also a wheat beer which was not pale, confusingly, but brown-tinged and more malty tasting. All was most yummy. After slipping back to the Kunsthistorisches to swap the art guide in German that I'd picked up by mistake, as you do, it was back to the hotel for tea and a rest, picking up a doughnutty thing on the way.

In the evening we went for a walk in the Stadtpark (see right) and ... found the cat cafe, much read about and facebooked recently. We just got peered at by a grey fluffy one, as it was about to close, but we will return and report.


Day 3
Following a chance find in the Rough Guide, today we trekked down to Mariahilferstrasse (Vienna's Oxford Street - who knew?) which is behind the Kunsthistoriches Museum and off of which you'll find the Kaiserliches Hofmobiliendepot. This is a museum that used to be the Habsburgs' furniture store - where they kept their stuff between shipping it off to whichever palace they happened to be living it that year/season/week. It's a fascinating place. Some of it consists of great forests of, for example, coat racks, spittoons, candelabra or stools displayed in a warehousey way, but there are also a lot of room settings. It's all chronological and the place is truly huge. Other joys include a room of old toilets and a floor of Jugendstil furniture and fittings. And for most of the time we had the rooms to ourselves. A treat.

In the same area we happened upon the vegetarisches Restaurant Landia, where I had spicey fried potato balls with hummus and salad, and Jane had a tofu salad thing. All very nice. And on the way back I found a chocolate shop where I was tempted by some choc-covered lumps of shredded almond and three bars made by Dolfin: dark chocolate with pear and roasted almonds, milk chocolate with cinnamon, and milk chocolate with speculoos biscuit bits. Sore temptation which I gave in to, of course.


Day 4
To the Belvedere this morning, as we liked the place and its art last time. Warm sun and blue skies too. It's hard to visit the Belvedere, and its giftshops, and not feel serious Klimt overload. I mean, did the world need a Klimt's The Kiss padded dog jacket?! A mostly nasty exhibition called Gold featuring a lot of modern tat, including a Jan Fabre crucifix on a beetle and two mock religious icons featuring Jimi Hendrix and him out of Nirvana, both by one Peter Murphy.

Lunch in a random bar with street seating resulted in a truly tasty tofu burger with mozzarella, and chips with a satay sauce. And a (reassuringly pale) weissbier. Got a poppy-seed cake on the way back that looked a bit too big, but we shall see...

In the evening we went for a stroll in the Augarten park with its two overpowering flak towers (see one right) , built in WWII for siting anti-aircraft guns and housing troops, but too solidly built to be easily destroyable, we're told.


Day 5
More Hotel Stefanie breakfast details - large bread selection, three breadbaskets in total, seven sorts of jam, and three honeys. Today I tried what looked like soft rolls covered in sugar, which were that. Jane's fave of scrambled eggs on toast is here improved by choice of four types of rye loaf, smoked salmon, and a squeeze of fresh lemon..

To the museum of the history of Vienna today, passing the lovely Otto Wagner Karlsplatz station buildings (see one right). The museum was pretty darn fascinating, in a Museum of London/Musee Carnavalet style - maps, paintings, shop fittings, stained-glass windows - you know the stuff, but with more models of the whole city than usual. And an exhausting Klimt exhibition, mostly of drawings, but also featuring a display of items voted for in the Tackiest Klimt Souvenir poll. The winner is a mock Faberge egg that opens to show a model of The Kiss whilst its music box plays Elvis's I Can't Help Falling in love With You. A tasty mozzarella toast (with ketchup) in the tasteful museum cafe was lunch, and on the way home, it being 80-odd degrees, ice cream was necessary, almost essential. Jane had raspberry, and I had two flavours: apricot and poppy-seed. Never had the latter before (it looks like stracciatella) but I can reveal that it is delicious, but that if it melts on your hand you look like you have a strange skin disease.

Day 6
Today we split up to cover more ground - Jane to the Hundertwasser house, me to the Zentralfriedhoff, Vienna's flipping huge cemetery (see right and below) . A short train journey out towards the airport, it was also the location of the final funeral in the fine film of The Third Man. The station is right by a side gate, but the maps are available from a very discrete info desk near the front gate, so I headed there, got some water as well, and started roaming. It's a very big place - it even has buses running in it. There are many famous musicians buried here: several Strausses, Schoenberg, Schubert, Salieri, Beethoven, as well as Falco, of Rock me Amadeus fame, and Joe Zawinul. This last musician, the man behind Weather Report, being the only one you'll find on my media player I was happy to find his grave, and note that his wife shared my birth date. Many photos of weeping stone angels, ivy-clad columns, and crumbling rusty lamps later I returned to town for lunch at the cat cafe - tofu parcels of fried rice, with several fluffy blighters playing it cool despite much attention. I decided on a cool attitude too, only scritching a couple of heads in an offhand way on my way out. I can't help but feel a bit uncomfortable about the whole concept, though - there's an element of compulsion bordering on feline prostitution, I think.

Day 7
On our way to the MAK we visited the PSK. Otto Wagner's Austrian Postal Savings Bank (see right) is one of his finest buildings, is full of nice details, and has an interesting small museum. Also the gift shop sells a watch that reproduces his banking hall clock and is very stylish. And is on my wrist as I type this. I think that it might be the nicest watch in the whole world, in fact. The MAK is the museum of applied art, like a Viennese V&A, only smaller. Some good and worthwhile stuff, though, surveying periods from the renaissance to the Wiener Werkstätte. Also Klimt kartoons, Otto Wagner furniture, lovely ceramics and glass, swathes of chairs ... we enjoyed it. In the museum cafe we had some dainty pasta (linguine with asparagus for Jane, herb and ricotta ravioli for me) with some superior seedy bread coming unasked-for to start with a small dish of lovely horse-radish flavoured cream cheese. And they had fresh pear juice too. Verily an uncheap treat.

An odd little sweetie and cake decoration shop we passed resulted in the purchase of bags of black and white marzipan pebbles, 'green' almonds in yoghurt (which turned out to be chilli flavoured), and those soft-centred crunchy fruit sweets you had as a child, but here with flavours like mandarin, apricot and pineapple.

Day 8
A late-ish flight gave us time for a last wander. Having had a church-free week so far we decided to allow ourselves a few. The Ruprechtskirche, just over the Danube Canal from our hotel, looks all chunky and medieval on the outside, has a very plain interior, but also some very jazzy recent stained glass – like putting geometric 70s wallpaper up in a renaissance palace. Very disturbing. The Peterskirche is more typical of Vienna in its in-your-face baroqueness, and also typically there was a mass starting at 11.00 so we were chucked out. The Michaelerkirche down by the entrance to the Hofberg, the one with the spiky spire, was the bestest, though – good proportions, some fragments of fresco and nice bits of old stonework. A good final visit, before heading back to the hotel, collecting our bags, and catching the CAT train to the airport.  Pre-flight amusement was provided by a sighting of the smoking area - a toilet-sized perspex box full of smoke and crushed-together people looking self-conscious and guilty - more like an art installation than a facility. All went smoothly, except for the Vienna airport thing of having separate security equipment and checking at each gate, which is a bit of a queue builder.

Venice // Florence // London // Berlin // Trips