Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Vienna: The Elegant City

Our morning started early. We would travel to Vienna by train. Our schedule called for a departure from Budapest-Keleti Rail Station mid-morning  ~

railjet High-Speed Train

the train ride was comfortable and took a bit over 2 1/2 hours. We arrived at Wien Meidling Rail Station mid-afternoon and soon found a taxi which transferred us to our hotel ~

DO & CO Hotel 
The DO & CO Hotel is an architecturally adventurous and sybaritic hotel experience in downtown Vienna. Four floors of the steel-and-glass building have been transformed into 44 unique cone-shaped guestrooms. Located in the Inner City (Innere Stadt) across from the magnificent Gothic Cathedral of St. Stephen (Stephansdom).
St. Stephen’s Cathedral, view from in front of our hotel

 Inside St. Stephen's Cathedral,
during Saturday's afternoon mass
We were facing a pretty tight evening schedule as we had tickets to a performance at the Mozart House (Konzerte im Mozarthaus) at 6:00 pm ... giving us only an hour and half before showtime. We settled into our rooms, freshened up, and changed into our evening-out clothes. The Mozart House was just a few blocks away, yet Gus got us turned around and definitely lost. Mark came to the rescue and pointed us in the right direction ... we retraced our steps, took a right (a previously misplaced left), and found ourselves in front of Mozarthaus. We had time to find our seats and spend a few minutes admiring the splendor of the room before the performance began.

The repertoire, preformed by four virtuosic musicians specializing in Vienna Chamber Music, was to include works of Haydn, Schubert and especially, as in the tonight's program, Mozart.
String Quartet No. 14 in G major K. 387

It felt like attending a live performance in some one's home, with seating for probably no more than 50 people and the musicians just a few feet away. The setting has historical significance, Mozart allegedly loved to hear music in this room on the first floor where the concerts are held, and the acoustics were wonderful.

Sala Terrena of Mozart House
(Ellie and Mark in the 3rd row)

Venetian Mannerism ceiling fresco

The Mozart Quartet
The restored atmosphere of the Sala Terrena combined with the historic costumes worn by the musicians created a luxurious and magical classical music experience.
The 80 minute performance let us out in time for our dinner reservations at 7:45 pm. Even though it was misting and a bit chilly we decided to walk the 20 minutes to the restaurant ~
Amarantis Restaurant & Bar
On the wet and chilly night, this chic Austrian-Mediterranean fusion restaurant offered us a brief respite. It served mouthwatering and impeccably presented dishes accompanied by professional and friendly service. Amarantis was relaxed, tastefully designed, yet without being overly trendy. Finishing dinner we asked for the restaurant to call us a taxi as the misting had turned into a drizzle. Arriving back at the hotel we all turned-in after a long and full day.
Our morning began with a call to room service requesting a pot of coffee for two. Fifteen minutes later we were enjoying our first cups of Viennese coffee, yet we held to our regular ... Caffè Americano. This morning, a Sunday, we had made arrangements to go see, rather listen to, a group  of the Vienna Boys' Choir and members of the orchestra and choir of the Vienna State Opera (The Hofmusikkapelle). High Mass was to be performed at Hofburgkapelle, Chapel of the Imperial Palace, at 9:15 am. We needed to get going.
Similar to the night before, the streets of  the Inner City, provided a challenge. We left the hotel with what we considered very clear directions to the Chapel, however, we soon found ourselves confused, if not lost. As if by heavenly guidance , a chance glance to the left and a look through an archway, we sighted a crowd lined up to buy tickets and enter the Chapel. Fortunately we already had our tickets and we were waved straight in and found our seats in the first balcony. Not ten minutes later, High Mass began.
The Hofmusikkapelle was performing from the next balcony above us; while we could not see them we certainly could hear them. Today the Joseph Haydn (Haydnchor) choral group of the Boys' Choir was performing. There are currently 25 choristers (24 today) between the ages of ten and fourteen. Angelic ... superb ... incredibly clear, beautiful, blended tones ...
        The Haydnchor Choral Group
amazing ... unforgettable. 
As we left the Royal Chapel of the Imperial Palace we enjoyed seeing our first fiaker, a two-horse drawn carriage. Today it is hard to imagine the cityscape without the Viennese fiakers. You can find fiaker stands in different areas of the city: Stephansplatz, Heldenplatz (occasionally Michaelerplatz), Albertinaplatz, Petersplatz and Burgtheater. A short tour (approximately 20 minutes through the center of the Inner City) costs € 55; the long tour (approximately 40 minutes through the Ringstrasse and the Inner City) € 80. We did not take the ride as they seemed a "bit too touristy"; however on second thought, I am now sure that a ride would have been enchanting with my paramour, Joan.

If you would like to enjoy a romantic journey, you
should ask the fiaker coach for a "porcelain ride",
 which is a particularly calm and steady drive.

Joan and Sis Ellie,
Singerstraße on the way back to our hotel

After changing into clothes for our afternoon of urban hiking we headed off to the Hofhurg Imperial Palace and Ellie and Mark made plans to go to the Upper Belvedere. But first, lunch ~

Traditional Viennese home cooking dominates
Gasthaus Pöschl 
Recommended by Florian, our exemplary guest service manager at DO & CO, this small eatery serves traditional Viennese home cooking. The staff was friendly and efficient. The place was full and we ended up eating at the bar.

Wiener (Viennese) Schnitzel

After lunch we wandered down Kärntner Straße, pausing to peek at the gorgeous sweets in ~

Gerstner has 11 cafes and pastry shops and buffets,
mainly concentrated in the Inner City. The above cafe
 is located on the Kärntner Straße 13-15.

(Curd Cheese Strudel)

Erdbeer Joghurt Torte
(Strawberry Yogurt Cake)
We then meandered over to and down Dorotheergasse and around the Spanische Hofreitschule (Spanish Riding School). We found ourselves ~
Hofburg Imperial Palace
The Hofburg Palace complex, once home to Austria's emperors and their administrators, currently serves as the official residence of the President of Austria. It was the Habsburgs' principal winter residence, as the Schönbrunn Palace was their preferred summer residence.
The complex, majestically stunning and including many of Vienna's top attractions, left us challenged as it was approaching 3:00 pm. We decided to visit the Imperial Apartments. We visited, aided by audio tour headsets, the Hapsburgs' silver collection and the royal family's apartments, reflecting the glory of the Imperial household and the original living environment of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth, or more affectionately called Sisi. Not permitted to take photographs in the apartments (images below, courtesy of Kaiserappartements) ~
Old Silver Room

Bedroom of Emperor Franz Joseph

Gymnastic and Toilet Rooms of Sisi
Leaving the Palace we strolled back to the hotel, stopping at The Demel. Here we shared a single slice of Demel Sacher torte, accompanied by a Viennese coffee and a rooibos tea. 
The Demel (Imperial and Royal) Court Confectionary Bakery
with the Hofburg Imperial Palace

Finishing our late afternoon treat we returned to the hotel ... but not before enjoying Korean-born pianist SoRyang.

Despite having a distinguished education and having won several piano competitions, SoRyang was not able to make a living concertizing in Vienna. So rather than trying to bring more people to the concert halls, she brought the concert hall to the people. Schlepping a piano around in the back of her van, SoRyang has given more than 500 concerts in the streets of Vienna.
Short naps, showers and ... we left the hotel for a traditional Austrian dinner of legendary Tafelspitz (boiled beef) ~ 

Joan & Gus
at Plachutta Wollzeile

Private Cellars Cabernet-Merlot 2009
Winery Robert Schlumberger - Thermenregion
Herr Varga,
our charming and professional waiter

This was a wonderful Viennese experience! The tafelspitz and the accompanying vegetable side dishes and sauces were delicious. However, the show stopper was the showmanship ...  in spite of the restaurant being a bit touristy, “bourgeois”, and noisy ... our table became a stage for the "best show in town". Herr Varga welcomed us, made a few suggestions, and set us on our adventure. We selected a tafelspitz, three sides (potato salad, creamed spinach, and pureed peas), two sauces (horseradish and apple), and a  local red wine. While relaxing with our first glasses of red wine our table was topped, by the wait staff, with a very hot metal plate. Minutes later our dinner was delivered in beautiful copper pans and placed on the heated metal plate. Herr Varga served each of us equal portions of boiled meat and vegetables. Upon completing the "first course" we then enjoyed the residual of delicious broth; all along enjoying the sides and the quaffable Austrian wine.

Our first full day in Vienna was delightful. We returned to the hotel knowing that 3 days in Vienna were less than we needed to experience all of the city's wonders. As we fell asleep, we committed to do our best ...

The weather forecast this morning is for drizzle and temperatures in the mid 60°s. Coffee-up and bundle up. Out the door and our first experience with the Vienna U-Bahn ~
Metro from Stephansplatz on the Red Line (U1),
 transfer at Karlsplatz, to Schönbrunn on the Green
 Line (U4)

The Vienna U-Bahn (an abbreviation of Untergrundbahn,
 or underground railway) is a rapid transit (metro) system
 consisting of five lines. It is the backbone of one of the best
performing public transport systems in the world.

We were on our way to Schönbrunn Palace.  Whether you say Schonbrunn or Schomburg, the former imperial summer palace and gardens are a feast to the eyes and senses. In 1996 UNESCO catalogued the palace on the World Heritage list. Today's French-style gardens used to be fenced in, and stocked with  wild game for recreational hunting. There were also fish ponds and enclosures for exotic birds.



The palace itself has 1,441 rooms and it is every bit as spectacular in it's style and opulence as Versailles. While touring the rooms we learned of the personal stories of the Hapsburg family and it's successive monarchs.



One of the prominent personal stories was that of "Sisi", formally known as  Empress Elizabeth of Austria, who was said to be very physically beautiful and a perfectionist. Sisi was forced  into an arranged marriage at age 15 to Franz Joseph, who was 8 years her senior.   

Empress Elizabeth ~ Sisi
Sisi  was by nature a free-spirited person. Naturally, she found the rigid protocol and traditional etiquette of the royal court a total mismatch to her passion for  personal freedom. It is sad that her primary royal duty was to bear Franz Joseph a son, and not surprising that within weeks of the marriage ceremony she began developing health problems and obsessive-compulsive regimes around severe dieting and exercise.
Sisi' was just one of the complicated life stories involving the Hapsburg royal family. Hers is a story retold in film, stage, ballet and literature of the tragedy of never being able to live the life one feels called to live.

Leaving the Palace we stopped to have a pleasant lunch at ~

Cafe Restaurant Residenz Schönbrunn
Every hour, a professional pastry chef hand-bakes original
 Viennese apple strudel at the demonstration bakery beneath
 Café Residenz.
Lunch consisted of a mixed salad with tuna and boiled egg matched with a pot of rooibos tea for Joan. Gus enjoyed grilled sausage served with sauerkraut, roasted potatoes and mustard all washed down with 500 ml of Diebels. We passed on the Apfelstrudel (Viennese Apple Strudel) when it was time for desert. Instead we accessed the available free Wi-Fi to review our plans for the remainder of the afternoon.
We walked back to Stephansplatz Metro station and ~  

Metro from Schönbrunn on the GreenLine (U4),
transfer at Karlsplatz,
 to Taubstummengasse on the Red Line (U1)

It was an enjoyable walk from Taubstummengasse station to Belvedere Palace as we strolled along Favoritenstraße (literally means "favorite road") ... turned left on Theresianumgasse and passed by Apostolischen Nuntiatur, the diplomatic mission of the Holy See in Austria ...
Apostolische Nuntiatur
and soon found ourselves at Belvedere Palace ~

Majestic wrought iron gate marks the
west entrance to the Palace grounds

The Belvedere is a historic building complex , consisting of two Baroque palaces, the Upper and Lower Belvedere  ~

Upper Belvedere

Lower Belvedere beyond the gardens

the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. The buildings are set in a  park in the 3rd district of the city, southeast of Inner City. It houses the Belvedere Museum (Österreichische Galerie Belvedere). The grounds are set on a gentle gradient and include decorative tiered fountains and cascades, Baroque sculptures, and majestic wrought iron gates. The Baroque palace complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy.
The majesty of the palace was awe inspiring yet it was the large collection of paintings by Gustav Klimt on exhibit at the Belvedere Museum that drew us here.
The Kiss
The show Jubilee Exhibition: 150 Years of Gustav Klimt offers a survey ranging from the artist’s early period to his last, unfinished works. Klimt’s masterpiece The Kiss was acquired for the “Modern Gallery” (today’s Belvedere) as early as 1908 during the Vienna Kunstschau and is permanently on view at the Upper Belvedere.

We left The Belvedere mid-afternoon and headed off to The Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule) for a tour of the stables.

Lipizzaners Stallions

Tack Room

Our Tour Guide of the School

Riding Hall
The tour is mainly behind the scenes; we were taken across the road to the stables where we went through the main courtyard, the stable complex, and the tack room. The tour then went back across the road and we were taken into the magnificent Riding Hall where the performances take place. Seated, we experienced the majesty of the Hall and were told the history of the School and its traditions. The tour concluded leaving us truly fascinated and wishing we had not missed Morning Exercise  (Morgenarbeit) ~

Time to head back to the hotel, shower, fancy ourselves up a bit, and quaff a bit of wine ~

followed by dinner at Steireck Restaurant, Austria's number one rated restaurant with 2 Michelin Stars. After a short and pleasant walk through Stadtpark we arrived at the backside of the restaurant, entered downstairs, walked up the stairs gaining our first impressions ~

Stairwell to Main Dining Room
("column" is made of stacked plates)

Seated, we were presented with the first of four amuse bouches ~ 
We gotta feeling, tonight's gonna be a good night
Over the next 3½ hours we experienced possibly the most unusual yet wonderful meal of our lives ... the wine pairings were outstanding. Please join us ~ 

To view non flash slide show for ipad / ipod click on link below 
and once opened, tap slide icon in upper right corner of window.
We taxi'd back to the hotel feeling very pleased and satisfied, yet we were accompanied by a sense of "guilty pleasure."
After a restful night, we packed, stored our luggage with the front desk, arranged for a car, and met Mark and Ellie for breakfast. As we ate our breakfast we discussed the details of our train ride to Prague. Finished, with an hour to spend before our driver picked us up, we were off to see a few more things ~
Maronistand, just outside our hotel
Chestnuts are roasted on an open drum, and sold in packets to passers-by for between 15 and 20 cents a chestnut. Normally, a Maronistand also sells roast potato slices, potato wedges, and potato puffs.

Trześniewski Restaurant at Dorotheergasse 1,
 just a block away from our hotel
Selling more than 20 various types of sandwiches, Speck mit Ei (bacon with egg) is the most popular one, along with a Pfiff of beer (a small glass, 1/8 litre) or Vodka.

The official motto of the shop is
Unspeakably Good Sandwiches
Our train departed Wien Praterstern at a little after 10:00 am. The trip took about 5 hours. We were met by cars at Praha hl.n station and transported to our new home for the next three days.

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