Leaving Berlin by night I spent a very long and oft interrupted night on the oh so wonderful 12 hour bus trip to Austria. Sometime around 4am, an inability to sleep began to slip into that terrible rage of the tired so I threw some chocolate in my mouth, pulled my hood down over the entirety of my face, plugged in my music and shut out the world. Around eight I awoke fully again to find I had a seat partner and a view of the mountains. I cannot imagine that I was a very good seat partner while twisted up in a ball of frustrated tiredness but I promptly became all manner of more pleasant as mountain upon mountain met my eager eye through the window. It seemed that we were well into the Alps.
Some two hours of winding through the mountains later we rolled into a valley which rolled out before us the grand welcome mat of Tyrol: Innsbruck. It was a misty morning but I was well prepared with a sweater and a map and in no time at all I was ditching my bags at the hostel and heading back into town to eat and explore.
In an effort to avoid retracing my steps too often, I set off on another path to the town and soon found myself in a hive of industrial activity. Not exactly what I was after. Fortunately, the industrial blocks soon gave way to quaint residential neighbourhoods and, about the time I was beginning to feel faint from the absence of breakfast (read: 11am), I found a twee little cafe with two aul fellas and a very elegant older woman sitting out front. The woman studiously ignored me while sipping her cappuccino and picking delicately at a piece of strudel but the men were only too happy to bid me a Guten Morgen. I’m sure there’d’ve been a charming local conversation to be had there but my German is on the in side of adequate so I simply bid them a good day and slipped past into the cafe. There was a case with cakes and strudel, a little glassed in eating room, a back bar issuing wisps of cigarette smoke and no server to be found.
It only took about 5 minutes of awkward standing and looking before I was noticed and the server issued forth from the smoking area to suffer my painfully slow and awkward German. I must at this point say that German speakers are absolutely the best for language learners. Unlike other language speakers, they don’t seem to get frustrated, they don’t just dive off into English the instant they hear your foreign accent, no they let you stumble, they pick up the gist, they speak back to you gently and simply, and only when you are in a complete pickle do they switch to English and only just long enough for you to get your bearings once more. My German is appalling bad at the minute but everywhere I went in Germany and Austria, I felt like I was actually getting by and causing more pleasure than pain by the attempt. So in summary, if you want to learn a European language in-situ, choose Deutsch.
But now back to my breakfast. I managed to order ein Apfel Strudel und ein Latte and then to successfully understand(-ish) and respond to the server’s query of where I would sit followed by her suggestion that I just head on over to my table and wait for her to bring things. What she brought was a giant pile of apples all wrapped up in flakey pastry and a tall glass of hot coffee and steamed milk. With an empty tummy and bottomed out blood-caffeine levels, that simple breakfast looked like manna from heaven. As I ate, the elegant woman beside me finished her coffee and began a cigarette. The local dog population was out in force before us, sniffing and yapping even as their owners dragged them along to continue the daily exercise and as my blood sugar slowly rose, I began to feel entirely human and quite at home in the sun on the patio before a humble little bakery in the Austrian Alps.
Once fed and caffeinated, I continued my wander towards the AltStadt. Shortly after passing the victory gate and an interesting city monument with a menorah and a few statues set into undulating concrete which, intentional or not, was used as the local skatepark, I stumbled across a cluster of elderly British tourists. I must have the look of someone who knows things because, though I was no where near the only person on the sidewalk, I was the one to whom they first directed a tentative “entschuldigung”. I immediately begged idiocy on account of language at which point they delightedly switched to English and sought directions. With the help of my GPS and natural sense of direction (yes, all ye who have travelled with me, this is the moment to laugh hysterically) I gave them a best guess as to how they might reach their destination but I sincerely hope they stopped the next person too and perhaps found a local instead.
After leaving my new friends from Newcastle to wander ing an approximate direction I found my way to the Innsbruck University and Tyrol Regional Library. It had a massive fire-truck access zone out front and a goodly collection of German and English books shelved with what appeared to be Library of Congress cutters. I used to be an old pro with LC in Canada, but seeing it now made me only too aware of just how long I’ve been in Dewey only land in Ireland!
Leaving the library I was off to see the old town proper. It was a pretty little tangle of streets filled with cheerful (and mostly German speaking) tourists, quaint, mural painted houses, and a small wine festival. I took the requisite photos of things like the golden roof and the local clock tower and then escaped to the graceful stillness of the Hofgarten. It’s not terribly elaborate but it is terribly nice. There are ponds, plantings, a pavilion flanked by two giant chessboards and equipped with a very nice wooden dance floor, and a variety of pretty places to sit or wander amongst the trees. The mountains in every background help too.
Leaving the park, I somehow ended up across the river, most likely on account of seeing something pretty and deciding it must be viewed from a closer vantage point. Either way I was in under the mountains ogling all manner of beautiful buildings and scenery. And then, in no time at all it was mid afternoon and well on time to fetch lunch and head back to the hostel to check in. I had my silly fickle heart set on spatzel and nothing else would do, which was a bit inconvenient given that everything from the riverside market to the quaint cafes in the old town seemed to be Italian. Sure there were strudel houses and a few Austrian restaurants but nowhere could I find spatzel. I was just about to give up and eat pizza when I stumbled across a sandwich board just outside the science museum advertising entirely reasonably priced creamy spinatspatzel with something that I couldn’t translate. Under the patient eye of the cafe waiter, I drank a white wine spritz and ate a plate of absolutely fantastic Austrian food. The untranslatable item appeared to be some form of ham, the spatzel was divine, and the whole pile was smothered in cream and parmesan.
Somehow I rolled my carb filled self back to the hostel via a bakery where another patient Austrian sold me linzer gebacken and got myself checked in. There was a nap and a shower followed by a visit to the grocery store for a budget supper and a pack of bargain bin oreos which tasted more like whoopie pies than oreos, but who am I to complain,they were very cheap.
As I headed back into town for an evening stroll, I was treated to that most divine of valley sounds: the peal of church bells. There is something so rich about bells in a valley as the sound echoes and re-echoes off the surrounding slopes. Following the chimes into the old town I adventured through the now very busy wine festival before turning to stroll along the river a while watching the evening flights skimming in low over the city to reach the nearby airport.
And then it was back to the hostel to spend a few necessary minutes making plans and bookings before flinging wide the windows and trying to sleep in the foul miasma of genuine hiker and cyclist smells. I may be backpacking and I may be somewhat lax about laundry and showers these days, but I have never let myself reach the level of pungency that was part and parcel with two of our dorm mates who otherwise seemed quite put together and normal.
The next morning, having been woken by every move of my neighbours—the upper bunks creaked like a ship wracked by storms at the slightest movement, I was up early, puffy, and barely alive to gorge on the free breakfast and head for the free hiking bus. My stumble out of the hostel was met by pouring rain, but I was not to be deterred. The Alps were calling. I waited at the meeting point listed in the relevant info booklet from 20min before the bus was scheduled to arrive and I remained there, dripping under the eaves for another 20min after the bus was meant to arrive before I finally conceded that perhaps alpine hiking was not on the cards. I would later receive confirmation that the bus did run everyday rain or shine and that I was at the right place but, no matter what is meant to be, for me there was no bus and therefore no hiking.
Having given up on the mountains, I figured I may as well go for a bit of a wander about town as I was already out and soaked. I stopped by the train station to check my train for Vienna, visited the tourist info bureau to query about the hiking bus and to purchase a ticket for the evening’s concert in the Hofkirche, and eventually took shelter in a church. I ended up in Dom St. Jakob’s where unfortunately, pictures were not allowed but the air was warm and the surroundings were beautiful. I don’t think I have ever seen so much gold on an altar piece and the intricately painted ceiling was nothing to sniff at either. It was a wash of gold leaf and pink marble from altar to organ and the organ itself was a stunning piece of design. The silver pipes were wreathed in blue-green and gold and arrayed themselves in a design rather similar to the inside of the church with a small domed alcove at the centre and everything else radiating out from that central point of grace. I only wish I could have heard it played.
Still yearning for elevation despite my failed attempt to join a hiking tour, I set out across the river to the hillier side of town. I walked past church after church and eventually found myself a view. It wasn’t the clearest on account of the mist and the rain but it was high enough to offer that delicious sense of mastery which accompanies height.
As the rain grew heavier once more, I drifted into a very pretty churchyard with cemetery and columbaria and from there found myself cutting through a park back to the other side of the river. Tracing a path along the waterway I came across a beautiful little chapel to the Virgin Mary tucked away in an small stand of trees at the edge of a field. Inside there was barely enough room for the two benches and the small shrine that it held, but there was room enough for contemplation and prayer I suppose, and that’s what counts.
Soon I was back at the hostel doing my damnedest to dry out while waiting for the rain to stop or at least slow. While waiting I was gifted to a reminder of exactly why people tend to have a poor opinion of Americans. There was a rather loud hallooing heard at the locked main door but all of us who had made our entry by the rather obvious side door declined to engage with whatever creature thought itself trapped out of doors. As the staff arrived just before 3pm to prepare for check-in, we were to discover that the creature was an obese old American man with what appeared to be fishing gear and what was undeniably a bad attitude.
He tromped in behind the receptionist all in a froth about how terrible the place was and how there ought to be people to help him and to let him check in. To her credit the receptionist calmly informed him that he would be able to check in at three when the front desk opened and then escaped into the staff only area. Your man then proceeded to roam about the place presumably looking for the front desk or some other access to staff that he could abuse, all the while speaking loudly and angrily to no one at all about how poorly the place was run and how it ought to be done instead. I resisted the urge to turn on him in an indignant fury of “what on earth do you expect, it’s a youth hostel, it’s the cheapest place in town, and it is that way because they provide only the most minimal staff and services.” In the interests of not making a scene, I resisted. Soon however his rant had moved on to the potential location of bathrooms in the place and I, knowing where the bathrooms were, was unable to resist a cold reply as to where he could find them. I think my tone may have carried a small bit of disgust because around the time I explained the very simple directions to him for the third time, he made some comment under his breath which strongly implied that I was somehow part and parcel with the incompetent staff of the place. Lucky stars were counted and personally thanked by name when he landed in a different dorm from mine.
Sometime in the later afternoon, I headed out again to get a bit of food and have another look around before the boy’s choir concert that I planned to attend at the Hofkirche. I was only a few minutes out the door when I started to notice a certain tell-tale itching. Now for me, bed bug bites never itch immediately, no, they wait until later the next day when it would be less believable for me to report them and dear god do they itch. I am hoping that by dint of my luggage being stored far from the bed, that these little fiends will not be following me again but it seems somehow unfair that after I broiled all my things half to death to kill the last batch and spent nearly two weeks in private homes bed bug free, that here on my first night back in hostels I should become so thoroughly reacquainted with the little besties. At this point I know how to kill them in my gear so if I have any reason to believe they’ve gotten in, I know I can get them out, but I would really rather not be covered in itchy blistery little track marks for the entire rest of my trip. I wish single rooms in decent establishments were within my budget.
Itching my way down the street I eventually settled into a strudel cafe where I ordered a trio strudel filled with poppyseed, ricotta, and nuts, and a hot chocolate. The cafe itself was quite sweet, very small, and filled with the most interesting array of easy listening music clearly designed to please the ear of the monied set several generations my senior. The hot chocolate was lovely and the nut section of the strudel was divine but I will admit that I found the ricotta quite acerbic and the poppyseed not quite up to the standard of deliciousness that I found in Poland and the Czech Republic.
After my snack I wandered about the shops in the rain, spotting all manner of delights from entire shops dedicated to modernizations of the dirndl and lederhosen, to schnapps shops filled with tiny bottles of every flavour and strange mad places where the many flavoured schnapps was also multi coloured and hung in great round glass bulbs from which you could pour your pleasure into any one of a vast collection of variously shaped bottles. And then it was time to head to the Hofkirche. I soon found myself in a rather large crowd of early comers all packed into an entirely too small lobby. Next too me a tiny curly hair girl with rhinestones in her ears and a little glitter covered crown in her hair was entertaining everyone with her big doe eyed stare and chirping little comments.
After a wait that had some of the crowd rather antsy, we were ushered into a beautiful old church complete with the massive royal box and oodles of ornate detailing and flanked by two rows of life size black statues of various rulers and their queens. It was really terribly grand which made the tiny little choir singers in their little Tyrolean traditional costumes even more dear. It was a great space for music but even in those massive, acoustically lovely domes, the choir occasionally reached a pitch and volume such to crowd the edges of the sound with the crackle and fuzz of echo. Despite the slight fuzz at the upper edges of intensity, the music was beautiful. There was one tiny soloist who had the most unbelievably clear inspiring voice. His range was so high and his tone so pure. It carried me away entirely.
And then nearly as soon as it began, it was over and we were tossed back out into the night. As I walked back to the hostel the clouds began to crowd in, licking down the mountains and through the valleys. It felt very much like fall which is I suppose why I shouldn’t have been too surprised the next morning when I awoke in the chill morning air to see snow on the tops of the surrounding mountains.
I left Innsbruck in a light rain and a cool wintry air on the 9am train heading through the mountains via Salzburg and Linz to Vienna.
It was early afternoon when I stepped off the train into Wien Westbahnhof and a flurry of chaotic activity. I was initially quite overwhelmed by all the people and signs but soon realized that this was Vienna’s admirable effort to support arriving refugees by providing translators marked by tags listing their name and their linguistic resources. I suspect that there were other assistants on hand but I couldn’t quite make out what was where and, since I was not the target of these kindly citizens’ efforts, I slipped out into the sun as quickly as I could. Now, I say sun but what I mean is wind. Certainly it was a beautiful blue-skied sunny day but it was also equipped with a wind that would make most of Ireland blush. It wasn’t the petulant gusty wind of seaside towns as I have lived in so much of late, but instead the strong prevailing inland wind that I remember from childhood. It was the sort of wind that, rather than twisting your hair and clothes into artistic shapes, merely plastered them down windward as tightly as possible.
The flatland winds blew me about a staggering beautiful city all caked in art nouveau and art deco architecture until I stumbled upon my hostel and found a quietly bustling old Austrian man fixing door hinges. I had expected to have to drop my luggage and wait for the official 3pm check in time but your man up the ladder informed me I need only wait a few moments while he finished and washed the door hinge grease off his hands.
After checking into a nice airy dorm, I set off to find Vienna’s cafe culture. I strolled down a pedestrian street, past a former flak tower turned aquarium, to the famous Cafe Sperl where I found high ceilings sheathed goldenrod yellow paint and rich upholstery everywhere. I took a seat at a table for one just behind the empty piano stool and prepared to tackle the task of summoning service. I was assisted by the massive mirror above the piano which allows you to hail the waitstaff by reflection rather than craning around backwards. This was not however enough to completely counteract the sheer business of the place. Just as I had finally snagged a menu, an elderly man in thick glasses and a well made, if rather too large grey suit shuffled up to the piano and took a seat. He played jazz and ragtime with a few classical riffs thrown in and I ate Sacher torte and drank mein kleiner brauner steeped in intellectual and artistic history. I sat musing for as long as I could stretch the coffee and the cake and then it was back out into the world with no goal but to find more beautiful things.*
I passed the Secession with its golden globe of Art Nouveau leaves before catching sight of the stunning white, green, and gold edifice that is St Charles’ Church. Like so many of the places I’ve visited on this trip, the church was under restorations which obscured most of the main facade and the tickets in were nearly a tenner so I ogled the ornately carved exterior for a while and then headed on towards Belvedere. Before I reached the palace, however, I came across a fountain spilling rainbows. As I hadn’t seen a rainbow since Ireland, I stopped to appreciate the colours and soon noticed that surrounding this fountain stood a monument or memorial of some sort covered in Cyrillic. I hadn’t the faintest idea what it was but it looked awfully important. I later discovered that it was a monument to the Red Army installed by the Soviets when they happened to have a hold of that chunk of the city.
My arrival to Belvedere was met by a large storm warning sign, not currently activated, which was to give a certain sense of the sheer size of the baroque gardens surrounding this one of three main Hapsburg Palaces in Vienna. The terraced and fountain filled gardens sprawl indolently from the lower palace at street level up to the main palace replete with balconies, carvings, and a massive still pool intervening between the building and the higher street. I personally prefer the winding convolutions of Chinese garden design, but there is something very impressive about the simple geometric purity of a garden built on a baroque plan especially when it is as full of statuary as Belvedere.
Wandering through the gardens I was soon carried away by the wind back towards the city. I stopped by a few parks and then settled myself on a sunny bench beside the dry canal in the Stadtpark. So long as the sun was on my face I could pretend that the temperature was amenable but the instant it slipped away in the slightest, I was left fighting shivers. I hadn’t been in the park long when the sun forsook me entirely so it was a quick jaunt up to see the nearby postal savings bank—it’s very art deco [DESIGN ERA POSTAL SAVINGS] and not entirely to my taste—before I raced back to the hostel to grab a sweater before my arranged meeting with a local couch surfer.
Due to various complications of lives and schedules, Charlie (this time a Shanghainese Charlie, not the American one) was unable to host me, but we’d agreed to at least meet up and I had boldly suggested that I might like to practice my Mandarin. Honestly, I’d been dreading it all day. I hate so much to feel stupid and my Mandarin is hideously out of practice, but you know what? I did it. We spoke a bit in English and then switched and I lasted over 2 hours in nearly only Mandarin (okay I cheated on a bit of vocabulary) discussing everything from travel plans to live experiences and theories of the universe (more philosophy and sociology than physics mind you). It helped that Charlie was unfailing patient with me, having also struggled through learning second languages (English and more recently German), but I did it! We had wine in a ridiculously beautiful bar atop one of Vienna’s few skyscrapers with the sunset and then the city lights spreading beneath us, but to be honest I was just so pleased with myself for being brave and doing the Mandarin thing. It greatly reinvigorated my desire to polish up my Mandarin and go for my HSK 6 certification. We’ll have to see if that motivation lasts until I get back to Canada where I have the environment and the resources to really focus on it.
I woke up the next morning to a rather bleak day. The wind was still blowing but rain as threatening and the skies hung a low and ever so unphotogenic pale grey. Without the luxury of a prolonged stay, I set out for Schoenbrunn Palace. Again the price of entry to the buildings was well above budget the garden/park was free and offered plenty of entertainment for a few hours. Though my new hostel had not yielded any new bed bug bites, the Innsbruck edition was still painted brightly across my legs and arms, itching and aching in turn. Schoenbrunn is much larger than Belvedere with numerous wings and a magnificent large baroque park filled with fountains, secluded lawns, captive animals, and all manner of other beautiful things. At the southern end, a hill rises behind the park’s largest fountain and from the top you can rest in the somehow dainty and yet still grand Gloriette and gaze down over the entire city. It is quite a fantastic view. Behind the pillars and pavilion of the Gloriette there is a closed off area which near as I could see houses at least one flock of herons and a handful of horses. Who knows what else lives there in the blank part of the map. After my adventures in Habsburg Territory which left me yearning (just a tiny bit) for the kind of obscene indulgence and luxury that the Austrian Imperial family enjoyed, I headed back towards the Ringstrasse.
Somewhere between the summer palace and the city centre, I stumbled across a local market. Obviously I headed on in only to discover that you can take the Turkish vendor out of Turkey, but you can’t take Turkey out of the vendor. I had falafels batted at my face, plates of every possible delicacy waved under my nose, and was shouted at in all manner of languages though mostly German and English (I’m way too white to get Turkish). Implementing my avoidance skills as refined in Chinese markets, I scooted through only barely resisting the mountains of pistachio filled baklava, on my way to the Habsburg’s main seat of power, the Hofburg. I dodged the pricey entry fees to the royal apartments and headed directly for the National Library. Having snuck (or paid my way) into a number of national research libraries thus far, I decided to pass on trying to convince the extensive security in Vienna that I ought to be allowed into theirs to check out classification and shelving systems, and turned towards the State Hall, aka the old library.
Trinity Long Room does note even begin to hold a candle to it, and nor, to be perfectly honest, does the Clementium. I don’t even have words for the beauty. From painted ceilings to all the gorgeous old books (stacked double in many places) and the hidden doors in the book cases which lead to more nooks full of books. Oh my goodness it’s really and truly a library lover’s heaven. It also provided a better image of a library for me to accompany The Name of the Rose. If you have not been, you must go. Must.
It seemed that despite the petulant weather, Vienna was smiling upon me, for on my way across Stephansplatz on my way to a famous old cafe, I thought I’d take a little look and see if there was any chance of seeing the interior of Stephansdom without paying an arm and a leg. That big beautiful church may be the only attraction in Vienna that is free. It may have even given the library a run for it’s money in terms of pure beauty, but I’m a librarian at heart so obviously the library still wins.
With my mind’s eye full of entirely too much remembered beauty, I settled myself into Kaffee Alt Wien which I had expected to be a place of coffee and cakes. The entire front section was a dark wood pub filled with posters from openings and concerts and all manner of smoking clientele. Through a glass door, I found a bustling non-smoking section mostly full of tourists but with just enough local flavour to convince me to stay. As the place was clearly more old man pub than posh lady cafe, I gave up on coffee and cake and went with the daily special Wiener Schnitzel kit Kartoffelsalat and of course a beer. I’d probably had schnitzel before at some point, but I have no recollection of any schnitzel prior to that delicious thin pounded, richly battered bit of pork that my hustling salt and pepper haired waiter laid before me. It was crispy and tender and oh so savoury and it went spectacularly well with the giant mug of beer I found to hand.
I sat supping and sipping, reading and people watching until I was entirely out of beer and running thin on excuses to stay. When I was left only with “I look scruffy enough to be a regular not a polished Spanish or geared up British tourist” I decided it was time to go hunt up some flak towers at the Augengarten on the other side of the Danube Canal. Between the rain and the continued torture of my badly bitten legs, I barely hacked the walk to the park. By sheer stubbornness, however, I did manage to make it to see both of the massive concrete columns rising like stumps of massive trees from the earth and topped with a myriad gun ports. It’s hard to imagine so much concrete all at once, but it’s even harder to imagine living in a time when such things were deemed necessary for both defines and shelter from bombers.
It had been raining fitfully ever since I reached Augengarten, so after exhausting my options for investigation, I left the park and headed back towards my hostel via the Ringstrasse. Just across the canal, I came across a major road closure which (from my loose interpretation of signs) seemed to be on account of a gebroken Wasser something so I guess a water main was playing up?
At the end of the traffic chaos, I found the lovely lacework Votive Church which in its current state of under restoration was charmingly robed in a massive fashion advertisement. I guess you take the money where it comes for historical restoration regardless the dissonant messaging. Similarly, the famous architectural poem that is the Wien Rathaus was obscured by the multifarious accoutrements of a concert set up filling the park before it and restoration works covering much of the facade. I seem to have picked a very restoration filled summer to travel in.
Leaving the architecture behind, I stopping into a shop to pick up supper (chocolate milk and a sandwich) and to fall victim to the irresistible allure of fig season. If I could live off figs and dates, I probably would.
Once fed, I set off for salsa where I found a wonderful venue, filled with friendly people, all of whom danced Cuban. It was a fun night and I got to play at being a minor celebrity but I would kill for some good On2 at this point. Though you can always find mambo dancers at congresses, they seem to be very thin on the ground in each locality.
Stumbling bleary eyed down to breakfast the next morning, I found a massive queue of German students extending halfway out the door. Nearly 20 minutes later I was finally parked at a breakfast table with a tray full of life-giving coffee and muesli. And then I was out in the sun trotting off to explore the University of Vienna and its Narrenturm which stands as Continental Europe’s oldest building for the housing of mental patients. Sadly it was closed all but Wednesdays and Saturdays so I was left to explore the outside of the tower and the rest of the university. Curiously, it seems that the university library is mostly spread out between the individual schools. Each school down to English and American Studies, African Studies, etc. has it’s own offices and next to them, its very own library stocked with all the relevant resources and study spaces for the students. I can’t decide whether I think that’s a good idea or not, but I suppose it would allow the schools much more influence over their collections.
Soon after I was wandering through churches and squares on my way to the Danube proper. Having lovingly played the Blue Danube waltz at some point in my once upon a time attempt to be a pianist, I felt I really ought to see eponym. I may have gotten slightly distracted by the Prater Amusement park which may have taken me very much off course, but you didn’t have to pay in and there was a giant pig shaped ATM!
Sometime after the amusement park, I finally reached the river bank with tired feet and an ever gloomier sky. Not long after I crossed over to the island in the middle of the river where I wandered, read, and spent entirely too much time hunting the perfect patch of sun. The sun was, however, quite fitful and the wind was still blowing so I was soon cold enough to necessitate a return to the warmer climes of a cafe. I had read about Viennese Fächertorte (layered cake) and I was determined to have it. The first bakery I checked (the one I’d read about online) had about a dozen kinds of cake, but no Fächertorte so I kept hunting. Somewhere near the Hofburg, I found Demel Bakery which had what I was hunting for. I hopped up on a stool at the bar and was soon nose to nose with a hot frothy latte and a lovely little slice of Fächertorte. Now Fächertorte is a bit of a strange creation. Inside there are three layers, one of poppyseed followed by one of ground hazelnuts and finally a layer of sliced apples. Around all this delicious madness is wrapped a thin sheet of lovely buttery pastry. I feel like someone looked at a strudel and thought “But wouldn’t this be lovely as a cake?” And of course that mad thought was soon followed by the harmless pondering of just how many things could fit into that one strudel-cake. Poppyseed desserts are simply the best.
While munching my treats, I observed a group of Asian travellers drive our server nearly to madness with their requests for specific desserts scribbled in a notebook followed by their insistence that what she’d brought was not what was written on their little piece of paper. Eventually she got them sorted just in time to deal with a couple from New York who were only too eager to try the apple stroo-del and the SATCH-er cake. God bless Americans.
Fed and caffeinated, I headed back to the hostel to rest my feet and recharge my batteries (literal and metaphorical) before joining the queue for standing tickets for the opera. Three hours before show time, I was lined up behind the professional standing ticket purchasers with their folding chairs and opera programs. I was soon followed by an older Canadian couple who, though very friendly, were exactly the kind of over talkative, under prepared tourist that makes me half insane. Thank goodness I’d done my research or they would have gone mad with not knowing what was going on or what they were to be doing.
Somewhere further down the queue, a similar but far more endearing scene was unfolding with a Spanish father and daughter who first failed to get advice from the lady to their rear but then were eagerly advised by the old gentleman before them. He was a true lover of opera and he was delighted to help newcomers. I only eavesdropped a little, I swear. By dint of my long wait, when we finally made it to the parterre, I managed to fit myself into the second row with an absolutely perfect view of everything. I’ve paid far more than €4 for far worse seats in both Canada and Ireland. Directly in front of me were two little old ladies who were clearly regulars, and the most gorgeous young woman with dyed red hair pinned neatly into victory rolls. She had red lipstick and a plaid vintage dress with a round white collar. It was so deliciously retro I nearly died. Each of us fastened something to the railing to mark our spots, the ladies mostly used scarves, while the men who were regulars simply took of their ties and wrapped them round the railing, and then we all trooped off to deposit our bags and deal with the necessaries before showtime.
And then finally the opera started. It was Der Fliegende Holländer and it was divine! The orchestra was on point with stunning call and answer sections and a lovely brace of horns, the voices were excellent, the soprano divine, and the story of course was wonderful. There was even a rather alarming little sex scene with the sailors which featured allusions to both rape and slut shaming. Who knew Wagner was so bold?
My feet and legs were sore and tired by the end but my heart was so full and so happy. I may have started a dangerous obsession here.
Leaving the opera house I noticed a grumbling tummy which had been badly neglected during the waiting and the watching and so, given the hour, I was left with only two choices: late night Turkish food, or late night wurst. Having done the Turkish thing after salsa the previous night, I settled on a wurst. It was delicious and the way they assemble the things is brilliant! Rather than a messy falling apart bun that has been severed nearly in half, they take a bun, stab a hole in it, and shove the sausage and all the toppings inside. It’s much tidier and the bread they use is so chewy and delicious. As I was strolling and snacking, I wandered past a packed bar where all the local footie fans were evidently watching Austria do well. Their shouts of synchronized delight were the perfect end to an excellent adventure in Vienna.
Aus of Austria,
*If this blog hasn’t convinced you that I am an aesthete of the most highly hedonistic order, then I don’t know what will!