Monday, October 3, 2011

Wien Wiedersehen

October has finally arrived, and the European sojourn part of our walkabout has come to an end.  Tomorrow, we return to the tourist mode.  We leave Vienna on the train for a nine-day in a B&B in Strasbourg, France.  We don't head back to the United States for two more weeks, but we won't be cooking for ourselves again, until we get to New York.  So, we become tourists once again.

Penny and I got back from Budapest two weeks ago, and returned to the small flat in the 5th district (Margareten) that we had rented for the month.  It is located near the U-Bahn #4 line, at the corner of Diehlgasse and Arbeiterstrasse.  Not far from the place where we stayed at first because of the gas leak in this building.  It is listed as a one-bedroom, which it is, sort of.  It is really a studio with a separate kitchen that contains a breakfast table.  No freezer, no microwave oven, but the refrigerator is big and the kitchen counters are adequate.  No problem!

We took daily exercise walks that really got us around the city.  I tended to follow different big boulevards or streetcar lines, and then turn around and come back.  Sometimes I rode the U-Bahn to get to a starting point. Probably the most scenic path was along the Danube Canal going north from Schwedenplatz, and that would be the one I would choose for a daily jaunt if we lived here.

Vienna is nothing if not a great city for music.  We had been to the operetta three times at the Volksoper before we went to Budapest.  Last week we went to the Stadtoper (State Opera) and saw Mozart's Don Giovanni.  It was excellent!  But what else would you expect in Vienna!  

Last Saturday, we went out to the 19th district for a Heurigen show.  This is a live cafe performance of light-hearted Viennese music.  Totally light.  Totally schmaltzy.  Totally wonderful.  What fun!  The tenor turned out to be from New Orleans.  We opted for the wine and cheese plate option and passed up the dinner plate option.  We realized that we had made a good choice when we saw the plates coming up from the kitchen.  By all means, if you come to Vienna, you should go to a Heurigen show.  Unless you just hate music, but if that were true, then why would you even be here?  Unfortunately, we left the camera when we headed out to the show, so we don't have any pictures to share.  Sorry!

Penny and I went to Schonbrunn Palace again to enjoy the park and gardens.  We also visited the coach museum, which displays some of the Habsburg imperial vehicles.  We have been to several things like this in other cities, and this one did not disappoint.  The coronation coach is there, which they had to ship all over the empire because the Austrian Kaisers had ten different crowns, and so they were also Kings of Hungary, etc.  Each one required its own coronation, in each capital.  Also present was the car in which the last emperor was carried into exile.  That dull olive green color was reserved for the use of the imperial court.

Oh yes.  They used to drive on the left in Austria, and I assume throughout the empire before it was broken up during the post-World War One peace process.  When Hitler took over in 1938 and annexed Austria to Germany, he made them change to right-hand side driving like in Germany.  There were probably so few cars then that it was easy to do.

Apple strudel.  A signature dish for the region, and they make a very good strudel at Schonbrunn.  I took a copy of the recipe for anyone who wants it.  Now I prefer cheesecake to strudel (wink wink) but that was not an option on the menu.  The strudel was very good, and we also had a great time chatting with Jeff and Michelle at the next table, who turned out to be from Tampa!

The Stefansdom, or St. Stephen's Cathedral, is the traditional center of Vienna and the site of the Austrian primate's cathedra.  Like Bavaria in southern Germany, Austria is a Roman Catholic country.  It's an impressive church.  We had been inside with a tour group when we took a Danube river cruise a few years ago, so we didn't go this time.  It is a large building, but the plaza around it is small and so it is difficult to get a picture.  At least with our camera.  They are in the process of cleaning the grime off the outside, which is very much needed!  It will be interesting to see if it transforms the appearance the way the cleaning of Notre Dame did in Paris.

So farewell to Vienna.  Great music, and a high quality of life.  There is great public transport available at a reasonable price.  Rents are clearly lower than, for instance, in Paris.  Supermarket food prices seem comparatively lower than elsewhere in Europe.  The cuisine is nothing to write home about, tending toward bland, heavy meat and potatoes dishes.  Wine and beer are good, but other places do as well or better.  Vienna's architecture is easy on the eye and it is a pleasant city for walking.

All in all, though, for me, the whole doesn't quite equal the sum of the parts.  I have had that feeling for quite a while now.  I think it comes down to this:  I prefer a different ambience.  I like France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal more than other places that I have been on this continent.  It doesn't mean they are better, but I personally find those locales more enjoyable on a daily basis than the ambience that I find east of the Rhine.  I include the Netherlands as being east of the Rhine.  Just my preference.  I am glad we came.  I am glad we stayed.  But I wouldn't particularly want to do a second long sojourn here.  That doesn't mean that I don't recommend it to someone else with different preferences.


  1. Hi Bruce and Penny! Where are you guys now? We've been thinking a lot about you lately and thinking it might be time for us to follow suit. So toying with putting our house on the market and beginning a great new journey. Hope all is well. Best,
    Jeff and Michelle (tampa)