Vienna is extraordinarily magnificent! With every turn we made, Rob and I were astounded by its splendour. Truly I can say that this is my favorite European city, even beating out Paris, and it has definitely set the bar for all the European cities still to come. By the end of my first day, I was on Craigslist looking at apartments. Just looking. I can get a parquet-floored, moulding-trimmed, river-viewed, exquisitely furnished two bedroom flat for EU800. Just looking. The lease is only three months and is available now… Just… looking…
After the stress of driving in rainy Prague, Vienna was a breeze. Literally, the breeze was heavenly, balmy and warm, and the sun was finally shining. Our windows came down, our rain boots swapped for flip flops, and our hoodies for t-shirts. Where Prague’s streets were a narrow, windy mess, Vienna’s were expansive and tidy, smoothly curving and relievingly traffic free. To be fair, it was Saturday, and on Monday the traffic increased somewhat, but Vienna is still an easy city to navigate through, even in an RV, with ample free parking! At every corner was decadent architechture, whether the building was a grand museum or a small apothecary, or apoteks as they’re called here. Rob is a fan of the apoteks, stocking up the 400mg ibuprofen that he swears is better than taking two of 200mg Advil we have back home. As my back is still aching from wakeboarding, I finally took one of the pills and had to agree with him. The European stuff’s better.
Demel. Aka, Alice’s Wonderland. Alice Heaven. Alice Bliss. Alice’s Future Home. Everything about the darling bakery charmed me in even more ways than I’d expected it to. The glass display encased dozens of pastries, from strudels to cream puffs, from sachertortes to Mozart cake. It all looked so very beautiful, so perfect. The shop even sold Langues du Chat, chocolate pieces that were moulded to the shape of cats’ tongues. I happen to find this cute. We waited ten minutes so we could sit at a table outside, then I sank into my chair and delightedly picked up the menu. After much deliberation (trust me, it all looked so good), Rob and I decided to share the Sckinkennudeln Souffles, a wound circle of noodles laced with ham. It was rich, yet light, like a freestanding macaroni and cheese of the fanciest sort made with the finest ingredients. Utterly scrumptious. Vienna was already off to a great start and this delectably sealed the deal.
The Russian punch cake arrived after the souffles, and here I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. It’s not the quality of the cake–I’m sure as far Russian punch cakes go, this would take first place. It was the fact that I’d never had Russian punch cake before, and I didn’t know just how very flavored with liquor it’s supposed to be. It was like eating shots of rum. The shots would be wrapped in a bruleed icing, but still, the custardy layer in the cake that was dense with alocohol was so strong that I could hardly stomach the burn. I forced myself to swallow and enjoy it. It was a Saveur featured cake after all. Don’t worry for me, though, I had plenty of other desserts in Vienna to make up for one failed punch cake.
St. Stephan’s Cathedral is a striking momunent at the heart of a busy shopping district. The roof is elaborately tiled in diamond patterns of black, yellow, and green, dizzying in its scale and hypnotizing with its lines that seemed to mess with my perception of dimention. We wanted to see inside, but I balked when the guy behind a counter said that it would be EU 3.50 for each of us. I’m not religious, but the concept of charging people money to enter a church just stinks of bad taste to me. Rob really wanted to go inside, though, so we paid. We started walking up a very narrow cement spiral staircase. It was old, and the spiral wound so tightly that I was starting to get dizzy. We kept walking upwards, round and round, until I realized with indignant distress that the stairs would never end until we reached the top! We had actually paid to climb a bunch of stairs! 344 of them to be exact, as we found out later. As I was huffing and puffing my way up, dying for a breath of fresh air as I gasped in the mustiness that smelled of perspiration, I was reminded of a scene from “In Bruge”. Colin Farrell’s character gapes in amazement at the fat American tourists who have just told him of their plans to climb the stairs to the top of a cathedral. Colin said that they wouldn’t fit because they were too fat and probably too out of shape, thereby offending the Americans with what he only meant to be very practical, even helpful, advice. As I span my way around the never-ending corckscrew of stone, I couldn’t imagine a heavy person making it very far. There’s not really any places to step aside and catch your breath, either, adding pressure to your pace because the people behind you are practically breathing up your butt.
The view from the top was beautiful. At first I didn’t even bother going to the window, I simply collapsed on the bench to catch my breath. When I finally stood up, I basked in the breeze as I tried to navigate my bearings overlooking the city. I don’t think it was worth the money (I would rather have spent it on a pastry), but it was lovely. We took some photos and then went right back down the same way we went up, sucking in our stomachs to allow other sweaty climbers to pass us. I was dying for a Gatorade, which led Rob and I to the classiest grocery store I’ve ever been to. It made Bristol Farms look like a childish attempt at Euro-chicness. Dark hardwood trim outlined displays of ripe mangos. Rare gourmet finds such as specialty jams or bio-organic crackers sat prettily on spacious, uncluttered shelves. The smell of fresh pineapple followed us everywhere. Glossy wood floors gleamed as if they’d been just polished.
Yes, Vienna is a very beautiful city. Even the campground we stayed at was impressive. The showers and bathrooms were very clean, the sites spacious, and it had a playground for kids and a WiFi area. I felt like I was at a resort, not camping, although I suppose I should feel that way if I’m paying EU28 per night.
The next day I put on my high heels for the first time. Vienna impressed me, so I wanted to impress her back, and out came my skirts and nice tops! The weather was gorgeous, about 75 and breezy. As we drove back into Vienna’s town center, I noticed along the river these spots that I later learned were called “sand clubs”. It kind of reminded me of something you’d find in Vegas, in that it was strange, sexy, and slightly tacky. These sand clubs are giant sandboxes for adults to play in. Techno music was bumping from behind the doors to the street, and from the bridge I could see the other side of the club where the sand was, covered with bikinied bodies and dudes playing volleyball. It was right next to a river, but the river was below the ground level, down a mote-like wall of cement, so it looked very weird to me to see a bunch of people laying out in their swimsuits with no water!
The Schoenberg Palace is exquisite. Rob and I opted to do the 20 room tour instead of the 40 room one, and I have to say it was one of the most pleasant audio tours I’ve ever taken. Classical music played throughout, adding to the cheery and triumphant sense of grandeur. It got louder when we reached the room where Mozart played for Queen Sisi at the age of six. I think I would have liked Queen Sisi. She had a sense of flair that she brought to the decor of the palace, an extensive beauty routine, and an early feminist outlook on marriage. The grounds of Shoenberg are stunning, too, with elaborate fountains and little walking trails through carefully trimmed trees.
After our tour, Rob bought us tickets to an Apple Strudel Show! I was so tickled that they had an entire live show demonstrating the art of creating the perfect Viennese strudel. The recipe, which has been used in the royal palace for centuries, is originally from Turkey. Now, I don’t know what it is about Vienna, but all the pastry chefs I noticed were strapping young men, and the guy giving the strudel demonstration was no exception. There’s few things that turn me on like watching a man handle food. Whether he’s manipulating a delicate strip of dough, stretching it to the thinness of transparency; or cracking eggs singlehandedly, like James Franco in “The Company”; or grinding spices with a mortar and pestle as he leans forward, breathing in to make sure they’re at just the right aromatic balance; or skillfully brushing a spicy marinade onto a filet of steak; a sexy man creating edible works of art leaves me breathlessly impressed. It must be the patience, the tediouness, the fastness of fingers and the slow wait to eat it all. Cooking is very sensual, the way it literally engages all one’s senses. The smoothness of a ball of dough when you slap it, the slickness of oil coating your fingers, the juiciness of meat, the heat from peppers, the crackling sizzle of onions, the seductive melting of chocolate. Is there anything sexier than watching someone cook with passion?
The strudel show was very entertaining, topped off with a generous slice of the tender dessert. The apples were perfectly soggy, cinnamon-coated and raisin-sprinkled, the crust saturated with sugary syrup. Afterwards in the bookstore, Rob bought me my very own Viennese cook book, so when I return to the States, I will add apple strudel to my European inspired dinner party!