Saturday, May 24, 2014

CNY 2014, Vienna: Disinterested Foreigners, Dead Pianists, and yet more Schnitzel.

If you're a charitable sort of person, or if you're the type that enjoys picking up on irreverent factual tidbits and annoying helpless people, there's a lot to feel sorry for the Viennese. In case you're wondering, German is the official language in Austria, and once in the capital you'll only see 'Vienna' in English text. Everywhere else, it's 'Wien', and the people living there are called 'Wiener'- interestingly enough the Germans saw fit to name a sausage after them (Viennese have the sense not to use the term- they call it 'frankfurter' instead, according to Wikipedia). On a vastly larger scale, most people either think Austria is either a province of Germany, or hear 'Australia' instead. The latter point can be applied to Australians as well, I guess. Anyway, after Munich, Vienna- the second destination on our trip.

The train ride seemed to take forever, trundling through the snow covered covered countryside, with nothing of interest to break the monotony. We amused ourselves by having lunch in the restaurant carriage- potatoes and chicken schnitzel again (what did you expect?), though the kalbsbutterschnitzel (minced veal patties) I had was quite nice. We had our first taste of  beef goulash, and some sort of curry based soup- both a tad too salty. It was quite late when we finally reached Wien Westbahnhof. After a few minutes spent figuring out the subway system, we made our way to Kaisermullen station. It was starting to drizzle but luckily enough our hotel, Park Inn, was just a few minutes away.

Hungry again, I interrogated the hotel's barkeep for possible options- we could either take the train back to the city center, where we could test our luck by searching for restaurants that may or may not be open, or we could walk over to a nearby shopping mall. We went for the latter, and walked for about 10-15 minutes- eventually coming across a 'shopping mall' of sorts- a cluster of buildings bearing similar names, but with slightly different distinctions- I can't remember the exact names, but it was something like Wien Mall, Wien Bowl, Wien Wien (just examples), each one probably serving a different purpose. We walked into one that had several restaurants (and a cinema, I think)- finally decided on an Italian restaurant, which turned out to be a Mexican restaurant instead. Needless to say- tired of German food, we pigged out that night. We walked back to the hotel, paying no attention to the rain- neither did the two girls we spotted fooling around by stand-sliding down a flat tiled slope by the river.

Day 2 in Vienna. Breakfast was reasonable, but provided us with my only complaint for this hotel: the lack of variety in the menu (it didn't change throughout our stay), and the cakes were overly sweet. One interesting observation- a lot of the other guests staying there were probably UN staffers visiting Vienna for a convention- due to the UN headquarters and convention center being in walking distance from the hotel.

After breakfast, our first objective of the day- to locate Mozart's grave in the Cemetery of St Marx (no relation whatsoever to fuzzy beard Karl... I think). The cemetery was deserted when we got there, probably because no local in their right mind would think of strolling through a frost covered dead man's land on a freezing winter morning. Crazy tourists.We found the grave after stomping through the cemetery perimeter- a terrible waste of time, as Mozart's grave turned out to be located in the very center of the place, with a large headstone, some (ice covered) benches, and a bed of bright (and real... probably) flowers laid around it. Nothing spectacular, though I have no idea what the pianist in our group thought of it. Our visit to the cemetery was remarkable for one thing though- free public toilets, a rare sight on our trip so far. This is important as frequent toilet breaks are a necessity in winter, especially if you've been keeping yourself well hydrated- altogether we spent quite a bit on toilets alone.

We headed on to the city center after that- to Stephansdom (St Stephen's Cathedral). We exited the underground and found the massive stone building directly in front of us. We were almost immediately accosted by a guy in funny dress- he said he was a student from a nearby music school, and was selling tickets for a musical performance at the Schönbrunn Palace. When I'd started planning the trip before we departed for Europe, I had asked the others if they would be interested in watching an opera at Vienna's famous opera house, but they'd decided against it- the majority of the group not being culturally inclined (and who would probably love the derogatory term artsy-fartsy). I'm no classical music fanatic, but I was somewhat interested in watching a full opera performance (perhaps Faust, or something similar) in a suitable atmosphere- so I was somewhat disappointed when they opted not to book tickets for a performance. I listened to the robed chap's sales pitch politely (i.e. disinterestedly), but left the decision to the others, expecting them to pooh pooh it and walk away, but- most unexpectedly, they decided to try it out, and out came the credit card, for a show a few nights later. Eh. What just happened there?

A quick walk through the cathedral, and we were done with it. Continuing with the Mozart theme, we made our way to the Mozarthaus, Mozart's residence in Vienna from 1784-1787. Entrance came at a cost, and photography forbidden- my first (and admittedly somewhat cynical) reaction on seeing this rule at a tourist attraction is that there's probably nothing much to see inside, and they don't want the secret to leak- I was right. There really is nothing much to see in there, though there is a fair bit of reading. I did snap a few pics when the beefy floor attendant wasn't looking, though.

Having had enough of long dead musicians for the day, I dragged the group along to another destination bound to satisfy everyone- lunch, at the famous Viennese establishment Demel, and desserts after. I felt that the cakes were not as good as the ones we'd had in Munich, though. The Hofburg Palace was a short walk away- we strolled around outside in the courtyard for a bit, but to my disappointment the majority voted not to go in. Sometimes I can't help but feel that I should forget about bringing them to anything culturally or historically interesting, and just point the way to new types of foods instead...

Which is exactly what I did. Our next stop, the Naschmarkt, one of Vienna's oldest outdoor markets, populated by a long row of stores selling the usual suspects- cheese, pickled sweetmeats, nuts. There were several restaurants as well, and showing amazing restraint, we didn't enter. The place was somewhat deserted though- I suppose it's more crowded in the morning. We amused ourselves by gawking at packs of rice and soy sauce in an "Asian Grocer" before moving on.

The final item on the agenda for today- to head to the Schönbrunn Palace to catch our show. We had some spare time, and so were able to walk around the main courtyard, which was almost completely covered in snow. There was a large circular fountain in one corner, completely frozen over. Still left with plenty of time to spare, we stumbled into the attached Cafe Residenz, a place popular for its apple strudels, for dinner. The cousins took the chance to charge their phones, while I gloated over my own phone's massive battery (which still had plenty of juice remaining).

Now for the show itself- we trotted over to the concert hall- I can't think of the right word to describe it. We were a little put off, first by the requirement that we leave our jackets in the cloakroom, for a fee, and then when we stepped into the hall itself and realized that it wasn't a grand opera theater- or even a quaint little theater, for that matter- but just a regular, long rectangular room with chairs facing a small stage. The show itself was an hour plus mixture of a small orchestra playing various classical tunes, and a pair of male and female opera singers (no clue if the terminology I'm using is right). Not much dancing, however- the stage was too small for that.

That's pretty much it for Vienna. The next two days were spent on day trips to Salzburg and Budapest, and although we came back to our hotel every night, we didn't have much to do at night, so there's nothing for me to say, unless I invent some story about a night out with revolutionary FEMEN commandos.

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