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Published: January 7th 2014
St. Anne's Church
beautiful baroque church- amazing setting for music
Back in the States for almost eleven months, the call to travel was fairly strong within us. Now for reference, we’re living in California wine country, so sympathies may be hard to come by, but nonetheless we are who we are, explorers of this big blue marble.
Each December, we travel back to Ohio where we are both from, to visit family for the holidays. MJ in her infinite wisdom suggested that we extend our time off. Sheer brilliance! A few ideas were batted back and forth, but then Vienna was suggested. Dave will tell you he’s not sure who came up with the idea, but MJ says the idea was his…..and so the planning began.
In preparation for this voyage, we were contemplating the fact that we would be out of the country for New Year’s for the second year in a row. Last New Year’s found us enjoying music and the vibrant people of Cuba, while this week we are exploring the music, rich culture and lovely people of Vienna, Austria. There is always the chance that this could be the start of a grand tradition! Stay tuned….
For some Americans, it is certainly not out
of the realm of possibilities that some would think of green rolling hills, classical music, the Sound of Music, or perhaps even Arnold Schwarzenegger when they think of Austria. This barely scrapes the surface of this nation’s contributions to the world. “I assure you that this is a splendid place, and for my métier the best one in the world.” – Mozart
And so, after traveling for some 12 hours, we found ourselves deposited in front of our hotel for the week, somewhat weary after the flight and the holidays, but giddy to be back in Europe. After a brief nap, we headed down to the desk in search of a recommendation for dinner. This being Sunday night, the choices were most likely not great in our section of town, but we were pleasantly surprised as the front desk immediately gave us a business card and directions to an establishment that offered local cuisine less than a half mile away. When we arrived we discovered this was one of the finer brew houses in Vienna. Specializing in seven home crafted unfiltered beers. This was a perfect recommendation for us! The goulash and the schnitzel
Spanish Riding School
Beautiful setting and architecture
were wonderful as well. Things were off to a great start, courtesy of the 7 Stern Brau Brew Pub. Later in the week we stopped by the 1516 Brewing Company to sample a beer and a goulash. Comparison shopping, so to speak.
We were ready to get out and explore this grand city and all its glory. As is our custom when visiting large cities, we opted for the hop-on hop-off bus. This is always a great way to get a feel for the city and allows more creative planning, as you get the lay of the land. Given the fact that being in Vienna is comparable to a kid in a candy store, one needs all the practical information you can get your hands on. Our six days may seem like plenty of time, but we knew better. It would never be enough.
The only pre-arranged activity was a concert. After all, if you’re in Vienna and don’t spend at least one night listening to great classical music, why bother to show up in the first place? An evening at the Imperial Theatre—Vienna’s Royal Orchestra
famous venues in Vienna sold out their tickets last February for this week. We were able to obtain tickets to a small intimate venue of 500. What a treat. We were not at all disappointed in the performance. We headed to Beethoven Platz and entered the venue, presented our tickets and were promptly escorted to the front row left. Hang on to your hats, this held some great promise for some great entertainment. We were not disappointed, as the Vienna Royal Orchestra treated us to an evening of Mozart and Strauss. Additionally, a pair of fine opera singers and ballet dancers enlivened the performance and made it a night to remember!
Another evening we purchased tickets at St. Anne’s Church to listen to a string quartet. An extraordinary ensemble delighted our musical world with the marvelous harmonies in classical chamber music. A bit of Hayden, Vivaldi, Mozart, Puccini and Rossini. We sat in the small baroque church on mahogany pews and soaked in the frescos and religious adornments. The acoustics here were amazing. This was one of our favorite evenings. We highly recommend this to those who prefer a more intimate and lovely setting to hear great
chamber music. Sigmund Freud House
New Year’s Eve day found us back out and on the hunt for the office where Sigmund Freud practiced for many years. Fascinating history lesson of the father of psycho-analysis. No, we don’t want to talk about it, or our dreams, thank you. Incidentally, what would Freud have to say about our insatiable need for travel?
It is a private museum and well done. Evidently Freud was a very private man and allowed few photos to be taken of him over the years. He did allow his personal assistant David Dawson to take many photos the last couple of years he practiced in Vienna. The photos were arranged in a manner so that it gave you a glimpse of his daily life and practice. The audio tour was well done and supplemented by a guidebook if you required more detail. In 1939, Freud saw that he needed to leave his Vienna due to the increasing presence of facsim and the fact that the SS had recently questioned his wife. Sadly, few furnishings remained in the home and office because he took them with him to London, including
Demel Cafe - Brutus says "overrated"
the famous couch. New Year's Eve Bash
Vienna is a town that knows how to throw a New Year's Eve party. They revel in bringing in the new year. The streets are tastefully illuminated with decorative holiday lights and the spirit of the season is easy to imagine while strolling up and down the aged promenades. Around the city there must have been nearly one dozen stages set for a variety of musical venues. The bands start playing around 2pm and continue past midnight. Multiple fireworks displays begin around 1130pm and continue until 1230am. The sky is ablaze with color. We walked from venue to venue listening to music, dancing and singing along with the crowds. Everything from rock, opera, Big Band, classical, 80's and more. More than 800,000 people delighted in the sights and sounds. If you are one of those people who truly enjoy New Year's Eve, book yourself a trip to Vienna. The quest for the sacher torte
Before our decision to come to Vienna we had never heard of the sacher torte. If you read anything about Vienna in a travel
guide or on the internet, you will be introduced to this world renowned slice of confection. It is considered one of Vienna’s most famous culinary specialties by some.
This taste treat was created in 1832 by a young chef apprentice named Franz Sacher at the age of 16 for important guests of Prince Metternich. The dessert was a success and became very famous. Franz’s eldest son Eduard carried on the family tradition and perfected the family recipe. Over the years legal issues arose as the Sacher Hotel and the Demel Bakery both claimed “the original” sacher torte.
The controversy dates back some one hundred years and wasn’t settled until after the Second World War. During a seven-year court battle they fought over the name of the torte, the second layer of jam in the middle of the cake and the use of butter versus margarine. Finally an out of court agreement was made where the Hotel Sacher the rights to the phrase "The Original Sacher Torte" and gave the Demel the rights to decorate its tortes with a triangular seal that reads Eduard-Sacher-Torte
With all this controversy we decided we needed to sample both for ourselves.
We read multiple reviews of these tortes on line and must say we were unsure we would like it. Many people said it was dry as a dust bowl.
It is a stunning lovely looking dessert and when it arrived at our table we took plenty of photos. It is indeed a dry cake, with an ultra thin layer of apricot glaze, topped with rich dark chocolate.
We sampled it and walked away with the impression that perhaps it is the most overrated dessert in Europe, unless of course you’re into dry cake topped with chocolate, then you have hit the mother lode. It wasn’t bad. Ok, this is not a glowing report. We prefer a moist cake and we would have added a much thicker layer of apricot glaze if we were making it. Sacher torte has a nice flavor but two was enough for us and then we switched to apple strudel in our remaining days. Spanish Riding School –not so much riding, or otherwise
We were disappointed in the Lippizanner Stallions performance at the emperor’s Baroque riding hall. We recommend you save your
money for something else. Dave has seen them on TV and MJ had seen them in person years ago when they were touring the U.S. The riding hall is an amazing piece of architecture and well worth taking it in but overpriced in our opinion. The horses pranced about a bit to classical music but did not put on the kind of performance we were expecting. Perhaps we expected too much, but when one pays 31euros to stand with some obstructed views, you really want to get your money’s worth. Alas, we did not. Academy of Fine Arts
We had an amazing afternoon enjoying some of the world artistic masters and could have spent a week just taking in some of the most renowned works of the past few centuries. It is always a profound feeling wandering the halls of one of the world’s great art museums. The magnificence of the artwork gives one pause coupled with the grandeur of the building it is displayed in, as it was stunning. Fifty-foot ceilings, marble walls, marble floors, marble columns. One’s mind cannot but wander to another time and place, a different lifestyle.
Quartet at St. Anne's
Extremely talented musicians
Of note was the opportunity to take in the works of a more recent famous artist, Lucien Freud. Grandson of Sigmund, his work was thought provoking and made one wonder more about this intensely private, yet creative mind.
The Belvedere Palace was another venue where we enjoyed the artwork. We preferred the collection at the Academy of Fine Arts but the Palace is a stunning building and the grounds are breath taking. Coffee House Culture
Vienna is well know for a laid back life among its residence. The Viennese know how to squeeze a bit of enjoyment out of each cup of coffee and are in no hurry to do so. Many sit and linger for hours over coffee, pastry, reading the paper and visiting with friends. Many locals treat these coffee houses as their living room. One would be remiss if visiting Vienna you did not envelope this way of life.
We found each coffee house had a different look and feel. Some are more modern and others are like stepping back in time to the 1900’s with dark stained wood and newspapers at the ready. Many offer music
in the afternoons and evenings. We took advantage of that on at least two occasions.
We can provide you recommendations on which ones we liked best if you send us a private message. We went to Café Demel, Café Sacher, Café Landtmann, Café Braunerhof, Café Hawelka, Café Diglas and Café Pruckel. If you are thinking this is a lot of coffee drinking, not to worry. Beer, wine and other libations are available. There are also the desserts, you know. A weather report –
It is winter so we came prepared to wrap in layers plus hat, scarf, and gloves. We’ve had a couple of overcast days, one day of drizzle but the rest of the time we’ve been offered sunny dry days. Most days get up into the mid 40’s and down to the mid 30’s after the sunsets. A couple of days were a bit cooler and winds made it feel colder but all in all warmer that we thought it might be. We made use of public transportation and found it to be quite useful and timely, not to mention it kept us a bit warmer.
Sacher Hotel Cafe - Brutus still says "overrated"
cities vie for visitors and with what we have seen, Vienna will never have a problem luring people in. We found it to be easily accessible, charming and quite clean. In our time here we realize we have not scratched the surface and hope to return. It would be easy to spend weeks or months in this grand city and still not see it all. We walked about amazed at the artwork, the music, the people and wondered aloud, what is it about this place that stimulates so much creativity?
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