Picture in your mind a cloudy, periodically drizzling Vienna, August 5.
Our tour group is dropped off in the Ringstrasse – the centre-most district in Vienna – for a brief orientation/history lesson with Carla.
We pass by the Hofburg Imperial Palace and the Spanish Riding School (which is closed during the summer). Afterwards, we’re let loose until the group excursion in the afternoon.
I team up with Lauren and Robyn (from San Diego) and decide to first hit Stephansplatz (St. Stephen’s Cathedral, pictured at left), located smack in the actual centre of Vienna.
We look around and snap some obligatory photos. We then take a half-hour tour into the catacombs, deep in the bowels of the church. Our bilingual tour guide (whose enthusiasm makes him so cute, you just want to put him in your pocket and make him give you a city tour in German and English) shows us where 37 Habsburgs are buried (along with some of their internal organs), as well as the community boneyard.
Following the tour – by which time the sun has peeked out from behind the clouds and has started warming up the city – we three decide to poke around and do a little shopping. I decide to try and find a dress for the concert we’re attending later in the evening – after looking at my selection in wardrobe the day before, I decide I can do a bit better.
I manage to score some souvenirs for back some – some tea and a scarf for my mom, as well as a couple little magnets for my dad and my friend (with whom I was originally supposed to travel, but who couldn’t make it). And I do find a dress at the second H & M I went into that early afternoon. It’s not something I’d normally wear to a music concert, but what the hell.
At this point, we take a pastry break. We wander down the street into a pastry shop – which, as it turns out, happens to be Café Demel – where Lauren has a strudel and a little cuppuccino, and Robyn and I each dig into a slice of chocolate truffle cake, with a nice tall glass of milk. Mmmmm-mmmm … I don’t want that piece of cake to end!
To walk off the rich pastry, we stroll on over to Vienna’s historic Schmetterlinghaus (Butterfly House), where we take a peek at the various types of pretty tropical butterflies flitting about freely, eating fruit, or resting on various trees and plants, in the huge replica rainforest inside a greenhouse. We don’t stay very long, only because it’s so much hotter than the pleasant weather we’ve been experiencing since arriving in Vienna.
We walk past the Österichsrat (Austrian Parliament Building), snapping pictures of the many statues covering the front of the building. Half of the Österichsrat was destroyed during World War II, according to one online blurb I’ve read, and apparently some of the artwork inside is being restored. The statue on a pedestal at the very front of the building is Athena, the goddess of truth.
Time’s running short for us, so we hurriedly head over to the food courts near the city hall (Rathaus), gulping down some lunch, before scurrying back onto the bus.
Our next stop: the Schnaps Museum. We go on a half-hour tour of the building which houses the factory owned and run by Gerhard Fischer, which has been in his family for four generations. We start out in the old part of the museum, the “office” section which, if I recall, has all its original furniture, right down to the cash register. This part has been used in a few Hollywood films, according to Mr. Fischer.
Next, we pass through the halls, adorned with pictures of some of the various celebrities he – but moreso his son – have entertained in the building throughout the years. We then enter a room with various vats (I can only assume are for making or temporarily storing the schnaps – not “schnapps”
as we spell it here in North America), along with a table showcasing some of the many types of liqueur Fischer’s company makes.
He runs down the varieties with his oddball sense of humour, which range from his award-winning butterscotch flavour (apparently because so many Aussies on tours previously asked him why he didn’t make one – so he did) to one known as Wiener Blut (Vienna Blood), nicknamed “Rocket Fuel” because of the taste. Apparently unlike the schnapps made here in North America, there’s not a whole lot of sugar in the schnapps made in Europe, if any at all.
The company also makes absinthe – not the hallucinogenic ones you hear about in movies (and which apparently may have contributed things like Van Gogh cutting his own ear off), but Bohemian absinthe similar to ones you might find in the Czech Republic.
Then the fun part. We finish the tour and go into the store, where we taste some of the various flavours. I sample the butterscotch, hazelnut … and Rocket Fuel, which I think might actually burn a hole in my throat. Call me crazy, but I end up buying one, because I hear it’s really nice with orange juice. I also purchase some absinthe (because I missed my chance in Prague, and really, there’s no way I am coming home without any “exotic” liqueur).
Next, it’s back to the hotel. Lauren and I shower and change, but end up late for meeting the others, so we make it to the restaurant on our own, via the metro. (During the entire time I’m in Vienna, I make doubly and triply sure I buy the proper fare – after Budapest, I’m not taking ANY chances.)
Despite sweating a bullet or two, dinner is amazing. I have a lovely spinach and goat cheese soup, followed by possibly some of the best salmon on the planet, and topped off with a creamy white chocolate mousse for dessert. If there was any way to re-live that meal again, I gladly would.
After dinner, it’s upstairs into the concert hall, for a couple hours of classical music. The musical ensemble play some familiar pieces, as well as a couple I don’t recognize (which is good). Besides the musicians on stage, a few of the pieces are accompanied by dancers (which I find a wee bit distracting – I’m constantly wondering how they can dance about without knocking a musician in the face) and opera singers (much more suited, in my opinion).
This is followed by a half-hour intermission, complete with sparkling wine (and some gold-flecked schnaps Carla smuggles in – good job!), and then the remainder of the concert. Only one thing could probably make the concert an awesome one – if there aren’t so many RUDE PEOPLE in the room. All the talking and the snapping and videotaping of the concert as it’s on, is ridiculous! At one point, the man who is the “ringleader” of the musical ensemble actually turns and glares at people in the front rows, which to me speaks of the lack of manners in the room on this evening.
Again on my trip, I’m annoyed, but only briefly. Seriously, these people shouldn’t be coming to a show if they’re only coming to say they’ve been to a concert OR if they’re so bored they’re not going to SHUT THE HELL UP! I did not pay good money to hear people speak – that’s what cafés are for!
And the worst culprits? People some 20, 25 years or so older than ME. What’s UP with that? I should be the one requiring some discipline and restraint during cultural events, not them. And they were SO pushy, shoving past patrons just to get onto the outside balcony for their free drink during intermission. No joke.
Aaaaanyway. We pile back into the bus after the concert, and are driven back to the hotel, where we stay and drink for the rest of our respective evenings.
Another city crossed off my list. And one more city closer to the end of my trip …