Vienna, Austria Sometimes, memories are better left untouched and not revisited. Take the Spanish Riding School, for example.
Five years ago, we saw a training session of the famous Lipizzaner stallions and were blown away. The horses did their amazing trademark kicks and jumps on command, suspending themselves in mid-air. It was fabulous.
On this visit, we got prime tickets to see an actual performance, and we were quite excited, knowing just what these horses can do. Imagine our surprise when the show we saw was focused on their precision team work, rather than on their individual feats of magic. Not only could we not photograph the performance, but there wasn’t much that I would have especially chosen to highlight. The best part was that we were close enough to almost touch them when they went by.
Yes, they are gorgeous animals and beautifully in sync with their riders, but we kept waiting for the fireworks to begin. Has everything had to brought down to a level when quantity rules — put on more performances and don’t stress the horses so much — and quality only surfaces occasionally? Today’s audience was enthusiastic, but what did they have to compare the presentation to?
Next issue: Food memories. Our favorite restaurant/café, Demel, is nearby, and we still salivate at the thought of the meals we once had there.
But the lines at Demel start forming at 11AM and they keep growing all day. What will we find when we finally have our turn inside? I’m almost afraid to try. And then there was Café Central, where we ended up in the overflow room and missed the whole glorious main room experience where we used to have a relaxed breakfast.
I think the moral of the story is that it is now fruitless to travel at a time that other people find attractive. There are so many tourists here that the city will be sick of them/us by May, so forget the summer vacationers. They will definitely be experiencing the “C” version of Vienna — and any other popular tourist destination.
We did stroll past the Cathedral again and around the Opera area. Juxtapose a marathon with the Vienna Opera House and you see how life goes on. Dandelions bloom everywhere and the sun shines on a lovely city.
Our last stop of the day was the Vienna Secession, a building that housed the group headed by Gustav Klimt known as The Secession, Vienna’s Art Nouveau movement. The building was a manifesto for the ideas of this Modernist Group, and continues to function as an exhibition space for artists. One of its permanent installations is a fresco by Klimt which is based on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and depicts humanity’s search for happiness.
Other works shown in the building are temporary installations. Very modern, but, I’m afraid, not very revolutionary.
Don’s Food Corner
While we went to a guidebook-recommended restaurant, we were pleased to see that we were among very few tourists. It was almost completely filled with Viennese smartly dressed, as if just coming from church. (Austria is heavily Roman Catholic. The Hapsburgs put a swift end to the Lutheran reformation of northern Germany with a permanently effective counter-reformation.)
What caught my eye immediately on the menu was a starter that featured white asparagus. We saw these beauties in the market yesterday, but didn’t really have the place to cook them – nor any knowledge of how to do it properly. The starter featured three large white asparagus served cold with a light vinaigrette topped with a bit of chopped tomatoes, onion, and hard-boiled egg. What a treat! Perfectly cooked. Tender and with a mild asparagus flavor that you would expect from white asparagus.
Jo ordered a serving of goose liver paté brûléd with cranberries accompanied by toasted brioche. Another winner.
Moving on, Jo went for the wiener schnitzel — this time with veal — and a side of cold potato salad. Her grade today: A. The breading was unusually thin and puffed up. The meat was somewhat thicker than we’ve seen, but still very tender. Looking around at the other tables, it looks like the local population does not tire of schnitzel any more than Jo does. Almost everyone was eating it.
Wiener schnitzel is to Austria what fish-and-chips are to the U.K. And it is priced at about the same way. (Actually, Vienna is far less expensive than London — I’d say about half the price for everything. Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary were about one-third the price. Here in Vienna, for example, an unlimited seven-day transit pass is 17 Euros, which is about $18, while in London it was 70 pounds, which is about $90.)
For my main, I ordered roast pork, which came with sauerkraut and what they called “mashed potatoes.” The mashed potatoes looked like potatoes that had been combined with some other ingredient (like flour?), pressed into a mold and then sliced for presentation. The pork, which came from a shoulder cut, was unusually tender and not fatty at all. The sauerkraut was mild. The mashed potatoes were a little weird, but I made my way through them. All of this was sitting within a very light pork gravy.
A winner. And a surprise, since this restaurant was around the corner from the tourist-heavy Opera house area. An excellent find.