Friday, November 29, 2013

Schnitzel & Such in Vienna

Within an hour of arriving in Vienna last December, we had all piled into the Cafe Gloria, just a few doors down from our apartment, and were enjoying the first of many schnitzel meals. Perfectly fried, bigger then the plate, and served with just a simple squeeze of lemon. This wouldn't be our only meal here as it was good, comfortable and filled with locals.

Schnitzel isn't the only typical fare however. Another very traditional meal in Austria, is a huge dinner of boiled meats called Tafelspitz. This might not sound very interesting but you would be wrong. We went to a well-known local chain called Plachutta.

The restaurant is built for serving groups, as you need a lot of people preferably to eat all the food that they will bring to the table. We didn't quite understand how large the portions were going to be so we completely over-ordered. This is just one of 3 pots we had!

Hot pots of boiled meats and marrow arrived, tender and falling apart, swimming in a rich fragrant broth. We were starving, so immediately started to dish up, only to have the waiter return to our table, ready to prepare our plates. Seeing what we had done, he shook his head in disappointment as he scraped off the mistakes we had made and went about serving the dinner in the proper way.

Having already shamed ourselves by not knowing the correct procedure for eating boiled meats, I felt it couldn't hurt my cred anymore by asking for the copious amounts of leftovers to be packed up for us to take home. I thought he might pass out upon this request, but after I assured him that I realized the broth could not be transported in their little boxes, he dutifully boxed up everything for take-away.

On New Years Day I turned that into two huge skillets of hash with eggs nestled amongst all the leftover goodness. Mimosas and coffee were the perfect compliments.

Vienna is also well known for their pastries and sweets, but perhaps the most famous is the Sacher Torte, made popular by the Café Sacher.

There is the main café which is popular and elegant and also has a line for days to get in! We chose to eat next door at the simpler gift/coffee shop. We still had to queue up but it moved quickly, even for 6 of us. Having a slice of Sacher Torte with fresh whipped cream added on the side right before coming to your table, may be the thing to do in Vienna, but we all agreed the dessert was dry and not as good as we had hoped. The more you know...

Around town, and at the Christmas Market, there were lots of stands offering street food and hot mulled wine. Vienna sausages on rolls, langos (fried bread with or without cheese), spiral kartoffel (curly french fries), pretzels, etc. Things to fill you up and keep you cozy in the chill.

But of everything I ate, the stand out meal in Vienna was had on our last afternoon, before we headed to catch a train for Prague. Steirereck im Staadpark is a Michelin starred restaurant and #16 on the World's 50 Best, set in the middle of a beautiful city park. Unlike some starred restaurants, this one had an unstated elegance combined with artsy quirkiness that made the whole experience both fun and special.

Instead of the traditional chefs menu that the entire table must take, Steirereck offers you the option of creating your own multi-coursed meals. So while I took 3 courses, Dayne opted for 5 (big surprise right?).

From the beginning of the bread service served with butter plates made of butter, and the funny amuse that arrived looking similar to a trapeze act, we knew we were in for a great (LONG) lunch.

Everything had a bit of a twist, like this dish of trout which was "cooked" in beeswax at our table.

And each dish arrived with it's own calling card.

Presentations were also beautiful but not too stuffy.
But the end-all-be-all was the cheese trolley, holy hell what a site!
And of course there were desserts, a unique digestif trolly, inventive coffee and tea service, and these stunning dried citrus fruits and wafers that also arrived via trolly and we were invited to choose our own collection.
If you are looking for a decadent and wonderful afternoon, I highly recommend Steirereck im Stadtpark, especially if you are lucky enough to share it with a group of good friends!
Delicious and pretty pictures here.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Analyzing Vienna

Last year, an hour train ride from Bratislava delivered us to Vienna, Austria, where we would spend the next 4 December nights and ring in 2013. We took a cab from the train station to our apartment in the Mariahilf neighborhood and shortly after arriving were met by the rest of our travel partners, there would be 6 of us in all. The apartment we had rented was perfect for us and a great location for walking around the city.

The city was completely decked out with Christmas lights, every neighborhood having a differently themed displayed hung over their streets. Some were sweet and simple, others grand! We spent the next few days exploring and were completely enchanted by all the various displays.

The city doesn't just have gorgeous light displays, the entire city is pretty spectacular.

There is a lot to see and do in the capitol. We started our stay with a morning visit to the Leopold Museum, well-know for it's collection of Gustav Klimt. And although we all joked about the "buttoned up-ness" of the Austrians, the joke was on us when we visited their special exhibit "Nude Men". The photo you see in the link was the poster that was hung all over the city to promote it. Just another spectacular sight in Vienna. And yes, I said hung.

It's an easy walk from the museum area, past the Hofburg Palace and into the well-preserved old town, you actually walk thru the old palace stables on your way. The buildings around town are all so grand, with lots of architectural details, that we didn't even mind gawking and revealing ourselves for the peeping tourists that we were.

Another morning we wandered through the Naschmarkt, filled with all sorts of produce, candy, seafood, and condiment stands. The market sits right along the Wein river and is a bustling place to shop, have a beer, have lunch, or just people watch.It's been going since the 16th century and doesn't show any intention of slowing down! Even on this cold December day, people were eating and drinking outside, toasting and dreaming of warmer days to come.

No trip to Vienna is complete without a palace tour so we decided on Schloss Belvedere. The grounds here are unbelievably beautiful. Keep in mind it was basically the dead of winter and it still was stunning, I can't even imagine how amazing it would be in the summer.

There is also a museum inside that you aren't allowed to take any photos in, but trust me when I say the collection is really wonderful. The palace is an absolute do not miss in my book, even considering the house envy we all were afflicted with.

The city was happy to show us a few stunners that we didn't know anything about but were happy to glimpse each reveal.

Of course we couldn't resist walking by the famed Opera House, we didn't go inside but we arrived just as the New Year's Day concert was letting out it's audience, including these ladies showing their fur coats off with pride.
We were lucky that the last days of the Christmas Market were still going on at the site of the amazing Rathaus. The market was full of festival food and craft stalls, and also a big screen were they were broadcasting the symphony. And of course there was the Christmas tree which looked to be reaching for the sky. It was almost as excess of beauty. 

My official diagnosis of Vienna is stunningly beautiful with a slight case of pomp and circumstance. Deeper analysis is needed.

More acute prettiness here.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

24 Hours... Bratislava, Slovakia

We left Budapest for Bratislava by train, we had purchased a first class cabin that we had all to ourselves. It was a nice ride, past pretty hills half hidden by mist and along the Danube River. We had wanted to take a boat but they don't run throughout the winter.

We grabbed a taxi from the train station and headed to our hotel, Marrol's. I think we got taken a bit as our fare was 18E and the town is pretty small. Our hotel however, was absolutely great! They greeted us with a glass of bubbles and then showed us to our cute room which had a very comfy bed, free wifi, complementary mini bar and breakfast. Absolutely would recommend this hotel if you happen to find yourself in Bratislava.
We headed out on foot and made our way to 1.Slovak Pub for a traditional lunch of cheese dumplings with bacon and beer. This was good fuel for our afternoon plans of walking around the town. 

Originally we had thought about spending two nights in Bratislava but I'm glad we cut that to just one. The town, especially the old part, is very pretty but it's easy to do in half a day. 
We started by entering the old walled part and wandered along the cobblestone lined, pedestrian only lanes.  The city has a collection of quirky sculptures that they added to be "less communist" after the Velvet Revolution.

Past the square was an outdoor ice rink and the remains of the Christmas markets. We continued on to the site of the former Rybné Square synagogue and the memorial to the 105,000 Slovakian victims of the holocaust. Strangely, the site is next to the town church and next to the main highway which the city of Bratislava chose to erect crazily close to both. 

After walking around the town and square we headed over the bridge to the UFO Observation deck. This gives fantastic views the Danube, the barren areas around the town, the castle, that infamous highway, and Bratislava itself. 
The winter light was so pretty, but it was also crazy cold. The kind that is refreshing and invigorating though- luckily!

We opted not to stop in at the rotating restaurant for over priced cocktails and made our way back across the bridge to the town for cocktails.

At this point is was still early, maybe 4pm, so although we had a few cocktail bars on our list to check out, the only one that was open was Paparazzi Bar. Not to worry, it is also the best. They have an amazing cocktail menu, and one of those funny sculptures-- an over eager "photo journalist"-- is on their corner. 
We left and found ourselves on very quiet streets, most of the restaurants still closed for the holidays. We checked in on a few places but found them to be too "touristy" so we opted for an early dinner back at our hotel, which was ok, and tucked into bed early. Tomorrow we were heading to Vienna!

I have no idea what we would have done with 48 hours... 

All Bratislava photos here.

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