From: Padraig Breathnach on
Vienna, November 2006

This trip was more for Herself than for me, as I had already been to
Vienna -- admittedly a long time ago, and as a very impecunious
student. But it was once more than Herself had managed, and she wanted
to make good the deficiency. My recollection of the city was short on
specifics; all I really retained was general impressions.

Preparation was a shared task. Herself, whose time is more difficult
to manage than mine, set the time frame. I undertook to arrange travel
and accommodation. The programme would be principally what Herself
wanted, so I bought a guidebook and gave it to her to enable her to
plan our activities, but I did claim one day for a side-trip to

The flights were easy to arrange. We don't use Ryanair, and Aer Lingus
is now a low-fares airline, so if we are planning well in advance
(which is usually the case) what I do is to wait for one of the
frequent Aer Lingus seat sales and grab bargains. For accommodation, I
did some online research and shortlisted five places which various
people had recommended. Without enough information to prefer any one
over the others, I then made the final selection on price. The winner
was the City Hotel Deutschmeister at Gruenentorgasse 30, which had a
promotional rate available at the time I was booking.

I won't bore you with more grumbling about airports. The best way to
cope with them is to disengage the psyche from the experience as much
as possible, staying in touch just enough to go through the right
doors at the right times. For a short-haul flight, you might as well
remain disengaged for the duration of the flight, and thus arrive at
the destination airport in an appropriate frame of mind. By such means
we parked the car at Dublin Airport at midday on Thursday and arrived
at Vienna Airport late in the afternoon.

At Vienna Airport, it is best to ignore the machines selling tickets
for the City Airport Train at €9, and head for the S-bahn (suburban
railway) which will get you into the city in comfort for €3. Had we
known the ground better, with the same tickets we could have
transferred to the U-bahn (underground railway) and got to within 50
metres of our hotel. Not knowing the exact location of the hotel, or
how much bother it might be to get there from the underground, we took
a taxi from Wien Mitte and paid €10 for the final leg of our journey.
Still a lot cheaper than taking a taxi from the airport.

We checked in and were assigned a room on the eighth floor, under
sloping attic ceilings. It was oddly irregular in shape, possibly
because the bathroom was a post-construction modification, but
included all the standard comforts.

Once we had sorted our things and freshened up, we went down to
reception and asked the desk clerk if there was a restaurant nearby
that he would recommend. Out the door, turn left, then take the second
street on the left, he advised. So we did, and found two restaurants,
one offering Italian cuisine and the other offering what we supposed
was Austrian cuisine. We have some familiarity with Italian food, so
we chose that. The menu proffered was in German (no surprise that) and
there was no English translation available. Our server spoke limited
English, and tried to help us. There was a set meal which looked
appealing, but when we said we would like that she said there was a
problem: it was 9.30 p.m. and the kitchen closed at 10.00 p.m. -- not
enough time for three courses. That's okay, I suggested, we'll eat
fast. To my surprise, my suggestion was accepted, and we had a tasty
meal, nicely cooked and well presented, accompanied by house wine. As
often (especially in Italian restaurants), I declined dessert, and
ordered an amaretto to sip while Herself tried what the menu called
zabione, and which turned out to be what we know as zabaglione. The
chef got out of the kitchen at 10.05 p.m., having taken more time to
prepare the zabaglione than I would have expected. A nice touch: when
the bill was presented there was no charge for the amaretto; it was
treated as a substitution for dessert. I have mislaid the bill, but
think we paid about €70, and deemed it good value. La Pasteria,
Servitengasse 10.

A short walk back to the hotel and for the hell of it we took the
stairs up to the eighth floor -- all 128 steps. We perused the
guidebook and a variety of brochures, failed to make any plans, and
retired for the night.

Down to breakfast the next morning. A buffet with plenty of variety,
acceptably good but not remarkably high quality. No complaints at the
price we were paying. Then out to commence our tourism programme. What
programme? Oh, all right, we went out with no particular plan, to see
what we might find. Our first move was to go to the nearby U-bahn
station and purchase an "8-Tage-Karte" for €24. This gives a total of
eight days' unlimited travel on the city's public transport system and
can be used by more than one person provided they travel together --
you just need to validate the right number of sections of the ticket.
So we would have the freedom of Vienna for four days. All we needed
now was to decide how to exercise it.

A short trip, just one stop, brought us to Schottenring, where we
transferred to tram 1 which does a full circuit of the Ringstrasse and
Franz Josefs Kai. Herself, by now a guide-book expert, pointed out
things of interest. Circuit completed, we had our bearings when we
disembarked. So we set out to visit Stephansdom and promptly got lost.
And then it started to snow. Not a light fluffy fun snow, but a cold
wet wind-driven one. We forfeited all our street cred, and sheltered
in a doorway consulting maps until we were sure of the best route to
the cathedral, then took off to seek shelter in God's house. As it
seemed did most other visitors to the city, for we joined a throng
inside. While the shelter was welcome, tourism was frustrated because
a service was due to begin and access to the main part of the
cathedral was (rightly, I accept) restricted to worshippers.

After a while we ventured out to find that the snow had stopped. Just
outside the cathedral we were accosted by a tout offering tickets for
a concert. He was well set up: a folder containing pictures of the
venue and of the orchestra, programme (popular pieces from Mozart and
Strauss), seating plan, maps of how to get there, and tickets at
different prices. He even had a credit card machine should we wish to
pay that way. I reckon that he figured that by the time he got to
about the fifth page of his flip-through presentation he had us
hooked. The truth is that we were hooked at page one: it was November,
and indoor evening entertainment seemed to us a good idea. But he read
his marks well in another respect, and advised us against the VIP
seats at the front unless we wanted a great view of the performers'
knees. We were happy to buy the cheap seats (€35 each), and chose the
earlier of two performances with a view to dining afterward.

Although the snow had stopped, the idea of a warm room and hot drink
appealed to us, so we bypassed Starbuck's at Michaelerplatz (why open
a Starbuck's in a city that already has a coffee tradition?) in favour
of the nearby Greinsteidl, one of the great Viennese coffee houses,
for elevenses. We did not take it as mandatory that we order cake:
that's for tourists. After half an hour's relaxation we resumed our
rambles around the Hofburg area, developing our mental maps. An hour
in the open on a cold November morning, and we were ready for a light
lunch. Hot drinks, slices of pizza, and a shared pastry (viennoiserie
in Vienna -- that's the sort of idea that appeals to me) all for less
than €10 in a small snack bar.

Then back to the Hofburg for a 3-in-1 museum package: the
Silberkammer, Sisi Museum, and the State Apartments. Here I exercise
restraint and show mercy to the reader: you are not going to get full
reports on museum visits. We never looked at more tableware on any one
day than we did in the Silberkammer where, despite the name, there was
relatively little silver. Herself already knew something about her,
but I learned about the darling of 19th century Vienna, the Empress
Elisabeth (Sisi) and judged that she was a strange creature. We saw
that the Hapsburgs had lived in baroque splendour, and Herself
wondered why the people had not swept away the monarchy as had the
French (who executed one Hapsburg, the ill-fated Marie Antoinette).
Overall, there was plenty to see and think about. We thought it well
worth the admission price, even though I forget exactly how much we

Thence to the Palais Auersperg, which we were told was once home to
Mozart, for our concert. The show took place in a handsome oval salon
where I suppose Mozart had performed, and the ensemble comprised a
seven-piece orchestra (strings, piano, and flute), two singers, and
two dancers. The leader gave a count with his bow and the orchestra
launched into a 40-minute Mozart selection. I claim no expertise in
music, but was taken with how tightly they worked together, clearly
under good control. The vocal performances were good, and the dancers
charming, although it was a pity that the lightness of their steps was
betrayed by a resonant stage; airy leaps landed with a loud thud. At
the interval, Herself and I agreed that the women in the orchestra
wore brave dresses, the decolletage a disincentive to vigourous
bowing, and that the cellist looked bored, perhaps because the
arrangements did not give her enough to do. The second half of the
concert was a Strauss selection, which I liked better -- and so it
seemed, did the cellist, for she was much more engaged. Herself was a
little disappointed that they cut the Emperor Waltz from their
programme, as she particularly enjoys it. Despite that, we felt that
we got our money's worth.

For dinner, we went back to another Italian-style place near the hotel
that we had noticed the previous evening, Leo at Grunentorgasse 21.
Informal style, but not quite comfortable. A longish menu in German
only, but the server ran through it quickly, giving us English
translations of everything. We both settled for a dish featuring what
he told us was turbot but which, when it appeared, proved to be
halibut (that explained why it seemed cheap for turbot). Two courses,
house wine, coffee, about €55. Fair value.

Back to the hotel to plan for the next couple of days. I asked at
reception if they had information on the boat service for Bratislava.
The desk clerk told me that it left from Schwedenplatz, but he did not
have a timetable. He went online, and reported that there was no
service in November. This did not accord with what I had found before
leaving home, but he was adamant. This cast a doubt over our
(particularly my) ambition. Resigned, we took a nightcap, perused some
brochures perfunctorily, and retired for the night.

Saturday morning was cold and windy, with sleety showers. The weather
forecast, however, predicted improvement during the day. Hoping that
my research skills were better than those of the hotel clerk, we
headed for Schwedenplatz to see about the boat service and, yes, I was
right. It was due to go in about two hours, so we booked our return
tickets (€52 each) and thought about killing some time. We spent most
of it ensconced in a very cosy bar taking hot drinks. It was not
exactly adventurous tourism, but it suited us very well on a cold wet

Sailing time approached. Because it is an international trip, we had
to show passports before boarding. The twin-hull boat is fitted out
rather like a wide-bodied airliner, and we bagged window seats. We
cast off, and made way along the Danube Canal to join the river. Very
soon we were moving at 60kph, but so smoothly and quietly that one had
to look at how fast the banks went by to get any sense of speed. The
bad weather continued, so visibility was limited. We could see the
banks, and not much beyond them. For quite a distance from Vienna we
saw cabins by the water's edge, some raised on stilts, many with
jetties, and every one with a square net on a hoist which I supposed
was for fishing, but I did not get a clear idea of how the fishing was
conducted. Do city-dwellers spend the weekend in a cabin, dipping and
lifting nets, catching very little, and feeling at one with the
primitive? Some, however, clearly could not do without all modern
comforts, for a number of cabins had satellite dishes. We saw nothing
spectacular until we had crossed the Slovakian border, where we could
just discern through the thickening snow Devin castle perched on its
rocky hill.

A few minutes later we were tying up at Bratislava. We disembarked, to
be met by touts offering tours. Not really our scene, I thought, let's
go find the old town and work things out for ourselves. We got a map
from the boat office, and stood in the snow trying to figure where we
were and where everything else was. As we shivered, the tourist train
with enclosed carriages looked suddenly inviting, and we parted with
€5 each and sat in. Off we rattled and in minutes we were in the old
town. The guide provided a very full commentary, barely pausing for
breath -- entirely in German, a language neither of us speaks, but in
which we can discern a small amount. We got the numbers, but by the
time we had decoded them we had lost all possibility of figuring out
what it was 89% of, or what happened in 1803, but we did figure that
Maria Teresa was an important figure in the history of Slovakia. The
snow persisted, and the windows misted up, so now our inability to
make much of the commentary was matched by an inability to see much of
the city. We went up to the castle, by which time such daylight as we
had was starting to fade. Herself wiped the window, peered into what
was by now a greyout, and advised me that the poor visibility might be
useful to an acrophobe like me, as we were atop a steep hill. The
little train stopped for a 15-minute break. I suppose that in normal
circumstances it would have been to give people an opportunity to
enjoy what I am sure are great views, but the guide told us where to
find the souvenir shop and the toilets. We resumed our trip, and found
our German comprehension was improving, as we now know where there is
a university hostel. A few minutes later we were deposited in the old

By now it was well into the afternoon, and we had not had lunch. The
weather was such that we did not want to wander around checking out
restaurants, so we headed towards the first one we saw, hoping it
would do. It was in the same building as the casino, an imposing
edifice known as the Redoute which looked very upmarket -- but the
prices on the menu posted outside seemed modest enough. We entered and
found a large dining room, somewhat old-fashioned but in a nice way --
good-sized tables that were well-dressed, and not crowded together to
accommodate as many diners as possible. The only people there were two
men relaxing at the bar, one wearing a waiter's uniform and the other
wearing kitchen attire. I got the impression that they might be on
their time off between lunch and dinner service, but when I asked the
waiter if we could eat, he said yes. We ordered starters and main
courses. Herself had venison and I had veal, and the food was
interesting, well-presented, and generously garnished. Our side orders
of vegetables were not really needed. Motivated more by curiosity than
by hunger, I ordered the cheese platter: it was enough to feed two
hungry people rather than one whose appetite had already been sated.
Tea and coffee to finish. All that, including four glasses of
reasonable quality house wine and one post-prandium, came to €32.

We did not have much time left, and we had seen very little of
Bratislava. When we emerged, the snow had stopped; it was now raining.
Protected by hood and umbrella, we splodged forth into the rain and
darkness. We looked at the National Theatre and then walked the length
of Hviezdoslavovo Square (it's not really a square, more a very
elongated rectangle) and got to see the outside of the cathedral,
which was closed. We peered at the impressive new bridge over the
Danube (named, with great originality, novy most, meaning new bridge,
while the only other bridge now has the name stary most which means
old bridge). Then we doubled back through some pedestrianised streets
that were very much depedestrianised by the weather and tried to form
an impression of what the city would be like in better conditions
(fairly nice, but somehow lacking the gravitas one usually associates
with a capital city). Then it was time for our boat. We boarded,
blasted upriver at 60 kph in the darkness without hitting anything,
and were back in Vienna in good time for bed.

We really enjoyed our outing, and we hope some day to see Bratislava.

Sunday can be a quiet day in central Europe, but Herself had made use
of the guidebook and told me that the Belvedere was open. After
breakfast we headed out and found that the skies had cleared. While we
saw it as an improvement, it was not an unqualified good thing: the
wind that had blown the clouds away was still blowing, and it could
cut you.

When we arrived at the Belvedere our tour of the gardens was
perfunctory, as I wanted to get into shelter. The Belvedere is
actually a pair of palaces built for Prince Eugene of Savoy. They are
both separated and linked by a formal garden. The complex now serves
as an art gallery. We started in the Upper Belvedere with the aim of
seeing both the building and the collection of 19th and 20th century
art that it houses. As a palace, I thought it psychologically cold,
built to impress rather than to welcome visitors; I could not imagine
myself wanting to hang about the Marble Hall longer than necessary.
There is, apparently, a notable chapel that we missed -- our guidebook
says it is there, but the floor plan we got with our tickets does not
show it. As is our wont, we eschewed the audio guides to the works of
art, and wandered around to decide for ourselves what we liked. The
featured artist is Gustav Klimt but he doesn't do it for me --
expressionism generally doesn't. I found a rare thing, a Renoir I
disliked (Bather with Loose Blond Hair); Herself and I agreed that we
loved Monet's Pathway in the Garden at Giverny; I would happily give
wall space to Reiter's Slumbering Woman. Overall, however, I was not
greatly taken by the collection -- but that's just me. Thence hastily
through the formal garden and wind and rain (yes, the clouds were
back) to the Lower Belvedere, a more modest palace. It seemed
comparatively homely, and it was easier to imagine what it might have
been like to live there (I gather that the lower palace served as
Prince Eugene's residence while the upper palace was the formal
space). The collection there was of earlier works, and I was pleased
to encounter David's Napoleon on Horseback. Into the Orangerie to see
even earlier works, medieval and early renaissance, some of which
looked surprisingly modern to my inexpert eye. And then the Belvedere
was done.

By tram back in to the Ringstrasse and a walkabout. We had a close-up
look at the Rathaus, where the Christmas market was being set up, and
then walked under the porticos until we came to Cafe Einstein. Herself
thought that she had seen a positive mention of it somewhere. That,
and the fact that we had not eaten since breakfast, was sufficient
commendation, so we went in. The style of the place was cheap and
cheerful, but cosy with it, something like a pub. It is close to the
university, so it seems a fair supposition that students are a target
market. The menu was largely a mystery to us, but when we asked the
server, she was able to produce an English version. Our requirement
was not for a full meal, but a late lunch snack, and we were in the
right place for that style of catering. What the hell, I thought, I'll
be like a tourist and have the Wiener Schnitzel -- something I would
never order at home; Herself opted for a sandwich. The food was
pleasant without being remarkable, and my wine was served in a mug, a
lack of pretension that I liked. Less than €20, which we thought very
good value for what we got.

We resumed our ramble. The Votivkirche is eye-catching, so we headed
towards it only to find that it was closed for maintenance. We
generally like to see the old quarters of cities and interesting
buildings, so we crossed inside the Ringstrasse to see Am Hof,
described in our guidebook as Vienna's largest enclosed square, and
the area around it. Because of my aversion to consulting maps outdoors
and looking like a tourist, we managed to take a roundabout route,
which was fine. There are handsome and interesting buildings around Am
Hof, but the overall impression is marred by a few of them being in a
tired state, and by some unsympathetic modern intrusions. We found our
way into an art nouveau arcade near by, the name of which escapes me
now, where the price levels in the shops made me glad that it was
Sunday and they were closed. On we rambled and found ourselves in
Graben, a wide pedestrianised shopping street of handsome buildings
pretty well at the centre of the ring We admired the Plague column, a
spectacular piece of baroquery erected to give thanks for deliverance
from a plague in 1679. Thence around the corner to try again for
Stephansdom, and again we were thwarted by its being used for the
purpose for it was built. Time for coffee, and we retraced some of our
steps to visit the elegant Central coffee house on Herrengasse, not
far from Am Hof. This time we consented to become tourists, and had
cake. We are not great enthusiasts for cake, and we were not

We had walked a good deal on a cold, windy, and occasionally wet day,
so we retired to the hotel to rest and refresh ourselves. Batteries
recharged, we sought an evening meal -- because of our late lunch, we
wanted just a light one, one course only. We had one restaurant
remaining close to the hotel that we had not yet been to, the one
serving Austrian food that we had spotted the first night. Time to
give it a try. Yet again the menu was in German only, and I asked the
server if he could explain it to us. Yes, he assured us, and left us
to peruse it for several minutes, returning to take our orders. I
asked if he could tell us what things were, and he ran his finger down
the menu saying "steak, beef, liver, calf, beef, calf" -- the very
bits that we had figured out, and nothing about how it was prepared or
garnished. The section in our guidebook about food was little help to
us. We needed a strategy. Herself, being of modest appetite, had a
ready solution in ordering carpaccio, which has the advantage of
surviving translation into German unscathed. Then it was my problem: I
decided to order the beef dish with the longest description, a whole
paragraph, hoping that the specification included an interesting
garnish. We knew how to order wine, so that was okay. The carpaccio
proved to be good (although not quite as good as the one I had eaten
two nights previously in La Pasteria across the road). I got boiled
beef in a creamy sauce that included chopped vegetables. To my great
relief, the beef was tender, albeit somewhat bland. I don't remember
the name of the place, but that is not important because I don't think
it was interesting enough to recommend.

Herself proposed that we seek out a musical entertainment for the
following evening, so when we got back to the hotel we asked at
reception what was available. We were given a number of promotional
brochures but, when we perused them, we found that Monday was not a
good day for concerts. We decided to research further on the morrow,
and called it a day.

Monday was for Schonbrunn. We had been advised that there was enough
there to fill a day, so we set off early and arrived by 10 a.m.
(that's early when we're on holiday). No rain, a light cloud cover,
and a cold wind. The Palace is seriously big and has extensive
outbuildings, an impressive summer residence for an imperial court;
yet I imagine that when it accommodated 5,000 people it might have
seemed very crowded. We paid €11.50 each for the grand tour, and were
furnished with audio-guides to talk us through. And grand it was, with
spectacular rooms and salons in a variety of styles from various
times. We were reminded of the bit we used to know of the history of
the Austro-Hungarian empire, and made aware of how much we never knew.
As in the Hofburg, the modest lifestyle and the hard-working ways of
Franz-Josef were featured -- yet he was the man who lost an empire.
The tour lasted us about 90 minutes, but you could take much longer if
you were minded to engage with the artwork with which the Hapsburgs
surrounded themselves; we did the history tour.

The gardens are almost as important feature of Schonbrunn as is the
palace, so we ventured forth. This was not a day for strolling because
of the low temperature exacerbated by significant wind-chill. So we
struck out at pace towards the Gloriette, the greatest architectural
folly I have ever seen, and from which there is a commanding view of
the palace (so perhaps it is a gazebo rather than a folly). And then
back down. The rest of the gardens, which looked interesting, could
wait for a future visit on a milder day.

Hot drinks were required, and we found a pleasant and stylish coffee
shop in one of the buildings facing on to the entrance courtyard where
we recovered from the cold. Herself tried the apple strudel, and I
helped her with it. It was not remarkably special, but at least the
ratio of fruit to pastry was high.

Thence back to the U-bahn and into the city centre. The first target
was to find a concert, so we went to consult a specialist -- a ticket
tout at Stephansdom. All he had to offer was tickets to the Palais
Auersperg, the concert we had already seen. When we said that we had
been to it, and wanted something else, he made phone calls, and
offered us tickets for the Kursalon for a Strauss and Mozart programme
(thus to be distinguished from the Mozart and Strauss concert we had
already attended). Herself was determined to make good the Emperor
Waltz deficiency, checked and saw that it was on the programme, so we
booked. The evening programme sorted, we had the balance of the
afternoon to fill. We were standing beside the locus of two previous
failures, so we tried Stephansdom once more, and this time we were
allowed in. It would not have troubled me greatly had we been refused,
for I found the place surprisingly gloomy for a building that is
essentially gothic with lots of baroque features; Herself liked it
better. Anyway, if we were list-ticking tourists, we could regard one
more thing as ticked.

We took a stroll along Kartner Strasse, one of the major shopping
streets of the old city, even though we were not particularly
interested in shopping. At the beginning of November some shops
already had Christmas displays. We took refreshments in a rooftop cafe
that afforded us a great view of other rooftops, looked into the
church of the Knights of Malta (shrug), passed by the opera, and
arrived at the Ringstrasse. The cold wind had more access to us there,
so we dived back into the shelter of the narrow streets of the old
city. By the time we got to Graben the cold had finally become too
much for me; I had not worn headwear since I was a child, but I broke
the habit of years and we went into a shop to get me a woolly hat. It
proved immediately valuable because when we emerged on to Graben we
found a piano, and a young woman taking her place to play it. And did
she play! This was a seriously good musician, playing Mozart and
Beethoven pieces in an accomplished way -- outdoors, with a
temperature only slightly above freezing and a cold wind blowing. I
had mentioned to Herself earlier in the day that Chopin's Fantasie
Impromptu had been running through my head, and she now requested it
from the pianist. No problem: it was executed superbly. A man who
looked Japanese walked up with camera ready and then walked away
without taking a picture. I think I could see why, even if I did not
understand his thought processes: the pianist also looked Japanese. I
wondered how she had got there, if she had grown up in Tokyo or Kyoto,
showed promise as a child learning music, and been sent to Europe to
further her studies and build a career as a performer, to end up
playing wonderfully on a street in Vienna.

This was to be our last evening in Vienna. So far as dining was
concerned, Herself had so far got off lightly in her assigned role as
programme manager. Now, having consulted the guidebook, she proposed
that we try Kern's Beisl on Kleeblattgasse for an early dinner before
our concert. We were first in the door at 6.00 p.m., just as they
opened for evening service, were made feel welcome, and shown to a
table. The menu spoke to me (in English) of the best of central
European food: I ordered venison as a main course, and herself went
for goose. The food was very good but I caution you not to order the
venison unless you are hungry; it was a central European portion --
huge, but too tasty for me to leave any. Although it was early on a
Monday evening in November, the place filled up rapidly, and soon only
those with reservations were getting places. A couple arrived and were
assigned to the table beside us. As they sat, the woman knocked down a
plate, which broke on the tiled floor. The man called the waiter, I
presumed to apologise, but he ignored the mishap and in an American
accent asked loudly enough for the whole room to hear: "can you get us
a better table?" (and that before we had a chance to prove ourselves
objectionable neighbours). The waiter said, more politely than the
man's manner merited, that there were no other tables available.
Persisting loudly, the man pointed to the only unoccupied table, set
for four and with a reserved notice on it, and asked that they be
given it. I felt that all he should be given was the door, but the
waiter appraised the situation, noting that Herself and I were moving
on to the coffee stage and that he would shortly be able to put two
tables together for the expected foursome, and assented. The man's
achievement was considerable: in two minutes he had managed to trouble
the staff, introduce an unpleasant note into the entire room,
contribute to the (usually unmerited) image of American visitors as
boorish, and embarrass his dining partner. We finished our coffee,
paid our bill (which was somewhere in the €60-70 range for two
courses, wine by the glass, and coffee), and left. I am happy to
recommend the place, and suggest that if you want to try it you book,
and that when you get there you speak quietly.

On to the Kursalon for our concert. It took place in a handsome salon
where, we were told, Strauss had performed (not recently, I suppose).
This time the string section was supported by piano and flute as
before, and also by clarinet and percussion. The leader introduced the
programme, and his manner seemed to me to lack authority; I thought it
good that he was there as a musician rather than as a public speaker.
I misjudged. As soon as the orchestra struck up I realised that the
same lack of authority was manifest in the performance: it was not as
tight and bright as we had experienced in the Palais Auersperg. This
concert also featured two dancers and two singers. I was particularly
impressed by the soprano, who had a sense of performance to match her
voice, and the voice of the bass baritone blended wonderfully with
hers -- a great partnership. Their rendition of Wiener Blut stayed in
my head for days. Yet again Herself felt let down: they didn't perform
the Emperor Waltz.

After the concert we took a short stroll in the Stadtpark to pay a
brief hommage at the gilded statue of Strauss, and returned to the
hotel for our last night there.

The following morning after breakfast we packed our bags and left them
in the hotel's luggage room for collection in the afternoon. In
checking out, I was asked what we had used from the mini-bar; it was
evident that it was taken on trust because the question referred to
our whole stay, not just the previous night. Room surrendered and
account settled, we set out to use our last few hours in Vienna on a
programme devised by Herself. The skies had cleared and, most
mercifully, the wind had died down. It was the sort of weather we had
hoped to experience throughout our visit.

First, to the Winter Riding School to see if we could see the
Lippizaner stallions being exercised. Yes, indeed, there was an
hour-long session that day between 10.00 a.m. and 11.00 a.m. I looked
at my watch; it was 11.00 a.m. Oh well, maybe another time. A short
study of the archaeological site at Michaelerplatz, and another visit
to Greinsteidl for coffee. Then Herself took control; there were
things she wanted to see.

First, to the Austrian National Library, to see the Prunksaal, a
magnificent baroque library salon well worth seeing. Then to the
Augustinerkirche, a coolly dignified gothic church, a contrast to the
baroque extravagances of so many important Viennese buildings. Next,
around by the Albertina (no time to visit it, and I didn't like the
modern entrance because it didn't relate to the building or anything
in the vicinity) and through the Burggarten where some people were
taking advantage of the improvement in the weather and were actually
sunbathing in November, and to the Volksgarten, which Herself wanted
to visit. It proved to be a pleasant urban park, not very colourful at
the onset of winter, but a good place to stroll a little and rejoice
in not being rained upon or chilled by icy winds.

Lunch seemed like a good idea, and we repaired to Cafe Einstein once
more to enjoy its ambience and cheap sustenance. To the hotel to
collect our bags, a journey by U-bahn and S-bahn to the airport, a
struggle to disengage my psyche from the vicissitudes of air travel,
and we got home safely.

In retrospect, what did I think of Vienna as a destination? There is
much to see and engage with there -- the architectural heritage of a
city once at the centre of an empire, the historical legacy, the
wealth of fine art, the tradition of music, the residue of centuries
of prosperity. It is an impressive and interesting city, and worth
seeing. In terms of value for money, I think we did well, and there
does not seem to be the mindset that one often finds in many tourist
destinations that visitors are fair game to be milked for as much
money as possible. With one exception that was amusing rather than
annoying (especially as the problem hit Herself rather than me) we
were not badly treated by anybody. But despite those plusses, I did
not warm to the place, and I ask myself why. I think the main reason
is that, while just about everybody that we dealt with was polite and
correct, even helpful when we asked for assistance, I did not find
them friendly (I except the waitress in Greinstedl who shared genuine
warm smiles with all her customers). People differ, and not everybody
would agree with me: Herself came home with a better impression of the
people we encountered.

We did agree about the weather, and if we go again we will try to
arrange for something better. While public transport is good
(inexpensive and easy to figure out) Vienna is a city for walking, but
cold winds and showers limited our scope somewhat.

When we travel in Europe, we find that it is not a serious impediment
if we do not speak much or any of the local language. It is good to
acquire a few courtesy terms and use them. We avoid opening
discussions in English without first asking if our interlocutor can
speak it (to which the almost universal response is "a little" which
might mean "three words -- and I have just used two of them" or it
might mean "about as well as a native speaker"). Whatever their
proficiency, the request engenders goodwill and communication is
enabled, sometimes dependent more on smiles and gestures than on
words. This worked fairly well in Vienna, except in two respects.

The first was food, and the difficulty was not solely one of language.
We do not know about Austrian cuisine; it seems to have an amount in
common with both German and central European traditions with a local
emphasis on boiled beef. It's not food we encounter often, and the
names of dishes are not as familiar to us as those of classic French
or Italian recipes. In some of the restaurants we visited the menu was
available only in German. Not only did we not know the dishes by name,
but we did not have enough German vocabulary to interpret what we
read, beyond a word here and there. Hence our ordering of halibut
thinking we were to get turbot, and my ending up one evening with
boiled beef, which usually would not interest me. [If anybody is
minded to suggest that we should have used a dictionary, my answer is
that it would be of limited use. We did try the section in the
guidebook which told us about Austrian dishes, but there was a very
poor match between it and the menus we encountered.] Anyway, we
survived and, for the most part, enjoyed our food.

The second area in which lack of competence in the local language can
be a shortcoming is the pursuit of disagreements or complaints. This
came against us once, with Herself as the victim. We parted company
briefly at the Hofburg to use public toilets there. For me, the
transaction was simple: a payment of 50c was requested, and paid by
leaving it on a plate. For Herself (and all women) there was less
trust: the money was payable to an attendant. A woman who arrived at
the same time as Herself tendered €1 and got 50c change; Herself
tendered a €2 coin and the attendant gave her back the €1 that she had
received from the other woman, and indicated that both of them had now
paid and could proceed. Herself pointed to her change and the sign
indicating the price, but the attendant paid no attention to her mute
protest. But perhaps it was not a language issue: the other woman, who
spoke German, protested on behalf of Herself, but achieved nothing.
Without resorting to forceful methods, it is difficult to advance a
complaint with a toilet attendant who turns her back and walks away. I
suppose there is some consolation in being bilked for 50c rather than
for €50.

Addendum: After we got home, I dug out a recording of the Emperor
Waltz and put it on. Herself was grateful for my effort, but
disappointed with the recording because it omitted the introduction,
the section she most likes. She just can't win.

From: David Horne, _the_ chancellor of the royal duchy of city south and deansgate on
Padraig Breathnach <padraigb(a)> wrote:


Excellent trip report, as usual. I agree that Vienna is a city made for
walking, though I note that when we visited a couple of years ago in
July, it was unusually chilly and rained a lot- only the last day there
was warm and sunny. It was lovely in Bratislava by comparison. I hope
you do make it back to the latter sometime- I found it charming, though
I'd agree with the general consensus it isn't worth that much time.

Interesting what you say about English not being spoken much in
restaurants. My german is fine for small talk and restaurant menus, but
I found that in most of the places in the centre, they'd talk English to
us when they realised my partner didn't speak any German. The exception
was small cafes where we often had the lunch specials.

Did I miss it, or did you not visit the KHM? It's a major collection,
but maybe not your thing? Like you, I enjoyed the collection at the
Belvedere. My favourite museum is probably the Leopold though- which is
quite unique in its holdings of Schiele, Klimt, Kokoschka and so on.

For myself, I'd skip the touristy concerts- you'll get better quality at
a free concert in a conservatory almost anywhere- but, if you enjoyed it
(and plenty people do) that's all that matters IMO.

David Horne-
usenet (at) davidhorne (dot) co (dot) uk
From: Otter on

"Padraig Breathnach" <padraigb(a)> wrote in message
> Vienna, November 2006

The report reflects my experience of people in Vienna, whom I found
invariably helpful but made no particular concessions to tourists.

The Freud Museum is interesting. It's in the house where Freud lived and
worked, until he was compelled to move to London. The story goes that when
the relevant Austrian Minister was outside the country, he was asked whether
there was a Freud museum. He was "discomforted" to have to say that there
wasn't one. Some years later, when the owner of the house died, the
property was acquired and the museum established.

Food at the main train stations is both good and cheap. The trains are also
very efficient.

From: David Horne, _the_ chancellor of the royal duchy of city south and deansgate on
Otter <konrad(a)> wrote:

> "Padraig Breathnach" <padraigb(a)> wrote in message
> news:oko0o2tm96g4u3h7a9282m05sj7cot6h83(a)
> > Vienna, November 2006
> The report reflects my experience of people in Vienna, whom I found
> invariably helpful but made no particular concessions to tourists.
> The Freud Museum is interesting. It's in the house where Freud lived and
> worked, until he was compelled to move to London. The story goes that when
> the relevant Austrian Minister was outside the country, he was asked whether
> there was a Freud museum. He was "discomforted" to have to say that there
> wasn't one. Some years later, when the owner of the house died, the
> property was acquired and the museum established.

The Freud Museum is not particularly interesting in terms of Freud
artefacts. There are more in his house in London. I found the visit
unexpectedly moving though.

David Horne-
usenet (at) davidhorne (dot) co (dot) uk
From: Padraig Breathnach on
this_address_is_for_spam(a) (David Horne, _the_ chancellor of
the royal duchy of city south and deansgate) wrote:

>Padraig Breathnach <padraigb(a)> wrote:
>Excellent trip report, as usual. I agree that Vienna is a city made for
>walking, though I note that when we visited a couple of years ago in
>July, it was unusually chilly and rained a lot- only the last day there
>was warm and sunny. It was lovely in Bratislava by comparison. I hope
>you do make it back to the latter sometime- I found it charming, though
>I'd agree with the general consensus it isn't worth that much time.
I'll do it from Budapest next time! That's one city I am always happy
to go back to (even though my teeth are fine now).

>Interesting what you say about English not being spoken much in
>restaurants. My german is fine for small talk and restaurant menus, but
>I found that in most of the places in the centre, they'd talk English to
>us when they realised my partner didn't speak any German. The exception
>was small cafes where we often had the lunch specials.
Our hotel was outside the ring (only one U-bahn stop out) and was not
in prime tourist territory. The restaurants where they were not strong
in English were in that neighbourhood.

>Did I miss it, or did you not visit the KHM? It's a major collection,
>but maybe not your thing? Like you, I enjoyed the collection at the
>Belvedere. My favourite museum is probably the Leopold though- which is
>quite unique in its holdings of Schiele, Klimt, Kokoschka and so on.
The KHM did not rise high enough on my list of interests to get done
on a short visit.

>For myself, I'd skip the touristy concerts- you'll get better quality at
>a free concert in a conservatory almost anywhere- but, if you enjoyed it
>(and plenty people do) that's all that matters IMO.
Touristy concerts are good enough for me. I don't have a very great
interest in music, whereas you have. I would have liked to get a bit
beyond the greatest hits of Mozart and Strauss, though.

I wonder if you, as a specialist, would have been as impressed with
the busker pianist as I was. Herself, more knowledgeable about piano
than I am, was very impressed.

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