Wednesday, 10 September 2014

How Vienna got ransomed by 8 of its alternative faces

The first time I have visited Vienna, years ago, the mercury coloumn of the thermometer was over 40° C.
I swear.
It was my birthday and I really really wanted to celebrate it with a slice of authentic Sachertorte, but temperatures had stolen any desire for chocolate from me. Which is like saying Winnie the Pooh doesn't want honey anymore, or Bugs Bunny becoming disgusted by carrots.
So figure it out.
What I remember about Vienna, then, are only the trees (where we were desperately looking for some shelter and refreshment), ice creams (which were our only source of nourishment) and the smell of horses' poop (that the heat had amplified, giving me the impression that, from the Stefansdom area, where the carriages take romantically around tourists, it had got diffused all over the city).
But how come - I've kept on telling myself for years - Vienna, for goodness!!
Sissi, valzer, the beautiful blue Danube, the Klimt's kiss, the '800s atmospheare, the austere and elegant architecture, the cobbled roads...
Billy Joel even dedicated a song to it, come on!!
It's just not possible that my main thought about it can be horse's poop.
I really have to give it a second chance.

No, I didn't mean *these* horses...
And finally the chance has come.
An expedition of 13 crazy friends, which almost felt like an out of time school trip, that made me discover also some a little bit alternative sides of Vienna, guided by the "local" White Cat - a bit like King Arthur with his Round Table Knights.
And yes, this has been the right time - Vienna was no longer flushed and melted by the heat, and it's been able to show me its elegant figure, its noble and charming soul.

Thumbs up for second chances!!!

But as for Schonnbrunn, for St. Stephen's Dome, for the imperial palaces, for the Prater and for all the other more "classic" locations - we are going to talk them another time.
At my eyes, Vienna's redemption has not only gone through the confirmation of its most classical aspects, of that mental image made of crinolines, baroque and classical music that maybe everyone has, but also and moreover through some different and alternative facets which have made me discover some different sides of its charachter.
And these are the ones I want to share with you this time:

[1] Taste a Schnitzel
In Italy we actually call it "Wiener", but in Vienna it's not called like this.
In Wien, fairly enough, everything is "Wiener".
So they call it by its real name, which is Schnitzel.

Picture doesn't give justice to its majesty...

For those who don't know, it's a breaded steak very big and thin.
And when I say "very big", I really mean "very VERY big".
White Cat has taken us to get nourished by Schnitzels in a really lovely place, called Schloss Concordia, which looks like a mountain cottage, but in the middle of the city.
And it also looks like from another epoque, with the big patinated mirrors, the candelabrum chandeliers, the soft lights and a kind of antan appeal. Like a movie's set, for some kind of sturm und drang stories.
Well, about the Schnitzel.
Here they don't bring it in a dish, they bring it in a tray - a tray that could be used as a skating ring for a whole village of Smurfs, just to give an idea of its dimensions.
Actually the steak was occupying "just" the half of it, the rest was populated by the abudant side - but still it was something pantagruelic.
Even if my stomach is often able to get transformed into a gusher, I haven't been able to finish it.
I guess there must be just a few brave people able to do it, because the restaurant kindly offer to pack the remains in a doggy bag.
So you can potentially eat Schnitzel for a whole week!
[Schloss Concordia, Simmeringer Hauptstraße 283, 1110 Wien]

[2] Dining at the Schutzhaus am Predigtstuhl admiring the city from above at sunset
And let's keep on talking about food, since after all it is part of the joys of travelling.
Exactly like diet is part of the needs of the return - but, as you say, it's better to suffer for having loved than to have never loved at all.
And I HAVE loved this small and cosy gasthaus on the hill around Vienna, situated in a green, quiet and residential area.
For reaching it with public transport you'll end up to make a long walk, which not only is useful to help the digestion of the rich dishes served there, but also allows you to enjoy, at a certain point, of a beautiful panorama of Vienna from above.
The atmospheare is rustic and warm, and my mushrooms gulasch with a giant knodel was both delicate and tasty.
[Schutzhaus am Predigtstuhl, Oberwiedenstrasse 34, 1170 Wien]

[3] Getting surprised among the popular houses of the Hundertwasserhaus
If I tell "popular houses" what do you think about?
Usually architects who design them don't have a chance to give in too much to fantasy, and, also in order to retain costs, they usually choose very simple and basic structures. So usually not really places that might be suggested as a touristical stop.
But here in Vienna, in the Landstrasse quartier, there is a very colourful and special exception.



The Hundertwasserhaus complex is actually not under water, as it might be suggested by someone who speaks a very poor German like I do, but it's been named after the homonymous and original architect who, in the '70s, has decided to enrich the popular building with a different touch.
But, actually, wanderin along the multicolor buildings, shading from cobalt blue to turquoise, with some strikes of gold, really gives you the impression to be in an underwater city, a kind of Atlantis submerged in the heart of Old Europe.


The surface hunched by the hill-like ups & downs of the pedestrian road kinda reminds the movement of the waves, or the sea's backdrop.
When seen at sunset it gets an even more charming allure, because the sweetness of the golden rays that sun has at that hour gives to the buildings a more intense light, and make shine the mirror decorations on the facades as if it really was the sea's surface being kissed by the sun.

And then - ehy, surprise!

There is a small piece of London here as well.
So I couldn't help to bring it along in my heart...
[Hundertwasserhaus, Kegelgasse 36-38, 1030 Wien]

[4] Pretending to be on the beach at Museumquartier
The Museums Quarter gathers some of the city's most important and prestigious museums.
Architecture Museum, Leopold Gallery (with works from Schiele, Klimt and Kokoschka), the Modern and Contemporary Art Museum (which has stuff by Warhol, Picasso and Lichtenstein) and the ZOOM museum for children are all reunited here, at a few steps away one from the other.

But it's also a place for meeting up and relaxing - before, after or instead visiting the museums.
The esplanade that reunites them, surrounding them, is airy and clean, and, in a nice sunny day, it's very pleasant to stay there for a while - laying on the huge seats in blue plastic, or sipping on the deckchairs a cocktail from MQ Kantine.

It almost feels like being on the beach.
You just miss the sea on the horizon, perhaps...
But with all the beauty and the elegance of the best examples of Vienna's architecture all around, you almost do not even miss it.
[MuseumQuartier, Museumsplatz 1, 1070 Wien]

[5] Being a bit gothic at the Zentralfriedhof
I've always considered monumental cemeteries like some real open air museums.
Vienna's one doesn't have the decaying charme of Pere Lachaise or of Highgate, but it has its own personal elegance, gloomy and dramatic, just like a valzer danced wearing black velvet dresses.

Among veiled ladies, girls with wings so fragile that you cannot tell whether they are angels or fairies, and young women striked by the pain of tears, the most famous tombs are dedicated to the world of music.
Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss and Brahms here rest close, and I wonder what they might could tell each other.
Or maybe they would just use musical notes.
[Zentralfriedhof, Simmeringer Hauptstraße 234, 1110 Wien]

[6] Getting (eye) candies at Demel
And after having stuffed our stomachs with Schnitzels and gulasch we cannot avoid dessert, right?
And if I say "dessert" in Vienna I gather that the first thing coming to your mind is actually a chocolate overdose in the shape of a Sachertorte, right??
So - I suppose that you might want, since you are here, taste the very original one, and therefore direct yourself towards the homonymous Hotel Sacher - have I got it?

Well, but things aren't actually that simple.
At the beginning of '900 there has been a quite long legal war about who could have the right to label his cakes with the title of "authentic Sachertorte".
In facts there's been a period when the Hotel Sacher had stayed closed for financial troubles and Eduard Sacher, son of the founder and the inventor of such a chocolate apotheosis, had got employed at the Demel patisserie, where he made some modifies at the original recipe of his father.
And it seems that the one we know nowadays is actually the recipe perfectioned by Eduard, and not the one from Mr Franz.
So who is right?
The court made win Hotel Sacher, but Demel keeps on selling its own version of the cake, labelling it "Eduard's cake".
Anyway - as I like saying, chocolate is always right, so let's give copyrights issues, because going at Demel's is worth it in any case.
The patisserie has been founded before 1800, so it's a piece of history.

The inside of the shop is a joy for the eyes, and obviously I don't mean only for the baroque plasters.
The very cured and nicely vintage packages make the purchasing of some sweet souvenir great not only for the gluttony.
Kitchens are separated from the shop by some transparent windows, so watching the bakery masters at work is surely an interesting experience.

As a representative from the feline's world, when I hear talking about "cats tongues" I always get the creeps - ok, I'm quite a silent cat, but I still need my tongue.
But, if I really had to sacrifice mine, I'd say I'd prefer seeing it used for such an exquisite cookie - which, unlike the biscuit we have in Italy with the very same name, is also covered with a thin layer of dark chocolate.
[Demel, Kohlmarkt 14, 1010 Wien]

[7] Doing a stiletto challenge at the Kunsthaus Wien
This is an another art museum, to not get confuse with the forementioned ones at the Museumquartier.
This one is near the Hundertwasserhaus, and not only it has the same colourful and creative architectural style, but it hosts only the works of his creator, the artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
Until October 5 the Museum also hosts the temporary exhibition "SHOEting stars" dedicated to the shoes in the world of art and design.
You know those shoes with weird shapes, like Cheope's pyramid, or toilet's scrubbing brush, you've always wondered which kind of use they might have, besides appearing in Lady Gaga's videos?
Well, they are all here.

And if, like me, the highest heel you've ever wear is the comfy thick sole of your running shoe, and you've always felt a secret admiration for those colleagues of yours who are able to walk almost gracefully with scary 15 stilettos, then you can try the funny "Stiletto Challenge", proposed as a sort of interactive activity - beware of your ankles, of course.
You can choose the homicide heel that you prefer (or better, the one that you can find in your number), and then walk along the paths signed on the floor.

Ah, that's easy - you might say.
Ah, that's easy - I say as well, and without a care in the world I take out my sneakers and I rummage among the marvellous shoes which would send 7th heaven any normal woman (therefore not me).

The only 38 left is represented by a pair of strawberry decolletes with a bit of plateau sole and - omg- it will be like 18 cm!!
How is it humanly possible to walk with these things? I'm not used to stilts!
They should allow you to use them only after having taken a licence!!
I try to stand up and my center of gravity feels utterly confused.
I sway and fumble.
Good Lord. The correct name shouldn't be "homicide heels" but suicide!!
Ok, now I've found my balance.
Now the problem is walking.
I've forgotten to tell that also the Museum's floor is like the one of the whole Hundertwasser's quarter. With hills.
Beware of bumps, please do not cross with stilts if you don't own a regular licence.
Please someone hold my arms, thanks.
Well, I'm sorry but my stiletto challenge shamefully ends here.
I need my ankles at least until the end of the holidays.
[Kunsthaus Wien, Untere Weißgerberstraße 13, 1030 Wien]

[8] Freytag & Berndt Shop
Ok, if a "normal woman" goes 7th heaven in front of a shoes' shop, I have the same reaction in bookshops.
So feminine solidariety also shows up in confirming stereotypes: it's only the subject that changes, but anyway it's always shops that drive us nuts.
And this particular bookshop actually works 2x for it, because it's completely dedicated to travels.

Maps, touristic guides, itineraries, photo books...
A paradise for a book-aholic traveller, indeed.
And therefore a paradise for me and Anto from We12travel, with whom I've happily roamed through these amazing shelves stuffed with ideas for the next destinations - or at least for the next daydreams.
The bookshop is really rich and well furnished, and many of the guides are available in English as well.

[Freytag & Berndt, Wallnerstraße 3, 1010 Wien]


  1. so cool that you wrote this post about Vienna - it covers what we did :)
    yes, not the 100% touristy stuff but a good variety of things, i guess.
    and cool that you took a look at Demel, i have not been there in years....
    love all the photos you posted!
    cheers, white cat ;)

    1. Thanks for your comment, dear White Cat :)
      I'm actually glad that you didn't show us just touristy stuff - I love discovering cities with the eyes of people who live there, and you did it pretty well!

  2. Great post about Vienna! I am glad you gave it another chance. it is true..Vienna can get very hot I'm the summer( one of the things I don't love about living I'm the city). Safe travels!

    1. Thank you!
      Yeah, I would have never believed that, but now I know it :)
      I've learnt that second chances can sometimes be worthy, so now I'm always open to give them.