Wiennese Christmas

Inspired by an Anthony Bourdain episode full of rich sweets, meat, and snow, we decided to embark on a white Christmas/Rachel’s birthday Viennese Style. It would also be our longest vacation of 2012 – a much needed rest from all the excitement over the past year.

I was on a mission to walk in Tony Bourdain’s footsteps, and also had expectations that our experience would be just like his: blustery, white, merry and bright. NOT! Well, it was merry because holiday time without family would be too lonesome, so Steve (Ken’s cousin) and Emily (a fellow peace-corps Albania volunteer) joined us for our winter wonderland holiday. But it rained, and was gray, and wet the entire time we were there…and because it was Christmas time, practically everything was closed…which we knew before we went, but it was still a little somber and not-so-great weather for taking photos!

We did again because we’ve been so successful the first two times. And yet again it was great, except for the strange shower/bathroom that had no door. Luckily, the room with the toilet was in the hallway, and had a door. But it was a little strange to shower and feel like if I dropped the soap, everyone would be able to see my ass! Everything else was awesome, and we picked a great spot right near the Rathaus and the #2 tram!

Anywho – because so many of the stores were closed and it wasn’t too much fun to stand outside for too long, it allowed us to see a lot of Vienna’s museums, learn more about Succession artwork and stay warm by visiting every Christmas market we walked past so we could sample the huge array of punch and glühwein (hot spiced wine). We all walked away with beautifully ugly Christmas Market mugs and a few other special Viennese treats, such as a bellies filled with gulasch, authentic weiner schnitzel mit semmelknödel, sacher torte and a lot of yummy Viennese coffee.

We visited the Naschmarkt, following in Tony’s footsteps, in search of the perfect Cordon Bleu. The Naschmarkt was something to see. As we walked in, there were old photographs from the turn of the 20th Century displaying the “old” Naschmarkt. Other than the plethora of Russian, Turkish, and Asian restaurants, the structure and aesthetic of the buildings are exactly the same. There are even famous Succession decorated sconces and buildings all along the Naschmarkt. It was really cool to see and smell. We ended up finding some damn good food at a little restaurant in the outer  aisle of Naschmarkt where we sat for some delicious Murauer bier and meat.

Later that week, Ken brought me to a fancy restaurant for my birthday. The restaurant: Plachutta, renowned for its tafelspitz, which is essentially large pieces of boiled beef that have been cooking in a broth of leeks, onions, carrots, potatoes and herbs for many many hours. While that might sound really boring and bland, it is actually quite delicious, and the presentation was superb. The waiters served us directly on to our plates, first with the broth and later with our meat accompanied by a huge array of amazing sides, including: creamed cabbage; garlic spinach; horseradish applesauce (which was the highlight of the sides, for sure); green onion quark; and something else that I can’t remember. We ended up with two different types of meat, which was one too many for us. So much food, it was almost ridiculous – highly recommend it to anyone contemplating going to Vienna. Plus, when I went to use the restroom, I passed their wall of fame where all the celebrity clientele have their photos with the chef plastered on the wall…and Tony was there! yay!

Let’s not forget the famous “pus stick” as Tony aptly put it – I prefer the German name “käsekrainer.” Käsekrainer is a cheese filled bratwurst served in a hollowed soft baguette that, while being hollowed out, is also filled with your choice of mustard or ketchup. It’s super hot, really oily and explodes if you don’t bite gently. You need to have a few beers to lubricate the esophagus before eating one of these, but that didn’t stop Ken from having about three during our six day vacation.

While I’m on the topic of food, here in Germany we have chain-bakeries filled with yummy croissants, franzbrötchen, and sandwiches. In Austria, they have chain-confectionary shops filled with mini cakes, tortes, and sugary perfection. Ken and I had to visit at least one chain, Aida, since I saw the play on Broadway and it was pink and pretty and filled with customers.

Ok – so we liked the food.

But we also liked the museums. Most museums told the history of Vienna’s most famous art period, the Succession period, which was between the late 1890’s until the Spanish Influenza in around 1918. Vienna’s most famous artists are Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, but we also had a chance to see work from other famous Succession artists in the Leopold Museum.

The Leopold might be my favorite museums of all time. There were three amazing exhibits while we were there that not only showed beautiful work, but also told a very complete story about Succession artwork – and it was the largest exhibit of Schiele’s work in the world – and it allowed photography…except that I accidentally deleted all of them! We were there for almost five hours; a record for both me and Ken.

We went to the Belvedere to see all of the Klimts, the Succession Museum to see Klimt’s “Beethoven Frieze,” the National Library from the Hapsburg empire, Sigmeund Freud’s abode and office pre-WWII, and the Schonbrunn palace, where once again, I danced in the ballroom.

Vienna is a beautiful city. Because of the WWII Anschluss with Germany, it was not destroyed by German troops, and for whatever reason remained mostly unharmed by the Allied troops as well. The cities architecture is very old for this part of Europe and very clean and white since it was once the stomping grounds for Hapsburg emperors and nobility for hundreds of years. Beethoven played for the first time in the presence of Marie Therese at the Schonbrunn palace; Mozart lived and is buried there; Sigmeund Freud grew up in the Jewish ghetto of Vienna; and art deco art is everywhere to be seen.

While it wasn’t a Tony Christmas, it was a nice vacation filled with silly stories, good company, head-stands, wine, Christmas stollen and laughs.

PS – sorry for the lack of awesome photos. I was trying to clean out my computer and accidentally deleted 3-4 days of our trip. Super bummed out….so I needed to borrow some images from the internet as visual aides.