Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Vienna (from Budapest)

I'm in Budapest at the moment, sitting at the computer desk in the hostel while it pours rain outside -- Quynh-Nhu, Nikolas and I had just finished a fantastic dinner at Cafe Menza on Liszt Square when it started to rain.  We thought we could wait out the rain by ordering dessert (which, granted, we would have done anyway), but, alas, it's not a DC summer storm and therefore appeared to be settling in for the night rather than passing over in 20 minutes. 

Quynh-Nhu and Niko

Niko and Me
After dessert we ran to the subway and made two discoveries:  First, that it's an adorable little subway system, straight out of the 1890s, complete with wood paneling and cars that look like a toy train.  Second, that there was no automatic ticket dispenser and only a forlorn-looking old man standing there at the gate to make sure we didn't get on without tickets.  He was completely unable to understand English, French or German, and even more unwilling to engage in the international system of pantomime.  So we ran back into the storm, to the other side of the subway in hopes that there would be either a machine or a more helpful ancient gatekeeper.  No luck on the latter, but on the former we met with success.  So after a short ride home and another headlong dash, we're now back at the hostel safe and sound.



Before getting into too many details, let's go back to dinner and the theme of food.  Holy cow.  Budapest is full of fantastic food!  Every meal we've eaten so far has been delicious!  We've decided that as far as cuisine is concerned, it definitely helps to have a history of absolutist monarchies -- think of French, Austrian, Japanese, and Chinese cuisines, and now add Hungary to the list.  (Britain actually supports the rule because however royalist they may be, they've got a deeply anti-food attachment to the magna carta and Parliament.)  As some of you may have seen on Facebook, my favorite so far is chilled cream of peach soup with whipped cream.  I had it the first time last night and was delighted, so I ordered it again tonight at a different restaurant, where the recipe was slightly different but still very good.  I'm fully planning to track down a recipe and make it when I get home.  The rest of tonight's dinner consisted of roasted duck breast with bacon-and-onion mashed potatoes and creamed cabbage, all of which were very tasty.  I finished it up with cottage cheese dumplings topped with sour cream sauce and strawberry drizzle.  As alarming as the concept of that dessert might be to some of you (mi padre, por exemplo), it was fantastic.  The cottage cheese dumplings were rather cake-like and had a very mild flavor, which set off nicely the tangier sour cream sauce (which resembled in flavor the top layer of a Marie Calendar's cheesecake).  Pictures to follow.

Cafe Bohemia dinner
Cafe Bohemia: Beef with Noodles

Cafe Bohemia cream of peach soup
Cafe Bohemia: Cream of Peach Soup

Menza Restaurant - duck, potatoes, cabbage
Cafe Menza: Duck with Potatoes and Cabbage

Menza - dessert
Cafe Menza: Boules de riz

Resto Klasz goulash
Klasz:  Goulash
 Now to back up to the beginning:  This trip has been a blast so far.  After a disastrous weekend trip to Chicago last week, I was a bit leery of traveling again so soon, and abroad -- the last thing I wanted to do was have to spend the night in some airport and then have the airlines lose my luggage.  No need to worry, though; apparently the travel gods have been sated and saw fit to grant perfect travel.  That's not to say there wasn't any excitement (a one-hour layover in Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport is NOT enough time to change planes without getting an ulcer and breaking a sweat) or unpleasantness (Austrian pigeons have big turds and good aim), but I arrived safely, on time, and in good humor! 

In Vienna I met up with Qhynh-Nhu Huynh (who is French and will hereafter be known as QN) and Nikolas Bader (German), two friends I'd met while studying in Rennes, France, seven years ago.  They are now a couple and live in Brussels.  They had driven down from Brussels to meet me (QN works for an automobile manufacturer trade association, so one of her perks is a free BMW and free gas).  They hadn't seen Vienna before, and I thought it would be a good starting point, since I could see some of the things I had missed last time I was here.  Back then, of course, I was operating on a budget of a starving college student (made worse by having just bought a plane ticket from Paris to Martinique in what turned out to be British pounds instead of Euros); needless to say, this time around was a bit more posh.  I stayed in a little pension that must have been close to the Platonic ideal of old-ladyness -- there was more antique furniture with mauve upholstery and lace doilies than I thought could safely exist in one building -- but it was very centrally located and reasonably priced.

Pension Suzanne
Pension Suzanne
 Our rendez-vous point was in front of the Vienna opera house (one of the top three in the world).

Opera Exterior
Vienna Opera
 You won't be surprised that my answer to the question "What should we do tonight" [news break:  there's no question mark key on this keyboard; use your imagination] was "Let's go to an opera."  The opera house was closed for the season, but out at the Schonbrunn palace, there was a production of Cosi Fan Tutti that I'd seen advertised in the subway coming into town from the airport.  Naturally QN and Niko asked if, given my jetlag, I was up to sitting through a 3.5 hour opera; to which I said, if I could sit through half of a ridiculous Greek folksinger's concert in an ancient colliseum while jet-lagged last summer, then sure as heck I can sit through a Mozart opera.  Which I did.  It was performed outside in one of the palace courtyards, with good singers and an okay orchestra.  It was lovely and eventually freezing, as the sun went down and I realized that unlike Washington DC, Vienna actually cools off at night.  Fortunately, though, the temperature drop wasn't as drastic as the Deer Valley summer concerts; otherwise I probably would have died of exposure.

Schonbrunn Cosi Fan Tutti



Schonbrunn quai
QN & Niko on the quai opposite me

Me on the quai opposite them
The rest of the visit in Vienna was perfect.  The weather was objectively perfect:  low- to mid-seventies, not a cloud in the sky, slight breeze.  I went running every morning around the boulevard that runs where the medieval city walls used to be (a loop of about 3.5 miles).  We ate delicious wienerschnitzel in out-of-the-way restaurants, apple strudel in uber-classy cafes, and bratwurst from the street vendors.  (On the food front, it helped that QN and Niko were staying with a friend of theirs who is a Belgian diplomat and who knows the city better than we did.) 

Cafe Central Apfel Strudel
Cafe Central:  Apfel strudel with vanilla cream sauce
Me, QN and Niko at Cafe Central

With the Belgian/Turkish diplomats
After eating ice cream
Belgian embassy

I visited some museums:  Discovered that I couldn't care less about porcelain and silverware (honestly, could anything be more BORING), but I do really like the work of an American artist named Walton Ford and who paints animals in the style of Audubon, but with extremely unsettling details.

Walton Ford at the Albertina Museum

Hofburg Palace & Museum

Hofburg Palace
Hofburg Palace
Streets roman ruins
Roman ruins in front of the palace
Hofburg Palace Sundial
Clock & Sundial on Hofburg Palace

Hofburg Crown 1
Crown #1

Hofburg Crown 2
Crown #2

Hofburg Crown 2 on Emperor
Emperor wearing Crown #2

Hofburg Crown 3
Crown #3

Hofburg Crown 3.2
Crown #3 (profile)

Hofburg Cross

Hofburg Cross detail
Detail of Reliquary

Hofburg Embroidery with gold thread
Embroidery with gold and silver thread
(note the sword)

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