Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Vienna, Day 1; the Heights

Orienting ourselves to our map, we made our way through the narrow streets of the old city to the Stephansplatz, site of the Cathedral of St. Stephan, noting along the way the pastry shops, cafes, and stores selling chocolates--which are everywhere, especially the Motzart Kugeln, delicious marzipan-filled chocolate balls. MOZART is everywhere. Thisis the 250th anniversary of his birth, and there is a huge amount of Mozart-themed events. Men in Mozart outfits (a white wig and ornate coat is the accepted shorthand) hawk concert tickets on the street corners, and Mozart cardboard cutouts stand at the doors of the candy sellers. There are also candies named for other famous locals--Johann Strauss, and "Emperess Sisi" among others. We were amused to note even "Lippizaner Kugel". Made with real horse?--we wondered, not an entirely unlikely inquiry in a city where Leberkase mit Pferd can be bought at street stands.

The presence of "pferd" was brought to our attention as we entered the square downwind of the fiacre stand. Fiacre are horse-drawn cabs popular with tourists, and the smell of horse urine in thei vicinity was powerful and a notable exception to Vienna's usual fine air quality. We made a note to avoid puddles, especially in the Stephansplatz neighborhood--.

Outside the cathedral, the square is bustling with tourists. It becomes a pedestrian-only area after morning deliveries are completed, and then gets taken over by tour groups, street performere, and cafe chairs and tables. By contrast, the interior of the great cathedral, a Gothic work begun in the 1200's, is dim and somber. There are separate admissions for the nave, the crypt, and the tower, but you are able to lurk around the edges of the huge main space for free, and we were content to do that. On the other hand, we do tend to like to challenge ourselves by climbing monuments where available, and in largely flat Vienna, the Stephansdom spire is about what there is, so we cheerfully paid the three Euro admission and worked the flying kinks out by scaling the three hundred plus steps to the viewing platform. This climb is not for the weak nor the claustrophobic, as it goes for most of its length up a narrow spiral staircase illuminated only by small windows letting in daylight about each story. We were surprised to find a small gift shop at the very top of the tower! The guy who works there can be fairly said to have a sucky job, since there appears to be no other way to access the shop than walking up and down--no wonder he seemed grumpy when i only bought a postcard. This was one of our first hints that every single attraction in Vienna incorporates it's own gift shop, and most of them a cafe as well, the Cathedral being one of the few exceptions to the cafe rule. The views from the top were spectacular and I took pictures before we stared back down, having to pause frequently to allow puffing climbers to pass us on the way up.

We then strolled alone the Graben, which, along with the Karntnerstrasse which intersects it at Stephansplatz, is one of the premire shopping streets in Vienna, with many famous high-end brands mingling with the candy and pastry, and locally famous shops such as the Julius Meindl gourmet shop.
Some of the guidebooks we had read said that Austrians were more open about sex than some other cultures, and this certainly seemed to be the case at least in regard to lingerie stores: Palmer's, which is apparently a German company despite the English sounding name, seems to have stores in every neighborhood, as well as being stocked by numerous other shops, and there are several competitors. Imagine if Victoria's Secret could get away with having a billboard twenty feet high and fifty feet long displaying a dozen VERY scantily clad models over here--. Every store that sells women's clothing at all displays undergarments as well. I found the window shopping most interesting, but not for that reason alone--. There were many beautiful clothes and shoes, both designer and local labels--mostly at designer prices. I was rather surprised to see a gun store on the Graben, mostly handling hunting weapons, but handguns such as Glock and SIG were on display as well. I'm sure there must be rigid licensing requirements, but I had had the impression that most European countries were more uptight on guns than that. We later saw a high-end used gun shop a few streets away, and a very utilitarian gun store in the working-class neighborhood around the railroad station, so this one was not an exception.

Now well worn down, we went back to Fleischmarket, and had dinner at the Cafe Vienna which is right on the street in front of the Hotel, and found it very good. This place became our fallback eating-establishment during our stay, and everything we had was excellent. In particular, one evening, I had a fillet mignon with a cognac-peppercorn sauce which was just splendid. We found this to be very typical of dining out in Vienna. Prices were quite reasonable, portions generous, and quality excellent, although there are some things that are of course different from here. Water is not uniformly offered, since mineral water is on the menu everywhere. This was fine with us, as we often didn't order other drinks anyway. Bread or rolls will come with an entree, but not butter or margarine. The bread is good enough to eat without, or to use to soak up sauces, but this seems curious to me. An entree will come with a vegetable OR a potato OR a salad, again fine with us since portions are generous. A mixed salad, in particular, usually contains marinated cooked potato as well as greens, tomato, cucumber, etc., so we never felt underserved. We tried desserts, mine being an exceelnt apfelstrudel which was a sizeable portion of finely sliced firm apple, nicely spiced with cinnamon and a bit of cardamom with just the minimum wrapper of pastry necessary to hold it together. Georgie had palatschinken, delicious eggy crepes filled with apricot conserve. Well nourished, we strolled the few yards to our hotel to settle in, plan the morrow, and sleep. A note on beds: ours was furnished with a decently comfortable matress and two thick duvets, one for each sleeper. There were also blankets, so Georgie slept on top of her duvet with a blanket over her, and I slpet under mine, and we were both comfortable.
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