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

Vienna, day 2 pt 2: The Gypsy Baron

For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Figlmueller. It is a well-known establishment for advertising the largest schnitzels anywhere. For the uninitiated, a "schnitzel" is a cutlet or fillet, most6 often pork but also veal or other meats, enderized by pounding it out very thin and flat, breading, and quick-frying. a "Wiener Schnitzel" has nothing to do with sausages, but means "Vienna Schnitzel," which is the simplest and most common preparation. There are a number of other ways to fix it, including Hunter's Schnitzel, "Esterhazy" schnitzel, and a number of others. Figlmueller actually has two locations, one down an alley or side arcade, which is the smaller and cozyier of the two, but by the time we came by was also full up. The one on Woolziellerstrasse nearby was more open and we were seated immediately. Figlmueller has a reputation as somewhat touristy, but we didn't really feel it, except that when we identifed ourselves as English speakers, we were given an English menu which didn't have as many choices as the German menu we had seen in the window down the street. However, we had come in for the classics and they were on the menu we had, so we were content. Note on language: Most everywhere we went, someone spoke enough English for us to get by. Most of the menus we encountered were in multiple languages, and some of the major museums either had bi-lingual display notes or English handouts. English language audio tours were available almost everywhere, but we don't LIKE audio tours and did well enough making out titles, artists' names and dates most places.

Georgie ordered the Weiner Schnitzel, which, as advertised, overhung the edges of a standard dinner plate. It was very thin, less than a quarter of an inch thick, and coated with a light, crisp breading that was totally grease-free. The meat itself was tender, moist and delicious. The dish was accompanied by one of the mixed salads we becasme used to. I myself ordered the "tafelspitz."

"Tafelspitz" is treated as somewhat of a joke by guidebooks, that tend to descibe it as "boiled beef with carrots" which makes it sound like some kind of bland British-cooking horror. Nothing could be further from the truth. I got two thick slices of juicy, tender brisket that had been cooked in a flavorful broth. Carrot, turnip, and some other root vegetable flavored the meal. it was accompanied by apparently traditional "browned" potatoes, which are like a soft hash brown servec up in a scoop like mashed potatoes, and lightley spiced with caraway. The Emperor Franz Joseph is documented to have had tafelspitz for dinner every night. I toasted his taste with a good Vienna Pilsener style beer.

Then, we took the underground for the first time to a northwestern section of the city where the Volksoper is located. The "People's Opera" was dedicated to doing opera in the German language, as opposed to the Statsoper, which tends to do them in the orginal language--Italian, English, whatever. The Volksoper also tends to do light opera and operetta more than "grand opera." Therefore , we weren't surprised that the Volksoper had no supertitles or similar, and no English program. You have to buy programs at most events if you want one, but if you get one, it is a veritable book and worth having. At the Volksoper we first encountered the phenomenon that the ushers have real authority and aren't afraid to use it, as you are required to check things like your umbrella (even Georgie's folding one), jackets you aren't wearing, hats, etc., and there is a charge for checking things. Oh, well, it keeps ushers and checkroom clerks employed.

"The Gypsy Baron" is an operetta by Johann Strauss II, and known for its lovely music and negligible plot, which deals with marriages, rank, hidden treasure, and martial glory. The Volksoper production was rather over-the-top as to design and comedically acted, such that I was surprised there were so few laughs from the audience. Just the appearance of the wealthy pig-farmer Zsupán, who resembled fat Elvis in a pink suit would have gotten a big laugh from a US audience, but the audience didn't really seem to loosen up until the Comissioner's patter song connecting the second and third acts, which we gathered probably included some topical references along the lines of Gilbert and Sullivan's "they never would be missed." Nevertheless, when it came time for the curtain call that audience gave an enthusiastic ovation in which we wholeheartely joined. Music and singing were flawless and it was all good fun to watch.

A note on the Underground: Vienna's U-Bahn (which is like most cities, mostly underground but sometimes not) is fast, reliable, and clean. You by a ticket good for a day, three days, a week, and validate it by date-stamping it the forst time you use it, at which minute the time starts to run. Travel is on the honor system, but there are inspectors, plainclothesmen who ask to see your ticket, and issue a rather expensive citation if you don't have one. We got checked on our very first trip, and a young man in our car got hauled off at the next stop, but didn't see any more inspectors for the rest of the week. We were glad we had our tickets!
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