Monday, August 02, 2010

Schwarzer quest

Today I woke up with one mission in mind. Coffee-house crawl. You can't really 'do' Vienna without checking out cafe culture - considering that the concept of sitting around in cafes, drinking coffee and getting deep with conversation was practically invented by Viennese intellectuals. It had to be done.

Unfortunately, I forgot two important things. 1. It's Sunday. Without the usual working-week structure, it's easy to lose track, and 2. Europe still generally closes on Sundays, especially in summer. Our first destination - Cafe Sperl - was indeed geschlossen, causing a lot of pouting from me because I'd skipped breakfast in anticipation of something amazing and therefore came down with a big fat dose of gastronomic disappointment. We wandered on in the blazing sun and found Cafe Luigi, which is directly opposite the Secession. I started to figure out the coffee terminology while pondering the much-larger-than-life nude photograph that was hanging over the door of the Secession. I think it was a guy with long hair over his face, covering his man bits, but not completely. It may require mind-altering substances to understand it. The coffee. A melange is a milky coffee, somewhat of a cappuccino. A mokka, which appears to also be called a schwarzer, is an espresso. There are also various permutations, such as a melange with added cream. I was expecting a schwarzer to be something different, but as far as I can see, it's just a regular espresso. I tried three today, from different venues, so I'm pretty sure of it.

After caffing up, and fortifying ourselves with bacon and eggs (all fried up together and delivered in a big round creation, egg yolks still intact) we headed off to the Hoffburg, which is the previous imperial home of the Habsburg dynasty. It now holds various museums, the library and the school for training Lippizaner dancing horses. You can tour some of the rooms, but it cost 15 euro and.. well..maybe I've seen too many palaces. I can imagine one room after another of amazingness, chandeliers, ostentatious furniture, mind-boggling amounts of very expensive art and long, long corridors. We wandered around outside instead, which was impressive enough, some house those Habsburgs had. It was incredibly hot today (over 30 degrees). In fact, I just noticed that my shoulders are really quite red (which will look odd with the cut of my bridesmaid dress, so I hope it fades quickly!). After many hours in the sun, we needed to chill out somewhere cool and, for the first time ever in Europe, we resorted to the only venue that was close and seemed open - Starbucks. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the interior had been given somewhat of a Vienna makeover, with plush seats, more muted lighting and melange on the menu. I'm really a bit of a snob about frequenting any multi-national like Starbucks, McDonalds or KFC, especially when they mount a takeover and push out the local flavour of a city. I just got water. ;) The Programmer got an iced melange.

Having settled the heat-stroke a little, we decided to have another go at experiencing a traditional Viennese cafe, and headed toward Cafe Central, which may be the most plush place that I have ever sat down in. I've poked my nose into many flash venues, but usually felt too under-dressed or just too nervous to actually enter. Cafe Central is very lush, but not scary-posh. Calm, efficient waiters spring up by magic as soon as you sit down, and the certain items of food have been conveniently, numericised in an atmosphere appropriate cabinet display so that foreigners have no trouble ordering. I went for the home-made apple strudel (apfelstrudel) with vanilla sauce(a menu item, not from the cabinet) and it was ... completely indescribable. The presentation alone was swoon-worthy and had to be photographed, even though I was twitching impatiently with my fork in hand, ready to launch myself at it. If I'm going to splurge with food, it has to be worth it, and this was. It was not just food, it was a cultural experience. Calories be damned. Plus, it was full of apples and sultanas. That's fruit.

Full of apfelstrudel happiness, we jumped on the 'U' (short for U-bahn) and intend to pack our bags for tomorrow's trip to Budapest and then take the tripod and do some night photography. We have already taken many hundreds of pics and I'll post some as soon as possible. I could really do with another day in Vienna. I'll put it on my 'must return to' list.

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