Thursday, April 8, 2010

Viennese Delights

April 7, 2010
By Claire
We were up bright and early this morning hoping to pack a lot into the day. The weather is perfect—crisp but warm in the sun and we want to take advantage of every minute.

We caught the bus to the metro station where we picked up the U-Bahn #4, an easy 15 minutes on each got us to Vienna central. I noticed a guy using the internet on the bus and asked him if he spoke English—he did, perfectly—and how he was doing this. He showed me his “walk and web stick” explaining that he has a pay as you go SIM card. I was determined to find out how we can do this. Internet access is nearly impossible here and I think it will be for the rest of our journey. It’s hard to understand why the poorer countries had it in abundance and for free and now we are in a rich country and it is either unavailable or the cost is exorbitant.

So, we made the rounds of several internet/mobile phone places, each one telling us we would not be able to use the stick in any other country without having it unlocked (like a cell phone) thus enabling us to add a SIM card each time we changed country. We ended up at T-Mobile where the Assistant Manager, Herr Hubar, explained what we needed to do and sent us to Hofer, a supermarket that had a deal going with the stick and a 4 GB SIM card which will enable us to send 10,000 emails or upload a large number of photos for our blog (only after resizing them, of course--something I do anyway for the blog). It’s an unlocked stick and only cost €49. He even printed out a map and the name of what we needed to buy. All went well until we got home and tried to make it work. All instructions were in German and we need to register it. This is our project for tomorrow.

In the meantime, we had a spectacular day in Vienna. What a wonderful, easy city to explore. Our goal was to spend as much time walking around in the sunshine as possible. We’ll save indoor events for cold and rain. We started with a 30 minute Rick Steves’ tram tour around the outer ring of the city center which is sky-scraper free and pedestrian friendly. Our one day passes covered that and we rode around taking in the sights while following the descriptions in his Vienna book. Next, we decided to start with a coffee café, the first of many. This is a coffee city, after all.

Café Tirolerhof

We love the way the coffee is served with the spoons resting on the water glasses. And by the way, the water is wonderful, crisp and delicious, just like the air here. The inside of the café was typically dark wood and old, slightly worn velvet furniture and bentwood chairs. The waiters are dressed formally and there is a certain faded elegance to the entire experience. I loved seeing this Tirolean hat on the hat and coat rack in the café.

While enjoying our coffee, we watched a unique (to us) system of picking up the recycling—the truck has a crane that picks up the bins, opening them from the bottom to drop the contents into the truck.

Next up was a Rick Steves’ walking tour, strolling around inside the pedestrian ring, taking in all the things to see in this very modern city surrounded by beautiful old buildings.


Formal wear

Horse ear muffs

Along the way, we came to St. Stephens Cathedral and decided to tour the inside. Yes, Rick also has a self-guided tour.

St. Stephens—note the roof

Mozart was married, had two of his children baptized and his funeral here. It was all the more interesting since I am now well into the book Mozart’s Wife.

We found the memorial about the 17th century plague quite interesting—75,000 Viennese died. It depicts King Leopold on his knees (something that just wasn’t done by kings), begging God to save the city. His prayer was heard by Lady Faith and with the help of a heartless cupid, she tosses an old naked woman—symbolizing the plague—into the abyss and saves the city.

Soon, it was time for lunch and our second cup of coffee. We found a nice, friendly place and had soup and bread to go with the coffee. We felt it was our duty to rate the coffee in this city. Turns out, it’s all good. After lunch we found a place for a new watch battery for me as well as another haircut. By now it was time for another cup of coffee.

I really wanted to go to a place recommended by Rick, Café Leopold Hawelka. This was right up our alley—with a dark and “brooding Trotsky” atmosphere, as Rick described it. One of the patrons went around the entire room, saying "Auf Wiedersehen" and shaking hands with each person in the café. As clean conscious and environmental as Austria is, the only rule against smoking inside eating establishments is for cigars.

Café Hawelka

Speaking of clean (and orderly), we just can’t over the signage. You can never be lost for long or worry about germs. In both Greece and Turkey, there would often be a sign with an arrow directing you and then that was it. No more signs, even at a T-intersection. Austria seems to have a sign about every 20 feet.

This road is just so, well, clean and tidy.

Toilet seat cleaner at the campground

The metro was spotless and quiet with very precise instructions in German over the PA system. For a minute, we thought it was Arnold announcing the next stop. It even has little hammers to break the glass in case you need to make an emergency escape. Not only that, the LED sign even shows an arrow pointing to which door to exit. No more looking like idiots, waiting at the door that stops at a cement wall.

We walked some more, noting that dogs are not allowed in the parks but are allowed on the trams and metro, as long as they are leashed.

I'm pretty sure this one is about cleaning up after your dog.

The day was increasingly warm and glorious; but, it was time for a more sobering moment. I was impressed by the Judenplatz Memorial to the 65,000 Austrian Jews killed by the Nazis. It depicts a library turned inside out, symbolizing Jews as “people of the book” and allows one to ponder the huge loss of culture, knowledge and humanity that took place between 1938 and 1945. Around the base is a listing of all the death camps. I was shocked at how many there were.

Underneath the memorial are the scant remains of a medieval synagogue. According to Rick Steves: “Since Christians were not allowed to lend money, Jews were Europe’s moneylenders. As so often happened with Jews in Europe, when Viennese Christians fell too deeply into debt, they found a way to wipe out the local ghetto—and their debts—at the same time. In 1421, 200 of Vienna’s Jews were burned at the stake. Others who refused a forced conversion committed mass suicide in the synagogue.”

Jewish memorial

We walked on, absorbing this fascinating city. Later, we found this statue of Jesus, nicknamed Christ with a Toothache, rather interesting.

And wouldn’t you know, it was time to go to Café Sacher, famous for its Sacher Torte, two layers of chocolate cake separated by an apricot jam filling and covered in a dark chocolate icing with a side of unsweetened whipped cream. I decided to order the apple strudel so we could try two things—silly me. The Sacher Torte was by far the better of the two. Our coffee was also the best of all the cafés we tried. Chuck’s café melange came with whipped cream and my cappuccino with a dusting of chocolate. The inside of this place was quite elegant; we had to check our jackets (€1)—and it was pretty pricey, €17.60—but we counted this as our “special meal out in Vienna.” It was completely worth it as far as we were concerned.

Sacher torte

Café sacher

What a nice way to round out the day. Our bodies were beginning to wear down—it was after 5 by now and we had been up since 5:45 am and constantly on the move. We stopped at a gourmet Spar Market to pick up some coffee, hoping we can come close to duplicating the taste from the cafés, and hopped on our U-Bahn #4, noticing the magazines hanging neatly by several seats for the riders’ reading enjoyment. Our bus was waiting for us across from the metro stop and off we went, noticing the sensors that control the “walk” lights. No push buttons needed here.

Tomorrow we hope to get the Internet stick figured out with the help of Herr Hubar at T-Mobile.

Yes, travel like this has its challenges. But, things always seem to have a way of working out. We had to apply for an extension for our income taxes because all our information was lost with the theft of our external hard drives. The IRS will not, or cannot approve this without knowing your adjusted gross income from last year’s return. Since we didn’t have this information, it was complicated figuring out what to do. With the help of our wonderful accountant and friend, Margy, we were able to email her and have her take care of the details of the tax form necessary to accomplish this task. It is possible to travel and maintain a life from back home, all thanks to technology.

Come to Vienna. It is an extraordinary city. We only wish we had a month here.

The Austrian empire is made up of health resorts; it distributes health to the whole world. Its waters are all medicinal. They are bottled and sent throughout the earth; the natives themselves drink beer. This is self-sacrifice, apparently. ~ Mark Twain

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