"It's not much but it's ours"

Thursday, February 28, 2008


You go back Jack do it again

The next day I had a touch of the DHDTS or Dos Hermanos Day Two Syndrome - more commonly known as a hangover. However, the weather was unseasonally mild and the sun was shining so I thought I’d pay a little homage to The Third Man (one of the best British films...ever). After a stop off at Aïda a chain of Café-Konditorei for a harmless coffee and croissant (not a Vienesse invention by the way) I made my way round the corner from my hotel to the Riesenrad (that’s Big Wheel to you Engländer).

I handed over my Euros and got into the cabin. The wheel started to turn and I was enjoying the view until about a two-thirds of the way up when the wheel stopped. The wind was quite strong so the small carriage began to swing. The wheel didn’t turn. One of the windows wouldn’t close properly – no hermetically sealed London Eye pods here – so you could hear the whistling of the wind through the gaps. Still no sign of movement. I looked around the gondola. It was covered in graffiti. It had been damaged during the Second World War. It was over a hundred years old. In Victorian times things were always over-engineered. Right ? People were making jokes about how after all these years the Riesenrad had finally broken down. I was bricking it.

After what seemed like an hour but was probably more like ten minutes the wheel continued on its merry way and order and sanity in the world was restored. On the way out I declined the offer of a souvenir picture of myself. Nice views though.

As is usually the case on a DH trip more interesting times are to be had wandering outside the centre of whichever city we happen to be invading. In this case the Innere Stadt was very nice in a sort of picture postcard way with its grand avenues, huge buildings, fine cathedral but I decided the surrounding burbs would perhaps yield a better lunch.

First a visit to the Naschmarkt a Vienna institution since the 16th Century. Well, it seemed that most of Vienna was there on a Saturday lunchtime – every café was rammed. Unfortunately the crowds and the narrowness of the market mean it’s very difficult to navigate – independently sprung pushchairs are a real menance here and a lack of eating on the hoof opportunities meant I didn’t hang around too long.

A walk around the Schottenring – the inner ring road – and a short stroll into the area known as Alsergrund brought me to Gasthaus Wickerl. This is a Beisl (or tavern) which you find dotted around the city but are seemingly being usurped by the large number of Asian fusion and Italian joints (although I hear the old guard is fighting back with the neo-Beisl movement - the new take on the traditional form).
I liked Gasthaus Wickerl a lot. It was very laid back with people coming and going, having a bite to eat, a drink and a smoke (obviously) and a gab. The menu is all in German and the staff spoke very little English, but HS who is the expert at translating German menus (my forte is with Spanish ones) had taught me well enough to order that well known Viennese - originally Milanese - speciality the Wiener Schnitzel. This example was vom Kalb (Veal). Properly cooked and not absurdly large and with a good Kartoffelsalat on the side and a bottle of Gösser Dunkel this was exactly what I had been looking for when I decided to come to Vienna.

Buoyed by my rather nice lunch I did a bit more wandering around before heading for a Würstelstand for some er…wurst. The Würstelstand is another fast disappearing Vienna institution being replaced by stands that dish out Pizzas and Doner Kebabs. You can usually get a wurst at these places but it’s not quite the same. I visited a Würstelstand in Hoher Markt called oddly enough Würstelstand am Hohen Markt. There’s a big list with all the usual suspects with a Viennese speciality called the Kaesekrainer which is a wurst filled with cheese. I passed on that and went for something called the Tirolerwurst. Luckily all these places have a huge range of beverages (ok, beer) to wash it all down with.

I’ve done the Kafé und Küchen quite a bit with HS during our German trips so I wasn’t fussed where I ended up when I eventually needed a rest and refuel. The one I came across was Café Griensteidl. It’s a newer place bereft of the patina of decades of cigarette smoke but which nevertheless came up with a decent enough einspänner and good Esterházy-Torte. There might have been a glass of sekt slipped there as well.

I was bushed after quite a bit of walking during the day. That and the fact I was still suffering from the previous night (it’s not fair - I still feel as if I’m in my twenties) meant that I needed a little lie down in a darkened room. I decided to take easy in the evening and just get a bite to eat.

The Austrian public transport system is, predictably, fantastic. Germanically efficient, easy to use and clean, it makes all other systems look pretty primitive. Wherever you are there’s always a tram or a bus or a U Bahn station close by. I once got on a tram completely at random and it took me to nearest U Bahn station – not one I wanted but still, it was a nice touch. Best of all it’s totally free ! They’ve got rid of all the ticket barriers and staff and put the savings into completely subsidising the fares. Brilliant.

So it took me no time at all to get to Gasthaus Ubl. The place was rocking and smokin’ (natch) when I arrived but the nice mädchen seated me at the stammtisch or regulars table. The menu was much like every other Beisl menu which the Viennese seem to be happy about but which would drive British restaurant critics - in their never-ending search for novelty – completely crazy. I just managed to resist ordering Schnitzel again but instead tried the cold roast Pork with mustard followed by the Black Pudding which came with Sauerkraut and Erdäpfel (just how many words are there for potato in German ?). The pud was a little dry but tasty enough. The dish as a whole paled somewhat in comparison with a similar dish I’d had in Munich.

From my brief sampling of Viennese cuisine the Germans seem to have the edge when it comes to quality of ingredients and their preparation. Sorry, Wien.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Er...I don't think public transport is completely free in Vienna, it's just that it's run on an honour system. Every once in a while they'll have someone come around and check everyone's tickets - usually a rather scary little old Viennese lady who will snarl at you, utterly embarrass you and then throw you off the tram. You're supposed to validate your tickets before you get on the tube.

Also, there are different words for many things, food especially, in Germany and Austria - it's kartoffel in Germany, erdapfel in Austria. My relatives in Austria liken it to the differences between UK, American, Aussie, Kiwi and South African English - they all speak the same language, but with distinct regional dialects and idioms.

Friday, February 29, 2008 9:44:00 am  

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