Wed. Sept. 26, 2018:
I slept poorly in the night and only woke up when Brent was getting ready to leave. In my sleepy haze I was confused: why was he leaving? I had forgotten that he was going to go ahead to the Spanish Riding School at the Hofbrun to get tickets to the morning practice. I tried to sleep some more but I couldn’t. Now I was anticipating updates from Brent about the line-up. I turned my phone up really loud and got ready. As it turns out Brent had rushed to the ticket office for open for nothing. There were only 12 people in line ahead of him and within minutes he had tickets. We stopped in at Starbucks along the way because once again, our hotel room lacked a kettle or a coffee maker. They had a maple latte. We split a stale grocery-store-quality chocolate donut for breakfast. I also got a Starbucks version of a stroopwafel for snacking on later. The espresso in the latte was so mild that I strongly considered if there was any espresso in the drink. I didn’t end up with a headache so there must have been.
There were two line-ups: people waiting to get in and people wanting tickets. The two lines got tangled in a mess of confusion that only really resolved itself once the place was open and those with tickets could go in. Even though we had gotten there 10 minutes before open, we got one of the last standing spots. Everything else was taken. I did wonder how long people had waited in line to get seats. The horses were so cute. There was one dopey looking one who kept drooling, but he was also the best at doing the fancy footwork. They practiced their prancing, their side-steps and their diagonal steps. I had no idea horses could do all that. It was nice to see the horses get a nice pat on the neck and a sugar cube after a good trot. Once the second group came out and started doing similar routines we figured we could leave. There was no way we were staying for the full two and a half hours. I got a postcard from the souvenir shop except later on that day when I got more postcards I realized that the gift shop one had been way overpriced.
We walked to St. Charles Church to get some views of the city. We had to wait in line because only 15 people were allowed up at a time. There was quite a bit of construction happening inside the church and I didn’t realize until we were lined up that the elevator was only temporarily put up to get to the scaffolding way up above. It was all a bit unnerving to look at. Every little step up there made the scaffolding shake a little. And while the views were great and it was a unique opportunity to see the dome of the church so up close, I was very glad to be back down on solid ground. Looking up afterwards, it was even more unnerving because part of where we had walked was a little walkway jutting out from the main scaffolding. It made me weak in the knees just seeing it. We found a grocery store, Spar, and got drinks and snacks. We found paprika chips, Mozart chocolate balls to bring home as a souvenir and some AOP Camembert (aka real Camembert). We stopped at the Lindor store where Brent found cherry liqueur Lindors which are supposedly the best chocolate they produce. Another souvenir for the family and another item checked off the 1000 Foods book list.
We backtracked past the Imperial Palace to Café Central for lunch. You could tell it was the most famous café of them all based on the line outside. It’s always awkward having to push past the line and be like we have reservations, let us in! I feel rude even though I shouldn’t. We debated the menu. I was tempted by the schnitzel but we were having that tonight for dinner. I considered the potato soup but, in the end, I went with the sausages. Brent had the toasted steak sandwich. Because our lunch took longer to prep, we had our desserts first. It worked out well seeing as I ordered a “Viennese” iced coffee which was very sweet and paired perfectly. Brent had the warm apple strudel meanwhile I hacked at a flaky pastry layered with custard. I ended up having to tip it on its side because it was too tall and unwieldy. When our mains came out I paused on the dessert and switched over. I was not going to finish my dessert while my sausages cooled down. It would be gross. Plus, I needed break from all of the sugar. In the end it worked out well, I ate way more than I would’ve without the switch. The sausage came with some shredded stuff on the side. I tried it on its own thinking it was cheese and as I bit down I remembered: it was horseradish. I would never forget now. The sausages were the skinny parówka kind I had grown up eating. The mustard was amazing. We traded halfway and I regret not having taken a dessert break then. I would’ve eaten more that way. I couldn’t even finish my half of the sandwich and I had to give up.
We stopped at a tobacco shop so I could buy some stamps. I was surprised how expensive they were and the lady was confused that I wanted more than one stamp. Our intended pit-stop at the hotel didn’t happen, our room was being cleaned. We walked over to Belvedere Palace, the park that we had initially walked by when we first got to Vienna. It felt so far away when I thought of that walk the first day. We couldn’t find the closer-to-us entrance and had to walk all the way to the other end. Eventually it worked out as the park was not circular and we left by the entrance we had initially been looking for.
There was not much to see in the botanical garden, part of it was closed and the rest was not in bloom. We started in the upper building with the Gustav Klimt exhibit. It was a really nice collection of art housed in a beautiful historic house. I had not expected to see so much art, I thought we were just going to see some gardens and a nice park with a fancy house in it. From the top of the hill we had a nice view of the grounds, the second building at the bottom of the hill and the city of Vienna behind it. Brent had lost one of the tickets between our entering the upper house and getting to the lower house. I sat down with my podcasts while he went inside with his tickets. Turns out it was all for naught. Our tickets didn’t include admission to the lower house. There was some confusion earlier when we were buying our tickets- it was unclear what our tickets included and when we tried to clarify he only confused us more. On the walk back we saw a cat sitting in a second floor open window above an antique store sign.
Back at the hotel we took a well-deserved rest break. It was already close to 4pm so we didn’t have that much time. I was drinking an impossible-to-pronounce therefore-no-idea-what-is-in-it cider that was really good. The cider was red in colour and the only thing I could understand from the label was Adam and Eve- so it was either cherry or apple cider. After much Googling I finally figured out that it was a cherry cider but what Adam and Eve have to do with cherries I have no idea. At least the bottlecap was pretty, it had a nice bird on it. The Camembert had a very strong smell- definitely not like the fake stuff we have back home- this was the real deal. It was salty and briny but also creamy. We didn’t have a knife so I just picked off pieces and placed them on my crackers. I read Amy & Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout, we still had some time before we had to leave.
Before we got to the Albertina art museum I insisted on a pit stop at the Paris version of David’s Tea, called Kusmi Tea. Even though I had yet to see a kettle during all my travels, I still insisted on getting some loose-leaf tea. Mostly with the hope of having a kettle soon but also to compare it to David’s. I got a nice rose green tea and they even threw in some samples. On the way there we passed a grocery store a few doors down from the McDonald’s- how had we missed it before?! I noted it for the next day.
The Albertina museum was amazing. It is one of the best museums we have ever been to. We started out in an exhibit of beautiful documentary photographs by an Austrian photographer. After that we moved on to some Warhol and Lichtenstein. Our tour continued with some contemporary pieces that didn’t suck. There were giant hyper-realistic drawings and paintings that were astounding to look at. Just jaw-dropping, how incredibly real they looked. Half of the second floor was some historical rooms. They didn’t have the usual velvet rope and you could walk around freely. This was awesome because it allowed you to get a better sense of the space and what it would have been like at the time to live there. That countered the fact that most everything was (obviously) replicas. The second half of the top floor was 8 rooms of Monet. His work was displayed chronologically and you got a sense of how he developed as an artist. There were some Monet paintings that I was not too fond of, the Japanese bridges just didn’t stack up against his other paintings. That’s how much Monet we saw. The top floor was Picasso, Braque, Matisse and Renoir (aka “the creep”- neither of us like him that much). While the museum was small, it was very well curated.
The 45-minute walk to dinner took us past the tourist-y areas of Vienna to the canal that branches from the river. We walked along the canal, passing some guys drinking beers. One was playing the acoustic guitar and they we’re all singing I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys. It was dusk and we saw bats swooping about. There was an initial debate whether they were bats or fast birds. But birds can’t fly that fast and swoop that sharply.
We were having dinner at Schweizer Haus. It was confusingly situated inside of an amusement park. Adding to the mire, no one there spoke English, we were that far away from the tourist centre. It was unclear if were to wait to be seated or just grab a table. We asked a server and he- rudely- told us to go sit wherever. The outside patio was crammed full of people and there was only room at the standing tables. But then half a table cleared out. At this point we went for it but I was unsure whether the people at the standing tables were all waiting for seats or not. No one gave us dirty looks and no one told us to leave so in the end it worked out. When the server came to our table we spoke to him in English. He brought us menus but then sent another guy to take our orders. They only served 500mL of beer, not the 1L that Brent had been hoping for. Obviously, he would have to get a second to remedy that. The first beer that he ordered also didn’t come in the standard beer mug, it was in a tall glass. I ordered what I hoped was red wine off the German menu. Brent ordered the giant 1kg ham hock and I was about to order schnitzel when the guy cut me off. He said the ham hock was a dish for two people. Turns out he was right, he was so very, very right. The ham hock, even not counting the bone, was enormous. Even with bites of bread, it was too much. Towards the end I gave up and resorted to carving it for Brent. He had carved himself a piece that was just fat. I would occasionally still sneak a bite, thinking maybe I had recovered- only to discover, that no, no I had not recovered. The crispy crackling skin was just so tempting! I was headed for a meat coma. I ate about a third of it. The patio was really nice, it as heated and we were surrounded by locals. There were even 2 cops enjoying pints.
It was a long, slow walk back to the hotel. It felt a lot longer than half an hour. We walked over a bridge that had another bridge running underneath it, both over the canal. Looking down I could see that it was subway tracks. I so wanted a picture of a train running underneath us. As soon as I had turned around, having given up, a train zoomed by and I missed it. Back in the hotel I had the Stibitzer apple cider (from Austria) in the shower. I spent the rest of the evening trying to write everything down in my notebook. The TV was so weird. There were so many different languages but the only English language channel was CNN.