Thurs. Sept. 27, 2018:
I finally had a good nights sleep only to be awoken to much confusion. Brent kissed me on the forehead waking me up. Oh crap! How could it already be 10am I thought?! Had I really slept in that late? Nope, apparently he took what I always say on vacation when I sleep in- why didn’t you wake me?– to heart.
No sooner had I woken up did I realize we had to toss the Camembert. Through the wooden container, wrapping, plastic bag AND fridge door we could still smell it. The cheese had to go, not just in our trash bin but far outside the hotel. I tossed it in a bin on our way to McDonald’s. The McCafe was on the second floor and they did not have kiosks. I admit, I was disappointed. The caramel latte was ok, but it had not been properly stirred. At first it was bitter and had no caramel flavour- and then halfway through it was way too sweet. I also ordered a chocolate chip & German-word-no-idea-what-it-was cookie. Turns out the indecipherable word was German for hazelnut. The cookie was stale and not good.
We started the day back at the Hofburg Imperial Palace. It was kind of becoming a daily thing. We visited the Imperial Treasury and saw the crown jewels. Problem was, we had gone during the late morning aka the school-trip hour. We had to double back to see the crown jewels once the students had moved on. I was more than a little creeped out by the religious reliquaries. I especially did not care for a tooth, alleged to have been John The Baptist’s, that was hanging by a string in the middle of an altar piece. No thank you. One crown looked like a helmet made of gold. Adding to the weight, it was jewel-encrusted. It looked so heavy and uncomfortable. For that matter, all of the religious vestments looked heavy and uncomfortable. I swear some of them looked like a modified floor rug.
We had time before our 12:30 lunch at Café Demel. We wandered around the Hofburg Imperial Palace grounds. We watched a giant black crow with some grey feathers (making it look like he was wearing a vest) tackle a grape he had found. We didn’t have time for the butterfly pavilion. We were about to cross the street to go look at more gardens when we realized we didn’t even have time for that either. We had to get to the Anker clock before noon to see the show.
We were unsure if we were headed to the right place but then I saw the giant crowd all looking at the side of a building and I knew we had come to the right place. It was blatantly obvious, right down to the giant clock on the wall. We waited in anticipation as the minutes passed, I had read that there would be a figure parade and music. We laughed at the tourist coaches passing the clock a little too early and missing the show. The clock was linear and not round, each hour a historical figure- of importance to Vienna- holding a Roman numeral, would pass across from left to right. At noon the clock ran through all the hours at a faster pace, allowing you to see all of the figures to the accompaniment of some music. The only one I remember is XI, held by one of the principal architects of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. I only knew this because the guy standing in front of us was a local acting as a tour guide for his friends. It quickly got repetitive but we stayed until the end.
We arrived at Café Demel right on time. It was confusing though because downstairs was a shop and a to-go bakery. Upstairs was clearly the restaurant but there was no one to seat us or to take our reservation. We ended up going back downstairs and asking only to be sent back upstairs. More confusion ensued when it was time to order our cakes. The way it worked was that you went to the cake buffet, made your selection and it was written down on a ticket which your server picked up and then brought you the order. In the end it worked out well, we got to see all the options before ordering. I ordered the house coffee with whipped cream and orange liqueur. We split a mini-Sacher torte, Anna torte and Schaumrollen. That last one I could not pronounce but I recognized it as pastry rolls with cream and I knew it would be good. The Sacher torte was better than the one we had at Café Hawelka, it went up a notch in my books. The Anna torte was also a chocolate cake but it was rum and hazelnut, it was a nice contrast to the orange/plum of the Sacher torte. In the end it was too rich, especially given the coffee I was working on. The clear winner in my books was the Schaumrollen. I couldn’t get enough of it. Between the rolls and the coffee, I could see why Café Demel was known for their whipped cream. Would I have ordered a plate of just whipped cream? No. That is going too far. The only reason I know this is an option is because the table beside us did just that. Brent had read that Café Demel was known for their plum crumb cake but it wasn’t on offer at the cake buffet. On our way out of the shop I suggested we look at the to-go offerings and sure enough, there it was. Breakfast for tomorrow was taken care of. Or a snack for later.
We stopped in Hoher Market (the main square by our hotel) to try some sturm. I called it strum. There were two options: red and white. It reminded me of sangria. Except we were drinking it out of plastic cups in the middle of the day in the middle of a town square. Given we had only eaten cake for lunch, we were still kind of hungry. We backtracked to the bratwurst stall that I originally thought sold sturm for some sausages and a pretzel. Brent’s ordered out to be a hollowed out mini-baguette with two sausages. I ordered the small frankfurter plate, both for the size and also, I didn’t want any extra bread (we had the pretzel). Instead of a small plate I was given two large sausages and a kaiser bun. It did hit the spot though and it was just what I needed and it would hold me over until dinner that evening.
There was no sign of the catacomb tours at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We did find the entrance to the south tower stair climb. The guy told us that the next tour was on Sunday. But at least we got a bonus activity: the stair climb! It was 343 steps in total, so said the sign. The views of Vienna were amazing and well worth the stairs. Some parts of the stairs were very narrow, some sections were dark, it was mildly claustrophobic on the way up. I briefly started to regret the midday drinks and heavy sausages as I lumbered up the stairs, panting and red in the face. Regardless of my cardiovascular state, I made it to the top. We got to look in all four directions at Vienna, albeit through barred windows instead of a full 360 view. We talked to a guy from Erie, PA. He made fun of the Blue Jays. It was a slow and dizzying descent down. I was grateful for the people on their way up, I was more than willing to pause and let them pass. It also made me feel better, for they too were huffing and puffing on the way up. There was one couple that was the reverse of us. The guy was barely hanging in there and the girl was concerned and he ignored her and pushed on.
We went to the Billa grocery store by the McDonald’s near our hotel. The selection was awful. There were no ciders and no coolers. I had to risk it and settle for radlers. Back in the hotel we discovered that Brent’s beer bottle had absorbed the smell of the cheese in the fridge. I was not a fan of the Gosser NaturRadler. It tasted like fake lemon juice gone bad. It was nice to relax in the hotel, lounging about reading. Being on the go everyday starts to wear the body down and I was thankful for the hour or so of rest.
We went back out around 5pm to the Kunst Historiches Museum Wien. I had been told this was a natural history museum. I was all set to learn about European flora and fauna, see some taxidermied animals. The museum started off with stuff that had been owned by past Austrian emperors. There were lots of fancy bowls, jewellery and sculptures. There were some amazing, mind-boggling, miniature pieces carved in ivory. There were intricately detailed wooden sculptures. It was awe-inspiring and more than once we remarked that there was no way we could ever in a million years even attempt that. The second half of the floor was Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities. The Egyptian rooms saved us quite a bit of time. Most of them contained giant sarcophaguses and no English translations. One room had marble sculptures of Roman emperor’s heads. There were like 30+ marble heads on columns all looking at me. It creeped me out to no end and I walked through the room without stopping. The Italian, Spanish and French painters were boring as it was mostly religious paintings. There were a few Caravaggio’s and Velazquez’s in the mix but they got lost in the mire.
Part of the Dutch, Flemish and (I forget) gallery was closed off as they prepared for a Breughel exhibit. We did get to see a Vermeer (artist at the canvas with a girl- this is what my notebook says) and some awesome Peter Paul Reubens giant paintings. I gained a deeper appreciation for Durer, we saw a lot of his work. Our tour finished off with a boring coin collection. There is just so much out there, it’s hard to be interested in seeing it- similarly to the religious paintings that depict a limited range of subject matter. In total we had seen zero animal skeletons and nothing resembling natural history. Fast forward to the future: a quick search reveals it was never a natural history museum, I/we had been misled.
We finished just in time for dinner at the Sacher Hotel. The doorman tried to direct us to the café, but we had to clarify: we had reservations and we were on time. As soon as we got to the entrance to the restaurant, we realized why all the confusion had happened. It was a fancy restaurant, we were in jeans. We hadn’t planned this out very well, we went straight from the museum to dinner without changing. Everything was decorated in plush red velvet with gold trimmings. Soft piano was playing in the background and everyone was dressed to the nines. Except us. Brent at least had on a collared plaid shirt. We have never walked so briskly to our table. At least when seated you couldn’t see my jeans or running shoes.
Our server asked us if we wanted an aperitif. We said we’d like to see a list. She started naming drinks. I ordered a peach bellini, aka the second thing she named. I felt even more like a tourist when I ordered the schnitzel. Brent had the boiled beef (tafelspitz according to his 1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die book). As we waited for our food we stared out the window, thankful that we were kind of off to the side and not in the main dining room in view of everyone. One lady walked by and almost did a double-take looking at my hoodie. Before our main’s arrived, we were presented with the “chef’s gift” little pieces of beef with hazelnut sauce. It was a weird combination and the hazelnut overpowered it. The schnitzel was amazing, it was the best I have ever had. It was perfect, it was so light and perfectly breaded. It was served with buttered potatoes and a bit of parsley. Nothing fancy, just plain simple, high quality food made very well. Brent didn’t like the potatoes so I ate most of them before we traded. The boiled beef was delicious but, for the first time ever, I had to use the salt shaker at the table. I always salt my boiled beef when I eat it at home. The dinner made me nostalgic for my mom’s home-cooking, I had grown up on these dishes. After I had finished my bellini I ordered a glass of sparkling wine, for fear of if I tried to order a glass of red she would start listing stuff again. I knew they only had one sparkling wine by the glass from her previous list so it was a safe bet. It was only after Brent finished his beer that she offered him a wine list. Why had I not been offered the wine list after I finished my bellini?! We ended up splitting a half bottle of pinot noir from Vienna. We were on our honeymoon so it was justified.
For dessert we split the Sacher torte (seeing as this restaurant had invented it). To go with it, Brent had the Sacher coffee with house-made liqueur (which came on the side in a shot glass). This saved us from having to come back to the café tomorrow night to try the coffee. The cake was delicious and obviously the best one of all three that we had tried. I had been intrigued by the crème brulee with corn flakes but on the way to our table I had seen the size of the cake slice and I knew what we were in store for.
Before we had left I had opened a Stiegl Radler but I did not like it. It was malty and not at all like the one Brent had earlier in the day at Café Demel. There were no stores open when we left dinner. Which was weird because it was not that late. It was only 8:30pm and adding to it, the Spar grocery store we had gone to before was just around the corner. So close!