Sunday, November 14, 2004

Calling All Wieners! Part I of the Austria trip 

Time for the first installment of the long-awaited Austria report! On Friday, November 5, my friend Gretchyn arrived from the States accompanied by her 8-year-old daughter Alexandra. You may remember that Gretchyn visited me last May for the Thelma-and-Louise 2-day tour of Germany, Austria, Lichentstein, Switzerland, and France.

We took Gretchyn and Alex from the airport to lunch at our favorite restaurant, Morgenstern, which is nestled in the hills of the Odenwald, the small mountain chain due east of Mannheim. This is the place that we discovered with the Mitchells last winter when we took the kids sledding. The restaurant has quite an extensive menu, good prices, and an awesome selection of cakes. Here are Alex, Mike, and Annabelle getting to know each other after their schnitzel lunch:

From there, we went to the mall to buy sandwich fixings for the next day's train journey. While we were there, we stopped in at the sports store Engelhorn so the kids could play on the really fast slide that connects the third floor with the first floor.

Gretchyn and I spent Friday evening getting ready for the next day's train journey while the kids introduced Alex to the wonders of German TV. Spongebob Schwammkopf proved to be quite a hit!

The next morning we drove my van down to the USO parking lot and hopped on the streetcar to go catch our train. The value of the German trains never fails to amaze me. Tickets and reservations for 5 people (3 of whom had discount cards, and another 2 who pushed us up to that magical number 5 for the group discount) between Mannheim and Vienna, with a 2-day stopover in Salzburg, came to a mere 201 euro.

Our train ride was uneventful. We shared a compartment as far as Munich with an older German lady who was kind enough to lend us her Swiss army knife to cut open our sandwich rolls. After she got off, we pulled the seats together to create a huge bed for lounging for part of the rest of the ride.

We arrived in Vienna at around 6:00 Saturday night and immediately got lost, thanks to some bad directions given by a newspaper vendor. After we walked first one direction and then the other on what we THOUGHT was Mariahilfer Strasse, we gave up and went back to the train station and grabbed a couple of taxis. Moments later, we were checking into the Hotel Corvinus.

We had found our hotel through a Rick Steves' book, and it turned out to be at least twice as nice as I had expected. For a mere 109 euro a night, we had a sparkling clean, recently renovated room with beds for 5 (although the fifth bed was a rollout cot that we dubbed the bed of nails--Annabelle gets my undying gratitude for taking it for the last 2 nights and swearing that she loved it), a private bathroom with a shower (strictly sitdown due to a lack of curtain), and breakfast each morning. Here's a shot of the kids making themselves at home in the room:

We asked at the front desk for a restaurant recommendation and were told that the restaurant downstairs was quite good. Truer words were never spoken! We had a delicious dinner and enjoyed trying each other's meals. We had our first Austrian Apfelstrudel here--a dish we were destined to enjoy at a total of 10 meals over our 5 days in Austria (you do the math).

After supper, we retired upstairs to our room where the kids got hooked on a TV show featuring (I swear I'm not making this up) a loaf of disgruntled bread and his friends, a sheep and a cabbage-looking thing. Apparently, Bernd das Brot is quite the hot item in German/Austrian pop culture! The kids were entranced and watched the same episode for 3 nights in a row.

Sunday morning we set out to explore Vienna. We bought all-day passes for the local transportation system and hopped on the metro. First stop: St. Stephan's church. We were amazed to discover an underground chapel preserved behind glass in the metro station there. Above ground, we walked around the exterior of St. Stephan's taking pictures. Here are Mike and Annabelle with a miniature of the church:

When we rounded the corner to the fourth side of the church, we saw a huge line of horse-drawn carriages lined up waiting for tourists. You can imagine, I'm sure, how intense the begging was on the part of the children, and I must admit: Gretchyn and I didn't need much convincing. We opted to spring for the full 1-hour tour of the city, and it turned out to be the best 100 euro we spent on the whole trip. We sat snug under our blankets while our driver ferried us around, stopping at all the best spots so we could take pictures. Here we are sitting in our carriage:

After our carriage ride, we headed for the Sacher Hotel, home of the original Sacher torte. The torte itself was quite tasty, but unfortunately their apple strudel left something to be desired.

We left the Sacher on a sugar high and headed to the museum at the Spanish Riding School. We weren't able to see the actual horses, but we did enjoy strolling through the museum exhibits and watching the film of the horses demonstrating their various moves. Annabelle bought a Lippizaner scrunchy as a souvenir in the gift shop:

From the riding school, we wandered over to the Haus der Musik. Our favorite exhibit was the one that allowed you to write your own waltz by playing a dice game. Apparently, Mozart himself was known to compose this way occasionally, and if it's good enough for Mozart . . .

By the time we left the music museum, it was getting close to suppertime. We headed back to our hotel, eagerly anticipating a repeat of the previous night's supper. Much to our chagrin, we found our beloved restaurant to be closed on Sundays. Once again, it was Rick Steves to the rescue, and we headed back downtown to the Esterhazykeller. It's located deep in a cellar, and is somewhat like what a rabbit warren might be like if rabbits served beer and Austrian cuisine. Definitely don't miss going to their website and clicking on the various links to see photos of the place. I can't do it justice here.

Dinner that night was quite an adventure. At Esterhazykeller, you order your drinks at the table, but for food you have to go stand in the buffet line. Gretchyn decided that she wanted to try an Austrian beer, and she was kind enough to share with us. We took this picture of Mike to make Fred (in dry Iraq) jealous:

After supper we headed back to the hotel, where the kids enjoyed yet another night of depressed bread on TV.

Monday morning we took our time getting away from the hotel and didn't reach Schönbrunn until late morning. We opted for the Grand Tour (40 rooms for 10.50 euro) but agreed that we would have done just as well with the shorter tour--much of the extended part of the longer tour was under renovation.

After the tour we stopped for lunch in the cafe there at the castle. Cafes and restaurants at tourist attractions tend to be either very good or very bad. This was one exceptionally good! I have never before had such amazingly good potato soup, and their apple strudel ranks up there as one of the best we ate on the whole trip.

After Schönbrunn, we arrived at the Opera just in time to take their last tour of the day. My kids had been looking forward to the opera tour in much the same way one might anticipate a root canal. They were pleasantly surprised to find that not only was it painless, but it was actually quite enjoyable! We got to sit in the velvet seats and even walk up on stage to watch the crew building the set for that evening's performance. After the tour, we stopped by the Opera Toilet in the metro station before heading back into the cold for further exploration.

Our next target was to find a fountain we had seen from a distance the night before. It seemed to be in the direction of the Karlskirche, so we headed off in that direction. As we passed through a park, Annabelle adopted a pet leaf:

We wound up going into the church and taking their Panorama Lift to the top of the cathedral. We got an up-close look at the paintings on the ceilings and climbed another 100+ steps to get to the very tippy-top to look out over Vienna. Unfortunately, the metal reinforcement in the glass window panes obstructed much of the view.

After we left the church, we found the fountain within a matter of minutes. It was well past dark by this time, and the ever-changing colored lights were beautiful. Here is Mike pretending to summon the waters:

We headed back to the Sacher Hotel so that Gretchyn could buy a few Sacher tortes to take home with her. From there, we split up for the evening--I took the kids back to the restaurant underneath our hotel for supper while Gretchyn returned to the Opera. She spent several hours on her feet, both in line and in her place in the standing room area, but for less than 5 bucks she was able to watch the first act of Beethoven's only opera, performed on the stage of the Vienna Opera House. I'd say that's quite the bargain!

When Gretchyn returned to the hotel, the kids were already in their jammies and parked in front of . . . yep, you guessed it . . . the bread show. She and I left the girls with Mike and headed back down to the restaurant so that I could keep her company while she ate her supper and filled me in on her opera adventure. I enjoyed a nice cup of Glühwein while she ate her meal and then helped her polish off yet another apple strudel.

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?