Monday, 13 June 2011

Getting Cultured in Vienna

The bus parked outside the magnificent Hilton Vienna, right in city centre just on 3pm. Even Mark the TD is impressed as he tells us that it is far superior to the hotel we were originally booked for and of course it is so close to town. The rooms are five star luxury and I feel very spoilt as I look forward to our two night stay and a chance to do some more washing! Bonus...I never thought I would be so pleased to see an iron and ironing board.

It was a beautiful warm day and one tour buddy and I decided to do our own thing. Many are going to the additional option of an Austrian dinner tonight but a 4 course Austrian meal with drinks did not get me too excited. Tomorrow the optional tour excursion (optional with dollars) is an Opera and that has me even less excited. As we drove into Vienna we could see a huge open air market and we were keen to go and take a look. Deciding not to wait for our bags (normally delivered outside your door- when we returned tonight they were inside - good Hilton service) and armed with a map we strolled through a beautiful park.

Almost half of the city centre is "green spaces" and Vienna has the largest proportion of green of all the European cities. Some of the city's 1.6 million were doing the same but it was lovely to see so many enjoying the peaceful setting smack in the middle of the city.

The market sold mostly vegetables, fruit, spices, fish and breads. All the food looked wonderfully fresh and I am pining for a good green salad. The market was lined with restaurants and as it was a Saturday there were many people partaking in wine and food.

We joined them first for a drink of the local wine ( much cheaper than Switzerland and most other places I have been so far) and then went in search of a cafe that had some of the local cuisine. It was hard to find a menu written in English and about the only thing I recognised was Wiener Schnitzel. So when you don't know...that will do. It was just beautiful with white veal, lettuce drowned in balsamic and potato salad that was hot... and more wine. It was lovely to be able to just sit in amongst the locals doing what they do. I had to stop for a moment and remind myself of where I was....ah Vienna! Very surreal.

Walking toward the main street we stumbled across a huge screen about to start to show an opera, outdoors. It actually was a live feed from a show that was happening indoors. This was just in a little square close to the very centre of town....there were lots of people watching. It was 8pm Saturday night and many were out strolling as it was a very warm evening. The city centre gives off a sense of being alive and buzzing. Further up the main pedestrian only area was an old fashioned children’s carousel, many street entertainers, spray can artists, protesters, (about 200 idea what it was about but definitely of Middle Eastern origin with watchful police close by) street vendors selling Bavarian sausages and ice cream, and little markets. Unfortunately there were beggars as well and we have seen a few of those in these European countries.

We decided back at  the Hilton that it had been such a relaxing and enjoyable afternoon ( no time constraints, no tour timetables, no included dinners and nothing on tomorrow till 9.40am-yeah sleep in) that we should finish the day with a cocktail...Hilton style. Some of our group were in the bar and we felt rather chuffed that we had had our own Austrian dinner and had seen some Opera...two optional excursions in one! They were envious that we had managed to get to the markets and had seen the city centre street so vibrant and "European".

I ordered a mojito and the barwoman offered me their special instead - a raspberry way to describe it. As I have been enjoying the fresh raspberries here I took no convincing....delish. :) I have checked that it will still be on the specials tomorrow! As a night cap (and a freebie) the waitress prepared a gin and ginger and ginger beer shot which I enjoyed before bidding those still up a restful sleep. Not difficult!

I had read in one of the room pamphlets that to see the "home" of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna that you had to purchase tickets well in advance. Over breakfast Marlyse (the lady from Invercargill) and I said we would love to try and see a performance. We were scheduled to do a two and half hour tour (as part of our tour package) but both of us were prepared to feel like naughty school girls and do our own thing- if we could. The concierge was not too confident about getting tickets and rang the agent who had none left. He asked us to wait in the lobby and said he would try another option and he would see us in 10 mins. We sat and wrote some post cards and crossed our fingers. We were in luck! Map in hand we followed the directions to the school, a purpose built building about 20 mins walk away.

 I know I still have heaps to see on this tour but I am pretty sure this performance is going to be right up near the top of the highlights.  What can I say....I have run out of superlatives!!!We must have fluked it....we had the most amazing seats. The performance takes place in the very dignified setting of the Baroque Winter Riding School. We saw the young boisterous stallions that have only just commenced their training to the fully trained Lipizzaner stallions "dancing" to the classical music....enchanting. No photos were allowed but I managed to take one of the Quadrille prior to the start.

The woman we sat next to (who has lived in London for 17 years but is from Greenwoods Corner, Epsom...Auckland) visits Vienna once a month and comes to the shows on a monthly basis. She says she has watched the individual horses training over the years and she spent some time writing notes about the horses and riders after each section of the performance. She was very nice but we decided she does not have a life! Anyway she told us they don't normally sell the seats we had as they are reserved for the riders family and friends. Most of the audience were high up above the Quadrille while we were at ground level. What an experience and we felt extremely lucky! Some of the tour group that knew we were going were green with envy and mark the TD was impressed although he probably would have preferred we got "some culture" as he is a walking history library! We decided that horses performing to classical music is an art and therefore culture!
At dinner last night I asked the Romanian waiter who had been learning English since kindergarten where he went to dine, so I got directions to a brewery that sells ribs and makes their beer on site What a treat it was! The meal was very tasty but huge and I could not eat even half of it. It was extremely busy so must be very popular with the locals. It was lovely to sit outside listening to conversations in different languages that meant nothing!

As we have had such a relaxing time here we thought the cocktails would be just the thing! There is huge conference on in the hotel and lots of people around. It’s fun to read the bulletin boards for the tour groups to see where everyone is going to. Tonight there are 4 groups in with one off to Russia tomorrow and one to Budapest and the others are staying put. We have a big day ahead of us and will be travelling 600km. That's a long trip in a car but even longer in a bus. Toilet stops only.... all the way to Venice.

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