Tuesday, March 27, 2012

St. Patrick's Day, Slovakia and Sachertorte

Alright, so I must be on a roll tonight (or in serious procrastination mode)... to any extent, I got done writing the last post and realized I hadn't mentioned St. Patrick's Day at the Prater, our day trip to Bratislava or the Sachertorte baking extravaganza!
So, real quick--here's an addendum to my pervious post.
St. Patrick's Day at the Prater: one of the great things about Europe, friends, is that you are allowed to consume alcohol in public. St. Patrick's Day happened to be the first Saturday of a string of gorgeous sunny springtime days here in Vienna, so our group decided to take snacks, books, wine and blankets to the Prater and have a picnic in the sunshine. It was a lovely afternoon and we all enjoyed just laying around, reading, chatting, eating, drinking and, in one case, smoking a pipe. :) I returned home feeling quite bohemian and European...and a bit sunburnt. :) tee hee

Bratislava: A recent NY Times article cited the city as a hidden getaway destination from Vienna. Well, it might be hidden to Americans (we might not consider Slovakia as a top travel destination in Europe), but based on the amount of German I heard in Bratislava on Saturday when we were there, its not as 'hidden' to the Austrians! Nevertheless, its true: its a gem of a city, only 1 hour away from Vienna. For a roundtrip ticket of only 15 Euros (incl. transportation in Brastilava once you're there), its an incredibly cheap day trip. So on another beautiful sunny day, my friend Jeff and I hopped a train and traveled across the border to Slovakia. Since Jeff had been there before, we easily found our way into the city and spent the majority of the day wandering through it. We climbed to the top of the Michael's gate, hiked up to the castle, had lunch in the pedestrian zone, shopped a bit, ate ice cream and people watched by the opera and ended the trip with dinner. I found Bratislava to be really charming--it has cute, winding cobblestone roads and pretty city squares. At the same time, though, you can see traces from the Soviet era in architecture, which makes it even more interesting. The city isn't all that big, so a day trip was plenty of time to get to see a good portion of it.
The only downside to the whole day was that we forgot to check the departure times for evening trains and ended up spending 1.5 hours waiting at the train station--but during that time Jeff helped me discover the addiction of "Angry Birds" which I (gasp!) had never played before. :)

Sachertorte Baking Extravaganza: For those of you who know me, I do not bake. I cook. But I have always admired friends (and my mother!) who can bake really well. So when my friend Katie invited Ann and me to have a baking party at her apartment on Sunday, I was excited to get in on the fun and hopefully learn some useful pointers on how to bake. I had quite a steep learning curve because we decided to start by baking Sachertorte!! Its a very labor intensive process, and we were all happy that there were three of us on the job so that we could all pitch in at various stages (I think the original Torte has something like 37 steps to it! The recipe is, of course, secret, but the one we used comes from an original Sacher baking book, so its as close as we could get to the original). I am not sure if I could ever make this on my own, but it seemed to have turned out quite well! One thing I was not aware of is that the Marillenmarmelade is spread all over the outside of the cake, beneath the icing. Also, the icing was probably the trickiest part of the whole procedure--it has to be just the right consistency and temperature to get its signature glossy sheen. Aside from the Sachertorte, we also made chocolate chunk cookies and hot cross buns, which, in comparison to the Torte, were much easier (however, Katie and I both confessed our aversion to using yeast recipes... luckily Ann showed us that its not that scary to use!). All in all it was a great day! Maybe I will be brave enough to keep baking once I return to the States....???

Springtime Visitors

I was just looking at my last post--about three weeks ago--and I realized that I can check some things off my Vienna Bucket list, thanks to Family A.'s visit! :)
Rewind two weeks ago. One of my two best friends from college, Sue, came to visit me during her Spring Break (Sue is now Prof. A at a liberal arts college in PA)! (Blayne, we missed you!!!!) Sue's parents, who had never been to Europe before, had finally yielded to our persuasion a few months back and decided to come along at the same time as Sue's visit. It was so much fun to have them
here and I ended up enjoying a mini-vacation here in Vienna myself, thanks to their generosity!!! I realized that the best thing about having visitors, aside from seeing dear friends, is that I got to see 'my' city, 'my' temporary home, with fresh eyes. And it finally gave me a chance to see parts of it that I hadn't yet! Within a week, we managed to go to a Heurigen, visit Schönbrunn, tour the gallery at the Belvedere, go to Cafe Sacher and Cafe Central, see an opera at the Volksoper, visit St. Stephen's cathedral, pay our respects to the Habsburgs at the Kapuzinergruft and eat at the Naschmarkt.
Anyone who has traveled probably knows that there are all kinds of travelers: there are those who are on schedule, meticulously planning to assure they get to see everything they can, there are those who fly by the seat of their pants and are totally spontaneous, there are those who are adventurers and risk-takers, there are the history buffs, the art fanatics, the foodies....
Well, this past week, Sue and I made a discovery that bodes well for our future travels plans: we are both foodies. :) And we like to wander. So, Sue and I took two days off of sight-seeing to wander through the 7th and 8th districts, where we had a long relaxing lunch at Cafe Strozzi in the sunshine and did some shopping. Meanwhile, her parents toured the Military History Museum, went to Cafe Demel and had Schnitzel at Figlmüllers. Finally, on our last night, Sue picked out this fantastic little restaurant in the 7th district called Cafe Phönixhof. I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good restaurant a bit off the beaten path but with a great selection of typical Austrian cuisine.
Also, speaking of food, I had my first Heurigen experience. Heurigen are wine
taverns--not exactly restaurants--that are generally only open about 3 weeks per season (an open Heurigen has a small circle of twigs and greener hanging over its door, see picture to the right). They serve only their own wines, and the food they serve is limited, but generally consist of local products. We joined up with some Fulbright friends and headed to Perchtoldsdorf, where several Heurigen are located. All of us really enjoyed the wines and the food was very good as well--and inexpensive! Schnitzel only cost 6 Euros! I look forward to going to more in the spring.

Sue and her parents were not the only visitors in town lately: the Colgate Study Group was here in Vienna for a week and I was able to attend two performances with the group, which gave me an opportunity to visit with one of my future colleagues and to meet some of the students who may end up in one of my classes next year!
So last Wednesday night we saw the play "Amadeus" at the Theater in der Josefstadt. This was particularly neat to me because it is the play that inspired the 1984 film by the same name. When I was a little girl, I would wake up on Saturday mornings and watch this movie--it was one of my favorites! I was awestruck by the music and all the costumes (though it occurs to me now that that sounds a bit odd--I clearly did not understand the latter part of the film when Mozart develops syphilis and becomes haunted by the ghost of his father!!!). At one point during the play, I couldn't help think its bizarre that I am now here in Vienna, some 20 years later, watching the piece in the same city in which Mozart worked and died. But back to the play--it was a great performance--particularly by the actor playing Salieri. And, unlike most pieces at the Josefstadt, it was surprisingly tame in terms of nudity and explicitness. :)
The next day we attended Wagner's Tannhäuser--I remember I had seen this staged in Weimar when I was studying abroad some ten years ago. At the time, I remember thinking this was such a dark, dismal and boring (!) piece, but this time around was completely different. I found the music very dramatic and moving--but I must say that the staging was not exactly what I expected. When I later spoke with my landlady and landlord, who are both opera buffs, they informed me it was "far from the original". To any extent, I am happy to have had a second-go at Wagner and was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. I really know nothing when it comes to music, but I am starting to see how people can really get into opera. I love how it is so much a part of the culture here.
Speaking of cultural events--I am also headed to see "Faust" at the Burgtheater tomorrow evening, which I am very excited about.

Lastly, a word about springtime in Vienna. Its glorious!!! The cafe's are opening their doors, the trees are bursting into bright green buds and white blossoms, and the chairs that line the paths in the Burggarten have finally be set up again. Parks are filling up, the Museumsquartier is a-buzz and there are joggers, bikers and pedestrians everywhere! The city really comes alive in the spring--I had heard that its gorgeous during this season and it is really true.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Vienna Bucket List

It just hit me--its now March, meaning there are only 4 months of the Fulbright Fellowship left and half my time in Vienna is officially over!! Where did all the time go?!
Since time is flying, I have decided I need to start DOING more things here in Vienna. Yes, of course my utmost priority is to work on the dissertation, but its torture to be here in this amazing city and feel confined and restricted to the library. So, I have been making more of an effort to get out and here's a quick recap of my last week. Despite all the stress--I ended up having a lot of fun and was able to find a counterbalance to all the work with my dissertation and job search.

On Sunday night, I joined Molly, Georg and Ann to attend the Oscar Event at the Gartenbaukino. For the past several years, the movie theater--which is known for showing lots of 'art house' films--has been broadcasting the Oscars live from L.A. Given the time difference, this means that the red carpet coverage doesn't even begin until sometime after midnight and the whole event goes until ca. 6:00 am. Being the film lover that I am, I jumped at the chance, and was able to
enjoy some of the perks that went along with the night. For example, if you chose to dress up in 'evening attire' you get a glass of free champagne (an offer we couldn't pass up--see left). And if you attended the film directly before the broadcast began (which, in our case, was "My Week With Marilyn"), then you are guaranteed a seat for the Oscar show. It was incredible to see how many people came out for the event! The theater was jam-packed with mostly twenty-somethings ready to stay up all night to see who would take home the shiny, gold statues. At around 3 am, they began passing out breakfast snacks--complete with a ham and cheese sandwich, apple and croissant! Free coffee was available for those who wanted it... but I opted out, knowing that I would eventually be going home and getting some shut-eye. At around 3:30 am I threw in the towel and took a cab home, but my friends Molly and Georg stayed until the very end! Props to them!!
On Wednesday--Leap day!--Ann and I decided to go to the "Wiener Eistraum" before it ended this weekend. The "Eistraum" (literally translated, Ice-Dream) is a winter wonderland set up in front of the Vienna town hall. There are two rather large ice-rinks and then a bunch of winding and twisted paths through the park located in front of the town hall.
When you skate on the paths, it feels like you are skating through the woods--so cool. The entire thing is lit up at night and there were tons of people still skating when we showed up at 9:30 to catch the "last minute deal" which only cost us 5 Euros, rentals included. The warmer temperatures during the day had caused the ice to melt some... but it was still really neat to skate a few rounds before they shut down for the night.

Finally, on Thursday, Katie, Ben, Jeff and I went to the opera to see "Carmen." We stood in line for a few hours to get standing section tickets, and managed to get in one of the front rows. The set design was incredible, as was the performance. But unfortunately, the State Opera does not adhere to "maximum capacity" laws--and jam-packed our standing section so full that people were blocking the entire staircase. It was so full, hot and stuffy that, during the third act (and after about 2.5 hours of standing), my friend Katie actually passed out! It caused for a bit of panic and shock for all of us involved, but luckily she was fine!!! We managed to get her through the masses of people crowding our section and took her to the foyer. There was a doctor 'on call' at the opera, who came rushing along with his little black suitcase, which he proceeded to open, pull out some mysterious drops, and add them to a glass of water that he promptly gave to Katie, instructing her to drink up. All the while, the "Toreador" song was playing in the background! It was very bizarre, especially now, looking back--but as I said, the main thing is that she is ok!! :)

I've also finally made it to the "Theater in der Josefstadt", where I saw a modern take on Schnitzler's Traumnovelle (if anyone has seen "Eyes Wide Shut"--the film is based off this piece). During one of the scenes of the performance, however, one character (a prostitute nonetheless) begins undressing... at that very moment, I got this terrible cough attack, which I was trying my hardest to suppress (I didn't want to be subjected to tsk-ing and annoyed glares of the people I was sharing the box seats with)... but the harder I tried NOT to cough, the worse the tickle got... and all the while, the woman continues to undress on stage. Yep, folks, she got butt-@$$ naked. That's theater in Europe for you. I like to think I am rather well-seasoned and pretty liberal when it comes to things like that... but I have to admit, I was a bit shocked to see a fully naked woman standing on stage. It didn't seem to phase anyone else and when I later told some friends about that, one answered, "Yes, that's the Theater in der Josefstadt for you..." They are playing "Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald" this month, which I would like to go see--and perhaps this time I will be a bit better prepared! :)

So, that's the week in a recap--I have been toying with the idea of making a "Vienna Bucket List" to make sure I do everything I want to do. Luckily I will have lots of visitors this spring, so hopefully we can do some of these things together. :)

Here's a start:
1) Visit Schönbrunn (!? crazy, I know, I just haven't made it out there yet...I had been there about 10 years ago, but its definitely time to return)
2) Schloß Belvedere
3) The Klimt exhibit at the Kunsthistorisches Museum
4) Have brunch at the Naschmarkt
5) Eat/Drink at a Heurigen
6) Go to the Volkstheater and the Volksoper
7) See the Lipizzaner horses perform at the Spanische Hofreitschule
8) Access Ingeborg Bachmann's manuscripts at the Nationalbibliothek
9) Take a walk around the Donauinsel
10) Go to the Prater when the rides are actually open...

Any further suggestions?