Opera, History, and Apfelstrudel: The Sounds, Sights, and Tastes of Vienna

Mozart statue and treble clef of flowers in the Burggarten
Mozart statue and treble clef of flowers in the Burggarten

As Vienna, or Wien as it’s locally known, saturates every sense with its culture, I think this title sums up the Austrian capital well. Despite a comedy of errors, mainly due to a lack of sleep before our early flight, James and I nevertheless arrived in Vienna last Friday as planned for a long weekend to celebrate our first anniversary. An old and beautiful city concentrated mostly in a historic central ring, Vienna is rightly internationally renowned.

Main stairway above the opera house lobby area
Main stairway above the opera house lobby area
Inside view from the balcony
Inside view from the balcony
Entrance to the balcony lounge - seats through the farther doorway
Entrance to the balcony lounge – seats through the farther doorway

The Sounds

Of course, the first thing we did when planning this trip to a world music hub was to book tickets for an opera at the Wiener Staatsoper (Viennese State Opera). La Cenerentola, an Italian opera by Rossini based on the story of Cinderella, was playing during our stay. The director had chosen 1950s Italy as the setting for this version, complete with a classic car collection for the prince. Tickets for €12 got us balcony seats (literally, moveable chairs upholstered in red velvet) next to the stage where we could hear (but not really see) a fantastic musical performance.

During the day, the clip-clop of pricy but classy horse drawn carriages along both cobblestones and the more modern streets could often be heard. At nighttime these sounds were replaced by the unhurried whirring of roller blades and bikes. On the first night we saw police officers stopping traffic for a fleet of rollerbladers. This was also the primetime for teenagers laughing, singing along to pop music from their cellphones, and chattering in clumps gathered in parks and town squares.

While German is the official language of Austria, Austrians have their own particular greeting. “Grüß Gott” is the more religious-sounding equivalent of “Hallo” used here, as well as in Bavaria in southern Germany. We heard many other languages in Vienna too, as tourists from all over the world flock there to enjoy its rich history, music, and sights. In particular, Italian, French, Spanish, American English, Russian, and Japanese were often heard throughout.

Volksgarten - one of many public parks
Volksgarten – one of many public parks
MuseumsQuartier hangout
MuseumsQuartier hangout
Outer castle gate by Heldenplatz (Heroes Square), one of many sights lit up this way at night
Outer castle gate by Heldenplatz (Heroes Square), one of many sights lit up this way at night

The Sights

I found the sights in Vienna created a very pleasant and relaxing atmosphere overall. The downtown area seemed designed to be as pedestrian friendly as possible, minimizing the usual crowded feeling found in major cities the world over. Parks and cafés can be found around many corners, and broad pedestrian-only streets lined with shops are common. Streetcars, subways, and buses seem to have limited the amount of traffic you would expect to find on the main roads.

Similarly, older styled and more modern town squares provide meeting places for people of all ages. The MuseumsQuartier, a public square bordered by modern art museums, has an especially cool set up. Blue plastic Ikea-esque couches fill the open area of the square and, particularly at night, are often filled with young people drinking beers and hanging out.

Needless to say, the main sights tourists come to see are the wealth of palaces, museums, and churches. Most of the sights are centered around or at least connected to the Habsburg family, the former rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Even the museums housing artistic masterpieces and historical treasures can be considered works of art themselves. At night, many of the sights were lit up with rainbow colored spotlights, giving them a tie-dyed effect. So much history overflows from these buildings that I will describe them separately in my next post.

Glacis Beisl garden restaurant by the MuseumsQuartier
Glacis Beisl garden restaurant by the MuseumsQuartier
Dinner outdoors at Glacis Beisl
Dinner outdoors at Glacis Beisl

The Tastes

Possibly the best part of visiting another country is sampling its local fare, which we leisurely enjoyed from outdoor cafés, garden terraces, and occasional food stands. In general, the Austrian food seems very similar to food in Germany. For example, a typical basic breakfast consisted of rolls served with butter and jelly and/or eggs cooked in various styles. One day James tried the Katerfrühstück, which translates literally as “tomcat breakfast” or more figuratively as the “hangover breakfast.” This consisted of a beer (which we oddly saw many people drinking with breakfast), a long pretzel, and sausages.

Some of the local dinner specialties we tasted include Wienerschnitzel, a breaded veal cutlet, and Tafelspitz, a boiled beef dish. Of course, Wienerschnitzel is popular in Germany as well but originates from Wien, hence the name. The Tafelspitz is served with sides of grated horseradish and cooked apples, sour cream and chives, and potatoes.

Dessert seemed to truly be the specialty in Vienna. Apfelstrudel was, of course, a highlight with its light pastry crust and sweet warm apple center. One afternoon we had a mini cake sampler with three famous local cakes: Sachertorte, Topfentorte, and Mozartkuchen. The Sachertorte is a rich chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam that was created in Vienna. Topfentorte is a light cake with a cheesecake-like filling mixed with fruit – raspberries, in our case. The Mozart cake is a chocolate cake with a green layer of pistachio and marzipan, modeled after similar Mozart-brand chocolates. Italian gelato and other specialties were also easy to come by in this area.

All in all, a place well worth an additional post and a future visit!

Rheinsteig Hike

Views like this throughout
Views like this throughout

So far we’ve seen picturesque views of the Rhein by car, by boat, from various castles, and can now add by train and even more up-close-and-personal along a hike. Last weekend James, Steve, and I bought a group day pass for about €9 to take the train to the small town of Lorch. From here we trekked about 15 kilometers (9 or so miles) to the equally quaint Rhein-side town of Kaub. The journey in between was filled with gorgeous scenery, sunny but not sweltering weather, and a smattering of surprises.

Tiny church on a hill, tiny town below
Tiny church on a hill, tiny town below
Same view from another angle - imagine riding down this hill
Same view from another angle – imagine riding down this hill

This was my first taste of the Rheinsteig trail, an epic 320 kilometer hiking route between Wiesbaden and Bonn. Our comparatively small segment was a perfect day-hike: challenging at points but not overly strenuous and not as absurdly steep as some of our previous ventures. It began with a climb that was made pleasanter by the sight of butterflies alighting among Queen Anne’s lace, buttercups, and lilacs. We saw many other hikers along the way – using ski-like poles to show they were really hiking, picnicking, taking pictures – many with dogs or babies in tow.

Hill of goats
Hill of goats

The amount of castles lining the Rhein is unreal. There are castles as far as the eye can see to the next castle. Every time we passed one, another would come into view. We also passed along the rim of many hills filled with various unique scenes. On one particularly sheer drop beside a church, we witnessed an elderly man riding a piece of farming equipment downhill to maintain the property. Another rockier slope found us face to face with a herd of goats relaxing in the sun. As we approached Kaub, we discovered many tidily arranged vineyards dropping off from along the path.

Rest stop
Rest stop

As I mentioned, the hike was not grueling but it did, of course, have more of an upward stretch again in the middle that required more effort. About halfway up this part we saw, as if a mirage had appeared in the woods in front of us, a rustic wine and beer stand complete with actual glasses, long wooden picnic tables with benches, and stools surrounding barrels serving as smaller tables. The mom and pop who realized this business opportunity are my heroes. A beer, a Riesling, and an apple wine later (one drink for each of the three of us) we were fortified to complete the rest of the upward climb and continue on our now merrier way.

In the thick of the forest
In the thick of the forest

By the time we reached Kaub, our Wanderlust had been satisfied and we were ready to find a seat on the next train home.

Burg Pfalzgrafenstein, Kaub's castle in the middle of the Rhein
Burg Pfalzgrafenstein, Kaub’s castle in the middle of the Rhein
Burg Gutenfels, castle overlooking the town of Kaub
Burg Gutenfels, castle overlooking the town of Kaub
Vineyard by Burg Gutenfels
Vineyard by Burg Gutenfels

Spargel Season

My favorite roadside advertisements:  Fresh Strawberries and Fresh Asparagus
My favorite roadside advertisements: Fresh Strawberries and Fresh Asparagus

It’s spring in Germany, which means asparagus and strawberries have sprung up all over roadside stands, market places, grocery stores, and restaurant menus alike. Germany loves to celebrate its seasonal produce in season. In particular, families and restaurants put Spargel (asparagus) in everything during this time: most popularly in cream soups, but also covered in hollandaise sauce, in quiches, pasta, meat dishes, etc. Most of the asparagus you will find here is white, with a ghostlier appearance but milder flavor than the distinctly pungent green asparagus. It’s also a little more tender and quite delicious.

Green tortellini with white asparagus and shaved Parmesan:  Piccolo Mondo in Wiesbaden
Green tortellini with white asparagus and shaved Parmesan: Piccolo Mondo in Wiesbaden
Quiche with white asparagus:  Schlimmerwoche (similar to Restaurant Week) in Lorch
Quiche with white asparagus: Schlimmerwoche (similar to Restaurant Week) in Lorch

Another seasonal favorite I discovered at a local May festival: Maibowle (May punch). As part of an apple blossom celebration, this was a sour-ish fruity drink similar to a hard cider.

Prost & guten Appetit!

May Festival in Wiesbaden-Naurod after a glass of Maibowle
May Festival in Wiesbaden-Naurod after a glass of Maibowle

Rhein in Flames

Anchors away!
Anchors away!

Fire crackled and boomed over the seven Rheinland mountains, echoing like thunder off the mountains of the opposite river bank. We were right in the thick of this dramatically named May festival, aboard a dinner cruise ship from Bonn to Linz and back. Setting off in the early evening, we had many hours of daylight before it eventually became dark a little before 10 p.m. In true German fashion, the fireworks were scheduled to start at ten to thirty minute intervals so that our ride back took us straight from one display into another. The banks of the river were marked with evenly-spaced eerie red lights and a more scattered array of smoky bonfires, camper gatherings, and various town wine festivals. We cruised to the tunes of the DJ of our ship and of the neighboring cruises, as well as the spectators’ oohs and ahhs, the international sounds of firework appreciation.

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New Running Route

Starting behind Schloss Biebrich
Starting behind Schloss Biebrich
Park view from behind the castle - path loops around from the right
Park view from behind the castle – path loops around from the right

Spring along the Rhein brings everyone outdoors for bike rides, picnics, waiting in long lines for ice cream, and scenic jogs. Here I take you along my favorite new jogging loop through the Schlosspark behind Schloss Biebrich in Wiesbaden:

Start of the path
Start of the path

On your mark, get set…

Go! This 3.2 kilometer (two-mile) run starts behind the elegant salmon-and-beige Schloss Biebrich. A gravelly courtyard and garden directly behind the castle leads back into a long straight stretch shaded by a row of tall leafy trees on either side. As we head further away from the castle, the trees become less orderly and the grass and wildflowers more overgrown.

Between the lake and Mosburg Castle ruins
Between the lake and Mosburg Castle ruins
Far street entrance and loop turning point
Far street entrance and loop turning point

1 Kilometer

At this point, we come to the ruins of Mosburg Castle on the right and a small lake on the left. Shortly past the tip of the lake, we reach the far entry gate to the park that opens onto Äppelallee, a main road that is home to a sizeable modern shopping area. From here, the path loops back around the other side of the lake and continues straight, parallel to our first leg of the run.

Around the other side of the lake
Around the other side of the lake
Heading back in the shade
Heading back in the shade

2 Kilometers

Continuing beneath the shade of more trees along the path, we can look toward the middle stretch of the park to see a large open area of green space. People and dogs mill around here and a few ducks fly overhead. Shortly after this point, we make a slight detour onto a small loop near the far side of Schloss Biebrich past a small rec center building.

Side loop toward the end
Side loop toward the end
Back behind Schloss Biebrich
Back behind Schloss Biebrich

3.2 Kilometers – The Finish Line

Having returned to the main path, we’ve come back to the garden and two white fountains directly behind Schloss Biebrich. Looking up at the back of the castle, we see an array of statues overseeing us at the end of the run.