Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Delayed Duck

OOPS. I forgot to post our Christmas Eve dinner menu, so here it is (no recipes included)

  • Classic Shrimp Cocktail
  • Belgian Endive salad with blue cheese and olive oil dressing
  • Roast Duck with a Apple Cranberry Chutney (Stonewall brand) and port wine reduction
  • Oven roasted yukon gold potatoes, roasted in duck fat (soooo yummy)
  • Sauteed green beans with garlic and cherry tomatoes
  • and for dessert, gourmet cupcakes from Georgetown Cupcakes. (A Christmas gift from my employer).

It was a lovely tasty dinner shared with my good friend, Frank.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Vienna in the Snow

Click on the photo to view a sampling of the photographs from our trip to Vienna.

Vienna in the Snow

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ein Tisch für drei, bitte

A table for three, please.
Who are these people trying to get a table at such an opulent restaurant. 
Shirley, Frank and Dick
A teaser pic from Vienna

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Klimt, Bosch, and Venus

Since photography is not permitted in most art museums, I will not have photographs of some of the works we discussed in the posts from Vienna. So for your viewing enjoyment, here are three images pulled from Wikipedia. (click on image to enlarge)

Klimt - The Kiss

Venus of Willendorf

Bosch - The Last Judgement

Travel Rant

Rant #1: The logistics of travel, in my opinion, is always difficult and I am usually pretty good about rolling with whatever the situation delivers. You really don't have much choice. But the travel experience can be better at some airports than others. I already ranted about Washington Dulles International Airport in an earlier post from the outbound journey. Well, the return visit wasn't any better. You cannot have a short layover in Dulles. We spent 2 hours from the time we deplaned to the time we were at our next gate for our Tampa flight negotiating lines, transports of various types, etc. While we did find a helpful United employee when we checked in for our ongoing flights (Shirley to Roanoke, VA and us to Tampa), so all is not bleak. But I nominate IAD, Washington Dulles, as the most inefficient airport I have ever visited. 

Rant #2: Why don't we have consistent security and baggage standards worldwide? 

  • Take off shoes in Tampa and Washington, don't take them off in Vienna
  • Carry-on baggage limitation is based on size in US, but we had to weigh our luggage in Vienna, and all three bags which arrived as carry-on had to be checked due to weight limitations. (Same aircraft type, and the plane still had to carry them)
  • Body scanners in US, none (noted) in Vienna

That's all I am saying.

Austria hits and misses

Back by popular demand is our roundtable round-up of trip hits and misses, this time from Vienna. So here goes:
Hotel -
We only stayed at the Le Meridien, and it was a hit!
Some minor quibbles:
Frank - could have used a nightlite. The glass wall separating the bathroom from the main room was kind of a hazard
Dick - for me, the music in the lounge was too loud, especially the first night we stopped for an end-of-day drink.

Food -
Hit - italic. Awesome Northern Italian cuisine in a soothing modern space. And the chef is from..wait for it...Portugal? Oh well. It was great
Hit - I have to agree on italic. Everything was first rate from the ambiance to the service to the food.
Miss - Witwe Bolte. The authentic Viennese cuisine was fine...it was the dysfunctional staff that brought the whole thing down.
Miss - I have to agree with Frank on this one too. The restaurant is in a cute section of town, and the food was fine, but the attitude of the staff was off-putting.

Hit - this is a tough one. We saw some wonderful concerts, museums, etc, it is difficult to pick just one. But, if I must, I think the most impressive thing I saw was the Venus of Willindorf. How often do you get to see a 25,000 year old statue. Just amazing.
Hit - The Secession Building and Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze. Vienna is a riot of gorgeous architecture, but the Art Nouveau influenced Secession Building, with it's clean lines and nature-inspired elements, is a breath of fresh air amidst all the Baroque ornateness. Inside, Klimt's visualization of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is breathtaking in it's depth of humanity, it's inventive use of multi media, and it's powerful psychological themes.
Dick (again): can I have a second choice in this very difficult category? Seeing all of the Klimt's at the Belvedere was very impressive, especially two of his most famous works, The Kiss and Judith.
Miss - this is not really an "attraction" but I will add it here. A big "miss" for me was the ice and slush on the sidewalks and streets the first couple of days. It made walking difficult, especially while trying to look at the buildings and walk at the same time.
Miss - The "World Famous" Sacher Torte at the Sacher Hotel. Talk about dry! I need an IV line to bring my fluid levels back up just thinking about it!

Special Moments
Frank - seeing Vienna in the snow on the first day of our trip. The city was like a magical winter jewel. Beautiful.

Dick - I agree seeing Vienna in the snow was beautiful, but for me there was a specific magical moment. That was on leaving the hotel for dinner the first night and seeing the large snow flakes falling through the lights of the city. That added another layer of glitter to the snow covered city.

Odds and Ends
Frank (special mentions)
-the Cafe Moet at the Meridien Hotel. Whoever came up with the idea of a cafe that combines coffee, small noshes and champagne in one spot is a Mozart level genius.
-Booking the night prior to our arrival at the hotel so we could get in our room and rest. God bless you, Richard.
-the Austrian Air pilot who landed us safely through heavy fog onto a snowy, icy runway in Vienna.

Dick: The landing was amazing wasn't it. We thought we were still well off the ground in the clouds/fog, but we touched down and it still looked like we were in the clouds. But no, just a foggy heavy snow storm.
- Le Meridien was a great, albeit a little pricey, hotel right in the city center. It was well worth the splurge for its level of service, amenities, hip style, and location.

Somewhere Over the North Atlantic

Our journey home has begun. We departed Vienna airport about 10:30 this morning, 4:30 AM Eastern time and we are approximately 5 hours from Washington DC as I type this. However it may not get posted until I get home.

Yesterday, Tuesday, our last full day in Vienna, started as another bright, sunny, blue-sky lovely day. Shirley ventured out on a shopping trip while Frank and I headed to the Academy of Fine Arts to see Hieronymus Bosch's somewhat disturbing trip-tych "The Seven Dearly Sins". Bosch uses a combination of humans and animals to show humanity's progress from the Garden of Eden through life and on to hell. There is a lot going on in a Bosch painting.

The rest of the afternoon we spent walking the pedestrian areas of the center city, with another look at St. Stephen's Cathedral, and the lovely tiled roof, this time not partially obscured by snow. We stopped for lunch at Demel, a famous Viennese bakery and cafe. While we ate, we could watch the bakers work in the kitchen. Great fun!

Dinner was at italic, the same restaurant where we had lunch on the first day. We enjoyed our lunch so much, we decided to cap off the trip with a wonderful dinner at the same restaurant. It was so worth it. We shared an appetizer of smoked salmon with seaweed salad. For our main course Shirley and I opted for the grilled prawns in butter and garlic. The prawns were large and perfectly cooked. Shirley had a side of parmesan risotto and I had roasted potatoes. Both were nice accompaniments to our meals. Frank enjoyed the branzino, a nice white fish which was sautéed and served with artichokes and sun dried tomatoes.

There was not a miss-step the whole evening, service, decor, and food were all 5-star. We all agree that this was our best dining experience of the trip and a great way to top off a wonderful Holiday journey to Vienna.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Who's That Lady?

Why it's the Venus of Willendorf, looking simply amazing for a 25,000 year old (she doesn't look a day over 20,000!). Or maybe it's Judith, looking all hot for the Hof (Holofornes that is, not David Hasselhoff!)

These are few of the amazing ladies we were introduced to on our fourth day in Vienna.

The day started, as usual, at the delightful Le Moet Cafe at the Hotel Le Meridien. Then, Shirley, Dick and I got in a red Porsche and sped off to the Belvedere Palace. Ok, it was a Porsche built public transportation tram, but it was red! The Belvedere is a lovely palace with a great view of the city (Belvedere means beautiful view....did not know that). The highlight at the Belvedere is it's room of art by home town boy Gustav Klimt. Most famous is The Kiss, but I was entranced by his Judith I. The biblical heroine is portrayed in a starkly erotic pose, draped in gold, lips parted and eyes aflutter. In her hand is the head of Holofornes. Klimt was a ladies man, but this work indicated he had a healthy fear of women as well. The fact that he followed the works of his contemporary Freud can be seen in the psychological underpinnings in his work.

Lunch was at the venerable Cafe Sperl, and then off to the Natural History Museum to see the Venus of Willendorf. The Venus is a 25,000 year old clay figurine of a voluptuous female form. Most likely, it was used as a fertility idol. It was simply amazing to see a piece of art that ancient. Although small, it represented the height of artistic achievement at that time. Breathtaking.

We capped the day off with an excellent, traditional Viennese dinner at the Rathauskeller in the neo-Gothic city hall. The ornate vaulted ceilings of the cellar provided a romantic backdrop for a fine meal. And, bonus, there was a charming Christmas Market in front of the City Hall to enjoy.

Can't wait what (or who) day five brings!

Frank (filling in for Dick)

Monday, December 6, 2010

City Hall Christmas Tree

Museum Quarter at Night

St. Stephen's Cathedral for Advent Concert

How Do You Warm the Interior of a Gothic Cathedral?

Fill it with a few hundred people and a string quartet with horn for an Advent concert. That is how we concluded our Sunday. The concert was very nice and in a wonderful space.

Earlier in the day we visited the Secession Building, a landmark from the Austrian Art Nouveau period. It houses one of Gustav Klimt's great works, the Beethoven Frieze.

Lunch today was at Sacher Cafe where Shirley and Frank had very good crostini and I enjoyed a couple of "sausages" which look like two foot-long hot dogs, but tasted better. For dessert, Frank ordered the famous Sacher Torte which he proclaimed "dry". I had an average apple strudel, ok but not great and it too was a little dry.

The Opera tour was next on the agenda. We had a guided tour of the interior of the opera house. Unfortunately much of the original structure was destroyed during World War II and was rebuilt in a less ornate style. We were able to visit some of the original intermission lounges so we could see the ornateness of these areas.

On our way to dinner we walked through one of the Christmas Markets, filled with people and vendors. We need to make another visit before we leave.

Dinner was at Witwe Bolte, a very small restaurant on a lovely street. Food was good, service was not, more of an attitude thing than timing. Frank had Wienier Schnitzel which he proclaimed "very good". Shirley and I opted for Roast Suckling Pig which was also very tasty.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Musikverein - Interior

Hofburg Palace in the Snow

Splendid Saturday

Splendid it was. We awoke yesterday morning to blue skies and cold temperatures, teens and twenties. Lacking fresh snow, the sidewalks started to clear and walking became less treacherous.

We started the day with breakfast at Le Moet, a small recently opened cafe in the hotel. Next was on to the Hofburg Palace, for a tour of the Habsburg Imperial Apartments. Lavish would be an understatement. The amount of flatwear, plates and serving pieces took up about 1/2 of the tour. The cost of admission includes a very thorough audio guide. A section also focused on Princess Elizabeth, aka Sisi,the wife of Franz Joseph. She of 20" waist and 3' of hair fame.

We had a very nice lunch at Cafe Restaurant Palmenhaus, overlooking the snow covered palace gardens. The restaurant is housed in the old glass palace conservatory.

Next up, the Albertina museum, to see two very well done exhibits of Michelangelo and Picasso. The Michelangelo exhibit focused on his sketches or cartoons. It was interesting to see the sketches in relationship to the finished works. The Picasso exhibit focused on his work during World War II while living in Nazi occupied Paris.

Dinner was at Bistro 59, a small, cute restaurant on the way from the hotel to our evening concert at the Musikverein. Shirley had the traditional wiener schnitzel, while Frank and I enjoyed a simply prepared pan fried pike-perch.

The Musikverein is the premier concert hall in Vienna. The interior is very ornate and the acoustics were excellent. The program included works by Smetana, Schumann and Dvorak.

It was a full and splendid day in Vienna.

Saturday, December 4, 2010


Vienna is covered in snow. The streets and sidewalks are covered in slush, which makes navigating the city a little difficult but worth every cautious step. After a short nap upon our arrival at the hotel, we ventured out to roam the city and fine some lunch. We had a wonderful lunch at italic, a nice Italian restaurant just off the main pedestrian drag.

After lunch we visited St. Stephen's Cathedral, the large gothic church in the heart of Vienna. We will return there on Sunday evening for an Advent concert.

A highlight of our first day was when we walked out of the hotel at 6:00 PM to see the large flakes of snow illuminated in the lights of the city. Very beautiful.

And a big thanks to Paul & Libby for the hotel recommendation, Le Meridien. It is a great centrally located, hip hotel.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Downtown Vienna in the Snow

Arrival at Vienna Airport


IAD is airport speak for Washington Dulles. I think it must have been designed by the same crew that runs the government. The major problem is getting from gate A to gate B. In my prior trips through Dulles my arrival gate was always as far away as possible from the departure gate. But at least they were in the same terminal building. Not today, Mr. Grumpy. No, we arrived at a gate in Terminal C and departed from Terminal B. Next door? No way! More like a 20 - 30 minute separation covered by multiple methods of transportation. First up was an elevated bus like creature that was packed full like standing sardines. This was followed by a series of up and down escalator rides to the underground train. After more escalators we finally arrived at gate B41 where cousin Shirley was waiting. It is wonderful to see her again and to have her join Frank and me in this journey to Vienna.

A glass of wine and 40 minutes later we boarded Austrian Air flight 94. Although we are in the back of the bus, the flight is only about 60% full. Economy seating is a 2 - 3 - 2 configuration. Shirley as 2 seats to herself, and Frank and I have 3 seats so there is some extra room - very nice I say.

Time to stop typing; I see the drink and food carts coming down the aisle.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Vienna Weather Forecast for Friday Arrival

High 24 F
Low 12 F
Light Snow

Long Underwear... check!