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Posts Tagged ‘Vienna’

I was feeling so loopy after the complimentary sgroppino at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo the previous night that I had no trouble falling asleep. As I had predicted, the heat finally kicked on in the evening, and the room became quite warm. But despite the excessive heat and the rather firm bed, the sheets were softer and the blanket lighter than what I had grown accustomed to in my Trieste apartment, so I slept very soundly during my final night in Friuli.

In the morning, I awoke bright and early, ready to finally be on my way. Once showered and dressed, I headed downstairs to the breakfast room, where the buffet was spread with a substantial array of choices: fresh rolls, croissants, and pastries; several types of cereal; the obligatory packaged toast; fresh fruit; orange and grapefruit juices; and my favorite yogurt, the runny European-style Carnia brand, of which my preferred flavors were frutti di bosco (mixed berry) and albicocca (apricot). This morning I went with an apricot yogurt, a roll with some apricot jam, and a glass of orange juice.

As I sat eating my breakfast, I noticed two young men at a nearby table. They were clearly American, something I seldom saw in Friuli, and I was curious to find out their story. Typically, in the rare instance that I came across someone speaking English, I would find a way to strike up a conversation. But today there was no time to linger. I had a train to catch and still needed to finish packing, so I scarfed down my food and hurried back upstairs to my room.

I didn’t generally buy many souvenirs when I traveled, but this year I had taken to purchasing every Friulian and Triestine cookbook I could find, so I needed to make room for these, along with a few other items such as an Illy espresso cup, a hunk of ricotta affumicata, a box containing a pitina (salami dredged in cornmeal), and two spiny spider crab shells that I had persuaded waiters in Trieste and Muggia to wrap up for me to take home for a photo shoot. In my efforts to stuff everything in my bags, I ended up discarding three pairs of socks and two pairs of underwear that were all developing holes, although this didn’t noticeably lighten my load.

I did finally manage to cram everything in without needing the plastic grocery bag that I had carried my extra food items in yesterday when leaving Trieste. But my backpack was stuffed to the brim, my collapsible nylon tote bag overflowed, and my rolling duffel was unbelievably heavy, weighed down by my stack of cookbooks. As a test before I departed, I attempted a practice overhead press, to see if I’d be able to lift the suitcase onto the luggage rack of the train. I failed miserably! Maybe I would luck out, as I had on certain past trips, and a chivalrous Italian would step in to help me.

I checked out of Hotel Principe around 8:00am and crossed the street to Udine’s train station, where I boarded the train for Vienna. When I found my assigned seat, there were already three American girls in my train compartment. Considering how infrequently I had encountered Americans in this part of Italy, it was a bit strange to see two groups in one day. I soon learned that these girls were in college, on a fall break from an exchange program in London. They had just been sightseeing in Venezia and were now en route to Salzburg.

With no one offering to help me, I somehow managed to stow my duffel bag by lifting it to chest height, stepping onto the seat, and using pure momentum to hoist it onto the rack. I spent the early part of the journey chatting with the American girls. When they got off the train in Villach, Austria, I switched to a window seat, where I could watch the brilliant autumn colors of the passing countryside. I had expected the train to be packed, but it wasn’t, and I had the compartment to myself for the remainder of the trip. For lunch, I polished off the rest of the snacks I had brought from Trieste—some bread and cheese, a yogurt, and a banana—saving just the smallest bit of bread and cheese for my final breakfast.

The train arrived at Wien Südbahnhof by 2:00pm, right on schedule. Since I had never been to any of Vienna’s train stations before and was not very familiar with the city, I studied my map closely before arrival. As I often did when arriving in a foreign city, I pretended that I was on my then-favorite TV show, The Amazing Race, and navigating to my destination! From the station, it was a 15-minute walk to the nearest subway, and then after a few stops, a short walk to Hotel Austria, where I would stay one night before my flight home.

While checking in, I requested a taxi to the airport the next morning, scheduling it for 5:00am since I had a super early flight. I was given the same room as before, small with a private bath down the hall. The shower and toilet were inconveniently located in separate rooms, though it was nice to have them all to myself. Covering the twin bed was a fluffy, yellow down comforter, and there was also a separate daybed/sofa and a mini fridge. When I had stayed there three nights at the beginning of my trip, I had had some difficulty with my key, but thankfully the hotel had since fixed the lock and the key now worked fine.

As soon as I had settled into my room, I headed back out in the hope of procuring an afternoon snack. Since my two days in Vienna five weeks earlier, I had been looking forward to returning to Buffet Trzesniewski, a tiny sandwich shop just off the Graben, where I had enjoyed an assortment of yummy finger sandwiches, prepared with egg salad and toppings such as shrimp, bacon, and smoked herring. But when I arrived again at the address, I was dismayed to find the shop closed for the day.

So I spent the next hour and a half wandering up and down the Graben, around Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), and to the Hofburg Palace. Along the way, I stopped at Café Demel and picked up a slice of sachertorte to go. At the beginning of my trip, I had made the rounds of several of Vienna’s historic cafes, including Demel, where a slice of dobostorte had been part one of my lunch that day. Part two of that indulgent lunch had been a slice of sachertorte at the famous Hotel Sacher. Having read about the feud between the two cafés over which sachertorte may be called the “original,” I wanted to experience both for myself.

With an early morning flight looming, I didn’t feel up for a late dinner. Plus, the greasy musetto in Udine the night before hadn’t settled well, and I just couldn’t stomach the thought of more sausage—or wienerschnitzel or goulash or meat of any kind. Nor did I relish the idea of sitting in another smoke-filled dining room. So I copped out and grabbed a slice of spinach pizza at Pizza Bizi on the way back to my hotel. It was only 4:30pm, but I wanted to try to get to bed early.

Back at Hotel Austria, I stopped at the guests’ computer desk in the lobby to check my email and was excited to find a message from my best friend. Once I had returned to my room for the evening, I set both my watch alarm and the hotel’s alarm clock for 3:30am, testing the latter to make sure that it functioned properly.

A short while later, I tucked into my slice of sachertorte for dessert. Like the one at Hotel Sacher, this cake was dense and a bit dry, perhaps even more so given that Demel’s consisted of only one layer compared to Sacher’s two and therefore contained half the amount of jam. My goal was going to be to create a moister cake following the recipe given to me by Pasticceria Penso in Trieste. In addition to adding ground hazelnuts to the chocolate batter, their trick was to douse each cake layer in Maraschino liqueur before glazing with the apricot jam and chocolate ganache.

With nothing left to do, I went to bed around 9:00pm and fell asleep within the hour. However, the room was extremely stuffy. I woke up around midnight feeling restless and sweating under the heavy down comforter. I stayed awake for a couple of hours trying to suppress my nervous energy. After finally falling back asleep, I managed to doze on and off until my two alarms sounded.

In the quiet of the early morning, I took a quick shower, dressed, ate that last bit of stale bread and cheese for breakfast, and set to repacking for the final time. I had stored my ricotta affumicata and pitina in the mini fridge overnight and needed to bury them in the bottom of my luggage. I knew that the cheese had been sufficiently aged, though without a label, I didn’t trust that it would pass through customs without being questioned. And I knew for certain that the salami was banned. But given that these items were crucial for my book, I decided to take the risk of smuggling them into the country. I managed to force everything to fit, placing my carefully wrapped spiny spider crab shells at the very top of my nylon tote bag so they wouldn’t get crushed.

Once I was all set to depart, I went downstairs to the lobby to wait for my taxi. I was a little early, but so was the cab, both of us arriving exactly at 4:50am. The ride to the airport felt a bit harrowing, taking a mere 15 minutes compared to the half-hour trip from the airport when I had first arrived.

When I got to the airport just after 5:00am, the ticket counter was still closed. Eventually things began moving, and I allowed myself to settle in for the journey home. I caught my 7:25am flight to London Heathrow, where I almost didn’t make my connection due to a crazy-long line at security. Fortunately, my connecting flight had been delayed by a half hour, so I just made it. Eleven or so hours later, I arrived in San Francisco, my final trip to Friuli at an end. Now it was time for the real work of publishing Flavors of Friuli to begin!

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apple strudelAfter only two short days, it was time to leave Vienna. I arrived at the hydrofoil dock just before 8:00am, ready to cruise along the Danube River to Budapest. The only seating on the boat was indoors, and I felt lucky to grab a single seat by the window. The remaining seats filled up quickly. Most passengers appeared to be Austrian, though there were quite a few speaking English—from the U.S., Britain, Canada, and Australia—as well as a trio from Japan.

Shortly after we departed Vienna, the boat spent a full hour passing through the first of two locks. While waiting, I ate the first part of my snack, which I had purchased the day before: a slice of topfenstrudel, the dough moist and rolled paper-thin with a sweet cheese and raisin filling.

After a stop in Bratislava, Slovakia, the hydrofoil continued on to Budapest. Just prior to arriving, we hit our second lock. Once again, it seemed to take forever to pass through. As the sun streamed through the window to my right, hitting me squarely in the eyes, I came to regret my choice of seat. Some passengers had escaped the claustrophobic heat of the cabin to light cigarettes on the narrow walkway outside, and their smoke kept wafting unpleasantly through the open door (which another woman insisted on opening each time I got up to shut it).

I found solace during this second delay by partaking in my remaining snack: a slice of apfelstrudel, packed with apples and cinnamon, sweet but with just the right amount of tartness.

We arrived in Budapest an hour and a half late. Gray clouds had gathered, obscuring the sun, though it was still a beautiful sight passing under all of the city’s magnificent bridges, the Gothic-style Parliament building on the left and the Buda Castle on the hilltop to the right.

I had chosen my hotel, Hotel Art, mainly for its proximity to the boat dock, Metro stops, and famous pedestrian street Váci Utca. After checking in, I changed some money into Hungarian forints and then walked along Váci Utca to St. Stephen’s Basilica. Although the church was closed to visitors due to a wedding in progress, I was able to peek inside and listen to the strains of “Ave Maria” coming from the altar.

For dinner, I headed to one of the restaurants that seemed to make all of the “Best Of” lists in my guidebooks: Csarnok Vendéglő. I entered with some degree of trepidation, having read that Budapest restaurants were notorious for ripping off customers—even locals—but to my relief, the staff were very friendly and accommodating. As a woman dining alone in a foreign country, I did not feel the least bit uncomfortable there.

My meal was exceptional. I started with the hortobágyi palacsinta, a meat-filled crêpe served in a cream sauce laced with lots of paprika. This was followed by töltött káposzta: cabbage rolls stuffed with rice and ground meat, topped with sour cream, and served on a bed of sauerkraut. Even though I didn’t possess a palate discriminating enough to tell precisely what types of meat were used, I nevertheless determined that the dishes were seasoned to perfection.

After dinner, I returned to my hotel via the waterfront, about a 40-minute walk. The whole river was aglow with sparkling lights—luxury hotels on the eastern bank, the hilltop castle rising to the west, bridges spanning the two sides, and riverboats leisurely cruising beneath—the water alive in a magical, reflective, glittering dance. In an odd juxtaposition of Disneyland fantasy and ancient history, Budapest seemed a fairytale come to life.

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kugelhopfI began my second morning in Vienna with a visit to the famous Café Central, an opulent room lined with rows of cream-colored pillars supporting an elegant vaulted ceiling. After perusing the dessert offerings on display, I seated myself at a small, round table of reddish marble and ordered a slice of chocolate marble kugelhopf. This Bundt cake was practically identical to the one I had baked at home from the cookbook Dulcis in Fundo.

After a little more exploring, I happened upon a tiny sandwich shop just off the Graben: the century-old Buffet Trzesniewski. Behind the glass counter were close to twenty different varieties of finger sandwiches, most prepared with egg salad and various toppings. I chose three: egg with shrimp, egg with bacon, and egg with smoked herring and pickles.

Next, I headed to the Spanish Riding School to see the morning training of the Lipizzaner stallions. I had read that the line to get into this free event, which lasted from 10:00am to noon, would start forming at the early hour of 8:30am. Not wanting to spend all morning waiting in line, I heeded my guidebook’s advice to arrive late, as most people would be coming and going, not staying for the full two hours. Even though it took a few minutes to locate an available seat, I finally found a spot on the uppermost level, where I sat to watch the horses prance around to the rousing melodies of Mozart and Strauss.

I left before the practice session was over and walked to the outdoor market called the Naschmarkt, where I marveled at the vast array of food items for sale. I soon noticed that much of it was either Greek or Middle Eastern in origin—loads of olives, feta, hummus, and baklava. I also found a cheese market selling small tubs of liptauer, one of the Austro-Hungarian specialties on my list to scope out. Unlike the white liptauer I had eaten in Trieste, this one was pinkish orange from the addition of paprika. I balked at spending the money on a full container when all I wanted was just a taste, but I did get a look at the list of ingredients for future reference.

While at the Naschmarkt, I experienced the first inauspicious incident of my trip. I had pulled out my husband’s point-and-shoot digital camera to take some photos of a display of bright orange and green gourds when the camera suddenly started to malfunction. Each time I pressed the button to turn it on, the power would instantly shut down again. The battery was fully charged, but the power would not remain on. Finally, it stayed on long enough to snap a couple shots, but the camera would continue to prove troublesome for the remainder of my trip. By the end of my five weeks, the display screen would start going black as well. At least I had my trusty old Pentax SLR film camera, which I still used for most of my outdoor shots.

On my way back to Hotel Austria, I paid a quick visit to the enormous baroque Karlskirche (St. Charles’s Church). I also stopped in at the bakery and café Gerstner, where I bought two pieces of strudel to take on the hydrofoil the next day—in case I got hungry on my way to Hungary. One was filled with apple and the other with topfen (also called quark, a cheese similar to fromage blanc).

Back in my room, exhausted from my lingering jet lag as well as from the day’s long walk, I napped for a couple of hours before dinner. At around 6:00pm, I reluctantly ventured out again. Not being able to muster enough energy to scope out just the perfect place, I settled on the convenience of Café Vienne, adjacent to my hotel. When I arrived, the restaurant was nearly empty, but it soon started to fill with patrons. Not seeing any of my “to-try list” dishes on the menu, I ordered the salmon with spinach and potatoes. The fish was pan-fried in a light coating of flour and served with a creamy sauce flavored with white wine and thyme. The spinach was garlicky, though not particularly memorable. The real star of the plate was the rösti, a savory, crisp potato cake. I had planned on staying to order the palatschinke (crêpe) for dessert, but as the restaurant had no non-smoking section—and it was becoming increasingly more difficult to breathe—I was rather anxious to leave. The palatschinke would have to wait until another time.

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Dobos torteMy final trip to Friuli began in late September 2005. Rather than flying into Italy, I had decided to begin with three nights in Vienna and three more in Budapest. The history and culinary tradition of these two cities were closely tied to Friuli—and in particular, Trieste, where I would be spending the remainder of my five-week-long stay. I had hoped to sample classic Austro-Hungarian dishes at their source—dishes such as liptauer, gulasch, strudel, sachertorte, dobostorte, rigo jancsi, kugelhopf, and palatschinke—and compare them to the versions found in Friuli.

I arrived around 10:30pm at Hotel Austria, located in the historical center of Vienna. My room contained both a twin bed covered with a fluffy, yellow down comforter and a separate daybed/sofa. It was quite small, as I had opted for a private bath down the hall—shower and toilet were inconveniently located in separate rooms, though I did have them all to myself.

I awoke my first morning to find a bountiful buffet downstairs in the breakfast room. With crystal chandeliers overhead and Mozart playing in the background, I enjoyed a feast of muesli cereal, cantaloupe, tomato and cucumber slices, a bit of salami, and a banana. Then, under a cold, wet, drizzly sky, I set out to explore the city. I first walked to Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral), then took the subway to the Danube River. There, I found the boat dock and purchased a ticket for my hydrofoil trip to Budapest two days later.

After taking the subway back to the city center, I visited Peterskirche (St. Peter’s Church) and strolled along the Graben, Vienna’s famous pedestrian shopping street. Midmorning, I stopped at the renowned café Demel, where I sat upstairs in the nearly empty non-smoking room and indulged in part one of what would turn out to be an exceedingly decadent lunch: a slice of dobostorte. Following the classic recipe, five thin layers of sponge cake were iced with a luscious chocolate buttercream and topped with a caramel-glazed wedge.

From there, I walked to the Hofburg Palace. It was by then too late to see the Lipizzaner stallions training at the Spanish Riding School, but I arrived just in time to watch the riders leading their white horses across the street to the stables. Next, I visited a few more churches—Michaelerkirche (St. Michael’s), Augustinerkirche (St. Augustine’s), and Minoritenkirche (Minorites’)—before walking by the Rathaus (city hall), through the Volksgarten park, and past the Vienna Staatsoper (opera house). On my way back, I conveniently passed by the Hotel Sacher, where in their elegant 19th-century café I enjoyed part two of my “lunch”: a slice of sachertorte and a cup of hot chocolate. While the demitasse was half-filled with whipped cream—too much for my taste—the cake was rich and chocolaty, filled with tangy apricot jam and enveloped in a smooth, dark ganache.

I continued my walking tour of the city by visiting a couple more churches: Dominikanerkirche (Dominican) and Jesuitkirche (Jesuit). The latter was a Baroque masterpiece with colorful marble columns and a trompe l’oeil ceiling gilded in gold. On the upstairs level, an organist and soprano were rehearsing the ethereal melody of “Ave Maria.”

At dinnertime, it was a welcome change to head out at the early hour of 6:00pm, rather than having to wait until 7:00pm or later, as was customary in Italy. I went straight to Gulaschmuseum, a restaurant that (quite obviously) specialized in gulasch. When asked for my seating preference, I requested the non-smoking section, although those tables were only about three feet from the bar, where the waiter would spend most of my meal lounging and smoking. Flipping through the illustrated menu, I scanned through photos of all their different variations of gulasch, including beef, roast beef, pork with sauerkraut, veal, turkey, chicken liver, fish, potato, bean, and mushroom. I went with the traditional beef gulasch, which came with a side of boiled potatoes. Needless to say, after my indulgent two-part lunch, I skipped dessert.

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