Friday, March 11, 2011

A trip to Vienna


This Valentine's Day we made a trip to Vienna, which was also our first trip since we got married, so I guess it counts as a honeymoon, too. A romantic place, it definitely is. It is very charming, not hectic, and you can still feel the imperial grandeur. During the four days we stayed, we were able to see and experience a lot. There are beautiful museums, palaces and other landmarks. Everything is easily accessible on foot or a short ride with the subway.

Vienna is also a great place for good food. There are of course the classics, like the Wiener Schnitzel and the Tafelspitz, but you will also find top restaurants that offer a new Austrian inspired cuisine. Then, of course, there are cakes, strudels and other delicacies. Everybody knows the Sacher Torte and the apple strudel, but there are many, many more calorie-laden dreams to be discovered.

Like most big cities, Vienna has a beautiful outdoors market. It's called Naschmarkt, which is loosely translated as munchies-market. The Naschmarkt is open from Monday to Saturday, and offers a beautiful selection of fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, breads, sweets, chocolates, and much more. There is also a big section with herbs and spices, as well as several Mediterranean food choices. If you get hungry while shopping there are also a number of small restaurants, which offer everything from Wiener Schnitzel to Sushi.


Vienna is also known for its Kaffeehäuser, which literally mean coffee shops, but it is much more than that. They are really more an icon of the Viennese lifestyle. People spend hours or even the whole afternoon here, meet with friends or just read a newspaper or magazine, which are usually provided. Everything is still very traditional, with servers bringing you coffee on a silver platter. There are a lot of different choices of coffees and they all have different names from what you are used to. My coffee of choice for example is a Mélange, which is similar to a cappuccino.

Our first Kaffeehaus stop was Café Demel. The Demel is a very traditional Kaffeehaus with a long history delivering its sweet creations to the Austrian Royal family. There has been a long dispute between Café Demel and Café Sacher of who owns the rights to the original Sacher Torte. It even went to court and Café Sacher won the rights to sell the original Sacher cake. Of course you can get a Sacher Torte in any Vienna Kaffeehaus, and so we decided to try the famous cake here at the Demel. I have heard from many people before that Sacher Torte is not really that great and usually very dry. Unfortunately these rumors were true, and I wasn't too impressed with the taste. But this is just something you have to try once when you are here. The Demel is close to the Hofburg, and has a shop on the ground floor, and several cozy rooms on the upper levels.


Another well known Kaffeehaus is Café Sperl, which is not very far away from the Naschmarkt. Before our trip I was reading a lot of good things about this place, unfortunately it turned out to be quite the opposite. It was very busy, but still looked cozy. There were couches and in one section there were billiard tables. However, the servers weren't very friendly, and the bigger disappointment were the coffee and cakes. We had an Apfelstrudel and some kind of specialty bar. The strudel was was cold and tasted like it has been sitting there all day long. While the bar was not very special, it was actually dry and boring. My drink was a Maria Theresia coffee, which is a coffee with orange liqueur and brandy topped with whipped cream. It was so sweet, I couldn't even finish it.


So, after these two disappointments we almost gave up on going to Kaffeehaus altogether, but then we found Café Central. The travel guide I was reading found this Kaffeehaus comparable to Disneyland, and we were prepared for another disaster. But to our surprise, it was great, and it wasn't Disneyland. The room was very elegant with beautiful arches. The cake selection was great and the servers were friendly. There was a good mixture of Viennese people, tourists and business people. We had a Cremeschnitte, a cream-filled pastry, and a chestnut cream roll. We liked it so much, we went there again the next day for an early dinner, which was also very good.


Not a typical Kaffeehaus, but a Patisserie is Kurkonditorei OBERLAA. They have a wonderful cake selection, and also make their own chocolates. They are also very famous for their macarons, which they call Laakronen. They come in 10 different flavors and they all tasted wonderful. Oberlaa has several locations in Vienna. On our first day, we first went to the one on the Naschmarkt for some macarons. Then two days later we had tea and cake at another one near Stephansdom. We had a Mango-Chocolate Cake and a Chestnut Mousse Cake, both were fantastic.


Vienna is a beautiful city for a short trip. We didn't mind coming during the colder season, since most attractions were not yet overrun by tourists at this time. The cold temperature also let us enjoy the Gemütlichkeit at the Kaffeehäuser. My favorite culinary discovery was the chestnut-cream cake. I already found some good recipes, and hope to make one soon and show you the results.

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