Thursday, August 5, 2010
Fine Dine in Wien – Vienna. Part 2
All this mindless rush had brought back the pang of hunger in my growling stomach but Cynthia is not in the mood to listen to such banter. Art and culture is food for the soul, she says, stomach can wait. Perhaps I should postpone my departure by a day or two I muse. My alpine skills and Himalayan endurance being no match to Cynthia’s artistic inclinations, I follow her like a lamb resigned to its fate of being butchered for supper. As we zoom past the eateries I salivate at the tempting sights of food, desserts and those who tucked them in with unabashed gusto. We return to Ring Boulevard, waving past the statue of Athena, still erect, still regal despite several pigeons on its crown, and stop in front of a building that we had passed earlier in the morning. Staatsoper, Wien Opera House, declares Cynthia with the flourish of a conductor. If you had the time I would have treated you to an evening of our Philharmonic Orchestra; Cynthia ruminates sadly. Well, I surely have the inclination, I mumble.
Cynthia parades me through the Italian Renaissance building, keeping up a fine babble about everything in sight, of which I barely grasp the tip. The loggia through which we entered is adorned with a representation of Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’ and several other operas through the works of Moritz Von Schwind. Eye boggling statues and figurative embellishments within and without the opera look significantly festive and immodestly demonstrative. Overall I like the garden outside as more my type. I hope you are hungry, Cynthia looks at me; I can start eating the grass of the well manicured lawn. My artistic hunger is full to the level of attaining indigestion if I ate any more of these Baroque architecture and opera. Cynthia leads me to a place called Julius Meinl not far from the city centre that she claims is a legendary place for tasting all that Viennese cuisine is known for.
It’s a plush decorated restaurant, or delicatessen store, with an attached eatery where we order Wiener schnitzel. I pass up the tafelsptiz (boiled beef) preferring to go for a plate of brown rice with mashed potatoes and horseradish sauce deeply sautéed with Turkish herbs. We round it all up with helpings of palatschinken (pancakes) and apricot stuffed knodels (dumplings). My palatschinke is the Hungarian cousin of Gundel palacsinta, made of ground walnuts, orange peel, raisins, cinnamon and rum coated with dark chocolate sauce, cream and cocoa, with a generous sprinkling of confectioner’s ground sugar atop. After licking my plate clean, all I can think of is a nice and long siesta under the cool sun on one of the parks. You look full, Cynthia comment while looking stunning in her neat attire. Where did she tuck in all the food, I wonder. I nod in agreement. Then Sacher Torte for supper, she says enigmatically and we leave. I have no idea what that particular object can be, save the fact that it needs to be eaten and is something worth dying for. Surprisingly I don’t see anyone dying around so it can’t be that exotic or rare to find. As my guide revs up her mean machine all my hopes of siesta is dashed to ground.
We reach Prater and dumping the motorized bicycle, pick up two manual ones and cycle along the track over the next half an hour or so. You must like this, Cynthia points out to the trees and the beautiful garden precincts. I realize huffing and puffing that she is fit as a fiddle as she cycles effortlessly next to me. We take a round of the park, eyeing the giant Ferris wheel from below where a considerable crowd attempted to take on the ride. I liked the diminutive Lilliputian railroad and wished I could swap place with the driver. From Prater we cut across the city and briefly dally outside a strange looking building that Cynthia introduced as the Hundertwasserhause, the most ingeniously designed of all modern buildings in Austria. Besides the colourful walls and sections of the floors and undulating walls and roofs, there were hundreds of trees and branches growing from all over the building as if it had been abandoned for centuries and nature had claimed the territory. We walked in and stumbled through more number of vegetation and trees sprouting from everywhere. It could well be a tree house with modern glass windows and office furniture.
From the tree-house apparition we arrive at the place that to me must remain that place in Vienna, which you must visit if you have time for only one sight of Wien; the UNESCO world heritage site of Schönbrunn Palace.
Much is already known about the palace for me to elucidate further except the fact that we spent a merry two-hour within the Baroque palace hopping from one room to another and getting totally amazed and spellbound by the grand crystal chandeliers, frescoed ceilings, ostentatious ornaments and mirrors. We walked through the Tyrolean Garden and the palm pavilion that maintained three climatic zones and contained rainforest samples from all continents. We even managed to peep into the puppet show, tucked away within the vast expanse of the garden, and take a quick tour of the zoo (Tiergarten), which is the oldest and the only Baroque zoo in the world. We had to literally sprint from the Neptune Well to the obelisk and then to the Gloriette through the Great Parterre and finally dump ourselves in the cafe for a brew of life and something to eat. Looking down from the Gloriette, the Great Parterre takes my breath away. I have never seen a more beautiful sculpted garden in my entire life. As always a massive water basin girdles the Gloriette on one side and on the other the city undulates along the sloping hills like a distant dream.
Cynthia points out the Donauturm (Danube Tower) in the distance and mentions that it has the world’s highest bungee platform. Right then and there I decide to show Cynthia something her delicate upbringing may not have offered her yet. Brave girl that she is, she takes up the challenge and then soon enough finds herself strapped onto me in a tandem bungee atop the city of her birth; that’s where I had started my narrative.
That was fun, Cynthia confides as we take the lift down. Would she do it again, I ask hopefully; I had indeed enjoyed the proximity to my pretty companion. I am not mad as you, she laughs and holds my hand to show some favour to her new found student of art and music. Despite its regal opulence and infinite grandeur, Vienna is a small city and the main city centre has almost all its worth seeing sights within a radius of 10 km. So we were back again after dusk set in, this time smack in the heart of Vienna and stopped outside the cathedral that is synonymous with the city – St Stephens Cathedral.
Considering its reputation and the power it wielded I had expected a cathedral of much larger proportion though in terms of height it towered well enough into the sky. Neighbouring lights played on the multi-coloured roof tiles that are a unique design of this church. Its spire reaches above 135 m into the azure and for long did it remain the tallest building of Europe. Steffi, as the locals fondly call the cathedral, is known for the two towers and the roof. The south tower stands to its full intended height while the north tower could only be built up to 68 m high since the Gothic architecture era ended during then and it became too expensive to continue. So there it stands like a mutilated stump of its cousin nearby. The 110 m long roof is ornately patterned and covered with richly coloured tiles; and is so steep that I would need my ice tools to find a purchase. It was night and the tiles weren’t clearly visible and I had to have a look at them. Towards the back of the church I found renovation workers had placed iron stilts and scaffoldings right up to the roof and within seconds I had swung myself off from the ground. Cynthia screamed from below while I climbed into the darkness. I agree a slip would have sent me down crashing on ground but then height has always been my ally.
I reach the roof and walk on the smooth slope holding onto the stilts carefully. The tiles are mesmerizing and I can imagine how they would look under the light of the day from top. Cynthia threatens to call the police if I don’t descend immediately, so I come down right next to the pulpit of John Capistrano. We enter the church from the back door and I gape at the High Altar as its vaulted roof almost disappears from sight into the dimness of the ceiling. Hand in hand we walk through the church eyeing the pulpits, chapels, alters and the priceless artefacts from every corner while Cynthia whispers the legends and myths of the place in my ears. It is mostly deserted and soon we exit through the main door into the St Stephen’s Square, which, once the night dawns, turns into a Square full of fun and frolic.
People walked, people danced, people skated on roller blades and on skateboards. Children roamed around with parents holding colourful balloons while amorous couples stole kisses in corners. Mobile stalls sold kebabs and pizzas and fried nuts and other savouries. The festive air is infectious and we too join a crowd of onlookers surrounding a ventriloquist who plays ‘money, money, money, it’s a rich man’s world,’ while his alter ego, a well moustached fellow sitting atop his left palm gestures at the pretty ladies around for money and a kiss on his round nose. We laugh till it hurt; never before have I seen something so outrageously funny. A small girl steps forward carefully to drop a coin into the hat of the ventriloquist when the doll suddenly jumps up and smacks her a kiss on her cheek. The girl screams and runs back to her parents while the doll winks at the crowd. Everyone including the girl’s parents erupt in one mammoth roll of laughter.
Cynthia pulls me away from the crowd and we start walking like a couple through the by-lanes of the city centre that is closed to any traffic in the evening. Words are unnecessary since she had possibly exhausted her verbosity and further artistic adventures for the evening. I needed a break after all. I am left to ponder and wonder of whatever I see without having to draw any further meaning or reason to it. We exit back into the Ring Boulevard that is now so transformed that but for the Statue of Athena, as erect and as sombre as before, I wouldn’t know it at all. The entire street as far as I could see now resembled a giant fair and circus with every conceivable form of entertainment and delight being offered and accepted with alacrity. We board an open roofed hansom cab for a distance as that’s a must do for all couples, Cynthia claims. Slowly the night gathers and I feel like entering a never ending dream of festivity. Rarely had I come across such a gathering of joyous people from different culture and nation. I really wished then that the world could assemble in Ring Boulevard for a day and forget all our differences, hostilities and animosity.
The night concludes with a trip to the world famous Demel bakery where we partake a piece of Sachertorte each with infinite care and patience. Such delicacy can never be hurried or gobbled; it had to sink into my soul and palate before it found its way into my gullet. Cynthia asks me to preserve the triangular seal of Eduard-Sacher-Torte placed on each piece that proclaims its authenticity. As we both sink our teeth into the dark chocolate icing and further into the chocolate cake, ever so slowly, our eyes meet and we finally find that we do have common interest in desserts and such matters of delicacy. Satiated and fully flushed, with some wine along the way, we return light headed to Cynthia’s apartment. And thus concludes my Viennese sojourn of art and culture and everything dulcet.
During my next trip to Austria I do make a two day stopover in Wien and learn to do the Viennese Ball with Cynthia and also experience the Philharmonic Orchestra suited in a most befitting tuxedo, but then that’s another story, which is neither here nor there.