Catching up: June

June was a pretty hectic month I guess…. what with birthdays, holidays and a wedding to plan for, I was kept plenty busy! That also means there’s a lot to share though….

June starts rather wonderfully with Adam’s Birthday, and to mark the occasion I attempted to make him a special breakfast of pancakes with maple syrup. Only thing is of course, is that I’m utterly rubbish at making pancakes. I won’t share the picture of my ‘attempt’ with you as it’ll only put you offer your dinner, but here is how they looked when Adam came to the rescue and made his own special birthday breakfast!

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I guess I made up for that slightly with some cool gifts for Adam and a celebratory dinner at one of our favourite pubs. We were total gluts and chose the huge Rodeo burgers which come with bacon, cheese, onion rings and barbecue sauce all in the bun. There were massive chips and coleslaw on the side too of course.

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Not long after Adam’s special day, we set off for a week’s holiday in St Ives, Cornwall. It was our first ever holiday with the hounds, and their first time at the seaside! We ate fish and chips on the harbour, watched the dogs race around the beach like crazies, visited the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan, and ate an awful lot of cake, scones and saffron buns. It was so nice to have a break though and do some adventuring, especially with the hounds!

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Next up, it was time for MY birthday! We actually celebrated the day before, as we were heading to a wedding on the Saturday, but that just meant I had to wait one less day which was great! My special birthday breakfast was somewhat more of a success, and we yummed up one of my favourites of summer fruits and vanilla yoghurt. My choice of birthday dinner was just a take away curry as we’d not had one in ages!

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I received LOTS of wonderful gifts, feeling rather spoiled actually….I received some great gardening books, a pretty wind chime, boozes, DVDs and Blu-Rays, some pampering things and my very own Bamboo, which I hope will help me with some of my artwork! I was spoiled with yet more gifts on the Saturday when we made our way into London for our dear friends Dan and Brigitte’s wedding….they said their vows with a stunning backdrop of the Thames and The Tower of London, and then we partied the night away at a lovely little pub in Farringdon. It was so great to see them finally tie the knot, and to catch up with lots of other friends too.

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Our next adventure took us back to London for the evening…..

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We used the trip as an excuse to get a bubble tea, as we’ve really missed those since we moved out to the Provinces where we don’t get such things….

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….and then after that we saw the amazing new show from Derren Brown, which was just as brilliant as we’d hoped! No more details than that though, as we’re sworn to secrecy, but do go and see it if you can!

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The garden really began to come to life in June too, which was a real pleasure to watch. Our Victorian Tulip Tree blossomed and we were delighted to see its rather tropical looking flowers, and the flower beds around the patio began to bloom too with lots of pretty clashing colours!

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More on the garden when I catch you up on July though…..

Ems x

Blog Every Day in May: Walk to Work

“Describe or photograph your walk to work. Or journey to work if you use transport. Is it pretty or incredibly dull? Can you find something of interest on your way?”

When I first read today’s prompt I was tempted to walk you through my walk to work in photos or a video or something…until I forgot that it was actually today and when I just came to write it, and hadn’t done any preparations at all! Still, the walk from my bedroom, downstairs and into my home studio wouldn’t make for *that* interesting a post, so I’ve decided to share an old walk to work with you instead!

I lived in London for 12 years in total, from a student living in South East London to my last place right in the City. My last year there was easily the most memorable, probably in part due to living so centrally, and making the most of the Capital (especially during Summer 2012 when there was SO much going on!).

A lot of my fond memories do come from my old walk to work though, as I’d leave our flat at Tower Hill, walk over Tower Bridge and along to Borough. I would sometimes cross over at London Bridge on the way home for a change, and walk through St Dunstans or the Tower of London. Which ever way I walked though, whatever the weather and time of day (I would often finish quite late) there were always sights to see and things to photograph…and so I thought I’d share with you some of my memories of that great walk to work….

Ems x

Blog Every Day in May: Travel Dreams

“If you could go anywhere in the world right now where would it be?”

Right now? Somewhere it’s not raining and where I don’t need thermal socks on!

But really, I do have lots of travel dreams. And in honesty, most of them are probably just that, dreams. I’m afraid I’m not very proactive when it comes to travelling….I’ve never prioritised it, found much time for it, nor saved the funds for it. My fiance, Adam, has by contrast travalled lots, and I look on his amazing travel photos in awe! I think it’s fair to say that if he’d not met me, he would probably still be going off on fun long trips, so I probably should plan on some travelling with him in the future, lest he resents me for spoiling his adventures!

I have a bit of a list of places I’d like to go to, and it’s constantly growing! Here are my top picks though….

Canada

Adam is always saying we should move to Vancouver, and I suppose as it usually makes the top three places to live in the world, it must have quite a lot going for it! I do love the look of the landscapes there, the idea of good clean living, skiing and all the niceness!

State of Washington

Now don’t judge me….it’s probably fairly acceptable to love Twin Peaks as obsessively as I do, but I can’t say I’m proud of how much I love the Twilight films! Still, that part of America has a real charm for me, and I’d love to go to the towns where these were filmed…and it would be an easy trip from Vancouver!

Tibet

Just because of Twin Peaks (again).

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New Zealand

It may be because the climate appeals to me more than Australia, or the incredible landscapes I see in the films (Adam is forever pointing out, saying ‘I’ve been there, it’s in New Zealand’ when we watch things). It seems like an amazing way of life here too, and Adam speaks very fondly of the people there and how kind they were to him.

Peru

Ever since I first saw photos of Machu Pichu, I’ve wanted to go there. I would LOVE to walk the Inca Trail, and in fact as Adam does too we are quite likely to do so together!

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Jordan

Some of my favourite photos from Adam’s travels were taken in Jordan, at Petra. I just adore the ancient architecture, and would be so excited to discover it one very early morning, imagining myself as one of those intrepid explorers who really did discover it after centuries!

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Japan

This is my favourite country I’ve never been to! I know I’d love all the kitschness, the food, the cherry blossom season, the architecture (in all its varying forms!), the history and the efficiency! Adam has been but would happily return…and I’m fairly sure we’ll have to go before too long!

As well as these destinations, I would just LOVE LOVE LOVE to go on a few road trips / super-deluxe tours! I’m crazy about the idea of a road trip for months and months to really explore all of North America (there is so much I want to see there….New York, San Francisco, the deep south, Niagra, Grand Canyon….), and it’d have to be in a huge classic American Car or with an Airstream! I also adore the idea of an incredibly luxurious trip all over Italy…I’ve loved everywhere I’ve been to in that country (Rome, Florence, Sienna and Pisa) and would jump at the chance to explore more cities there, as well as the coast and the countryside. I think another great travel project would be to see all the original Wonders of The World…I know they don’t all still exist (or possibly some of them never did!) but to find the closest thing to each would be amazing. I’d also love to visit all the ‘new’ seven wonders, although I’m not sure I completely agree with all of the list!

If I won the lottery today though (the big bucks, obviously, not a tenner) I think I’d have to go wild and plan a round the world trip to see all of the James Bond film and book locations….I’m a bit of a James Bond nut and some of the places I’ve read about in the books and seen in the films just seem like the most exciting places on Earth! And with the big bucks lottery prize, I’d travel with Valextra luggage, sail about on yachts with hot crew, get jetted about in helicopters, stay in all the finest hotels, take photos on a vintage analogue Leica, and drink Champagne on my private balcony for breakfast. Just like James Bond.

Well, the title WAS Travel *Dreams*!

Ems x

PS. Thanks to Adam for the photos!

Something from the weekend…. A stunning wedding weekend in Austria

I bally love a good wedding. And so an entire weddingy weekend was just bliss. I was honoured to be be invited to our friends Katie and Peter’s wedding, and even more delighted that it was all taking in place in Austria! If you’ve read my last few posts you’ll know that I was lucky enough to take a holiday to Vienna in November for the Christmas markets, and I was only too happy to get back there in the sunnier weather…..

Friday started out a little stressful, as in taking a little holiday, we had to leave the pup for the first time! It was worse still because Adam’s mum, who would usually look after him for us, is away at the moment so he had to go to her friend…..she’s a long time dog owner and lover though and we got him used to her and her house over the last few weeks by going for walks together and visiting her cute little cottage. Still, I was a bit of a wreck and properly welled up as we left him, despite the fact that he was clearly very happy to be having a bit of a holiday of his own!

After dropping Cooper off, we made our way to the airport and had a nice leisurely journey to Vienna. We had a couple of hours to spare at the airport at that end, before the coach arrived to take us to the wedding venue, so we indulged in a nice big dinner….I love the food in Austria, and very happily yummed up a large helping of Wiener Schnitzel with parsley potatoes, as well as some excellent coffee…..there’s no pretence with Viennese food, but it’s all such great quality and so very tasty!

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After a few more guests had arrived on a later flight, our little coach took us south towards Graz, to the little village of Bad Waltersdorf where the wedding venue is. We made the journey fun by taking along some very sweet fizzy wine and lots of sweets, and so it didn’t seem too long a journey at all. We were taken directly to the Schloß Obermayerhofen and walked through the castle grounds up to the idyllic little chalet at the top of the hill. The Gaisrieglhof is a 250 year old farmhouse from nearby Pöllau, rebuilt here and used for the traditional pre-wedding gathering. Some guests had dressed in the traditional national dress, including the beautiful bride, and there were traditional musicians playing and wearing wonderful lederhosen! It was lovely to have a little pre-wedding catch up with everyone and drink a couple of glasses of the delicious local wine after our journey!

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After our long day prior, we enjoyed a bit of a lie in on the Saturday morning and spent most of the day getting ready for the wedding in the afternoon. It was great fun getting ready with some of Adam’s lovely old school friends, and at 2pm we all took a taxi up to the Schloß from our hotel to start the celebrations. We were greeted by lovely cold drinks and yummy nibbles as part of the Agape feast, and before long watched the stunning Katie walk down from her room. We moved through to the pretty meadow behind the castle, where a cute gazebo surrounded by chairs was set up for the civil part of the wedding….it was beautiful to be out in the open air and the weather was certainly kind! There was a Catholic ceremony after that, in the gorgeous Baroque chapel, then music and fizz out on the castle’s terrace as the couple had lots of photos taken.

The wedding breakfast took place in another of the castle’s incredible rooms, and we were treated to an exceptionally good dinner (asparagus soup with herb dumplings, wild garlic ravioli, crusted lamb and a trio of chocolate desserts!) alongside some wonderful local wines. The speeches were all very funny and touching, and after dinner the happy couple took to the floor for a very impressive tango for their first dance.

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We whiled away the night chatting, drinking and dancing, and having a lovely time in great company. There was a midnight feast of gulaschsuppe (possibly my favourite thing we ate on the whole trip and absolutely divine!) and so we were very contented indeed when we finally got to our beds.

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After breakfast and checkout on Sunday morning, another coach took us back to Vienna airport where we dropped off our bags and then made our way into the Vienna Mitte to spend a few hours before our flight home. We’d not managed to visit the popular Zanoni Eis gelateria when we were there last, so that was an obvious choice….. we were a little overwhelmed by the masses of flavours though, but did finally manage to choose six different scoops to fill a nice large tub with (nutella, melon, pistachio, strawberry, coffee and chocolate!). They were all super-yum, but the melon was a definite favourite, and the treat was very welcome in the city heat!

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We had a little mooch around the city after that, going back to the fun clock in the town and also heading back to the wonderful Cafe Pruckel next to the Stadtpark…..we yummed up very naughty iced coffees that were drowning in cream and chocolate! We walked off the treats round the sunny park, and then slowly made our way back to the airport for the flight home.

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We were lucky enough to catch a lift home with some other friends who’d taken the same flight, so our journey wasn’t too arduous. Still, we were pretty exhausted when we got back and flaked out almost immediately. The house didn’t feel like home though until our precious pup was delivered back to us on Monday morning….I’d missed him so terribly and despite having had a wonderful little holiday of his own and loving all the attention from his new friends, he seemed delighted to see us too!

Hope you had a lovely sunny weekend too!

Ems x

Vienna: Must see and do

Well by now you’ll know that in Vienna you simply *must* drink lots of the excellent coffee, and eat copious amounts of cake and sausages. But what to do in between meal times?

We had such an amazing holiday in Vienna, and although a LOT of it was spent at the amazing Christmas Markets (half the reason for us going in honesty!) I think we did pretty well at soaking up what this gorgeous city has to offer….and here is what I’d recommend you do too….

You can’t really get away from Mozart in Vienna, although it’s not quite as Mozart-crazy as Salzburg! The beautiful statue of the composer in the Burrgarten is well worth a look, although you may have to fight through hoards of school trippers to get your photo!

I love the way you can see Vienna’s Gothic masterpiece, the Stephansdom cathedral from so far away, yet it sort of creeps up on you as you discover it up close. One side of the roof is decorated with a rather on-trend chevron tile design, whilst the other bears the Austrian eagle. Inside though is the real surprise, as we found it lit up in a rather crazy tie-dye effect!

The guide books said that if you only go to see one palace in Vienna, make it the Schloss Shonbrunn. And it is certainly worth the short U-bahn trip out of the city. The audio guided tour will take you through the palace’s tumultuous history and gives you an insight into the lives of its many occupants, including the famous Habsburgs.

The palace also boasts incredible grounds, including various themed gardens, fountains, a labyrinth and maze, and a stunning gloriette….the climb up to which is well worth the effort when you turn around to see the whole of Vienna before you.

And as if that’s not enough, your combined ticket will also let you into the palace’s own zoo, the fascinating Wustenhaus (desert house) and the breathtaking Palmenhaus (Palm house) which is actually a replica of the one in our very own Kew Gardens!

Vienna is home to the world’s first Lomography shop, and so a pilgrimage to its vast photo wall was a must for this analogue-lover. It also has a great little gift shop and the rest of the Museum Quarter in which it resides is worth a visit too.

We found out about the Globe museum by chance, and hadn’t planned it into our schedule at all, but as soon as we knew it existed we couldn’t miss it! The museum far exceeded our expectations, and not only houses some of the most visually impressive and historically important  globes in the world (including an entire room featuring globes from private collections) but also teaches you the history of globe manufacture using clever interactive exhibits….I had no idea it would be so interesting! A combined ticket also lets you into the Papyrus museum and the fascinating Esperanto museum!

Vienna is so famed for its musical history that it would be rude to visit without experiencing some live music. We opted for a rather touristy package at the Kursalon in the Stadtpark…..a sort of a variety show featuring chamber music, ballet and opera, this was the perfect taster and had everyone toe tapping along to the familiar tunes of some of Vienna’s greatest inhabitants.

And whilst we’re on music…..Vienna’s answer to the Hollywood walk of fame is great fun, with golden stars featuring famous composers’ names stretching from the Staatsoper, all the way under the U-Bahn station tunnels.

And whilst you’re there, take a look at the charmingly funny Opera loos! In London we have cockney cash machines, but in Vienna there is a public toilet where you can listen to opera! Love it!

I could also argue that no trip to Vienna would be complete without a good fix of Klimt either, and the Secession museum is a great place to get a feel for the artist. Home to his masterpiece the Beethoven Frieze, the building itself is just as impressive, with its owl motifs and Medusa heads over the door!

And just over the road is the colourful Naschmarkt, the city’s largest and most popular farmers’ market.

I personally couldn’t let the opportunity to visit an iconic Bond film scene pass me by, and so we took a bit of a walk over to the Wurstelprater Amusement Park (actually the world’s oldest amuseument park!) to see the Riesenrad…..those of you who are as fond of Bond as I will recognise the Ferris wheel and the sliding glass doors below from The Living Daylights. The 65m wheel also featured in the film The Third Man, as well as cult classic Sunrise.

Vienna really is one of those cities though that you can just amble around all day, and although we crammed in lots, I’d happily return again (in the summer perhaps) to simply soak up some of the lovely atmosphere there.

Ems x

Vienna: Drinks

Whilst we were preparing for our trip to Vienna last year, it quickly became apparent that one thing we could greatly look forward to was some exceptionally good coffee. Adam and I are constantly frustrated by our country’s rubbish attempts at cafe culture (you know, the over-crowded chain cafes, noisy with crying babies and fake coffee-making noises, and the over-frothy burnt milk that is supposed to pass as a coffee) and although we’ve found a few exceptional places in London and in Hitchin, we were excited by the prospect of being able to get a great coffee in lots of places.

Our guide book also offered us temptations in the form of cocktail bars, Gluwein (the yummy mulled wine you can buy at the Christmas markets) and of course, lots of cakes and things to go with them. And we certainly weren’t disappointed either! We spent many an hour just relxing in one of Vienna’s lovely cafes, and were so pleased with the bar we first found that we didn’t bother going anywhere else!

So, here’s my round up of Vienna’s cafes and bars….

The first place anyone usually tells you to go in Vienna is Cafe Sacher. The famous hotel is located right behind the Staatsoper (opera house) and is a mecca for those wanting to try the iconic Sacher Torte. The dense chocolate cake was first created by the hotel’s chef Sacher in 1832, and the original recipe remains a hotel secret (as you’d expect for what they claim is the most famous cake in all the world!). And whilst the cafe is delightfully traditional and ever so proper (mind you choose the smoking or non smoking room as you prefer….not something we are used to any more!) and the cake is nice enough, it’s certainly more about the experience of going rather than the cake being any kind of special. There, I said it. Don’t hate me.

Purists may dislike me for it, but I actually much preferred our visit to Cafe Sperl, another Vienese favourite although a little more hidden away behind the Museum Quarter. The speciality here is Sperlschnitte, a sort of crispy-topped, dense chocolate torte-style brownie….and BOY is it special! The coffee here was perfect too, and I could have happily whiled away the entire day in the decadent surroundings (even if the service there is a little more brusque!).

I’m usually the sort of person who stays glued to their guide book and only ventures into places recommended by it….but that just makes it even more of a pleasure when I find somewhere by myself! Orlando di Castello didn’t need a Trip Advisor rating to draw me in….the huge shiny glass windows fronting onto one of the squares we visited for its Christkindlmarkt, revealed a stunning interior, and we all know I’m driven by appearances! This place is beautiful though…fresh white walls and furniture are accented with pretty red flower bud motifs, and the attractive looking menu was the sort I just like to stare at and then point at random to order. Despite that though, the coffees here were nothing short of amazing….we visited twice and tried several of their specialities (usually involving booze or ice cream…or sometimes both!) and we were wowed by every one.

Cafe Pruckel isn’t too far behind Cafe Sacher in terms of reputation. Right next to the Stadt Park within a gorgeously deco building, this is the sort of cafe that people sit in for hours reading the papers and slowly drinking their way through their long coffees. Despite the informality though, this is a buzzing cafe and the offerings are just delicious. We tried the Schoko Weicher and Topfelstrudel, both of which were deliciously rich and totally dreamy. And whilst I stuck with a (admittedly yummy) standard coffee, Adam went to town with one of their super-boozy, super-naughty coffee specials, which happily set him up for the cold outside!

As I mentioned, we didn’t venture bar-wards too much after finding our favourite place…..we loved the tiny and charming Loos American Bar near the cathedral, but it was far too smokey for us and crammed from early on….and we had great cocktails (and burgers!) on our first night at the late opening bar in the Museum Quarter….but the only place we really settled in was Kruger Bar. You’re asked to leave your coat with the lovely lady at the little foyer kiosk, then if you prefer to sit in the smoking or non smoking room (nicely separated by glass so non-smokers aren’t bother at all!). We were presented with a very comprehensive leather bound cocktail menu and brought yummy nibbles as we settled into our gentlemans’ club style leather arm chairs….and what’s more is that our order even satisfied my cocktail-snob of a fiance! We tried a good few of our favourite classics as well as some of the house specialities, and all were great quality and good value to boot. I’d definitely recommend nesting-in here for a few pre-dinner martinis, or for your post-opera night caps.

Prost!

Ems x

Vienna: Eats

Whilst I’ve never actually *chosen* a holiday destination based on the food I’d expect to get there, food is often the first thing that makes me fall in love with a place. And Vienna will certainly be remembered as one of my favourite cities for that very reason!

We were so impressed by the meals we had on our little city break there last October, whether it was in a traditional restaurant, a quirky canteen or from an outdoor vendor. The biggest benefit for us was that so much of the meat there is Organic…..Adam and I only eat free range meat, so eating out is often a bit tricky for us, although we do allow ourselves a little more freedom whilst on holidays. It wasn’t just the meat that impressed us though….everything we ate was of such high quality, served with a smile (not to mention a great deal of patience with my poor German-speaking-ordering!) and I’d definitely say the food was a highlight of our trip!

To that end, I thought I’d share with you some of the places we most enjoyed eating whilst in Vienna….I hope you’ll want to try them if you’re ever there!

One of our most memorable meals was the incredible lunch buffet at Brandauer’s Schlossbrau. A grand ‘beer hall’ (and huge beer garden in the warmer months!) set inside one of Vienna’s last Biedermeier dance halls, this place feels both fancy and informal, with dozens of tables all over the former dance floor and even on the old velvet-draped stage. There is a wonderful beer selection (I’m afraid I can’t remember which one I had, but it was the waitress’ recommendation and very yummy!) as well as an incredibly good value all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Never one to turn down such a challenge, I relished the chance to try all the different traditional Austrian dishes, and I would heartily recommend doing so yourself, especially for the bargainous price of €7.50 (Monday to Friday, 11:30am to 3pm). I devoured three plates full, including an amazing potato soup, sauerkraut, schnitzel and goulash. I can imagine it pays to get there early during the summer months, especially if you’d like a pretty table outside under a chestnut tree, but it’s certainly an excellent place to visit if you’re going to see the nearby Schloss Shonbrunn…..Get the U4 to Shonbrunn (just about half a dozen stops from Karlsplatz going towards Hutteldorf) and visit the Schloss in the morning, and then walk off your big lunch around the Schloss grounds, zoo and very good copy of Kew!

I love a foody market, so Vienna’s Naschmarkt was a must for our trip. The Borough Market sized treasure is a few minutes’ walk from the centre (about ten minutes from the opera house and just over the road from the stunning Secession gallery) and is crammed with cute wooden stalls bursting with fresh produce. There are a good few sit-in restaurants and cafes there, but you’ll possibly be even more tempted to buy up lots of treats from the various stalls.

And still on markets, I couldn’t resist raving about the famous Viennese Christmas markets, which provided me with some of my favourite meals during our trip! There are a number of wonderful traditional dishes available at the various Chistkindlmarkts, and all of the ones I tried were AMAZING! I adored the savoury Pretzels and Langos (huge deep fried bread smothered in garlic sauce), but most of all the incredible Kartoffelpuffer (a sort of giant hash brown brushed with a yummy garlic sauce). We also enjoyed some amazing sweet things, like Lebkuchen (gingerbread biscuits), Maroni (roasted chestnuts),  and the yummy marshmallow-filled pastry rolls (can’t remember the name, but it was like the Hungarian Chimney Cakes, only filled like a Tunnocks Tea Cake!) as well as several mugs of the glorious Gluhwein (mulled wine). The biggest market is the one in front of the Rathaus, but you’ll find Christkindlmarkts all over the city from November onwards.

Still outdoors, I just have to share in the joy of the amazing Bitzinger Wurstelstand. You can find this gem right behind the iconic Staatsoper opera house, just around the corner from the famous Cafe Sacher. Famous in its own right, this sausage stand is often frequented by smart businessmen on their way home, as well as glamourously dressed opera-goers, all yumming up the no-frills offerings. There’s a good range of different sausages, sauces, breads and sides, and I just loved standing at the tall table integrated into the stand, underneath their heat lamp. This is how fast food should be!

Lastly, and probably our best meal whilst in Vienna, I can’t recommend enough the delicious offerings at Shone Perle. It’s a bit of a jaunt out of the main hub (nearest U-bahn station is Taborstrasse on U2), but this all-orgainc canteen style Neo-Beisl serves the most amazing food and is well worth the trip. I chose the Wiener Schnitzel (massive favourite of mine) which came with yummy potato salad, whilst Adam had the incredible Tafelspitz (prime boiled beef) which came along with a sort of giant potato rosti. Both dishes were accompanied with lovely sauces and sides, and we were delighted with the Austrian wines we chose too. I’d happily take the trip back here at the first chance….whilst the place isn’t fancy or terribly convenient to the main tourist attractions, I’d say you can’t beat it for quality and value.

Mahlzeit!

Ems x