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

About these ads

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

Cape Town Opera’s Porgy and Bess at the Coliseum

Last night I was lucky enough to go to the home of the English National Opera, London’s Coliseum, to see The Gershwins’ masterpiece, Porgy and Bess. I’ve been there lots and always enjoy the ENO productions, but it was a lovely change to see a production by another company. Welsh National Opera provided the orchestra, so it was fabulous to hear them too for the first time.

I’ve been wanting to see Porgy and Bess for years, having come to love so many of the songs…. There can’t be too many people who don’t recognise at least one song from the show, and ‘Summertime’ is one of the most recorded songs in the world, having been covered in almost every style, including jazz, rock, reggae, soul and samba. And so, in the company of my dear friend Jane, I watched this moving story whilst swaying and humming my way through ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’, ‘I Loves You Porgy’ and ‘I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’.

First performed in 1935, the opera Porgy and Bess was based on DuBose Heyward’s novel ‘Porgy’ and the subsequent play. Originally set in Charleston, South Carolina in the 1920s, Cape Town Opera‘s production moves the action seemlessly and aptly to apartheid-era Soweto. Marking 75 years since Gershwin’s untimely death, and to celebrate Cape Town Opera’s 10th anniversary in 2009, this vibrant and truthful production reflects the ubiquitous and enduring message of the story.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect if I’m honest… knowing so many of the songs in a more jazzy style, I couldn’t imagine how they would fit into a classical opera. And yet, all the well known songs, alongside some equally beautiful melodies, just seamlessly fuse into an amazing score which leads us perfectly through the action. I think this makes it a great first-opera-experience for anyone who would like to get into the genre, but isn’t quite sure if it’s for them. Sometimes, knowing a melody makes you enjoy the performance more, and so this would seem a great show to start with.

There are still tickets available from £19 here, from this evening to the last performance this Saturday evening.

Go see!

Ems x

About to turn 30…… some serious distraction planning

So this June I will be turning 30. I believe it’s customary to dread this, and although I have no idea why, the prospect does indeed fill me with dismay. But as with most things, I find that if I do plenty of planning, and have lots to look forward to over the summer, the impending doom doesn’t seem so scary.

And so I’ve been booking and planning and organising my way through the last month, so that the path to my 30th is filled with lots of fun activities. Here is what I have coming up this summer…..

Tonight I’m going to see Babel in Caledonian Park. It’s a site specific theatre project, produced by Wild Works and Battersea Arts Centre. Created specially for the park and its awesome clock tower, the promenade performance boasts a 300 strong cast and plenty of impressive effects. I am ever so excited…. although I would really rather it wasn’t raining! Wax jacket and wellies it is!

Babel

I’ve been wanting to see the Mondrian and Nicholson exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery, and I’ve just found out that you can go for free on Mondays….. so that’s where I’ll be heading next week, before the exhibition closes on the Sunday. I’m a huge fan of Mondrian, in fact I went over to the Hague just to see his work at the Gemeentemuseum, so I can’t wait to go.

Also finishing soon is the Hermes retrospective at the Royal College of Arts. The prestigious brand is celebrating its 175th Birthday this year and the exhibition will host exquisite leather pieces from Thierry Hermes’ beginnings in Paris and throughout the brand’s history. It’s free to get in too.

In the last week of May, I will finally get to see the theatre version of War Horse. I’ve been meaning to go for the longest time and we had to book ages in advance…. but we have managed to get front row seats for what promises to be an incredible, and emotional performance.

War Horse

I’m looking forward to my friend Siobhan’s Hen Do at the end of the month too. We’re going bowling and dancing and drinking…. sounds like lots of fun afoot!

But before the month is out, I get to see Anthony Minghella’s enchanting production of Madame Butterfly at The London Colisseum. I have loved each of the English National Opera’s shows I’ve been to see…. and have seen some of my favourites twice even. This is the production that I most wanted to come back though, and to share with Adam. He’s less keen about the opera than I am but I found this version so stunning and unforgettable that I hope he enjoys it nearly as much as me!

Madame Butterfly

It being my Birthday month, I wanted some pretty big celebrations in June. And rather conventiently, I’ll be starting right away with the Jubilee long weekend. I am most excited about the boat pageant on the Thames…. we are pretty close to Tower Bridge so I’m hoping to get a good view!

Soon after that it’s Adam’s birthday, and we’ll be starting celebrations with a trip to see 39 Steps at the Criterion. It’s another show we’ve been meaning to see for ages, so I can’t wait to see how it’s staged (especially with only a cast of only 4 playing 139 roles!), as well as dinner beforehand next door at the glorious Criterion Restaurant (Christian Bale once ate there you know!).

Criterion Restaurant

The following week will see the start of my birthday celebrations proper….. my very good friend Michelle is coming over from the States and we’ll be spending three days in wonderful Paris as part of her visit. I adore Paris and I’m looking forward to a less hectic trip there now that I’ve seen a lot of the sights….. I can’t wait to mooch about the markets and discover new places wandering the little back streets.

The next weekend will see my birthday picnic in my little secret garden in the City. There should be a good bunch of us there, hoping for good weather! The bunting is pressed ready, so I just need to fill a picnic basket with goodies! Drinks will be Pimm’s and most likely my new favourite….. our ‘Turkish Delight’ cocktail made from our own rose flavoured vodka and pink lemonade!

On my actual birthday weekend, Adam is taking me for breakfast at The Wolseley on Piccadilly. I’ve always wanted to go there and their breakfasts are famous….. I think I may go for something like the haggis and duck eggs or the kedgeree. I just need to decide what to wear!

And for another outfit dilemma…. on the sunday I’m being treated to the Pret a Portea afternoon tea at The Berkley. This is something else I’ve wanted to do for an age too! The elegant tea draws on the season’s trends and fashions, with cakes and fancies styled on key pieces of the season. I can’t wait to see which pieces make an appearance!

Fasionista’s Pret a Portea

Not one to limit my birthday celebrations to just a week, I’m continuing the following week with another trip to the opera. This time it’s the premier of Damon Albarn’s new opera, Dr Dee. I saw Monkey at the O2 and loved it, so I am super excited about this!

Then it’s the first wedding of the season for me…. this one is London based and I have my outfit all ready. I picked up a gorgeous champagne gold satin cocktail dress in the Reiss sale earlier this year, and will be pairing it with my beloved Kiki heels from Kurt Geiger. I’m also hoping to make myself  a hat in time too!

Kikis

July will be busy too….. we’re off to see Hitchcock’s Blackmail at a special BFI outdoor screening at the British Museum. I’ve not seen the film before but I have high hopes, especially with the unique setting. Here’s hoping for great weather again!

Next, we’re hosting a friend from out of London for the weekend….. I’m planning a wonderful dinner on the Saturday, but on Sunday the plan is to take the wine tour at Vinopolis. I’ve taken it twice before, as well as formal wine training, but it really is such a good day out that I wouldn’t mind doing it a hundred times!

I get another trip to the opera in July, as my friend Jane and I go to see Porgy and Bess. I’ve not seen this before, but I know some of the lovely and famous songs from it and I’m looking forward to seeing how the story goes. Even if it is a little emotional!

Porgy and Bess

We finish up the month with a trip to Devon for the next wedding. I managed to snag some bargainous First Class train tickets, so the arduous journey shouldn’t be unbearable! I’m looking forward to a weekend out in the countryside, and hopefully we’ll fit in some lovely walks as well as the main event!

So that’s my summer as planned so far! Still time to fill up August, although I suppose I may need a rest by then with all this going on! I’m hoping to book in some time with friends to have lots of dinner parties and soirees once the main holiday rush is over. And maybe we’ll fit in a mini break or two out of town. Hope it’s sunny!

What are your plans for summer?

Ems x

Tosca at the ENO

I’m sitting under the vastly impressive dome of the London Coliseum, and thinking how well the Italian Renaissance architecture echoes the very Roman setting of Tosca. My favourite opera is back at the ENO and I couldn’t resist seeing this wonderful production again.

From the first dramatic blast of the orchestra, I lean forward in my seat and the goose pimples form all over my arms. Perhaps it’s that music, combined with the historical setting which makes me want to see this performed again and again, and why I can listen to it so many times and never tire of it.

There has been chatter for as long as I can remember about Opera having had its day…that it’s elitist and exclusive, and suffers as an art form for it. And despite attempts to win over more vast audiences with bargain tickets and film directors taking on rather forgotten productions, I think it will be productions such as this one that will do best in keeping opera alive.

Acclaimed soprano Catherine Malfitano has staged an utterly thrilling and awe inspiring Tosca, with no theatrical tricks and no gimmicks, and she has done so to perfection. This production is all about Tosca….the stirring music, the intense story, and one of the greatest female characters of all time. Claire Rutter fills this part effortlessly and to hear her is divine.

Anthony Michaels-Moore provides a chilling Scarpia and as his voice meets those of the choir in the Te Deum at the end of the first act, I’m reminded of why I come to the opera and always will. Amongst the set of fragmented, layered, ever decreasing circles, simple chiaroscuro in the lighting design echoes and heightens the drama. Shadows are projected upwards and away across the stage, framing the diva and surrounding her with conspiracy and foul play…..in a pool of blue she sings of her piety and begs…..and as she opens the door to her lover’s torture, the burning light from beyond would have us believe she has opened the gate to some hell.

Like a season of 24, the action is played out for us minute for minute, and this I think is why it engages us so emotionally and thrillingly. How could anything be more dramatic than taking us on a journey with such a story, having us witness each string-quivering moment of contemplation, consideration, anger, spite, love, tragedy?

This opera sings to me more than any other, and if it’s not just because of  Puccini’s incredible score, it is perhaps because it offers me so many of the things I yearn for in art and theatre….Lust, betrayal, history, politics, religion, fate and love are all at work here. And what could make a more powerful recipe than that?

Tosca runs at the ENO until the end of the month.

May……

May Blog Pics

Clockwise from top left: Channelling the 70′s vibe and Margot of The Good Life in floral jump suit and wedges….. Carry On prints in the snug at Wild and Woods….. prize May purchase: Deco silver pineapple candelabra….. home made pot … Continue reading

Rate this: