Posts filed under ‘travel’
This is a post I had started a while ago, a few days after returning from Vienna. It’s finally time I posted it! Hopefully there will be more to follow…
The second day in Vienna (see here for the post on the first day) began without breakfast – the first thing to hit my palate was a supremely rich sacherpunsch (which is essentially a sachertorte, with the exception that the usually dry cake is soaked in rum) and a strong espresso at L. Heiner, a professed favourite of my extremely knowledgable tour guide.
Highlights of the day included nipping quickly through the Naschmarkt (Vienna’s most famous food market, which also hosts a flea market on Saturdays; more on it later) and ending up at Café Drechsler. This old-timer, established in 1919, was a popular haunt of marketgoers and stallholders alike (it only closed for one hour every day, from 2am-3am). So connected were the market regulars to the kaffeehaus that Herr Drechsler himself would bring coffees to them, every day without fail, so they would not have to leave their stalls. It closed several years ago, but was rescued and given a new lease of life thanks to the joint efforts of Manfred Stallmajer and Sir Terence Conran. A regular himself in his younger years, Stallmajer would simply and thriftily order a simple melange until, coerced by a grumpy Drechsler, supplement it with a goulash. To him, it would have been a shame for the space left by the closure to go to a brand like McDonalds or Starbucks (snaking their way around the city, slowly but surely) so he took it into his own hands to relaunch the café.
The aim was simple – to hold onto the principles of the kaffeehaus while bringing it more in line with the 21st century (a manifesto that was, of course, met with criticism and scepticism); anything which was original to the restaurant must be kept, unless it was proven to be beyond repair. The chairs and timber wood panelling were meticulously restored, and some of the original bauhaus fittings (such as the lights) were also kept, though placed differently. The original ceiling of the building was also kept, after stripping away thick decades of yellowed wallpaper (apparently the layers just kept going on one after the other whenever the most recent layer got too stained). Shiny new mirrors have been put in, and distinctively modern transparent light fittings installed in place of the heavy globes that dominate most kaffeehausen.
It felt worlds apart from many of the other traditional kaffeehausen I visited, yet not. The patrons were not, as expected, hipsters or yuppies attracted by the rebranding (though there were a few), but a few gentlemen who looked like comfortable old-timers. These little details, coupled with the ever so subtle ‘upgrades’ of materials and fabrics and combined with the essential air of the café means that the spirit of the kaffeehausen is not lost.
Well, no sooner than I had promised posts about Colombia that I’m now posting (live-ish) from my first day in Vienna! Am staying in the positively marvellous but amusingly-yet-aptly-named The Ring (aptly because it’s on the Kärntner Ring road) where I have been – a la Bill Bailey – impressed by the in-room Nespresso machine but lamenting about the lack of tea-making facilities….
Just as well, considering it’s all about coffee – or more like, coffeehouses/kaffeehaus, where the atmosphere and surroundings are infinitely more impressive than the brew – it’s not Italy, afterall.
Rewinding a bit, after flying and making my way to the hotel and consulting my itinerary (which was not crafted by myself, mind you), I decided to forgo the boring option of lunching at the hotel’s At Eight restaurant and set off towards Kärntner Strasse – the city’s main pedestrian drag – in search for some grub. I hadn’t had much time to plan my trip, but one place that stood out was Trzesniewski.
Luckily, it was relatively easy to find… once you turn down that road, look for it on your immediate left. The exterior is so unbelievably nondescript I managed to head about a hundred yards down the road before I realised my bearings didn’t really match up to the map in my hand… so back I went, clocked the slate grey walls and lone door which opened up into a world of miniature egg-based open sandwiches. The ideal tummy filler for me, since by then I only had 2-3 hours before dinner.
Inside, it was just as threadbare and utilitarian as you might have expected from the exterior; just as well, as most customers only have eyes for the glass cabinet holding 20+ varieties of open-faced sandwiches. I was pretty overwhelmed by the choice, and while there’s a useful placard at the front of the shop with English translations of the different types, the identification ‘cards’ in front of each batch of sandwiches don’t. Severe, non-smiling staff had an air of impatience about them, despite the fact it wasn’t very full when I went – so, a little flustered, I just pointed at a few that looked interesting…
Of my selection, the liver was particularly scrumptious, all creamy textures and delicate flavours. Not overly pungent, which always turns me off offal (har har). Herring with onions came a close second, with nice briney fish contrasting with tangy, soft onions. The others were forgettable… Still, it was nice to stand around (there are limited seats) and check out the colourful clientele – everyone from dazed tourists to a particularly gaunt punter who downed his herrings and onions with much gusto, with a man-sized tankard of beer next to him. It’s very much an eat-and-leave place (I’m sure I annoyed the staff to no end by hanging about snapping pics).
After wandering about some more and getting fed up with the gloom and rain, I decided to seek refuge in a kaffeehaus. I’d intended to go to Café Hawelka, but again couldn’t find it (despite it being on the same street!); it’s known to be a very charming mom-and-pop run place (though tragically, Josefine died three years ago) and the intellectual hangout of the 60’s and 70’s. So by chance I wandered past Café Bräunerhof, which had some mighty cosy-looking booths…
I am already in love with the dichotomy between the elegant/opulent surroundings and a fully relaxed, convivial vibe of Viennese cafés. I could have spent my entire evening there, sipping melange and eating my apfelstrudel (could have done with some freshly whipped cream or some vanilla sauce, though!). It’s not hard to see why these places were the favoured haunts of writers, artists and revolutionaries (and the odd poor boy who could take hours of refuge in these formidable institutions for the price of a coffee).
Plenty more cafés to go to tomorrow, which I feel defeats the purpose of the kaffeehaus – I need more langurorous afternoons to fully enjoy them, instead of flitting all about the place!
1, Kärntner Ring 8 (+43 122 122/ http://www.theringhotel.com).
1, Dorotheergasse 1 (512 3291/ http://www.speckmitei.at). Open 8.30am-7.30pm Mon-Fri; 9am-5pm Sat. No credit cards.
1, Stallburggasse 2 (512 3893). Open 8am-8.30pm Mon-Fri; 8am-6pm Sat; 10am-6pm Sun. No credit cards.