English Girl in Vienna

Cultural Commentator

Archive for the category “Great places to drink”

The Joy of Sekt

Austrians love to celebrate and they love to celebrate with a glass of something fizzy. Well, don’t we all? I have been in many teaching establishments and offices over the years in Vienna and whenever I open a fridge to look for some milk for my tea, something which attracts comments from the locals who usually drink tea black, I am always stunned by the amount of alcohol I find and disappointed by the absence of milk. There is always booze, at least five bottles of Sekt in there. Sekt is sparkling wine and is the must-have drink for celebrating anything. Just as Spain has its Cava and Italy has its Prosecco, Austria proudly has its Sekt. There is a lot to celebrate in schools apparently – the start of the year, the end of the year, retirements, birthdays, Christmas, Fridays. Once in school they even celebrated the end of some professional development training, and many meetings end with a glass. Sekt is brought to house parties and is often an integral part of a gift. Sekt is also the main ingredient in the drink called a Hugo, which is sekt, a dash of both elderflower and lime, topped up with soda and garnished with mint. It is deliciously dangerous, seeing as it is like drinking pop.

When you celebrate, it is customary to say cheers, which is “prost”. There are, however, definite rules to how you must perform this ritual of saying prost. For example, you must clink your glass with only one person at a time. The reason being is that you must make eye contact with each person as you say prost and you can only do that one at a time, unless you have eyes that can move in opposite directions and you have control over that ability. You also cannot cross arms, so you cannot reach down to the end of the table over the prosting glasses of another pair; this is bad luck. It is like in Ghost Busters when you cannot cross the streams. You have to wait until the way is clear. You have to, of course, close the circle and say prost with everybody, but you must make sure that there is alcohol in every glass. It is a no-no to say prost without booze. I’ve been with Austrians who will say prost anyway even when somebody raises a soft drink, but they are only doing that to make allowances for the Auslanders who don’t know any better, and would never do that normally. The group-cheers, the very quick and convenient cheers, where you all clink your glasses together and cover a lot of people in one go is also definitely not allowed. That means that the whole process takes a long time and is quite intense with all the eye contact. It is hard to clink your glass with another while looking someone in the eye. There is the constant fear that you will miss the glass altogether or get too carried away and smash the glasses. Another reason eye contact is important is that apparently there is a superstition that says if you don’t make eye contact, you will have seven years of bad sex, and another one warning that you will have ugly babies; serious consequences indeed! So please take it seriously.

Over the summer, I was very happy to find a small bar dedicated to the sole selling of Austrian Sekt. I had actually heard about this place a year or so ago, but back then it was a smoker’s place and I am happy to say that it is now smoke free (a growing trend in Vienna which makes me happy), although the smell of old smoke does linger on. All the produce is from Burgenland, a province next to Vienna, on the border with Hungary. It enjoys the perfect wine-growing climate and produces vast amounts of lovely wine. So, do as the locals do, and get celebrating; it is a highly enjoyable part of the culture.

The Sekt shop

The Sekt shop

 

19 types to choose from. Where to start?

19 types to choose from. Where to start?

http://www.sektcomptoir.at/

 

One Glühwein, Two Glühwein, Three Glühwein, Lama!

It’s my favourite time of year in Vienna. It is Christmas market time. It is actually the reason I moved to Vienna. I came here on holiday once at the beginning of December and instantly fell in love with the twinkly splendour of the city.  A handful of markets opened last weekend and the remainder open this weekend and so, seeing as they are the reason that this English girl is in Vienna, I thought a write up was in order.

The locals I have spoken to all say that they totally avoid the market at the Rathaus, which is the biggest one and pulls the most tourists in, so it can get really busy, uncomfortably so at times. It is however, a very grand and lovely one with the biggest Christmas tree lit up amidst the back drop of the grandly gothic town hall building. The Viennese complain that it is too commercial and sells rubbish, but if you want some lovely Christmas tree decorations, toys and sweets, sweets and more sweets then it is more than worth a visit. Be warned, it also has the most expensive Gluehwein. Coming in at four Euros a cup, it is a whole Euro more than at other markets. Last year the prices pretty much seemed to be uniform, but this year there is a noticeable difference in cost, although it has to be said, it definitely tastes good.

Rathaus on a moody grey afternoon

Rathaus on a moody grey afternoon

Gingerbread heart heaven

Gingerbread heart heaven

Next we have the Spittelberg market which lines the small and charming lanes around Stiftgasse. It is small, but perfectly formed and has a very unique feel to it.  Most people agree it is best for buying jewellery, so it is a good place to buy a few presents. It also has great spaces under trees lit with fairy lights in which to enjoy a Gluehwein or Punsch. If you get too cold, there are also lots of bars and restaurants to shelter in and it has many covered areas in which to stand and have a drink in. It is very atmospheric, especially in the evenings.

A fine piece of Spittelberg jewellery

A fine piece of Spittelberg jewellery

Yesterday I was at the Karlsplatz Christmas market, right in front of Karlskirche church and it was there I discovered it is the best place for lamas. No, I hadn’t had too much mulled wine, there were actually lamas being led around. They were part of the ‘attractions’ for kids, because this market is probably the best one for families. It has an area dedicated for kids, with animals, straw for them to play in and a little workshop for them to do crafts. Food and drink stalls circle this area and so parents can amuse themselves while keeping an eye on the kids. This market is also popular with locals who appreciate the crafts, ceramics and glassware on sale. Lovely atmosphere, lovely Gluehwein and lovely lamas. Oh and if you ever wanted to see a photo of the baby Jesus, this is the place to go.

The market at Karlskirche

The market at Karlskirche

Here's a close up of that little baby Jesus

Here’s a close up of that little baby Jesus

That lama just winked at me I swear

That lama just winked at me I swear

The market I will end on is my favourite one of all. The Freyung market claims to be the oldest and for me it is definitely the most Christmassy. Freyung is a gorgeous little square which is beautiful at any time of year, but is especially magical at Christmas. It’s great for Christmas decorations and gourmet food products like mustards and honey. Even the Viennese give the Freyung market their seal of approval.

The old Viennese Christmas Market

The old Viennese Christmas Market

There are many more markets around the city, which I will try and review within the next few weeks. Until then enjoy the hot booze, the hot chestnuts and the lovely lamas.

Christmas jingle and sparkle

Christmas jingle and sparkle

Wein in Wien

With the onset of autumn, I have started thinking back to the summer and how we coped with the high temperatures. One pleasant way was to head to higher ground. You might not know this, but Vienna is not all just city city city. It is hugged by a forest and surrounded by hills which the locals love to walk in, cycle in, jog in, but mostly, drink wine in. For in the tiny little villages on the outskirts of the city, and in the hills, grow lots of vines which produce lovely grapes, from which you get lovely local wine.

Dotted around the vineyards and walking trails you can find little taverns selling the new wine. The style of these Heurigen varies from very informal ones which operate out of a hut where you can relax on deck chairs only a stone’s throw from the vines, to the longer-established ones with their heavy wooden interiors with twee curtains.

A spring view from a Kahlenberg Hill winery

A spring view from a Kahlenberg Hill winery

Grinzing, a part of the nineteenth district of Vienna, is well-known for its Heurigen and bus-loads of tourists regularly roll up to enjoy some wine and schnitzel, but it’s not just the tourists who visit these. Throughout the long summer evenings, most Heurigen outdoor gardens are full, with tables reserved for large groups of people both young and old. It’s a part of the culture that I really love, as do all of my expat friends. After all, I like to think I am doing my bit for the environment by drinking wine that is literally produced just down the road: my wine doesn’t have to travel half way round the world. Imagine that; drinking wine to help the environment, good conscience booze – another reason to love Vienna!

Winery Mayer in Grinzing which was once where Beethoven stayed (can see the appeal!)

Winery Mayer in Grinzing where Beethoven stayed (can see the appeal!)

Austrian wine is little known in the UK, but actually there are many wine regions throughout the country and wine is an integral part of the culture. I have wiled away many a Sunday afternoon with a walk down Kahlenberg hill, wandering from one vineyard to another, and there are many festivals throughout the year to celebrate the local produce.

Most Austrians drink their wine with soda as spritzers, which is probably wise considering a litre of wine will only set you back around ten Euros and is extremely quaffable. There is always a buffet selling bread, ham and cheese to soak up some of the alcohol.

Heurige Zimmerman in Salmonsdorf

Heurige Zimmerman in Neustift am Wald

Another view of the Zimmerman tavern

Another view of the Zimmerman tavern

The staff need muscles to carry all the wine and fizzy water

The staff need muscles to carry all the wine and fizzy water

Early autumn views

Early autumn views

Lovely wine

Lovely wine

These taverns are open from around mid April to November, so you can enjoy the various seasons of wine. At the moment it’s Sturm time, when people enjoy the very early wine which takes the form of cloudy grape juice still fermenting and is surprisingly alcoholic. So, you see, the English Girl in Vienna is not always pounding the pavements in the city soaking up the culture, but can often be found in the forest and hills imbibing a lot of it – along with the locals, doing my bit for the environment.

View from Heurige Sirbu, about half way down Khalenberg Hill

View from Heurige Sirbu, about half way down Khalenberg Hill

2012-08-18 18.17.19

http://www.pfarrplatz.at/heuriger-eng.htm

http://www.weinhof-zimmermann.at/

Cats and Dogs

I have blogged before about the special treatment that dogs receive in Vienna. I am still no more used to seeing dogs in clothes shops and restaurants and I am very happy to say that my prediction that one day I would see a dog on a bike came true. Well, the dog wasn’t actually riding the bike, that would be weird, but the dog was sitting in the front basket and, I assume, barking directions to its owner who was cycling. Unfortunately, I did not have time to get a picture of it, but I did, I am happy to say, get a picture of two pooches in a push-chair. Look at these pampered little doggies in a pram.

 

Dogs enjoying a festival from the comfort of their stroller

Dogs enjoying a festival from the comfort of their stroller

Recently, I have noticed that the Viennese are starting to love cats a little bit more. I came across a peculiar product in a famous chocolate shop where you can buy chocolate cats’ tongues. They are not actual tongues dipped in chocolate, which would be gross and I’m sure illegal, but are very thin pieces of chocolate shaped like what you would assume to resemble a cat’s tongue. Why you would want to eat something shaped like that, I am not entirely sure, especially when the pictures on the front are never really of a cute cat but of a fierce looking, hissing one, but that is the weirdness of Vienna for you.

 

chocolate tongue anyone? meow

Chocolate tongue anyone? meow

Since dogs can be admitted into any venue in Vienna, it automatically renders them cat-unfriendly, so the local cat population can be very happy to know that there is a special place for them in town. There is café Neko, a cat café, where you can take your cats or where you can go and simply enjoy being around the cats that belong to the café. Yes, I know, it’s weird. I went to see what it was like and yes, the things that bother me about dogs being everywhere i.e. worrying that dog hair is everywhere, wondering how hygienic it is, apply exactly to the cat café situation. The cats have cushions scattered all over the venue and have specially assembled shelves for them to climb, and if you take photos, it should be without the flash, so as not to offend the moggies. For me though, I soon had the feeling that I was breathing in cat hair and seeing as all windows are kept closed to prevent feline escape attempts, I felt somewhat claustrophobic. I didn’t stay long, but seeing as cats are pretty boring to watch, I don’t think I missed much. I am, however, pleased that the Viennese cat population has somewhere to go and drink coffee in peace without the threat of a dog turning up.

Read all about the cats whilst you choose your drink

Read all about the cats whilst you choose your drink

Hunde strictly verboten

Hunde strictly verboten

Dog in a clothes shop. You never see a cat in a shop do you?

Dog in a clothes shop. You never see a cat in a shop do you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I know this is horribly overdue as an entry about Christmas and New Year, but there are so many lovely photos to share, that talk about Christmas I must.

Christmas in Vienna and the run up to it is truly magical. The centre of the city is tastefully decorated in the most splendid of twinkly lights and people bundle up, ready to spend most of their time outdoors despite the winter temperatures. Vienna is a very outdoor-sy city and the winter is no exception. You can’t move for Christmas markets that cater to your every Christmas gift need, and stands selling roasted chestnuts and hot cups of punch spring up on every pavement, there to provide residents and visitors with warm food and warm alcohol. What I love is that, although the place is overrun with tourists, the markets are enjoyed by everyone who lives here. It is not uncommon for friends to meet each other after work at a market to enjoy a Gluehwein and families meet up at weekends to wander round and look at the stalls, enjoy the brass bands and generally soak up the jovial atmosphere.

The twinkly chandeliers in the mains street called Graben, note the punsch stands

The twinkly chandeliers in the main street called Graben, note the punsch stands

Belvedere Christmas market

Belvedere Christmas market

Can you see the brass band?

Can you see the brass band?

Little greenhouses appear at the Museums Quarter, so you can get inside and have a drink

Little greenhouses appear at the Museums Quarter, so you can get inside and have a drink

The lighting of the Christmas tree at the Rathaus

The lighting of the Christmas tree at the Rathaus

Most markets close on 23rd December and the biggest one, at the Rathaus, closes on Christmas Eve. There is one, however, that opens on Christmas Day itself and for the past two years I have gone on Christmas morning, pre-Christmas lunch to the Schoenbrunn for a final mooch around. I’m not the only one; it is always busy with shoppers, tourists and Gluehwein guzzlers and is one of the nicest ways I can think of to spend a couple of hours on Christmas Day.

Christmas Day at Schoenbrunn Palace

Christmas Day at Schoenbrunn Palace

Although the Christmas markets disappear quite abruptly, their void is filled soon after by the New Year stalls that help revellers see in the New Year. They mostly sell, food, alcohol, cold alcohol, hot alcohol and more food, but there is a great number dedicated to the selling of lucky charms. You can buy fluffy pigs, pig ornaments, pig stickers, tiny pig figures, pigs of every description, some of them even dressed as chimney sweeps or holding four-leaf clovers. I asked my students about the relevance of the pigs and they apparently signify prosperity because, in the olden days, if you had a pig at the start of the year, it was a sure sign that your household would not go hungry.

I went to the city centre on Silvester, which is New Year’s Eve. I went in the afternoon and the place was heaving with people already in the party spirit. The atmosphere was much more boisterous than it ever was over Christmas, with people chugging down a few Jaegermeisters with every Gluehwein. It seemed like the whole city was on a mission to get drunk. I left before darkness fell, mostly because I had been warned by people who have been here a long time that the crowds in the city get unbearable in the night time and it becomes every claustrophobic’s nightmare. Apparently the general din is so loud that you can’t even hear the bells of St. Stephan’s Cathedral chime in the New Year, even though the party takes place literally outside it. The whole city also becomes obsessed with fireworks and from about 8pm onwards anyone can look out of their apartment window and see a fireworks display from a number of locations; it naturally reaches its crescendo at midnight and the sky glows pink and yellow and the sounds of explosions can be deafening.

A sunny New Year's Eve afternoon

A sunny New Year’s Eve afternoon

Turbo Gluehwein

Turbo Gluehwein

Pigs and chimney sweeps galore

Pigs and chimney sweeps galore

On New Year’s Day debris littered the whole city. We went for a bracing walk up to Kahlenberg, one of the hills in the woods that overlooks the city, and it was apparent that it had been one of the places to be the night before. It also seemed, from the number of empty bottles, that everyone had been on the sparking wine. The fog hung low and freezing and the city was eerily quiet because everyone must have been in bed sleeping off the excesses of the night before, but Vienna being Vienna, we still found a place to have an outdoor drink on such a biting winter’s day. We found a tiny open-air Heurige (wine tavern) open for business. The tall round table at which we stood had a layer of frost on it, but they were serving hot booze and sausages and had a fire lit to keep us toasty. Every passer by who stopped for a New Year’s drink was given a lucky charm, a little pig, to see in the New Year and I thought how glad I was to be in Vienna for the start of 2013.

The staff braving the cold

The staff braving the cold at the Heurige we found

Good luck charms with every drink

Good luck charms with every drink

Frosty vineyards for a New Year's drink

Frosty vineyards for a New Year’s drink – perfect with the fire

Any Excuse to Have a Drink and Dress Up

It has been obviously apparent since arriving here that the locals love nothing better than to have a drink and they need little persuasion to do so. Rarely can you walk through town without their being some kind of festival on, and with a festival comes the wine, the beer, the bread and ham and the Lederhosen.

A few weeks ago there was a festival to celebrate Styria, a region known as The Green Heart of Austria and all the Styrian natives living in Vienna were out in style, as was the rest of the city. There were bands and dances and displays of virile young men chopping logs in time with the music. The display included time for them to stop and swig wine from the bottle before continuing with the ritual. I desperately snapped a few pictures of them in their Lederhosen, but I had ample opportunity to photograph people in traditional dress because it wasn’t just those performing or staffing stalls wearing it, lots of people were. There were some magnificent feathered hats and also lots of women in the traditional Dirndl dress: whenever they have the chance, they will proudly put it on. Last weekend I went to a vineyard that was having a small gathering to signify the start of the wine tavern open-season and lots of people wandered in in local dress there too. I felt a little jealous that we don’t have a national costume in England. There are obvious iconic images of course, like the Beefeaters, but you wouldn’t go round dressed like one of those, not unless it was a fancy dress party. It struck me that our characteristic unpatriotic-ness means we miss out on something, a chance to bond with others and celebrate in style. I suppose the closest we come is the image of the Union Jack on lots of t-shirts and bags, but I just can’t bring myself to wear it; it seems a bit icky. I get a bit closer to patriotism when it comes to sporting events like football and no doubt, should I find myself in the UK come the Olympics, I will happily drape a flag around my shoulders and go all team GB but that’ll be the extent of it. Until then I’ll be pointing at all the marvellous Lederhosen and Dirndls and joining the locals for a glass of local wine.

Her dress is a Dirndl

Note also the ham, and the wine

Strong Styrian wood cutters

Always an accordian

Marvellous Lederhosen

Service?

Sometimes, I really think that the Viennese need lessons in customer service. They appear mostly uninterested in the experiences of their guests and even less interested in making money. In Vienna the staff rule. I have managed to make lots of serving staff very unhappy by my expectations as a customer and so I would like to share my knowledge of what irks them most.

They don’t like making eye contact. They are expert in snaking round tables ignoring everyone in their path who may be waving at them.

They don’t like being asked more than once for something. Even if a period of twenty minutes has elapsed and you understandingly think that perhaps they have forgotten, it makes them irritable, so much so that they are likely to complain at how much work they have. They will gesture around the room demonstrating how rude of me it is and other customers to say that very offensive word ‘bitte’ (please) to try and get their attention.

They don’t like to let you pay. You can wait for an eternity, all empty cups and plates having already been cleared, for someone to see if you would like something else or perhaps pay. You would think they’d like to get the bill settled and get more paying customers seated; you’d think they’d like you to pay before you started seriously considering doing a runner, but no, you can wait an age to pay your bill and all attempts at waving your wallet at them will not make them want to take your cash. I was once in a coffee shop where a customer tried to pre-empt this problem and tried to pay when her coffee arrived; she was unceremoniously instructed to put her money away and pay at the end because, in the waiter’s actual words, it was “not Starbucks”. Sometimes you don’t have enough time to play the waiting game, so surely it would be better to let someone pay when they like so they can make a hasty exit rather than them not come in at all. Shouldn’t the customer who chooses to spend their money in their establishment be treated a little better? But I am forgetting the waiter; he was probably very put out on that occasion, distasteful as it was for someone to want to have a ‘quick coffee’, something totally contrary to coffee shop culture where you are supposed to linger for hours.

Staff don’t like to be flexible. Last week for example, I fancied an early evening drink in a place with a nice view of St Stephen’s Cathedral. There was the bar, which was unfortunately a smoking venue and really really smoky and so we tried to have a drink in the restaurant. To be allowed only to drink we had to sit near the door, in a windowless section, which defeated the object and so we politely asked if we could sit near a window. No. It wasn’t allowed. To drink, you had to sit in the most un-atmospheric part of the practically empty restaurant and stare at rust coloured walls. When we politely asked if we could sit just for half an hour in the practically empty restaurant near the window we were told to go in the bar. The fact we wanted a non smoking seat fell on unsympathetic ears. They were happier to see us leave than to bend ever so slightly and make a bit more money that day. Madness.

They like you to be ready to order when they are, even if you have literally only just sat down. If you try to choose quickly because you fear they may never come back if you don’t, they will sigh in exasperation as you make sense of the menu and decide between wine or beer.

I could go on, but I won’t. All I can say is that you cannot please them no matter how hard you try and you can’t get them to change. All you can do is be yourself and grow a thicker skin.

To follow are some pictures of a very nice café, where we experienced very good service last weekend. But then again, perhaps we got good service because we were good guests; we were ready to order exactly when he wanted us to and we didn’t wave him over, rather, we let him attend to us when he was ready because for once we weren’t concerned with time. I also think he was very flattered that I wanted to take a picture of his tie.

Waiter with a cool Gustav Klimt tie in Belvedere cafe

Lovely little cafe in Belvedere Palace and art gallery

Smoking

Is it or isn't it? The most important thing you need to know about a pub or restaurant

The Lonely Planet calls Austria “the last bastion of smoking” and, very disappointingly, you can still smoke in a lot of pubs and cafes in Vienna. If a place is larger than a certain size it has to have a dedicated non smoking section. Establishments even have the choice to be totally non smoking. But there are plenty of interesting, tiny places in Vienna that are so small they are not required by law to have two sections. A lot of them have opted to be totally smoking.

If most places have separate sections, then what am I complaining about? As many of us know from bygone days in the UK the non smoking section is usually in the ugliest part of an establishment, or the partition between smoking and non smoking is so wholly inadequate that it reeks.

Many office buildings here still have smoking rooms which basically stink out the whole corridor or make the people who emerge from then smell so bad they might as well be giant, walking cigarettes. I’ve met lots of students who like to smoke and like to be able to smoke in pubs. They bemoan the separate sections, saying that it separates groups of friends. Do you know what also separates groups of friends? That’s right; lung cancer. Apart from the obvious health risks, I find it all terribly old fashioned that smoking would be so protected. The stance on smoking has been linked back to culture. Friends have told me that it’s “so Austrian” for them to reject the moves that most of Europe has followed because they don’t want to be like everybody else; but more so, they don’t like to be told what to do. ‘People should decide for themselves’ is the justification I most often hear in relation to the smoking rules. Others simplify the argument and say it’s simply because, for Austrians, drinking and smoking cannot be separated; it would be like a sausage without mustard. Culturally for me, a smoky pub equals a blast from the past and seems a little, well, backwards.

I know lots of people who decide whether to go on a night out depending on the smoking status of the venue. The first thing I do when in need of a drink or bite to eat is look for the red and green sign on the door which announces whether it is totally smoking, totally non smoking, or a mixture of both. I have made a point of lingering so that hopeful waiting staff come out and ask if we are coming in and then walk away when we discover it is smoking. Things will only change when business suffers as well as health.

Last weekend was a bit of a victory; the nice pub down the road that we hadn’t been to for a while because the non smoking section was small, always packed and in the least atmospheric part of the pub, had swapped the sections and now dedicates most space to non smokers. It was a happy day for me in the Fischer Brau, and I also think the bar staff, the people who are never mentioned in this smoking debate, must appreciate the lack of fog around the bar.

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/austria

A lovely pint (well, half litre) of Fischer Brau's own beer

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g190454-d1024456-Reviews-Fischer_Brau-Vienna.html

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