Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hitting the Ground Walking

Miles walked today: about 17

Vienna is kind of like Paris, except that it's a bit cheaper, the food isn't nearly as good, and it's not crawling with Frenchmen.  (Again with the kidding!)  But, they both have that aristocratic beauty borne of being the capital of an empire that at one spent huge amounts of money on making it so.

Vienna was at one time walled like most European cities.  After the Ottomans sieged it in 1529 (abruptly calling it off less than three weeks in because of impending bad weather), Vienna upgraded its old flat, vertical walls to accommodate the latest in fortress technology of the time - star-shaped wall sections to improve fields of fire, angled walls to deflect bombardment, etc.  They were ready for the tougher siege in 1683, and came close to losing anyway, but their eventual win sealed the long-term decline of the Ottomans.

But enough about the Turks.  The point I'm getting to is, the system needed to have a lot of open space outside the walls to be able to kill lots of invaders, so the inner part of the city was separated by maybe a few hundred yards from the suburbs.  And, wall systems like that became obsolete with military technology where it was in the 1800s.  With the Austrian emperor in the mid 19th century much more interested in showing the his empire's grandeur, he decided to take them down, and fill the space they used to take up with a whole bunch of museums, palaces, public gardens, and a major thoroughfare that circled the inner city.

A person can probably walk around the whole old city of Vienna in 90-120 minutes.  Just following that road, the number of buildings one would see with international reputations is a bit mind-numbing.  The Hofburg (the main Habsburg palace), the State Opera House, the Parliament and Rathaus (city hall), multiple famous gardens, the Kunsthistorische Museum (loaded with art from great masters)...  One can get a lot done.

And I will, but the first half of today was about getting bearings and sausage, in that order.  I'm staying a bit west of the city, so I set out about 9:00 to walk through all the way through downtown, to the Danube Canal (a southern branch of the river that forms the north end of downtown), and then up to the main Danube, which I haven't seen before.  Got a couple of great photos along the way, which I'll post later.

Coming back, I toured the St. Stephan's Dom, which has dominated the skyline of the town for centuries (since the 1100s, I think).  It's a gigantic sandstone gothic cathedral that is made even more imposing because sandstone attracts air pollution like a magnet, making it look like there's a creeping blackness all over it.  I even went to the top to take photos of the town, which with my fear of heights involved repeatedly psyching myself up to bring my camera to the edge to avoid getting mostly pictures of high-grade chicken wire.

Lunch was a return trip to a sausage stand in the St. Stephan's square where I got a Kasekrainer (sausage with cheese in it) and mustard last time I was in town, partly to see if it was as transcendentally awesome as I remembered it.  It was, and more shall be making their way down my gullet before moving on to the next stop.

From there, to the Judenplatz (plaza for the old Jewish Quarter), then the Roman Museum, which is tiny but is sited where ruins of the ancient Roman fort was built, which one can see part of in the basement left where it was dug up, intact.

Then, a walk to the southeast across the Ringstrasse (the street that old emperor put where the walls were, if you didn't skip that part) to the Wien Museum, which covers the history of the city.  I was most interested in the two Turkish sieges, if you hadn't guessed.  They had some great 500-year-old maps there, and a fair amount of Klimt pieces.

Finally, a walk around the Ringstrasse to the west to get some more photos, and to three museums at the Hofburg: one with Greek and Roman ruins from the ancient city of Ephesos (were they a gift or "borrowed"?), a collection of old musical instruments, and a pretty amazing collection of arms and armor from the 1400s and 1500s, mainly.

Then to the Naschmarkt (Munch Market) to find what I've been told is the best Indian food in the city.  It actually was pretty decent, but they didn't make much of a show of it.  They spooned my entree and rice out of a buffet pot and put it in the microwave right behind the counter.  But, it was actually spicy, a rarity around here.

From there, a survey of coffee houses, for which Vienna is more famous than any city in the world.  That I don't drink coffee does not present a problem, since I can always get apple struedel and enjoy the atmosphere.

Ok, that's too much already, but I did cover a lot of ground today.  Tomorrow: Kunsthistorisches Museum, the Natural History Museum, and Tosca at the State Opera.  And more Kasekrainer.  Does that count as a vegetable?  Germans don't seem to eat a lot of those, at least the ones that aren't the color of earth tones.


  1. Loving the food writing. I challenge you to consume more pastry and sweets.

  2. "enough about the Turks."

    Can we REALLY ever hear enough about the Turks?

  3. On the subject of spiciness, have you read this article?

    "If the food is supposed to be spicy, you must repeat the following incantation several times: "Ich will es essen, genau wie Sie es zu Hause essen. Ich bin kein deutscher." [I want to eat it exactly as you eat it at home. I am not a German."] Repeat especially that last part: "Ich bin kein deutscher." Repeat it even if you are a German. This will usually work and typically your Chinese or Thai or Indian server will smile and laugh in response. If they view you as a German, you are screwed no matter what. Simply asking for the food to be "spicy" or even "very spicy" is laughable. It is showing yourself to be a fool and a sucker."

  4. I had seen Matt Yglesias quote part of it, and actually had planned to use it while here. I hadn't seen the first sentence, though, just the "ich bin kein Deutscher." Strangely enough, I did use that earlier today at an Indian place in Vienna for lunch. The guy did laugh, and when they brought out my Madras chicken curry, danged if the thing wasn't much hotter than I expected. Probably even a little too hot, but that was ok, because it was quite tasty.

    Bottom line: No proof yet, but it seems to have worked once.

  5. Oh yeah, and you probably will hear a few more things about the Turks. Here's one: the European coffee craze was started because of the 1683 siege! The Turks got run off by a Polish-led Christian army, and they left a bunch of coffee bags behind. The first coffee house started in Vienna the same year, and the practice spread through Europe.