Reasons to get in and out of bed in Vienna.

So here’s the thing. I don’t really sleep even when I’m at home, so just imagine a nine-hour time leap and a culture/language barrier for someone who grew up in a farm town and never fully recovered. For me, pretty much everything more than 50 miles from home is a Dorothy/Oz experience. I am amazed by everything, so you will just have to play along here.

As I mentioned before, the iconic Hotel Sacher is currently having its own brain freeze moment. Major renovation (jackhammers sound exactly the same in German as in English, by the way) and we struggled just a bit to find our perch there. It was worth waiting for – if you stay, you can’t go wrong with the Turandot Suite (remember, we are just across the street from the Wiener Staatsoper) and since I am just a little bit fanatic about Nessun Dorma, it seemed meant to be:

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I truly loved this room (a splurge, yes, because will we ever be back in Vienna?) and that was a good thing, since I was mostly awake in it all night long every night while I struggled to catch up to our time zone.

The reward for sleepless nights was, come daylight, the incomparable Viennese coffee. What I would give for a sip of it right now…

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Oh, and then there was frühstück. Reason in and of itself to stay at the Sacher. I’m not a breakfast person, but I’m also not completely stupid, and found a way to rally for this:

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I never availed myself of the morning champagne table so only now do I notice the Sachertorte alert in the upper left hand corner. Need a do-over!

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Oh, and for the wee ones:

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Thus fortified, we ventured out. Stores mostly closed, given that it was a Sunday, but lots of window-shopping in the neighborhood

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and along the Kärntner Straße. After happening upon the jewel that is the Maltese Church

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we proceeded to the main attraction: St. Stephen’s Cathedral. Dizzyingly immense, it defies the casual photographer:

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We wandered over to Hoher Markt Square to see the Ankeruhr (Anchor Clock)

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and then considered our lunch options. Would you like schnitzel, schnitzel or perhaps some schnitzel?

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We passed on the schnitzel.

And we passed on the carriage ride

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which may have been a mistake since we walked and walked and walked to find our lunch destination. One of my most fervent Vienna fantasies was to dine at the historic Café Central, famously frequented by Sigmund Freud as well as less favorably remembered luminaries including Trotsky, Stalin and yes, Adolf Hitler.

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The interior was just as I pictured it:

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We plotted no revolutions, but I did enjoy some beautiful, beautiful soup.

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And, of course, there was more Viennese coffee.

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Which did not prevent us from heading back to take a much-needed nap in our lovely hotel room, Vienna and all its remaining charms would have to wait, because for the walking dead-tired, that was a wrap for a Sunday outing. To suite, perchance to dream…

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Or as I call it: the “noshmarkt”

Of the myriad of things I love about travel, one is discovery of people, places and things well known to everyone in the world except me. I am one of the most poorly traveled creatures on the planet (my TripAdvisor travel map is but the tiniest sliver of the pie chart) so every new destination is a welcome little triumph over hopeless provincialism.

And so it was on a Saturday morning in Vienna when, dazed from travel and lack of sleep, I looked at my hastily-scribbled “to do in Vienna” notes and suggested we set off for “something called the Naschmarkt.”

Which turned out, judging from all the other tourists three-deep at the counters and all the locals with their market baskets, to be the place to be in Vienna on a Saturday. Everyone knows about the Naschmarkt, and now, at long last, I do, too.

 Depending on your source, the Naschmarkt dates back to either the 17th or 18th century, its name supposedly based on its origin as a milk market and the “asch” (ash) wood pails that were used to carry milk.  Or maybe not. It could also be a play on the word naschen – to eat sweets – thus, as I will always think of it, the “nosh” market.

Over the centuries, the market expanded and modernized and today is comprised of a plethora of stalls selling all manner of food and drink, as well as café upon café tucked amongst the booths. The market is open every day but on Saturdays also features a flea market.

But it’s really, truly all about the food.

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Such a feast for the senses, in every sense! The cheerful bustle helped us ever so briefly forget our jet lag, and we wandered from booth to booth in wonderment. Every other farmers market will have to get in line behind the Naschmarkt – I’ve never seen so much food displayed in one place!

With all those choices, however, somehow we managed to buy fruit from the one stall where the wares were a disappointment. “Where are the plums from?” asked the CE, puzzling over all this fresh fruit to be found in September. “Poland,” answered the vendor. We hauled two bulging bags of peaches and plums back to the hotel, where the CE later pronounced the contents inedible. Deserved or not, “Poland” will forevermore be our code word for sub-par fruit. Caveat emptor.IMG_5813

But all was not lost. While the fruit might be iffy, I can vouch for the local brew. In hopes of angling toward an afternoon nap, I sampled an Ottakringer, and it was wunderbar!

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When words fail (and pictures, too).

We had decided to spend a few days in Vienna on our own before joining up with the tour group in Prague. Everything had to go exactly right. LAX –> CDG on time! CDG –>VIE on time! Red Cab, a European facsimile of Uber, waiting for us as promised. Check in at the iconic Hotel Sacher was friendly, courteous and, oh dear, just a little shaky – be advised that they are currently under a major room renovation and the pickings are slim. We ended up changing our room twice, which put us up against the clock. We were late, late for a very important date!

Hotel Sacher lobby, later in a more leisurely moment:

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A helpful staff member ushered us through a back hallway into a booth at Cafe Sacher where a line of at least a dozen people awaited out front waiting for their chance to sample a slice of the prized Sachertorte, the chocolate layer cake upon which the Hotel Sacher’s laurels rest.

Wikipedia photo:

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But we had no time for dessert; just a quick wurst and off we went, taking fifteen confused and slightly panicked minutes to find a destination supposedly four minutes away. (Traveler’s note: we spent much of our time in Vienna being hopelessly lost.) In retrospect, how we could fail to find a venue as imposing as the Spanische Hofreitschule (that’s Spanish Riding School to us non-German speakers) is beyond me.

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Several re-routes later, we finally found the box office and claimed our tickets for A Tribute to Vienna, a combined performance of two of the city’s most cherished traditions: the Lipizzaner Stallions and the Vienna Boys Choir. We just happened to be arriving on one of the dates for this performance, which only occurs a handful of times throughout the year. The scene in the box office was chaotic; we later learned that a computer glitch had canceled out some or all of the purchased ticket orders for the evening and it was only through the protracted efforts of our travel agent that ours was restored. Blissfully unaware of the reason for the delay, I gazed out the window while we waited in line and caught one of my favorite travel moments of the trip – choir boys relaxing before their performance:

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We sank into our seats just as the lights were being dimmed and took in the magnificence of the show arena, all dirt floor and glittering chandeliers. Not a great photo but the best I could do:

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And then the magic began, but the photos ended because of course you cannot be allowed to snap pictures while these magnificent creatures leap and prance in a most precariously precise achievement of choreography. Such an incredible sight that I simply have no words, but alas, I also have no pictures for you except for those courtesy of Google.

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The Vienna Boys Choir sang sweetly, but it was the Lipizzaners we will remember. As heavily muscled as a workhorse yet with the agility of a circus dog, each horse perfectly attuned to its rider, who calmly doffs his hat to the audience at each entrance and exit. At least a few members of the audience (me!) were brought to tears and it made our twenty-four hour travel saga well worth the effort. If you ever get the chance to see them, GO! It is a memory I will cherish always.

We walked back through darkened streets to the hotel after the performance (only slightly less lost) and wondered what awaited us next in this historic city…

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Prologue.

We were out of pocket for most of September. Home now, and jet lag is finally in the rear view mirror. I can’t wait to tell you all about, but first I have to fill you in on the trip parameters.

This one was planes, trains, buses and a boat!

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Five countries in a leisurely three weeks.

Group travel, which was a first for us independent-minded cusses.

13,000 miles and a zillion calories later, here’s how it began:

The CE is plagued with Mal de Débarquement syndrome, which rules out ocean cruising. But we love the water! He was just sure he could handle a river cruise (more on that later…)  which wouldn’t involve the pitch and roll of an ocean liner. So I did some research back in 2017 and put us on a waiting list for a Danube cruise with Tauck, a tour company with a storied past and high marks for its quality excursions.

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The youtube video won’t embed but you can copy and paste the link:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXizNPIAME-oLyobV00KQJQ

In late May of this year, I was notified that a spot had opened up on a Tauck M.S. Joy September cruise from Prague to Budapest. We had 48 hours to decide. Using the increasingly relevant “you’re not getting any younger” yardstick, we decided to go for it.

But not without trepidation. We grew up back in antediluvian times, i.e. before Google maps erased all the country borders and one closed one’s eyes and spun a globe to imagine a fantasy destination. For a generation, an Iron Curtain hung over parts of Europe and they were effectively erased from view. I can’t say I ever thought about going to countries that had the audacity to change their names, e.g. what used to be Czechoslovakia, or visiting a place as unknown to me as Hungary. But after reading Selden Edwards’ The Little Book a few years ago I did begin to dream a bit about Vienna.

And who wouldn’t want to see the Danube?

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But but but getting out the actual passports! And going on a tour with other people! It all seemed rather daring. Well, until we arrived at CDG for our our connecting flight and the first thing we saw was a Starbucks. It’s a small world after all…

Next post: on to Vienna

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A truly fine feathered friend.

The day before we left town, Pippa popped up to visit with me as I was wiping down a roost bar. She knew she could count on extra treats from me when it was just the two of us in the coop. She was such a little thing. I could scoop her up and hold her in the crook of my elbow while I fed her scratch from a paper cup.

Little Pippa as a baby chick:

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I noticed that day how white and wizened her face had become. And I had noticed how she lingered on her sleeping shelf later and later each morning. Yet she could still be so perky, sauntering around on her snowshoe feet. Yes, seven years is a long-in-the-tooth hen (if hens had teeth) but I never dreamed that this would be the last time I held her.

Pippa as a young hen – Mille Fleur D’Uccles become progressively more speckled with each molt:

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We were half a world away when the text popped up on my screen. “I’m worried about Pippa,” said our friend, Tammy, who, with her family, was so kindly house sitting for us while we were away. We were en route to an elegant reception and dinner as our travel  drew to an end in Budapest but I was instantly transported to home and the coop and the  papery touch of Pippa’s spangled feathers and her raspy cluck and the painful memory of the various hens we have helplessly watched in their last hours. Later, I gazed out a window of Budapest’s gracious Akadémia Klub and watched the sky deepen from pink to smoky blue over the river Danube and thought of sweet Pippa and poor Tammy as she valiantly attended our little hen in her last hours.

We have lost four pets in six months and we are so very grief-tired. It seems a peculiar term today, the fourteenth century phrase “animal husbandry”, but it manages to imply the bond and the responsibility we assume when we take on the day-to-day care of pets or livestock. Their utter dependence upon us for their welfare requires a pledge of fidelity from us for their care and feeding. We will always feel sadness that we were not there with Pippa at the end, but we are so very, humbly, grateful that our fellow chicken keeper, Tammy, was there to stand vigil and serve as a gentle guardian to our little hen on her stygian journey.

Pippa as we will always remember her:

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Just after we left on our trip, when sleep was even more fitful than usual given a nine-hour time difference, I sank into a vivid dream in which Tammy and I were frantically trying to manage some undefined situation with a hen. I was bringing one to her or she was giving one to me or something of the sort, but there was a terrible urgency to the exchange and I woke suddenly with a strong sense of unease. At the time I chalked it up to general travel anxiety, but now I wonder if I knew deep down that Pippa was soon to leave us. There is such a cheerful rhythm that pets bring to our lives; their loss is a palpable one. Farewell, little Pippa-squeak, I hope your spangles are shining brightly somewhere in the cosmos.

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If it’s Saturday, this must be Budapest.

Woke up to this – can’t wait to explore! More next week…

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Having the wurst time ever.

Dateline: Central Europe. On the road, literally, and going on a solid week of intractable jet lag. And though I am apparently constitutionally unsuited to travel, I couldn’t be happier! We’re seeing lots of new sights but the schedule and the Internet are not cooperating today (and next week may not look good either.) So the best of Vienna will have to wait but here’s proof positive of the wurst (from the famous Café Sacher):

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