Monday, September 05, 2011

Vienna and Wachau Valley August 2011

Vienna – Day 1

Midge Ure aside, Vienna is all music, architecture and Hapsburg opulence and as I’m working here for a day, five of us have decided to have some fun in Wein, then plan to move on to the Washau Valley for seven days, hence the rendezvous at the Beletage Hotel and off to Café Englander for our first Melange and Pils.

Keynote, Kunst, Mozart and Schnitzel– Day 2

Keynote

Up early for my keynote speech to a Medical Education conference, which was quite daunting, as there were 3000 people and eight giant video screens. At one point I had all 3000 hold up their left hand (don’t ask why – it’s complicated). It went well with lots of people lining up behind the fixed microphones to ask questions – couldn’t see any of them. One very odd questioner defended the ‘lecture’ on the grounds that he and his fellow academics made lots of money from them, another asked why all key internet entrepreneurs were men. On the other hand there were lots of questions about the application of technology to medical education. It’s all good. The excellent chair, Professor Ron Harden, had to bring it to a premature end with queues still lined up to ask questions. Then off by taxi to meet Gil, Ken, Ronnie and Kim at the Kunsthistoriche Museum.

Kunsthistoriche

Surely one of the world’s greatest, and most overlooked, art galleries. The building alone is worth the fee with an entrance hall that looks up through a first storey oculus to a giant dome and a staircase with a huge Theseus and Centaur by Canova. With five Caravaggios, a roomful of Velasquezes, Rembrants, Rubens and Vermeer’s ‘The Artist’, you can spend hours in the galleries. Breugel’s ‘The Hunting Party’ is also here. Indeed, we broke for lunch (beer, roast pork and wurst sandwiches in the gardens) then returned for a second session in the afternoon.

Mozart

In the evening it was time for some music. The Staatoper opera house is huge with five levels (stalls and four rows of balconies). It was a mixed, summer crowd with lots of visitors, some well-dressed folk and an astonishing couple who marched down the aisle to the second front row. He was a suited 60, she 30 at most, with supermodel looks and heels as high as champagne flutes. We watched this from our box and were transfixed as he clambered up on to the stage to take her photograph, knocking one of the orchestra’s music stands sending the sheet music flying. She was obviously mortified but he persevered, snapping away. The impatient oaf also started to clap loudly before the performance, as it was a few minutes late. She simply stared ahead. Before the interval, he started to look at his watch and hauled her off before the musicians had finished the piece. It was as fascinating as the performance itself. Despite this, the music was great, Mozart and Strauss, with a showman conductor. We had a great box off to the left of the stage and the building is a star in itself. Gil wore a full-length, black dress, putting us all to shame, and looked pretty stunning. The concert finished at 10pm and we were ravenous on exit – so having savoured Viennese music it was time to continue in the Viennese vein with food.

Figmuller

When in Wein, a Weiner Schnitzer’s a must, so off to Figmuller’s where they serve one foot diameter Schnizels with superb potato salad and excellent house wine (from their own vineyard). It’s just right, crispy on the outside and moist meat inside. I was the only one in our party of five brave enough to tackle the beast but got through it all, lubricated with a steiner of beer and a few glasses of wine.

Klimt, Sheile– Day 3

Beletage

Sleepless night – must have been the Schnitzel! Stayed in the Beletage Hotel for our third night in Vienna, as we’ve stayed here before. What makes it special is not the First Aid box in the rooms, containing condoms, double ended lollipops, handcuffs etc. but the five course gourmet breakfast ( I must be getting old) undoubtedly the finest breakfast I’ve eaten in any hotel, all made on the spot by the in-house chef. They also have a small, eight seat cinema that shows movies all day and an excellent restaurant, the Salon. The beds lie like an island in the centre of the room as the Hapsburgs liked to be serenaded of an evening by minstrels behind the bed. One of life’s mysteries is why our friend ran five circuits round his bed (he’s a tad eccentric) – it was suggested that from the outside, through his window, it may have looked like he was chasing a dwarf. Ready for the Krankenwagen to the Krankenhaus that lad.

Belvedere

U-bahn to the Hapsburg Palace in south Vienna, the home of some of the finest Klimt and Schiele, and a lovely walk in the morning sunshine through the Botanic gardens, stopping off in the bamboo grove, where you can walk into the middle of the bamboo stalks. The great basin on front of the building is impressive but the building is fairly uniform and nondescript. Inside, however, there’s Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’, ‘Judith’ and several landscapes along with a wealth of Austrian art. The secessionist Klimt is all Byzantine gold and icon-like erotic faces and figures.

In one small room there’s a circle of Messerschmidt faces, carved and cast in the late 18th century. These grotesques look remarkable today but must have been really avant garde 250 years ago. Fine meal in the Salon, the Beletage’s restaurant – al fresco in a courtyard.

Arty Hotel in Krems – Day 4

By train to Krems, a small town on the banks of the Danube. There’s a steady stream of cyclists here, as the 385 Km cycleway along the Danube goes through here. They come in all shapes and sizes and good on them. We’re already discussing a bike trip here next spring.

Interesting discussion with my mate from Scotland comparing Austria with Scotland. Both are small countries hanging off larger economies with which they are culturally and linguistically aligned. Both are small countries that have mountains and fertile/industrial lowlands. Both have produced a clutch of great philosophers and economists (Smith, Hume - Hayek, Wittgenstein, Popper) – OK I’m pushing it here. Heads are turned by the Scandinavian model (economic), but Scotland has, perhaps, more in common with the Teutonic model. When we arrived we saw political posters for politicians claiming ‘Our money for our people – not failed EU states’ – so maybe not!

We’re in the Krems Arte Hotel, a modernist, Bauhaus design. Modernism is not a ‘statement’ here, it’s part of the normal, aesthetic fabric of the place and sits comfortably alongside neo-classical and even baroque buildings. This has never been the case in the UK, where it is too often a deliberate provocation. Oddly, it’s full of choreographers for a conference on choreography called ‘Movement, deceleration and inertia’, although I’ve never seen a more sedentary bunch. They spend all their time sitting, beautifully poised I admit, in the bar.

Booked our boat tickets for the next day’s trip to Melke, walked along the Danube for some lunch in Krems then up the hill to the Piaristkirche, a Gothic building with a Baroque interior. It has tall windows which flood the interior with light and make the golden, gilded statues and ornamentation glisten in the sunlight. This is Italy in Austria. The Baroque church further down the hill has none of this light and the dark interior is laden by comparison. A beer garden meal in the evening, all goulash, beef, chicken and, guess what - beer.

Melke – Day 4

Surfing the Danube

The Wachau Valley by boat up stream past the precipitous Schloss Durnstein, where Richard the Lionheart was captured and ransomed. The fool, having survived the crusades, managed to get himself captured on the way back home by the man he had insulted in Palestine. The valley is covered with vine terraces on the north side and orchards on the south and is famous for its apricots (Marillen) so you get Apricot spirit, liqueur, jam, chutney, chocolate – the lot. It took three hours up past Spitz and Willendorf, where the Venus of Willendorf was found. Two lads surfed our stern wave on one bend.

Baroque gone bonkers

Melke is dominated by its huge Benedictine Abbey, Italianate, orange, yellow and white, high above the town. In the heart of the complex is the church. Now you have the sedate early Baroque of Rome, with its quaint little white plaster churches but here you have Barmy Baroque, marble clad and gold encrustation everywhere. It’s Baroque gone bonkers. Benedict Monks with too much money and not enough humility. They’ve recently sold a Gutenberg Bible to an Ivy League in the US to pay for renovations. The abbey has 500 rooms, the most famous being the Marble Room, again a Baroque dining room in which you would feel uncomfortable doing anything, never mind eating. It has a tromp d’oeile ceiling, marble pilasters with Herculean gilded, gold capitals. The library is more sedate with its 100,000 volumes and windows to let in natural light, as candles were not allowed. Dinner in a nearby Heuliger where we stuffed ourselves with lots of cold meat, cheese and wine. The apricot chutney with chilli was so good we bought a couple of jars.

Up the Danube – Day 5

Hired five bikes by calling the number advertised on their frames, then cycled north to Schloss Durnstein, where we walked up to the precipitous ruin to the pinnacle where Richard I was held for a King’s ransom. I can only imagine he made some Pythonesque mistake and asked for Crème Caramel in a local restaurant. Then off through vineyards and orchards to Spitz for lunch, picking up plums and grapes en route. After lunch we crossed the Danube on a local ferry that used nothing but the force of the current to get across. They simply angled the boat to take advantage of the current which pushed it sideways while anchored to a wire strung across the river. Dinner in the Yell restaurant where I had a dish I’d never tasted before - mushroom goulash with dumplings filled with crispy bacon.

Down the Danube - Day 6

Cycled south along Danube, 50k in the blazing heat. The hired bikes are like iron horses, at 5 euros a day they’re designed, I think, for town use only, two gears and you have to pedal downhill. The slightest hill brings out a serious sweat. The beer and goulash lunch didn’t help. Gil managed to fall off by pedalling backwards, which acts like an emergency brake –quite funny as she literally stopped and fell sideways, still in the pedalling position. Unfortunately, on getting up she managed to twist the handlebars 360 degrees putting so much tension on the brake cable that it was permanently on – made the next mile a bit of an effort until she realised what had happened. Final act back at the hotel, was some cream to ease the saddle sore and the forward flop on to the bed for a doze before dinner, another meat-fest in a Gasthaus courtyard just inside the west wall.

Goodbye Vienna – Day 7

Another three Weiner Schnitzels with a bottle of Resiling in Figmullers before heading off to the airport. One last word in praise of the Aperolspritzer, a soda water, wine and Aperol, early evening drink. I had one of these nearly every evening, and they’re the business. And of course the wine – the Wachau Valley is one of the world’s great wine growing areas and every bottle we drunk was from local vineyards – all of it way above expectations.

5 Comments:

At 10:08 AM, Blogger Anne Marie said...

You know the starts kept getting earlier at AMEE. On Tuesday it was 8.15am!
Glad you enjoyed presenting. It was a busy but good conference.

 
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