The best thing about the Hotel Sacher isn’t the torte…..my walk with Wolfgang Buchmann

One of the things I love to do on Shirleyfest is connect with interesting new people in my host city. When preparing for my Vienna trip, the Hotel Sacher came up numerous times in my research. The Sacher Torte is a well known invention of that hotel.

But what came up in my research nearly as often was the name Wolfgang Buchmann. No…not Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart…Wolfgang Buchmann, chief concierge of the Hotel Sacher.

I decide to email Mr. Buchmann to see if would meet me and share his thoughts on Vienna. He quickly responds to my email saying he would be delighted to meet me and we arrange a time that I will come by the hotel. A few days later, I am standing in the lobby of the Hotel Sacher and in walks a charmingly handsome man and says, “You must be Shirley.”

Wolfgang is a man who smiles easily and is so gracious. After meeting me in the lobby, he asks if I wanted to have coffee at the hotel or walk to the Naschmarkt. To the surprise of no one, I say let’s walk. It is a beautiful sunny day in Vienna. We walk and talk easily. He tells me his background at the hotel and about his family who he adores. Wolfgang has been a concierge for 34 years. He is 59 years old and he started at the world famous Hotel Sacher when he was 18 years old. He worked there for several years and then went off to run a restaurant for a while. He then came back to the Hotel Sacher and has been there ever since. We find a sunny outdoor spot at one of the many restaurants in the Naschmarkt. Wolfgang graciously has the waiter bring us two Weiner Melanges— the local drink of Vienna and his favorite.

Of course we must have sparkling water, as well. Wolfgang is nothing if not civilized. We admire the people and the market. He tells me he met his wife many years ago because she also worked at the reception desk at the hotel. They have been married for 31 years, and from the way he talks, I can tell they are not just spouses, but best friends and confidants. He proudly tells me about his two daughters, ages 26 and 31. One works in the travel agency business and the other is going back to school to be a teacher. The market is bustling by now and I feel like we have known each other for a long time.

I ask him how things have changed over the 34 years. He tells me that technology has been one of the major changes. He recalls when there was a big debate about whether to add a fax machine at the hotel. After much consideration, they decided to add just one fax machine. They didn’t want to be seen as overly modern and there was dissension because some people felt why did you need a fax machine when you had a telex and the telephone. He tells me that when the first computer came into being at the hotel, it had a very small screen and was viewed with dubious eyes by his then boss. He confides that the boss had the first shift at the hotel and when Wolfgang would come into work in the afternoon he looks and sees that none of the emails has been answered. When he asks his boss about that, his boss says “ I don’t want to touch any of the buttons on that machine.” This means that Wolfgang has to answer all of the emails during his shift. Another big change Wolfgang notices is that with several of the hotel clients, he will be asked for his suggestion on something and when he gives it, the client will put quickly the information into his mobile device or iPad and say yes that is a good suggestion. Wolfgang says he finds it interesting, since he knows the city very well and also knows the client and what the client would like to do, yet the client also is relying upon the generic “Tripadvisor” or “Yelp” for confirmation. Ever the understanding professional, Wolfgang is not in the least bit offended. He embraces change and finds the humor in people as we all learn how to interact with each other during changing times.

Another thing that has changed through the years is the global nature of travel. Wolfgang says that there are people staying at the hotel from many many countries now and that new and different types of people are introduced to him almost on a daily basis. He has a goal when he encounters someone who is not smiling or happy to at some point during the stay get them to laugh or smile. He says his mantra is they must love their partner, their children or parents so at their core is love, it just has to find a way of making it to their face. Seeing Wolfgang’s smiling face on this sunny day, I realize those guests have no option but to smile.

Before we walk back, since Wolfgang loves my idea of Shirleyfest, I ask what he would do with a one month stay in Vienna if he was free to do as he pleased for 30 days. He has lots of interesting ideas. One is the Cemetery of the Nameless. Since 1840, that cemetery would bury the bodies mostly of people fished out of the Danube but also those that had committed suicide and were refused burial by the churches. Most of the graves have black iron crosses with a silvery crucifix. Every year on All Saint’s day local fisherman honor the unknown dead in a small ceremony by floating a raft on the Danube inscribed in three languages.

Among other things, he also would go to Palais Lichtenstein in Vienna and make a day trip to Baden and to the Wachau region. He gave me two tips for restaurants: Neni restaurant in the Naschmarkt and the Reinthaler Gasthaus. Being a good student and knowing great advice when I hear it, I managed to go to many of the places Wolfgang suggested.

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This is the Palais Lichtenstein, owned by the princely family of Liechtenstein. It is amazing Baroque architecture with Rococo Revival interiors It is situated in a beautiful park used by the local community on a regular basis. Baden was an easy trip by train and a short walk into town when I arrived. It is a spa town with the Baden baths being the focal point. For me, however, the focal point was meeting a chef who then took me to his chef friend’s restaurant for lunch because I had to have what he called the best octopus stew in the world. It was amazing.The two restaurants Wolfgang suggested were very different, but both casual and filled with locals. Neni is an Israeli/Middle Eastern restaurant in the Naschmarkt. I went at night and loved every bite.Reinthaler Gasthaus is a place in the city center where locals and businessman congregate. Very basic local food but overhearing the conversations was a lot of fun. A group of local investment bankers who swapped out between speaking German and English were telling their colleagues about their recent trip to San Francisco and it was all I could do to not bust into the conversation. I held my tongue and as they paid their bill they commented, ” You know America is still a really nice place even if their president isn’t.” Their words, verbatim. Wolfgang’s last suggestion of going to the Wachau was brilliant. This is the area that produces my favorite Austrian wine, the Gruner Veltliner. I had an amazing day in the valley, punctuated by seeing the Melk Abby, wine tasting in Dürnstein and sailing down the Danube and meeting a terrific couple from England who have traveled the world even though one of refuses to fly. Here’s me being happy in the Wachau Valley with the Danube behind me. I’ll stop there because that day deserves its own story. Until then, “Proust” to Wolfgang and to all of you.

#vienna #hotelsacher #austria #wachau #baden #neni #nashmarkt #palaislichtenstein #reinthalergasthaus #melkabby #travel #solotravel #shirleyfest

contact Shirley at shirleyfestvienna@gmail.com

Eight Hours in Budapest

This is a record for me. Today I went to Hungary for the day and last week I went to Slovakia for the day. For someone that likes to spend 30 days in one city, this is a little strange and doing 2 countries in 2 days is something I have never done before. When I worked for GM, I used to stay in El Paso, Texas and go across the border to Mexico to work each morning, but that was hardly the same thing! Good news is—-going to Budapest for the day was totally worth doing.

I was up early and jumped on the metro out to Vienna’s main train station just in time to make a dash for the 7:39 train to Budapest. A cappuccino and croissant and a nice conversation with a 25 year old Hungarian woman named Vivian made the ride fly by. When the train arrived, I wanted to make a 10:30 walking tour, but that required a 4 stop metro ride and I still needed to buy a day ticket. Vivian to the rescue. She carried her luggage across to the metro station to accompany me and got my ticket purchased quickly at the machine. With smiles she ran off.

Another stroke of luck— when I saw the walking group still at the meeting point even though I was 15 minutes late. Andráss said, “Glad you are here, we were waiting for you”. He took us to the Danube and pointed to the massive Castle Hill indicating we would be walking up there. First we visited Elizabeth Square and saw Budapest’s version of the London Eye. Andráss also indicated the Jewish Quarter behind the square and mentioned the “ruin bars” in the back alleys. I had heard of those and made a mental note to return and check that out. Next we went to St Stephen’s Cathedral.

Then on to the Chain Bridge. Beautiful views of the city from the Chain Bridge. On the other side we laughed at people waiting hours in line to ride the funicular to Castle Hill.

Instead we walked up there with no problem ( well some people did need a break but most were fine). St Matthias Church is at the top, as well as Fisherman’s Bastion and gorgeous views of Parliament and the city from the Bastion.

The walking tour was over so I caught a local bus back to Elizabeth Square and decided to walk down Andrássy Boulebard to Heroes’ Square. It was a long walk and there were high end stores all along. I came cross the Hungarian State Opera House and went inside. It is lovely. Walking again I came to Heroes’ Square but I had forgotten to eat and it was 2 pm. I saw a cute outdoor cafe and was quickly served a salad and I ate and took in the famous square. Now I want to find those ruin bars. I take the Millennial Underground. It is the first subway line in continental Europe and the second oldest underground in the world ( after London’s) and it was built in 1896. When beautiful Andrássy Boulevard was completed, the city leaders did not want any public transportation going up and down it carrying passengers from the city center to the city park which is behind Heroes’ Square. Ruin Bars are quirky pubs and clubs that have taken over the city’s abandoned spaces. I head to the back streets and finally come upon the one that started the whole movement. Szimpla. I walk in and it is mind blowing. It’s a maze of random items in a number of rooms and a big courtyard. There is a bathtub split in half that is a seating area. So many rooms and odd things turned into seating areas. It’s a bar so I need a drink. It says cash only and I didn’t get any Hungarian forint(HUF). I offer euros and the bartender changes 5 Euros into 1350 HUF and gives me a big glass of Hungarian wine and 1000 HUF back. So the wine is less than 2 euros! The bartender tells me that Szimpla invites local artists to come decorate, so it is a hodgepodge of mismatched decor. I grab a seat. A fellow next to me, Steve, and I start to chat. He is an interesting British guy living in Thailand. Travels all the time. Just came to Budapest for a couple of nights. Recently was in 9 countries in South America. I thought I loved to travel! We had a really good discussion of pros and cons of traveling solo. We agreed the best part is not owing any apologizes when you make a mistake. Like getting on the train going the wrong way and realizing it 2 stops later. You simply get off and go back the other way. This neighborhood area is really cool. I wander around a little and do a little shopping. I turn the corner and there is the Great Synagogue. The second biggest Syngogue in the world. Quite lovely in this light. I see an art gallery and it looks like it is having an opening and I wander in there for a while too. There are lots of parks and lots of kids around town. It seems like a really livable city. Its getting late and I need to get my metro back to the train station. Even the train station is memorable here in Budapest. I’d like to return someday and check out more of the back streets of this capital city.

Alles Gute zu meinem Geburtstag. Danke. Birthdays at Shirleyfest are fun!

I had a wonderful birthday in Vienna.

I decided to head out to the Naschmarkt as the Winnike’s arrive today and I wanted to get some treats. Part of the fun of a birthday is getting messages on social media from friends all over the world. I check those and they make me smile .The city is empty at this hour and all the building are glowing as the sun rises. I make my way to the Naschmarkt but I’ll tell the truth I stoped at Demel’s bakery for a mini apelstrudel first. At the market everything is arranged so beautifully and it’s not crowded at all yet. I get my treats and also stop at the flower stand I like and the shopkeeper arranges a beautiful bouquet. I also want some apples so I stop a stand near the end of the market. I’m floundering a little with my German when a nice man translates and saves me. We get to talking about travel, living in Vienna, food..his name is Arno and he has a software company. When I mention I’m at the market to get provisions for my friends who are arriving for my birthday, he insist on buying me a birthday coffee and we chat even longer. Super nice guy. I walk on but stop at the Hotel Sacher because Wolfgang, the concierge, has emailed me birthday wishes. He is there and I get his warm birthday wishes in person.

I put everything away and go meet Dan and Sharon and we do a walking tour around town. At our last stop a new friend, Christine, happens to be walking by and she calls to me. “I have a birthday present for you.” I had dinner with her family the night before and she had asked if I had eaten the chocolate covered chestnuts. I hadn’t so a pretty wrapped package of those with a sweet card and roses were in her bag for me, Dan and Sharon come by my apartment for aperol spritzes and we meet latter at Restaurant Grace for a terrific dinner. Starting with the house cocktail of course. Dan and Sharon had brought me a great gift from Copenhagen and even nicer they offered to carry it back to the states for me in their luggage. The restaurant has made me a special dessert and I feel very lucky to have such a great day in Vienna.

Vienna You Make Me Laugh

I collect things that amuse me during my Shirleyfests. Vienna has not let me down in this regard. The three pictures above are typical everyday Viennese dishes ( yes I ate all of these and more). So please tell me why there are these machines everywhere you look? I mean you are eating 7,000 calories a day and you want to weigh yourself in public?

I did ask one pastry chef how the Viennese can stay so slim when they eat all of these high caloric dishes. She said that through constant consumption the Viennese body has become immune to the calories contained therein.

Next up in the amusement department.

Is it a coffee house? Is it a bar? I guess it’s a coffee bar. In any event, for 50 cents more than a coffee you get a gin and tonic ( iced!). I’m not sure whether that’s just really good coffee or really bad gin.

Keeping with the “drinking is a value proposition” in Austria……

So the sign says 3 euros to taste 3 wines. That glass is the first “taste”. Pretty big taste! By the time I was done ( I got along with the lady and she insisted on adding a couple more) I had two large glasses of wine for 3 euros. Ok moving on from food amusements.

Awww…. Equal opportunity child crossing helpers. Or creepy?

And those Viennese must be speed walkers since they can get there three times faster than cars.

I came across this sign in Baden. Maybe it should have just said park and bathrooms this way and everything else is the other way.

When I got to the apartment there were no ice trays. Clearly that is not going to work for my aperol spritz needs so I went to the market to buy some ice. The man said ice is only sold at the petrol stations which are outside of town. That won’t work. I went to a home store and ask for ice cube trays. They looked at me funny and said why don’t I buy the ice bags. What are ice bags? They sent me to the drugstore and there I found what looks like zip lock bags but you fill them up from the faucet and the water finds it’s proper place. Freeze and peel back the plastic for ice. Here are the pictures. What a great idea. Who wants me to buy them some?Since I have lots of ice, and I’m immune from the calories since my body is used to aperol spritzes and I can walk faster than a car, I know just what to do.

Tonight I’m off to something called Coffeehouse Conversation where you show up at a designated coffee house and you eat and talk with locals. We will see…..

Moravia, Music and Muhammara….. just another Friday in Vienna

 

I had no idea when I got up yesterday how it would unfold, other than I was going to head to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, first thing. I walked briskly early in the morning to the Danube and got a seat on the first sailing on the Twin City Line heading to Bratislava. I paid a little extra for a window view and enjoyed looking at all the fishing houses on the banks during the easy 75 minute journey. It was an international clientele on board and I heard numerous languages being spoken. The ship’s people were encouraging people to join their guided walking tours for when we disembarked, but I declined. I had already researched that a local student-led tour started 15 minutes after we got there, so I quickly made my way down the tree lined boulevard to the center of town and met Janna. I almost always go for the student-led tour because (1) they can use the money and (2) they get a younger group of guest so they walk more swiftly and cover lots more things and (3) I just love the enthusiasm of the guides.

Janna explains that Slovakia was once Moravia and goes through a decent history bringing us up to date with this man who was the local poet, revolutionary thinker and basically the Shakespeare of Slovakia. He was so cool he got to be a one named guy ( like Cher, Bono, Sting…) and make up his name ( real name Pavel Országh–not nearly as cool) which translates to “Slav of the stars.”

This is the beautiful cathedral of St Martin where all the Hungarian queens were crowned. That is a crown on top of the spire and even tho it looks tiny, it’s 700 pounds of real gold. Next to the cathedral was a touching holocaust memorial for the 100,000 Jews of Slovakia who were rounded up and ultimately perished in concentration camps.

Just as I suspected, Janna had us hiking up to the castle. Looks like an upside down table and has beautiful gardens in the back. The country’s parliament building is next door to the castle. The views from the castle are amazing. You can see this bridge the communist built to link the old town with where all the people actually live on the other side of the Danube. They call this the UFO bridge.

This is St Michael’s gate, the only city gate to be preserved of the medieval fortifications.

Ok, I’m thirsty. Bye bye Janna and hello brewski. Now that I am refreshed I remember Janna said the reason the shops are closed today is that it is the Feast of the Virgin Mary. Any shop that is open gets a 100,000 euro fine. Yikes! But this is the one day of the year the town has a street fair and since she told me where to find it I head over there.

Oh my gosh the entire town is here–so fun and all locals. I don’t hear a word of English ( or French or Spanish)–just Slovak)

Yes please, some local cheese would be great.

Yes quadruple please. The bartender sees me coming and makes multiple aperol spritzes and then prays over them. I’m pretty sure this town knew I was coming. Ok got to leave. I’ve been here 6 hours and I could stay longer but I bought a ticket for the 4 pm return so I run to my boat( those aperol spritzes really make you fly, don’t they?). Nice journey back on the Danube. I’m in my apartment about 30 minutes when I remembered the Vivaldi concert at Karlskirche is tonight. I decide to just get ready and go and see if I can get a ticket. Color me lucky. The young man says they have one ticket—top of the price range ( which is a whole 15 euros more), but he told me I’d like it. Sold. But first I take a nighttime picture of this amazing church. This is considered one of the most beautiful buildings in Vienna.

My young friend was right that I would like this seat. Any closer and I’d be giving the concert. I really can’t do justice to how beautiful this setting was for the beautiful Vivaldi music. I was mesmerized for several hours.

What an outstanding group of musicians. Four arias by the countertenor Nicholas Spano and four concertos with the primary violinist Dimitris Karakantas.

I leave the concert and have a vague recollection that the concierge at the Hotel Sacher ( who I was fortunate enough to spend an entire afternoon with– watch for a coming post about that) had told me about a place at the Naschmarkt called Nemi. I wandered about a little lost for a while and it was getting pretty late. Miraculously I found it and it was still open, I first ordered the Muhammara, a spicy red pepper dish ( which I ate before I thought to take a picture) and then got the Jerusalem Plate shown above. That a nice glass of Gruner Veltiner made a great meal.

They came around and said “last call” so I headed out through the Naschmarkt, went down into the subway and emerged near my apartment shortly thereafter. Not a bad way to spend 17 hours.

Beauty

I’m up early and decide to go nearby for breakfast and write a post. As I sit here wondering what my title and leading picture will be, my order arrives. So beautiful, like everything I’m experiencing in this magical city that I have my lead for this post–Beauty! The food, the art, the buildings and the people all conspire to create beautiful experience, not just for the visitor, but as an assumption for how to live well.

Yesterday I took the U4 out to Mayer Am Pfarrplatz. This is where Beethoven lived and had most of his meals. It is now a winery, wine garden and restaurant. Even tho the weather was rather gloomy, somehow the square looked gorgeous. Many locals were inside having the 3 course daily special for lunch so I did the same.

This is a 17 euro daily special, yet so beautiful and amazing in taste. The main course is a refined version of a Syrian dish I make at home, Yubrûk, but with a tangy sauce and one big cabbage roll rather than several smaller ones.

The little wine garden next to the restaurant will be filled starting in early evening as people come to taste the new wines produced at the well known winery.

Public transportation makes it easy to whiz back to the center of town, where I decide to go to the Albertina museum. It houses 65,000 drawings, and a huge collection of art by among others, Picasso, Monet, Thöny and Cezanne. It also contains the Habsburg Staterooms which are opulent beyond belief. Apparently on the ledge next to the ceilings, 250 candles would be lit for a party and the party lasted until the last candle went out. I’m thinking of adopting that idea when I get home.

The staterooms are also where you find the famous 1502 painting titled the Young Hare, by Dürer. The technique and lighting on the piece are masterful for that period of time.

More art, food and beauty in the next post. But this is fashion week in Vienna and I’m heading over to the Museum Quartier to check that out. I’ll be going via my trusty Citybike. Something Vienna has made absolutely easy for everyone to use.

Before I go, perhaps just one more beautiful food picture of the cake made famous in Vienna–the Sacher Torte. I had this at the Hotel Sacher when MJ and Kathie visited me this week.

Speaking of MJ and Kathie’s visit, the subject of beauty must include a picture of my beautiful sister and beautiful friend who have regularly come to visit me on my Shirleyfest.

Until next time-Prost!

Vienna I’m Here!

I do feel quite welcomed by the beautiful city of Vienna. Imagine flying for 15 hours,running thru a tight connection in Paris and being deposited by the airport driver in a little alley that will be your new home for 30 days. Now I see a handsome man waving at me from an open window and saying “This is it!” Christian, my landlord, ran down and took my bag and led me into my beautiful high ceiling, spacious apartment.

I love the view from the rear windows flung open to the little pedestrian alley where I had earlier arrived. Even more surprising is that the apartment opens to the front onto Judenplatz, a pedestrian square lined with restaurants and pubs. As I get my bearings I see that my apartment is above the famous Grimm bakery, the oldest in Vienna and the only remaining bakery that still bakes on the premises.I will learn later that the 5 am aromas wafting up are both a blessing and a curse.

For now I roam the blocks surrounding my place. I met Dario who runs a pretty little coffee shop and Janna, who owns a leather shop and is expecting her baby boy any minute. She tells me she has a choice of taking 1 year off and receiving 1000 euros per month or 2 years off and receiving 600 per month. I see my local market and go in to discover a 3 story gourmet food shop with wine tasting bars in the section where you buy wine, fresh oranic fruit, stunning flowers and floors of tempting new products. Heading back I see a small bookstore in the alley underneath my window. Though tiny it is full of books that I know my literary Laura would spend lots of time browsing.

I’m a wee bit hungry now and fortunately next door to Grimm Bakery is Ofenloch, a cozy Austrian Cafe. I am welcomed warmly and brought my aperol spritz followed by a delicious beef cheek goulash. Yes , I think I’ m going to be ok.