Friday, 10 January 2014

Vienna; Still dreaming of a White Christmas.

Craig Writes;
19th December 2013 
We have just finished seven weeks of beachside living on arguably one of the most stunning coastlines on the planet. We were home, as in back in Perth W.A, but still managing to live in a suspended state of reality because 'home' was in fact a lovely apartment at Observation Rise on the Scarborough beach front. 

Sand, surf and shark sirens

Our real home is still leased out to a couple of corporate high-flyers sadly intent on treating our home like it was a holiday cottage on Rottnest Island. Quite disappointing really. 
Since our return we have been dipping our toes back into the pond of our pre-adventure world and trying to be 'normal' again. Early morning runs up to Trigg Point in the deep crunchy sand, the occasional paddle on my Mini Mal and a newly acquired fondness for bike riding have occupied most of my mornings. Mid morning coffees on the terrace of our apartment were often spent listening to the shrill scream of the shark alarm and the heavy whoop whooping of the Surf Life Saving Chopper. The boys slipped back into a school routine like they had never even left and Christina's social calendar was promptly filled. 
Catch ups down Matilda Bay, The OBH and drinks on our terrace with our 'besties' were a pleasant reminder of the things that we hold dear about this city we call home.

One of the few things I missed, a cold beer with good food and great friends

A Smedley masterpiece. No words needed.

This past seven weeks has blown by so quickly. We have just seen off the first heat wave of summer with a succession of 100 degree + days and watched England lose the Ashes at the WACA. I shall have fond memories of laying on the couch, one eye on the lazy waves of the Indian Ocean closing out on the Scarborough sandbar, the other on Mitch Johnson sending thunder bolts down at the hapless Englishmen trying desperately to make runs while literally trying to keep their heads about them. 

Twenty four hours ago Christina and I were having a final cuppa on the terrace, contemplating the contents of our over stuffed cases for the tenth time and enjoying the slowly warming glow of another perfect West Coast day. What a difference a day makes.
In those twenty four little hours we have gone from the sun and the surf to the icy fog of the Viennese tarmac. The promise of snow hangs heavy in the air. The second we left the warm cocoon of the Austria Air flight onto the shaky passenger gangway you felt the icy wisps of air that crept through the gaps sucking the warmth of our bodies through our thin jackets.

We have just driven in a taxi van through a fog that thick that the shape of the surrounding city buildings were completely lost, their very existence defined only by the erratic bright fluorescent dots of their glowing office lights. The city scape looked like one massive join the dots puzzle. 

20th December 2014 
We finally arrived at our friends, Nora and Anastas in Grinzing, at 7am to be greeted with warm hugs, hot coffee, freshly baked croissants and Nora's delicious sweet and florally quince and fig jams. This is home for us for the next twelve days while they fly off to seek the heat of the Middle East and we settle in for a bone chilling White Christmas. At 10am we helped pack their bags into the car as they head to the airport. Christina and I decided to donn jackets and gloves and head out into the frost while the boys swaddled themselves in the warmth of central heating. Less than five minutes walk away is a small strip of restaurants, shops and bars.

This fairy tale was our local shopping precinct

Within seconds I regretted not changing from my thin cotton "Dumphies" into jeans and popping a beanie on. By the time we found a restaurant and settled in for roast sausage, chicken schnitzel, bacon and cabbage and hot Gluhwein, I couldn't feel my ears and the movement in my legs was frozen to a gum boot shuffle. No snow yet but the biting cold suggests it's up there somewhere. 

22nd December 2013 
They throw small crushed pebbles on the footpaths here to help with the traction. It's that cold that any moisture on the path freezes to a thin layer of ice and would become dangerous without it. 
On day two we've wised up to the necessary number of layers needed to keep the chill out. It is many. But fortunately we have come prepared. Our mornings now start with a gradual unravelling from the warm doonas and a hot cup of tea. The layering process usually starts somewhere around eleven after a cup of coffee then we're out the door by twelve. The city of Vienna is such a lovely place. The Christmas lights are up, the Christmas markets are in full swing and the hot Gluehwien can be found on most corners. 

Forget the hot coffee, give me an orange, apricot or plum Gluehwien anyday

Just one of the many Christmas markets

The streets are busy but not insanely so like in Perth. There is no manicness, rudeness or attitude, just people going about there business, all rugged, scarfed and gloved up. 

24th December 2013
Here we are, Christmas Eve in Vienna, Austria. And we all find ourselves asking the same question. Where's our bloody snow? If I wanted cold I could have stayed in Perth and cruised the frozen goods section in my budgie smugglers. Still, we are not complaining, Vienna is a truly beautiful city and we are so pleased to be here sharing the home of our good friends Nora and Anastas. 

Every street, every corner. offers something lovely

Perhaps the fanciest coffee shop in the world
Posh coffee and cake

And, we have something very special planned to celebrate our first northern hemisphere Christmas. A concert at the famed Schonbrunn Palace. A magnificent 1400 room Palace built in the early to mid 17th century. It has magnificent gardens, an astonishing maze and the Orangery that has provided the outstanding acoustics for concerts down through the centuries must be at least two hundred metres long. It was in this same venue that the great Mozart competed with one of his most revered rivals of the day, Antonio Salieri, in a musical contest of the giants. I'm not sure who won but I did have to google the spelling of Salieri.

The Famous arched ceiling of the Orangerie

It's claim to fame in respect to modern folklore was as the meeting place for that pivotal moment in the Cold War where John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev met in 1961 to decided whether or not to start World War Three. For us though the high vaulted Baroque ceiling of the legendary Schonbrunn Orangery was to be the venue for a classic concert featuring the Schonbrunn Palace Orchestra playing the classics of Mozart and Strauss. They were to be accompanied by a soprano, a baritone and two dancers dressed in the authentic costumes of the day. Vienna is so easy to get around. 

A quick bus ride dropped us right outside the train station. After a very short wait we jumped on a train and were promptly delivered right to the doorstep to the Palace. We decided to browse the Christmas markets that fill the front courtyard of the Palace before heading in for the concert. The markets were a bustling mass of late shoppers pouring over the many stalls that were selling the most stunning range of goodies. Everything from Christmas decorations to cheeses, hats and gloves, beautifully carved wooden toys, delicious waffles, tasty sausages and hot orange gluehwein. 

Schonenberg Palace Christmas Markets

Sausage art

Although the seating for the concert was not very comfortable and we were a bit further back than I thought $500 would have got us, I thought it was a triumph. Unfortunately it may have just been a little bit of a cultural overload and at half time the vote was 3 to 1 that we draw our Viennese evening of opera, ballet and symphonics to an end. It was still a tremendous experience and one that the boys will hopefully appreciate down the track....somewhere.

25th December 2013 
CHRISTMAS DAY!! We were all ready for a bit of a change from the familiar Christmas routine and what a way to make a break from the past and start to forge some new traditions. Thanks to the miracle of modern technology we still got to have some face to face time with Christinas mum and dad as they lunched on the standard fare with Christinas sister and her family all the way back in Perth.
For us though, there was to be nothing standard about it at all. Not a turkey nor a spoonful of stuffing to be seen. Not a chipolata or a mango salad in sight. For us it was sausage and sauerkraut, chicken and spatzel and panacotta with raspberry chocolate sauce washed down with a chilled Piper Heidsiek. Bloody fantastic. 

Oh Christina, you are a wonder

And just to prove a point, she does this.

We bought presents with us so the boys were happy. We even managed to pick up some bits and pieces for ourselves at some of the many beautiful Christmas markets. It was a brilliant Christmas Day. 

Mozart chocolate balls. Not the originals of course.

Finally the price for a 4.30am start is starting to be extracted. The yawns start around 7pm and by some miracle the boys make it through to 9pm before I pour them into bed. Christina has long departed and I am not far behind. It has been a Very Merry Christmas indeed. 

26th December 2013 
We celebrated Boxing Day by upholding the time honoured tradition of hanging around the house, eating, reading and playing games. Back in Perth it would normally be prawn sandwiches sitting in front of the forth cricket Test but seeing as cricket is just something that eats your grass over here, that wasn't going to happen. It was still a wonderful day of nothingness. 

27th December 2013 
It was time to break the cycle of food induced slothfulness, throw a few layers of clothing on and go out to see what was happening in the world. What better way than to go open air ice skating. We caught a bus/train combo and once again found ourselves conveniently deposited less than 100 metres from our destination, the Wiener Eislauf- Verein outdoor ice skating rink. I haven't been skating for probably 30 years, Christina about 26 years and Charlie... never. Callum was the only one amongst us who had any recent experience courtesy of some timely school excursions.

I will not fall, I will not fall, I will not faaallll.

Negotiating who should let go first.

Located just behind the Intercontinental Hotel and only a short ten minute walk from the centre of the city lies 6,000 square metres of slippery icy cold fun. Callum slipped onto the ice, confident and in control while Charlie and I clung desperately to the side railing trying to make our way down to the beginners section without falling on our arses. We slipped, we slided, we zigged and zagged till finally, slowly, we weaned ourselves from the safety of the edge and ventured out into the traffic. We were not fast, we were not graceful, but, for the most part we were upright and... we had a lot of fun. Christina swapped skates with Callum and made her way to the ice. We have photographic evidence to prove it. Callum was a star and even at the end when I was channelling my inner Torvill and Dean, I couldn't catch him. So much fun. 

We did it
A slow walk through the beautiful backstreets of this amazing city and we were right back in the main shopping hub. People were everywhere. It was time to head back home where we dropped the boys off and headed down to one of our local restaurants, The Grinzinger Brau, for a couple of hot fruit punches and the most massive plate of ribs I have ever seen. Think Fred Flintstone. 

Yabba dabba doo

My god, when will the eating stop? 

28th December 2013 
It was back to our favourite Viennese palace today, Schonbrunn. We had booked tickets for the Marionettentheatre Schloss Schonbrunn to see their production of Mozarts last opera, The Magic Flute. He died just nine weeks after it was first staged. The Christmas markets were still set up in the Palace grounds and we made sure we were there in plenty of time to cruise, eat and get some more of that delicious hot orange Punsch. 

I thought they were quiches. They're candles.

These however are perfectly edible

As you'd expect the post Christmas crowds were a lot lighter which made checking out the stalls so much more enjoyable.

The history of the Marionette show in Vienna goes back to the early 18th century. This particular theatre is in an old part of the palace and built over some ancient Roman ruins. It was renovated and reopened back in 1994. It is a charming old place, and with only 50 seats, definitely what you would call intimate.

It was always going to be a big ask to get the boys to sit through two hours of Opera even it was being presented in the form of a puppet show. It didn't help that the boys had crap seats and couldn't see a damn thing over the heads of the adults in front of them. It didn't help that the entire thing was in German - although we must have seen that coming- and it didn't help that the seats were really really uncomfortable. The booking information stated that kids would get priority viewing seating, that didn't happen. 

And quite frankly, while the singing was excellent, I found the acting a little wooden.

So once more we found ourselves out in the parking lot at intermission- half time deserters yet again. Having said that, I am in no way concerned for the cultural souls of our boys. I have no doubt that when I was their age I couldn't have sat though two hours of Opera either. It was worth a shot though.

30th December 2013 
Time to go shopping. We always give the boys the option of going and the result is always predictable. 
So, videos-check-, food and water- check-, exit strategy in case of fire- check. Then lock em in and off we go. 
Firstly let me say how totally impressed with the public transport system of this amazing city we are. You never have to wait more than nine minutes for a bus, train or tram. You can forget the Swiss with their silly unreliable perpetual motion watches and claims to the crown of preciseness. The Viennese are kings. 
We strolled the streets and shops with a warm familiarity. It was only back in July when we were first here and the memories are still very strong. The post Chrissy sales were on and we were determined to get a Vienna bargain. It wasn't hard. The quality of the merchandise here is outstanding and the prices are remarkable. Wait till you see my two new hats. A peacock blue fedora with a feather in it - don't judge till you've seen it- and another light tan beauty with a contrasting chocolate brown band. Superb. 

Now that's a hat.
Unfortunately I left them both at the Oslo airport. Gone forever. So sad.

Jackets, ski pants, gloves and jocks completed the stash. It was so nice for just the two of us to spend the day together. The kids were square eyed but fine by the time we returned. As a treat, and an attempt to get them to breathe some fresh air, we went out to Ninos for pizza where we met a large crazy local man. 
We had barely sat down when he wandered up to us, well dressed and full of Christmas cheer. He asked where we were from then proceeded to insist on buying us all a drink. Why not I thought. I let him buy me a beer and we chatted briefly until a new patron walked in and caught his eye. Off he went, chatting and buying more drinks. Not content with with sharing his large personality and open wallet with one and all he decides the waitress could do with a hand and unceremoniously picks her up in his arms and carts her around the restaurant. It all seemed good natured and there was no agro, just a few nervous laughs. His whole visit was probably no more than ten minutes but it was memorable and certainly entertaining and hey, I got a free beer. Oh and the pizza was sensational.

31st December 2013 New Years Eve. 
There was talk of heading into town for a look see at the planned celebrations but it's bitterly cold, raining and we have to clean up and pack up as Nora and Anastas are back nice and early tomorrow morning. The next day we're all of...TO THE SNOW !!!! So, it's a yummy home made pasta and another bottle of French bubbles as we bid farewell to 2013 and say hello to 2014.

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