I’ve recently been looking through my photographs from last year and decided to upload a few of these to Flickr – here they are! You can click through to see the full size images. I’ll add to this over time, and will also be adding pictures to the blog posts I wrote while I was there.
My final full day in Austria was spent with Lisi’s family, who meet up each Christmas. We travelled across the city and out towards a nearby village, via this fetching building – apparently the longest residential building in Europe at over 1km long. You can read more about Karl Marx-Hof here.
We eventually arrived at Der Waldhof in Maria Gugging, which oozed character from the very beginning. Could it look any cuter?
Even the taxidermy was feeling the festive spirit.
And what else would you eat in an Austrian cabin in the woods? Wiener schnitzel and apple and potato salad of course!
The decorations were simple and effective, and the bid windows let in plenty of light and a view of the surrounding trees.
Even the signs on the toilet doors were very cute.
The food was good, and some of us headed out for a little walk afterwards to blow away the cobwebs. Coming out into the snow was a big shock to the system after the cosy woodburner in the restaurant.
On our walk we went through an outdoor church, Lourdesgrotte.
After our walk, we all went back to a family home for tea and cake, before heading home for the evening and packing!
Another day, another hill! This time we took the bus up to Am Himmel, which means “in Heaven”. On the way we went through some picturesque spots in Vienna, and then left the city limits!
We had dinner in Oktagon, a restaurant right on the top of the hill. The building was windows all around, and almost felt like eating outside, except for the warmth! We had tafelspitz – topside of beef boiled with vegetables and served with apple sauce and sour cream, as well as creamed spinach and potatoes. It was fantastic, especially the potatoes! Lisi and I had hot red grape juice and Aimee had apfelschole, apple juice mixed with carbonated water.
Now we were well and truly ready for a walk. As we went out of the restaurant very fine snow started to fall, and the cloud hung over the city. We walked through the vineyards. To my surprise, we were visited by a green woodpecker! First one, and then another. The first one made himself known very loudly – you can see him and listen to his call on the RSPB page. Can you see why he was somewhat unmissable?
The other side offered this view of the city, and Aimee and Lisi were amused by the sign which said that all the wine grown in the vineyard is fertilised by Viennese green waste – the food scrapings and potato peelings that go into the little recycling bin on everyone’s kitchen counter. Apparently “nobody talks like that!”
On the way back down the hill we walked down some long streets, and Aimee pointed out how different some Viennese houses were from each other, thanks to planning regulations – or lack of them – in some parts of the city. These two are pretty different from one another!
As we got further down a few neighbourhood cats took an interest in us, coming and asking for a pat. One stayed high up on a fence and scratched its chin and cheeks on some straw which was sticking up, making a very happy face as it scraped away! Occasionally it changed surface and went for the wooden fence post instead.
Travelling abroad always brings linguistic joy… two stand-out instances came along in just a couple of minutes thanks to this unintentionally hilariously named street, and this amusing family name.
We eventually got back to the U-Bahn near Karl Marx-Hof, which hides a spectacular station in unassuming wrappings.
We took the U-Bahn to the Pink Christmas Market, which was festooned in pink and was playing possibly the worst dance remixes of Christmas songs we’d ever heard. Even the people selling their things there were complaining about the music! It seemed to be a very short playlist too. There was a good selection of stalls open selling quality things, though most of them seemed to be food stalls, with lots of preserves and schnapps on offer. I bought some painted papier mache baubles (Lisi encouraged me to buy two, much to the amusement of the stall holder). There was another stall selling these… not quite my taste but they may well delight others!
After a crepe and some mulled wine (finally!) we went back home. We caught the bus close to this sweet shop with a terrifying window display…
Happily, the strange mannequin was balanced out by this display of lucky new year pigs and toadstools! Thank goodness for small mercies…
We started the day in fine fashion as Aimee cooked breakfast, including the Britwurst, which were nice – even if Lisi and I struggled to find the promised apricots in our sausages. We also had eggs and shockingly, SPROUTS! Aimee cooked them really nicely and they were very tasty fried up and seasoned. I don’t even like sprouts particularly, but I really enjoyed these.
Once we had had our boilers stoked (I added some chocolate for good measure) we walked up a hill close to Aimee and Lisi’s place, up to Schloss Wilhelminenberg which shares the hill with some vineyards.
Schloss Wilhelminenberg was decked out nicely for Christmas, and there were people inside having Christmas treats and looking at the view. The small surrounding Christmas market was closed, but the view was more than enough entertainment.
We walked back down through the city and the Christmas decorations were all switched on on the way down. Not really sure what went wrong with this tree…
Aimee enjoyed pointing out all of these handwriting style neon signs which seem to be everywhere in Vienna. There’s something nicely old fashioned about them.
Some interesting santa-style figurines… garden gnomes perhaps?
We were really hungry when we got back, and got started on our Christmas meal straight away. We had boiled the rice for sushi earlier, and so were ready to make lots of tasty rolls. Aimee and Lisi started by chopping vegetables and I did the first couple of rolls, then Aimee and Lisi made some too. We made plenty of sushi!
I really enjoyed making “Austrian” sushi, which contained sausage, pickle and mustard. It worked surprisingly well, though there might have been too much mustard in it! None of it lasted long. Alongside the sushi we had a bit more tokaji.
And what December 25th is complete without setting your dessert on fire?
Today, it was Christmas! You can check the title again if you want… In Austria, Christmas is celebrated on the evening of the 24th and people often have a pretty ordinary day at work before going home to Christmas in the evening.
We started the day by going for brunch at 12 Munchies, an American/British cafe in a nearby district. We took the tram there. Inside the cafe there was a mix of furniture as well as interesting things on the walls and on the shelves at the back of the cafe. Aimee pointed out two tablet blister packs which had been put in a frame. There was also a box of books for kids – Lisi and I found Walter while a child on the table next to us read a book in French about the green cross code.
As for the food, I am reliably informed that the coffee was good, though I’m not a coffee drinker myself. I had a lovely hot chocolate – I should have really ordered a large one though as the small one was really small! We started with sandwiches and bread. I had a roast beef sandwich and a small tomato bread, while Aimee and Lisi had sandwiches with pecorino as well. For dessert there was pecan pie and raspberry buttermilk muffins, which were tall and thin and very soft – full of real raspberries.
The cafe was very busy, with lots of people coming and going, dodging in and out of the furniture or sitting around looking achingly cool. Lisi spotted that all the people wearing glasses were all wearing the same glasses… even the kids. Once you’ve seen that you can’t unsee it. Happily Lisi and Aimee weren’t in the same-specs club, though Aimee did say she had a pair like them at home.
As well as being a cafe, 12 Munchies also proclaims that it sells “Britwurst” (as opposed to Bratwurst) and we picked some up for Christmas dinner tomorrow, along with some bacon.
Back outside in the extremely windy fresh air, we headed up the hill towards Tuerkenschanz Park where there was a small Christmas market.
In this one all the sheds were painted red. Most of the stalls sort of looked like charity shops – one notable object for sale being a plastic Psy dancing Gangnam Style – but we all bought something from a stall selling various flavours of schnapps and jam.
After the market, Aimee went home with the frozen food and Lisi and I continued to the food co-op. On the way there I spotted a very old-fashioned looking shop, which Lisi said was always closed… except today! We went inside and found lots of toys and games, as well as a lot of wooden kitchenware and baskets. Everything seemed really cheap but nicely made. Lisi bought a nutcracker as she and Aimee had been given a bag of walnuts by Gudrun, their neighbour. The was really looking forward to cracking them with her new nutcracker.
We spent quite a long time looking around the shop – complete with old fashioned till – and then moved on to the food co-op. I had expected just vegetables and fruit, but the co-op also sources beer, wine, juices, dairy products, meat… there was a lot there. It operates on an honesty system, where you pre-order what you would like. Funds are then transferred into the co-op’s account online. You keep track of your purchases on a sheet, and top-up your account when you need to. Some products are not pre-ordered, and you can take what you like from those, adding them to your account. We got everything which Aimee and Lisi had ordered, except for eggs.
In the not-ordered section, there was fruit juice, wine and chocolate made by Zotter, a well known Austrian make. Lisi and I spent a long time opening all the cardboard boxes and making our choices. Some of the bars were for presents, and I also picked up some drinking chocolate. There are many, many flavours available, and lots of unusual combinations. We totted up our totals and Lisi filled in the account book, then it was time for home.
When we got back we were really pleased to finally get out of the wind!
After some tea and chocolate sampling, we had a game of Settlers of Catan – a game that Aimee does not dislike, despite not being a big board game fan. I have only played it a couple of times, but we ended up having a really good battle with Lisi winning a turn before I was able to! After that, Aimee cooked while Lisi and I kept her company in the kitchen, providing sous-chef assistance when required, and otherwise doing origami. I started making a little string of “Pop-up jewels” in different colours, and Lisi did some more artistic models – including a pig.
Aimee’s paneer curry was lovely, and after we had eaten we brought the Christmas tree through to the living room and gathered around for gift exchanging. Afterwards we watched the Snowman. If you haven’t seen it…here it is with an introduction by David Bowie, which Lisi hadn’t seen before.
In return, we watched Dinner for One, a sketch which is always shown at New Year here. You can watch it below…
We enjoyed some quince schnapps and the Tokaj that Aimee and and I had brought back from Hungary. Then it was time for bed!
We had a quiet day today, but we did ride the tram number 43 all the way to the end of the line to meet up with Lisi’s family. The old trams in Vienna are really cute!
As I was taking this picture, I was joined by an older gentleman who was doing the same. He looked very happy to be photographing the tram. Lisi’s family arrived on the next tram, and we walked together up a wooded hill on the edge of the city.
We came back into the city as the sun was setting, and I spotted my first Austrian flag of the trip. The photograph doesn’t really do the sky justice, but it was a beautiful end to the walk.
Back home, we had homemade vegetable soup and tea, and I spent some time playing the ukulele with Lisi’s sister who also had one. We had fun comparing notes and finding songs we both could strum along to.
This morning I had a nice slow start while Aimee went out to a driving theory class. I had a lazy morning, showing Lisi a few things on the ukulele (which she picked up really quickly and will no doubt be running away with by the end of the week) and when Aimee came home we made soup with the veggies she had left from last time she was at the food co-op. There were lots of long skinny potatoes, parsnips, a butternut squash and an apple. Aimee also put in some curry spices and some onions. While the soup was boiling, Aimee made some bread with beer – I don’t have the exact recipe but you use the beer instead of yeast to make the bread rise.
We had already decided that we would go to the Christmas market in the Spittelberg district today, so once the bread was out of the oven and the soup was off the boil, we took the tram towards the market. We got off a couple of stops early and Aimee showed me the Museums Quartier and the Volkstheater (People’s Theatre). We continued through the Museums Quartier and towards the market, past a strange piece of art which actually had an unintended double meaning.
The artist had made the “weed” as in the drug into a verb, and as you can see has conjugated the verb in the present tense here. There’s also the sense of weed as an unwanted plant, which is nicely conveyed by the plant which is growing over it. In Endlish we also use that word for getting rid of unwanted plants, like weeding the garden. Unfortunately, the most obvious (and correct) interpretation of that set of words has nothing to do with any of that, and instead just makes it look like everyone went to the toilet. It’s probably funnier without my explanation, come to think of it.
Once we got to the market I was very pleased to see that, as promised, it wasn’t just a lot of rubbish being sold out of sheds. In fact, there were actual artists and confectioners, food stalls and the like all set up around the streets in Spitttelberg. The first place we stopped was at a stall with lots of different kinds of schnapps. I tried one that was made from some piece of a pine tree – even if no one could agree which bit. The first one had added sugar, the second one was without, and the third one had been distilled and was made from (I think) pine seeds…or perhaps needles… they got progressively stronger as they went on. The last one was really very firy, but they all tasted/smelled very strongly of pine! Very Christmassy!
After a few more stalls we came to a little cluster of food stalls, and of course I had to have a Bratwurst. They were the same price here in the market as they had been in the Wurstelstand by the U-Bahn, but I think the U-Bahn one was better. I suppose they’re there 365 days of the year! After we had sausages we also went to the stall with Erdäpfelpuffer*, which are like grated potato fritters. We had to wait in the queue for a while, but that meant we got to watch the process.
The Erdäpfelpuffer are cooked in a huge flat cast-iron pan, a couple of metres across. There are coals underneath, and a lake of bubbling fat deep-fries them. The pan has a special spiral barrier all the way around it, and as the Erdäpfelpuffer cook, you push them around the pan towards the centre of the spiral. This means that you can always keep track of how cooked each one is, as well as making it easier to fish them out when it’s time. They are turned over halfway around, and when they come out they are drained for a short time to get rid of some of the oil.
While we were waiting (and Aimee used her defensive queuing skills to prevent the older couple behind us from sneaking past) the guy working the stall used a big leaver to raise the boiling pan of fat up, and restock the coal underneath. I wouldn’t like to be anywhere near that while it was being moved! We finally got ours and painted it with garlic before sharing it out. It was very crispy indeed, and made a good accompaniment to the sausage.
We continued our wander and came across a stall selling bagged candy rock, called nob-nob. I know. The guy working there reeled off a huge list of flavours and I tried the lemon one. It tasted of lemon candy rock, as expected. I also saw some nice big fresh pretzels – sweet ones! I grabbed one for later and put it in my bag. I promptly forgot about it.
We popped into a lovely community space where Lisi used to work. It was a small courtyard surrounded by rooms on two levels. The roof is movable and can be closed if it’s cold or raining. Inside the courtyard was a stall that was not quite yet selling hot glühwein (mulled wine), but there was quite a crowed gathered under the fairylights which had been strung across the ceiling.
We went back through some more stalls and then went up to Westbahnstraße, which is a lovely street with lots of different shops selling interesting things. Aimee was there looking for a diary, but there are also lots of photography shops, shops selling scissors and knives and shops selling brightly coloured childrens’ toys and clothes.
There’s a shop devoted to Finnish things, and also a shop that only sells pepper mills. There was also this mending shop.
My favourite shop was probably the shop selling musical instruments from all over the world. In the window it had all kinds of instruments, including a kora, which I had seen someone busking with in Bristol. Inside it had the usual section of kids’ instruments, but also a glockenspiel section, a gong section, a bongo section, a flute/pipe/whistle section, and a room full of stringed musical instruments – balalaikas, zithers, harps, mandolins… and a lot more things that I had no idea about.
Our next stop was Prosi, a huge world supermarket. It was absolutely packed and is very well described as a WORLD supermarket. Everyone from everywhere was there, and so was everything they eat. We picked up a few things, including sushi rice for making Christmas sushi.
The place was extremely busy, and we came out with a good haul. Aimee put me on the tram back to the apartment and I got back there and dumped the 5kg of Basmati before popping out to the local supermarket for some fresh veg and a few other things.
Later, I remembered about my pretzel. It was apple and cinnamon flavoured – much nicer than the horrible salty ones!
*Erdäpfel is the same as kartoffel – potato. It literally means Earth-apple, like pomme de terre in French.