This Sort of Thing...


A Viennese Whirl


What a disappointment! We spent three whole days in this beautiful historic city but at no point did anybody offer us a Viennese Whirl. You’d have thought that the might of the Austro-Hungarian Empire that dominated so much of Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would have at some point taken the time to commandeer at least one fancy cake factory (German: Herr Kiplingische Delikat Kuchen Werke) and hang on to it for the money that’s in it, especially when you consider that such light shortcake swirls filled with fruity raspberry jam and a smooth creme filling purport to originate from Vienna. It wouldn’t surprise me, with all this false information we see in the media these days, if they weren’t made somewhere in England and they’ve just fooled us into thinking they’re Viennese because something like a Stoke-on-Trent Whirl just wouldn’t sound at all exotic (unless you live somewhere less exotic than Stoke-on-Trent).

Priyatelkata and I found that there were other aspects of our stay in Vienna that could have been improved upon too. For example, the city just oozes art and we were lucky enough to visit both the Albertina and the Belvedere Palace museums, in the latter of which we saw Gustav Klimt’s famous work The Kiss. We only saw this masterpiece very briefly, mind, as the view of it and of many other great works were obscured by young tourists more interested in taking selfies than in appreciating some of the world’s best examples of oil on canvas. As reluctant as I am to make sweeping generalisations or partake in racial or regional stereotyping, I couldn’t help but notice that these nuisance tourists seemed to have mostly originated from large countries where culture of this kind is a bit thin on the ground; one in the western hemisphere and one in the eastern hemisphere or a combination of both, and there was a woman from Stoke-on-Trent. For many, selfie sticks are the new umbilical cords, without which survival is almost impossible. In my opinion, Europe’s grand museums would be much better places to visit if they were to provide free latex gloves for hygienic protection while shoving mobile phones and their accessories up the arses of owners who brandish them in the presence of beautiful art without a hint of consideration for genuine art lovers.

We particularly enjoyed the works of the lesser known artists because fewer people were interested in them so we were able to stand for a few minutes to admire their beauty and the work that had gone into creating them. Oskar Kokoschka and August Macke were my particular favourites. I’d like to share some photographs of their exhibits but I don’t have any because I was worried that I might obstruct someone else’s view and my travel insurance might not provide cover for the surgical removal of electronic devices from intimate orifices.

In such an art-conscious city it surprised me that in the hotel in which we stayed there were absolutely no pictures at all. Just plain white walls, ceilings and furnishings. It would have been too much to expect Pablo Picasso’s Woman with Green Hat above the bed but a picture of a sad puppy or a little girl with a teardrop on her cheek (you know the sort of thing; Bridlington seafront bingo prizes) would have made the place a bit less reminiscent of the special hospital where I used to have such adventures with my imaginary friends. 

Vienna... the city just oozes art.

Vienna... the city just oozes art.

Admittedly we were spending most of our stay in the touristy, fridge magnet hell area of the city so it came as no surprise as we fell victim to the conveyor belt cuisine of greasy meat-laden dishes from overpriced menus, served by overworked and probably underpaid waiting staff in overcrowded restaurants. So we went off-piste in search of something a bit more to our liking and discovered that the restaurants with the tastiest and healthiest food, and the friendliest staff, in Vienna were the Greek restaurants. The grilled fish and fresh Mediterranean salad, along with a complimentary plate of Balkan rice pudding that appeared with the bill, as we sat at a quiet pavement table beneath a shady canopy at Restaurant Beim Belvedere in Prinz-Eugen-Straße was idyllic and just the place for peaceful relaxation that we needed after a hot day spent tramping around a historic city and its art museums.

Having lived in Bulgaria for a number of years I have become accustomed to drinking Turkish style coffee that looks and tastes a bit like Guinness. Vienna is famous for its coffee and I’m sure I’ll remember the experiences of my first, second and third (I have a deep determination to fit in wherever I travel) cups of Wiener Melange (Vienna mix). Memories of this beverage will stay with me for the remainder of my days as really it was just brown-coloured warm milk and the kind of thing that my elderly lady clients in England used to offer me when I was working in their homes. It was really expensive too, usually weighing in at between €5 and €6 for a cup. For that price, I thought, I could get five or six decent coffees in Bulgaria or a pint of Guinness in Ireland or an elderly lady in England.    

I’ve often heard it said that Johan Strauss II must have been half asleep when he wrote his famous Blue Danube Waltz because the waters of the river aren’t actually blue but brown. In this respect I had always given him the benefit of the doubt because after a period of heavy rainfall any river can turn the colour of a Wiener Melange but, from my observations, it had more of a green hue (not to be confused with Hughie Green) and, at the point where we saw it near to the old romantic part of the city, it wasn’t very wide or impressive in any way. I’d seen better rivers in Stoke-on-Trent. To witness it in its broad majestic form you need to take the Metro to somewhere at least a kilometre away, such as Vorgartenstraße; an area of affordable housing (by Austrian standards), student accommodation, office buildings and shopping centres. A nice enough part of town but not the romantic spot you’d want for doing a bit of waltzing. However, the size and colour didn’t deter me as I had already become a big Danube fan long before making this trip. Approximately 1,200 kilometres downstream it flows by the lovely Bulgarian towns of Svishtov and Ruse which are just up the road from where we live, so we regularly see it in all its glory; though at that stage of the journey it has adopted the Slavic name, Dunav (Дунав). A vast, hypnotic body of water that floods the mind with beauty, history, superstition and wild fantasy.

On the Tuesday of our Viennese whirl we went to the place where Sigmund Freud lived and worked for 47 years before having to flee from the Nazis in 1938 and which is now a museum dedicated to him. As we tried the door of the ticket office an elderly lady, who we assumed to be his mother, told us that the museum was closed on Tuesdays. We hadn’t known this. It wasn’t stated on the museum’s publicity leaflet. We considered drafting a strongly worded letter of complaint to the museum man (or woman) at Vienna City Council but didn’t because we didn’t have a pen and paper with us and we could neither speak nor write in German. For the rest of our stay we were tormented not by the disappointment of the missed opportunity but by Freud’s own words.  ‘Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.’ So beware, museum man (or woman) at Vienna City Council. We’ll be back!

Moving on, we went to the 19th century Rathaus (City Hall), said to be one of the most splendid amongst the numerous monumental buildings in Vienna. Guess what! There were no rats in the Rathaus. Priyatelkata and I are all in favour of animal welfare and not keeping poor creatures in captivity but we thought that this was taking things a bit too far. Maybe the rats didn’t work on Tuesdays. We found consolation in the fact that there was a very nice café nearby but, as we drank our cups of Wiener Melange, we didn’t see a single rodent which is something I can’t say about a motorway service station I once stopped at near Veurne in Belgium, though they did serve nice coffee. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

One of the most pleasurable things to do in Vienna (as we find with many historic towns and cities) is to just walk aimlessly and get hopelessly lost whilst taking in the quirky buildings of hidden back streets, the beautiful parks and gardens, the cafés and restaurants where ordinary local people go, the ordinary local people themselves going about their lives, the magnificent array of sculptures and fountains and the numerous branches of Billa supermarket. We got many hours of pleasure from doing this and thirty-two points on our loyalty card so we can expect 10% off the price of a packet of Bulgarian coffee the next time we go shopping.

In conclusion, apart from the fascinating history, the wonderful art, the resplendent old buildings, the famous river, the beautiful old churches, the delightful green areas, the amusing street entertainers, the lavish hotel breakfasts, the legacy of Empress Sissi of the House of Habsburg, the Spanish Riding School and the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Strauss and Ultravox… Vienna’s a bit rubbish.

Number of comments: 1

23/06/2023 19:28:57 - Billericay Dickie, E-mail address is hidden

Oooh, I love a jammy ring!
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