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Archive for the ‘Austria’ Category

Salzburg: Sweetest Sweets

A few steps away from Salzburger Dom Cathedral and Getreidegasse, Café Tomaselli is the local institution in Salzburg since 1705 and the oldest coffeehouse in Austria. Even young Mozart was a regular!

As a tradition, the “pastry waitress” dressed in prim black with a white laced apron will make the rounds, carrying a silver tray crowded with homemade cakes, tarts and pastries. My chocolate cake was smothered with way too much cream but the yogurt-like custard cake was deliciously light. What trumps them all is the carrot cake! I like some rustic texture in my carrot cake and this was indeed that, very dense and coarse~

Alter Markt 9

Right accross the square, face to face with Café Tomaselli, is Café Fürst.

Boasting a long history, this is where the Mozartkugel (Mozart’s chocolate balls) was first invented in 1890. These are balls of green pistachio marzipan covered with nougat and have since become Salzburg’s most popular edible souvenirs. We did buy a couple of bags home but I’ve never liked it cuz of the marzipan.

I had a trio of mini desserts from the counter: chocolate cake that’s cloyingly sweet, coffee cake with nuts, and a fabulously crisp honey almond Florentine cookie.

Because the boxes of chocolate truffles look so tempting on the display shelves, I grabbed a box of 8 just to satisfy my curiosity. Well, all I can say is that I wish I didn’t. All of them, including the much raved about Millennium (champagne) truffles, are overwhelmingly sweet! Ah, I just can’t seem to appreciate Austrian sweets~

Brodgasse 13

I’ve had enough sugar to last me for a week day by then so the pretzel stand at the outdoor market was calling out to me. But I thought it’s too commercialized (think Auntie Anne’s) and veered towards a lonely pretzel stand near the cathedral instead. The lady boss made her pretzels fresh every morning and our black pepper pretzel (top right) was nice. Not great, just normal-nice. 

Just when I was done eating (finally), I spotted Café Demel! And there went my intention to stop any further intake of sugar, haha. I chose the cat’s tongue ice cream cuz of the weird name and it turned out to be chocolate. Anyway, this was wonderful, very smooth and creamy, and left me with a good memory of Salzburg =)

Mozartplatz 2

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Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, Salzburg is a small and charming city in the heart of Europe. It’s surrounded by huge mountains, kind of like a fortress city. And feels pretty touristy, which is ok with me since the experience was still enjoyable despite the tourists.

The land of Mozart… That’s Salzburg.

If not for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, most of the 8 million tourists Salzburg welcomes each year probably wouldn’t be here. Geburtshaus, the striking yellow building, is his birthplace and always crowded with people inside and out.

 Another big drawcard for Salzburg is “The Sound of Music“!

I watched that in primary school for the first time. And still remember Julie Andrews singing and dancing through the hills, LOL. Salzburg is the main setting for parts of the musical film and the immaculate Mirabell Gardens are where the von Trapp kids sang the annoyingly catchy “Do-Re-Mi” while running around the Pegasus fountain, jumping up and down the steps and imitating the stautes at the end of the gardens -___-

Then we walked past Wohnhaus (Mozart’s Residence), a reconstruction of Mozart’s second home, and Christian Doppler’s home, a small town house in the city center.

I love the long winding streets, especially Getreidegasse. Classy shops, wrought iron guild signs, charming passageways and courtyards… And the smallest house (top left) in Salzburg on Alter Markt! A young man needed to have a house before he could marry his girlfriend so he built one, albeit such a tiny one. Smart alec~

While Salzburger Dom Cathedral is in the center of town on Domplatz, Hohensalzburg Fortress towers 400 feet above the city. It’s rarely used cuz it was so foreboding that no one dared to attack Salzburg for 1000 years.

Nearby is St. Peter Abbey, a Benedictine monastery with an old cemetery. Apparently, only important people were buried here and it’s at the foot of a cliff where hermit monks used to live in caves there.

And I can’t not go to any European town without trying the local sweets! Find out what I had in my next post =)

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After conquering the long train ride from Prague, the first thing I did in Vienna was to (you guess it) eat!

I was so hungry that I finished these 6 delicious open-faced sandwiches from Buffet Trzesniewski in record time and washed them down with a small glass of Pfiff beer. This place is quite a hot spot in Vienna and justly so! Everything was soooo good, from the simple tomato and mushroom to the popular herring with onion and prawn with egg. Cheap, fresh and tasty, I love my lunch here!

Mariahilfer strasse 95

Dessert was waiting right across the street at Bortolotti, arguably the best ice cream parlor in Vienna. There are lots of flavours to choose from and we finally narrowed the list down to dark chocolate, pistachio, chestnut, blueberries, hazelnut and rum & raisin. I was happy with all the flavours; texture was very creamy and quality was top-notch!

7, Mariahilfer Strasse 94

And a raisin cinnamon pastry from the cute pinky Cafe Aida before I was ready to move on with the itinerary proper =) 

Mariahilfer Straße 101

Palaces are a big deal in Vienna.

There’s Schloss Belvedere, the two Baroque palaces built in the 18th century as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy…

… and there’s the Hofburg Palace, the winter palace of the Habsburgs who ruled over much of Europe, which also houses the renowned Spanische Hofreitschule (Spanish Riding School) today…

… and my favourite palace in Vienna: Schönbrunn Palace, the imperial summer palace of the Habsburgs with its gorgeous manicured gardens.

Besides palace, music rules in Vienna!

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is probably the most famous Austrian musician everyone knows of.

Statue of Mozart in Burggarten.

Then there’s also Johann Strauss, the Austrian composer known as the “Waltz King”. 

Statue of Johann Strauss in Stadtpark.

And of course, Vienna’s landmark Opera: Staatsoper, the world’s greatest opera Mecca. And that’s when I took a break at Sacher Café (just behind the opera house) for the legendary dry Sacher Torte!

Guess what, I saw this quirky public Opera Toilet that plays classical music in the underground on the way to the Opera House. For just €0.60, you get to soak in all the music you want while doing whatever needs to be done. Talk about enterprising businessmen! -___-

And on the subject of enterprising Viennese businessmen, here are some in action. Dressed to the nines and trying to persuade tourists like us to purchase tickets for that night’s performance.

Of course, we didn’t buy the tickets from them cuz they’re so expensive! Thanks to Rick Steves, we queued for a Stehplatz (standing-room-only ticket) which was wonderfully cheap and gave us the option of leaving early if we wanted. Honestly, a three-hour opera is a lot of opera, and we weren’t sure whether we could endure it. Or so we thought.

We returned at around 7 pm that night and whoa, the locals attending the opera were very well-dressed in their gowns and suits. Anyway, buying the Stehplatz was a wise move cuz it allowed us to explore the beautiful interior of the building!

The opera itself was awesome! We thought we would get bored and leave after 15 mins max but no! We actually stayed till almost the end cuz the singing was full of emotions and so captivating. It didn’t matter that it was in a foreign language; there’s subtitles on the small screen in front of the seats so we could follow the story. This was easily my best moment in Vienna~

Hundertwasserhaus (designed by renegade artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser) is one odd building. The lines are irregular, the angles incongruous, and the exterior a colourful patch of work. What’s more, it’s a lived-in apartment! I’m not sure I’ll want to live there though, what with so many camera-toting tourists flocking there on a daily basis, LOL.

The Prater was somewhat disappointing. It had a tired look and nothing enticed us to stay longer than the time it took to photograph its most celebrated Ferris wheel, originally built in 1896.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Austria’s most eminent Gothic edifice, houses the venerated Pötscher Madonna painting and on the cornor of Stephansplatz is Haas Haus, in whose facade one can see the mirror image of the cathedral.

After that, it was an easy stroll to Neuer Markt via Kärntner Straße (the most famous shopping street in central Vienna) where there’s lots of cafes and restaurants surrounding the square.

To me, a reliable way of differentiating the good and bad not-as-good eateries is to see whether there’s a crowd, especially on a weekend. Le Bol, a French bistro, was packed to the max on that Saturday and I know the reason why after we were served. Service was friendly, our smoked salmon tartine and croque monsieur were tasty and came in enormous portions too! 

Neuer Markt 14

Of course, Vienna being the city of cafés, I tried to visit at least one café per day for the quintessential Viennese coffee house experience. Each coffeehouse comes with its own individual character and no one does cozy interior design as well as the Viennese.

Smoky atmosphere, dark furniture, comfortable benches, and moody waiters, that’s Café Westend (above). The Wiener schnitzel and breaded cod fillets were so-so, and very over-priced. Not recommended since there are much better ones elsewhere~

Mariahilfer Straße 128

Now, Café Central is another story. Opened in 1860, it’s known as a key meeting place of intellectuals, writers and revolutionaries who would change the world (Leon Trotsky, anyone?). It’s exactly what I imagine a grand Viennese café to be like. And thumbs up for the fried egg with asparagus and homemade Viennese style square noodles! 

Herrengasse 14, in the Innere Stadt district

If I’ve got to choose my favourite café in Vienna, it would be Café Sperl. It dates from 1880, and is still furnished identically to the day it opened — from the coat tree to the chairs. Even the dear old man manning the counter looks like he’s been with the café since its beginning. Everything we tried was good, from the Wiener schnitzel and sole with potatoes, to the to-die-for chocolate torte and apple strudel (we still love Demel’s version more)!

Gumpendorfer Straße 11, just off Naschmarkt near Mariahilfer Strasser

My overall impression of Vienna is pretty good… The pace of life is slow, and if you like classical music or imperial grandeur or just a good apple strudel (I’m in this category), you’ll love Vienna =)

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Vienna: Cafe-Konditorei Demel

Almost everyone who visits Wien goes to Hotel Sacher (I’m pretty sure it’s featured on every guidebook) and so did I on my first visit there. But a few days later, I went to Cafe-Konditorei Demel and found that I like it even more!

Spread over several rooms and floors on the Kohlmarkt, Demel was once the Royal and Imperial pastrycook’s and today, it is widely regarded as one of the oldest and most expensive traditional coffeehouses in Vienna.

It was fully packed when we arrived and we had to wait for almost half an hour for a table. Thankfully, the glass-walled kitchen provided a source of entertainment and it’s fun to watch the pastry chefs in action! Apparently, all cakes are prepared by hand to traditional recipes and machinery is hardly used at all.

We were finally shown to the Baroque tearoom on the second level, a lovely ornate room decked in elegant mahogany, velvet and crystal chandeliers~

Previously, I mentioned the age-old battle between Hotel Sacher and Demel for the right to call their own Sacher Torte as “the real thing”. While it’s tempting to play judge, Demel was originally foremost a confectionary so the other lovely cakes displayed in the glass cabinet were more appealing to me than the dry and sweet Sacher Torte.

Besides Sacher Torte, Vienna is also well known for her Apfelstrudel (apple strudel).

I love this to bits! It’s said that traditionally, the golden crust should be so thin that the cook should be able to read a newspaper through the strudel dough. Well, this was not that thin but no matter, it’s thin enough! And generously filled with warm and gooey apple slices and raisins~

Another bingo choice was Anna Torte, a good solid old-fashioned chocolate cake with nougatine and laced with a hint of orange liqueur. Moist and dreamily soft~

The drinks pale in comparison to the cakes. I tried the Eisschokolade Bailey’s — a concoction of vanilla ice cream, liquid chocolate, whipped cream and Bailey’s Irish Cream — which was not as rich and thick as I’d prefer. Still good, but not fantastic.

After such a luxurious tea break, I left rather reluctantly but not before browsing through the gift shop on the first level devoted to items for take-home purchase — sweet souvenirs like candied flower petals, chocolate bars and of course, Sacher Torte (a box costs €35!).

Most of them are beautifully packaged in Art Nouveau boxes and I spotted this classic ‘Langues du Chat’ (Cat’s Tongues): chocolates shaped in the shape of (what else but) a cat’s tongue!

Demel is not exactly a humble place — expensive but it’s all part of the Viennese experience so the euros splurged here are absolutely worth it!

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Once upon a time, there was a long-standing feud between two of Vienna’s best-known pâtisseries — Hotel Sacher Wien Restaurant and Café Demel. To make a long story short, both were locked in a legal dispute over who has the right to sell the legendary and original Sacher Torte. In the end, the court ruled in favor of Hotel Sacher and till today, it retains the right to call their version of the cake “Original Sacher Torte“.

I did go to Café Demel but that’s a story for another day. For now, let’s talk about Hotel Sacher (Philharmonikerstraße 4, Austria)! Or more accurately, its rendition of the world famous Viennese cake.

So what exactly is an “Original Sacher Torte”?

According to Sacher Hotel, it’s a “chocolate cake, thinly coated by hand with best-quality apricot jam. The chocolate icing over this is the crowning glory.” Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

Many guidebooks and websites have warned that the cake is extremely sweet yet dry. And they are right! Even the unsweetened whipped cream on the side didn’t help.

The crazy thing is, I’d come back again in a heartbeat~ Simply because the ambience is classy and the place itself very fancy and elegant. Precisely the sort of place I imagine aristocrats would gather for coffee and cake.

Our votes go to the Original Sacher Punch Dessert, a variation on the Sacher Torte with a hint of rum. It’s moist and not as tooth-achingly sweet.

Less than a year ago, I made a promise to myself on this blog that I’m going to try the Original Sacher Torte when in Vienna and voilà, mission accomplished! =)

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