Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Schnitzel my nizzle

Hi loyal readers! I've missed you SO much. I've been off the radar for a bit because work was, as noted, insane in the membrane, and after the big hearing ended, I went on a lovely, idyllic vacation with Alastair to Austria and Slovenia and just got back last night. What a trip it was! Basically, it was 10 days of overwhelming cuteness and charm. The trip had three main components -- Vienna, the Wachau Valley, and Ljubljana, so I will describe the trip in three posts: first, Vienna.

Al and I got to Vienna in the afternoon after a long couple of flights from DC, and were completely wiped. We took the train and then the subway to Gumpendorferstrasse (not making that up) and checked in to the apartment we had rented for a few nights. Our hostess, a very friendly, lanky woman who wore a perma-fanny-pack, gave us the rundown on our accomodations and the neighborhood and handed us our keys. We promptly passed out in the apartment for several hours and got up for dinnertime.

Obviously, wiener schnitzel was high on the agenda for the Vienna portion of our trip. I had never had it before and, I'll admit, was unclear on what it actually was. I was picturing a wiener of some sort covered in sauerkraut, or possibly noodles with little wieners floating in them. Basically, I was expecting some kind of wiener. How wrong I was! Wiener schnitzel, for my fellow culinary ignuramuses (ignorami?), is a breaded and friend paillard of pork or turkey, served with a hot potato salad and sometimes a slice of lemon. Uh-may-zing. How can you not like a slab of crispy, breaded pork the size of a small woodland creature? Al and I each ate a schnitzel as big as our faces, washed down with large pints of beer, and then wandered off into the town.

Vienna is a beautiful city that really isn't afraid to throw some imperial grandeur at you. There are a lot of big, imposing buildings with ornate details, carefully manicured public gardens, and wide avenues that seem suitable for parades involving horse-drawn carriages and people wearing ermine stoles. However, as Al and I discovered quite accidentally, Vienna has its seedier side -- for example, the creepy, permanent carnival in the middle of the city. We foolishly took our landlady's advice and took the subway to what we vaguely understood to be a beer garden with rides, and ended up at quite possibly the Creepiest Carnival in All of Europe. The first thing that struck me about this carnival was that it was largely devoid of children. There were, however, several gangs of angry looking Aryan teenagers with shaved heads, and some competing gangs of angry looking Turkish guys in leather jackets. So, at least it was ethnically diverse, right?

Another thing about this place -- there was a surprising absence of any sort of jolly, well-lit beer garden. Instead, there were a bunch of what seemed to be spinal-injury-inducing rides, each blasting a different kind of intense, European techno. Fun for the whole family! We stayed a total of 10 minutes or so at the carnival, marveling at its sheer creepiness, then we walked quickly to the subway entrance, which is probably the one place in all of Austria that smells like pee, and got the hell out of there.

Scarred by our carnival adventure, we decided to try to get some culture in the city that's known for its opera, waltzes, classical symphonies, and Mozart balls (don't worry, they're chocolate!). We stood in line for the Opera, which sells really cheap, standing-room-only seats that you can buy 90 minutes before the show. We got in line at 5:30 for a 7 pm performance of Carmen, and were three people away from the ticket window when the show sold out. Foiled in our attempt to become cultured, we instead went to dinner, drank wine, and then headed to a seedy backpacker bar where we took vodka shots and wolfed down a microwave pizza before coming back to our apartment at 4 am singing songs and being completely obnoxious. I feel sorry for the quiet Dutch guy who, unbeknownst to us, was renting the other room in the apartment and probably wanted to murder us with his bare hands. Sorry, Dutch guy!

We did manage to get some modicum of culture while in Vienna - we went to a modern art museum, MUMOK, which had been billed to us as exhibiting naked people covered in salad, among other things, which was really all it took to pique our interest. Turns out that the museum just had a couple of small photos of naked people covered in salad, and then a lot of blocky, modern art exhibits for which my jet-lagged brain did not have the patience. Like, there was one exhibit that was a bookshelf leaning against a wall. I'm sorry, but that's just lazy. For the 8 Euros we paid to get in, I wanted to see real, live naked people slathered in Russian dressing. Disappointing.

So, that was Vienna in a nutshell. High points: wiener schnitzel, beer, pretty buildings. Low points: rain, sketchy carnival, lack of naked people. Overall, a good time! Next stop, the Wachau Valley -- wine country.

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