I know that I’m digressing again, but because I loved Budapest so much, I thought it would be fun to take a short train ride to its sister city Vienna while I was in the neighborhood. And just like Hungary, Austria was first settled by the Celts. Those Celts of long ago really got around. Austria is where east meets west. On a map it looks like the center of a wheel with its spokes being Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Germany.
It’s “Vienna” to you and me, but it is really “Wien”, thus making the people who live here “Wieners”. I want to move here just so that I can say, “I’m a Wiener,” on a regular basis. But for this trip I have to settle for just a couple days.
Vienna is a fantastic city and the days spent here are fantastic too. It’s a palatial city that seems to have it all – from cafes, to shopping, to music, to art, to strudel.
My Viennese friend Julia who now lives in Dublin told me that the cafes in her home town were second to none. Now I know what she means. During the time of the Ottoman empire the Turks left some coffee behind in Vienna, and the beautiful cafes that were built around the grounds became part of the cafe culture that remains. The cafes have become almost extended living rooms for the nearly two million people who live here and the seven million tourists who visit every year. At Cafe Griensteidl artists used to use the cafe as their address. I tried to go to two or three different cafes every day for Weiner melange – the Viennese version of cappuccino – or for hot chocolate, or for a pastry, or for schnitzel.
I’m happy to discover that Vienna has the largest pedestrianized shopping district I have ever seen. No one appreciates a pedestrianized shopping district more than I do. I love everything about it, but especially the things that make it so unique, like the Lipizzaner horse stables that seem to just appear magically. Vienna is the homeland of Swarovski crystals, so of course I have to buy four bracelets and a necklace from their new spring collection with the help of a beautiful and sophisticated sales girl who speaks perfect English with a British accent.
And then there is the art. The city has 100 art museums. I’ll have to come back. But for this trip my favorite so far is the gallery in the Belvedere Palace that houses the paintings of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, two of my favorite artists. Klimt (1862-1918) was the central figure in Austrian painting around 1900 and the father of the art nouveau movement. Klimt’s work is pervasive here, from the palace, to the headboard in my hotel room, to necklaces, to teacups, to tissues. I wonder if Klimt would be happy about an image of The Kiss on tissues.
My favorite Klimt is Adorn the Bride With Veil and Wreath and my favorite Schiele is Sitting Woman with Legs Drawn Up. Of course the palace has a cafe with a stunning view of the palace grounds and of course I have to have another coffee and another pastry there.
I guess that’s the magic of traveling. Among other more noble things, it gives one the excuse to do whatever you feel like doing. As part of my travel package, a tour of Schonbrunn Palace – the Habsburgs’ summer residence – is included. As our docent is handing out the headphones I realize I don’t want to do it. I’ve seen enough palaces for the moment, and I would much rather walk around the grounds.
I make my excuses and head out only to discover “The Original Wiener Strudelshow” in a building just next to the palace. The sign beckons me in. I sit down to a Weiner melange and a huge piece of apple strudel and watch an adorable young woman demonstrate how to make strudel from start to finish. It’s the best “apfelstrudel” I have ever tasted.
As the website says, “What would Vienna be without an apple swirl?” The original pastry recipe is from the Turks and the apple filling is from the Hungarians. It’s simple. All you need is: flour, water, oil, eggs, and salt for the dough. It’s kneaded and then left to rest in a sunflower oil bath for an hour in the fridge.
For the filling you need Granny Smith apples peeled and cut into different sizes so that some are soft and some have a
bite, lemon juice, bread crumbs roasted in butter, cinnamon and sugar, and raisins soaked in rum for twenty-four hours. Nothing to it.
Then for the fun part – using a special strudel cloth to start, Julia rolls out the dough. Then she tosses the dough and stretches it over and over again until it is
so thin you could read a newspaper through it. She makes the pizza twirlers in Brooklyn look like amateurs. Once the dough is ready for the filling the whole thing is rolled up by using the special cloth. There’s more twisting and stretching and then there’s melted butter. After it comes out of the oven, there’s more melted butter. After a thirty-minute rest, the strudel is ready to be cut into pieces and white cream is added as a finishing touch. All of the authentic ingredients are for sale, but I have too much stuff to take home, so I control myself. But I’m heartened to find out that if I’m confused at all or need help with the recipe, there’s a STRUDEL HOTLINE: +43 1 24 100 321. I want to come back again so that I can take the “exclusive apple sweep baking course in the bakery.”
Palace shmalace – I have definitely made the right decision. I’ve learned precious life lessons at the Strudelshow. As with everything, you need the right ingredients. You always need to follow the directions. Good things take time. Some things cannot be duplicated. When you feel alone, there’s always help just a strudel hotline away. And finally, not all strudels are alike. Take your time – try to find the best one.