Well it’s been a while hasn’t it? I’ve been too busy to write recently as had quite a bit of work on. Inconvenient really. Gets in the way of ones holidays. By the way if you enjoy reading my musings click the follow button on the bottom right of your screen. Feel free to share on facey B too.
Anyway, back to what I wanted to tell you about: Vienna. Lady S wanted to catch up with a long estranged branch of her family, The Habsbergs. Uh oh! I thought, this has the ring of disaster about it but, pathetically, the best I could manage was that I couldn’t possibly miss the next show of X-Factor. She was having none of it.
“Don’t talk rot, of course you’re coming. Who would pay the bills and tip the staff? And any way you like Strictly not X-Factor. Now be a dear and ask Edwards to book the plane and a hotel. Nothing crappy mind!”
Curses! I had no choice. So I beetled off to find the butler. He’s a wonder you know. Just two hours later he’d booked us club class BA to Vienna, they don’t do 1st class, what is the world coming to, and a nice room in the best hotel in town – The Grand Wien.
“The hotel is right next to the State Opera and as it has such a remarkable resemblance to your country residence I thought it would be most suitable sir” Edwards oiled.Now the Habsbergs were quite well to-do in previous times and if their palace was anything to go by they certainly seemed to have a few bob. We tootled up to The Hofberg with Lady S beadily hoping to catch the eye of one of her rellies. But they’d left! Sold up. Even the family silver! And trust me I’m talking about a lot of silver, enough for eight hundred place settings. I shuddered at the thought of the food bills. Such was their need they had even set up a shop in the basement vaults to flog it. Apparently something or another had kicked off in 1914 after one of the uncles got stabbed in a fight in Sarajevo. Well, after a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, by 1918 the whole bloody lot had gone tits up and they’d lost all their money and influence. Lady S was not amused.
“How irresponsible” she said “people at our level should know how to keep their finances under control. Quite disgraceful.”
We spent the afternoon kicking our heels a bit looking around the Christmas markets. Think alpine hutlets flogging Christmas nic-nacs, hotdogs which I resisted, and gluhwien which I didn’t. Charming but a tad crowded with foreigners. They get everywhere.
Back in the hotel suite we reviewed our plans for the evening. Toddle down to the State Opera in our finest, a glass or two of champers, pop into the box and settle down to watch Tosca. Lady S was hopping with excitement about this. So much so in fact that she commandeered my iPad to find out the plot. Of all the cheek!
Tosca, you will be pleased to hear, has a pretty simple plot. Rich woman is jealous of her lover, he gets caught up with the wrong people, she unknowingly betrays him to the local police chief who has a secret passion for her. He offs the competition and tries to force himself on her – what a cad – she jumps off a cliff. End of. So with this in mind we readied ourself for the great event. It’s a good job I checked with the concierge about which bow tie colours were acceptable with dinner suits as apparently they don’t dress up any more. Lady S would have felt a bit self-conscious in the tiara and I would have looked like a right tosser. Nevertheless, it’s quite a swanky place and gives a fantastic sense of occasion…. So what did I think? Tosca! Tosca! What were you to me? Colours, lights, sound, costumes…. beautiful singing, stunning orchestra…. beautiful building, the gamut of human emotions…. you were WONDERFUL darling. You play with the heart strings of humankind you cheeky temptress! Never leave me…….. ‘Woah!’ you’re think to yourself, ‘he’s gone a bit floral hasn’t he?’ Well I am mimicking that Italian geezer Bruno from Strictly but it was really really good. Actually I wanted to stand up and shout “EIGHT!” but thought that wouldn’t go down too well. Three points for you though: all opera’s are in italian – so not a la mode darling, all opera’s have basically the same plot – so don’t worry to much about choosing one, and make sure you have a front row seat – otherwise you’ll spend half the performance looking at the back of Mrs Brady Old Lady’s head whhile she waves her hands about. You wouldn’t believe how someone that small could take up so much space. Anyway, after giving her a proper dressing down at half time about how selfish she was being and her bursting into tears and the other occupants of our box tutting at me, she finally moved over a bit and I could see the show. Sorted.
Next morning we were at a riding school.
“Why would we want to go to a riding school and watch horrible children learning to ride horses. I don’t even like the damn things. Horses, I mean.”
With a slight narrowing of her eyes Lady S said “it’s not children darling. It’s a performance. With horses…. Just wait – you will be impressed.”
And impressed I was. The Spanish Riding School has been located in the Kaiser’s (Emperor) palace for over five hundred years in a grand baroque hall complete with marble columns and huge chandeliers, a bit like our ballroom BUT with sand on the floor. No ordinairy sand mind, waxed sand so it doesn’t make dust or hurt the poor horses hooves. It is home to a troop of the finest Lippizan stallions and their riders who put on the most fantastic show of classical dressage you could imagine. Watching them walking sideways or doing stylised jumps or standing on the hind legs was incredible. The riders are able to do this without stirrups and seemingly with out any movement. Only in Austria. Putting it in time to music such as – I believe it was – Mozart’s Greatest Hits Vol 2, and in that building, it was just something else. Which was a good job given the price they charge. It takes about twelve years to train the stallions to do this and so the show included watching some four year old beginners. They obviously take it seriously as they were quite nervous. One black horse – they only become white when they reach eight years – was so nervous he farted loudly and was so surprised that he reared up and nearly threw his rider. I laughed so much my eyes watered. Well worth going to watch. Lady S was so delighted by the stallions she asked me how I would feel if we remodelled the ballroom. It was already half way there she said it would just need the floor removed. Inwardly I was thinking about the hugely expensive parquet flooring and how I would have to buy-off the listed building chappie again. Outwardly I said “But darling, where would we practice our ballroom dancing? No more argentianian tangos, no more quick steps? Is that what you really want?” She looked at me thoughfully and smiled. I’ll save the dancing story for another time but suffice to say every time we danced my super smooth moves and graceful poise fair swept her off her feet. It was too big a price.
A really early start on the Sunday as the Vienna Boys Choir started at 09.15 sharp. Not even time for a spot of brekky! But the real shock was realising this was actually as part of a catholic mass! Now some of you may be surprised to know that I am actually a left-footer: not practicing, of course, as had more than my fair share of it catholic school. In fact I’ve spent the last 32 years studiously avoiding the roman candle rituals and have – when forced – only succumbed to the Arch Bishop of Canterbury’s version. Despite this I sat down with a good heart and composed myself. It was actually rather good! Shame it wasn’t in English but the latin was really nice to hear. Not sure about the chanting though. The boys, on the other hand, were fantastic. About twenty little eight year olds. Tiny. Boy they could sing.
Anyway. After all that contemplation I was in need of a snifter so we found a local watering hole for a quick schnapps and coffee. They make a good coffee in Vienna. None of your starbucks rubbish and if you like cake you’ve come to the right place. But if you are feeling a bit stingy you can simply lounge about in the cafe for a few hours nursing a single cup. It’s the done thing darling.
The afternoon was spent going to the museum quarter. We plumped for their museum of modern art Mumok. A big mistake. It was shit. Of the seven floors 5 were dedicated to Mr Dan Flavin’s flourescent light show. Huge empty rooms with a few coloured tubes sticking out at odd angles. When he met the curator he must have laughed all the way to the bank! Lady S was not amused. Avoid.
For our last full day we had a big lunch lined up so decided to do a final bit of culture in the morning. Lady S had heard that Karls Kirche (church) had a dome similar to that in our chapel back home. Better still they were remodelling it so she was hoping for some choice tips. Now when I say it was big I mean bloody huge. 150ft elevator ride up scaffolding then another 50ft climb to inside the dome. At the very top of which is a little room with spectacular views of Vienna. Which is all well and good but when the scaffolding is creaking and moving you’ve got more important things on your mind. Like “how do I get off this damn thing!” But you have to make allowances for are germanic cousins: they are good engineers. Here you can see Lady S eying up some of the detail paintwork. It’s five hundred years old and quite amazing to be so close to. Apparently, she muttered to me, “it’s better than ours. But don’t tell anyone.”
For lunch we went to a posh restaurant called the Steirereck in the state park. Two Michelin stars and the best in Vienna. Well where else would we go? We got off to a spectacular start of our 5 course meal with Char (it’s a fish) in beeswax. Could be interesting I thought. But I wasn’t expecting the waiter to come out with a behive tray and a jar of molten beeswax. “Velcome sir. ‘Ere we ‘ave zee Char feesh. Ve vill cook it at your table by zimply pouring zee beeswax over zee feesh and waiting ten minutes to break it out. Like Zo!” And with that he poured the beeswax over my fish and left it! You don’t believe me do you? It’s a nice touch providing a card telling you what each dish consists of. Some are so obscure you couldn’t possibly remember it. And so it went on. Dish after dish of really fascinating beautifully prepared food. After desert they offerred us chocolates with our coffee. Not just any old chocolate. Jewellery chocolate. Served from a jewellery counter. The presentation capped a truly splendid meal. And the price I hear you ask? Not as much as you might think. Lunch for two a bottle and half of delicious Austrian wine all for the price of half of one Rolling Stones ticket. As we strolled back through the park arm in arm. Lady S whispered to me “Do you think we could get Edwards to cook like that? I’ve kept all the cards?” You’ve got to laugh.
Our last morning was spent tootling about the shops; I had a look at the Ferrari show room, they were a bit snooty; Lady S had a look at jewellery, they weren’t. It’s the blue blood; it shows. Neither of us had our credit cards with us. Phew.
Having paid our bill and climbed into the back of the BMW saloon on our way to the airport. The driver neatly summed up Vienna. “Zank you for wisiting our beautiful city of Wien our journey to the airport should take approximately 18 minutes.”
I need say no more. If you are looking for a nice, sophisticated and cultured city break you will do no better than Vienna.