Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Greetings from: Opernring

Monday! The sun was shining, the shops were open, the world had righted itself back onto its axis. The previous day’s rain became nothing more than a cold breeze that blew throughout Vienna. We made the tourist circle around the city center, gazing at Baroque buildings and dodging the bicycles that come zooming down the sidewalk. Vienna is extremely bicycle-friendly (designated bike lanes!) although the riders can occasionally be pedestrian-hostile.

I’d also discovered the joy of ordering my hot chocolates mit Schlag—with whipped cream. The Schlag isn’t sweetened, as one might expect, but adds the richness and butterfat that milk froth just can’t contribute. No more trying to dissolve those last lumps of Swiss Miss in tepid tap water—Viennese hot chocolate is the real thing.

The Viennese have a fondness for Asian cuisine (maybe rightly so, since there’s only so much schnitzel you can eat before you turn into a leaden lump). The Orientophages of the Czech Republic had to confine themselves to Činksa restaurants, but Vienna aims for a more cosmopolitan feel and offers the gamut: Japanese, Indonesian, and even Vietnamese (owned and operated by Chinese, but close enough). Asian groceries, as well, dot the streets around the Naschtmarket, tempting me with their shiny cleavers.

The main street of the City Center, Graben (a former ditch), has become a pedestrian walkway given over to high-priced conglomerate boutiques: Hermes, Hugo Boss, Zegna—beautiful suits around the 1,499 Euro mark. The businessmen striding through the square, assiduously ignoring tourists as if they were lampposts—were they the market for those suits? Or do they need the suits to match the red marble urinals and mahogany-doored stalls of the Adolf Loos-designed public toilets?

Matthew and I ascended the south tower of St. Stephan’s Cathedral, 300+ stairs caked with decades’ worth of spit-out gum and the names of previous visitors scratched into the stone. The top afforded a panoramic view over the city, but was slightly marred by the fact that it was now a gift shop, manned by a soporific cashier. I don’t blame him, though; it was warm, and I can’t imagine lugging an A/C unit up those stairs.

We capped off the evening with dessert and tea in Süssi. We were served by a single young man, Christopher, with dark hair and hearing aids in each ear. He reminded me of Jonathan from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, expect happier. “What is your wish?” he asked, indulging our indecision with a genuine smile, rather than the grudging acknowledgement to which we’ve become accustomed here in Europe. I sort of wanted to put him in my pocket and take care of him. Mit Schlag, bitte.

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