Yesterday began with a lovely breakfast at the pension. There wasn’t anything particularly special for breakfast—I had a ham-and-cheese sandwich on what seemed to be rye bread. And I was so happy because that bread was exceptional. It made me think of Leo McGarry telling C.J. Cregg to squeeze the rye bread in “Evidence of Things Not Seen,” The West Wing season 4. Soft and chewy in the middle with a legitimately crunchy crust…mmmm. Not bad for a cheap pension!
After that I put on my walking shoes and started re-tracing my steps from the evening before.
This is the Albertina Museum.
I don’t know what it was like inside, but it’s got some pretty nifty steps…
…which are actually painted with waterlilies. The following picture was taken when I saw the steps from far away, on my way to the Staatsoper yesteday evening.
Vienna is an overwhelmingly musical city. In Paris every once in a while, there’s a placard on a building that says, “Jacques Offenbach lived here whil writing La Belle Hélène.” (That one is actually on Boulevard des Capucines, near the Opera. It’s now an office building, smushed in between MANGO and Zara. Tant pis!) But in Vienna, they’re everywhere—Richard Strauss lived here, Richard Wagner stayed at this hotel while writing Lohengrin, Johannes Brahms did some other thing at this address, to say nothing of whole stores devoted to Mozart. There are statues of musical figures everywhere:
And then there are the stars in the sidewalk, which is a music nerd adaptation of the Walk of Fame in Hollywood:
(There are more, but these happened to be right outside the Staatsoper when I was scoping it out yesterday.)
Anyway. Did I mention that yesterday started extremely early? It did. Breakfast is served in the pension from 7 AM to 10 AM, and I sat down around 7:15. But I refused to leave the building until the sun was fully up and there would actually be things open, around 9 AM (I lay on my bed and read Murakami’s Norwegian Wood to while away the time). So all of those pictures above were taken between 9 and 10:30 AM.
So, it was 10:30 or 10:45. I had bought a couple of apples earlier, so I ate one, but what on earth was I going to do until it was late enough to respectably eat lunch? I took a leaf out of Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There: I went to a Konditorei (not sure what the literal meaning of this is, but they’re all lovely cafés with pastries and sweets and sometimes real food as well) and had a slow cup of coffee. The waitress at this one, which was near the Neue Markt, was very kind and let me do my whole order in German. I sat there for the better part of an hour, sipping my (highly sugared) coffee and writing postcards. I found myself staring into space for a moment, when the man next to me said, “You don’t know what to say next?” I said I didn’t. He said, “Write about the weather we’re having, because it’s very strange.” So I did. The weather really was magnificent—balmy and breezy, barely a cloud in the sky, a perfect day to be a tourist in a beautiful city.
I’m glad I had a day of perfect weather in which to form my first impressions of Vienna. The whole city makes me think of Versailles—all of these enormous, imposing buildings against a bright blue sky, lots of wide-open space. (Paris has plenty of squares and gardens and parks, but nothing like the amount of empty space that Vienna has. The main shopping street, the Kärntenstrasse, is so wide that even at peak tourist hours it doesn’t feel that busy.) I like that when you sit down in a restaurant in Vienna, they don’t hurry you out, or leave the check on the table when they bring what you’ve ordered (or ask you to pay when they bring your order, like in that café near Montparnasse), even if it’s busy, like the Konditorei I went to. On the one hand, I prefer not having to stare down the waitress to get the check, but on the other, it’s nice to be able to relax like that. I liked that when I sat down at the Konditorei for my coffee, the man next to me was eating an enormous piece of cake. At 11 AM.
I’m not sure if I’m imagining it, or if it’s just compared to Paris, but the Viennese seem to be very polite. I think part of it is a linguistic difference. I’ve always remarked on how rarely I actually say “s’il vous plait” when I’m speaking French or writing e-mails in French, maybe because I know the language well enough to phrase my sentences in such a way that “please” becomes superfluous; maybe it’s that adding “if it pleases you” to a request feels like a guilt trip to me. (NB: I went to write an example of this in French and only German came out. Ack!) But in German, “danke” and “bitte” are everywhere. “Bitte,” please, especially, as “bitte schön” also means “you’re welcome.” You also kind of can’t go wrong in a German-speaking country if you can say, “Ein Kaffee, bitte,” even if you couldn’t possibly form a whole sentence around it—“Ich möchte ein Kaffee, bitte.” Mit Milch? “Ja, danke.” I really do love German. This trip has definitely strengthened my resolve to start taking a German class at the Goethe-Institut in Paris this spring.
I decided to attempt standing room tickets at the Staatsopera that evening (as you have probably already read, it did not live up to expectations). The whole rest of the afternoon stretched ahead of me, and my first thought, after my coffee, was lunch. Walking back up the Kärntenstrasse, I saw a sign on a side street for a restaurant called Gutenberg, which I thought was cool because Gutenberg invented the printing press. But before I got there, I was assaulted by an enormous green sign for Figlmüller, proclaiming:
So I said, why not have schnitzel?
Well, I’ll tell you why not.
Or at least, that’s why you don’t have schnitzel by yourself, at least not at Figlmüller. I ordered a mixed green salad as a side, and they made a mistake and gave me the potato salad, which was pretty heavenly, and I’m not a potato salad person.
I felt no guilt about leaving half of the schnitzel on my plate.
I agonized for a couple of minutes about how to ask for a doggie bag. Not because I didn’t know the words in German, because the waiter and I had already established our relationship in English, but because taking food home seems like such a terribly American touristy thing to do. But he anticipated my request and brought me a piece of paper in which to wrap the thing (no box big enough!) and a hilarious bag to put it in.
Our Schnitzel is the biggest. Size matters in Austria, clearly.
I came back to my room, where I fell into a profound schnitzel coma and slept better than I had all the night before. Thanks, Figlmüller’s!
The adventure continues…tomorrow.
P.S. With regards to the title of this entry, it has occurred to me in the last couple of days to wonder why the Von Trapps are eating Wienerschnitzel if they live in Salzburg…