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Effervescent storyteller.

Welcome to My Modern Diary, an electronic journal filled with tales of nostalgic cuisine, wistful wanderings & personal recollections by Sarah Orman.

Austria - Vienna

Austria - Vienna

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Happy New Year folks! We're almost two weeks into 2015 already and I've barely had a chance to consider my resolutions and goals for the next twelve months, perhaps because since returning from vacation on January 1st, hubby and I have been so wrapped-up in re-living every single second of our three-week trip of a lifetime : )

And who can blame us, really? Three weeks, three incredible countries and countless memories that we will no doubt treasure forever.

The single most important objective of my blog since I began writing just over a year ago was for this space to be my electronic diary. I have to confess that I unfortunately don't have the greatest memory and more often than not I find myself digging through keepsake boxes in an attempt to conjure up thoughts and feelings from a special moment or experience. While there is undoubtedly a part of me that loves stumbling upon street maps of cities I've trailed all over or used tickets from a museum or art gallery we visited together {I even have corks from special occasion Champagne bottles?!} there are sadly always pieces missing from my memory and of course it's impossible to savor something physical from every single experience.

And so, despite the fact that the box of treasures from our vacation has already been tucked away for safe-keeping, I feel I must share with my electronic journal just how fabulous our trip of a lifetime really was, so that whenever I feel like revisiting the places we were fortunate enough to experience this Christmas, I won't need to dig out the keepsake box or even take another three-week extravaganza {although I wouldn't say no if hubby were to suggest it!}

So, where to begin? Perhaps as Julie Andrews once sang in The Sound of Music, "let's start at the very beginning..."

First and foremost, before we get to the actual travels, I must explain how and why this trip came about. Without really planning it this way, my husband and I didn't take any vacation time during the spring or summer of 2014. I had a new job, my husband was extremely busy with his work and really before we even knew it the fall was upon us. I had suggested multiple times that I didn't want a birthday gift for my milestone birthday on December 24th {yes, I am now officially in my 30's and loving it}. And so plans for an epic vacation began to simply mark the occasion.

So on December 14th, we boarded our first flight to Vienna, Austria.

We were to spend four nights in Austria's capital city, exploring the "Altstadt" {German for "old town"} on foot. Rich in architectural beauty, history and culture there was undoubtedly plenty to see and do including the Spanish Riding School and its infamous Lipizzaner stallions, the incredible Vienna State Opera and of course the countless traditional Christkindlmarkts.

As we meandered through the small streets lined with chocolate-box jewellery shops, book stores and cafes, I continuously felt the buzz and excitement of being on vacation; there is nothing more satisfying than those first few days in another country, especially knowing you have so much to look forward to.

The enchanting narrow, stone-paved lanes we followed without purpose occasionally opened-up to reveal a small, quaint church or chapel and what appeared to be a modest town square and at each and every turn there were enthralling examples of baroque architecture.

On the main pedestrianized streets of the old town, which were adorned with festive lights and decorations as far as the eye could see, there were throngs of seasoned shoppers, both locals and tourists alike, scouring the many Viennese fashion stores for glamorous party attire.

It seemed that everywhere we turned there were Christmas trees, freshly cut and waiting patiently to be whisked off to someone's home. With trees towering above us as tall as 18 feet, it was impossible not to stop and stare up towards the highest branches, wondering who would have a house big enough to accommodate such a giant! We reveled in the heart-warming smell of pine as we weaved in and out of the Christmas tree "markets" watching the occasional local stop to discuss prices with their owner.

In addition to Christmas trees, there was a plentiful supply of coffee shops in the "Altstadt." It seemed there were "Konditorei" on every corner, each of which begged for us to peek inside at the perfect rows of jewel-toned cakes, glistening with pastel fondant or tempered chocolate. And of course it wouldn't have been vacation if we hadn't stopped to sample some of Austria's finest desserts, our favorite of which was the Esterhàzy torte. A light yet delicious cake comprising layers of almond meringue and spiced cream topped with a fondant glaze recognized for its distinct and delicate chocolate pattern.

Of course with cake comes coffee, of which again there was no shortage. Some cafes offered as many as three pages of choices on the menu, ranging from a simple espresso or Viennese melange {one shot of espresso topped with steamed milk and foam} to the outrageous gewürzkaffee {double espresso with rum and clove served with a cinnamon stick for stirring!}

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In addition to exploring the old town, we couldn't visit Vienna at Christmas without making time for the traditional Christkindlmarkts, the largest of which was located at the beautiful "rathaus" building {town hall}. With a spring in our step on the first night, we headed in the direction of the "rathaus" eager to see what all the fuss was about. As we turned the corner on the opposite side of the street, my fast-paced walk soon became a trot as the festive lights hanging in the trees over the perfectly pristine wooden huts came into clear view.

With the smell of "glühwein" {warm red wine mulled with spices such as cinnamon and clove}, roasted chestnuts and "lebkuchen" {a German cookie resembling gingerbread} wafting all around us and a torrent of stalls to explore, there was simply no time to waste!

The ornate wooden cabins that seemed to go on for miles were filled with all kinds of festive fare; intricately painted tree ornaments, hand-crafted wooden toys, colorful dream catchers, intoxicating incense and of course a wealth of traditional food including "bratwurst" {grilled sausages}, "goulash" {beef stew} and an abundance of treats sure to satisfy even the sweetest-toothed sugar-junkie! There were freshly fried donuts, crepes filled with sweet, sticky Nutella, waffles and ice-cream and an array of Austrian cookies and pastries.

After spending a little time exploring and taking in all the initial sights, sounds and smells of our first traditional Christkindlmarkt in Austria, it was time to taste some of the tempting food offerings on display. With temperatures hovering around freezing, the very first thing we opted for was a hot, steamy mug of "punsch" {a mulled beverage spiked with liquor, usually brandy}. After the first few sips of the insanely good elixir, it was easy to appreciate why it's loved so much by the local people. I swear I felt it warming every inch of me from the toes upwards : )

Dinner was a large, bowl-shaped loaf of bread, crusty on the outside with just enough fluffy white goodness on the inside, roughly hollowed-out and filled with a piping hot beef "goulash" soup {hubby opted for creamy pumpkin}. It was so simple, yet totally magical; standing underneath the majestic and beautifully-illuminated town hall, surrounded by the best of Vienna's festive cheer… all I could do was smile at hubby and enjoy the simplicity of the moment : )

Several mug-fulls of "punsch" and "glühwein" later, we opted for a spot of dessert. Cue the Nutella crepes! There is something about Nutella in Europe that makes me completely weak at the knees for dessert. Every. Single. Time. I swear Nutella tastes even better outside the US and my favorite way to eat it is on a warm, freshly cooked French pancake. I could be absolutely full to bursting point yet still have room for a Nutella crepe... just saying.

After the glutenous glory of dessert, which we enjoyed beneath a winter-bare tree laden with glowing red heart illuminations, we were on our way back to the hotel {one more "glühwein" for the road in-hand} high on sugar, warm alcoholic beverages and vacation : )

While there were several unforgettable experiences in Vienna, I think my favorite by far was our excursion to the Opera House. I had pre-booked tickets to see Giuseppe Verde's La Traviata two months prior at the recommendation of our dear friends, who had strongly encouraged us to go.

First-off, before I even get into how unbelievable the opera itself was, I have to spend a little time gushing about how totally incredible the Opera House is. With its lush and opulent Neo-Renaissance decor capturing our attention at every turn, it wouldn't be too far-fetched to say that this magnificent beauty of a building quite literally took my breath away as soon as we arrived in its grand entrance hall. The intricate gold detail adorning the ceiling was just stunning; it was impossible not to stop and appreciate just how beautiful it was immediately after collecting our tickets.

We were soon swept by the natural flow of the entrance hall towards the grand staircase. Unharmed during the Second World War, the original towering archways framing the stairs graced by millions before us were so exquisite and the ceiling painting, "Fortuna, ihre Gaben streuend" {Fortune, scattering her gifts} was captivating beyond words.

We took our seats in a centrally-located box {complete with a tiny foyer housing coat hooks and a mirror!} and waited with anticipation for the performance to begin. I have to add here that while I'm a huge fan of both ballet and theatre, I've never before experienced the opera and I can't say the desire to do so was burning inside of me prior to booking our trip to Vienna. And so, despite my appreciation for the arts, I didn't know too much about the specific art of opera or what the next two hours would entail.

Enthralled from the very beginning and completely drawn in to the story and the characters within minutes, my husband and I both eagerly chattered in the interval about how bewitching the lead female was. After a chilled half bottle of Laurent Perrier and a couple of delicious Viennese petit four, we headed back to our seats for the performance.

Cue the Pretty Woman moment! Yes, despite trying my hardest not to, I succumbed to the overwhelming need to cry and by the end I was in fact well beyond dabbing my face with a tissue; I was sobbing!

I am without question a sensitive person, however, I honestly don't know how even the most thick-skinned individual couldn't be moved by such a tragedy performed with such elegance, passion and heart-felt emotion.

 And so there you have it folks, Vienna in a nutshell. I say that because while this is absolutely the longest blog post I've ever completed, I feel like I barely scratched the surface. Local food markets, beautiful stallions, impressive churches and delicious dining experiences. Thank you Vienna, you were a blast! Onwards to Salzburg...

Austria - Salzburg

Austria - Salzburg

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas