Monday, October 17, 2011

Off the Beaten Path in Vienna

Jacqueline, Forest
When people learn of my travels to Vienna, they typically want to hear about all the things they associate it with: the gilded neoclassical buildings, the opera, the horsedrawn carriages, Wienershnitzel, Sachertorte, and Mozart. But while all of that is indeed here, it is very marginal to my experience of the place. The centralmost 1st district - with its maze of white stone, processions of tourists, ticket peddlers dressed as historical figures, and endless shops selling fur coats and stockings to overcoiffed ladies - is a place I keep away from inasmuch as possible. The absurdly grandiose architecture of the famous Ringstrasse is something I look upon with fond irony, but it does not define the city for me. My experience here has always been that of an on-and-off resident, rather than that of a tourist, and "my" Vienna consists of real neighbourhoods, out of the way cafes, small parks frequented by locals, and other places you are unlikely to find in tourist guides. For me, these places are what makes Vienna special, what creates the captivating atmosphere that so draws me here. And yesterday I spent the day wandering through one of them, on my bike.

Jacqueline, Path
While many are no doubt familiar with the Prater - a large park that runs through the Southern part of Vienna and includes an amusement park, a stadium, various athletic facilities and horse trails running through wooded alleys - few venture beyond it into the tiny neighbourhood of Freudenau on the outskirts of town. On the map it does not look like much, and descriptions of it are not particularly inspiring: there is a golf course and a horseracing track, but otherwise it seems unremarkable. But the maps and guidebooks say nothing of the gravel trail that will take you through what can only be described as an enchanted forest, past a cluster of mysteriously abandoned mansions, ancient stables and ethereal-looking horses.

Magic White Horses
The horses are unexpected, because they really are in the middle of the woods, and not always contained within enclosures. They can be found wandering around untethered between the moss and ivy-covered tress, grazing serenely. I suppose so few people happen through this area, that no one bothers them.

Magic White Horse
The horses are not only beautiful, but tame and very sociable. You can pet them and feed carrots to them, which I sometimes find lying around.

Magic White Horses
I've been trying to understand what the horses are doing there and who they belong to, but there is never any human around to ask. I could be wrong, but I do not think that these particular animals are racehorses; the racehorses I've seen are not kept like this and don't behave like this either. A friend suggested that these are therapy horses for handicapped and emotionally disturbed children. Apparently Vienna has an equestrian therapy program, and this could be where the service animals are kept.

Abandoned House
Riding on the gravel trail through Freudenau is a soothingly surreal experience. There is such a haunting sense of history, and I am nearly always the only person there. I can hear nothing but the sounds of overhanging tree branches creaking, ravens' wings flapping, horses hooves clip-clopping over dried leaves, and my own bicycle tires rolling over gravel.

Path
Perhaps the uneven gravel, with its occasional ditches and root protrusions, explains why not many feel compelled to venture here. But Jacqueline handles it without a problem.

Katzenheim Freudenau, Wien
On the way back to civilisation, I am delighted to pass one of my favourite signs in Vienna. It's charming, because it suggests that the sign is for the cats themselves, rather than humans. "This way if you're a cat."

Katzenheim Freudenau, Wien
Of course it's only a sign for a cat shelter. But Katzenheim has a more romantic ring to it, and I choose to imagine it as a genteel home for wayward felines - no doubt with miniature Jugendstil furniture and catfood served in little crystal dishes.

Cafe in the Woods
Right before Freudenau connects back to the Prater, there is a small cafe where I like to go. With traditional outdoor cafes like these in Vienna you never know what to expect. Some will serve awful microwaved food and packaged supermarket sweets that they simply open and dump onto a plate. Others will serve homemade dishes prepared with local ingredients that are as delicious as anything you could order in the best Viennese restaurants. This one leans toward the latter and I am never disappointed with even the simplest food I order there. 

Lunch, Cafe in the Woods
I don't usually feel compelled to photograph food, but readers have been asking about this more than anything else! So here is a ridiculously stereotypical meal, photographed just for you: frankfurters and sturm. 

Sturm (Young Local Wine)
Sturm is a sort of fermented young wine, made from the first grape harvest of the season. It is naturally fizzy and low in alcohol, and tastes somewhat like a grapey version of hard cider. There are loads of vinyards outside of Vienna that compete to make the best Sturm in celebration of Autumn, and it's typical to sample them from as many places as possible this time of the year.

Apfelstrudel
And a Viennese Apfelstrudel: heavy on the apples (local and fresh, not canned or jellied!), tart and not sweet, and very light on the crust - which is thin like filo dough, only soft instead of crunchy. There are also raisins mixed in there with the apples, which I could personally do without - but the rest I love. It's hard to eat Apfelstrudel elsewhere after getting used to the version they make here. 

Cafe in the Woods
It's difficult to explain my attachment to Vienna without discussing my personal background at length. But I hope these pictures help express what words fail to.

Jacqueline, Forest
Vienna is a large, sprawling city and some of my favourite places are difficult to access without a bicycle. Cycling is truly the best way to travel off the beaten path and to visit all the places I love - on the road and off.

32 comments:

  1. During the mid fifties, I lived in military housing in a suburb of Frankfurt and used to escape into the real Germany on a rod-braked purple Raleigh that my mother won in a bingo game. It was a magical world for a ten year old, full of things like horse-drawn honey wagons and little kiosks that sold gummi bears by weight in paper cones.

    Today's entry made me cry.

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  2. Ewww! Raisins in Apfelstrudel! LOL!
    I did not know you could find "sturm" elsewhere! In France it is called "bourru", but you typically drink it with roasted chestnuts. It is your typical fall "goûter", i.e. 4 pm snack.
    Nice pictures. I like the rusty chairs one. This is what Europe is (in part) to me...

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  3. They sell roasted chestnuts on the street here from October till late winter. But those are typically had with Gluehwein - hot wine that becomes available later in the season.

    I think several countries have their version of Sturm, but slightly different - just like the wine is different everywhere. There is a German one as well, but it has a different name.

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  4. Anon - It's always strange to stir up memories from that age. The first time I lived in Vienna I was 10 years old as well. The next time I was 28, and it was very, very strange being back after 18 years.

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  5. Velouria, this is the travelogue I've been waiting for. Great! Thanks.

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  6. I've wanted to visit Vienna after seeing this video of cyclists in the city: http://vimeo.com/5475528

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  7. Ah yes, Fuss vom Gas : ) My friend Wolfgang is actually in that video - on his Swing Bike...

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  8. very nice pictures and wonderful description, i must go there too...

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  9. Max, come over before the end of the month!
    We can have a bike party : )

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  10. I so look forward to your blog. These little trips to Vienna or Boston or wherever you are really lift my day. Gorgeous photographs as ever : )

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  11. "miniature Jugendstil furniture" LOL!!
    What does Peppy say about that?

    When I visited Vienna on my grand tour 15 years ago, I rented a bike and got around that way, which was very pleasant. I stayed in what was essentially a college dorm off season, which was in a very pleasant neighborhood where I could go grocery shopping and do laundry which was nice.

    I just finished my first batch of Saurkraut, need to get some good sausages and make an apple strudel to go along with it!

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  12. Thanks for the foodie photos. It's appropriate to show us food from Vienna as it opens up the Viennese experience for your readers. The best Apfelstrudel I ever had was in Amsterdam. It was 4 inches high and not very sweet (without raisins), and what I measure against whenever I have it in the US. Of course, nothing here ever comes close to that wonderful taste.

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  13. (....processions of tourists, ticket peddlers dressed as historical figures, and endless shops selling fur coats and stockings to overcoiffed ladies)

    I laughed when i read the above lines. It's no different from Hollywood Blvd. except for historical figures, you get Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe.

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  14. im thinking of going to vienna on saturday, but wolfi doesnt know if he will be there, called him today... are you still in vienna?

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  15. Ah, my heart hurts right now with feelings of homesickness for my second city. I also have a strange relationship with the place, having lived there on and off for the last ten years. That haunting sense of history permeates parts of the city for me too, very hard to put in to words but I'm so grateful for your post this afternoon. Each of your pictures on twitter has sent me in to a mini daydream, so this post is a real treat.

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  16. Lovely photos!

    I must say that your Viennese apfelstrudel looks a way bit better than our appelgebak. Yours has a flakey crust while ours has a more traditional pie crust. I vote for philo dough every time!

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  17. Lovely post... Thanks for showing us places you ride in Vienna.

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  18. I think the horses are Lippizaners

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipizzan

    I love the gilded neoclassical buildings and the Sachertorte!

    I suggest you visit Lainzer Tiergarten. Practise your hillclimbing!

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  19. Thank for the great travel blog bit... as seen from bicycle.

    Luv the quirky little touches that one would never find on the tourist path. Horses, Kitties & unique outdoor cafes.

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  20. I always recomand the Zentralfriedhof (Central cemetery) to visitierst from abroad. It has quite a unique atmosphere, especially on a foggy atum day. There are quite a view famouse people burried there too.

    But maybe it's a little bit too cliche, but it's a place where you can experience the Viennese morbidity.

    I think you are allowed to bike there since it is quite big.

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  21. Erik - I thought that Lippizaners were much larger and would be sort of more coiffed. These are sort of wild and fluffy looking, and medium sized. Maybe they are on holiday?

    I've hill climbed all over the areas surrounding Vienna at this point. When my Austrian friends ask if I would like to "go for a little stroll on Saturday" I know what to expect now and arrive prepared for climbing. I have also ridden the bike you see pictured here up the hill in Klosterneuburg. Amazingly, she could do it!

    Max - Yes, I am still here on Sat. Send me an email to filigreevelo(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  22. MrWulf - There is (or was?) a big art supply store in Simmering, and I used to visit the Zentralfriedhof on the way. Have not been for a while though. And yes, bikes are allowed.

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  23. I thought Lipizzaners were modestly sized but the wikipedia article describes them as muscular. Maybe they're both, like ballet dancers.

    I've never been to Klosterneuburg but if you say it's steep I take your word for it.

    Hey, those folding baskets are cool. Are they common in Vienna? Tell us more about them!

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  24. Thank you everyone for the nice comments by the way. For those interested, if you click on the Vienna tag at the end of the post, you will see all my posts from there since 2009.

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  25. Thanks so much for sharing your experience in Vienna. Looks wonderful.

    The head on the front horse does looks Lipizzan. Since Lippizans are famous there, they probably are - or a mix.

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  26. Wow, what a beautiful post. Thanks so much for sharing!

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  27. A wonderful post. I visited Vienna with my mom several years ago and thought the city was so beautiful. I wish that I had discovered bike commuting at that point in my life. I would have loved the Prater even more by bike.

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  28. I just wanted to say how much I'm loving these Vienna posts.

    A lot!

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  29. She rides a bike - I too wish I was interested in bikes when I first started coming here! Would have been so much nicer.

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  30. It is a wonderful insight into Vienna and the surrounds there, and great to see how other countries encourage biking, as well as the food and gorgeous scenery there too.

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  31. Sehr romantisch! I would love to bike around that park, visit horses, eat food. sigh!

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  32. Thought of you when I saw this:
    http://www.ebay.fr/itm/GX124-SOUVENIR-de-VIENNE-FEMME-VELO-BICYCLETTE-/350993065556?pt=FR_JG_Collections_Cartes_postales&hash=item51b8d12654

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