Posts Tagged With: europe

Vienna Kaffehaus Series: Part 2 – Café Prückel

After a pleasant early evening walk around Stadtpark, I was torn between going back to my apartment and wait a while and go out again for dinner, or just go and have something to eat right then since I was already out and about. Then I saw Café Prückel’s brightly lit sign, and my self-debate was over.

Established in 1904, this classic Vienna coffeehouse is favorably situated right on the Ringstrasse across the Museum of Applied Arts, AKA The Mak. I situated myself at the nearest open table adjacent to the piano. Moon River was playing, and I immediately sunk into the café’s 1950’s atmosphere. Designed by Oswald Haerdtl, who was one of the leading designers and architects of his time, Café Prückel’s minimalist décor only accentuated by the glittering crystal chandeliers appealed to my taste. I heard that not much has changed in the interior since.

The waitress asked if I needed an English menu; she got this foreigner pegged, which isn’t so hard since Asians are the stereotypical tourists in this neck of the European woods. I wasn’t very hungry, so I ordered a glass of rose and an apple strudel. Sensing a theme, aren’t you?

My order came quickly and already had made some observations about the other patrons around me. There was a couple seated at the table in front of me directly underneath the chandelier. They looked like they were on a date. There was also a pair of ladies seated by the window who seem to be involved in some sort of business-related discussion with one of them as the client of the other. Eavesdropping was fruitless as they were speaking German. I could only surmise that the blond lady with the tablet was showing her client some sort of proposals. My guess would be that she was an interior designer.

Now let’s go back to that apple strudel. It was delightful – not too sweet, but sweet enough. The apples were not overcooked and the texture was great. Everyone would probably tell me to have coffee with it, it surprisingly went very well with the rosé, which was written on the menu as Blauer Portugieser – Rosé Passioné. With a name like that and, by my calculation, it was cheaper than water, it was something I had to have. 😉

Cafe Prückel’s Apfelstrudel

A glass of rosé was cheaper than water.

Relishing the moment with my glass of wine while the music produced by the pianist resonated across the whole café, I could not help but pinch myself just to make sure I was not dreaming. I was well into my strudel and Moon River was still playing. It was like having it on repeat, but it was live piano music. I didn’t mind it because I absolutely adore that music and to be listening to it being played in a Viennese coffeehouse amidst all the chattering diners and clanging of dishes … at that very moment, I felt so alive.

I consumed my strudel and was already feeling the slight buzz of the wine. (Yeah, I’m a lightweight.) It was damn good wine. It was still early in the evening and to ensure that I still remember my way back to my apartment, I knew I had to counter the wine with some coffee. I got myself an espresso, which was called the Original Prückel Crème. Quite a popular item, it’s essentially a small espresso served in a special glass with a side of quality cream. It was strong but without the overwhelming bitter finish. I loved it!

the Original Prückel Creme

After downing my espresso, I took my time in requesting for my check. I love how in these cafes, I never felt rushed. I had a few moments to jot some notes about this experience.  Taking advantage of the free Wi-fi, I uploaded a few mobile photos. I finally asked for my bill, paid  and even tipped the waitress since she was quite nice to me and attentive.  (In Europe, tipping is not required; it is up to the customer based on the quality of service received.)

The mesmerizing chandelier dominating the room.

I exited the café feeling revived and thinking to myself, “Wow, I really had my Vienna moment in there!” In hindsight, Café Prückel is not as posh as the other classic Viennese coffeehouses, but to me, that is what makes it charming. With its modernist décor plus the comfy corner seats, it was the place where I would return and find myself spending hours with a good book.

Categories: Eat, Europe, Experience, Vienna | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vienna Kaffehaus Series: Part 1 – Café Landtmann

Intro to the Series:

For years now, I have called the Seattle area as my home and my love for good coffee is irrevocable. Coming to Vienna, I had my heart set on spending good time in at least one Kaffehaus, for I have read much about how these institutions play an integral part in Viennese culture. And that’s on top of the benefits of a good cup of caffeinated beverage, which is a necessity for weary travelers like myself.

In 1900, Vienna had over 600 coffeehouses and have become an institution. Intellectuals and creative souls like Sigmund Freud and Gustav Klimt frequented these places boosting their popularity. There was no question that I had to partake and experience this 300-year-old tradition and savor Vienna’s coffee culture. So during my stay, I managed to hit four of these institutions and even returned to one for seconds. While I initially intended to write about all four in one entry, there is just so much details about my experience that I want to share; hence, a series of entries is necessary. So here goes the first part.

Café Landtmann

Located right along the Ringstrasse directly across the historic Burgtheater, I opted to sit outside. It was a crisp autumn morning, which I thought was perfect for a good up of coffee and soup. I ordered a cup of their Pumpkin Cream Soup, which arrived promptly. I also asked for a Wiener Melange, which is similar to a cappuccino. By definition, it is supposed to be equal parts steamed milk and foam with a dusting of cocoa powder.

Pumpkin Cream Soup: A comforting nod to fall.

Wiener Melange: light and frothy but not short on caffeine.

The Landtmann is the sole remaining café from the original Ringstrasse, the circular boulevard that Emperor Franz Josef had built where the city walls once were. Founded in 1873 by Franz Landtmann, this Viennese institution is still one of the most popular in the city with contemporary regulars like Hillary Rodham Clinton and Sir Paul McCartney. Now owned by the Querfeld family, the place exudes elegance. The waiter politely left the English menu after I have put in my initial order. The soup I had was the perfect remedy after that slightly chilly walk from Opernring. The coffee, though milder than I usually prefer, was smooth and comforting.

Cafe Landtmann: There was some construction going on but not a huge hindrance.

My view of the Burgtheater from my table.

Where I was seated, I had the luxury of admiring the architecture of the theater and other surrounding buildings.  When I was done with my soup, I beckoned the server and ordered an apple strudel (apfelstrudel). This was when it got a little weird. He asked me one more time just to confirm that I really wanted an apple strudel, and it was not the tone that someone uses if they missed what you were saying. It was the tone of, “Are you sure you want an apple strudel?” It’s as if in his mind, this short Asian lady would never be able to handle her strudel after a small bowl of soup and some bread. Frankly, I was getting a little annoyed by this, but I stayed civil with him and confirmed my request.

He came back with my apple strudel shortly. And darn it, that strudel was good. (Confession: I don’t like apple pie; I find it too sweet and overloaded with cinnamon all the time. Yeah, very un-American of me, but just live with it.) This apple strudel made me happy. The layer of thinly sliced apples stacked and encased in a paper-thin crust propelled me to an Austrian grandmother’s kitchen. I didn’t leave a single crumb on my plate. Take that, you nosy waiter!

Cafe Landtmann Apple Strudel

The apple strudel that caused some contention.

After I wiped my plate clean, I asked for my check. The server was very nice to me this time. I’m pretty sure he was impressed by the damage I had done though to me, it really was nothing. I wonder what he would have thought if I had ordered a giant helping of goulash before dessert? His head would have probably exploded.

Overall, I was pleased with Cafe Landtmann. I could have been put off by the waiter, but I showed him who was boss. Offering free Wi-fi to to their patrons surely helped. I was glad that I stopped by for a light meal there to observe and absorb. I don’t think it is a place for any schmuck to just roll in, but then again, Vienna has sophistication down to a science.  Would I go back? Probably. Its location is perfect for a pre-theater meal and/or a romantic evening out, and I would never pass an opportunity to spend some time in place where history’s greats hung out.

Categories: Eat, Europe, Experience, Vienna | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Enchanted by London

Over Thanksgiving dinner, we got into telling tales of our travels. My husband and I had to recount experiences and share our thoughts on what we liked or disliked about the places we visited. The lady of the house then asked me which of the three destinations (Reykjavik, London, and Paris) I liked the most. This is not the first time I was asked this very question since getting back from the trip, but this time around, I am more aware of how conflicted I feel about each of these places. Conflicted in the sense that each city has its own charm, unique vibe, and history; therefore, I find myself hesitating in answering the question and picking one city over the others. I decided to change the question in my head. If I was given the opportunity to go back to one of these three cities tomorrow, which one would I find myself packing for in a heartbeat? Easy: London.

Then the follow-up question came: why London? Because it is simply a great city to be in.

Buildings along Bank Junction

London has amazing architecture. Old historical buildings are everywhere. The city itself is so old, so someone from the New World would find most of London’s buildings relatively old. I found myself walking around in awe. Buildings like St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Royal Courts of Justice, the Royal Exchange remind me of man’s power to create and build something that can withstand time and nature. We always hear in the news of man’s knack for destruction, but walking along The Strand, I reveled in the reality that we are capable, and have always been capable, of building greatness.,

Among London’s great structures is its vast and fascinating history. Since I was twelve years old, I had been interested in British history. I learned on my own time about the many great people that hailed out of Britain. I became a fan of Shakespeare at an early age. I pretended to be Elizabeth I in many occasions. And yes, I confess, I had a giant crush on Prince William that I even kept the photos of him on People’s Magazine taken during Princess Di’s funeral. I learned about Henry VIII and his six wives. I moved backwards and learned about the Cousins War often sympathizing with the Yorks. I wrote a research paper in college on the two York princes who disappeared in the Tower of London. I have a buttload of books by Philippa Gregory, and you betcha, I watched all 4 seasons of the Tudors. Who cares if some things are historically inaccurate?

Westminster Abbey

With my interest in British history, you can only imagine how incredible it felt walking into Westminster Abbey. It was surreal. Apart from the nave where kings and queens had been crowned, the place is a labyrinth of burial chambers and dedicated chapels. Before leaving for the trip, I was reading a book on Margaret Beaufort (Henry Tudor’s mother), and I got to see her tomb. I found it a little bizarre that Mary I and Elizabeth I were buried pretty much on top of each other. Seriously? They had better times as sisters, but later on, they hated each others’ guts. It’s too bad you’re not allowed to take photos inside, but I can appreciate how it facilitates the flow of visitors especially in some of the smaller chambers with very, very narrow walkways.

The Tower of London was also another historic place I got to explore. It gave me goosebumps to be there. I mean, come on! It’s THE Tower of London! Whoever controlled the Tower controlled London back in the day. People of importance were held prisoners there. Some of them eventually got beheaded right on Tower Green. The Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula is where Anne Boleyn’s remains are buried. The Jewel House is where you find the royal sparklies AKA the Crown Jewels. Henry VIII lived in the White Tower at some point, and now it houses a grand exhibit of armors worn by kings, canons, and other weapons throughout Britain’s history of war and glory.

Standing in the midst of busy Piccadilly

If you’re not a history nut like myself, you can just walk around the city and appreciate it’s diversity. If you find yourself wandering about Piccadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square, you’re more than likely to find a group of street performers – from break dancing or straight up body contorting acts. As I had mentioned in a previous entry, it is very easy to get around the city with it’s awesome tube system and buses, so I only found myself to be limited by time and not so much by distance of the places to see. As foodies, we took advantage of the availability of various cuisines. I still dream about the lamb chops at Shah Tandoori. It was the best lamb I’ve ever had! We also had a great meal out of a hole-in-the-wall Turkish joint in Camden. And let’s not forget the shows! The West End is London’s answer to New York’s Broadway. From popular headliners like Mama Mia, Wicked, Lion King, there’s no reason why you can’t be out and have great night out at the theater. Again, these theaters too are housed in buildings older than New York City itself.

And of course, the people. I found the people to be warm and accommodating. Everyone I interacted with were very nice and polite. The guy who owns the flat we were renting was very helpful. Little shop owners, mobile phone sales people, restaurant servers, and even customs folks were pleasant. There was this guy, who was selling those nail buffing kits (like the ones you see at the mall trying to get your attention as you rush past them hoping they’d just ignore you), who struck up a conversation with me not to sell his wares, but because he thought I’d be an interesting person to talk to. He also knew from a distance that I am a Filipina, which I give him credit for because people often mistake me to be from another Asian country. I chatted with him for a bit and told him about my travels and my plans, and he was genuinely engrossed and curious. In hindsight, it probably doesn’t take much to entertain you if all you do is standing around and flagging people down in hopes that you catch their attention and agree to get their nails done. In any case, the guy was super nice, and I’m sure to have had conversations like it had I not been running around from place to place and took the time to talk to more people.

I could have spent my two weeks in London alone, and I probably would still feel like I needed more time. I suppose I can say that to a lot of the places I have been to, but London has a different hold on me. It just fascinates and excites me with the same wonderment as a kid going into a toy store with wide eyes and dropped jaw. By some twist of fate, if I am given the chance to go back to London, I would be there in a heartbeat.

Categories: Europe, Experience, Explore, London | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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