Viennese Café Culture & other Austrian Culinary Delights

The Viennese are very caffeinated due to the proliferation of fantastic cafés in their city. Inviting, dark, and sometimes smoky, they keep you wondering the history that’s taken place within their walls.
Ambience at Café

Ambience at Café Braunerhof

We had the benefit of relaxing at Café Braunerhof while a violinist & pianist played classical music for a den full of Viennese patrons.  Decorated with rich fabrics, antique mirrors and dark woods, these cafés feel like you are sitting in your grandmas living room.  Buy a cup of coffee and you are welcome to make yourself at home. Racks of the day’s newspapers are yours to enjoy.

Most of these cafés serve delishous desserts and pastries.  We grabbed a few at Café sacher, trying the famous sachertorte and an apfelstudel.

The sachertorte was invented in Vienna

The sachertorte was invented in Vienna

Apfelstrudel is another Viennese delicacy

Apfelstrudel is another Viennese delicacy

In addition to the cafés, pastries dominated the hotel breakfast buffet with overflowing baskets providing endless possibilities of sugar intake. And at the Christmas markets, the confections were also plentiful and tantalized the crowds.
Lovely stand at the Rathaus market

Lovely stand at the Rathaus market

Lovely pastries

Lovely pastries

Waffle drenched in raspberries & vanilla sauce.

Waffle drenched in raspberries & vanilla sauce. Yes that is a trash can.  It was crowded and I had no place to stand!

And don't forget the pretzels!

And don’t forget the pretzels!

Mmmmm

Mmmmm

Beyond the sweets, breads, and java, Vienna still has much more to contribute in the culinary scene. We loved the soups….broths coming stuffed with goodies….crepe soup, pancake soup, and a beef noodle veggie soup were among those we tried.
Pancake or crepe soup

Pancake or crepe soup

And of course, we had to have wiener schnitzel, a popular Austrian dish of pounded & breaded veal or pork which is then deep fried.   We had veal and pork, both fried. We also tried a pan sauteed version with a sauce and rice. Our favorites were the veal options found at Fromme Helene, but we also liked the pork schnitzel at Café Rathaus.
Wienerschnitzel

Wiener schnitzel

Sauteed schnitzel

Sauteed veal schnitzel

The Austrian fair food kept us full and warm as well.  Over the course of the weekend, we had rosti (a potato dish), bratwurst & mustard, goulash, and two types of nockerl (like little gnocchi).
Holy nockerl, this stuff was good.

Holy nockerl, this stuff was good.

Goulash in a bread bowl

Goulash in a bread bowl

Austria is also know for its white wine.   In the local dialect, the word for Vienna is Wien and Wine is Wein.  We had fun at this place having lots of Wiener Wein.

WienO

WienO

We also partook in the festival hot wine….

Gabe is a fan of the hot wine

Gabe is a fan of the hot wine. He was also excited to keep the boot mug….you pay a 2 euro or 2.50 euro deposit on your first drink for the cup.  We didn’t return ours.

 

Vienna is a city of the finer things: classical music, balls, culture, and the arts. But it is also a very satisfying food town as well. Perhaps it’s best enjoyed in the winter when it has a fantastic warming effect and the extra pounds dont show as clearly!!

 

Colmar’s Marchés de Noël

Colmar is a picturesque town in the Alsace region of France known for its lovely Marchés de Noël, or Christmas markets.     I have wanted to check out the town for quite some time, regardless of the season, but it never worked out.   Now with a departure date ticking down, I knew this Christmas would be my last chance.     I’d set up two potential dates to go.  The first one called for rain/snow and temperatures of 33.  It wasn’t very appealing to have a temperature hanging at the freezing mark but not committing to freezing ( and thus snow which is better than rain), so Plan B became the fall-back.

I awoke last Thursday (Plan B) to another forecast of rain and 33 degree temps.   But a little freezing rain wasn’t going to stop me this time, especially with it being the last chance!   I took off, connecting in 3 towns, for a trip of about 3 hrs & 45 minutes through Northern Switzerland and into Eastern France.

I had about five minutes of no rain where I captured a few photos.

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Then, the rain showers came…and continued.  It even started snewing, which is my word for the wet thick fat snow / rain combo.   While I love snowing, I don’t love snewing.  It doesn’t stick, but just makes everything wet.  It was interesting to balance the umbrella and take photos!

 

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I ended up staying a few hours to visit all five of the markets in Colmar, and coming home very soggy.  However, I am happy to have gotten my fill of Alsace Christmas beauty, as evidenced in these snapshots.

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If you are ever in Alsace, I have heard from friends that the wine road is really cool.    My PT recommended biking it in the summer.  S & S loved exploring it as well as some of the other quaint Alsace towns.  While I didn’t have it in me this trip, I’ll provide a few related posts to this area below:

Related posts:

Living in Geneva:  Deck the Halls

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Too Much Can Get You Alsauced, Alsace’s Wine Route (Route du Vin) 

Schwingen in Switzerland:  Colorful Colmar

Schwingen in Switzerland: Euguisheim, The Cutest Town In The World?

Schwingen in Switzerland:  The Malgre Nous, Forced To Fight Against Their Country of Birth During WWII.

Lyon’s Fête des Lumières

We recently attended the annual Fête des Luminères, or Festival of Lights, which honors Mother Mary every year on the eighth day of December.  Four million people attend each year!

This festival originates back to 1643, when Lyon was hit by the plague.    The townspeople said that if Lyon would be spared, they’d pay tribute to Mary.  The tradition of honoring Mary happens every year since on December 8.

It was beautiful – they had over 65 light installations, ranging from light shows projected onto the old buildings, to independent light sculptures, to a moving parade.   The video at the end of the post does it more justice than the photographs.  Due to the crowds, it wasn’t possible to use a tripod.



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And here is the video – it is long – but shows the variety and technical genius of those behind this event:


It’s the most wonderful time of the year

It’s officially Christmas season in Geneva.

My favorite addition is the large Sapine de Noël (Christmas Tree) at Place du Molard.   Each morning I walked to the gym, I noted its progress.

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Day 1….Tree going up

Tree being decorated

Day 2….Tree being decorated

And...magic

Day 3..magic

In our household as well, our tree has been fully decorated.   However, it pales in size compared to the one in Place du Molard.   While we bought the largest the store offered, I am still taller than it.

Most people don't have to bend over to decorate their tree

Most people don’t have to bend over to decorate their tree.  Our fern is also almost bigger than the tree. 

Tree with a snowy backyard in the background

Daytime tree with a snowy background

Because we did not bring any decorations with us in the move, we have been accumulating ornaments from some places we’ve traveled, to complement our paper ones we made last year.  These include a bike from Brugge, some tiny clogs from Amsterdam, a snowy chalet from Chamonix, a hot air balloon from Chateaux-D’Oex:

Sometimes, when we couldn’t find an ornament, we had to get creative.  Take this airplane bottle of Scotch for example.   Hey, we had to have something from Scotland!

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We will miss going back to the States this year for sure.  However, it does feel good to be surrounded by the signs of Christmas already in Geneva.

It’s pretty grand…..Torino

Torino was our “bonus” stop on the way back from the trip to the Piedmont a few weeks ago.    Torino, or Turin in English, is actually in the heart of the Piedmont region of Italy.

Our pre-reading in the car taught us that Torino was the capital for the Dukes of Savoy, so it owes its French architecture and grand squares to this portion of its history.   However, the books referenced modern-day Torino as industrial and in need of revitalization.  With that gleaming recommendation, we decided to do a ‘drive by’ and see how it was before committing to parking.

First impressions driving into Torino

Our books told us public transportation was excellent in Torino, and we saw lots of evidence of it driving in

We were intrigued, so decided to park.    After we found a spot, we noticed lots of runners.  As it turned out, the Torino Marathon was that day.

Joining hands at the finish.

Marathon set up against the beautiful architecture

We walked around a bit, taking in the lovely streets and squares as well as the liveliness that the marathon was creating with large crowds and loud music.

Palazzo Madama, now an art museum

Covered walkways along Via Roma

Piazza San Carlo and the twin churches, with remnants of the marathon on the piazza. 

Palazza Real, a Savoy residence. Another UNESCO site. Woot woot.

The Duomo, where the Shroud of Turin is kept. This has recently been challenged with the advent of carbon dating.  Our friends told us that now the challenge is challenged.   Who knows. 

Inside of the Duomo where the Shroud of Turin rests.

Ruins of the Roman Theatre

Porta Palatina, Roman structure from 1st Century AD

Farewell glance at Torino’s symbol, Mole Antonelliana, as we departed

Our summary – if you are near Torino (within an hour), make it a stop – it has a lot to offer in terms of history and architecture.   Otherwise, probably not an Italy destination.

Two Fools at the International Truffle Fair

The idea to go to Piedmont actually got hatched on our way back from Cinque Terre.   I was reading our guidebook to learn more about Italy and came across the “Festivals and Events” page.    I mentioned to Gabe that the Alba International White Truffle Festival was listed as mid-November.    Since the Piedmont is only a 3 to 3 1/2 hour drive from our flat in Geneva, we decided that we’d check into it.    And, as it turned out, the last weekend of the fair was our only free weekend in November.   Perfect.  Booked.   Why not?

Let’s back up and say while we like truffled foods, we are not connoisseurs.   We have some friends from Singapore who we’d call connoisseurs of truffles, but not us.    I can probably safely say the amount of truffled dishes I have had in my life have been less than five.   The only time I’d ever seen a truffle was at our anniversary dinner at Le Sesflo in Geneva where they shaved it into my risotto.  The rest of the time, it has been truffle-infused or with truffle oil.     I can probably say the same for my husband.

Planning the trip to Piedmont, I looked into trying to go on a truffle hunt, with an actual dog (Italy banned the use of truffle hunting pigs a few years ago due to the animals damaging the special truffle producing turf).    After researching, I soon found this excursion wasn’t in our budget.  Far from it. Like obscene. And you don’t even get to keep the truffle.

Since we can’t afford a truffle hunt, this image is courtesy of theguardian.co.uk

We decided that attending the Alba International White Truffle Fair would be enough of an experience.

Streets of Alba at the entrance to the Truffle Fair

Not knowing anything, we were a bit overwhelmed.  There were truffles everywhere. The farmers were proudly standing with their selection, most in glass cases.

Line up of truffle hunters

White truffle display.  Yes, the big one is 252 euros.  A today’s exchange rate, this is 325 dollars.  Takers?

I liked this guy. He kept polishing his truffles on display. We bought some truffled dry pasta and truffle oil from them to savor at a later date.

This is as close as we got to a truffle dog

As we were intimidated, we wondered around looking at other foods of the Piedmont, continuing to take it all in.   The vendors were very kind offering samples but my Italian is very weak so I felt bad at not being able to communicate.  Just a polite nod and smile.

I’ll point out that this wasn’t a very touristy event.  We didn’t see a single other person who was a) there for fun or b) speaking English.  They were all there to buy.

Cheeses……

Mushrooms….

In the end, we actually ended up buying a little white truffle.   It was a splurge but we are pretty sure we won’t be going back to the White Truffle Fair any other time in our lives.

This is how much truffle we can afford.

We sliced it up so that we could put in on buttered gnocchi pasta.

Pumpkins Galore at the Fête de la Courge

The Sunday after our guests left we went into withdrawal.  We’ve been traveling non-stop for what seems like 4 months.   So what should we do?

Luckily, the small commune of Corsier was holding the annual Fête de la Courge.   Courge means pumpkin in French.  We didn’t quite know what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised by the sweet little festival.

The pumpkin was certainly in the spotlight.  Farmers were selling every variety of gourd….from pumpkin, to squash, to small decorative ones.  They had pumpkins from Switzerland and pumpkins from Provence.

Lots of little pumpkins

A very attractive line-up

They had pumpkin pie.  Pumpkin quiche with bacon.  Pumpkin soup.    We even found the “great pumpkin”.

Delicious pumpkin treats

Gabe with the Great Pumpkin

However, sorry to report that there were no pumpkin spice lattes.

They also had a ton of local merchandise: sausages, macarons, wine, and Gabe’s favorite: Brasserie des Murailles beer.

A nice spread

Homemade macarons

Sausage

Brasserie des Murailles beer

We enjoyed the revelry and even bought our own pumpkins to decorate our flat.  They are not the traditional Halloween kind….more natural and lopsided, but they will do!

For more on the festival and dates for 2013, check out the Corsier website.