Saturday, June 29, 2013

Vienna - Musical Legacy and more Landmarks

Vienna is a city of music. The most famous local sons are Johann Strauss and his son. There is statue of Johann Strauss at Stadtpark - which is across the street from Hilton Vienna where I stayed. 

There are many musical venues such as Staatoper or Wiener Musikverein home of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra..known across the world for the annual widely broadcast "New Year's Day Concert". At historical city center there are many sales person wearing classical uniforms selling tickets to concerts for mostly Mozart and Strauss musics. 

I went to a small concert with a few fellow conference attendees the last night I was at Vienna. The concert was kind of combined performance of music, Waltz dancing, opera. It was entertaining. It would have been a regret if I had not gone to one of the concerts. 

Johann Strauss

Penguin Sculptures 

An Ensemble of 8 musicians 
Opera and Waltz Dancing are also a part of the performance 
a night at Vienna

When I first looked at the map of Vienna, Danube River was prominent in the map passes through the center of Vienna. I intended to visit the Danube river in person but only got chance to pass it twice on a hop-on-hop-off tour bus. On the last day I walked to the Danube Canal  - which cut through downtown. 

Danube River on a cloudy day

Danube Canal
In addition Schonnbrunn, there are many other palaces in Vienna. The other one I visited was Belvedere Palace on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Since I visited Schonbrunn earlier,  I did not spend time to see the inside of the palace but only its exterior.

Belvedere Palace
Close view of the building
Belvedere Palace Garden

The building in the following picture is the city hall. The park in the picture is "hero's plaza" - which is surround by a few big historical buildings

Vienna City Hall

Vienna street Scene
The other things that impressed me the most include its efficient public transportation, and number of homeless people in the Stadtpark - which was a surprise to me considering what was reported in the media about European countries' generous social welfare. I felt safe in Vienna but there were reports of one conference attendee being attacked at Stadtpark during his early morning exercise, and another one was mugged at the nearby subway station.

Overall, Vienna is a beautiful and orderly city, I would not hesitate to visit it again when I have chance.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Schönbrunn Palace - Vienna

Schönbrunn Palace is a former imperial summer residence in Vienna "together with its gardens, as a remarkable Baroque ensemble and example of synthesis of the arts"  a UNESCO world heritage site.

The palace is big, it has 1441 rooms. The inside exhibit is per its last imperial occupant Franz Joseph and his family. Not familiar with Austria history, I was more impressed by Schönbrunn Palace's backyard gardens than its imperial rooms. 

The palace has a big front court, with two fountains on the left and right side, typical sculptures in the pools. The back court is even bigger, huge gardens at wings of the palace, and a hedge formed labyrinth. At the far end of the court is a small hill with a temple like structure on top of it. When I got to the top of the hill, I could see the panorama of the whole Vienna.
The palace
closer look of the palace under sunshine

A hill in the back court
huge "backyard"

botanic garden

One big fountain

faceless soldiers 

View of  the whole Vienna from  Schönbrunn Palace

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Pictures from an evening stroll - Photos by Justin; Essay by Allan

On a Saturday evening, Justin stepped out of the house with a camera in hand, saying that he would stroll around for his daily exercise.

He walked toward a local community park. 

On the way, he saw a basket of flowers in a neighbor's yard. Then a few roses grow out of a fence caught his eyes.

Despite a darkening cloudy sky, a patch of bluebonnets stood out from the surroundings.

A fire station was picturesque in the lights from a setting Sun behind thick clouds, 

He felt the beautiful calmness and solitude by the quiet pond.

The elegant lily flower definitely lit him up - it became his gift to mom.

I could feel that he was pleased with his evening stroll when he showed me his pictures. 

There are always something beautiful around us if we look for them - in nature or in society. 

A basket of flowers in a neighbor's yard 

Roses grow out of a fence

Bluebonnet - Texas State flower
Fire station by the park
A pond at sunset

a quiet evening
Elegant Lily

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Vienna: ice cream, chocolate and beef

It seems that Vienna is a city for ice cream, chocolate and beef.

Walking in the streets in Vienna, I noticed that there were a lot ice cream parlors and chocolate specialty stores. I also noticed that there were many adults having ice cream while walking! I did not taste ice cream for health reason; I did buy some chocolate from supermarket, not specialty store to taste.

While in Vienna, I was determined to eat local food when possible.

One night I had dinner with a group of professionals from my industry sector at the conference. There were several people who can speak German and knew local food very well. I was told that the Original Wiener Schnitzel of Veal is one of the most popular meal in Austria. Schnitzel of Veal is fried veal - as shown in the following photo. It was kind of like fried chicken cooking wise - a flour covered thin slice of veal is fried, the meat is tender, but fried flour is very salty. At the end of the meal, I left a pile of fried flour in my plate, I saw that my German speaking colleagues finished everything in their plates!

Original Wiener Schnitzel of Veal
On the way to and from Stephansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral) , I passed by Plachutta Restaurant many times. I observed that the restaurant seems to be always full! So I went to the restaurant for dinner on my last day at Vienna.

Plachutta is located at Wollzeile 38, Vienna. It has two dinning areas - one is in the main building, one is in an attached terrace, which is a movable structure. The terrace has a glass roof. We were led to this area. Dinning tables were densely placed to maximize the use of space, it felt crowded but airy. 

Checking on the menu, all entrees are beef related except two. There is also an illustration of a cow to show customer where certain type of beef comes from on a cow's body. At the back of the menus, it is stated that Tafelspitz is its most famous dish. So I ordered Tafelspitz without knowing exactly what it was except that it was similar to a hot pot type dish in Chinese food.

Tafelspitz was broil beef served with spinach, fried potato rosti (like harsh brown), toasted black bread and two sauces - as shown in the following picture.

The broth was delicious, the beef was tender and delicious - but the serving was too large for me. I finished the broth with beef, the spinach, had one piece of bread with a bit sauce. I hate to not finish my order, I had to leave sauces, bread and fried potato on the table.  With appetizer and dessert, this one entree should be good for two!

According to, "The most famous Viennese beef dish is without a doubt a “Tafelspitz”, said to be a favorite of the long reigning Emperor Franz Joseph. And everyone knows that the best place to enjoy a Tafelspitz in Vienna is the restaurant Plachutta, located in the posh districts of Hietzing, Nussdorf and the Vienna City Center."

My rule of thumb that a restaurant that is consistently full must be a very good restaurant, helped me to find this famous restaurant and famous dish "by chance".

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Vienna: Stephansdom

I went to Vienna, Austria last week for a technical conference. Despite very limited amount of time outside of conference schedule, I still got a chance to see, taste and listen to what Vienna offers.

Vienna Historic City Center is very close to Hilton hotel where I stayed.  The most eminent architecture in city center is Stephansdom, or St. Stephen's Cathedral. Due to its closeness to my hotel, I visited there multiple times, during day and at night; it is almost always crowded.

Stephansdom  - outside
Stephansdom - inside
It was evident that Stephansdom was damaged by fire by burn marks on one side wall of the church. The fire damage occurred in 1945. The main tower was in restoration when I visited - one can tell by looking at the first picture, there was a white net shielding one side of the main tower.

The inside was intentionally not well lit when it is not in service. Decorating lights make the side walls of the main section quite colorful.

Tourists in the Street
Stephansdom is a very popular tourist attraction. In addition to the church, there are other activities around the church. The first time I went there, there was a women's choir singing on a stage, Steffl Kirtag. Many people were having meal in the open air while listening to the music. A side street at the church is also main station for horse drawn carriages.

The afternoon of my last day at Vienna, I went to the Stephansdom one more time. It was mainly to accompany an acquaintance Emily to the church to take some pictures for her since she did not bring a camera. When we got there, I noticed that there was unusually amount of people outside the church. Many people just standing there seemingly waiting for something to happen. It turned out that there would be a stunt performance - a man would walk along a line connecting the main tower and a smaller tower.

We witnessed the guy in green shirt walked on the slack line from the main tower to the top of a smaller tower and back. It was quite an excitement.