Monday, August 3, 2009

A night to Remember - forever!

The Hotel Národný dom in Banská Bystrica is hot. We slept last night with the windows open, me enduring the mosquitoes! There was a thunderstorm that yielded some rain later in the night, which cooled everything down just a tad - but not really enough for me.
And this morning is as hot as yesterday afternoon. And to add insult to injury, right on 7 am building works start up just outside our window - we knew they would, there are comments on's website about it.
But the rooms, while hot are nicely appointed. The outside of the hotel and the public areas however need major overhauling!

I had let the blog get away when the connection was so bad in Bratislava and it takes me all late last night and a couple of hours this morning to get it up to date. Michael comments that I have created a monster, but really, we will look back in time and be glad we have recorded our thoughts and impressions - of that I am sure! I am too hot to be bothered with breakfast this morning, but Michael goes down and has a light one - cereal and fruit. He said that they had a reasonable range on offer, but he too is not really all that hungry.

As soon as we get out of the room, we realise that the day is not so bad. Turns out that this stretch of the hotel has sun all day and is surrounded on three sides by other buildings - guess that explains the heat! Once we are on the road moving, with the windows down (we haven't been able to get the condenser pipe for the air conditioning repaired) it is actually quite pleasant.

We are headed back to Vienna to go to the Mozart Concert tonight - at the same venue where they hold the Vienna New Years Concert each year - the Musikverein which is a block behind the Opera House. We have reserved tickets - all we need to do is make sure we are there by 8 pm.

We looked at travelling north to see a little more of Slovakia and then coming in to Vienna from the north, but it will add more than 2 hours to an already 3 hour trip. So <sigh> on to the mtorways we go. After the journey of the last two days, the trip is comparatively boring. One light piece of trivia is that we left Banská Bystrica this morning on Route 66. Certainly can draw some parallel with its famous namesake - it is long and seemingly unending! (This reference would be familiar to those of you who watched the 1960's program "Route 66", featuring George Maharis, Martin Milner and introduced by Nelson Riddle's very recognisable theme music?) This then becomes route 77 LOL! And the roadworks continue. We are still amazed at the amount of repairs and road building going on and the scant regard for WH&S. Honestly, our guys would literally have heart attacks! And there is none of this 3 men to a shovel - they are busy and everyone is doing something productive. What is a little surprising is the number of police with their mobile radar guns that are operative near roadworks areas - maybe this is to compensate for the lax WH&S in an endeavour to keep the workers safe.

This is something of a laugh because while drivers do tend to slow done, some, around roadworks, at other times they drive like maniacs taking all sorts of risks overtaking. I am playing it a little more safe - I mean if the car were to be damaged . . .
We also encounter the radar police at the border crossing - although there are no longer any border formalities to be had, they infrastrucutre is still in place - including the traffic limits. And there they were, out of the heat in the shade of the border overpass, clocking heaps of people doing more than the 20 kph - I mean, there really is no need to go that slow any longer - but! Never let it be said that they let an opportunity go to waste!

Oh, and you remember how we lost the trucks? Well, today we found them all again! Heading for Western Europe of course - miles of them!

So we continue to travel westwards again - towards much more affluent areas. And as we leave this little country that has so many parallels in nature to Australia, there are reminders that all is not the same. From the manual labourers, forking hay into the back of trucks in the searing summer sun, to the kitsch gnome garden and the roadside fast food outlets - this one was jam packed when we came through last Friday - so the food must be good. We'll never know - we didn't stop.

Vienna is frenetic, hustling like a city going about its business. The traffic is chaotic as we arrive around 2:30 pm. One of the sights I had wanted to see was The Prater. We ran out of time last time and so figure that since we go within a kilometre os it, its as good a time as ever to go have a look. The giant ferris wheel is supposed to give great views over the City. Turns out that it is just like what Luna Park was like in Sydney in the 1970s.

Lots of rides - rollercoasters, dodgem cars, water slides, miniature train, merry go rounds and the famous big Ferris Wheel. Interestingly, you line up for your photo even before you board the ride! Then it is up you go in replica cabins based on the original design. Yes, the views are great, but you are too far from the Old City to see any significant detail. But there are great views of the amusement park below and the parklands setting in which it sits.

There are also great views of the Wien Praterstern railway station, one of the major railway stations of Vienna and you can see how busy the station is with trains arriving and departing all the time we are on the ride. And so, one circulation done, our ride is done - guess we can say, been there, been had!

We continue in to the City and around to our hotel that is much closer in then the youth hostel where we stayed last time. The Hotel Drei Kronen is not too far from the Opera House, so it should be easy to get in to the Mozart Concert nearby tonight. When we only stay one or two nights at a hotel, we no longer drag the suitcase out each time. Rather, we have a large carry bag that has all the basics in it. Tonight however, for the first time in a long time, we need to get our 'good' clothes out to attend the concert, so the suitcase comes in tonight as well! Parking is just down the street in a secure car park, so its not too bad.

The weather that was on the horizon while we were on The Prater has hit and just before we head into town for our night out, the rain starts. So it is a cab job. We get in to the Musikverein in plenty of time and join the hundreds of other people queueing to collect their tickets. The programs are very reasonable (surprise, surprise) at €5 each and so we buy one as a souvenir. Michael then poses with the seller for a photo. This is the venue where they host the Vienna New Years Day concert each year and it is a sumptuously beautiful building. Built in Greek Renaissance style, it is marble and gold, stunning proportions, elaborate statuary, ceiling frescoes and 10 huge crystal chandeliers hanging above our heads.

And that is even before the performance begins! We had purchased better tickets on the condition that we could get seats dead centre in the front row of the balcony - which we did! Except that no one told us there was a divider between the two seats! Didn't matter, but we each had to enter from opposite ends of the row. The view was magnificent with the full 30 piece orchestra in period costume right in front of us.

The program included works by Mozart and Haydn and featured two opera singers - Claudia Ema Camie (Koloratur Soprano) and Sokolin Asllani (Baritone) as well. The orchestra was conducted by Ewald Donhoffer. After 90 of beautiful music in a magnificent setting, the concert finished with Strauss - Blue danube waltz and then a hearty rendition of the Johann Strauss Vater "Radetzky Marsch" Op.228 with full audience participation being managed by the Conductor!

We are on a real high as we leave and who cares that it is raining? Oh, is it raining?! We have not yet had dinner, so at 10 pm in Vienna, we stroll with our heads filled with music and soon come upon the Imperial Hotel and it's restaurant and although we know that this is one of the more expensive restaurants in the city, decide to finish our wonderful night by treating ourselves to a special dinner.

And special it was. We are greeted at the entry door by Uwe Reithner who went on to serve as my personal sommelier. Together with our waiter, Erich Hahn, they ensured we had a very memorable experience. In this stunning silver service setting, they were helpful without being overbearing, there when you needed them and not while we were eating. They made sublime suggestions about the menu, discussed wine choices and even joked with us. When asked for the bill, Erich even joked "ah, you want to sign - or wash dishes in the kitchen!"

The food was delicious - I wish there was a better word to capture it. When Erich noticed that I was writing down our menu choices (and I told him about the blog) he went to bring me a copy of the menu to take away, unasked - see what I mean about service - pre-empting our every need. Gosh, how can we make choices from what is on offer, it all sounded so delicious. Nevertheless, we do eventually make the following choices:
Appetiser (compliments of the chef) and once this came we knew we were in for a special meal:
Roasted tuna with fresh herbs and included tiny little tomatoes, one dried the other fresh. With it I had a glass of Tio Pepe Sherry
Viennese Calf's Lights with Chive Dumpling and Fried Quail's Egg (fine slivers of heart and tongue done in a sauce with fine slivers of vegetables) Michael
Lobster Bisque with Armagnac and Lobster Dumpling (exquisite, served into the bowl in front of me, and "with a drop or two of Armagnac madad, or the whole bottle?") Maria
Sauteed half lobster with Calamari-Red Pepper Ragout and Leek (artistically presented with the meat curling from its shell) Michael
Roasted fillet of Veal on Mushrooms with Polenta Souffle (served with baby vegetables) Maria. And with it a glass of Mantherhoff Reisling 2007 from the Lower Austria region around Vienna.
Gosh, we hardly needed them, but why would we not complete the night by finishing our meal with something sweet. When we told Erich that we wanted something light, he suggested that we have the Poppy Seed Parfait with stewed apricots from the set menu. So we agreed and it could not have been a better choice even though I could only eat half and Michael therefore got a very generous portion! This was subklime. The parfait was amazing but for me, the apricots were even better - forget your grandma's recipe here. They were sweet, sticky but definitely not sickly and had a hint of cardamom and I think rosewater - gosh, if only there was something like taste-a-vision so you could taste what it was like!

We finished our night with wonderful coffee and hand made truffle chocolates which we couldn't finish!
So tonight we have spent 4 days budget, but it is a night we will remember forever, finished in the company of a couple of new mates in Vienna - thanks Erich and Uwe - you made a memorable night the best!

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