No Kangaroos in Austria

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My ride from Munich to Vienna was interesting. I drank beers and did that instagram-y thing of sitting by a train window which had a little table top and made notes in my quaint Indian looking diary. I also made conversation with the two ladies who sat across from me. Well, knowing me, you’d know they initiated it. They were visiting a relative close to Salzburg. The younger of the two remarked at my cool chappals (the vivobarefoot ones I’ve been prancing around the world in, funny because they’re actually workout/running footwear and I use them when I travel) and about how little luggage I was carrying for a 2 week holiday (score!!). She also asked if I was from Mumbai because that’s probably one of the few Indian cities non-Indians know. It was funny though, when she asked if I was writing in English and asked if the Indian script read from left to right. And then I got into Devnagari and Urdu, at which point they lost some interest, so we smiled, talked about petty things and then went back to doing our own thing.

The beers I opened on the train were  an Andechs Export Dunkel and the Andechs Weissbier Hell. While the former was everything I like about good dark beers, it did have a mild sweet tinge to it. It worked pretty well for me, to be honest. And now while I’m looking at my notes for this blog post, I realize how I’m not the biggest fan of White Ales. There’s a citrus-y bitter after taste that I’m not too comfortable with. The Bira 91 beers that were launched in India just a few months ago have something similar going about them – the red Bira is a white ale that I don’t like very much, while the blue one is a Blonde which I seem to prefer.

But back to my train ride… We crossed a town called Bad Wilbad which made me wonder if it had anything to do with our Urdu-esque towns Hyderabad, Osmanabad with the ‘abad’ denoting prosperity, if I have my facts right.

When I got to Vienna, I stuck to the directions I’d noted down before I left. I didn’t want to waste an hour walking around all lost, like I did when I got to Munich. I was tired and almost excited to see Vipin and thankfully enough, I found my hostel a couple of minutes after I got out of the train station. The area was a little red-light-y, I will admit, but hey, when I got to my room, all I could really think of was getting into my night clothes and snuggling in with a book until Vipin arrived.

Mr. Nair, in his element, lost his way and showed up only around 1 am by which time I was fast asleep. We woke up the following morning with too many plans and too many ideas, only to realize four days later that we could use more days in Austria whenever we’re travelling next (alone or otherwise).

The plan was this – Friday, Saturday, Sunday in Vienna. Monday in Salzburg. And half of Tuesday in Vienna again, after which he’d head back to London and I’d take a train via Munich to Brussels, for the last leg of my trip.

Friday started with picking up day passes for Vipin for public transport, my Eurail pass came handy here for me and getting a couple of maps of parts of the city that we wanted to check out. He’d heard a  bunch of things about käsekrainer -käse is cheese – cheese filled sausages typically served with mustard and I think we were secretly on a mission to make breakfasts off of würstelstands – sausage stands that dot the streets of Vienna. We also picked up coffees for ourselves and this really delicious parmesanstange (stange, in German, is rod and true enough, this was pretty much a baguette).

The rest of the day was mostly just us strolling through the old town – the 1st district of the city where a lot of touristy buildings and government offices are. The Ringstrasse circles this area (also called the Innere Stadt) and you can hop onto one of the trams around sunset and take a ride all along the Ringstrasse. Our second night, we had to walk a whole long distance because a large part of the Ringstrasse was cordoned off because a movie shooting was on. Turns out it was the latest Mission Impossible movie! Hah!  (Yes, I’m writing this blogpost almost a year after I was actually in Vienna. Thank God for scribbled notes and pretty notebooks!)

First stop – Karlskirche – St. Charles Church, complete with a pond (where I took an artsy picture of the reflection of the church) and beer carts and tickets to some folk playing Vivaldi 4 Seasons later that evening!

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There was frozen yoghurt, goofy pictures, pink bunnies and street music while we lost and found our away around the old town and finally ended up at Wiener Staatsoper – The Vienna State Opera. They had tours every hour and we had just missed one when we got there, so we walked to the Concert House – Konzerthaus – in the hope that we could check if anything was running that day (or even the weekend). It was shut and we decided to check back again post lunch and after we were done with a tour of the opera house.

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So we made it back to the Opera House, where there were people dressed in medieval attire selling tickets to musicals and recitals happening through the evening at various locations across the city. Since we had tickets for Vivaldi 4 Seasons later that evening (which we bought at the church, which was also the venue), we thought we’d just come back to the gimmicky guys the following day to see what they had to offer. Turns out, inside the opera house, while we were being led around, we were informed that the folks outside were, indeed, selling tickets super expensive for events that weren’t half as good as they were made to sound.

While we toured the opera house, we learned that the construction was a failure back in the nineteenth century because the public responded to it very poorly. Tragically enough,  the building was heavily damaged during bombardments through World War II. (I was almost reminded of Shoshanna’s cinema bombing scene from Inglorious Basterds).  The theatre company that originally performed regularly at the opera house eventually dissolved and now, there are performances through the year by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra (barring July through August, dammit!). Tickets sell for as high as € 9k each!

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The main hall was as grand as grand gets and we even got a little peak backstage, where the curtains, lights and other props are managed. The latter was more overwhelming than the former, to be honest.

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The new construction of the hall (after World War II) was done using thirteen different varieties of marble from thirteen different European nations, to signify unity and solidarity.

Through the passageways and the ballroom were paintings and tile mosaics heavy on cubism, very Picasso-esque, if I may.

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We made another quick (and futile) stroll to the concert house hoping it’d have opened post lunch, only to learn that it remains shut July through August too. Summer bummer! And Vipin promptly swore he’d make another trip soon enough again.

It was way past lunch but not quite sundown yet. The Vivaldi 4 Seasons concert was scheduled only for much later in the evening, so I bullied Vipin into doing a quick trip to Nachtemarkt – Night Market. It’s a pity it didn’t strike me then, that it’s probably best to visit it post sundown, because you know, night market… I usually have my hopes up high when I think of food markets because that’s just me. This one wasn’t half bad, but then, I guess I love when I can stop by stores and pick up spices or oils or just about anything to bring back home with me. And I didn’t do that here. There were stalls with barrels of olives, cold cuts, sacks full of spices, local grown fruits and vegetables and even barrels of fruit vinegars!

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With a quick stop at a cafe where I sheepishly asked if I could take the glass bottle (Römerquelle – an online searched revealed it’s known for its state-of-the-art bottling) we got some bottled water in (for the pretty cap). I downed a couple of Wiener Würstchen (REALLY long sausages – Vienna style) with horseradish (ooh, wasabi!) and a Murauer Bier (one of the oldest beers in Austria, I believe) and Vipin ordered himself a goulash.

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We headed back to Karlskirche for the music soon after. We were still early and we picked up a fruit soda (uh, teetotalers) and a Hirter (an average beer that can easily be likened to the Kingfisher of Austria, if I go by what the lady who owned the cart told us). It’s weird being (and looking) Indian sometimes. People like going all Hare-Rama-Hare-Krishna or Namaste on you. And that makes me awkward sometimes. That, or Bollywood references. But hey, learning to cope! We settled down on some rugs that had been laid out at the pond and waited until the sun set and then head to the concert inside the church.

The last time I went inside a church (not to sight-see) was way back in school. When there’s too many tourists around, you don’t really end up soaking in the quiet. You pretty much just light a candle, put in a dollar or a euro or a few cents, say a  little prayer and get own to taking pictures. It’s nice, however, when you enter a place of worship, and you’re there not to take pictures (okay, I did take some at the end), but just to be there, to sit there and just sit there some more (and probably attend a concert in the process, hee).

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I don’t understand very much music at all. I can only tell between liking something because it’s good and liking something because it’s so bad it’s good. I enjoyed myself for the two hours of that I listened to Vivaldi 4 Seasons for the former.
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We got back to our room, gossipped about girls and boys we were in love with, gossipped about people on Twitter and went to bed.

Day 2 started off with us wanting to do a nice heavy breakfast, so we head back to old town. We picked Tirolerhof Cafe because I’d read a bunch about their coffee beverages online and thought it was worth giving a shot. Besides seeing a Coffee Day on the way and also a store called Nanu Nana store, I think we also made our first set of jokes about stalls that spelt kebabs as ‘kebap’ and placed the word very strategically between pizzas and falafels – thereby reading ‘pizza kebap falafel’. Juvenile. But fun. You know how it is.

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Breakfast was omlettes and Kaiserschmarrn (shredded pancakes served with stewed plums, something the Austrian emperor (Kaiser) Franz Joseph I was very fond). Vipin picked a coffee called melange – espresso with egg liqueur, while I went for the less experimental Maria Theresia (espresso with orange liqueuer).

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Right across the road from Tirolerhof Cafe is Habsburg (Hofburg) Palace, with huge lawns and even a butterfly house (all green and dense with real, live butterflies fluttering around or just chilling or whatever, in a greenhouse like structure). We weren’t too keen on seeing the museums there, so we just sat around for a bit, opened up a map over some gelato and then figured there was a film museum (Österreichisches Filmmuseum) and the Augustinerkirche (St. Augustine’s Church) within walkable distance. The former was shut (SUMMER! UH!) and the latter was well, meh. So we strolled around some more, thinking of what we could do, when Vipin suggested we go to the Schonnbrunn Palace. A couple of train rides, some more gelato and a short walk later, we were at the palace grounds. Passing grape vines growing along a sidewalk may just be the usual Viennese thing, but me, I was all squeals and pictures.

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We attended an apple strudel making session at the palace, where I made notes and bought a miniature of some Stroh, to use for an apple strudel I’d already decided I’d make when I got back to Bangalore. We also got to taste some strudel, the official recipe.

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(and I did get back to Bangalore and bake some apple strudel at home. It turned out pretty awesome. Not quite shiny golden, but crisp and delicious for sure.)

We also took a stroll inside the palace, through the rooms, complete with audio guides. And sawhorses getting their horseshoes changed in pictures that almost look like men jerking off.

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We finally ended up in the royal palace gardens, where we spent a good 3 or 4 hours – much like I’d done at Marseilles. Less time inside the palace and more time in the gardens. The gardens here seemed a lot more elaborate – orange gardens, labyrinths, installations and a mini-hike up to the Gloriette, from where you can get a glorious view of the palace (which is why it was named, if I’m not wrong).

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This picture, above, is the Gloriette. And the one below is that of the palace from the Gloriette.

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We got caught in the rains on our way back to the entrance of the palace and by the time we got to the city, I threw a mini fit where I insisted we take a tram to Grinzing, the wine district of Vienna. Vipin wasn’t too keen, but we had an amazing time when we did get there, so I guess my bad behaviour was forgiven, after all.

Grinzing is a quaint little suburb of Vienna, quite different from the rest of the city. Winding roads, tiny homes, and several taverns (called Heurigens) that serve house wines.

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We walked around for a little while, not being able to decide where to eat at and finally just walked into a heurigen because we were getting hungry. There were plump men playing the guitar around tables, people sitting at the bar, people sitting in an enclosed garden and we found a table and just soaked in the happiness. My hopes were already up about the place. Women dressed in dirndl helped us with our food and wine. Over several carafes of red wine, cheese and cold cuts and the best pork ribs I’ve ever eaten, we gossiped some more and planned our trip to Salzburg, for Monday.

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(The displeasure on my face is solely a function of the fact that I don’t like pictures of myself, the food, trust you me, was fucking fabulous!)

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(There’s another LONG post about my time in Austria that should be up in the next few days – a couple of days in Vienna and a day in Salzburg. Keep reading!)

 

The World is your Cloister

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I had one more day in Germany before I head to Vienna to see Vipin. And I’d really really have liked to visit trappist monasteries. My urge to go to a trappist monastery came from way long ago when I first started drinking good beer (or beer, for that matter) in USA and a visit to the Peace Street beer store in Raleigh. I remember Matt telling me about Orval and shortly after, that spring break, he went to Belgium on holiday. He came back with a bunch of stories and no, he didn’t go to any trappist monasteries.

So, when I planned my trip to Belgium in 2012, I put trappist monasteries on my itinerary. I wasn’t able to them and moved them to my itinerary for 2014. But this time around, it seemed tough too. From all that I could find on the internet, I needed to be able to do one or more of the following:
– communicate in French
– have a valid driving license in Europe
– have a holiday budget that could allow me to rent a car and zip it around the European countryside
– be willing to wait long hours in non-English speaking villages between trains/buses
not miss any buses/trains

And I’m a little non-adventurous (chicken, perhaps!) in some ways. I’d rather play safe and deal with it if it goes down badly, than take the plunge and then regret what I did. For the most part, the EURail app was super helpful. I could use it offline as well and planned all of my train trips without wifi (while waiting for other trains or in bed or while drinking at a bar). I wasn’t going to be able to visit trappist monasteries, but I figured there were a few cloisters, closer to big cities, that would make for good half-day plans. So I put those on my itinerary instead. Those, and maybe a few brewery visits, if I could.

August 21st, back at the Munich station early morning, I bought my usual coffee and a bratwurst semmel (sausage sandwich, literally) this time (instead of a wrap or the Dean & David paninis I’d been having the past few days). I took a train out to Herrsching, thirty minutes from where is the Andechs Cloister.

I finished reading Inside of a Dog on my way to Herrsching, which, though not remotely related to the holiday, must be mentioned. It’s a wonderful book. It’s validated a bunch of doggy thoughts I’ve had while growing up and answered a horde of questions for me too. So, go read it, if you love canines. (Another review here, just in case.)

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And when I got to Herrsching, I found a bus that took me straight to Andechs waiting right there! It saved me an uphill (and pretty) walk through the villages and through a forest of sorts, to the Andechs Abbey. Another thing I noticed was that most German towns and cities have a Luitpold Strasse right next to the “bahnof” (railway station). Leopold Street? Like the MG Roads, here in India, perhaps?

Andechs Abbey is a Benedictine monastery that has been brewing beers since the 1500s. Trappist monasteries are a subclass of Benedictine monasteries (as this article on religious orders suggests). The entire area has a bunch of lakes – you can see a fair portion of Amersee (Lake Amer) on your train ride from Munich to Herrsching too! And then there’s Stranberger See and Wörthersee and Pilensee and Wesslinger See.

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I strolled around the cobbled paths that took me through the Andechs Abbey. It is open to visitors, for the most part and has a restaurant where you can drink the beers they brew and food prepared from produce they grow/rear at the Abbey. I’m not sure if it’s an active monastery any more, or maybe the religious folk usually shy away from public – again, something from the article I linked above. The parts that are open to public showcase some very modern cooking/brewing equipment and I snuck a few glances in at the stuff, between opening doors.

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The inside of the church at the cloister was ornate, quite unlike most churches I’ve seen (they’re usually dingy on the inside). This one was all white and gold with a bunch of paintings in colour and inscriptions just below them. There were several confession boxes all along the sides too – more than one would usually expect. Made me wonder whether beer drinkers are sinners. *grin*

I picked up a mixed pack of 4 beers for € 8, 40, which isn’t all that expensive, come to think of it. Their beers usually start at 6% abv, which is good, for some people. *sinner grin*

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I started off with their Special Ale (Spezial Hell) which was *strong*. It got me happy enough to not want to drink anything until I got to Vienna (for fear of missing trains or losing my way). While I’m not sure I remember when/where I drank the Weissbier, but I brought the Doppelbock Dunkel (yum!!! Double Bock PLUS Dunkel) and the Export Ale back to Bangalore. I should’ve been able to handle a 5.9% beer, but this one got me going! It had this great “bitter” about it and the fact that I was finally eating Schweinshaxe just made me all the more happy!

While I was looking up things to eat in Germany, I’d heard people rave about Schweinshaxe (Ham Hocks or Pork Knuckle). I’d also read that you’ve got to eat it at a cloister or any brewery that also has livestock – the pigs are usually fed the same hops that go into the beer and that makes their meat really tasty.

Pork is *so* good! My only gripe is that non-Indian cooking sometimes just ends up being fried meat and not enough seasoning. They were selling food by weight. And I don’t speak German and managed to sign-language for what I needed. For under € 7, I ended up getting 700 grams of pork knuckle (I could finish only half!) and some bread to go with.

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Andechs was a great half-day trip. It made me happy in the knowledge that I’ve picked places where you don’t bump into hordes of Indians (or Asians) on field-trips.

Back in Munich, I figured out my train bookings to and from Brussels for the following week and gathered my stuff from the hostel and headed off to Vienna.

And as I boarded the train to Vienna, a lousy joke came to my head.
Germany – Man Beer Pig (ref: here)
(mostly because of the horrendous ways in which Indian end up pronouncing a large, usually brown, furry mammal)

my go-to mutton curry

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It’s been a little over 2 years since I moved to Bangalore. And for the longest time, I couldn’t seem to get my mutton curry right. It was ALWAYS chewy. I bought curry cuts of lamb. I bought curry cuts of goat. I bought just a lamb shank. And I just couldn’t get it right.

New Year’s Eve this time, I decided to give it another shot – probably in one of those do-or-die situations. Or the #AchievementUnlocked2014 spirit. It was originally meant to be a mutton sukka recipe based on something I saw on the internet. But I added a little bit of this and a litte bit of that and made it a curry. I’ve made it thrice since. So, yes. This is what my go-to mutton curry is.

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Ingredients:
500g of curry cuts of lamb (or goat, we’re flexible like that… though I will admit, I prefer lamb)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
4 bay leaves, broken into halves
Salt, to taste
A handful of grated coconut
Juice of half a lime
10-15 curry leaves
4-6 dried red chillies
1 large onion, chopped
5-6 garlic cloves
An inch of ginger
2 teaspoons garam masala
Water, to cook
Oil, to cook (I use just about a teaspoon of oil and rely on the fat of the lamb for most of the flavour)
1-2 sliced green chillies, optional

Method:
1. In a pressure cooker, put the mutton, bay leaves, salt and turmeric powder. Fill the cooker up with water until the mutton pieces are just covered. Pressure cook the meat on low flame for about 30 minutes.
2. Grind the onions, garlic, ginger and red chillies to a fine paste.
3. Heat some oil in a vessel. Add the curry leaves and green chillies and let them cook for a minute or so, until they begin to splutter.
4. Add the ginger-garlic-onion-chilli paste and cook until it is translucent.
5. Add the grated coconut and the garam masala and cook for a few more minutes.
6. Now add the mutton, along with the water and cook on high flame for 8-10 minutes. The meat should be cooked tender by now. If you think the meat needs more cooking, cook on a low flame, with the vessel covered, checking every 7-10 mins whether the meat is cooked or not. Over-cooked lamb tastes awful and you really don’t want to ruin a cook curry.
7. If you think the curry is too watery, set the mutton pieces aside, and boil the curry on high, until it reduces to a thick gravy. Add the lamb pieces back into the curry, when you’re done.
8. Serve with chapatis or steamed rice.

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