I have to admit that I just don’t get enough exercise and spend too much time in the company of my computer. Thus when the sun is shining, on a warm Vienna evening or at weekends, I have little in the way of argument to ward off R’s ‘suggestions’ that we take a stroll. So in the spirit of ‘health and happiness’ I drag my ever complaining body into action for the greater good.
But wait. Is this the whole picture? Is ‘healthy walking’ around the Vienna Woods and the local area really so onerous?
Well actually if you put a smile on your face and ‘embrace’ the whole idea with enthusiasm there are many opportunities to turn such exercise into truly enjoyable excursions into relaxation and enjoyment. Last night’s evening stroll, for example, took us up over the hill into the 16th District and initially to the heuriger Leitner. Located next to vineyards overlooking the city, the heuriger provided us with a pleasant red wine as we took a break in our journey and enjoyed the surroundings. The food also looked appealing but unfortunately all the tables where pre-booked, however this gave me the excuse to suggest that we head for the Am Predigstuhl.
The Am Predigstuhl is an absolute gem of a small restaurant. As you walk along the Oberwiedenstrasse it’s possible to miss the entrance to the restaurant, which looks very similar to the private house on either side – though for those more alert than myself the sign painted on the wall next to the gate is a bit of a giveaway. The menu provides a more varied choice than you find in many small places and the food that arrives at your table is excellent. The atmosphere is relaxing with friendly and helpful staff. To accompany your meal the Am Predigstuhl has a very good selection of Austrian wines, with the need to choose providing the only moment of ‘stress’.
As the spring turns to summer and we take more and more of these ‘healthy walks’ I am discovering new stopping off points. Only last week as we walked over the hill in the direction of the 18th District, we dropped into the Schutzhaus am Schafberg which provided another lovely venue for an evening meal.
Even turning a stroll in the local area into a full blown walk in the Vienna Woods provides many opportunities to enhance the genuine enjoyment of the woodland – though you do have to keep one eye on the more over enthusiastic mountain bikers and joggers. As you walk through the woods you are never far from a coffeehouse, restaurant, or heurigen with all their delights for the taste buds.
All in all this walking business is definitely contributing to a rather nicely ‘balanced’ Vienna lifestyle.
A few shots take from around the vineyard in the Dornbach area of Vienna:
“Isn’t that cold?” I asked Helena and her friend as for the third time they completed a dash across the skating rink and dived headlong into the snow. The emphatic response from the children, as they rolled around, was “no its fun”.
We had decided to take the children up the hill to one of the local skating venues, something that has the making I think of a regular event for the next few months. In this instance the Villa Aurora was to be our destination, a pleasant tradition Viennese restaurant with a great view from its terrace out across the city. At this time of year a large part of the terrace is converted into a skating rink which is open to the general public.
My first surprise of the day had been the argument between mother and daughter as we prepared to leave the house. R announced that we would drive up the hill instead of walking, which was greeted with howls of “NO” from H. As I have comment in previous blog postings, it is a given in our household that Helena never walks anywhere if she can avoid it and R will want to walk whenever possible, hence my surprise and confusion at this turn of events. It transpired that Romana favoured driving as we were expecting guests later in the evening and she was concerned about getting back in time to finish the dinner preparations. Helena, as became obvious later in the evening, viewed the trip up the hill not some much as a chance for walking but as a great opportunity for snowball fights. Just like politics everywhere, the policy positions of the party’s in the Bates household cannot be taken for granted as changes in climate or agenda’s can cause unexpected shifts in what are thought to be ardently held views.
After some skating and rolling in the snow a general consensus developed that everyone was cold. As we stood there with new snow falling and the temperature dropping the adults announced that we would all walk round the corner to a small Christmas market and stand in the snow drinking some (children’s) punch. H looked at her clearly deranged parents, gave a sideways look at the Villa Aurora, and suggested in that tone that says ‘and you’re supposed to be the adults’ that it would be much nicer to simply go into the warm restaurant. I have to admit that I turned to Helena and congratulated her of the good sense of her suggestion and we all swiftly entered the restaurant.
The Villa Aurora has a very warm and cosy atmosphere. The menu although a little pricey, in comparison to some venues we like, has a good choice including for the likes of myself vegetarian options. This evening we discovered that its wild berry Gluhwein is one of the best in the area and the children reported that there snack, which I would describe as rolled pancakes with whipped cream and plum sauce, was delicious. As has now become a tradition, pictures were taken of all the food and drink to add to a collection of images to be sent to Helena’s uncle Philip (that’s H’s football Uncle Philip not the car Uncle Phillip as they are known).
For H and her friends the current weather conditions and the local facilities provide a winter wonderland, so long as the adults can be kept in order.
So while Romana went off for a girls’ night out, Max and I took Helena up the hill to do some skating. Three and a half hours later we returned cold, happy and with an eight year old who would have been skating till midnight if I’d let her.
As I imagine it was for most people in northern Europe last night, stepping outside meant leaving the warmth of the house to enter a sub-zero world and a walk through the still falling snow. The hill next to the house is steep and in the snow and ice was always going to be hard going with a child who considers walking a form of torture that should be banned under international law. It is an oddity of Helena that she will run, swim, skate, cycle and play sports for hours but cannot face the thought of walking even for a short distance – its officially boring. However, on this occasion the promise of skating was enough to keep her going although it was a close run thing and included a revision to my maths when 40% became half way in answer to the question ‘how far have we gone?’
Our initial destination had been the restaurant Villa Aurora which at this time of year converts part of it terrace into a homemade skating rink. Unfortunately, so much snow had fallen the rink was covered in a layer of the white stuff up to Helena’s Knees. We retreated to the restaurant for a drink and for Helena to have a bowl of soup. After warming up and enjoying a beer (Helena an apple sprits) we continued our journey.
Just a little further up the road is the hotel Schloss Wilhelminenberg which usually has a skating rink set up and open to the public at this time. As we strolled (and slid) into the hotel grounds we were surprised and delighted to discover that along with the rink there was a mini Christmas market. Therefore, not only could we enjoy the skating but warm ourselves with some mugs of Gluhwein. Two hours later I was finally able to negotiate an agreement with Helena that we would begin the journey home – the price a promise to return soon.
So last night I spent three and a half hours walking and standing around in sub-zero temperatures and falling snow. Despite these conditions and feeling a little cold by the time we returned, this was an extremely enjoyable evening. The main reason for me, of course, is that Helena’s enjoyment of such things is infectious. Also this is a city for which these conditions are normal and whose inhabitants are able (determined) therefore to embrace and enjoy the opportunities such conditions can offer. On a more practical level I remembered to put on my thermals – an absolute must.
I think the poor women in my favourite bakery, who gets the pleasure of serving me very few days, is just about getting used to the experience.
The enjoyment of living somewhere, as my friend Phil is always demonstrating through his Facebook and Twitter postings, is as much about the little things in life as it is say the beauty or grandeur of an environment, the big events you can attend, or the rewards you gain from your employment. When the little things work, create a comfortable framework for the day to day realities of life and even produce their own moment of pleasure, then for most of us a place works.
In settling into my new life, here in Dornbach, its building these little connections with the everyday that starts to create the real sense of living here. One such connection is the bakery that Romana found which is about fifteen minutes walk from the house and provides the best freshly baked bread in the area (in our opinion…..other bakers and residents may take a different view). It’s not the nearest such shop but the walk is always worth it.
My irregular visits to the bakery have begun to take on a regular pattern. From my point of view I wonder into the shop, say good morning and with a mixture of German and English purchase the bread and other items I want in a relaxed and satisfactory manner. I think from the view point of the women who always serves me it looks something like this. Ok it’s the grinning Englishman again but at least here says good morning properly. Wait while he decides how many cartons of milk to buy this morning and then take deep breath. So I know he wants bread because he said that in German but then did that switch to English and started pointing. Which one did he have last time? Ok I got a yes when I pointed at these loaves and I think that was an attempt to say two in German. So far so good, is that it? No he’s got that look on his face, he always smiles a lot but his eyes seem to suggest either panic or confusion, maybe both. Right he’s point at the rolls and cakes, so if I slowly point and ask him we can get through this. Ok that seems to be everything; he’s definitely smiling now and doesn’t have that same look of panic anymore. Count out the change slowly for him and say goodbye.
Just opposite us is the newsagent where I purchase my tram tickets and occasionally a magazine. The Viennese owners are big fans of Ireland and like many of the people I encounter in Vienna love to practice their English or avoid the pain of my attempted German by conversing in my native tongue. Given that there are different types of tram ticket and pointing is not an effective strategy in this instance, this English language facility certainly helps with this little corner of my new life….at least until my German improves.