Sunday, April 28, 2013

Sacher Torte in Demel Cafe, Vienna

The last time we were in Vienna, we were told we had to visit Demel and have a hot chocolate. This was in December 8 years ago--it was freezing, and Demel was always packed with people thawing out with hot chocolate.

One afternoon, Kat and I managed to squeeze in and shared one hot chocolate (there was no space at the bar). We then we rushed out because we also had to be somewhere else. We didn't have the opportunity to enjoy our hot chocolate but we now had bragging rights. It was thick and it was good. And we were rushed.

On this trip, Demel was right around the corner from our hotel. It still looked very popular with lots of tourists taking photos in and around it, but there was lots of elbow room too.

The Demel Coffeeshop goes back over 200 years. They were a supplier to the empress and were the creators of the original Sacher Torte. That claim, however, is controversial and the story is quite convoluted. This blog post tries to explain the history of the Sacher Torte simply and clearly. Read the comments too, very interesting.

Without the crowd, I had a clear view of the interiors. Oh my, what beautiful salons! I love these Versailles-type mirrors, and the gorgeous ceiling details.

Walking to the back of the shop, I discovered there was a salon at the back, and a visible bakery. There were stairs that led to a second floor, and more stairs that led to a third.  Eight years ago, I had the impression that they only had this bar out in front. This is where Kat and I battled the crowd for our hot chocolate.

B and I went upstairs and got a table in the quaint dining room. Since I'm not a fan of hot chocolate I decided to order the very famous cake of Vienna, the Sacher Torte, plus an espresso.  I wanted just a taste too so I ordered the mini version of a slice.

Oops, I only remembered to take a picture after I ate it.

This time though I thoroughly enjoyed what I had. The coffee was good and I savored every bite of the sacher torte which was small enough to be guilt-free. But I wouldn't come here just to eat. If it was full, I wouldn't jostle with the crowd.

For me, this is a place to enjoy a shopping break and take in the beautiful interiors. I'm a sucker for anything with a long history and distinguished provenance.

 The bakery in the back room

I like Sacher torte because I like dark chocolate and it isn't so sweet. Before this, Sacher torte = dry and crumbly cake. Not this one. It wasn't moist, but I wouldn't describe it as dry. The apricot jam under the coating of chocolate gave it a sweet zing. Maybe my palette has matured. Or maybe I was just mesmerized by the interiors. Whatever it was, I now know that I like Sacher torte-- in Vienna.

That said, and although the cakes are packaged well and can probably withstand an overseas flight, it didn't occur to me to take any home to replicate the experience elsewhere. I think the whole experience of a perfect Sacher torte is having it in Vienna, either here in Demel or at the Sacher hotel.

Kohlmarkt 14 
Vienna, Austria 1010

Blue Onion and Cesky Porcelan

I wasn't interested in buying anything in Prague until I saw this window.

I would have bought a dozen water goblets if Prague was our last stop

The store was closed when I saw it so I had to make a mental note of where it was in relation to our hotel. I also went online that night to see what Cesky Porcelan was all about. Almost everything in the window display was Blue Onion, a pattern that originated in the 18th century and copied from the blue and white porcelain designs from China during the Marco Polo days.

Cesky Porcelan's webpage makes a connection to Meissen, the first producers of the Blue Onion pattern in Europe, but they might also just be one of the many manufacturers that make this pattern. I wouldn't know.

These are not expensive plates--they are just classic and traditional.

I don't need any more plates, but I just had to have a couple of blue onion things from here.

This store looked like a factory outlet--probably the reason I was attracted to it. The store layout didn't encourage browsing or handling, and there was only one lady manning the whole store and the cash register.

She didn't speak a word of English so I had to use sign language and point to the pieces I wanted. She went to the back room to get them, removed each piece from its wholesale box, showed them to me one at a time, and then packed in tissue and then repackaged them into individual boxes.  It's a good thing I was only buying a few pieces. The two customers behind me waited very patiently. When their turn came, they knew exactly what they wanted too.

Now that I look at the pictures, I should've bought more.  But the purchasing process did well to restrain me. I bought two little egg cups with saucers, and one set of tiered plates. I can hear my mom saying,  "What? You should always buy a dozen, or at least half a dozen!"  She likes "round" numbers, while I am used to buying things in the flea-market, therefore one or two things at a time is par for the course--specially when I don't need them.

When I left the store, I saw this pretty Blue Onion Ruby pattern. I wanted to go back in and get the plate with the handles behind the bowl. But the thought of lining up behind those two customers and the slow-moving lady? It gave me enough time to rethink that I really don't need another serving plate at home. It would've made a nice souvenir though. Oh well, next time.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Prague Drinking Water

When traveling in a foreign country, it's always wise to be careful about drinking the tap water.  But it's good to know that Prague tap water is safe to drink!

At the lobby of our hotel, I came across the information board for a group of Australian tourists. This was probably prepared by their tourguide/host. It was information I happily passed on to the people in our group.

A Free Walking Tour in Prague

I'm a big believer in joining a tour whenever I'm in a new city, and the tours I enjoy most are the walking tours around the town. Surprisingly, the most memorable tourguides for me are those that give the free tours (with the exception of Paolo is Lisbon).

Private tour guides in Europe can cost from 100 euros and over, and sometimes the guides aren't that good or knowledgeable. The guides giving the free tours are usually art or history students--so they know a lot about the sites they are showing. They  usually also have much to share about pop culture and other fun things which may not be part of the spiel of a more traditional tour guide.

A quick google search on "Free tours" will bring up many options. For this one in Prague, we just stopped by the tourist office and asked where the free walking tours were. Luckily, the meeting place was just outside the tourist office beside the Astrological clock.

We had a mixed group that included students from Ultrecht in Amsterdam, a few Americans, UK residents, ABCs who live in LA, and a couple from Oz.

Our guide's name was George (That's his name in English--I didn't catch the spelling of his Czech name).  He was very informative, funny and irreverent. Guides giving free tours really have to develop their style so that they build rapport. The better the tour, the higher the "tip".

A walking tour usually brings you through smaller streets and other hidden places of interest.

Our tour  had an "intermission" after an hour. We stopped at a cafe for 15 minutes while we bought ourselves coffee or a drink.

Waiting now for the rest of the group before continuing. 

In Prague, a regular paid tour like this would cost about 16 euro thereabouts.  I used this information as a base to see what kind of tip I would give George in the end. 

Of course we have to stop at the major sites still--like this Astrological clock in the middle of Old Town Square. The day before, we had a group tour guide who explained the clock movements to us.

George added another dimension. He told us to imagine what life was 400 years ago when the clock was first built. With that simple statement, he reminded us that what is considered ho-hum nowadays was revolutionary way back then.

And here is everyone just waiting for the clock to strike 12.

Our enjoyable and informative tour lasted two hours. As we said our goodbyes, people handed George what they felt was a fair tip. The average tip was 10 euro per person, but I also saw a few people hand over 20 euros. Some students handed over only a few euros, but George still thanked them graciously. 

I continue to be impressed by the free tours of a city. I'm glad we were able to do one in Prague.

Plzenska Restaurace, Prague

These ribs at the Plzenska Restaurace were absolutely delicious, I ate all three of them by myself, plus the roast potato that was propping them up. I'm told this is typical Czech food. It was very tender and I really liked the hot mustard and barbecue sauce that came with it.

We had this at the basement level of this famous art nouveau building that houses three restaurants.

 Alfons Mucha is a Czech artist in the art nouveau style.

There is another restaurant upstairs but we were lead here below.

Cozy interiors and good ribs.  After having all those ribs, I had to have a palate-cleansing dessert. I haven't had this much ice cream in a long time.

Just like the outside of the building, the interior details are also fascinating.

Worth a visit--specially that it's right in town and at the end of a busy shopping street.

And here we are figuring out our next plan of action. Mine was to go back to the hotel and sleep.

But of course I didn't do that. I spent the next couple of hours walking about town, burning off those ribs.


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