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We passed the city of Bregenz on our way to Lindau, and made it the destination of one of our day trips.

Bregenz is the capital of the province of Vorarlberg which borders three countries: Germany(Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg via Lake Constance), Switzerland (Grisons and St. Gallen) and Liechtenstein. Vorarlberg is the westernmost state of Austria.

The city sits by the lake at the foot of Pfänder mountain (Der Berg am Bodensee).

The summit of the Pfänder (1064 m) can be reached by the Pfänderbahn from Bregenz. The cable car covers a height difference of over 600m in around 6 minutes. We waited for almost an hour to get onto it. Lindau is clearly visible.

With its views over the lake and the surrounding mountain peaks, the Pfänder is one of the most famous lookout points of the region.

One can see a stage on the water which is built for the famous annual international opera festival, Bregenzer Festspiele, which will run in the summer.

From a distance, it looked like a giant pair of hands rising out of the lake. Here is a time lapse video of the construction of this year’s stage for Carmen.

There is a small Alpine wildlife park at the top.

Back to town, the Vorarlberg area is known for its architectural principle – “Neue Vorarlberger Bauschule” – which combines traditional construction and modern interpretation, and involves craftsmen and locals in the building process.

Walking through Bregenz, we saw many modern buildings standing next to traditional houses.

Overall, quite harmonious.

One of Austria’s famous food is the schnitzel – pounded and breaded veal fillet. We were happy to find a restaurant specialized in this dish in a old historic building.

Goldener Hirschen at Kirchstrasse 8 serves many tourists but without being touristy.

Traditional interiors.

We sat outside in a small garden. They also offer a pork version but it was clearly stated and 15% cheaper. Many main street touristy restaurants do not offer a choice and serves pork (especially true in Germany).

The presentation was pedestrian, not as good as what we had in Vienna.  Overall very good.

Click here to see the Wiener Schnitzel we had a while back.


Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) constructed in the 12th century but damaged in World War II – this Gothic church is in the center of Vienna’s Innere Stadt (inner city).

We have been to a few churches, like the Duomo in Milan and the Sagrada di familia in Barcelona, – but the Stephansdom is remarkable for its dazzling roof with that crazy zigzag tiling and on the inside, psychedelic lighting !

The light effects gave the entrance to the church a surreal fantastical atmosphere. I would believe it if someone says that the photo above is a screenshot from a video game.

When we visited, a mass had just started. So we did not go further to explore.

It appeared that certain images in primary colors were projected onto the interiors while transparent panes of solid colors were installed in some of the windows in place of traditional stained glass. The projections were static.

The installation reminded me of Limelight – a now-closed nightclub that resided in a disused church in New York, on 6th Av around 20th street.

We assumed that this set up is a temporary exhibition. The colors also reminded me of the 60-70’s tie-dye colors associated with hippies and The Grateful Dead.

In the end, we were so distracted by the colorful patterns that the real sights were forgotten. Well, we will visit Vienna again – while the statutes will always be there, the projections will not.

Just across the street from  Café Drechsler (previous post) is Der Naschmarkt – a half-mile long strip of stalls and shops on top of a river – Vienna’s food market since the 16th century.

On every Saturday, there is a flea market at the far end of Naschmarkt – with Vienna being at the center of 19th century European culture – it must be a great place to shop. I left Vienna early but IT and Sue stayed on till the weekend – and according to IT who frequents flea markets, it was not as good as the one in Paris (after she spent three hours surveying the stalls).

Spices galore – there is a strong oriental influence in the market.

Asparagus (Spargel) was in season – so it was on all the menus and in the market – Marchfeld spargel is a fancy local variety.

While we were in Munich, our friend B had them in the most typical way – steamed, served with Hollandaise sauce and a little schnitzel.

A shop in the market – Gegenbauer sells artisan vinegar – marketing it like wine or perfume. While they allow tasting, I was not sure if I wanted to. The brewed products are highly flavored and apparently well-known worldwide.

It was written up in Japanese guide books as several pages were posted on the entrance. You can also buy their products online.  We really did not have time to properly investigate the products.

Ham anyone ? I have never seen a standalone meat slicer before.

The market has many restaurants but I wondered if they are open at night – doubt it  – but if it does, it could be just like the night markets in Asia.

The first time we walked through the market, we spotted some fish restaurants.  IT and Sue returned later in the week and had some oysters and a grilled seafood lunch (there was enough to feed at least 3 people !)

If you are interested in markets, check out our post on Hong Kong’s New Year flower market and  Amsterdam’s floating flower market.

The neighborhood we stayed in Vienna really has a lot of remarkable cafes. After our earlier posts on Café Sperl and Café Phil, we went to Café Drechsler on Linke Wienzeile, which was a 5-minutes walk from our rental on Gumpendorferstrasse. This cafe is located across the street from Naschmarkt (see next post).

Café Drechsler was renovated in 2007 by Conran & partners and billed itself as a modern Viennese kaffehaus. It has two decorative themes, if you can say that, modern and traditional.

The modern side is cool but not cold – neutral grey wooden panels with a narrow strip of mirror and the logo “CD” above the crimson banquets.

The other side is earthy and warmer in tone, has the same tables and Thonet-like chairs, beige banquets, plus a handsome marble coffee bar.

IT and Sue went there (I left Vienna already).

We later read that Café Drechsler is open 23 hours a day (which is not as common in Europe as it is in the US with 24-hour diner) and it serves clubbers and market workers from Naschmarkt in the early hours. I imagine that it would be a bit like the now-closed Florent in New York before the meatpacking district became trendy and then touristy.

Improvised light switch – nice touch.

(This is not a Gerald Richter painting)

Directly across the street from Café Sperl (covered in my last post) is Café Phil at 10-12 Gumpendorferstrasse – it is a mutant of the traditional Viennese kaffehaus (but not the kind of “coffeeshop” one finds in Amsterdam).

Cafe Phil provides hot beverages and sells books and magazines.

It also sells vinyl, CD, DVD, etc. The ambience is so laid back that the people were falling asleep!

It also sells the furniture used by the patrons and the lights. Apparently, a weekly TV show about popular culture is filmed here.

Despite its looks, just like the traditional kaffehaus, one can linger for hours with just one cup of coffee. It is indeed a great place to relax by yourself and meet people if you want.

Just a bit up the street from our rental apartment is a Museli bar called Corns ‘n Pops (37 Gumpendorferstrasse).

Look at the choices on offer.

Serious about cereal ?

And the variety of toppings.

We had a very late breakfast there.

We were rather busy planning our day’s activities. Instead of creating our mix, we deferred to the menu suggestions. I was the laziest and ordered the museli du jour – which had among other goodies a sprinkle of grated ginger on top.

While we are on the topic of food and drinks on Gumpendorferstrasse, a few store fronts from Cafe Phil is a Korean restaurant Hanil (at no.14) – whose offerings are as korean as it can be in Vienna – it also runs a couple of sushi joint across town. Next to Cafe Sperl across the street is Ra’mien (at no.9) – a design-conscious, minimalist pan-asian restaurant – where we had noodles for dinner one night – the place was packed with people ready to go out for the evening.

According to Wikipedia, the Viennese coffee house is an institution of Vienna that played an important part shaping the city’s culture. Around the end of the 19th century, it was the place where intellectuals, politicians, artists lingered – reading newspaper, writing, talking and playing games. We tried lingering there …

This café is located further down the street from our rental apartment where it splits as Gumpendorferstrasse to the left and Lehargasse to the right.

As it turned out, Café Sperl at 11 Gumpendorferstrasse is the real deal and not a touristy place. As is common in many Viennese Coffee Houses, there are marble tabletops, Thonet-like chairs, and newspaper tables.

The square tables by the window (pictured above) allow patrons to play card games and chess – one evening, we saw a group of ladies playing cards in there.

The seating arrangements around the windows are also particularly welcoming, as it accommodates a variable number of people and encourages informal socializing between separate groups.

The high ceiling, windows, and mirror at the end makes the place very airy despite the wood panels and velvety upholstery.

Patrons can spend as much time as they want with a cup of coffee while reading all the newspaper and magazines. I cannot help but think of the Starbucks inside Barnes and Noble in the US. Notably, I do not remember seeing a television any where – so it cannot turn into a sports bar.

The English has billiard table in public houses (pubs) which may serve a similar social gathering function as the Viennese cafe, except that the conversations in a pub are likely to be driven more by alcohol than by the news. Billiard or pool tables in cafe are unimaginable in the US and Britain.

We went there in late morning and had a leisurely lunch there. I suspected the billiard tables will be used in the evening. These are not pool tables, they have no pockets!

One of us had a special wiener schnitzel that is covered not just with bread crumbs but also with nuts and corn.

Although they do not have a bar, I believe alcohol is served. Don’t remember seeing any sign of internet access here – still relying on the olde newspaper for info?

Apparently, the cafe was featured in Richard Linklater’s 1995 movie Before Sunrise, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, which along with its Paris-based sequel Before Sunset, I recommend highly.

File:Before Sunrise film.jpg

The interior was also used in the movie A Dangerous Method, which featured Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.

Do check out Café Sperl‘s web site which offers several beautifully captured interactive panorama of the interior and exterior of the cafe.

For our stay in Vienna, instead of booking hotel rooms, we and Sis rented an apartment for the week.

The apartment is located on the second floor of 22 Gumpendorferstrasse in the district of Mariahilf 6.

There are four apartments per floor. The building is entirely residential but the area still has some light industry.

It is in an old building but the apartment’s interior was completely renovated. Very NY Soho loft.

High ceiling, airy, and modern, the whole apartment is painted white with minimalist furniture. A few big mirrors added more space.

The curtains in our bedroom were psychedelic.

Modern bathroom. They supplied us with threes of everything from towel to toiletries, and even 3 Nespresso pods in the kitchen.

This piece of glass separates the kitchen and the bathroom and I believe it is a map of Vienna.

The kitchen is modern and has a pass-through to the living room.

Interesting bookshelf, possibly home made. The little red and blue blobs were plastic spaceman figurines that were glued onto the bookshelf. We were happy to find English language Lonely Planet and Wallpaper guide books.

Whose’s design is this? I have seen a series of lights with a red cable  in a catalogue before but just cannot remember now.

The building kept the old elevator, giving it much character. One has to close both doors after use otherwise it is stranded on the floor you got off.

Except the ground floor, a key is required to call the elevator to your floor.

This was our home for the week. We booked it at Viennaresidence which caters to mainly business short-stays – I will use them again.

After we attended the Champions League final football game, we left Munich the next day for Vienna – the beginning of a week’s vacation. Our train was RJ65 departing at 11:27 from Munich to Budapest on platform 11.

Our train is run by the Austrian Federal Railway (Österreichische Bundesbahnen or ÖBB) and the service is branded Railjet.

Although there was the Bistro on the train and we had breakfast at the hotel, we still bought a load of snacks at the station.

Sue booked us tickets for First class Business – which is apparently even better than first class. While it cost us quite a bit for this segment of the trip, it was also the best rail travel experience we ever had.

Many aspects of our train seat are like an airplane’s seat. The three of us were seated in a section which can accommodate four passengers, two and two facing each other. There were enough spaces that we kept in our section most of our luggage except my bulkiest bag.

Reading lights, power sockets, reclining seats with foot rest … roomy, no crowds, quiet, no city center-airport trip, seat-side service – definitely a nice way to travel medium distances in Europe.

An attendant came to ask if we wished to order drinks and lunch, and offered us newspaper and magazines. We did not have to go to the Bistro.

The train stopped at Salzburg, Linz, and a few lesser known Austrian cities.

The train was quiet and steady; some of us were fast asleep at 200 km/h. This screen in our section displays a map indicating our progress and the schedule times of arrival and departure.

Sights rushed by at high speed, … I would not have minded stopping here.

We reached Vienna at 15:44, arriving in Wien Westbanhof, all of us well-rested. A very nice way to travel indeed.

The next few posts will be all about Vienna.