March 04 Vienna Trip Report

Old Mar 12th, 2004, 11:14 AM
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March 04 Vienna Trip Report

Trip Dates: Feb. 29-March 10
Transportation: Day train from Brussels. To Vienna, I took the Thalys to Cologne, then picked up the EuroCity to Vienna. The total travel time (incuding 1 hour layover in Cologne) is 13 hours. For the return, I took the ICE to Cologne, then another ICE to Vienna. Same total travel time. Cost: 440 euros for a RT first class ticket with seat reservations on all segments. The train ride was long, but very pleasant. I enjoyed the scenery, traveling along the Rhine, then crossing through Franconia into Austria. The first few hours of the ride back were absolutely delightful, as there was up to a foot of fresh snow and everything looked beautiful. I saw deer in the fields and in the woods, hares in the fields, small villages, waterfalls, etc. The EC and ICE trains had restaurant cars where I had light meals (salads, etc.). A long ride, but worth it.
Weather: Cold for the entire 10 days, most days hovering at the freezing mark, a little above in the afternoon, below freezing at night. Snow or snow flurries every day, plus some sunny spells. On the 8th and 9th, Vienna got a few inches of snow that were still "sticking" on the ground when I left on the 10th.
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 11:27 AM
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Hotel: Sofitel Wien, at 35-37 am Heumarkt (phone 43/1716160). The hotel is located not too far from the Belvedere and a couple of blocks from the ring. Part of this trip was for business (to attend the European Congress of Radiology) and I was booked into this hotel for the business part of the trip. I had reservations at Konig von Ungarm for the vacation portion, but decided to do the whole thing at the Sofitel as I didn't want to waste time packing and unpacking for two hotels in the same city. Rate: for the vacation portion, I paid 75 euros for two nights and 120 euros for three nights for a double with single use (the KVU rate was 133 euros per night for a single, i.e., single bed). The business portion was prepaid, so I don't know what that rate was. Probably in the 100-110 euro ballpark, including tax and breakfast. I did go into the KVU to check out what I missed and while it seemed very pleasant, I'm glad in the end I stayed in one place the whole time. The room was comfortable, spacious (with AC for summer, FYI), king bed, nice sized bathroom, ample storage, good amenities. The hotel is business oriented, but the rooms have a Klimt theme. The hotel and room itself were fine, but the location was so-so, near the center, but in a bit of a dead zone as far as restaurants and mass transit were concerned. I wish the hotel was on the other side of the ring or closer to the tram (the 71 tram is nearby, but its line ends just a block from the hotel, so you have to switch to another tram). Overall, I might not pick this hotel again for a vacation (I would probably choose the Kaiserin Elisabeth, the ANA Grand or the Ambassador), but if I was assigned there for business reasons or got the hotel at a good rate through Priceline, I would be fine with it. The breakfast was good, more than just hard rolls, cheese and ham. The hotel has a restaurant for dinner, but I did not eat there, so no review. I am an Accor loyalty card member; the staff took note of it and offered me a couple of free drinks and when I went down to breakfast each morning, they recognized me by name and were reserving a copy of the Herald Tribune for me. Much appreciated!
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 11:46 AM
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Food and Drink:
Oswald & Kalb. The Sofitel recommended this hotel and booked my table. O&K is near St. Stephan's, and easily reached. The decor is sober (white walls, beamed, arched ceilings, candles on tables) but attractive. I had a good table, was seated promptly and service was good. I had the beef bouillon with pancake slices, followed by a chicken dish. The beef bouillon was just a little too salty for my taste, but ok, and the chicken was good. I also had a few glasses of red wine but was disappointed that the house red was German, not Austrian. Tap water was offered with no pressure to buy bottled water. Dessert was Mohr im hemd (chocolate moelleux in French, basically a dark chocolate cake with a dark chocolate pudding center). Pretty good. Total cost: 32 euros plus tip. Overall, I give this restaurant 6.5 out of 10. Perfectly pleasant and I wouldn't mind going there again. Not sure if I would go out of my way to eat there, though. A mixed international crowd eating there, including several Americans.
Yugetsu (Fuhrichgasse 10, near the Albertina): I happened to walk by, read the menu and got hungry for a Spider Roll and inari (I can't get them easily here in Brussels). The food was ok, several Japanese tourists were eating there, but the service left something to be desired. Total for various dishes (I didn't to a full dinner), green tea, was 25 euros. The Japanese restaurant at the (ANA) Grand Hotel was better, but this was just an impulse walk in. 6 out of 10.
Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer (White Chimney Sweep, 5 Weihburgasse (near St. Stephan's). I've eaten there several times before and have not been disappointed. This meal was no exception. We (I had dinner with a friend) had cauliflower soup, followed by steak, then the chocolate platter for dessert, plus a few glasses of Austrian red wine, bottled water and various "freebies" (pumpkin seeds, little dishes between courses). All very well prepared and served. We arrived 30 minutes early for our reservation (as had several other tables, due to a concert ending a little earlier than expected) and the staff graciously fitted us in. Total for the two of us: 120 euros. 8 out of 10.
Meinl am Graben: Stupendous! My best meal ever in Vienna. Reservations required. Decor again is sober but attractive, dark wood paneling, crisp linens. Friendly but very professional service. My table was not quite ready when I arrived, so I had a drink of the bar of Austrian red wine. I had beef soup, followed by a trout dish. Both perfectly prepared. Dessert was another Mohr im Hemd and definitely superior to O&K's. Total for 3 course meal, plus wine, water, coffee: 60 euros. 9 out of 10 (would have given it a 9.5 if I'd had a table directly overlooking the Graben, oh well, next year!).
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 12:24 PM
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Food and Drink, Contd.
Palmenhaus, Burgarten. Fun dinner with several people. Salad, steak, both quite good, several glasses of wine, mineral water, crepe dessert. Was there on a Saturday night and it's definitely a pick-up, date night kind of place. Good music, beautiful setting. Would go back there again. I wasn't paying, so I don't know the cost. 7 out of 10.
Aux Gazelles, 6 Rahlgasse, just off Mariahilferstrasse (you go right and down the steps at the Humanic shoe store near the "bottom" of Mariahilferstrasse). A modern, sumptuous restaurant with a North African theme. Very mixed feelings about this one. The food was EXCELLENT. The service was LOUSY. Getting a waiter's attention was a real challenge and even after you got one to come over, they didn't even pay attention. Brought me a dish different from what I had ordered (not a mixup with another table, he just didn't listen to my order). The food was so good and the service was so annoying, not sure how to rate this place. For food, 8. For service, -1. Probably won't go back there again, the chef at Aux Gazelles deserves better wait staff.
Cafe am Theatre, Naschmarkt. Went there after a performance of Elisabeth (see Culture, Sights and Sounds). Pleasant enough, good staff, but they were out of everything on the menu that interested me. I ended up having soup and salad, my friend had a veal dish that he said was excellent. Good Austrian wine by the glass. Cappuccino mousse for dessert which was just so-so. Members of the Elisabth cast (the theatre is next door) were drinking there. 5 out of 10.
Cafe Sirk. Had lunch there twice, both times chicken noodle soup and salad. Good service, good food (the soup was very low salt, FYI). Had a glass of wine, also raspberry torte for dessert each time. Bill was aobut 20 euros for each lunch. Great location, good service. 7 out of 10, would definitely have lunch there again.
Cafe Oberlaa, Fleischmarkt. Also for lunch, also soup and salad, plus raspberry schnitte for dessert. Sirk was better for soup and salad, Oberlaa better for pastries. Mmmm...was fur calorien!! Will eat pastries there anytime!
Hopf...beisl (I lost the card and can't remember the full name). A little neighborhood beisl on Kaiserstrasse off Mariahilferstrasse, not too far from the Westbahnhof. Good home style family food. We had grilled pork chops and salads, plus two steins of Hirter pils. Mostly locals, friendly atmosphere but a little smokey. Overall, pretty darn good! 39 euros for two. 7.5 out of 10.
Cafe Sacher, Sacher Hotel. Had hot chocolate and sacher torte. Also attended a private party at the Sacher hotel where we were served pastries, including mini Sacher tortes, various canapes, Austrian wine, etc. The hot chocolate was very good and not too overpriced. Sacher torte was ok, IMHO, I'm just not a nig Sacher torte fan.
Minor whinge: many places in Vienna will force you to check your coat AND make you pay for it (about 1 euro per item). A little annoying. If you *have* to do it, then it should be free, IMHO.
Sky Bar. On the top floor of the Steffl department store. Very hip, modern hangout, great view. Excellent drinks and full cocktail menu. It was PACKED on Friday night, but they gave us a table anyway. Cool music. 8 out of 10 for drinks only (points deducted for the mandatory coat check+charge annoyance).
Morwald, Ambassador Hotel, Karntnerstrasse. Drinks only. Beautiful, polished setting, limited drinks menu but very good, piano bar, nice place for a nightcap. Morwald also has an excellent restaurant (we ate there in September). The Ambassador is a 5-star hotel that often gets overlooked, despite its unbeatable location. Would like to stay here sometime. 8 out 10 (drinks only).
Cafe Sperl: Gumpfendorferstrasse (spelling approximate), not far from Mariahilferstrasse. Lots of atmosphere, good wine by the glass, coffee just so-so.
Briefly noted: had one meal at NordSee, a seafood fast food chain. It met expectations. Also had one lunch at McD's. Again, no surprises...except I learned that Austria is the most profitable country (per capita) for McDonald's. Hmmm... Finally, had a couple of lattes at Starbucks, one from Mariahilferstrasse (I was just too tired from walking to keep going) and one takeaway from the Opera location, perfect for the snowy, cold walk back to the Sofitel. Espresso brownies not bad either.
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 12:35 PM
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Getting a little tired, now, and the dog is demanding some attention...will finish this later!
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 12:43 PM
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I like your style of writing!
.. wish I could remember the song Billy Joel sings about Vienna calls...
Vienna has been calling to me.. reading things like this.. hmmmm....
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 12:54 PM
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BTilke,
Thanks for your detailed report.Can't locate culture,sights and sounds. Help please. Have you ever been to the English or International Threatres in Vienna? I will be there in June and thought I'd give them a try. I am totally amazed that you thought Meinl food so good! I have seen the restaurant but didn't feel it worth visiting because who has ever heard of an outstanding dining experience in a supermarket even if it is top notch. Your recommendation will make me go there this time. I must be the only one who did not enjoy the Weisse Rauchfangkehrer. I thought it was pretentious and overpriced. Ah well, can't win them all.
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 02:01 PM
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Hallo SuzieC,
I think the Billy Joel song is "Vienna waits for you".
 
Old Mar 12th, 2004, 02:01 PM
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Hi Pipsil, I haven't written the Culture, Sights & Sounds bit (or the shopping section) yet...will do that Saturday. I'm pooped. We're having some drinks and watching A Year in Provence off the laptop in bed...
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 02:23 PM
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You have to admit Oswald and Kalb's service was great. I would give them at least a 7 overall.
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 02:40 PM
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Actually, I would say the service was good, not great. As I mentioned on another post, they did a couple of "not great" things like snatching the pepper mill off my table and giving it to someone else (without asking), even though I was still eating and might have wanted to use it. So I'm sticking with the 6.5 rating.
Restaurant note: A Tavola, next to the Kaiserin Elisabeth Hotel, has closed. There isn't another restaurant currently operating at that address, although there was a sign up for a restaurant (or something) called Lippizaner. However, the space was closed every time I walked by during my trip. Novelli, a sister restaurant to A Tavola, is still up and running.
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 05:25 PM
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What a Great trip report!! I enjoyed it very much and will look up some of the places you really liked, when I return there in June. I missed The Starbucks while I was there last year, but I saw it and also got a picture of it. The one that is on a side street. We were in a hurry because we had to catch our train back to Hungary. How was starbucks all in all? I was told that Starbucks is tripled the price there, is that true? We had a nice Lunch in a small tavern type place, the coffee was WONDERFUL!!! I couldn't find out what brand they used. It was strong but soooo smooth! I love starbucks, but that coffee even beat them. I'm glad you had a good time and can't wait till you post more. I too love your style of writing. Alizka
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 09:46 PM
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Thanks for the nice comments! Starbucks didn't seem that expensive, under 3 euros for a short latte. Alice, two popular brands of coffee in Vienna are Meinl (from the grocery store on the Graben) and Tchibo. Tchibo is actually a German coffee brand and we drink it at home. While in Vienna, I picked up a kilo of Tchibo's Elegant Blend from their store (also on the Graben). Everywhere else I shopped that day, people at the stores wanted to know where I bought that delicious smelling coffee. Some cafes serve Illy brand coffee, a high end Italian brand.
Food summary: Overall, I ate very well in Vienna on this trip and on all of my previous seven trips over the last few years. Favorite restaurants in order (including previous trips).
1. Meinl am Graben
2. Morwald
3. Zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer
4. Steierereck
5. Novelli
Favorite dessert: Himbeerschaum schnitte from Konditorei Oberlaa. Had it twice, would eat it much more often if my waistline would let me get away with it!!

Culture, Sights and Sounds

Kunsthistoriche Museum. Went on a Wednesday. Admission 9 euros with Vienna Card, free English audio guide. Special exhibit on Flemish landscape paintings, including several famous Breughels. Had an absolutely terrific time here. The museum was very uncrowded. The Flemish landscape paintings were superb; the exhibit was large and had paintings on loan from top collections from around the world. The decorate arts wing is closed for renovations, FYI, which was slightly disappointing. The museum's art collection is so rich that Vermeer's famous painting, The Artist's Studio, was off in an alcove and I had it all to myself for 20 minutes. The audio guide was great; I'm really glad I had one and it's worth paying for if they charge for it when you go. Another favorite painting was the Parmagianino (sp?) painting Cupid Carving his Bow. The explanation from the audio guide gave me a much better appreciation for the painting. Spent a few hours wandering the museum, then had chocolate torte and a drink at the museum's handsome cafe (note: their pastries come from Gerstner, a Konditorei on the Karntnerstrasse).
Belvedere. The museum was also nearly empty when I visited, so I had plenty of time to look at the Klimts on my own. I liked the landscape paintings better than The Kiss and other gold period paintings. The views from the museum itself and from the grounds outside the museum are spectacular. Tram D stops right outside the museum; you can walk to the museum from the central area, but the tram is easier.
Albertina. The art exhibit was a little disappointing, but I'm simply not a huge fan of modern art. I did like the State Rooms though.
Imperial Vaults. Impressive. No one else was there while I visited, so I found the atmosphere more compelling than I probably would have with the summer crowds around. Maria-Theresa's tomb is amazingly ornate. Observation: look closely at the skeletons carved on the tombs. In the earlier tombs, the skulls all show several missing teeth; as you get to more recent tombs, the skulls have all or almost all their teeth. Funerary arts keeping pace with dental arts...Some of the tombs had fresh flowers around them.
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 10:04 PM
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Performances:
Elisabeth, playing at the Theatre Am Wien on the Naschmarkt. Went with a friend who was in Vienna for the same meeting. Our seats were in the first "rang" (balcony), over on the right side. Pretty good view, although we missed a few bits that took place way down on the right side. An excellent performance and I'm so glad we went! I really enjoyed this musical and would go see it again. Basically, it covers the life of Kaiserin Elisabeth (Sisi). Not sentimental at all (put it this way: Death was one of the main characters). Contemporary staging and music. One of the highlights of the trip, major thumbs up! The crowd was very enthusiastic and the woman sitting directly in front of us was a Sisi groupie, I think. She was *into* the whole show in a big way. Several members of the cast were seen drinking at the Cafe am Theatre next door afterwards.
Tango Pasion, Ronacher Theatre. This is a traveling show. I had 6th row tickets (60 euros) and an excellent view. Very good performance of tango music and dance, although the second half was notably livelier than the first. The woman sitting in front of me was wearing this great perfume, during intermission I asked her what it was: Angel(s) by Thierry Mugeler.
Vienna Chamber Philharmonic. A private performance at the convention. Usually they play Austrian music (Mozart, Strauss, etc.), this time it was music from England and Ireland. Very good.

Shopping:
Did more shopping than planned, but still not as much as I wanted. I spent millions of euros in my head, a somewhat smaller amount in reality. Picked up a few dresses for my 3 yo niece at Zara's (corner of the Graben and Karntnerstrasse), a kilo of coffee from Tchibo, a pair of shoes from a Salamander store on Mariahilferstrasse, some shirts for my husband at Peek & Cloppenburg (also on Mariahilferstrasse), a tie at the Don Gill factory outlet on the Fleishmarkt (Armani and Gucci ties for sale for 10 euros each), two bottles of Etter liqueur from Meinl (25 euros each for the plum and pear liqueurs [NOT brandy or eau de vie, the liqueurs have a lower alcohol content]). I had the plum liqueur at zum Weissen Rauchfangkehrer, served warm with a little whipped cream and sprinkled nutmeg. Will try having it this way at home tonight.
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 10:21 PM
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Final thoughts: I had a wonderful time on this trip. I could have spent several more weeks in Vienna and not run out of things to do or see. The food was excellent, people (for the most part), helpful and friendly. I speak a moderate amount of German, which went a long way. Late winter is a good time to go (if you enjoy cold weather and I do); Vienna in the snow has a special vibe to it and there were no real crowds to contend with anywhere (except at the convention). I'm glad I tried several restaurants that weren't the usual Viennese cuisine. Vienna shopping is among the best in Europe for clothes, art, cookware, jewelry.
Confession: I went into Lobmeyer's, the famous and famously expensive crystal and porcelain store on the Karntnerstrasse, near closing time. All the staff were in a complete tizz about something and paid me NO attention. When I was on the top floor (their crystal museum), I saw dozens of shopping bags filled with copies of Architectural Digest and gift wrapped items from the store, probably for some event they were taking part in (which explained the tizz). I could have walked off with one and nobody would have noticed (I was already carrying some shopping bags from Tchibo and Zara). Can't say I wasn't tempted--a little anyway, but who needs the the bad karma. Actually, what I really wanted was just to unwrap those gifts and see what they were planning to hand out ;-)

Can't wait for my next trip! I will be there in March 2005, but fingers crossed for a trip before then. And my husband PROMISES to go along next time...he's never been to Vienna.
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Old Mar 12th, 2004, 10:46 PM
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A few random notes: Vienna is about the most fur-wearing city in Europe. If you've got a fur, you'll fit right in. People were very nonchalant about their furs, thinking nothing of popping a full length mink onto a coat rack in a cafe. I saw one small anti-fur protest (very low key, not intrusive, people sitting at tables handing out flyers and so on). I have nothing but admiration for those who want to help the less fortunate (whether or not you approve of wearing fur, I thnk everyone can agree that an animal destined to become a fur coat is less fortunate than the woman who can buy one), but this is probably a lost cause in Vienna. This is also a town where people wear their real jewelry day and night and can tell authentic brands from knock offs at a glance.

I felt perfectly safe walking in central Vienna alone at night. For women solo travelers, this is a big plus. Also, Vienna is not a major pickpocket city, no swarms of kids will be hounding you on the subway as they do in some other cities. Not that you shouldn't be aware at all times, but in comparison to other European cities, I felt my personal belongings were pretty safe in Vienna.
Mass transit was efficient and clean, but I also walked everywhere, there is so much to see (and there were plenty of things I had on my itinerary that I never got around to).

Special praise for my Kandahar brand boots!! Handmade in Switzerland, they're a little pricey but worth EVERY penny. They kept my feet completely warm and dry through a week of snow, icy rain and slushy puddles. Comfortable enough to wear for hours of walking. If you happen to be traveling in Switzerland and see a store selling them, my strongest recommendation to go try on a pair. A purchase you will never regret.
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Old Mar 13th, 2004, 04:20 AM
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Good thorough review. Couple of alternative points. I had lunch once at Yugetsu and thought the service was excellent. I was a regular JApanese food eater while living there, and often found the service a bit rude, but Yugetsu was not. It is however one of the more expensive places (as is ANA) and I ate at places like Kyoto next to Pension Suzanne and one of the Akakikos.
Agree with service on AUx GAzelle - we walked out before eating because of it, but it is a very trendy looking place.
Ambassador I have recommended here a number of times - but the bar menu is huge! - did you get the full leather bound book with really big selection of brandies, whisky etc? MAybe there was a service cock up there.
Meinl - I went there at 945 one Friday evening and was told the kitchen was closed - I was flabbergasted for this type of restaurant and never tried again, but in the Vienna restaurant guides it is always one of the top 5.
Novelli I agree has good food, but I have experienced really poor service there and think it is over priced. A TAvola was replaced by Novelli Osteria - cheaper version of NOvelli, which was pretty good when I ate there last year. HAs that closed now?

SHopping for clothes - I would not agree with one of best in Europe. I rely on my wife's opinion as a fashion designer and fashion stylist and my own experience of living in Munich and London. Vienna is not great as selection of items say from the big brands is very limited and rather conservative. Dept stores are a joke - Steffl for example is pathetic compared to even the Munich stores let alone London or Paris comparisons. If you want to shop for clothes PAris, London and some of the Italian cities are head and shoulders above Vienna.
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Old Mar 13th, 2004, 04:45 AM
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Travelnick, to your points:
Yes, we got the full book at the Morwald (Ambassador) bar. However, it was short on mixed drinks (cocktails) compared to Sky Bar, for example, and also offered no liqueurs other than a few standards. No Austrian, German or Swiss fruit liqueurs (like the Etter liqueurs I bought at Meinl and was offered at a couple of other restaurants). Brandies, eaux de vie, yes, liqueurs no. Too bad, I'm rather surprised they don't have them.
We had a really good meal at Novelli and good service. As for A Tavola and its follow up incarnation(s), it's closed now, perhaps due to a vacation, perhaps for another reason, but there were no signs of it being open at any point during my 10 day stay there. There was a sign there for Lippizaner, maybe that will be its next incarnation.
Have to disagree strongly about clothes in Vienna. Paris, London, etc., have better clothing selections for slim, young things. But I am now over 40 and to be blunt, I do not fancy looking like mutton dressed up as lamb. Vienna has an excellent collection of clothing for WOMEN, not girls. Clothes that are well made, stylish (and not just in black or grey), and comfortable. Which is what I want these days. I wouldn't shop at Steffl for clothes, but there are plenty of smaller stores that have some really beautiful things in rich, flattering colors. And my tastes are on the conservative side (conservative does not necessarily mean unstylish, you know!).
As for Meinl, it is supposed to be open until 11 pm, don't know what happened on your Friday night.
At Yugetsu, I had to ask for my check 3 times and waited nearly 20 minutes to get it. Then when I was leaving, I had to hunt someone down to get my coat out of coatcheck (I should have just walked in and gotten it myself). It wasn't a particularly busy night, maybe they were shortstaffed for some reason. There weren't any problems with service during the meal itself, only afterwards.
One more irritation about Aux Gazelles. When you go in, those cushioned seats LOOK very comfortable. But they're not really. They're too soft to sit in for more than a few minutes and not suitable for dining.
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Old Mar 13th, 2004, 06:32 AM
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Thanks for the report, BTilke.

We're planning on being in Vienna next January, and recently I've been second-guessing the plan, but you've pointed out the great things about Vienna in winter!

I'll keep this in mind for some good info.
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Old Mar 13th, 2004, 06:53 AM
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Travelnick, in thinking over your Morwald remarks, you're right, they do have a good drinks menu...they just didn't have what *I* wanted, so it seemed limited to me. My friend had a Cosmopolitan and pronounced it "fab."

Also, my friend went to a preview performance of Barbarella, the musical (the official opening was March 11). He said it was a lot of fun, the set design and costumes were terrific (it was styled by the chief stylist from Sex and the City). The music is by Dave Stewart (from the Eurythmics), so it might make a nice change from Mozart and company (although he said Elisabeth was much better; I didn't go to Barbarella but LOVED Elisabeth).
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