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Guest: Vienna
Vienna State Opera at night
Vienna State Opera.
Copyright: Vienna State Opera © Austrian National Tourist Office/Viennaslide

My Vienna; My Native Cuisine
Story by Susanne Servin

Meet Our Guest Writer

Susanne Servin was born, raised and went to school in Vienna, Austria. Early in life, she indulged into one of her passions – fashion – and worked as a designer, window dresser and model in one of Vienna’s leading boutiques. Married to an American, she lived in Vienna and then Salzburg, eventually moving with her family to New York. After working for years in advertising, she became involved with organizing conventions and incentive travel for companies. Whenever she could, Ms. Servin indulged in her passion for cooking, subjecting the family to her culinary prowess. Both cooking and wine pairing come naturally to her – her father and his forefathers were in the wine-growing business and her mother’s family were great cooks – so all these pre-requisites congealed into the idea of starting her own company, specializing in food and wine tours to Austria. And so Herzerl Tours was born. But why such a unique name? "Well," said Ms. Servin, "with hundreds of companies selling Europe with names like 'Best of Europe,' 'Continental Journeys' and the 'Heart Of Europe Holidays,' they all sounded fairly similar, but nobody else has Herzerl Tours. The tours," she laughed, "done with the heart!"

oing home is always a wonderful thing. Even though I have lived for many years in New York and am now a US citizen – Vienna will always be home.

So when I recently traveled to Vienna I immediately noticed all the things about the city that I've always loved. When I got off the plane, even the famous Viennese air embraced me, evoking fond memories from the past. Where else in the world can you walk out of the baggage claim area and be greeted by your driver or friends with the venerable food Austrian tradition of Trzesniewski. Downtown Vienna T., the proverbial ”hole in the wall,” is nestled in one of the side streets of the Graben. It has been there for close to 100-years (the recipes are still a well-guarded secret), and loved by all the Viennese, and considered the originator of fast food. Delicious, small open-faced sandwiches (Brötchen) tempt you in an abundant variety – but always on the same dark rye bread, with a choice of a hardboiled egg, herring with onions, lox or salami, all finely chopped.. And if you are not arriving on an early flight you must have a ”Pfiff” of beer (0.2 liter) with it. Of course, I indulged and had at least three sandwiches to “wash down” the taste of the gruesome airline breakfast.

view of a section of Vienna Graben from St. Stephens Cathedral
View from St. Stephens Cathedral. Copyright: City of Vienna Graben and Haas House © Austrian National Tourist Office/ Diejun

My waiting friends took me across the street to the NH Hotel for a bite, or what we call in Vienna, Gabelfrühstück (breakfast with a fork – a tradition going back to the days when people would stop for a small gulyas mid-morning). Even at an airport hotel you’ll find good food. I had my favorite Viennese soup, Griessnockerl Suppe – bouillon with farina dumplings – and, of course, Viennese soup – topped with fresh chopped chives. And since I never count calories on a trip to Vienna, I followed with a dessert, Kaiserschmarrn – “the Emperors pancakes” - an abbreviated description would be finger-thick pancakes torn apart, dusted with powdered sugar and served with plum compote – yum! With a glass of Grüner Veltliner (Austrian white wine) – life is good!


Albertina. Copyright: Albertina in Vienna / Museum © Austrian National Tourist Office/ Lammerhuber

The next food experience was the first night dinner. We (a group of travel professionals) were staying in the newest addition to Vienna’s luxury hotels: Sofitel Stefansdom. Later that evening we walked through a few winding streets in the Inner City and ended up in Vienna’s famous Plachutta. This veritable Viennese institution and a synonym for “Tafelspitz” - a specific cut of boiled beef served in steaming copper kettles, accompanied by creamed spinach, apple/hors radish sauce, chive sauce, and roasted julienned potatoes – rumored to be Emperor Franz Josef’s favorite meal. Plachutta (a famous Viennese restaurant family) offers its guests an authentic cuisine with an emphasis on cultivating Vienna’s culinary traditions in a contemporary form. They now have several restaurants in Vienna. So of course the meal starts with a soup (served from the copper kettle), then the Tafelspitz with all the accompaniments, paired with a great Austrian red wine, BlauFränkischer. And the dessert was truly to die for. In the Viennese dialect called “Millirahm Strudel,” the dish features a delectable warm vanilla sauce poured over it - Milchrahm means a very soft cheesy consistency.) It is wonderful, and wherever I can get my hands on it, I eat it – never minding the calories.

the monument of Prince Eugene of Savoy at Vienna's Heroes Square
Monument of Prince Eugene of Savoy. Copyright: Monument of Prince Eugene of Savoy at Vienna’s Heroes Square © Österreich Werbung/Diejun

Years ago the famous Viennese Patisserie Demel opened a locale in New York City in the Plaza Hotel’s lower lobby. We transplanted Viennese “clucked with joy” and visited as often as possible – and I was especially delighted that I could get Milchrahm Strudel there – and of course a “Grosser Brauner” – a Viennese variety of coffee. Unfortunately there were not enough Austrian food addicts to keep Demel going, and, to my great sorrow, had to close its doors.

the Secession Building, Vienna - an exhibition hall built as an architectural manifesto for the Vienna Secession
2012 is the 150th Anniversary of Gustav Klimt, one of Austria’s most famous painters. He painted the iconic “The Kiss” and his works were originally displayed in the Secession building. Copyright: Secession am Getreidemarkt Arch.: J. M.Olbricht Wien-1 © Österreich Werbung/Mayer

And then came Sunday. After attending mass in St. Stephens Cathedral, I battled my way through an unexpected snow-squall along Kärntner Strasse (once the most elegant street in Vienna); I went to meet a friend for lunch in the other Plachutta. This is the latest addition to the Plachutta restaurants called Gasthaus zur Opera (which translates 'the pub next to the opera' – and it is only a few steps from the Vienna State Opera). Here I simply had to indulge in a plate of Wiener Schnitzel, always observant of how good the meat and the breading is in an establishment like this. There is great competition in Vienna as to which restaurant makes the best Wiener Schnitzel. The Schnitzel is paired with a mixed salad (potato salad, lambs ear lettuce, green beans and red beets) and never, never served with rice.

A brief note about another Viennese restaurant, Restaurant Herlitschka – not so in the eye of the “schickimicki” (in-crowd) but loved by locals who appreciate authenic Viennese cuisine – situated a few streets behind the Hotel Imperial. It has been called an “Old-Vienna Pub.” Guests enjoy well-prepared, typical Viennese food, fine Austrian wines and good service. This time I indulged in another of my childhood favorites, “Ebackene Kalbsleber“ (often translated as baked veal liver cotelet – something that you rarely find in restaurants in the US) with potato salad and a glass of Grüner Veltliner (an Austrian white).

the Viennese Sachertorte cake
The famous Viennese “Sachertorte” cake. Copyright: Sachertorte © Österreich Werbung/Eisenhut & Mayer

And I cannot end without sharing the most amazing dinner I had during this Vienna trip at the haute-cuisine restaurant Vestibuel at the Vienna Burg Theater. Attached to the theater, this was once the carriage vestibule of the emperor's court theater. Today, the Marmorsaal dining room with marble Corinthian columns, coffered arcades, and candlelight is an orgy of marble; a restaurant where history meets culinary refinement with an excellent non-traditional Viennese cuisine. I started with the Austrian pendant to Prosecco, called Quinquin (after the nick-name of Prince Esterhazy and from his cellars) – delicious!! The chef, Mr. Domschitz came to greet us and took us into his kitchen and then treated us to his signature hors d’oeuvres: “Hummerkrautfleisch’ - a traditional dish with a spicy cabbage dish and lobster (usually with pork). The main course was also great – I chose a veal gulyas a la Domschitz. But the dessert trumped everything in creativity: apple strudel in a glass – how divine. It featured layers of the ingredients such as whipped cream with cinnamon at the bottom, then a layer of apples with raisins and a rum filling, topped with butter-roasted breadcrumbs and powder sugar – yes, simply divine. This was accompanied with a Spät Auslese – a slightly sweet white wine with a tart after-bite.

I have to tell you – I didn’t gain any weight on this trip, but came away again with the knowledge that the Viennese cuisine – may it be traditional or re-imagined – is always superb and worth a trip to my grand city.

For further information, go to www.herzerltours.com or www.austria.info/us

Related Articles:
Vienna: The City That Endures; Innsbruck, Austria; Mozart in Salzburg; Czech Republic; Augsburg, Germany; Bavaria

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FEEDBACK FOR PATTI

I enjoy your newsletters -and particularly Patti Nickell's article about the 'Pudding Club' in the Cotswold's. An old friend of mine is taking a holiday there this year and plans to try their Jam Roly Poly and Spotted Dick - amongst many!

--- John & Maggie - UK

FEEDBACK FOR JULIO

The way I read this article, you stayed at the "Breeze and Waves". Do you have any pictures of the cottages, and would you recommend to some first time visitors to Caramoan?

--- Richard Simons, Stockton, CA

Hi Richard,

Breeze and Waves was still under construction when I stayed there in Feb. 2010. It should be finished by now. You can see pictures of the resort on this page. We got to stay in one of the small cottages in the picture. I'll recommend it to budget travelers but you might want to look at other options. We chose it because of its location right by the beach. You can try other resorts in the Caramoan town proper (you have to get a ride to get to the beach and the jump-off point to go island-hopping but it's a relatively short distance). There are also two higher end resorts located on a cove and very near the islands: Gota Village Resort (unfortunately there is something wrong with their website right now) and its twin resort Hunongan Cove. Caramoan is a relatively new tourism development so resorts are just now being built.

You can go to this site for a good list of choices for accommodations in Caramoan.

I should add that it might be good to go to Caramoan (and almost anywhere in the Philippines) during the dry season from December to May. June to November are the typhoon months and sometimes typhoons will still come during early December.

Julio

* * * * *

Hi, I'm planning to go to Caramoan this coming May. Would you know the number of Breeze and Waves Cottages? Thanks!

--- Ann, Manila, Philippines

Hi Ann,

Breeze and Waves' phone number is 0908-2911072. Look for Freddie. Hope you have a grand time at Caramoan!

Julio

FEEDBACK FOR WENDY

For Nature's Playground: The South Island of New Zealand

Hi Wendy,

In winter, Heritage Heights Apts. now offers free shuttle service to and from Queenstown 24/7 to guests without cars. We own a 7-passenger 4-wd Toyota Highlander used specifically to taxi guests up and down the hill during winter months. We also run advance purchase winter promotions which include a 4-wd rental.

If any of your readers head over this direction, I will enjoy extending Heritage Heights hospitality!!

Cheers

--- Ailey, Owner, Queenstown, NZ

* * * * *

New Zealand text and pix top drawer! Almost as good as making the trip. ( but one still wants to. . . ) Full of useful detail. Only trouble with the website: It's tough figuring out which feedback goes with which article, and the more there are, the tougher it gets!

--- Ken W., Camarillo CA

Thanks Ken..."álmost" is right, you really have to experience the South Island firsthand. Granted this piece is long, but still all I can think about is how much I left out! I agree abut the relevancy factor re the feedback--it can be confusing...sometimes I have a "Wait a minute...what?" moment myself.

Thanks for writing,

Wendy

* * * * *

Okay Wendy, from now on whenever you book your travel, please reserve space for me. I will carry your luggage, bring you cold drinks, massage your shoulders, and change the film in your camera (oops, I guess you don't have to do that anymore). Wonderful ideas and recommendations. Can you get to New Zealand from Boston in less than a week?

--- Carl A., South Easton, MA

Ha ha ha Carl, you're quite the comedian! But you'd be surprised how short that flight feels. I suspect Qantas isn't the only airline who's figured out that 3 movies, 2 full meals, lots of snacks and a complimentary travel pack (eye mask, warm socks and neck pillow) equals a quiet, well-behaved cabin. It really isn't bad. Just fly direct--pick the shortest flight w/ no lengthy layovers and you'll be fine. Re: signing on as my Super Sherpa...why not? I think you know I seldom travel in anything less than Party mode. There's just that pesky background check...

Thanks for writing,

Wendy

For Excellence Riviera Cancun:

Wendy, I truly enjoyed your info especially since we leave in a week to celebrate my 50th Birthday. Was it necessary to make reservations at the restaurants? Was there a dress code for the restaurants? What would you recommend not missing while there? Was the spa experience worth it? Did you travel away from the resort while there? Thanks,

--- Kim P. Fuquay, Varina, NC

Hi Kim.

Sorry for the delay in responding...you had heavy competition with the holidays. Reservations at Excellence restaurants are not necessary and you will not find a wait. The dress code is basically no bathing suits and flip-flops...with a decided a mix of atmospheres. Mostly the open-air beachside spots are super casual, the rest slightly more formal. Truly, as long as you are clothed, I don't think you'd be turned away anywhere, though most people seemed to enjoy dressing up at night...I suspect more for their own pleasure than any sense of decorum.

The spa experience was worth it, though my favorite part wasn't the actual massage. The precursor was a 45 min. or so rotation from sauna to a series of (kind of wild) water jets which was very different and very cool, not just for women. In its' entirety, and with the serenity of the beach/champagne/strawberries, it was memorable.

We did not travel away from the hotel this trip, but the hotel is very helpful in arranging day excursions to fit your desires and you do not have to book these until you arrive.

Have a great time!

--- Wendy

FEEDBACK FOR NINO

I enjoyed Nino's contribution, since we all read about the frightening terrorist attack. Having travelled somewhat through India years ago, I am continually impressed with this country and the gentle spiritual aspects of this nation. Some day I look forward to going back. Nino has encouraged me. Thank you!

--- Yoka Y., Westlake Village, CA

FEEDBACK FOR RUSH & CHUCK

Dear Mr.s/counselors Brown and Koro,

Thank you for a very informed and succinct article on motorcycle accidents and the law. It inspired me to think about getting a motorcycle, but not have an accident. But, if I do I am now well informed with the basics of what to do providing I do not perish in the accident. Any tips about that too?

--- Unnamed

Dear Rush and Chuck,

I wish I had read your article before our camping trip the Friday prior to President's Day.

My wife and I were in a car accident on our way to a camp ground. We were "rear-ended" and the impact caused our car to crash into the car in front of us. The contents of the truck that we were riding scattered onto several lanes. It's a miracle our two dogs decided to stay inside the car. My wife and I were shaken up badly but despite the mess, I was still able to walk out of the car. I got the license plate of the driver in front of me but, to my surprise, after reviewing the little damage on his car, he then sped off. I didn't know you could do that! The driver who hit me from behind gave me his information and then he too left the scene without saying good 'bye. When the police arrived all I had to go by was the little information I had jotted down which I hope was truthful. What if it was bogus? What if I had written the plate number incorrectly? How would that affect my insurance? What if we were unconscious, who would have written down all that information?

I do have one suggestion if you are injured in an accident. The police asked if my wife wanted an ambulance to bring her to the hospital but we declined the offer. I remembered when I rode an ambulance years ago that it was not a comfortable ride. I was strapped to the stretcher and there were all sorts of medical equipment dangling noisily above me. As long as you are able, it is a more relaxful ride inside a car. Besides, isn't there a fee for ambulance service?

--- Dave S. of Pasadena, CA



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