Saturday, 13 September 2014

Before sunrise - Vienna part I

Until this point in my life I had only every heard of Vienna through the somber Ultravox chart topper and Richard Linklater’s masterly film ‘Before Sunrise starring a young Ethan Hawke and Juliette Delpy. If anything it is through the goggles of the latter that I liked to imagine this romantic city, full of history, baroque grandeur and mystique. I must say that from my recent trip I was not disappointed, although I had a little more cashola than the two protagonists of that film of fleeting ecstasy and youthful carefree. 

I arrived in the old city at 11:30 on a sunny September morning and proceeded to check into my hotel, located on the edge of Old Vienna. The Hotel Am Parkring was immediately welcoming and, after having grabbed a quick shower I hit the streets to find something to whet my growing appetite (I had neglected to partake of breakfast). Fortunately, for a comparative ‘rube’ a friend who resided in this fair city gave me a recommendation. Cafe Korb, located just off the main square Stephensplatz promised to offer the finest Wiener Schnitzel in the capital (that is flattened veal escalope, breadcrumbed and flashed fried). Served with a potato salad dressed in vinaigrette and accompanied by a crisp, hoppy beer I wolfed it down enjoying the deliciously crisp, savoury flavour of the meat against the sharp, clean flavour of the potato salad. It was a perfect introduction to the holiday and gave energy for an afternoon of getting to know the city. 

The centre of Vienna is characterised by an imposing, Gothic church. It’s an ornate building, not much to my liking but inside is a different matter. Some of the most amazing carvings can be seen in there, my favourite and one which is touted rightly by the guide books is a charming depiction of the cathedral’s sculptor which cheekily pokes out of one of the walls to give a more human face amongst the grim agonies of the saints getting martyred and the holier-than-thou saintliness of the blessed virgin. 

Of course going into a cathedral is thirsty work, especially when you have followed it up with the garish and flamboyant interior of Peterskirche just round the corner. In need of a refresher I found a very agreeable bar opposite this latter location. Le Cru is a lovely little bar come shop specialising in Champagne and Champagne only. Buying from both the big names and from the smaller, boutique supplier you can be sure of an original vintage and something a little different. It’s not the cheapest place with a flute costing between 8€ - 14€ depending on what you go for but, of the two I tried I must say that I couldn’t fault the quality or the temperature served.To make matters better, as I was ruminating on the culture I had taken in, I was served by a young lady who was rather reminiscent on Vanessa Paradis - another blessing indeed! 

Much like Rome, Vienna’s streets are a museum in themselves with amazing carvings, moulding and plasterwork arresting the visitor’s attention endlessly. It was then that I happened upon the inevitable cigar shop - damn how they seem to appear like oases to me in these far flung locations. It was then that I thought that I could take advantage of the fact that you could smoke in most establishments in the city, especially coffee shops. It them became my mission, after purchasing a very smooth, Partagas No. 3 I chanced upon a lovely little place on Franziskanerplatz, a pretty little square about three minutes down from the bustling centre. 

Kleines Cafe was full of locals enjoying an afternoon coffee, and, as is my custom, I like to try and blend in, steeping myself in the local culture (albeit with a massive cigar as opposed to the Lucky Strikes that everyone else seemed to be chain smoking). The outdoor seating was filled so I opted for a seat in the small front bar with vaulted ceilings, glass tables and worn leather banquettes. It was one of those places you could imagine the great turn-of-the-century intellectuals, philosophers, artists and poets crowding around, enjoying a glass of Gruner Veltliner (a popular Austrian white wine) debating the hot topics of the day and fermenting ideas. 

I opted for a strong black coffee and a glass of fire water, the local apricot schnapps and the perfect foil to the rich taste of the cigar. I positioned myself where I could see when the next table would become available outside and as soon as one freed, with the deft leap of a jungle cat, I pounce securing a spot to puff merrily away on my stogie as I enjoyed the afternoon sun. 

Pangs of hunger were not too far away and, after a very badly made Old Fashioned at Kruger’s American Bar, an experience saved only by a conversation with a charming Danish lady from the pharmaceutical industry, I returned to my hotel, showered, shaved and donned a jacket in readiness for dinner for one. 

There is something strangely enjoyable about dinner for one, especially in a foreign country and, being a Friday night I drew a lot of looks when I took an outside table at the very pretty little restaurant around the corner from my hotel called Zu Den Drei Hacken. The evening was balmy and although I had been making beer my drink of choice on that day, I decided to go with a chilled glass of Austrian riesling which dry and crisp. I started simply with some slice ham with horseradish on black bread which was tasty if a little unexciting but given that this was a traditional restaurant I wasn’t too surprised and anyway I was holding out for the piece de resistance the deep fried and breadcrumbed calf’s brain. 

When i told people after the event that I had sampled this delicacy, I was met with incredulity and warnings of CJD and BSE yet I would urge you to try one if you regard yourself as a foodie. So inspired by the great Stefan Gates I embarked on this organ adventure. When I ordered the dish I was imagining the dish as prepared by the Italians, chopped into delicate little morsels coated in a crispy shell. The waiter looked rather surprised as he took my order and asked if I would like it fried or roasted. I plumped for the former and wasn’t disappointed. With a flourish the waiter produced the dish, a whole brain on a plate, it was huge, the size of a small victoria sponge. I ordered an Austrian Chardonnay to go with it and it came with an acidic potato salad and some dressed frisee. 

Now, before you balk, brain is delicious and I urge you to give it a go. It has a soft, creamy texture which I can imagine would put people off but has a buttery, delicate flavour and is incredibly rich. The salads were a perfect foil cutting through the offal’s fattiness. My clean plate and full belly at the end of the meal was testament to how good it was but I found that I had not the room for pudding so I finished the meal with a glass of schnapps and a strong black coffee. 

I found a suitably appointed little bar for a nightcap and drowsily contemplated my next day. It seems that brains are a good narcotic as I slept like a log that night!

Thanks for reading. In a few days I will publish part two so stay tuned!

Thursday, 4 September 2014

You can’t start the fire without the spark... literally!

Bruce Springsteen, back in 1984 waxed lyrical about dancing in the dark and that fires need to be started with that initial spark... how very true he was. Before you wonder why I am taking apart one of his most successful chart hits I had better bring this post to the point... Tinder, or the dampest squib of an app I have had the misfortune to sign up to and use. 

Of course it is rare to find a tech based post on the pages of this blog but this supposed dating, socialising and porking ‘phenomenon’ has been as much of a curse as a blessing to poor naive fools such as I who have been beguiled and subsequently disappointed by this platform that offers so much promise but delivers so little. 

For the uninitiated I will give a brief overview. Tinder effectively allows you to judge people on their appearances within a certain radius of your choosing. Using a simple swipe method you can choose from a selection of tastefully appointed photos to ‘like’ or ‘not like’ a person using a simple swiping method, right for yes, left for no. On occasion you might get a match, meaning that you have both like each other or, more likely they have fallen for the charms of your quite flattering and utterly charming photos. The match allows you to start messaging each other and here, supposedly the magic starts to happen, casual sex aplenty, a future spouse, blah, blah, blah. 

Now, before I am cast a terrible old cynic by readers I do have it on some authority that Tinder has worked for some people, I am yet to be convinced. Call it a case of sour grapes if you will some might say that I only have myself to blame - photos displaying my crows feet and prominent jaw or an honest photo that indicates my five foot four inch stature might not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, I have had a few matches in my time and it is through these that I have found the flaws in Tinder, at least where I am concerned. 

Like any good argument, let me give a few case studies to prove my point, although I am sure it will probably make the readers think that the fault is entirely with me, my acquired personality and rugged looks! 

Tinderette #1: A nice girl, the only person at fault was me. I was too overbearing and completely fudged it with nervous texting like a gambling addict on a one arm bandit. Here I could not blame Tinder. However, I liked the lady in question’s slight when she let me down gently. ‘I’m not sure your personality quite fits with mine’. 

Tinderette #2: Again someone who seemed very nice and we ended up sharing rather a passionate kiss or few after what I thought was a very successful date. Message comes through but days later to let me know that after a serious relationship she was not sure if she was ready, apparently I had opened her eyes to the difficulties! Oh well! 

Tinderette #3: This was a neuroses and paranoia overload. Very nice but the need for self assurance became overbearing. I must say that I was attracted, enjoyed the company etc. but the amount of messages asking me to justify why I was interested became bizarre. Surely her personality, her looks and the attraction were enough. Sadly it wasn’t meant to be but at least we parted after 3 or so dates friends. 

Tinderette #4: This was truly the pits. A good looking girl started messaging me following a match and expressed an interest in meeting up. Great, thought I  and asked where a good location might be. Well, came the response, I live in Sussex and you live in London. I then suggested that we meet in Guildford, bearing in mind that for me it was a good 1 hour journey there. However, spurred by curiosity and the messaging that had taken place I was intrigued and, having no plans on a particular Saturday night I suggested a few cocktails at one of the city’s chicest bars: MKB. Having arrived there on a sultry spring evening I proceeded to order a double Canadian Club on the rocks, smooth I thought a real player’s drink. The bar was empty at 7:00pm, obviously Guildford hadn’t warmed up yet, the sizzle of nightlife hadn’t quite caught on yet. So fifteen minutes went by and then a text telling me that my date would be 15 minutes late. Fine, I thought, saw off my drink and ordered another. 30 minutes, 45 minutes... I was starting to get a little irate, tapping my flat, loafered foot on the polished floor of the club. People were starting to look at me with a tragic pity... oh dear. After 60 minutes of naive waiting I soon realised that this date might not materialise and that I had come down to the jewel in the home counties’ crown on a fools errand. Sure enough an hour and a half later I got a text telling me that she was ‘tired and frankly couldn’t be bothered’... delete (followed by an hour’s commute back to London!) 

Tinderette #5: This was most recent and the one that really inspired me to write this post. This particular person made first contact, became attentive and on my suggestion was keen to meet up for a drink. We had arranged it for this week and it seemed that two attractive people were going to meet for an evening of, if nothing else, amusing banter and interesting conversation. Alas, as I looked on my phone this morning I found that I had been de-matched by this particular person for who knows what reason - i had not been in touch since arranging the meet, maybe there was my error. Thank goodness I did look, or I would have been at a loose end around the South Bank for a long time (sometimes I live in far too much hope!). I was more put out by the method than anything else. I felt it rather cowardly, can people not confront it head on, I certainly wouldn’t have been offended if I had been shot down flames... I’m used to it! ;-)

Anyway, five examples for you to make what you will of this rather inconsistent app! Let’s put it this way, when they ask me at regular intervals for feedback I feel less than charity and perhaps because that I am too keen, a jack russell personality if you will, for the app. It’s hard to gauge anything through mere texts and perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at my success rate, but it’s difficult not to feel a little chagrin. 

Will I stop using it? Ask many of my friends who I oft complain to about the general disappointment of Tinder. No, of course not, it has its fun and, unfortunately, like so many of its users, I live with a slight hope that something good might somehow, someway come of it!