Saturday, January 24, 2009

Oh Vienna!!! - Day Two

Graben with the Pestsäule

Graben chandeliers!

Did I mention Vienna was cold? Freezing!!! The temperature kept being under zero degrees, with minimums around -8 and maximums at -1 tops. I did not mind as I was well dressed (plus gloves, scarf and hat always) and the absence of humidity made it that much easier to bear. Seeing my first snow in Vienna was a nice surprise, when I visited the Messe Wien exhibition centre, just near Prater. Spend the day there working (and had a mean chilli con carne at lunch), returning to my hotel in the afternoon. I was ready to enjoy a nice Viennese coffee!


But not before a nice walk through the city centre. I took Graben again, admiring the decorative chandeliers giving the wide street the aura of a ballroom, stopping to see the Pestsäule, a monumental column built in 1693 to mark the end of the big plague of the mid-1600s. Then Peterskirche came into view, just at the crossing with Jungferngasse. This is one of the finest Baroque churches in Vienna, standing on the site of a church originally founded by Charlemagne. Built by famous baroque architect Johann Lukas Von Hildebrandt, it has an impressive fresco painted by Johann Michael Rottmayr.

Chanel: the 12,000 euros top!

Demel shop window!

I turned to Kohlmarkt Strasse, named after the coal market that used to be there, that connects Graben with Michaelerplatz. The pedestrianized street is lined with expensive designer boutiques and various luxury shops. At Chanel, I saw an outfit that had a hefty price tag on it: 12,000 euros for the beaded top alone! On the opposite site, at number 14, stands Demel, one of the finest coffee houses in Vienna, and the biggest rival of Sacher: they still argue over who made Sachertorte first! Passing through Michaelerplatz, I saw again Michaelerkirche, imposing with its high tower over the square. It is the oldest building there, dating back to the 13th century.


So I went to Café Central: one of the most famous and elegant Viennese cafés, opened at 1876, where people like Peter Altenberg, Egon Friedell, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Anton Kuh, Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Loos, Leo Perutz Alfred Polgar and Leon Trotsky met! Also the famous Vienna Circle of logical positivists held many meetings here before and after World War I. Uponentering, one can see Peter Altenber himself (or rather his plaster effigy) still enjoying the place! The cafe is located at Herrengasse 14 at the Palais Ferstel (named in honour of the architect Heinrich von Ferstel. The style is neo-gothic (arched ceiling and columns) with Art Nouveau (or Jugendstil) and Venetian Renaissance on the outside of the building.

Interior of Café Central

It is a typical Viennese café in everything: great surroundings, nice melange coffee (although only one size served - small) and an astounding offering of desserts and free newspapers to read. I skipped the latter (all in German) and instead focused on the delicacies displayed under a glass canpoy: my eye fell on a spectacular mix of berries, chocolate mousse, orange mousse, topped with orange slices and a small leaf of gold...brilliant! The mix of people was amazing - locals and tourists alike, young and old, people alone and big groups, all gathered to soak up the atmosphere of another era and enjoy the live piano music (on a Bosendorfer no less) which varied from Bach to American musicals. The free wi-fi was the icing on the cake and you can bet I made good use of that!

Loos Haus

After that, I walked around enjoying just being there, recognizing famous buildings like the one above by Adolf Loos, that annoyed the Austrian emperor Franz Josef I when it was built, because it was so modern compared with the other buildings of the city - people called it "hose without eyebrows". Then my stomach reminded me that lunch was a long time ago and I should do something about it. So I headed towards Café Berg, in Bergasse 8. I could not have made a better choice. The place had a warm, cozy atmosphere, mixing minimal Jugendstil details (an amazing pendant lamp) with modern, clean, simple, elegant lines and materials - minimal Viennese. A mixed crowd here too, although stylish young men (it is a very gay friendly bar-restaurant) did stand out. Service was fast, friendly and efficient (thanks Mattias!). The music was lounge and ethnic.

Café Berg interiors

And the menu? Really interesting to say the least. I had truffle ravioli in brown butter with fresh parmesan cheese and side salad (which turned out to be lamb´s lettuce salad with pumpkin seed oil and pine seeds): I savoured every bite! To wash it down, I picked an excellent Austrian Chardonnay, of which I had two glasses! It was an easy walk back to the hotel in the freezing night. You feel safe walking the streets at night in central Vienna, and the smartly illuminated buildings (not bathed in light but simply punctuated with it), travel you back to the Imperial era. Like the Votivkirche below, built near the Rathaus by Franz Josef I in 1879 to thank God he escaped an assasination attempt back in 1853. Thus my second day at Vienna came to an end.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oh Vienna!!! - Day One

I always feel lucky in that my work allows me to travel to places I have never been to but always wanted to visit. Case in point: Vienna, Austria. Although I always hoped my first trip to this wonderfully imperial European capital would have been simply for pleasure, on the arm of someone special, it so happened that I set foot on it on a business trip - but what a trip! Last December was my first, really quick first contact with the city, on a day trip which involved four different planes and respective airports - I only managed to catch a glimpse of the city when my dear collaborator and colleague Peter took me for a speedy drive on the Ringstrasse, where all the main buildings are located - then I made my promise to see Vienna better on my return.

Vienna view from the Belvedere, by Canaletto

Arriving on the Vienna International Airport on Sunday afternoon, I took the modern CAT train (City-Airport-Train) to the center of the city. Although the green and yellow graphics of this fast transportation were to my taste, the machine-only-tickets left me a bit disappointed: I could not manage any of the three automatic ticket machines to accept any of my bank notes, so I ended up using my personal credit card. The trip to the city is 15 minutes and you pay 9 euros for a single ticket from the airport to the center: just like in Athens but taking a much more comfortable and fast train.

The switch between train and Underground (the U-Bahn) was a bit tricky: expansion works at the Vienna Mitte/Landstraße stations meant we had to get out of the one ant walk around it to enter the other. Works should be finishing within the year, so all that will be but a memory. The Vienna Underground is fast and efficient, with the various corresponding lines programmed so well that I rarely had to wait for more than two minutes to get my second train. Ticket machines are easy to use and there are also ticket booths (Vorverkauf) in most stations. There are various tickets for tourists, which include discounts in sights and museums across the city. I got myself the weekly ticket, because the price was very attractive, although it did not contain any of the discounts: 14 euros for the whole week!

Arriving at my living quarters, the Royal Hotel at Singerstrasse, my first impression was the breathtaking sight of Stephansdom, or Steffl (little Stephen), the Vienna Cathedral., after coming out from the U-Bahn steps. A Gothic masterpiece, it deserves its own post, so I will dedicate on to it on my Pillars of the Earth series. Managing to peel my eyes of it, I turned around and looked at the Stephansplatz, the heart of the city. Magnificent baroque and not-so great modern buildings surround it, with two of the main Innere Stadt (Inner city, the 1st district of the 23 Bezirke that comprise Vienna) streets crossing right on it: Graben and Kärntner Strasse. Graben was amazingly decorated for Christmas with enormous chandelier-like lights, making it look like a surreal outdoors ballroom. And of course, ballrooms are so popular in Vienna, eh?

Stephansdom at night

Graben and the left over Christmas decoration - at least I was not the only one leaving my holiday decorations up until mid-January!

I arrived at my hotel and, after checking in at the reception, with the very polite and helpful staff, I took the elevator to my room. The building is old but very clean and the rooms are big and comfortable, furnished in baroque looking furniture. I had a standard room, that had a double bed in a very big space, a large bathroom and a separate toilet room inside it. The bathroom walls were decorated with a colorful mosaic! All rooms are equipped with WC, bath or shower, direct-dial phone, mini-bar, free cable-TV, radio, safe and hair-dryer as well as high-speed Internet access via modem. No wi-fi unless you are in the lobby or the ground floor restaurant, Firenze Enoteca, where we had our breakfast every morning, but, the price being 3 euros for half an hour, I decided to wait until I found a free hot spot to test my iPhone abroad. I opened my suitcase and arranged my clothes in the closet and toiletries in the bathroom, showered, dressed and was ready for my first walk in Vienna!

My room! Or at least part of it!

The bathroom mosaic - crazy!

As it was getting a bit late, I decided to skip coffee and head straight for dinner. After walking through Kärntner Strasse up to Philharmoniker Strasse behind the famous Staatsoper, I arrived at Albertinaplatz and the Albertina museum. Here is a monument to the Holocaust too. But it was not time for museum seeing, so I pressed on to Operngasse and arrived at the Secession Building, the exhibition space that was built for the artists of the Viennese elite back in 1898. The Secessionists displayed their incredible works there, with most notably the 1902 exhibition dedicated to Beethoven.

Secession. Yes, that is gold leaf you see shining in the night!

Fine Baroque church: Karlskirche at Resselpark. The dome reaches 72m.

As it was late, I could only admire the outside and vowed to return another day. After managing to almost get lost (even stumbling onto the magnificently Baroque Karlskirche did not make me realise I was going towards the opposite direction), I found my way through to the MuseumsQuartier, the big group of exhibition buildings right across the street from the twin museums: Kunsthistorisches Museum and Naturhistorisches Museum. My destination was none other then the cafe-restaurant of the Kunsthalle, called simply Halle.

Halle, designed by Eichinger oder Knechtl, is located inside the building that partly houses Kunsthalle, the Emperor's Loge of the former winter riding hall. It was opened in 2001 by the people that made Motto one of the must-eat places in Vienna, Bernd Schlacher and his team. The relaxed atmosphere and modern furnishings inside the baroque high-ceiling spaces (you enter in the minimalistic cafe area, to proceed to three different spaces to eat), prepare you for a wonderful experience. Very friendly and good-looking waiters see you to your seat and quickly take your order, to serve you with some of the best food I tasted in Vienna: A leaf salad with nuts, Grana cheese and grapes started me off, to continue with an amazing garlic chicken with diced mango and tomato bits, accompanied by potatoes. I had a glass of lovely Viennese Riesling wine to drink and then a new friend arrived: Toph!

I had my dinner at this very room!!! Only the walls were plastered with photos of an exhibition, most of them from Constantinople!

Toph, or, as some of you know him, Trouble Over Tokyo, joined me for a drink in Halle, making my experience that much more unique: a brilliant composer and singer, he is even so much more endearing and lovely in person, I felt like I had known him for years. We had a long chat about his music (he is finishing the new album) and his move to Vienna from London, ordering some more wine as the night went on, to finish off with an amazing desert, on Toph's suggestion: marzipan dumpling covered with nut crust and served on a bed of sliced and glazed apples... an culinary delight that still lingers in my mind. Luckily Toph shared the dessert with me cause the serving was huge! Menu changes every two weeks, so there is no telling of what one may find upon visiting, but it is bound to be splendid. We then took off for a walk in the city, discovering this space near the Kunsthalle:

This stand shares a concept with the one I designed for our company back in late November, for the Exporama fair. The final design was a rather different take on my concept, but my original idea looked a lot like this one, europalletes and all! Imagine my pleasant surprise seeing it right her in Vienna! We then moved down the park between the twin museums, where the huge Maria Theresia statue lies, on to the Hofburg palace complex, one of the many Imperial palaces adorning the city. Neue Burg, the newest part of Hofburg, was the place where Hitler made his address speech during a rally when he visited Vienna in 1938 after the Anschluss (see photo below).

Walking further under the buildings (there are roads and passages going under most of the palace buildings, making it so easy to cross this huge building complex) we stumbled upon the In Der Burg (in the palace, those imaginative names!) courtyard that led us to the domed entrance of the Kaiserappartements, Michaelertor.

The entrance to the Imperial Apartments!

We were now in Michaelerplatz, named from the St. Michael church on it. Toph was excited showing me the Roman ruins of a legionary outpost and a crossroads that were unearthed during digging for the U3 line of the U-Bahn. The sheer size of them (multiple layerings of walls) makes you thing about the hidden history beneath the old palaces of the city. We kept walking towards Stephansplatz where we said goodnight - a lovely start of my Vienna trip!

Roman ruins in Michaelerplatz

Monday, January 05, 2009

Sea Life

Gülnur özdağlar is an architect working for MAVI PROJE in Ankara, Turkey. Formerly known as Gülnur Guvenc, or as Gulguvenc and as letterG. Working with used PET bottles, the architect transforms them by drilling tiny holes in intricate patterns or cutting them into various shapes, making them come to life looking like exotic sea creatures. You can see more at tertium no data: lamps, jewellery, bowls, buttons...

via Design*Sponge

Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy New Year!

I wish to all of you a happy new year, with lots of health, love and happiness!

and are are the best wishes ever, from my favourite writer, Neil Gaiman:

...I hope you will have a wonderful year, that you'll dream dangerously and outrageously, that you'll make something that didn't exist before you made it, that you will be loved and that you will be liked, and that you will have people to love and to like in return. And, most importantly (because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now), that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind.