Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Café Jelinek, Vienna: a Review

On our penultimate day of our trip to Vienna, we started and ended our "shopping" day with coffee. We opted for the gemütlich* delights of Café Jelinek, on Otto-Bauer-Gasse, a short stroll from our lodgings. It is a traditional and typical example of a Viennese Café, Wiener Kaffeehaus. As far as I know no-one of world renown is or was a regular there; but whilst there we were sitting next to an M.I.T. professor and a couple of academics.

One enters a slightly shabby-chic establishment (as the two photographs above probably demonstrate) that is confident in its decaying décor and plush velvet.  The attitude is: take it or leave it, nonetheless we shall treat you just the same as anyone else - pleasantly, professionally and without sycophancy.

At the end of the bar cum counter is a glass-covered zone set aside for the Kuchen, the cakes and pastries. My companion opted for Linzer Torte and I for a slice of the Apfel und Mandeln Torte, apple and almond cake; respectively the left and right confections in the image below. Thankfully they did not come garnished with Schlagobers (Austrian German; Schlagsahne in German German), or whipped cream. The portions are generous, perhaps overly so, as we were rapidly filled having consumed a hearty breakfast earlier in the day.

And what about the coffee (der Kaffee), the most essential part of any visit, you may ask. Well it was so delicious during my first visit I took two cups and then we returned later in the afternoon for a top-up. All coffees are served with a small glass of cool water. Ever so civilised!

Finally, below, pictures of the writer (on the left) and my companion (on the right) demonstrating how much we enjoyed ourselves - the big smiles are a dead give-away… %)))

* Gemütlich does not translate directly into English. My computer's dictionary offers the bland "pleasant and cheerful", which certainly does not do the term justice. For a more in-depth explanation, see Wikipedia's article on Gemütlichkeit.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Stadtnest B&B, Vienna: a Review

[Image description: the writer enjoying Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee & cake) in
the gemütlich & traditional Café Jelinek, a few minutes' stroll from Stadtnest]


There is a little plaque outside the entrance on Stumpergasse advising that Stadtnest B&B is nestled inside the hundred-and-twenty-odd-year-old edifice. Heaving open the outer-door - strong enough for a small fortress - one trundles along the cool, stoney corridor to the next set of doors. These are not opened just yet, for one needs to turn to one’s right and locate the intercom to connect with the landlady. Barbara Lenz, proprietrix, instantly greeted me by name and advised us to go through the aforementioned second door to the lift (elevator).

Through the door and across a small courtyard cum bicycle-store, one approaches a modern steel and glass lift-shaft. The door to the lift opened and Barbara was there to assist us with our luggage and demonstrate how the electronic key calls and operates the lift. The lift has been deftly retro-fitted to call at mezzanine levels between floors, what were previously just landings on the stone staircase. Inevitably this means a short flight of steps down- or upwards (so not suitable for wheelchair-users nor those who have difficulty with steps).

Next Barbara apprised us as to which conventional key opened the front-door to the B&B (and not her apartment which is just next-door - so she is on hand if needed).

One enters a brightly lit, modern furnished, bijou dining-room cum library cum office. The shelves, and for that matter anywhere there is space, are crowded with tomes, books, pamphlets, leaflets and maps, every last one on some subject or other to do with Vienna. The gate-leg table expands to become a breakfast-/dining-table as required, but can also be used as a work-station. In the corner is a large computer and telephone for use by guests, along with a pad of maps - to which one is at liberty to help oneself.

Off this room are four doors other than the entrance: two to guests’ rooms; one to a communal wc; and, the final one to a fully-fitted, compact kitchen with all one needs to prepare, cook and clear up after a small meal. There is another table situated here too. Also, this is where the white-board command-centre is located. (We never once needed to visit a tourist information office!) Barbara keeps it up to date with the latest events in Vienna as well as notes to enquiries from current guests. We took our breakfast (one selects a time between 08.00 and 09.30 - although earlier can be arranged for early-morning departures) each day here. Barbara offers an extensive menu, including her own freshly baked breads and home-made jams (jellies). For coffee-holics, like myself, she is always happy to make more of the brown nectar!

Our room was at the front of the building, with views over Stumpergasse. I am a fresh-air fiend, so appreciated that all the windows opened fully. The street itself is rarely busy or noisy; but one needs to take into account that noise travels further at night-time. However, the fan in the room works perfectly - we tried it even though we never actually needed it on.

[Image description: aspect of our room, courtesy & © Stadtnest]

There are three chairs, a sofa, a double bed, a desk cum dressing-table, a wardrobe, a large chest of drawers, two bedside tables each with two deep drawers, a side table and various lighting options. There are also a flat-screen television-set with a fantastically crisp picture, a radio-alarm-clock and chocolates every day on the pillows!

The en suite is only large enough for one person at a time; but recall there is a communal toilet if needed. The shower was amply large and the water, once heated after a few moments, emits at a satisfying speed and strength. Toiletries [organic] are provided if one does not wish to use one’s own. We used a small tube of gentle shower-gel to clean our spectacles and sun-glasses each day, so cannot comment on the products’ interactions with human skin/hair [although I am reliably informed that no reaction on a child's skin]. The type of wc was new to both my companion and myself, but as long as one follows the clearly printed rules, one cannot go wrong. The wash-hand basin was large and enabled one to shave, clean one’s teeth, wash, etc. without hindrance. The bathroom was cleaned every day, so we came back each late afternoon to a fresh and tidy appearance.

Stadnest is perfectly located between three of the Viennese underground, U-Bahn, lines, the U3, U4 and U6 as well as Westbahnof, one of the main city train-stations. All approximately a ten-minute walk from the front-door [recall I have a limp!]. Walking to the Innere Stadt (Old City) [within the famous Ringstaße], where many of the most famous tourist attractions are to be found takes approximately forty-five minutes [29 mins. per googlemaps] - depending how many shops, cafés, cake-shops (Konditorei), etc. one calls at! One is also within very short walking distances of many good eateries. For example see my review of the recently opened Zum Wohl which is just up the street.

[Image description: inside Zum Wohl]

My companion stated at the end of our seven-night stay that we would not have received such wonderful service in a five-star hotel (and he travels a lot). Barbara treats her guests as members of the family and made us feel totally chez nous (at home).

I have visited Vienna many times, but this was my chum’s first visit. He wants to return soon. And when we do, we shall be staying again at Stadtnest.


Sunday, 31 May 2015

Global Endemic Plague

Imagine if the total populations of:

Vatican City
San Marino
Faroe Islands
Isle of Man
Northern Cyprus
Greater Manchester (England)

were struck down with an illness and could not work. What a terrible effect this would have on their communities and economies! These are the kinds of figures we are dealing with on a global scale of the numbers of individuals struck down with my infirmity. For those afflicted, their families, loved ones and communities have to care for them. Worse still: the ill probably do not receive, unless very fortunate, appropriate medical care let alone nursing support. The medical establishment in most countries all but ignores the illness and next to no research is executed into finding the cause/es let alone possible treatments.

The illness is more common in the United Kingdom than Parkinsons, Multiple Sclerosis, Cystic Fibrosis, Motor Neurone Disease, and equal to 75% of those affected by all cancers.

Imagine if your government banned you from donating blood or organs, even after death, but then colluded with the medical establishment to dismiss sufferers as only needing cognitive behavioural therapy (C.B.T.) and/or exercise to get better, despite the evidence demonstrating that these do not work.

This illness is Myalgic Encephalomyelitis or M.E. We need help and support now!

Every year the month of May is designated #MEAwarenessMonth and 12th May is #InternationalMEAwarenessDay to co-incide with the birthday of Florence Nightingale, one of the most famous sufferers.

Please consider googling "UK ME charities" and making a donation or even offering your time and service by volunteering.

And yes, whilst I have some good periods, most of my life for the past several years has been abed. The following description very much describes my quotidian experience of the disease. (Apologies to the visually impaired for not transcribing - it's very long!) 

[Image courtesy & © MEAwarenessPics]

Saturday, 30 May 2015


[Image description: the writer and a Viennese lady laughing together]


[Für Georg, mein österreichischer Freund]

“Und Du,
wie ich an Dir immer erinnere,
lächelst und lachst.”


Merkwürdig, wie das Lachen
         Dein Lachen
         durch meinen Geist hält
glückliches Läuten
Ich höre Dich eins lachen
         und merkend lachen
         und schallend loslachen
         als ob im Zimmer
         recht in diesem Augenblick
aber die Erinnerungen
         wenn nicht ausgebleichten
         Jahre alt sind
die Herzlichkeit
die Lebensfreude
die Munterkeit
         beleben mich
         machen mich munter
         auch jetzt noch
         wie Dein Lachen
         wie Du
         hast dann
solche Fähigkeit
         für Fröhlichkeit
im Web ein Business Foto
         zeigt Dich lächelnd
         mit Bravour
per E-Mail ein privates Foto
         zeigt Dich lachend
         mit Begeisterung
         nie gickelnd
         oder kichernd
nur Lachkrämpfe
         von übersprudelndes
angenehmes Reminszenz
einhüllender Sinn
wärmende Glut
Ich lächle,
         seufze, Hei-ho!
         dann wieder schmunzele
         bei mein österreichischen Freund
         und Dein ungezwungenes Lachen


The English version of this poem is called "laughter".

Friday, 22 May 2015

"Zum Wohl", Gluten- & Lactose-Free Restaurant, Vienna: a Review

The landlady of the lovely guest-house where we are staying in Vienna, suggested we might like to try Zum Wohl (literally meaning "To Your Health"; said as a toast or after sneezing) just a few hundred metres from our temporary residence. The offerings are stated to be one-hundred-percent lactose-free, 100% gluten-free. Even their own-brand beer (see the advertising-hoarding image below).

Zum Wohl is entered via a stolid but modern entrance (image below), tastefully built into the hundred-plus-year-old edifice. However, one must negotiate several large steps. Wheelchair-users without an assistant would not be able to enter, as the door itself is too heavy and pulls outwards. There was no button or bell to call for assistance from staff as far as I could tell.

The interior is not as bright as the photograph below might suggest. It is well lit, but also soft on the eye, which for this photophobe was just right. We were permitted to choose where we wished to sit. As in many venues in Vienna, seating of different heights and differing styles was available.

My companion, having eaten heartily earlier in the day, only wished to dine on a salad. He opted for Käferbohnen (called Feuerbohnen in Germany) und Erdäpfel (Kartoffel in German German) Salat, runner bean & potato salad with Speck. In this instance the Speck was bacon, but it can also be a type of air-dried prosciutto. The dish, as can be seen in the snap below, was beautifully presented, so appealed to the eye. My chum devoured it, despite not being hungry - delicious he said! Costing €4,90 this was excellent value for money.

Dining for me, tends to be somewhat more problematic, as I have a severe food allergy to garlic (Knof(e)l in Austrian German; Knoblauch in German German). I always make any eatery aware of this before I order. At first the waiter advised me that any dish could be prepared without garlic; but after checking with the kitchen he apprised me that I could not have anything with vegetables as they had been pre-prepared and all contained garlic. This left me with a single option for my mains and a choice of salads. I was glad I opted for the large salad, which contained both lettuce and mixed salad leaves, as well as cucumber, radish, cherry tomatoes (Paradeiser, Aust.; Tomaten, Ger.) and red & green peppers (capsicums). It was lightly dressed, tasty, crunchy, sweet - nigh on perfect. At €5,80 this represented good value for money.

Accompanying the salads were the lightest, tastiest and most delightful gluten-free breads I and my dining-companion have ever experienced. Top marks for these (below).

My sole choice for main was trout: served tepid, but a mouthwatering delight on the palate. This was accompanied by parsley potatoes, which were stodgy and reminiscent of school-dinners, and an assortment of veggies. The broccoli appeared to have come straight from the freezer and was most under-whelming. As can be seen from my visual record, there was no accompanying sauce. At €17.50 this was poor value for money. Disappointing.

Desserts. My chum was tempted by the pancake (Palatschinke, Aust.; Pfannkuche, Ger.). Again he was most impressed. At a mere €2,50 my friend was more than happy with his choice.

I opted for panna cotta with a ragoût of berry fruits (strawberry, raspberry, blackberry and redcurrant) and a rhubarb compôte. Both the ragoût and the compôte were just spot-on; but the panna cotta itself had the appearance and texture of plastic. A piece fell off my fork and bounced without breaking up which rather iterated its unusual constitution. At €6,50 this dish represented fair value for money, but I should not recommend it.

With wine for myself, beer for my friend, bottled Vöslauer water and two digestifs, the total bill came to a very reasonable €68 (about £50) for the two of us.

I would certainly go to Zum Wohl again for drinks and perhaps a salad for lunch; but I would not dine again. Having said that: this was the best free-from cuisine I have ever experienced.