Good night Vienna

We’d had a great evening on Saturday, cold food notwithstanding, and all parted in good spirits. We arranged to meet Christophe and Edith for breakfast as they didn’t have a plane to catch – just a 600km drive back to Ansbach in Germany. Edith is composing a bid for a G1 project next year and wishes to include Eduvel Ltd as one of the partners. This is something we would enjoy very much and so, we therefore had quite a bit to discuss.

It was a beautiful morning, just like each of the previous two days. Once we’d been kicked out of the breakfast room, we agreed to continue our chat over another coffee at Café Dommayer http://dommayer.at/ which is just down the road from our hotel at Hietzing. This was a fine relaxing morning, spoiled only when the rain came and our friends had to set off back to Germany. I didn’t envy them their long journey in the rain.

The rain came and stayed.

Luckily, our Austrian host Andrea had very kindly given us two Sisi Tickets to use during our extended stay. This would allow us to visit the Sisi Apartments in the Hofburg as well as the Royal furniture exhibition in Vienna and the Imperial rooms at Schönbrunn. Although Sunday was the only day we could visit the furniture exhibition, we decided Schönbrunn would be best because it was closer and would not require too much walking in the rain. So we endured the Sunday crowds and toured the palace instead of going into the city. The palace is large and its heyday opulence was easy to imagine. The heating for example, was delivered by means of huge ceramic stoves, which were originally heated with wood via a heating duct running behind the rooms. This prevented the imperial family from being disturbed or becoming aware of the dirt such systems develop.

We stayed local for dinner and ate once more at the Wambacher Heuriger House. I had a Wiener Schnitzel – what else!

Monday, our last full day, was spent freezing in the city. I don’t know how I got so cold, but the brolly turned inside out and had to be dispatched; my coat leaked, and I had to buy a hat (a Dutch Cap). We decided that the best thing to do was buy some bits of food at the Nachtmarkt and some bread at a bakery before returning to the hotel to eat. We could then re-dress with warmer clothes. Just where the biting cold wind came from I don’t know, but it chilled me through to the bone.

We returned to the city later in the afternoon and visited the Sisi apartments and silver collection. Once again, in the wrong frame of mind I could have been depressed at the Imperial Dynasty’s sheer opulence, which must surely have flown in the face of their subject’s extreme poverty. However, I could only marvel at the size of this collection. Displayed over an entire floor area, we saw gold plate, silver plate, solid gold, solid silver and porcelain: plates, cups, knives, forks and every conceivable kitchen to table ware. The imperial family only ever ate off silver – even when porcelain became the norm, it was only used for soups. The golden centerpieces were so lavish; the cost of one could probably have supported a peasant family for a lifetime.

We then made our way to the Hundertwasserhaus, which I’d been advised to visit by Alison Iredale.  Although this is just outside the city centre, it took some finding as all of our maps finished just before the correct street.  Nevertheless, it was an interesting walk and another opportunity to work out the city’s excellent transport system. We’d had 24 hour passes which allowed travel on any of the systems available. All of the U-Bahn stops we used throughout our stay were conveniently close to tram stops, so if we knew where we wanted to be – we could get there. Hundertwasserhaus is a strange looking community building with (apparently; because you cannot go in) uneven floors inside too. I’m sure it would have looked even better in the sunshine.

So that’s it. I’m finishing this in the lounge at Heathrow, waiting for our flight to Manchester. The thing I miss the most – here in England (so far)?

The coffee!

http://europeforvisitors.com/switzaustria/articles/vienna_coffeehouses2.htm (types of coffee)

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The Shroppie Fly

It has not been easy getting back into the swing of work related things this year. There is not much new work around but I still have some residual work with the RSC-YH and RSC-SE. I did have some dates in my diary, but catching people during the first two weeks of September to arrange other meeting dates has been (is) difficult. So my diary now is made up of preparation for gig dates, meeting people to try and generate work dates and phoning-up to organise meetings and gigs dates.

The preparation dates are OK, because I give myself time to ‘prepare’ and find it hugely enjoyable because as I consider new ways to deliver something (or just to update) I’m also learning. The meeting people dates are frustrating because nothing comes from them immediately, or they get cancelled. Phoning-up days are similarly frustrating (as I say, early September is not the best time for doing this) and tend to end up with a batch of emails having to be sent.

Still, since we got back from the USA http://dsugdenholidays.wordpress.com (July 31st – August 26th) we’ve managed to resist slipping into a boring routine. Last weekend we went looking for another car to replace Sharon’s clapped out Subaru. For me, this is a tedious trail of agencies that never seem to have the model you’ve researched and wanted. Auto Trader is especially frustrating because by the time you ring them to see if the car is still there – it’s gone. We eventually found a Renault Megane Saloon, which seemed to fit the bill (3 years old and only 12,500 miles). So, we came away to do the research – which proved to be positive. However, our plan to swap Sharon’s car may have to be changed to replacing my car or not buying it at all – for reasons I can’t go into now but will explain in good time.

The previous weekend we spent in Chirk with Karen and Dave. That was a pleasant change. I love Wales and the border country around Karen is particularly nice. Having said that, we spend most of our time in Shropshire checking out the canal system around Audlem. This is an especially nice part of Shropshire, where history becomes a relaxing walk along the towpath. Karen’s son Andrew, his wife Ange and baby daughter accompanied us on our walk and during our meal at The Shroppie Fly alongside the towpath in Audlem.

I’ve also made two visits to Wetherby recently, for discussions about my trip to Prague next week. This visit follows the workshop we delivered in Wetherby during the week that the volcanic ash cloud erupted. Many of the delegates (project partners) were greatly delayed by their cloud and had to lay out extra expenses just to get home. We also met this team in Vienna in May. https://eduvel.wordpress.com/?s=Vienna In Prague Sharon and I will represent Khawar and TLC at the climax of this project.

Good Coffee

picture shows coffee service and a slice of cakeAt the risk of annoying my American friends and relatives – I think that in Vienna, I found my Coffee Homeland!

I’ve talked about coffee before [https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2009/11/28/coffee/], when I actually said: I .. realised a long time ago that .. I just don’t like instant coffee (‘instant coffee’ is an oxymoron). I do however enjoy drinking coffee – proper coffee made with fresh ground beans and very hot, not boiling, water. I love the taste of coffee, I adore the smell of coffee. I am (despite being a tea drinker) a coffee addict.

As a result of my personal taste, I find it hard to get the hot drink preparation operatives (I hazard to say the word Barista, as they are patently not so qualified) employed by national chains to understand that I want less water in my Americano – or that I need just a little hot water adding to my double espresso. And I just want a little hot milk adding (preferably on the side): I don’t want it making with milk and I don’t want foam. As Ellen said in my earlier post “you can tell when someone cares enough to spend a little bit of time to get it right.” In Vienna, my requests were adhered to, easily and without note until one day a waitress said “ah yes sir, you want a large brauner” (she actually said this in German and I understood every word – how cool is that?).

So, I then asked for a ‘large brauner‘ everywhere we went. The taste was superb too. It wasn’t just strong, but it was flavourful and not burned – i.e. left on the grounds for the correct amount of time and not stewed. It was the same at breakfast time when large pots were placed on the table. Unlike most hotels and conferences in the UK, the coffee actually tasted nice, stay hot and was carefully prepared.

Another pleasant custom in Vienna, is that they always serve your coffee with a glass of cold water. It’s never questioned – they just bring it. This is a pleasant custom aimed, I suppose, at helping to rehydrate you after the ‘caffeine hit’.

As those Twitter followers who accessed the Julius Meinl web page I posted recently will know – there is a huge variety of coffee tastes avaialble in Vienna. Anything from the sublime [small or large brauner] to the ridiculous [Kaisermelange]. As much as I like coffee, I’m not sure I would want that!

http://www.meinlcoffee.com/coffee-culture/coffee-recipes/traditional-viennese-recipes

I did buy a big bag of Julius Meinl ‘brauner’ beans at the airport and it’s a pot of coffee made from those that has prompted this post. MMmmmm coffee.

Naschtmarkt

The Naschtmarkt in Vienna is just a market. You can find markets that are similar to this in big cities all over the world, but this one has something quite unique. I’m not sure what that is, but I’ve not had so much fun walking around a market for a long time. First of all there is produce from all over the world, which is normal, but the combinations and sheer blousiness of produce was impressive. The stallholders were happy to let us taste all sorts of things – sometimes time and time again. We saw truffles: real, live, black, white, whole truffles – expensive, but truffles nevertheless – something I’ve never seen on a market before.

Following dinner, which I can relate below, we chose to return to the market for dessert. This ended up being glasses of Italian sparkling rose wine (kindly supplied by Christophe) and a plate of Parma ham, meaty olives and Austrian cheeses. Sharing these made for a great atmosphere, but one that (looking at the weather today – Monday) might be hard to repeat.

Right at the end of Naschtmarkt, just down the road from the Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) Secession [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vienna_Secession] building, there are two other preserved Art Nouveau buildings; Majolikahaus and Otto Wagner-Haus. The former is a wonderfully painted example and the latter an ornate building with some kind of gargoyles sat on the roof screaming down at passers by. Our dinner was in a restaurant just a street behind these and a little way along. I can’t remember its name or the street but it’s worth giving a miss anyway.

Our ‘final’ dinner was already depleted by the absence of Czechs, but as there was no one else in the restaurant for the rest of the night, atmosphere was something we eight struggled to achieve. We did manage it, but it was personal – unlike the restaurant. The menu wasn’t extensive but it did look nice. I had duck and thoroughly enjoyed it.

However, one of our Austrian hosts (Michaela) suggested to the waiter that her food; a herb ravioli, was cold.  It was probably lukewarm, but not to her taste anyway (or mine actually, I like hot food hot and cold food cold).  Our waiter seemed unable to comprehend and called a more senior colleague to deal with ‘the problem’.

This more senior person took Michaela’s plate, stood behind her (but in full view of six of the eight of us) and prodded the food with the back of his hand before saying no – it’s hot!

I was stunned. This just should not happen. I couldn’t speak for trying to compose a stream of forceful but understandable pidgin German to rebuke him with. And then he prodded it again (chuntering all the time) as he obeyed Michaela’s command to take it away and bring her a hot dish. I’m sure that the returned dish was just microwaved – which was another appalling example of bad taste, poor hygiene and incompetence.

As I said earlier, my own food was fine, but this surly, superior and downright unhygienic attitude to food service should not be allowed. First of all – the customer is always right (even if they are wrong – which, in this case they were not) and secondly, you should not touch the food in any way – at all – ever – in front of the customer. If a dish is returned, you should start again not zap it in the microwave. Grrr.

Michaelerplatz

picture of the brightly lit inside of Karlskirche - ViennaThe ILMAE meeting has now broken up. It’s been a difficult time for me as I have to write the UK handbook – which would have been easier (to write and understand) if I had been involved all the way through. However, I’ve still had time to spend a lot of time in Vienna, which is turning out to be a beautiful city.

I’d expected something as ‘in your cultural face’ as Paris or Berlin, but I don’t think that it is quite that – it has a hidden charm. We’ve been lucky to be shown around by the Austrian partners, especially Michaela who helped us to orient ourselves in the city on Friday evening. We’d been to the Vienna boys choir concert on Thursday and nothing was planned for Friday, so off we went, accompanied by warm sunshine.

Friday evening was a one-off, it was Austria’s ‘long night of the churches’ and for one night various activities were taking place in all of the specially opened up churches. We visited Karlskirche, which is right outside the -U-Bahn station we used for our city visits. We then toured the various big-name buildings to view later and eventually stopped in a back street pub that served cheap but excellent food. I had Goulasch and a beer! Then we had ice-cream.

On Saturday we had to finish off the meeting before we had more free time to visit the city. This time Sharon and I went alone. We started in the Volksgarten, where we’d been told we could get a good coffee and watch the world go by. Well, the garden was pleasant, with very much in-bloom rose gardens and the like, but the coffee shops looked dingy so we continued through the Hofburg and into Michaelerplatz, where there was a concert. As the weather was very pleasant and we’d managed to get some drinks, we sat down to listen for a while.

The whole atmosphere was special. We’ve been lucky enough to come on a festival weekend, so there was music being played everywhere, and lots of street entertainment. The bright, warm sunshine was also a pleasure.

We’d agreed to meet our colleagues (except the Czechs, who did their own thing) at Secession before taking advantage of a walk through the Naschmarkt to our planned restaurant. Unusually, the market was open in the evening as part of the festival. Music was planned and playing and the stallholders were still there sharing their wares. This was such a good market that we plan on going again tomorrow – Monday – rain or shine. Last night’s meal, the walk through Naschtmarkt, today’s rain and visit inside Schonbrunn, and our last day will be written later.

Schönbrunn

Most of our ILMAE colleagues had arrived by the time we met for breakfast on Thursday, our first full day. However, not all had arrived by the time we were met for dinner on Wednesday, so just Sharon and I accompanied Andrea, our host, to the local heurigan restaurant. We were joined much later by Christophe who had driven straight to us from Ansbach in Germany.

Typically, a heurigan restaurant is only licensed to serve it’s own produce. [See quote“Heurigans, by law are only open a few weeks each year and the vintners are allowed to sell a percentage of their wine tax free! In addition, the kitchen prepares all the traditional favourites.“] So we sampled local and not quite as local, wines and food. Apparently, (we were told by Andrea that..) heurigans in and around Vienna itself are not quite as pure as the tradition demands. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heuriger. I had dumplings stuffed with minced meat, and a Muskateller wine from Styria both of which were delicious.

Following our first meeting on Thursday morning, we were taken to Schönbrunn Palace Park. http://www.schoenbrunn.at/en/. Despite the often torrential rain, this was an excellent visit. We had a guide who showed us around the park (not the Schloss itself) and told us something of its history. As I write this in the hotel foyer, having escaped form the mostly procedural meeting upstairs, to continue with my own work, Sharon has returned to the park to see it again in the sunshine.

a view of Schonbrunn palace - rear view
My role here in Vienna is to support Khawar at the project meeting and to continue work on our own workshop’s handbook. ‘Handbook’ is something of a misnomer, as it will be online. It consists of several thousand words which will ultimately (hopefully) support other users of the resulting workshop materials. At the moment, that’s hard to see – but there’s plenty of time yet (really!!!)

After the park visit, we caught the U-Bahn into a part of Vienna where the Vienna Boys Choir [Wiener Sängerknaben] were to perform a free concert in support of a local community project. This is apparently a quite unique event and one I certainly won’t forget. Apparently there are four choirs – each one being billed as THE Vienna Boys Choir – so although the illusion is that they never stop working, there are plenty of boys to go around. This particular charity event was held in the church of a run down, multi-cultural area of Vienna and featured two other local school choirs. Both were sweet, as school choirs are but the difference in class was easily shown because the final school choir used discordant recorders and flute during their performance which was immediately followed by the crystal clear ‘boys’ voices. Lovely.

We then had another heuriger meal (not as good this time) and came home.

And we’re off

I’m sat in the departure lounge at Manchester composing this post by tapping away on my WordPress iPhone App. Hopefully it will work . . .

Both Sharon and I are en route to Vienna. We’re (me mainly) attending the final project meeting of the ILMAE project. I was employed by TLC of Wetherby to work with them in this.

We’re hoping to find the time to do some city exploration too – so look out Flickr.

So that’s it. A brief post .. To be continued .. [up to here was posted successfully from my iPhone. It didn’t indicate that it was a successful post but here it is ..]

Well, we’re here now.  We had a pretty uneventful journey, planes on time, reasonable seats and short trips – in fact the taxi from the airport in Vienna to the hotel took almost as long as the flight from Manchester to Dusseldorf. Flight one fed us half a ham and cream cheese sandwich (with tomato juice and coffee) and flight two fed us with some cake (and more tomato juice) – in between, after viewing the Giraffes, we had a coffee (Sharon had tea) in a cafe. As I’ve said on many occasions – coffee abroad, almost anywhere abroad, is better than anywhere in the UK.

We’re meeting everyone we worked with in April [see https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/04/18/wetherby-2/] at 7.30 in the hotel reception and then from tomorrow (Thursday) we have a full programme of work and visits. Hopefully Sharon and I will have figured out public transport by Sunday and Monday when we have our own free time.

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Food quality

Basmati Rice - not the brand discussed.

I’m sat inside the house right now because it’s so hot outside (this is not a complaint). My feet are surrounded by a carpet of dandelion seeds which have blown in from outside as the all of the doors and windows are open. From time to time the seed-heads are like a fog – where do they all come from?  This weekend we’re having the sort of weather we often dream of and because of this we’re encouraged to eat outside. Barbecues are the order of the day.

But, to be honest – it seems a real hassle to take all the summer chairs and tables out of the hut they live in, just to get the gas barbecue out for just the two of us. We’re both going to Vienna later this week, so we can’t just leave them outside. I therefore thought we could have a tandoori chicken meal last night – which in the end, was a disaster!

I’d marinaded the chicken and decided to cook it on the pizza stone Gail bought us earlier in the year. She’d thought we were deprived because we didn’t have such a thing and to be fair, I now realise we were deprived, because we’ve since had some wonderfully crisp pizzas from it. However – take a tip from me, don’t try using it as a tandoor. Nuff said.

I’d decided we could have some of the basmati rice we’d bought on special offer at Tescos. I bought a huge bag when they had it on offer a few weeks ago but I should have known better – it was tasteless. I mean, basmati should be delicately flavoured and as such should be cooked carefully too. It’s not that I don’t know how to cook rice. It was just the very worst quality, packaged to look like the real thing. a  picture of the sun setting over Scapegoat Hill

I should know better because I decided a long time ago that there are no real bargains at Tesco, or to be fair, any of the large supermarkets. To be a bargain something should be of the same quality you would normally expect and either be cheaper or in larger volume. This was both of the latter but certainly not the former. We’ve been caught out a couple of times with wine too. For many years my favourite red wine was Rosemount Shiraz – usually about £8.99. I’ve been tempted by the special offers (@£5-6) a few times but it has never tasted as good. A wine friend of mine (inasmuch as he’s someone who has made his living selling the stuff) does keep telling me that supermarkets do not get the best wines to put on their shelves. I’ve certainly not bought any ‘bargains’ recently.

There’s hope too in the newly elected ConDem(ed?) government’s ‘Coalition Programme for Government‘ They say “We will introduce honesty in food labelling” (pg 13) – which is another thing I hate about food companies. Why try to hide what’s in the packet? See also: https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2009/09/22/misleading-food-labels-again/ and my previous Posterous post

Strange Times

Strange times indeed. For some people, academic Easter holidays have already started and for others, there’s another week to go. For me, it is a particularly slack period which is being filled with unusual activities. For example, I’m writing this while I wait for the Skype call to come though from Kevin Brennan in New Zealand. Kev asked if I would talk to a catering conference which is taking place at his university. For him, it’s already Saturday morning and they are about to kick-off. For me, it’s approaching 8.30pm on Friday and I’m talking until 10.00pm (ish).

The slackness has come from the fact that much of my work is LSC funded and there has been a mad rush to get it finished and invoiced before the end of March (more accurately I suspect; before the Easter holidays). I have some residual work with MoLeNET and the RSC-YH but other than that, until things settle – who knows?

I say when things settle because the election that is looming is likely to bring about big changes to the way non compulsory education is funded. The recent budget has just toyed with things but I suspect that whatever flavour of government we have, the big savings will have to be seen to be made over the next five years – they are just not telling us yet.

Already, previous employers are talking about putting hugely successful course online and un-facilitated (see my previous post); colleges are nervous about their financial situation, quite a few are talking about shedding staff already – so despite apparent upturns in the economy, things have still to change.

So other than New Zealand? Well, I have a conference call with a contact in the middle east next week, to discuss e-Learning in the UK: I have a couple of days work in April, supporting a European project delivery and I have the best part of a week in May/June in Vienna doing likewise.

Unusual times.