Fish and Chips and Wiener Schnitzel

by wandering freditor / May 03, 2009 /

FISH AND CHIPS AND WIENER SCHNITZEL

(LONDON BOOKENDS… AND A NOVEL PART OFAUSTRIA)

Recently I travelled to Vienna, via London, for a Boy's Weekend with my sons. It did not start well, jemmied as I was, into the cheapest of seats at the back of a 'fully loaded' Boeing 777, a veritable fat German beside me, doing what Germans do best and encroaching on my space, an American at my back, kneeing me forward, and an aisle which resembled the Players race at Twickenham! In my part of Economy, the absence of a foot-rail was no doubt a weight reduction matter, the seat was elevated and hard, and my designated spot in row 31C would make a sarcophagus seem like a penthouse. Comfort was impossible, sleep non existent, a head-wind prevailed, and the delight of a 1.40am departure and a six and a half hour journey, sat heavily on my mind. When my tiny route map at last showed us approaching the British Isles, we proceeded across the Channel with all the pace of William the Conqueror. "Congestion" muttered Captain Bigglesworth. "We are not amused" said I, firmly embracing my metaphorical Queen Victoria. To hell with 'fuel efficient aircraft' I thought, what about more efficient Air Traffic Control so we don’t have to circle and circle? I arrived at Heathrow decidedly grumpy!

Clearing formalities was a cinch, but given my sleepless state and not wanting to bother my son for accommodation, I thought about finding a hotel day room and conveniently found – and I use the name advisedly – a Hotel 'Help' Desk. My Sub-Continent 'helper', a mobile grafted to his ear, looked at me with dark eyes and thrust out his chin, John Wayne style, as though suggesting we wrestle! He proffered no words, so I gave him an ignored "good morning", and asked about a room. "One sixty quid" he said with about as much interest as Hugh Heffner at a Mother Theresa look-alike contest and when I had the temerity to ask for 'anything cheaper', he sneered and said "Yes eighty nine quid, but the taxi will cost you thirty each way". The phone had remained at his ear as though he was a stock dealer, or brothel owner, and I politely thanked him, and moved off. So much for celling Britain I thought! I made my way down to the tube and caught a train on the Piccadilly line. Like a rat on a swaying treadmill, I travelled through dark recesses with lots of other rats, and eventually found my way to Bermondsey where my son and his wife have an apartment right on the Thames. A mere four quid for the tube so I was a hundred and fifty six ahead! After a shower and an hour's kip, I was ready to put London at my feet.

Without sounding gauche, the Left Bank of the Thames provides just as stupendous viewing as its Parisian counterpart. One leg of the Tower Bridge, the Queen’s Walk, the HMS Belfast, the old docks once the domain of crooks and clippers and now full of shops, bars and restaurants run by their 21st Century counterparts! It is all up close and personal and you feel engaged by history. Then there is the original Clink gaol, the earliest Norman cathedral in Britain, at Southwark, a replica Globe theatre and the Golden Hind, the glorious Tate Gallery, and views across the waters to the incomparable St Paul's, the White Tower and the Green Gherkin. Eat your heart out, Paris, I say, for I sat outside the Seventeenth century Anchor Pub, and had my fish and chips and mushy peas, all washed down with a half of London Pride. There were views all around, boats on the Thames, lads and ladettes a-strolling, London at its best. Afterwards, I became a mole again, entered the underworld and emerged at Bond Street, bought my books, and shuffled back down, and went back to Heathrow and Terminal Five. There, glass and steel had real appeal, and sitting at one end of the terminal, consuming a Costa coffee, my son found me, and we headed to Vienna. There was only a forty minute delay while we sat in a queue and our plane burned more fuel than I use in my car in a year!

Now to me, London, Paris and Vienna are a bit like those glamorous Gabor sisters. Everyone was so mesmerized by Zsa Zsa and Eva that they almost forgot about Magda. Not as flashy perhaps, but still the right curves and bumps, and just as good looking in the dark as the other two. Vienna is a bit like that, great pedigree, wonderful structures, class and panache in spades, and with a fraction of the people of the other cities. It has a highly functional little airport, a high standard of living, and a level of cleanliness that the other two can only reach for in a rocket-ship! I digress, but the street cleaning trucks in Vienna are bright orange and the garbage collectors have bright orange kit. During the Euro 2008 Soccer competition, some Dutch team supporters followed the cleaning lads on the basis that as they were in orange colours, they were fellow Dutch supporters heading to the game. That probably explains why the Dutch team really was rubbish in the quarter finals! But I return to my praises.  For some inexplicable reason, Austria is ‘below the radar’, yet it is a simply superb little country, a sort of Switzerland without the costs, Bavaria without the Bavarians. There are tee shirts which proclaim that There are no kangaroos in Austria. Well all I can say is don't tell the roos in Australia, for if they saw all those green meadows, and lakes full of water, they'd hop over to Austria before you could say "G'day". And I am sure that they would bring the emus, possums and dingoes along with them as well!

We left Vienna in the early morning and drove past the stunning Schonbrunn Palace, which in its Hapsburg-yellow, dazzled even the sun with its brightness. We were soon in neat and rolling countryside full of pasture, and fields of corn. Good tank country to be sure, and great for military manoeuvre as horse-cavalry generals had found over the years, when European armies pouted and fought in and against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Wide, well made roads, cut a strip through the green of pastures and forest, and there was not a toll booth to be seen, a real luxury in Europe. At the river town of Melk, with its huge monastery, the countryside became more poly than roly and in the distance, like a gap-toothed jawbone, the mountains began to appear. We stopped, briefly, at a roadside Landzeit eatery, a veritable cornucopia of riches and an abundance of foods and dishes to satisfy even a Michelin Three Star chef. In Austria, food passes its first two tests; it looks fabulous, and smells wonderful. The restaurant had superb views, and the smiling, dirndl-clad waitresses, switched easily into clipped English when the heard my sputtering German. It was a roadside stop that we really enjoyed making.

 

Winfred Peppinck - Austria

Goseausee Boats

 

 

As soon as you get off the highway, and the roads curl through villages, the big wooden houses simply bubble flowers as though spouting from a spring. After a world of brick and concrete, it is fetching to see the art of the carpenter, joiner and the wood-carver still at work. There are sawmills aplenty, and an abundance of fir trees of all descriptions, rising up and over mountainsides like Mohawk or Beatle hair cuts. The pine, the spruce, the larch; they are such tidy, orderly, and upright trees. Their lumber gives the houses, set in their bright green meadows, a honeyed glow, or an appealing dark wood frontage. And inside such houses, there are blond-wood floors and furnishings with hearts and geometric shapes carved into benches, bed-heads and shutters. Wood carvings sit on tables and benches for here, it appears, the whittler and the wooden toymaker, are not a relic of the past. Every house has window-boxes full of tumbling, shoving, geraniums, looking every bit like runners in the marathon, seconds after the starter’s gun has been fired. And on many a roof, looking like a spindly crow’s nest, is a carved wooden steeple-tower housing a tiny bell. They are houses and villages made, I am sure, with photography in mind, even if most precede the invention of the camera by some hundreds of years! Just call it Austrian fore-sight. In the Salzkammergut, there is simply enough beauty to ensure that each house could adorn its very own chocolate box. It is all so breath-taking, you almost need little masks to drop down in front of you, just to keep breathing!

 

Winfred Peppinck - Austria

Trauenkirchen from above

 

We stopped at the tiny village of Traunkirchen, on the Traunsee (lake), with its little church high on a rock above the waters and to one side, massive, neck-craning, grey tors, looking like giants who had piddled to form the green-blue lake at their feet. In the Caribbean, the water of such clarity and hue signified warmth and swimming, but here it heralded cold, and wet-suits, and thoughts of Nazi gold! And then, as we watched, two divers, looking like masked seals, suddenly emerged from the waters. Recreational diving is a major sport in the Salzkammergut lakes, but rumours abound that a great deal of Nazi loot remains to be uncovered, and there continue to be plenty of adventurers willing to try. Around the shores, and up the pine clad slopes, timber and white-walled houses kept their vigil, smirking no doubt at the cold fools below, looking in all the wrong places!

 

Winfred Peppinck - Austria

Gossau

 

We drove on past Bad Ischl, and a place of portent for all Antipodeans, Bad Aussee, then through narrow passes which spilled out onto meadows of such lushness that I was sure that the fat brown and white blotched cows which lazed there, spouted only milk chocolate from their udders. There were no lowing cattle here, in fact I am sure that I heard them purring like contented cats! Life for a cow just doesn’t get any better than this. Grass like caviar, the sound of distant cars, and the tinkle of the bells to sound the hour; tranquillity personified. We passed through the calendar-cute village of Gosau, with its high spired churches and houses dripping colour, all so neat, symmetrical and tidy, as though built by those clever Lego people. Above Gosau was the high Gosausee, an alpine lake of stunning beauty, with a glacier mountain at one end and a hearty hut-cum-hotel at the other. We walked around the shores and everywhere, little ‘tricklets’ brought clear fresh water down from the mountains. At one place, there was actually a huge copper ear trumpet placed close to a tiny waterfall, so you could stop and listen to the sound of individual drops splashing into a puddle below. Being profoundly deaf, my immediate interest was in the ear-trumpet, but it was well bolted to its stand and defied my tugging. Beethoven had a whole series of such contraptions and if I had been able to ‘acquire’ this one, everyone would have been aware of my deafness. I daresay that holding a veritable copper still to your ear, is really a bit of a give-away. It was a beautiful, relaxing walk. Nature in its purest form is a wonderful elixir, soothing all the senses, especially the olfactory ones, which in this environment, made the slight whiff of cow-dung seem like something that Ralph Lauren had bottled. As usual, it didn’t last long, for soon the smell of burning bratwurst took over, and the ‘tinkle’ of the forest gave way to the sound of brassy men in lederhosen. Somehow it seemed entirely apt, and my son felt moved to buy one of those little felt alpine hats with a trailing feather. It just fitted in nicely, and moreover, it suited him. You don’t have to be a yokel, to ‘go local’.

 

Winfred Peppinck - Austria

Oberau House and Church

 

 

From Gosau we travelled to nearby St Johann-in-Pongau, where recent rains had swelled the milk-chocolate coloured river, into a raging serpent, and did some white water rafting! Dressed in wet-suits and other floating devices, looking much like helmeted Telly-Tubbies, we were given our instructions. The German language is just perfect for commands, and our ‘Kapitan’ sounded as though he had previously commanded a U-boat. On land, we perfected paddling forwards, and backwards, and drilled in rescue procedures, till at last he said “Goot, Ve are ready”! It was not so long ago that I held my sons’ hands to catch them if they stumbled, but now the reverse applied, and together they manoeuvred me over the rocks, and into the boat. No sooner was I in the boat, my feet in stirrups, ‘ze paddle’ in my hands, when there was the command, “Paddle. Schnell!!” And paddle we did, very schnell, as we circled, breached, and bucketed among huge brown combers, my apprehension writ large over my face, my eyes oblivious to the beauty of the gorge, limbs and lungs straining, praying for the command “Halt paddles ja”! My sons looked at me with crooked smiles. “Guess whose Dad is in a whirlpool” they seemed to say, but gradually exhilaration replaced fear, and we all laughed mockingly at the river, and ourselves, and afterwards we spoke of our pluck and daring in the sharing of our ordeal. Twelve kilometres downstream, we hove to shore, just as donder and blitzen crashed all about us and the valley filled with rain. Up above ‘He’ I am sure, was saying, “Why those little bastards got away without a dunking”!

 

Winfred Peppinck - Austria

Oberau Beer

 

 

By the time that we got to our Gasthof, above the beautiful little village of Altenmarkt, the sunshine had returned, and betwixt the mountain-tops and the village spire, a long cigar of cloud lingered. From my Spartan but cosy room, I looked out over a gentle slope to the village below, and imagined making the journey there by toboggan when the fields are filled with winter snow. Up above the cigar cloud, with their own carpet of meadow, were huts and huge houses with great under-crofts from times when cattle were the ‘below stairs’ lot. For the first time in my life, I really understood Churchill’s reference to ‘sunlight uplands’ for a few rays of the sun showed them at their best. There, in those huts and chalets, people must still look down on this spectacle every day, and never think of leaving. I just sat in my chair, like Whistler’s mother, looking, looking, sweeping the scene like a radar dish, never tiring that it changed but little, mesmerised by the beauty and imagining it in different lights and seasons. In a place like this, the tensions of city living just fall away, and I am sure that those little demons that tweak my blood pressure, must have thought, ‘Hells bells, maybe the old boy has just carked it!’ Later we wandered in the village itself, a place where the shop windows have that Christmas-every-day look, and the men still tip their hats to ladies. The beautiful church, surrounded by its manicured graveyard, and richly endowed flower beds, was shaded by apple trees groaning with fruit. It was easy to see that in such an Eden-like setting, few felt temptation, for the surrounding beauty was sufficiently all-consuming to leave the apples uneaten!

We drove the next day to Werfen, and caught the funicular railway up to the superbly sited castle Erlebnisburg Hohenwerfen, where many years ago the film Where Eagles Dare was filmed. Well the eagles there, still dare, and the castle now has a daily live eagles, falcons and vulture show, whereby the birds soar above the castle walls and dive down to feed from the hands of suitably period-dressed handlers. The castle was fully restored in the 1930s and has all the features that make even old boys hearts race; guns and parapets, pitch ports and dungeons, and of course, a thousand years of stories of derring-do. When you think of castles, this is it, set on a pimple beside a river, controlling for the Bishops of Salzburg, a valley between massive mountains, against the intrusions by the King of France. Afterwards, it served as a prison, fell into ruin and was restored by a wealthy zealot, who went broke in doing so when he started anew after a ruinous fire. Mind you, our be-costumed guide said that from 1939-45 it was a “Training Centre” with nary a hint that it was the dreaded SS that were doing the training! That sort of linkage is best forgotten in Austria. So too, the links with the ‘Little Corporal’. He remains the blackest of Austrian sheep.

Then again, the haunts of the ‘Little Corporal’ were not far away, on the Obersalzberg above the town of Bechtesgarten. Hitler made it his capital away from the Capital for much of the time he led the German state. It is not hard to see why he was attracted there, for the views of the mountains and the valleys are stupendous. It is over sixty years ago that Hitler left the mountains, but his ‘presence’ still commands them, although most buildings that marked his stay have long been blown up. So have the houses of Borman and Goering, architect Speer’s studio, the guard huts and the SS barracks. Once they were ‘off limits’ to all but the Nazis, and then the conquering U.S. forces. After the war these places were not talked about, and now slowly, history is being reclaimed. A newly built Documentation Centre that chronicles the rise and fall of the Nazi State, ends in some of the tunnels and bunkers that were built after 1943. According to the guidebooks, there are over 26 kilometres of underground installations on the mountain, but most have been sealed, or filled with rubble. Where Goering’s house and swimming pool once stood, the Inter-Continental hotel has now built its own luxury shrine to opulence and exclusivity with a vista once the sole domain of the Nazis and their cohorts, now enjoyed by anyone with a few hundred Euro per night to spare.

We stayed in the Hotel Tuerken, once the headquarters of the Security Service, the SD, which controlled the tunnel access to Hitler’s Berghof residence. Although it had been bombed in April 1945, it had been ‘authentically restored’ so that it was ‘just the same’ as in former times. I looked at the bar area, with the antlers on the wall, the comfortable lounge areas, the big kitchen with its huge solid-fuel stoves, and the large dining room with its period lights and carved wooden furniture, and imagined uniformed men singing the Horst Wessel song over their steins of lager. When we went up to our second story room and opened the windows, the old lady who ran the establishment said “The views are exactly the same as Hitler enjoyed from the Berghof”. I paid my Euros and went down a tight spiral staircase from the Hotel Teurken and into the tunnels below. It was cold and damp, with water dripping, and small ceiling lights every thirty metres, making it feel decidedly sinister. In one direction there was the now bricked up entrance to Borman’s house. There were places where prisoners had been kept, dog kennels, living quarters, showers and storage niches, machine galleries and everywhere rifle or machine gun slits to guard the tunnels. At one place, someone had fired a Panzerfaust at a wall, and the steel rods had merely buckled. In that confined space, people must have been killed or permanently deafened. I imagined the fall of jackboots, and the shouting of orders and looked frequently over my shoulder for one of those people who might still live ‘down there’, not realising that the war had ended! When I got to the bricked-up wall to Hitler’s Berghof, I hastily retreated.

In the morning, the clearest of days dawned and the mist, gathered in the valleys like cotton wool. We went walking in the woods, marching right through Hitler’s lounge room, for concrete is such resilient stuff that it was hard to erase all evidence of the earlier occupant. Tall trees now grow through the cracks in the concrete, but the views to the distant Unterberg, which Hitler and his guests admired through a huge window which could be raised and lowered, are still the same. He had always wanted to be buried there. Here had walked Neville Chamberlain, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Mussolini, and a host of European leaders, and here was where the pictures of Eva Braun dancing with Hitler where taken. Here too, some of the most important decisions about the war were made, the carving up of Czechoslovakia, the Anchluss with Austria. The forest was dark, and the air crisp, and every so often there was evidence of foundations and fortifications, though now softened by moss. One of my sons, a superbly fit athlete, rode his mountain bike up a further fifteen hundred feet, to the Eagle’s Nest, a rock dwelling high above the Berghof which Borman gave as a present, to Hitler. Alas for Borman, Hitler was afraid of heights, and only went up there five times. Borman, however, was a frequent guest, and being the schemer that he was, he probably had it built with that in mind! When later I bragged about my son’s feat to the wizened little old Hotel manager, she said “He was lucky, because nobody is allowed to ride that road except in official buses”. Then she looked carefully around, and whispered fiercely, “The police around here are real Nazis”! Somehow it sounded “just like the old days”.

From the Obersalzburg we travelled over the Rossfeld Road, with its high passes and unsurpassed view towards Salzburg in one direction, Munich in the other, and drove down into the charming little hamlet of Oberau. There, beside an onion domed church, in a wonderful beer-garden serving golden ‘wheat beer’, there were still the advisory speed limits for tanks. As in Austria, Germans were out in force, stout people not afraid of climbing paths fit for mountain goats, walking stick or staff in hand and if not quite bursting into Valderie, Valdera, making sure that there were a lot of Ha Ha Ha’s when they sat down in the beer garden! They are a loud, engaging lot, with a welcoming smile and a knowing look which says ‘Englander ja’ if don’t speak German. The smile got even broader when I said “Nein, Australien”. They probably thought I wouldn’t mention the war!

The Sound of Music gave me an early soft spot for Salzburg, and it is hard not to instantly like the place. That poor Julie Andrews, and those trapped Von Trapps, on the run from the Nazis. True, even today, the hills are still alive with the sounds of all sorts of things, but somehow Salzburg’s big white castle seems more like a shepherd than an ogre. Sound of Music tours still abound, and while walking the narrow streets of the old town, nestling at the castle’s foot like an old sock, I swear I heard a young lass, her arm around her biker friend as they stood before one of the city’s many lingerie shops singing, I am Sixteen going on Seventeen while in the Domplatz, I heard a man whistling Edelwies between mouthfuls of strudel! Although the film flopped in Austria, the rest of the world loved it, and the fifties and sixties-something folk, still know all the words off by heart. (Mind you, in Korea, they thought the film was “too long” so they chopped out all the musical bits!). Salzburg is a wonderful city, with a superb skyline, both from above and below, and it is wonderful to wander the streets and look upwards at the old shop symbols, which is all rather handy if you can’t read German! Salzburg’s real darling is of course Wolfgang Amadeus, and you can get your teeth into him at one of the two houses where he lived during his time in the city, and also in the scores of shops selling the famous Mozart kogels, the little chocolate balls that are as sweet as his music. For another sort of little night music, there are plenty of bars and jazz clubs, and you don’t need to be a genius to figero-out that the food here is hale and hearty and that you have found the schnitzel mother lode! We wandered away from the tourist spots and found an ‘authentic Austrian’ place, buried into a cellar amid refurbished houses that date from the 15th century. The forest mushrooms were superb, the fresh, straw-coloured Austrian wine, as light as pixie dust, and as memorable as a Mozart symphony. It all made for a perfect way to end our ‘Boy’s Weekend’. We wandered back to the car, along the bank of the fast flowing Salzach River, where the lights of a night market twinkled and the Hotel Sacher, taught and trimmed on the distant bank, radiated opulence and class. Salzburg is a place to come back to, time and again. It has a great setting, great vistas, wonderful architecture, good food, and lots of wine, women and song. Hang on, I am fuddling my composers, for it wasn’t Mozart who wrote that last bit! Another Austrian, none the less, and when you are in a country as wonderful as Austria, I am sure you will permit me licence to waltz around the facts a little. The joy for me, as I left, is to know that one of my sons lives in this beautiful country, and there is so much more to see. I have told him to keep the spare room free!

My other son and I returned to Heathrow, and surprisingly, our flight landed early, and we taxied to Terminal Five. The finger link, was not there to meet us. The mechanism had broken down! Then the ‘emergency stairs’ went missing, but were found after thirty-five minutes. People stood in the aisle, and children cried. Others, pissed off, sought the toilets. Finally we descended to the tarmac where an army of attendants guarded our way to the terminal. Up three flights of escalators, a long walk, and down three flights of escalators. Board a train to the arrivals area 300 metres away. Up three more flights of escalators, have passport stamped, “Welcome to the UK”, down three flights of escalators. “Was this designed by Monty Python?” I asked my son. He gave me a lop-sided grin. “It is still in the shake down phase” he said defensively because a little London pride has rubbed off on him, “but it really is quite attractive”. “So is Paris Hilton” I intoned, “and just as vacuous”!  We collected our bags, and proceeded to our pre-arranged mini-cab. “Ooops” said the driver, “I don’t have any change for the automatic boom gate”, so back we went to try and find some change as we were Euro-rich, but Pound-poor. Fifteen minutes later, we hit the M4, and proceeded at the pace of a centipede with ninety-nine of its legs in plaster. It took us another hour and a quarter to get home, and on a Sunday night!

The next morning our train stopped at Baker St and like a petulant toddler, refused to move. Something that sounded more Hindi than English came over the address system. “What did he say?” said an Indian gentleman beside me, but it appeared no-one had understood. People muttered about the Jubilee Line being “London’s newest” and eventually got up. It soon became a flood and we were mashed into a carriage on the Circle Line. The Heathrow Express seemed as though I had won the lottery! I had a seat, and all to myself. Later a big Boeing 747 stood at my gate, and my heart leapt. “Fooled you” smiled the man from the ‘World’s best airline’, and down and down we went, and found a bus to drive us to our plane. Back on board our Boeing 777 jam jar, I discovered that my video screen didn’t work, and I pursed my lips, furrowed my brow and gritted my teeth, all in the same movement! But fear not, dear reader, saddened as you must be by now, at my circumstance. Upliftment came at this darkest moment in the shape of a little Scottish Flight Service Director. “Would you like to move up to Premium Economy?” she asked in a rich burr. “Wooden-eye what!” I shouted in my broadest Aussie vernacular. Ah yes, I watched a movie or two, had a jolly nice New Zealand white, and even dozed a little. Every journey it seems, even the golden ones, have their own silver linings!        


Winfred Peppinck is the Wandering Freditor Editor for Wandering Educators