At one point during a strict lock-down phase of the pandemic, a controversy that had been simmering since June 2019 regarding the 2.4 square kilometer (0.92 square miles) areal that is home to the 330,000 graves serving as the last resting place for 3 million dead in Vienna’s Central Cemetery, flared up anew. Should the living be able to use the cemetery’s well-kept paths as a place to go for a run? Part of me got the critique. It was the same part of me that has never been quite comfortable with Arlington Cemetery’s dual-purpose as a resting place for the nation’s bravest and a tourist stop for DC’s Hop-On-Hop-Off buses. Another part of me, the part that recalibrates through a good run, rooted for a peaceful co-existence between the runners and resters. Granted, the upbeat orange runner signposts installed throughout the cemetery conveyed neither the solemnity nor the reflection due the cemetery’s (semi-)permanent residents (“semi-” because make no mistake, in Austria, they are hardcore when it comes to timely payment of gravesite fees – dead or not, you don’t pay your rent for your six feet under and you will be booted outa there faster than you can say Zentralfriedhofbestattungsmuseumdirektor). But given the fact that vehicles of all shapes and sizes were, with special permission, also allowed to drive the cemetery’s lanes, it seemed hard to argue that anyone out for a quick canter around the tombstones would be causing any kind of greater disruption. A part of me believes that the cemetery’s (semi-) permanent residents would even appreciate the presence of young, fit visitors, breathing deep and moving fast. Austrians, always the diplomats, baptized the trails “The Silent Run.” According to a report by the ORF (Austrian National Broadcasting Agency), the Central Cemetery hadn’t received a single complaint about runners using the trails. In these polarizing times, that’s something to aspire to.
Posts from the ‘Sites’ Category
A beloved, albeit ambivalent, saying about Vienna goes: “When the world ends, I’m heading to Vienna, everything there happens 50 years later.” Actually, the jury is out on whether the original statement predicted it would take Vienna 10 or 50 years longer to end and whether the Austrian who declared it was the composer Gustav Mahler or the satirist Karl Kraus. Regardless of who the sage was, and however long Vienna would need to catch up with the rest of the world, it is exactly this saying that came to mind yesterday evening while dining at the Pfarrwirt.
What you won’t see when you visit the convenient online-reservations section of Pfarrwirt’s professionally done website is any indication that this restaurant has a smoking and non-smoking section and has reserved the superior seating for the friends of Phillip Morris. The reservation form poses all the necessary questions EXCEPT a preference for smoking or non-smoking.
In fact, nothing, NOTHING, on the carefully crafted website, complete with a gallery of room-by-room photos, gives any visual or written indication that your dining experience will begin by navigating through a hanging cloud of fumes to arrive at the non-descript back room sectioned off for non-smokers. Assuming, of course, you are lucky enough after-the-fact to secure a non-smoking table. (Unfortunately, we weren’t).
Immediately upon detecting (smelling) our dire reservation mistake two minutes after being seated at our first charming table, the staff was professional enough (or accustomed to such last-minute requests by unpleasantly surprised guests?) to swiftly re-situate us to an alternative table directly outside of the glassed-in, far smaller, non-smoking section (which, not surprisingly, was full). This new table was where hope went to die. Instead, of counting our losses and high-tailing it out of there, we recklessly remained seated and ordered, falsely believing that the two bouncing, bright-eyed 6-month olds at each of the tables next to us would guarantee a smoke-free evening.
Ten feet away, three perniciously determined nicotine addicts worked their tobacco-stained way through enough Marlboros to make up for every non-smoking diner present.
The Pfarrwirt boasts that it is Vienna’s oldest restaurant. Nestled in an enchanting, cobble-stoned square beside a picturesque church more than seven centuries (!) old, I don’t doubt that it’s true. The whole locale oozes in so much Old-World charm, you want to bundle it up and preserve it on the front cover a Christmas greeting card. Assuming, of course, that you don’t mind if the golden-winged cherubs wishing you “Good Cheer” all have Pall Malls dangling from their pouty, angelic lips.
When you go out to dinner, and particularly when you are entertaining guests from abroad, you really want three things from your restaurant of choice: 1) savory meals (and quality wine) 2) professional staff and; 3) an atmosphere that imbues you with the sense that everything has come together in effortless perfection.
Pfarrwirt achieves the first two of the three. The food was good (not great but good – though the chocolate mousse was great), the wine selection okay, the staff attentive but not overbearing (though when I kindly suggested a smoking/non-smoking button option on the website, our waiter seemed to imply it was my mistake for not mentioning my preference in the “Your message to us” box at the end of the page), but when the place reeks of cigarette stench so stifling that every non-smoking diner feels asphyxiated, no stretch of the imagination can describe the dining experience as “imbuing a sense of effortless perfection coming together.” In fact, if you venture to close your eyes in an attempt to grant them a temporary break from the stinging fumes, rather than the fine aroma of Schnitzel inspiring illusions of a visit to one of the city’s best restaurants, the pestilent odor of Lucky Strikes conjures up images of a fenced-in courtyard of a high-security prison facility. With main courses ranging in price from 12 to 30 Euros, you expect a high quality dining experience that will be impossible for Pfarrwirt to ever achieve as long as it persists in allowing a nicotine haze to permeate its air, penetrate its food, and invariably taint what-could-have-otherwise-been a (positively) memorable experience.
Two out of three ain’t bad, but it ain’t nearly good enough. In fact, in this case, it was highly disappointing.
For a restaurant that once had a smoking section and then decided it was time to go completely smoke-free, check out a local favorite – the Schöne Perle. No, it is not Vienna’s oldest restaurant and it does not look so quaint that it belongs on a Christmas card, but you will be guaranteed good food, good service, and a smoke-free atmosphere. (Reservations recommended). Save room for the Susi Torte for dessert. Decadence embodied. Usually one serving with forks for everyone is the way to go!
Sorry – long time no hear but I swear, I am hard at work with my studies, reading, researching and writing papers. But life mustn’t be all work and no play. So…just for you… some beautiful mementos from a recent hike in Austria’s very gorgeous Hochschwab region.
Spend a weekend at this gem of a guesthouse where the St. Ilgen valley ends and is surrounded by a majestic panorama of mountains: Bodenbauer (http://www.der-bodenbauer.at/der-bodenbauer/anreise).
From there venture up and out into some breathtaking walks, treks, hikes, and climbs.
A short hour-long trek will take you to the lovely Hainzlhuette where cows laze happily in the meadow and the Wirtin will serve you up a very tasty Brettljause and refreshing drinks so you can tank some energy to power onwards.
Further up the mountain about 2 hours straight up from Bodenbauer is the Häuslhuette situated along a route that is better marked than the Hainzerlhuette route (Haeusl Alm website). The Häuslalm is along route 840. Consider downloading maps of the area before you go because the markings aren’t always optimal. And if you are crazy enough to venture up in pounding, stinging rain, dragging your soaking wet body, step-for-step upwards like I did, you might just have a Frodo-like experience that would make the entire effort worthwhile. Cold, rain-beaten, and tired, you might just enter an abandoned-looking hut after the two hour hike that seemed oh so everlong to find an interior filled with the warmth of a wood-burning stove, the scents of homemade grilled Bratwurst, an abundance of drink and an over-bursting of song and merriment. Unbelievable. Not only was the hut busting at its seams with hikers out in that weather (some who climbed over in hail and snow), there was an accordion, an accordion player and a cabin full of beer-mug-swinging Austrians who knew all the lyrics to all the songs he played. Good times were had by all and I may have been mistaken, but I could have sworn there were some hobbits in the corner milking their Barlimann’s Best. Indeed, thank goodness this world has more to offer than work and perfect weather. Life is short, make the best of it!
If the best things in life are free and you should take the time to stop and smell the roses, then you must make you way to Vienna’s Volksgarten lickety-split because the roses are a bloomin’ and it is one gorgeous site to see. Take my word for it and go! Now!
And if you want to be THE romantic hero for the next 5+ years – consider becoming a rose patron for five years and dedicating a rose complete with a personalized message to that special someone in your life. Because let’s face it, such a gift means so much more than a new dust buster or gift certificate for a 30-minute massage. More details about the rose garden, how to get there, and how to dedicate a rose in my previous post: