> Austria

Amanda, Lisa, and I finally managed another ski trip - five days of skiing in the Austrian Alps, followed by a few days of sightseeing in Vienna (sadly, Amanda had to go back to work, so she couldn't come to Vienna). The three of us, along with Amanda's boyfriend Christof, all met up in Munich on December 31 and spent New Years at a semi-outdoor music festival called Tollwood. Think giant tents with live bands and bars, all plunked down in an icy square somewhere in the middle of Munich, complete with an awe-inspiring array of fireworks (anything that didn't require a cannon to shoot it off, as best I could tell) set off by not-so-sober revelers. Best drink of the evening: heisse amaretto, or hot amaretto with whipped cream. The following day, Lisa, Amanda, and I (and clothes that stank of fireworks chemicals) set off in a mild snowstorm for Obergurgl, a small town at the end of a valley near Innsbruck and the Italian border. We stayed at a nice little pension called Fr├╝hst├╝ckspension Timmelseck, where our enormous amount of luggage and occasional tourist ineptitude greatly amused the proprietress. Our first two days, the visibility was nonexistant due to snow and fog, but the fabulous powder and first tracks more or less made up for that, especially when the sun finally appeared on day 3. True to form, we ate well. Lisa managed to pick a fantastic Italian restaurant in Solden, where we - despite being totally landlocked and nowhere near the ocean - ate some of the best mussels I've ever tasted. Our last night, we went all out and did fondue at a restaurant that turned out to be located in a part of town we hadn't realized existed. Incidentally, on the very long, cold walk to the restaurant, we passed a beautiful Nativity scene sculpted out of ice. Anyway, the fondue was astonishing: so much food that our bread and wine didn't even fit on the substantial four-person table. We had a pot of hot oil to cook chunks of pork, turkey, beef, and frankfurter (don't ask, they were ubiquitous, I was dying for weisswurst the whole trip), as well as mushrooms and various pickled veggies. We also received three large baked potatoes and a huge pile of french fries on a warming plate, a variety of dipping sauces on a lazy susan below the oil pot, more sauces for the potatoes, white and rye bread, salad, and a fruit platter for dessert. Note: the entire feast took place under the watchful eye of a stuffed owl (who was glaring right at me) and several other large taxidermied creatures, including marmots with bad teeth. It was an experience. The next day Lisa and I continued to Vienna for some culture: jewels, court robes, and a hefty dose of European history at the Hofburg treasury; modern art at the MUMOK (the Viennese performance art videos were downright disturbing); ballet (a loose interpretation of Shakespear's As You Like It) at the beautiful State Opera House; and astonishingly ornate decor at the Schonbrunn Palace. Then there was the cake - so much, so good, we kept eating it for dinner. The Sacher Cafe, home of the famous Sacher torte, disappointed us (so-so Sacher torte, inferior topfenstrudel, lousy ambiance), but the cakes at Demel (a rich chocolate-hazelnut ganache confection and a lighter, not-exactly-apple-strudel) were glorious, and I quite enjoyed the other apple strudels we found along the way. I couldn't resist the excellent, rich Viennese coffee, either. If I had one regret about the trip, it was that so much of Vienna seemed to cry out for summer. The statues at the Schonbrunn Palace were shrouded for the winter, it was too cold to make a picnic of the delicacies at the Naschmarkt (a fantastic food market near several examples of Jugendstil buildings), and the gardens of the heuriges (small, mostly-locals taverns that serve tapas-like food and very young wines) looked like they would have been so inviting if the vines had leaves and the courtyards didn't have snow. But the food at the heurige we went to - roasted pork, cold-cut ham, cheese, sweet little peppers stuffed with cream cheese - was simple and good, and the wine was better than we expected (the guidebook warned about vinegary overtones) and place was well-heated, and we were obviously the only tourists in the place. I was pretty happy to be there.

The Alps!
More Alps!
Hut on a Peak
Subzero Sunbathing
Ski Break
Yay powder!
A Church in a Little Square
Old and New
Old Town at Night
The Secession
The Secession
Jugendstil Apartments
Jugendstil Apartments
The Icing on the Fountain
The Glorietta
Avenue of Trees