Friday, January 18, 2019

Day 18: we Vienna

You know you're low on content when you leave the country to get more.

Today: we head to Austria. Vienna's been on our city-break list for a while now, and it turns out you can get a flight for chips in January - because freezing, because madness - but it's no less flipping beautiful for not being able to feel your ears or nose. WHO NEEDS 'EM, EXTREMITIES. 

It was exactly as I imagined: an entire city painted in pastels and so. clean. 

The first thing I did after getting off the plane and checking into the hotel was head to my lunch reservation at Mast. Google Maps showed it to be a brisk 30-minute walk along the river from the hotel, and in all my innocence, I thought, 'Oh, how nice! These bright blue skies, a straight path along the water, a lovely day for a riverwalk!' 


1. As cold as it was on the streets, it was ten times colder with the wind whipping off the water. I was a brittle zombie within seconds but determined. IT IS THE FASTEST WAY I'LL JUST SPEED UP AND WARM UP THAT WAY. The result? Sweating inside my coat while my agonised, frosty ears tried to extract themselves from my physical person. So comfortable, no mixed signals to my body here. This is definitely the right call.

2. Vienna's riverfront, while I'm sure picturesque in the summer - lined with bars and cafes as it was - is a winter-shuttered graffiti stretch in January. The only people on it were me and the street artists:

Don't mind this guy, we've all got work to do.  

Ten minutes along the blustery stretch, having passed two gents crafting away with their cans, a police van slowly crawls by. I stop to watch: will they shoo away the spray painters? Will there be running, chasing, shouting?

NOPE. The police didn't even pause and the graffiti artists kept up their work. It was a beautiful sight. They just businessmen doing they business.

Then I get to Mast, and - my soaking, defrosting person aside (who can stand winter temperature swings??) - it fulfilled every expectation I could've dreamed of. Even though I was technically there during the lunch session, it was late enough they had started dinner prep and they let me order off their evening tasting menu. 

First course: carp brandade, potato, buttermilk

Now normally, this dish - sounding so close to fish pie, and with the presence of the Dread Potato - would've been an instant nooooope for me, but the server insisted - INSISTED, WITH SO MUCH HEART - that it was the best best best. I mean, she LOVED it, youguys. With such pure-hearted enthusiasm, as though she could not possibly imagine a human on the face of the earth who could not also love this. And if there's one thing I can't resist, it's a server who really, genuinely adores a dish and wants you to adore it, too. I buckled, and I'm so glad I did. The sourness of the buttermilk, in contrast with the richness of the carp-and-potato-mash, combined with some sort of salty, crunchy element (what was it?? crispy shallots, maybe?) - OH Y'ALL. It was a delight. 

The second course - greaves dumplings, with spinach, pig trotter stock and cockle - was a no-brainer for me: if there's one thing I love, it's dumplings, and I don't care what's in 'em. Greaves? Don't know what that is, don't care. IT'S IN A DUMPLING, I'll take it. 

(Sidebar: I've since Googled it, and - in Austria, at least - it appears to be the bits leftover after you've rendered the fat from pork meat - aka crispy lardons. Which is exactly what it looked and tasted like, so NAILED IT.)
This was also stupid good, and I slurped the bowl dry. 

This was all I had ordered at this point - after all, I gotta look good at my SIL's wedding celebration in SF next month, I'm tryna keep things reasonable - but after these, I couldn't resist going in for one more course. YOLO, Vienna-style. 

Now at this point, I'm being served by the owner of the restaurant himself, because he's sharing the floor with the sweet server from course one. (This place is small. Did I mention that?) And the mains were so hard to choose between. I was vacillating between the veal tongue with horseradish bread sauce and parsley root, and a lamb belly with artichoke, oyster mushrooms and hollandaise (and tickled pink to see sturgeon with black salsify, THOSE STICKS, also listed). GUESS WHICH ONE I GOT: 

NOT THE STICKS, OBVIOUSLY. I went for the veal tongue. He told me it was his favourite dish at the moment, and much like I capitulated with the carp brandade, I went for it. And lawwwwwd. He was right. That horseradish bread sauce was the perfect pairing with the richness of the meat; it just cut right through it, sassy as you please.

I left, approximately two hours later, sated and lazy and slow as pig trotter stock being poured from a jug onto a dumpling. 

The perfect time to get lost in Vienna. 

Which was exactly what I did. 

Not intentionally, it must be confessed. This was not one of those romantic wanders, let's-see-where-the-lanes-go afternoons. It was me, trying to avoid the river path, while at the same time attempting to save my phone battery until I could get back to the hotel and charge it, and trying to get there by memorising the map's directions and shutting it off.

This was definitely a street I walked down. 

None of it was helped by the fact there was a sweet church on every corner BEGGING for the use of just a *smidge* more of my phone's battery for a photo.

And then I'd try to cross a street, and WHAT IS THAT DOWN THERE. MUST GO DO A LOOK-SEE.

Long story short: the thirty-minute city-street walk home took me at least forty-five minutes - who am I kidding? An hour - what with detours, wrong turns, and enticingly dark alleys. 

This one definitely held lively street urchins in Vienna of yester-year. 

But now I sit, warmed up with a fully-charged phone in the hotel's cafe, working on this blog post before heading out for dinner (at Mochi, one of the many recommendations from Mast that we'll be taking this weekend).

Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow, when Al joins me and we tackle a market, more food, and catch a local friend for a craft-beer pub crawl. Vienna, WHO KNEW.

Esssss x

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Day 17: we Kit Harington


I SAW KIT HARINGTON. In a PLAY. We booked our tickets for obvious reasons, along with approximately 80% of the predominantly female audience:

There was a collective sigh of panty-dropping when Jon Snow entered the stage.

But, funny enough, it was Johnny Flynn, the guy who played his brother (in Sam Shephard's True West) who stole the show. He was HYSTERICAL, had us genuinely laughing through the whole production. We had a really good time; the hours flew.

Also, LOOK HOW CLOSE OUR SEATS WERE. We were caressed by the cigarette smoke; teased by the smell of the toast, near enough to grab; blinded by the glistening sweat on Flynn's bare chest. 

There was just so much to enjoy. 

We left in high spirits from this night of unexpected comedy, and not a little dazzled by the whiteness of Kit Harington's legs. Would def recommend to anybody interested in seeing Jon Snow on this side of the wall. 


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Day 16: we art

YOUGUYS remember last week, on magic day, when Di and I went to that amazing little taxidermy-and-plants cafe and found out they hosted art sessions every Wednesday? WELL WE WENT BACK WITH OUR FRIEND LOTTIE AND DID IT.  

The instructor picked out a stuffed fox for us and then we went renegade and added in a cactus (me) and a horse skull (Di) to create this charming little desert tableaux:

Art is so RELAXING.

I tackled the cactus and the fox, with what I like to think was great success:

The cactus is the one on the left

Di, already a painter in possession of great talent and not a small affection for dead things, went for the horse skull and created a legitimately cool work that the instructor cooed over all session. I'm convinced this was the only reason she let us go over our hour, as no artist in their right mind would've wanted Di to quit in the middle of making this: 

And Lottie, the bravest among us, went straight for that mad fox and created these gems:

I love the transition from Realistic Nocturnal Fox to straight up Crazy Like a Fox. Then, because Fox's myriad natures were well covered, she just whipped out Horse Skull like it wasn't a thing. Sure, Lottie, make it look easy, that's cool. 

The class also came with endless cups of builder's tea, perfectly prepared. If you get to Still Life cafe for no other purpose, come for this tea. It's a POUND, you have no excuse. 

Di took this pic of me last week but I'm pretending it was today because I can bend space and time in my own blog.


Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Day 15: we science

Today's first was VERY brainy of me: I went to a talk at the Royal Institution of Great Britain on 'Mental Health in a Digital Age.' I went with Nat and Nigel, who are of COURSE members and science nerds. This membership is the exact opposite of my own at the British Library. While they attend lectures with names like 'Why Space Itself is Quantum in Nature', I go to exhibits involving cats in books.

Tonight, though, we are all equally excited by the topic. We are ready to find out from leading experts in mental health and technology about how toxic our screentime is.

Science Lives Here, according to their motto. 

The panel of experts takes the stage, and the first one, chair of the Royal College of GP's (that's a thing, right?) starts discussing the NHS mental health plan that just came out. We instantly thought, 'Oh dear, she's missed the whole point of the evening,' and also, 'Is she going to cover all 136 pages?'

Speaker 2 takes the stage, the Chief Technology Officer from the Wellcome Trust. He launches into their own research on how Data is Key to diagnosing and recovery with mental health issues. 

This is when we realise: this is a talk on Mental HeathCARE in a Digital Age. The Ri has click-baited us! 

Speaker 3 - our collective favourite - lives in Vienna and covered the economic cost of mental heathcare in Europe. I just made that sound awful. But it wasn't - she had this slideshow with some mental health tests, as an example of stuff they're rolling out in Austria right now, and it was fascinating

Then they opened it up for questions and immediately an old man in the front row bolted up from his nap and shouted about how he cured his depression by cold water swimming and what's the data on THAT. Speaker 1 attempted to tell of a study involving the effectiveness of cold showers, to which he retorted: 'That's NOT the same thing as what I do.' 

Hilarious stuff.

While not what we expected, it was still an interesting night. They had some wild stats about mental health - apparently 1 in 6 people in Europe have a mental health disorder (Speaker 1 threw out a 40% number for the UK) - and it costs the EU like a zillion dollars a year in care and loss of productivity. 

I wonder if they've thought to drop everyone into bodies of cold water? 

A second first happened on the way home: I accepted candy from a taxi driver! A packet of Haribo Starmix, which I've never had before. Two firsts! Who knew I could've skipped the lecture entirely and just jumped in the right Uber for today's content? 

The night was a success all around. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a phone screen to get back to.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Day 14: we cribbage

You know what's fun? Thinking you're good at math for twenty-five some-odd years and then finding out: YOU CAN'T EVEN PLAY CRIBBAGE.

I thought it was a great idea when a good friend of mine suggested it as a first. After all, it had so many things going for it:

1.  I could play it (relatively) concurrently with our Sci-Fi/Fantasy book club, which met tonight;
2. It involved cards! I love cards, ever since my mother encouraged my sister and I into Spades at age baby;
3. It involved multiples of fifteen!

In hindsight, number three is where I got confused. Fifteen is not five, and I approached this like dominoes. CRIBBAGE IS NOT DOMINOES, Y'ALL: 

Nope. Instead of multiples of five, you get points in cribbage for multiples of 15, or 31, or doubles or runs. In short: shenanigans

The only time I did relatively well was due to luck of the draw. I never counted more than two points myself, while my instructor - #BlessedKaitlyn - helped me with any multiples (cue her patient voice: 'No, that's SIX points, not two"). Needless to say: I was a natural in the first five minutes and a liability in the last.

So let me know if you want to play! Surely all competitors are as helpful as those I was taught by. 

Big love,