Touring NBC Studios

The NBC studio tour had been booked for 11 am this morning 1st January; the studio is part of the Rockefeller Centre, a centre that first opened in 1932. The Rockefeller Centre is huge and that’s an understatement.  It between 48th and 51st Streets and comprises of 19 buildings, as well as NBC studios, it includes a skating rink and Radio City Music Hall. It also has an amazing viewing deck on the 70th floor….not to be missed if you happen to be in New York.  A mini city within a city full of eye-popping architecture and “in your face” bill boards.

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Earlier this morning we moved from our hotel in Times Square to the Beacon Inn on the Upper West Side and, so far, we had managed to stick to our schedule.  This hotel was next to the Beacon Theatre in a residential area with a supermarket, delicatessens and other interesting shops around it. The taxi fare from Times Square to the Upper West side was the princely sum of $7 plus tip, of course!!!   Starbucks was on the next corner which meant a stop at Starbucks for a warming coffee to start the day became mandatory. Although we had been introduced to mochas since arriving in New York, and the mocha was much more conducive to this weather….hmmm, I think we’ll blame Troy for this.

The subway, 72nd St, was a 5 minute stroll away.  Starbucks would be the first stop before the subway.  Coffee ingested now we start the short walk to the subway.  We had to walk past our hotel and at the very moment we were passing the door Troy said “i didn’t put a jumper on and I’m freezing so I’m just going to go upstairs and put one on”.  “How could you forget to put a jumper on?’ I asked as Maryanne shook her head and laughed. I know our rooms are really warm but it’s not easy to forget the chill in the air.  it’s bone aching cold at times..  We all stepped into the foyer of the hotel as Troy headed for the lifts. We’re still standing around 5 minutes later waiting, waiting, Ty stepped outside to get some air because the heat inside was stifling. Another 5 minutes passed……”is he knitting that jumper?'” I mused.  Ty offered to go and find him, “oh no you don’t, you best stay here otherwise you’ll go up in one lift and he’ll walk out of the other lift then we’ll be waiting for you”. By this time we had been waiting more than 15 minutes.  What can that man be doing??

Whilst waiting we discussed the rather large rat standing on the footpath, swaying back and forth, towering over the hotel. “Goodness, where did that come from and why is it there?” I asked Ty, as if he should know everything that goes on in New York.  He didn’t have a clue at all but we concluded it must have something to do with the hotel and not in a good way.  We were still musing over it as I instructed Ty to stand in front of this giant blow up rat so I could take his photo…..yes, it’s the dreaded photo shoot……and wouldn’t you if you were confronted with a giant rat outside your hotel? Of course you would!!!!

After taking the photos  we turned our attention to the doorman, he must know what this rat symbolizes….and he did.  Doormen know everything!!  They need to know what’s going on so they’re able to answer all the crazy questions guests come up with.  He explained, in a very polite manner, and as we had suspected, this was not a good rat, it wasn’t there because rats had been caught on the premises, well, at least not the furry four legged variety.  The hotel was having some building work carried out and the contractor had a couple of workmen that weren’t in the union so work had stopped whilst the union was in negotiation with the contractor and the non-unionist workers.  So the rat stayed, hovering over the hotel entrance like a giant gargoyle, until the dispute was resolved.

Unionist rat

Unionist rat

Suddenly Troy appeared in front of us, out of breath.  “Why are you puffing, did you walk down the stairs instead of taking the lift? “No” he said between bouts of catching his breath “I’ve just rushed down to the subway and back”. I started to laugh saying “Why did you do that, didn’t you see us standing here in the foyer?” “We wouldn’t go to the subway without you, silly person you”. Had to add “i can’t believe you rushed past us and also, Ty had been standing outside”.   How funny but at this moment Troy wasn’t amused because not only had he rushed to the subway, he actually went through the barriers and to the platform looking for us!!!! It had cost him $2.25 and that was his last fare on his travel card.  We all laughed harder at that revelation because Troy wouldn’t top up his card with too much money which meant his balance was teetering on zero after only 2 or 3 subway rides. So to waste $2.25 was a disaster for him.  Troy was good value on this trip, he gave us lots of fun moments, perhaps not according to him but certainly for us.  On this occasion he didn’t disappoint, he was Mr Grumblebum again, but with a smile on his face.  He could see the humour in what he’d done – he was our comedy relief!!!!

More about the subway ticket, now I’ve mentioned it. We were in New York for 6 days so it made sense to purchase the subway ticket for more than 3 or 4 trips.  You could put as much as you wanted on the ticket so Ty put $20 to see how far that would take us. The cost of a one way trip was $2.25 and the ticket could be topped up at an automatic ticket machine or at the ticket window.  There were also a couple of machines that gave the balance of the ticket before you went through the barriers, needless to say Troy gave these a workout. Hmmm, was Troy trying to tell us in a subtle way that he didn’t like travelling on the subway?  No, I think he was just being careful with his money!! The subway is the best way to get around New York, and so easy.  We didn’t travel in peak times so perhaps if we had we might have felt differently about it.

After Troy topped up his ticket again we took the subway to Times Square and strode off in the direction of the Rockefeller Centre.  Not hard to find the entrance for NBC, there is a large awning overhanging the footpath.  We were ushered to an area near the NBC gift shop and were told to step inside the roped area.  “We would need to wait here in our line for 15 minutes” the usher informed us. We dutifully did that.

Eleven am on the dot the rope was moved and we were met by our guide.  After the usual pleasantries our guide instructed us to “Please follow me quietly, this is a working studio and many of the studios we will pass are on air”.  We’re embarking on our NBC studio backstage and behind the scenes tour. We walked down thin corridors with frames of celebrities along the walls, were taken into studios where the guide would point out why a desk might be situated in such a way or what the newsreaders preference might be for the lighting in his studio.  It was very interesting to see newsreaders at work, although I have to admit I didn’t recognize them or know many of the names. We saw several people in a small meeting room and we did recognize 2 of them – their names? Yes, well, we’ll come back to that! Some studios are actually purchased by celebrities such as David Letterman.  Dr Oz (The Dr Oz Show) had purchased one of David Letterman’s studios and had fitted it out to suit his lifestyle show.

The final part of the tour saw us in a small studio where we had our photos taken at the news desk; the four of us look like startled rabbits so you won’t be seeing that pic!!  One of the people in our tour group was chosen to be the newsreader and another was chosen to ad lib the weather in front of a green screen.  We saw costumes, props, auto cue and the control rooms.

Next stop after the NBC tour was the Top of the Rock.  After passing the first checkpoint and having our tickets checked we rounded the corner and there were the conveyor belts, scanners and security staff.  Passing through security is now just expected whenever you enter many of the buildings or theme parks in the US.  I know it’s for everyone’s safety but at times it is a little tedious. That over with we were ushered down another corridor to a lift.  Not being terribly fond of lifts this was a little more daunting for me than others…….it had a see-through roof so as you looked up you could see the sides of the building and the sky as it travelled through the narrow brick channel to the 70th floor.  It also had the words top of the rock and flashing lights popping up intermittently as we sped ever closer to the grey wintry skies of New York.   I hope this thing stops when it’s supposed to. Stepping out of the lift and onto the 70th floor the views were spectacular.  The wind was freezing and the sky showed no hint of blue and a slight mist hanging around but New York City from 70 floors up was still something very special.  There were several other platforms above the 70th floor but we only stepped up one more as the wind was very strong and, if you think the wind chill is bitter at ground level, it was frostbite material up here. Step down to the main viewing area rather than venturing another level was sensible. From Top of the Rock we could see the Empire State Building standing stately amongst the other skyscrapers and we could even see the Statue of Liberty away in the distance.

View of NY

If you thought Central Park was large from ground level you should see it from 70 floors up – it’s a massive piece of real estate, I mean, park. The city  formed around the park  because, we were told, the area that is now Central Park, was an area unsuitable for building on due to rocky outcrops and swamp land. The park covers over 800 square metres and some inclusions are football field, lakes, music bowl, roadways, bike paths, bridges, subways, and so much more.  From Top of the Rock you see it in full….

Misty view of Central Park

2013 has started off the way we aim to continue the year, having a few laughs with good friends and exploring new places.

Dashed hopes of a Boxing Day Sale

Woke up extremely early this morning, obviously still on Eastern Standard Time, way too early for breakfast. Should get up and write but won’t!!! There is a slight breeze blowing the curtains allowing very crisp air to  filter through the open window.  Perhaps it snowed during the night, with that thought I leave the warmth of the bed to peek into the lane to hopefully see a layer of white, no such luck. Instead the scene that greets me is a wet slate roof with mist swirling around the chimney stacks and a silent lane below, an old world wintry scene, but snow would have been better! Oh well, we’re still in beautiful Vienna and perhaps at the Boxing Day sales we’ll snare  a bargain.

After breakfast we wander the streets of Vienna and decide to “do” the touristy things, including riding the Ring tram, a yellow tram specifically for tourists, until the shops open.. Confident the stores would open today I keep checking my watch for the time, don’t want to miss those sales!!! Every city has a Boxing Day sale, don’t they?

Back to the tram if someone is interested in pricing!! The tram cost 7 euros for 30 minutes or 9 euros for 24 hours, naturally we opted for the 24 hour ticket. It works in a similar way to the Hop On Hop Off buses except it’s fully enclosed and only skirts the city area.

Whilst waiting for the tram a young man wandered past looking a little lost. He came back and asked, in a heavy french accent, “do we know where the imperial Hotel is?” Now, I remembered seeing the sign for that hotel on our walk to the tram stop, but my mind was ticking over, where was it? “I think it’s down that way” I replied pointing in the direction he had just come from. Off he strode and as I stood there looking at our surroundings I noticed the imperial Hotel across the road. Oops, better not give any further directions. Although I knew I’d seen the hotel!!!! A short time later the young man walked by again, this time on the phone and heading for the hotel!!!! He didn’t look up as he hurried past us, thank goodness. How embarrassing!!!! Ty was highly amused as my sense of direction is not one of my strong points.  I’m the person who turns the map upside to read it  or has to check the hand my watch is on when I’m told to turn left!!!  Ty wouldn’t let me forget this little mistake…..

It was now after 10.30 am and shops hadn’t opened, except for souvenir shops, so this would be day 3 without shopping! Wasn’t sure I could get through another day without retail therapy. On my first trip to Vienna I’d purchased souvenirs and didn’t feel the need to buy more so I followed Ty and Maryanne into the touristy shops but didn’t make buy, tried on hats, watched others try on hats.

Vienna is a very beautiful city, even in the morning fog and dampness with church spires partly covered by the mist it has lots of charm. Fabulous cake shops and chocolate restaurants are everywhere and the minus temperatures were perfect for imbibing the odd hot chocolate or yummy cake. Fabulous for the waistline a well……..Although one observation made on our wanderings was the Viennese seem to have a fascination with pigs, stuffed toy pigs, meringue pigs, marshmallow pigs, all shapes and sizes of pigs staring out from cake shop windows and street stalls.

cake shop pigs

cake shop pigs

One well-known cake shop/restaurant is Restaurant Sacher and given it was way past lunchtime we decided to combine lunch and afternoon tea. As we turned the corner to the Sacher Hotel we were met by a line of people. The line snaked from inside the hotel  onto the footpath and beyond. Ty suggested we find somewhere else to eat but the line didn’t deter me. Maryanne was also happy to wait in line. We could end up with lunch, afternoon tea and dinner!!! A friend had told us about the Sacher so it was on my list of places to go and I wasn’t going to risk walking away and not making it back.

The line moved quickly and it was soon my turn to step inside the foyer of the restaurant. It was good to be in the warmth, able to defrost at last! Ty and Maryanne still had to wait outside till the line moved forward. Eventually we made it to the front of the queue and before being ushered to our table we had to visit the cloak room to drop off coats, coats, backpacks and other bulky items weren’t allowed in the café. It was 1 euro for each person to retrieve their personal items and everyone had a coat, scarf and earmuffs to deposit!! Once this formality was completed we were shown to our little table in the verandah area. The surroundings were very quaint and quite pleasant even though it was crowded with tables, chairs and people.

As you would expect the hotel is very old world with decor and furnishings to match it’s era, lots of gold etchings on ceilings and walls and Louis 14th style chairs and lounges. Very ornate indeed.

The menu was quite extensive and reasonably priced. The most famous item on their menu is the Sacher Original Torte. Yes, I’d be having a slice of that but first we need to choose a lunch item. Maryanne and I settled on a prawn and smoked salmon dish, Ty chose a prawn salad. A wine waiter came along with the wine list and we duly ordered a glass of Champagne to compliment our dish. When the meal arrived we were pleasantly surprised, it was well presented and not too large, just the right portion size for the women at this table who intended to have dessert. Ty’s dish on the other hand was a little larger with a good amount of prawns. The main meal was delicious, an excellent choice all round.

Whilst sipping wine and eating our delicious meal the line to enter the restaurant had grown considerably longer and the outside temperature was dropping rapidly as the night sky rolled in…..it was only 3 in the afternoon. Still no snow falling.

Hmm, looking too long at the extensive dessert menu could make the choice of what to have extremely difficult, just as well I’d decided on the famous Sacher Torte before I left home….and I’m sticking to my choice. A person has to try it, that’s what they’re famous for.

The Torte arrived positioned in the middle of a large plate dusted with icing sugar and chocolate fancy work. It wasn’t a tiny piece of cake either. Taking up the spoon I slowly scooped a small piece of cake and placed it in my mouth, mmmmm, absolutely divine  melts in your mouth. More cake on the fork this time with a small amount of cream, “oh yes, this is good’ I said to my companions. Maryanne agreed. Ty couldn’t because he had chosen Apple Strudel. Silly person, imagine an amazing array of fabulous cakes on offer and choosing Strudel.

Even the coffee was good, nothing negative to say about the food or customer service and would thoroughly recommend it as a ‘must do’ when visiting Vienna. Certainly don’t be put off by the queues.

When we left the Sacher it was almost dark and only 4 pm, it feels so much later.

We spent the rest of the evening wandering the streets, watching the people milling around the plaza. Being harassed by the touts trying to sell us classical evenings or castle tours. Not interested sorry, we’ve already satisfied our urge (if that’s what we had) for the classics, old world churches and palaces.

We were a little hungry, must be due to the extremely cold weather making our bodies work harder to keep us warm. Hmmm, wonder how long it will take to chomp away at my excess fat, perhaps if I wore less clothes it would work faster and harder. Unfortunately with my luck my body would gain extra padding to keep me warm and not use the fat I have!!!!! Best keep all my extra clothes on.

Even though Wiener Schnitzel was on the menu the first night in Vienna it was time to have it again. Can’t have enough Wiener ……or can you?! We were close to our hotel so rather than head for Figlmuller Restaurant we tried a local place called Wiener World – the name alone should have told us to move on…..we didn’t. Too cold and tired to walk any more blocks we checked the menu outside, looked ok so we stepped in. First impression – it looked tired and old but never judge a book by its cover we allowed the waitress to seat us. Ty chose Schwien schnitzel whilst Maryanne and I went the Wiener. Not a lover of pork really.

A glass of Chardonnay was Maryanne’s choice tipple whilst mine was Sauvignon Blanc. Both can only be described as rough!!!! Ty made a sensible choice opting for Coke zero.

A family of rather large proportions were seated next to us so we became a little worried about the possible portion sizes. Our fears were realised when three large plates were set down in front of us overflowing with large pieces of crumbed veal and chips with a small amount of salad. I was gobsmacked, here sat 2 females, not looking remotely like lumberjacks (or did we in all our winter gear) with a meal in front of us that would have been more suited to Mr Lumberjack just back from a day in the forest. “Hello, hasn’t anyone here heard of portion control?” I wanted to shout out. It was a huge meal!!!! The family beside us also received the same portions which the man of the family demolished before I had time to cut my second bite size piece. My appetite disappeared very quickly after that even though the meat was delicious. I have to say the porker, sorry, the man at our table, my husband, demolished his schwien schnitzel although he ate at a steadier pace than the man next to us!!!! Feeling very guilty about the waste on my plate I had to forgo dessert!!!! A good thing given we only had a hop, step and no jump to our hotel.

So be warned if you visit Vienna – Wiener World is for lumberjacks and people with very large appetites with extremely large appetites, not for gentile folk. It feels a bit like a fast food restaurant inside however, It was a very popular place.

Still a little jet lagged so bed early again tonight. Perhaps the shops will be open tomorrow ‘cos this little duck is starting to suffer withdrawal symptoms………

misty street scene

A camera, a blanket of snow and Central Park

ImageThis morning we had our second photographic tour; around Central Park. It had snowed the day before so the park wore a patchy blanket of snow. It was one of those “aaahhh” moments for me even though it was freezing – it was so pretty.

To join our tour we took the Subway from 50th St to Central Park, the red line going uptown (for those contemplating a trip to NY). The NY subway is fast, frequent and interesting. More subway stories later though. It was only one stop to 59th St and a short walk to where we were meeting Troy and Maryanne. We were early so took the opportunity to take a few photos of our surroundings whilst being hassled intermittently by Pedi cab drivers wanting to take us around the park. One in particular kept coming by and asking if we wanted a ride, we laughed and told him he must have a memory issue as there weren’t that many people here at 9.30am on a bitterly cold morning and he’d already asked us 2 minutes ago! I suppose he thought if he kept asking we’d eventually give in.

Four squirrels were out playing in the snow and only stopped moving if a dog wandered past. A dog walker with 10 pooches of varying sizes passed by and we were amazed at how well behaved the dogs were, all walking in unison, no arguments or nipping at each other’s heels. On the other side a little dog walked by wearing a lovely beige overcoat and little bright orange booties…..it walked very gingerly lifting each foot in an exaggerated fashion; obviously the booties were not an accessory this pooch had chosen.

Maryanne and Troy arrived at our meeting point and we continued on to General Sherman’s statue at the other end of the park to meet Rob, our photo tour guide. Rob was lucky enough to be our guide 2 days in a row…..he mightn’t think he was lucky though. The Central Park tour was a 3 hour walking tour with lots of different subject matter to photograph with Rob critiquing all our camera work. He took us through the manual settings of each of our cameras and told us the best settings to use for each subject. The winter park scene was quite spectacular as I’m sure the summer scene would be with all the greenery. The park is quite amazing with bridges and arches, sporting complexes, a bandstand and many walkways. The lakes and water features also presented a pretty winter scene. There were underpasses with buskers playing, one archway had a choir singing Christmas carols. The park was man made, is still evolving and spans a massive area. We walked through many areas of the park to photograph set subjects, even though it felt like we’d walked the entire park we had hardly touched a small portion of it. We started at general Sherman’s statue on one side and ended the tour across from the Dakota Building. A small square section of the park, I think….as most of you would be aware, direction is not my strong point….so I couldn’t tell you whether we were on the North, South, East or West side of the park….sorry about that!!!

Rob, our guide, wore jeans and a light hooded jacket, no gloves or scarf so by the end of the tour his hands were shaking and his voice was affected by the bitter cold. We were wearing that many sets of clothing it was hard to walk at times and here was our guide dressed for a cool autumn day. The question had to be asked “Aren’t you cold? It’s freezing and you’re hardly wearing any clothes.” The answer “it’s difficult to be rugged up with gloves and scarves when I have to help with camera settings and take us through the instruction book”. We all nodded in acceptance of his answer. Each one of us thinking the same thing…we’d find a good reason to stay indoors!! Even though the skies were blue and the sun was shining it was still extremely cold but we were thankful it wasn’t raining or snowing like yesterday.

After the tour four frozen and hungry individuals made a b-line for the Time Warner shopping centre. The eateries on the lower level were overflowing with people so we headed upstairs to the 2nd level and were lucky enough to nab a table. Well, should say we hovered over a table where a young guy was packing up his books. Maryanne and I stood close enough to ensure we could claim the table ahead of any other contenders. Yes, it was like a game of sorts and after walking for the past 4 hours we were entitled to that table and the seats!!!! I was ready to tackle anyone who dared try and take it from us.

Maryanne ordered soup for lunch and when, after a long wait, opened the container only to find it was lukewarm, we talked her into taking it back and asking them to reheat it…..Yes, I know what you’re thinking but no one can eat lukewarm soup. When the soup came back it was boiling, we thought they may have made it even hotter on purpose!! Tables and chairs were so much in demand that just looking like you were getting up had others rushing over to take your place. The saying ‘would you jump into my grave as quickly’ comes to mind.

Maryanne and Troy transferred to the Crowne Plaza (where we were) this afternoon which meant a couple of hours relaxation time for us whilst we waited for them. Once they checked in Troy wanted to visit the M&M store across the road so three of us trotted over to the store. Can you believe it – we had to line up further up the road, “this is mad, I can’t believe I’m lining up to enter an M&M store” I laughingly said to my companions, “I don’t even like M&M’s particularly”. I was amused at the lines to get into the Hershey chocolate store at the corner of our hotel now I’m standing in a similar line!!! The store is 3 floors and was packed with people, we could hardly move, troy likened it to an Ikea store!!! Perhaps that was because we were walking round in circles or so it seemed. Given we were in the store I felt compelled to purchase a small bag of M&M’s, I don’t even like them that much but after lining up to get into the store and then fighting the crowds on every floor of the store I couldn’t leave empty handed could I??

As we left the store the numbers of people on the street had increased considerably and it wasn’t NYE yet. That evening we left our hotel to go to dinner….we’d decided something light was in order for dinner…..ok, where to go? We headed to the other side of Times Square to see what was on offer but we could hardly move for people. Every eatery was jammed with people; McDonald’s had crowds lined up on the street trying to get in and inside was a sea of people. There was no choice but to keep walking, further and further from Times Square, trying to find a place that wasn’t packed to the hilt. Eventually, after an hour of walking, we came across Rosie O’Grady’s and it wasn’t as busy as other places so we went in. Within 10 minutes we were seated at a table ordering drinks….

Troy seemed to have a disarming effect on the waitress, so much so she couldn’t think straight; instead of bringing more drinks she brought another basket of bread rolls. Eventually his glass of wine arrived in front of him. We thought we might order dessert so asked the waitress for the dessert menu. A short time later the waitress arrived with every dessert available on a large tray. We all took one look and I decided against it, seeing large dishes like that will always dampen my appetite.

All too soon it was time to step back out into the cold night not before we take another 10 minutes to put all our scarves, ear muffs, hats, coats and gloves back on. Takes ages to undress and redress when you step into shops or restaurants. Needless to say and I know this will shock everyone, I haven’t purchased any clothing at all…..nothing, nil, zilch!!! The thought of taking off all these clothes to try on other clothes then put them all back on again fills me with horror. Actually, since arriving in New York I haven’t bought much of anything, including souvenirs. Note to self; must rectify this problem.

Stepping back out into the street the bitter wind hits us in the face, so icy anyone would think we’re in the arctic. The crowd on the streets has thickened considerably since we went into the restaurant, my goodness, if this is the day before NYE NY will be at a standstill around this area tomorrow night. We have to push ourselves through the crowds to get back to our hotel on Times Square. This many people in this small area is a little scary.

Finally we make it to the front door of our hotel….it’s almost 10 pm and we left the eatery around 9 pm, almost an hour to walk 3 or 4 blocks. How mad is that? So far I’m really enjoying this city, it’s a great place, so much to do and see. Right now though, it’s time to get warm and go to bed ready for another very busy day and night tomorrow. Hopefully I will sleep longer than 4 hours – still waking up at 3.30 or 4 am which, as you can imagine, is really annoying.

Goodnight from me……happy New Year to everyone welcoming the New Year before we do.

A Misty Christmas Day in Vienna

Wide awake at 3.30am, pitch black outside.  No snow but a thick, eerie, mist hung low over the buildings and the lane way below shrouding the lamp posts like a scene from a thriller movie.  A mobile beeped in the silence, it’s mine!!  Checked my phone, as quietly as possible, don’t want to wake Ty. Messages of Merry Christmas coming in from family and friends, replied to them all then tried to sleep again.

Woke again at 6am, Ty was also awake so we exchanged Christmas presents.  Felt a bit like being a child again waking up early in anticipation of the gifts Santa had left, except this time we knew the gifts we’d bought each other…..organised as usual!!  Although I had purchased Ty two books that weighed heavily in my bag, it was so good to pass them over to him.

The three of us met for breakfast in the little hotel dining room, with decor befitting Vienna and the Hapsburg connection. Oh, and we shouldn’t forget Strauss, Mozart and classical music connection.  The entire hotel was styled with features and furniture from 17th and 18th century such as pictures in thick gold frames of the Hapsburg royal family, gold edgings on doors and walls, classical chairs and lounges. The Hotel does say in its spiel that it was an old Baroque palace so it looked exactly as I expected.  It was certainly centrally located with all attractions within easy walking distance.

This morning we attended the Christmas Day service at St Stephans’s cathedral, an amazing structure inside and out.  The service was crowded and the fashions were equally amazing.  All manner of winter hats, coats and boots!  St Stephan’s has massive ceilings and ornate carvings on its pillars, the pews are also ornately carved.  As you would expect, the service was very theatrical, a Cardinal said the mass and the choir wore black and a full orchestra was also dressed in black.  The service started at 10.15am luckily we arrived 20 minutes before so we managed to snare a seat for the service.  Seating was at a premium and if someone left their seat to wander closer to the altar to take a photo someone would quickly jump in. The service was still hadn’t concluded at 12 noon so we decided to leave, we were heading to Schonbrunn Palace for a tour and Christmas Markets.  Sitting for so long in the cold environs of the cathedral our feet and legs were frozen which made it hard to walk.  The freezing weather also caught us as we stepped out the massive doors.  It was -3 degrees with the mist still hanging around us.  The Christmas decorations in the streets and shops sparkle and twinkle even in the mist. It makes for a very pretty scene even though there is no snow!!!!  If you’re in Vienna on Christmas day I would highly recommend attending a Mass, no matter what denomination you are.

The U-bahn was the quickest and easiest way to reach Schonbrunn Palace, line 4, which for us was no more than a 10 minute walk from our Hotel on Annagasse Strase and then 6 stops at a cost of 2 euros. The mist was starting to dissipate as we stepped through the gates of the Palace. The scene in front of us was one of a long building with a very large Christmas tree front and centre with brightly lit market huts spread out around the main quadrangle.  At the entrance gates and across the road were patchy remnants of the snow that had been falling up until 4 days ago.  It had rained since then so most of the snow had disappeared.  Typical, it must have known I was visiting and looking forward to a white Christmas. No such luck this year.

By the time we arrived at the Palace it was close to 2pm and time for lunch.  There is a café in the grounds called the Residenz Café which was our first stop.  Lunch menu was extensive, service was quick and friendly, the food was good.  After eating it was time to swap our prepaid tour pass for tickets to gain access to the palace rooms.  As sometimes happens I knew we had received the prepaid pass but couldn’t find it… wasn’t in the folder with the other passes.  Couldn’t work out where it had gone or how I could have lost it.  Ty said “It’s not the end of the world; we’ll just pay for the tour again.” “I suppose so” I replied absentmindedly as I tried to think where it could have gone.  Even though we were resigned to paying the entrance fee again I still made mention how we had purchased a package but now I didn’t have the palace tour pass, the customer service rep took the folder, opened it and pulled out the pass….it had been stuck to another one!!  What a dummy I am sometimes!!

The tour was interesting, although I’ve toured a number of palaces and castles on my travels and, although it had a number of wow factors, it wasn’t any more impressive than Versailles near Paris or Neuschwanstein castle Bavaria.  The curators of Schonbrunn don’t allow photography in any of the rooms on show to the public whereas other Palaces do.  I understand the reasoning behind this, of course there are always those of us who ignore rules and try to take furtive photos…the people taking sneaky photos at Schonbrunn weren’t too smart – they were using the flash on their camera thereby alerting everyone to what they were doing !!!

As usual when crowds of people are visiting these popular attractions the rude side of human nature often appears.  There was certainly no shortage of this behaviour today.   The lines were quite lengthy to pass through the ticket checkpoints and groups of individuals walked up past the lines and pushed their way in, some did it blatantly whilst others just slowly moved over in front as if they’d been there the whole time.  Aussies are a fairly easy going bunch and, for the most part, we tend to join the back of the queue and wait our turn.   Not so some other cultures that don’t appear to see the queue at all.   As we moved closer to the turnstiles more people were rushing up and pushing past including those with strollers so Ty became our backstop so we didn’t get hit in the legs with strollers or pushed aside by others.  Porky husbands with backpacks come in handy in these types of situations!!!!

The grounds and gardens are huge, of course there are no flowers in sight but none were expected given its winter.  There is some snow in patches around the lawns and in between pockets of trees.  Snow sits on tree branches in the mist giving that wintery look.  A squirrel suddenly runs by, stops to look at us, obviously wondering whether we have food he comes a little closer, and then darts off.  Poor thing, he probably can’t find where he buried his acorns in readiness for winter – was going to say ‘where he buried his nuts’ but thought better of it!! Take a few photos then head back around to the front of the palace.

We wandered around the Christmas market stalls, of course, I had to purchase a Christmas ornament; one can’t walk around a market without buying something!!!  Time to go back to the hotel, it’s getting dark and it’s only 3.30pm plus the temperature is dropping again – 3 degrees today.   Our dinner reservation is for 6.30pm back at the Orangerie in the palace grounds, with the concert commencing at 8pm.  It’s so easy to forget that it is mid-afternoon and almost dark. No wonder our body clocks are finding it hard to adapt!!!!

The subway system is very fast and we’re back at out hotel in no time at all.  Plenty of time to shower, change and try to make myself presentable for the evening out. Rather than take the subway dressed in our “finery” we opt for a taxi…..17 euro and  a 15 minute drive from centre of Vienna has us at the palace 6pm – half an hour early which turns out to be a good thing considering what happens next.

As we’re early we take a few more photos of the palace and the stalls.  People are still pouring in the gates. We then amble across to the restaurant, damn, we’re still early, we hover in the foyer area not wanting to appear too eager. It’s now quarter past 6, “may as well go in” I say “no point in standing around here any longer”. Upon entering the Restaurant the maître D takes our name and looks up the register then comes back and says “You will be seated in the TGF (can’t say even say the whole name let alone write it here) for your meal” we look at her quizzically, “Where?”  “In the Orangerie” The woman very kindly gave us directions, which sounded helpful at the time but weren’t really.  We found the Orangerie and the concert hall – that was easy – finding the restaurant was not.  We could see people dining in a room near the concert hall but couldn’t access it, was this the place we were supposed to be anyway?.  We weren’t the only ones confused; several other couples were also wandering around aimlessly. We found an access door so we went in….it lead into the main area of the Orangerie but still no dining area.  Ah, an attendant, let’s ask him.  So we did, he sent us back outside, turn right head to the other end of the building turn right again, pass a restaurant/bar, take another right and you will enter the TGF.  Off we went….it was now 6.30pm.  It was also freezing outside. As we hurried past the exterior of the palace buildings and reached the bar/restaurant Ty became a little annoyed or perhaps agitated night be a more apt description because we were back at the area where we had first entered the gates of the Orangerie.  We had walked in a very large square – can’t call it a circle ‘cos it wasn’t!!!  Another couple that were ahead of us doing the same lap had disappeared.  “Hmm, perhaps we need to try these doors”  I said to a now frustrated and angry Ty. “We tried them before and couldn’t get in” he replied.  “Not those doors” I said, “ these over here on the side”   “We’ve already been in there, it’s an empty room” Ty mentioned more to himself because I stepped inside and saw a row of coats hanging up, as we walked past those we noticed a door into a dining area.  In we strode, Ty leading the way, wrong end of the room, of course, so everyone in the room looked up as we passed their table, We were now 15 minutes late and instead of slipping in through the front entrance and slinking quietly to our table we had to walk the length of the room so everyone was aware we were late.   As is usual in these circumstances our table was just inside the main entrance so if we entered through the correct door no one would have noticed us!!!

We weren’t too late because people were still being served their soup.  As we sat down the waitress was asking what we wanted to drink, I suppose this is to be expected as there was now only 45 minutes until we were to take our seats for the Recital. The wine arrived at the same time as the soup, obviously a set menu as we weren’t given a choice of meal.  The soup was a little like chicken noodle soup, not too bad really. Main course was set down in front of us, a slice of boiled beef, potato fritter, 2 small slices of carrot, what we discovered were beans floating in a white garlic sauce and some small slices of what we think was squash.  The potato fritter was very nice but the beef had no taste except to say it tasted like it had been in water for quite some time.  Needless to say, as most of you who know me won’t be surprised; I ate the potato fritter and a small portion of the beef.  Ty ate the most and Maryanne ate marginally more than me.  Hmm, that sounds like the  start of a maths question the teacher might give you……if three people had this much food on their plate and one ate all the fritters, one at fritter and half the meat, how much did the other person eat? Yes, yes, I  know, probably sounds like a silly maths question but I was never good at maths anyway so you can’t expect me to write a sensible mathematical problem!!!!

After the main they served dessert, we had already taken bets on what that would be, we were partly right.  It was Strudel but not apple strudel…it was like a sultana strudel…in a very thin pastry.  Ty ate most of his, we picked at it.  Just as well we had the wine!!!   It was time to move to the Recital Hall.  The line was already quite long for entry to the seating area.  We took up our seats in the first row…we had VIP seating. The tour of the palace, the ‘dinner” and the Recital were part of a package purchased several months ago. It was quite reasonable but if you’re visiting Vienna and want to take in the Recital at the Palace I wouldn’t suggest taking the dinner option, unless you like your beef boiled to such an extent it tastes like water and no amount of sauce will improve it. I know that boiled beef is a Viennese staple but so is Weiner Schnitzel – perhaps it  could be served as a 2nd choice in future.  Chocolate Torte could also have been the 2nd course for dessert for those that don’t particularly like fruit strudel. Just a suggestion in case the event coordinator of the dinner/recital package reads this.

The recital wasn’t too bad at all.  It had the orchestra, of course, a male and female opera singer and ballet dancers. It was light entertainment with some comedy thrown in.  The orchestra rose after each number to bow and the conductor shook the hand of the lead violinist after each number as well. That amused us a little but perhaps that’s the protocol for these types of recitals.

Sitting in the same row as us were a couple of Australian girls, as they sat down one of them proceeded to take her boots off so the rest of us could enjoy the not so good aroma of smelly feet.  Quite rude and lacking respect is what we thought; this girl wasn’t in her private lounge room.  I wonder what the orchestra and the dancers thought when they saw her bulky tan woolly socks staring at them from the front row.

Just before interval we all started to fade a little, you know what I mean, when that wave of tiredness hits you and you have to do all in your power not it let it envelop you. Ah, how good it would be to put your head down on something soft and sleep or not even something soft, just close your eyes and let you head sway back and forth!!!  Not a good look especially if you have a habit of dribbling in your sleep! Not me…..wouldn’t do that but I have seen others do it when I was commuting by train.  We daren’t look at each other else we’d all be yawning so leaving our seats at intervals was a good move.  Wine was on offer however in the best interests of staying awake I chose orange juice, warm orange juice at that.  One thing about many European countries is they don’t refrigerate all their drinks including milk.

CD;s were also given to the VIP seats, a nice gesture but given the fact my bags was already bursting I felt this cd and its case could cause me to rethink a future purchase and that would be earthshattering for me.  It’s been almost 3 days and I haven’t been near a shopping centre or a store. Oh and airport stores don’t count!!!

We’ve finished our drinks and the little bell has rang several times heralding the second part of the recital…in we file, hopefully the overwhelming tiredness has left us at least for the next hour and a half.. Orchestra takes their seat, conductor bounces up the stairs to his dais and music once again fills the room.  Yes, in case you’re wondering, the girl two up still has her boots off and every so often the aroma of smelly feet wafts around us. We settle into our chairs and out dance the opera singers, certainly can’t sleep through their arias……

Oh no, here it comes again, the ballet dancers are doing their thing but I can feel my eyes closing, no, not again, don’t do this, don’t blink or I’m sure I’ll nod off. Great, just at this moment the music stops and everyone starts to applaud – I’m awake again!!  The concert is good but the jetlag is more persistent so could the concert please finish sooner rather than later? It’s over, all the artists have stepped onto the dais, curtseys and bows follow, audience is in raptures and applauds long and loud, asking for more, oh no, please, no more, bed is calling.  The conductor leaves the stage, smiling broadly and applauding the orchestra and the audience.  The orchestra is heading for the back of the stage….it’s over. Leaving the concert hall took some time due to the hallway leading to the exit doors was extremely narrow.  When we stepped out into the freezing night we suddenly woke up….funny how the bitter cold does that to a person.  Next challenge was finding an available taxi and that wasn’t going to be easy, there were quite a lot of people wandering up and down the road waiting for a taxi.  We stood in a line for about 10 minutes, I looked across at the subway and said “why don’t we just take a train it will be quicker than a taxi?”  The train arrived within 2 minutes and we were inside our hotel within 15 minutes.  Subway in Vienna is fast, runs regularly every few minutes and is safe.

A very different but enjoyable Christmas Day, no snow unfortunately, so no white Christmas, perhaps we’ll have snow in New York  for New !!

Schonbrunn Palace