Monday, April 21, 2014

Sweets From The Swiss

I've decided that life is a teeny tiny bit sweeter in Switzerland.


It's the chocolate, of course.  And a little more than that.

We spent Spring Break and Easter in Zurich with my brother-in-law Mark.  After nearly 35 years of teaching at the private school where he was once a student, Mark retires in June.  Congratulations!  We spent part of the trip walking down memory lane, since Zurich was one of the stops in the ex-pat life of my husband's family.


After a post in Italy, my Father-in-law was assigned to Zurich.  Over the years, my in-laws (Vern and Mary Lou) would speak with great fondness about their time in Italy and Switzerland.  We stopped by Vern's mid-mod office building and the family home, which was at the top of Mary Lou's favorites.

Mid-Mod in Zurich

A Proud Son Remembering Dad's Office

Family Home

Johnson Boys in da Hood
 After the family tour, I gained 3.8 lbs. in the chocolate shops.  Mark literally lives across the railroad tracks and up the hill from the Lindt & Sprüngli Chocolate Factory.  Established in Zurich in 1845, this chocolate and confectionary company has 6 factories across Europe and the USA and also owns Ghiradelli.  Mark says he has never visited (um, REALLY?!), so I felt compelled to make up for lost time.  Of course, there was both an Outlet Store and Easter Market at the Factory.  I followed the path of large gold bunnies and found a slice of chocolate heaven behind an unassuming blue door.  

 I also found my favorite section of the Outlet, reject bags filled with assorted flavors.  Note the shelf tag stating "Slight deviations from original recipes/quality"  Hell, even if they bounced off the floor, I'll take the discount.

At Läderach Chocolatier Suisse, I went from discount to diva at their Bahnhofstrasse store.  Zurich's Bahnhofstrasse is home to the world's most exclusive shopping district.  Amen.  I managed to snap a pic of the store where Oprah was declined an opportunity to handle a 35,000 Swiss franc crocodile handbag.  Everyone is sorry now.

I Don't Think Photos are Welcome
The lines at Läderach were almost out the door.  This company started in 1926 and has a variety of chocolate products, but the main attraction is the FrischSchoggi or slabs of assorted chocolate bark.  The praline counter was devoid of customers in comparison.  Frankly, to hell with pralines, I am now addicted to this particular form of "chocolate bliss".

 As if we need another reason to return to Zurich, Mark invited us back for the outdoor flea market that runs from May through October.  I've got a few pounds to lose first.  Ah, the sweet life. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What's an Easter Market?

Today I boarded a train to Bratislava with an eager 9 year old in search of an Easter Market.  He was fueled up after 2 donuts and I had my Starbucks latte.  All was right with the world as we made it to the train on time and settled in for the less than an hour ride from Vienna to Bratislava.  The sun was peeking through the clouds and the day was full of promise.

Until the sugar wore off.

As we pulled into Bratislava, the winds picked up, but we were not deterred.  With our mission in mind, we made our way from the train station to the old town.  I had fond memories of the Bratislava Christmas Market, the beautiful handcrafts, food and drink stands.....oh happy times.  I had been spinning tales of how the Easter Market would be much of the same, except the beautiful ornaments would be replaced by hand painted eggs and local Easter candies.

Until we arrived at the Old Town Square.

By this time, rain had arrived and our umbrella was safe and dry at home in Vienna.  Maybe we were in the wrong square and if we wandered around the Easter Market would appear!  No such luck.  I even ducked into a coffee shop to ask directions and the lovely woman at the counter had to Google "Easter Market" to figure out what I was asking about.  This is always a bad sign.  Apparently, the Bratislava Easter Market is only during the weekend before Easter.

By now we were soaked and hungry and far enough away from the train station to really feel miserable.

Until we spied a vintage shop.

After a brief visit, we made our way to lunch.  Unfortunately, the rain grew stronger as we headed back to the train station for our return trip.

Until we found a market with an Easter decoration.  A Bratislava Easter Market.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Finders Keepers

Welcome to this first installment of Finders Keepers.  Friends know that I like to hang out at flea markets and vintage stores.  I've cajoled many of them into joining me for such outings whether they liked it or not.  Since moving to Vienna, I've spent time exploring and being overwhelmed at the sheer number of antique stores and vintage shops.  While the Inner Stadt antique stores are beautiful to look at, the price point is beyond what I'm able to spend.  I seriously doubt any dealer will negotiate the thousands of euros into my desired range.  So I've started circling back to a few of the places where quality, selection and price through negotiation fit the pocketbook nicely.  Yes, I'm starting to buy.

Of course, it is hard to pass up so many beautiful things, so I take a photo here and there.  Maybe the piece will be on sale eventually or maybe you will see something here and say "I must I have that!" just let me know-where there's a will, we will find a way.  If you are local and have a "wish list" I'll scout for you, consult on a find or show you my favorite stores.  For now, I'm happy to share the treasures and my purchases here on Finders Keepers.



Sunday, April 6, 2014

Bicycles and Bunnies

After Church on Sunday we wandered toward the commotion at the Rathaus and discovered a bicycle festival.  Bicyclists here have their own lanes and are one notch above pedestrians on the shared paths.  They ring their bells at the unsuspecting, causing one to jump out of the way in fear, as they whiz by with attitude.  This orderly chaos seems to work, but I have witnessed games of chicken "Austrian style" (zero eye contact) between cyclists and pedestrians.  Yesterday, the bikes took to the air and took over the Ringstrasse.  No trams, no cars, only bikes and people powered scooters.  Oh and 9 year old boys marveling at the empty roadway.

After the bike fest, we made our way into the Easter markets.  With memories of Christmas markets faded, we strolled the displays of hand painted eggs, spring time decorations, crafts, flowers and (of course) snacks.  We hopped along the bunny trail until the pouring rains arrived.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Otto and Frank

I was supposed to be cleaning, so I escaped for a visit to the Postparkasse.  Architect Otto Wagner won the design competition to build this institution following the significant growth in the Austrian banking system.  In a nutshell, by the late 1800s Georg Coch developed a system of banking through Post Offices to appeal to small savers and a wide geographic network.  He then developed the concept of cashless transfers between accounts, or checking.  The main banking facilities were housed in and around Vienna's 1st District and the conditions were less than desirable for customers and workers, hence the competition to design and construct the new bank building.

Wagner's building opened in 1906.  Not everyone likes this design (then and now).  In the way back years of his association with the Secessionist movement, Wagner's work was considered avant garde and in stark contrast to the romanticism and historiches design preferred by many in the Empire.  With the construction of this building, Wagner's neoclassic and art nouveau design evolved into modernism.  How do I know this?  Well, for 6 euros you can tour the Otto Wagner museum in the back of the bank.

What is interesting to me is the similarity between Wagner and another of my favorite architects, Frank Lloyd Wright.  Perhaps there are scholarly works in existence about parallels between these two, I have yet to ask Dr. Google.  Wright visited Vienna during a trip to Europe in 1909-1910, after the Secessionist movement was already in decline and Wright was in a career transition.   Both Wagner and Wright were innovative in their designs and execution of architecture, right down to the creation of interior elements like furniture.

I decided to recreate two of the original photos on display.  This was a nerve wracking mission because I was essentially alone in the building, except for some security staff who appeared ready to yell at me for breaking some rule I couldn't possibly know I was breaking.

Otto Wagner also entered the competition for the design of the War Department building, located directly across the Ringstrasse from the Postparkasse.  The museum has the following display of his submission.

Unfortunately, he did not win the commission and this is what you see across from Wagner's modernist building.

This is the dichotomy of architecture in Vienna.  Sadly, many of Wagner's visionary projects for Vienna were never built.  My good fortune is the ability to find and photograph what exists today.  Can you tell I'm a fan?

Update:  I did find this scholarly work which asserts that Wright's European trip had more influence on his design evolution than Wright had on his European contemporaries.  Amazon link to the book is  here.