Thursday, 27 December 2012

...Europe (The Last Suppers)

A snowy Prague
Another day, another sodding Christmas market. Finn swore it was the last one in - where was it? Bratislava? Vienna? Budapest? Who knows? We're moving so quickly through European capitals that they are becoming a blur of twinkly lights, crooning versions of Christmas songs and the aforementioned markets. Anyway, the last market in wherever it was was 'the last one'. But it's sooooo cold and our stomachs, immune to Christmas overload, are crying out for meat and gluhwein. Well at least we're in the right places then. Prague fed us smokey 'old-Prague ham', in Budapest we had potato dumplings with sausage and doughy pancakes with cheese and ham (and Finn got his hands warmed by the overly friendly waitress), and in Bratislava we munched down fried potato cakes smothered with sour sheep's cheese. The Christmas markets in these cities have given us the opportunity to try local specialities (I use that word loosely but there were lots of locals eating at them too), warmed us up and saved us money.

A sign in the Christmas market
It was only in Vienna where we fought back. Mainly because it was this-has-gone-beyond-a-joke cold, we simply had to get indoors and warm up. We made our way to Hotel Sacher and joined the queue of other tourists (an elderly English gent in tweed seemed rather disappointed when he discovered that there wasn't a local to be seen there). Hotel Sacher prides itself on reproducing Sacher-torte to the original recipe which was created in 1832 by a 16 year old apprentice chef for Terribly Important People. The Sacher-torte is essentially a chocolate cake sandwiched together with apricot jam and covered in chocolate icing. We ordered a wedge of the stuff which arrived with cream. It is a lovely cake - baked perfectly. However, I found it to be a little too perfect and not very exciting. Which is how I could sum up my feelings about Vienna really. I would be happier with a Sara Lee chocolate gatuax (and richer for it). I guess by that reckoning I'd also be happier having a weekend in Blackpool than in Vienna.

Coming back into Eastern and Central Europe we have been shocked by the endless glowing signs advertising Tescos, McDonalds, KFC, Starbucks, Subway... The usual suspects. I hadn't realised it before but Italy really has done a good job of fighting them off. Thankfully, the smaller capitals we've visited seem to be alive with independent coffee shops. Bratislava in particular had some lovely places to while away snowy afternoons. In the Next Apache we lounged on a regal looking sofa and flicked through old copies of the New Yorker and felt very bohemian. Until we put our anoraks back on.

Finn being all regal in the Next Apache cafe
It was also rather wonderful to be in an environment that hadn't been 'Ikea-ised' (if it wasn't already a term, it is now). In one place we noticed a sign printed on the door telling customers that it was free from Ikea furniture. Unfortunately it was closed but it got our pulse rates up at the idea there might be such a movement. However, after some 'research' I have been unable to find out anything more and have instead boosted Ikea's search results. But it is reassuring to know that people are fighting this dull uniformity.

In Berlin we got all excited about going to the Museum of Currywurst where for €11 we could 'relax on a hot dog sofa' or experience what it's like to 'work in a hot dog van'. However, after reading such shocking reviews online we settled for a tray of currywurst and chips, all smothered in ketchup, curry powder and paprika. Job done.

Chips and Currywurst
Our final stop in Paris generally involved drinking copious amounts of red wine with friends we met in Kashgar. Nicely hungover, we boarded the train that would speed us back to our beloved London.

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