In between our faffing about New York City in February, and continent-hopping to Doha and Cairo in March, the folks at Mercer published their annual survey, once again vaulting Vienna to the top of its, “World’s Most Livable Cities” list. Thereafter, the Washington Post (consider that source, if you will) followed up with two articles, the first denouncing the “World’s Most Livable Cities” as “not all that livable” and the second, an article written by someone who had “lived like a local” for a month or so in Vienna and rendered the city, “Not Exciting.”
Everyone knows the Mercer Survey is intended for multinational corporations to understand where to place and how much to pay their expats, and so I give the ranking little mind. But, like clockwork, within a week or so of the article being published, numerous Vienna bloggers waved their, “It sucks to be those of you living in Baghdad “ (ranked last, I believe) flags. Though I will never be accused of being its biggest fan, Vienna is indeed a rather livable city; Tony and I even enjoyed a celebratory dinner with close friends when his extension to 2019 was confirmed, that is how livable we find the city. Still, complete livability does not extend to Sundays, the many holidays, and generally after 1800 daily for us, thanks to aging and archaic rules. In general, too, livability is in the eyes of the beholder. If one can afford to live in Vienna, it is, therefore, a livable city.
Yet we do not feel, “oppressed.” On those days when Vienna closes most of its doors, we head out to visit the neighbors, whose doors are always open and welcoming. Oppression? What oppression?
This brings me to the two WaPo articles. The first was generic pablum by a 20-something who writes about foreign affairs; I didn’t even finish the article. The second piece caught my attention because the author described Vienna as, “Most Livable, but not Exciting.” By the time I questioned why anyone would equate “Most Livable” with “Exciting,” I was too far into the article to give up. Essentially the author felt Vienna bored him; during his monthlong sojourn in the Imperial City, he attempted “living like a local” by shopping at the most touristy market in town, eating Bratwurst and Currywurst (neither of which are Viennese), mumbling on about the city having a “Southern Europe joie de vivre?” and even claiming to have discovered Gemütlichkeit, a sense of well-being and happiness that really is only achievable if one is Austrian. What on earth he was talking about in his article I haven’t any idea of, but several of my ex-pat friends seemed to relate to his woes. Perhaps they should visit the neighbors. Or return home.
With that prelude concluded, I present my fabulous recent week in this unexciting and not so livable city.
Setagaya Park. A lovely Japanese garden tucked up in the 19th district but with super easy public access (still, a non-starter for those who do not venture out into the “provinces,” as Tony and I jokingly call anything outside of the Inner Stadt.) The cherry blossoms were a bit past peak, but the magnolias gallantly stepped in for a showy display.
A springlike Sunday afternoon spent with my favorite guy at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, giving him a “personal” tour of an exhibit I had enjoyed with my art group earlier in the month. The sheer beauty and grandeur of the building alone is enough to relieve one of any oppression.
Followed by lunch, of course, at my absolute favorite restaurant for Styrian Backhendl that would never find its way onto any dining guide (and that is a good thing, and another story altogether). Tony always orders the Zwiebelröstbraten, and I, the Backhendl. The proprietor of this little restaurant joked with us on this visit by asking if we even wanted to see the menu!
Later, we spied an empty table at Aida, a rare occurrence on a pretty afternoon. Our last visit to this Vienna icon was in 1999, and we laughed over our tortes and coffees that nothing about the cafe had changed in 17 years.
Dinner that evening was the first attempt with the tajine that I carried home on the plane from Cairo, Roast Chicken with Preserved Lemons. Preparing the cookware required two days of soaking, followed by an olive oil rub and low heat baking to cure the clay. We were all rather thrilled that the process worked (and that dinner was delicious.)
With the weather so luscious this past week I resumed a favorite project, exploring Vienna’s districts in search of Kunst am Bau, the art that adorns many of the public housing buildings. My district of interest was Brigittenau, half of Vienna’s former Jewish “ghetto.” I only finished a portion of my planned walk because a certain husband wanted a lunch companion at a much-enjoyed trattoria in the near, but there’s always this week to finish, right?
Later in the week I met my art group again for a rewarding tour of Russian avant-garde art at the Albertina. The exhibit contained 130 pieces from the Russian National Museum in St. Petersburg! Though our regular private guide moved us through the exhibit deftly, I realized that I have a lot to learn about Russian art. Still, I am excited to be Tony’s “personal” guide for this exhibit at our next opportunity.
Now, with the exception of roses and peonies, I accept my title of, “World’s Blackest Thumb” without complaint. But, did that stop me from dropping in on the University Botanic Garden’s “Rare and Exotic Plant Sale?”
Wine garden garlic, a specialty that began with a time-unknown import from Asia and which blooms throughout the region.
I am so glad I went! Amongst the enticing plants and flowers that I could so very easily kill I found my beloved peony! Fingers are crossed for at least one bloom this season.
Our Friday in this unexciting and not so livable place we call home wrapped up with a desire for Steak Tartare at a little-known Serbian restaurant we discovered in our first year. No tourists, no one pretending to be “a local,” just an excellent evening of great food and good music in an unpretentious setting. As we like it.