Monthly Archives: February 2013

Shoes: A Collector’s Story

It’s time for us to talk shoes. There are probably going to be a lot of posts about shoes on this blog, because, to the extent that I will admit to collecting anything, I collect shoes. And when you collect shoes, you have to have both limits (not any old thing will do), and also quests. The following boots fulfill both of those criteria:

New Blue Shoes

These boots have heels. I know, that’s obvious. But I have, until recently, had an absolute rule: No shoes, other than clogs or sneakers, with a heel under 3″. (Note the “until recently.” Change figures prominently in this post.)

These boots were also the result of a quest, for they are blue. I have been looking for a really great pair of blue, high-heeled, knee-high boots for literally years. I have trawled shopping sites, filtering for the color blue. I have stared in windows. I have…well, you get the idea.

Bonus points for these boots being bought in Italy, in Pistoia. They are souvenir boots.


(Whenever I travel, I try to buy a pair of shoes to remember the place.) (Except in Madrid. That place was a shoe wasteland.) (This shoe-travel thing will likely come up again.)

There is a problem, however. In Vienna, the weather is not exactly footwear-friendly. Some of this is exactly what you’d predict. I speak, of course, of snow. Mountains of snow, and the salt that follows it, make for cruel circumstances for one’s feet.

Snow It Goes

My first purchase since arriving in Vienna was, therefore, the requisite pair of puffer boots. I honestly thought I’d left this kind of thing behind when I moved out of upstate New York, but there you go: Puffer boots with puffer coat, modelled here in a tire rut in the snow on the edge of the 6th district last weekend.

The problems don’t end with the snow, however. Vienna’s public works people have an interesting practice of sprinkling little stones all over the pavement in addition to the salt. This must be to increase traction on the ice, but one primarily experiences it as an annoyance. The snow melts away, and underneath is this fine layer of little pebbles, not quite gravel, but not as fine as kitty litter.

It looks like this:

The Stones of Vienna

See that? That’s my toe, and all around it, a veritable beach of small stones. Well, you try walking over that stuff in high heels. Once the snow and ice are gone—and they don’t last long, because Vienna is not as cold as people think—the innocent heel-wearer will experience a constant sensation of little pebbles digging into the balls of your feet in the most painful way. Not to mention the fact that they scuff up your heels, and make you sort of slip around. All of which necessitated (necessitated, I tell you!) a further trip to the shoe store for a new pair of boots capable of coping with these extreme conditions.

Pragmatism Will Out

Here they are. Brown boots, with a heel that I am forced to admit can’t really be over 2.5″.

I know. If you’d told me a decade ago that I’d ever be wearing brown boots with a low heel, I’d have called you a lunatic.

Of course, I would have said the same if you’d told me I’d be living in Vienna (Vienna?!), so go figure.




But let’s confirm—that heel is just really low, right?

As Low As I'll Go

Of course, one thing has not changed: I am still a…gulp…collector, and as such, I still have criteria and I still have quests. Which brings us to….

New FriendsThe same trip through first district that brought you the pictures in my last post also took us past the store selling these — lovely grey boots (with heel!) that I desperately need to replace the somewhat worn-out pair that I left back in California.

So I bought them.

And I have a feeling it’ll happen again.

Posted in Regan Writing, Shoes | Tagged , | 18 Comments

Vienna Under Sugar

That’s what they call it here when there’s snow over the city — “angezuckert” — sugared. Last night about six fresh inches of snow fell on top of the couple of inches that gathered the previous day. It was enough snow to give everybody a festive feeling, and so we headed into First District with the masses, to walk around (and, what the hell, buy some boots — but more on that in a separate post). Here’s a bit of how the city looks with a dusting of sweet stuff.

The Stefansdom is newly cleaned — a friend tells us that it will more or less always be under restoration; the facade and towers are so intricate that as soon as the restoration gets around the building it essentially needs to start again immediately. Even so, it’s nice to have the front facade out from under scaffolding, as it has been since this summer, for the first time in the several years I’ve been coming to Vienna. A bit of snow trimming the towers does nothing to diminish its beauty.



While we’re looking at churches, the Karlskirche is among Vienna’s most impressive. I tend to find its 18th-century extravagance a bit much; the snow softens the effect:




Last church, I promise — the Peterskirche as seen between buildings. The Peterskirche is the Karlskirche’s 18th-century extravagance packed into a structure 1/4 of the size. It also does best when seen in glimpses, as here:


Peterskirche, peripherally


I dunno. It struck me:


Hot Dog!!


Saturday afternoon calls for a bit of cheese shopping at the Naschmarkt. Full disclosure: getting a nice snow picture here was not the easiest as the powder had been summarily trampled into puddles by eager shoppers. But whatever. It’s still pretty:




For anyone not so excited about the snow, never fear — spring will come:


Spring Will Come


There are so many snow pictures to follow, including a haunting “Prater amusement park in winter” series. Because snow is pretty. And there’s a lot of it.

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Backstage with the Lipizzaners, Magic Dancing Dream Horses

My new friend.
My new friend.

Last week my dear friend and riding trainer, T, came to visit. As it happens, through the miracle of Facebook, she is friends with the Chief Rider (Oberbereiter) of the Spanish Riding School, home of the Lipizzaner horses. For those not horse-crazy since youth: The Spanish Riding School was created in the late 16th century as the equestrian arm of the Habsburg court; they train in spectacular late-Baroque facilities built in the mid-18th century (this is the famous Winter Riding School, in the Hofburg in Vienna). The Lipizzaners are a specific breed, much like Thoroughbred or Dutch Warmblood or what have you—but the original stock were Spanish, hence the naming of the School.

The Stallburg from inside the courtyard, ringed with stalls.

(Sorry. Spend long enough in German-speaking territories and you start being like Winnie-The-Pooh, capitalizing all your nouns.)

They are the friendliest, most relaxed stallions you will ever see.
They are the friendliest, most relaxed stallions you will ever see.

All the horses used in the School’s famous performances are white (well, technically grey in horse terms, but they look white to the lay person), though they’re born dark and lighten over time, as do most grey horses. They are famous because they do spectacular airs above the ground—highly-trained rears, leaps, hops and other balletic movements that are not part of a standard dressage horse’s repertoire, though they do all of the rest of the dressage movements as well (lateral work, piaffe, passage, tempi changes, etc.).

Like, seriously. They just want to say hi.

At any rate… T arranged for us to see the school courtesy of one of the Riders (Bereiteranwärter), a fantastically generous and friendly gentleman named Christopher (now my FB friend!), who showed us the stables and the tack room, as well as hosting us for morning exercise, where we got to sit at ground level at the end of the arena (the rest of the viewing is done from the gallery above).

Bit on a Lipizzaner bridle.

Here are some photos of backstage at the Spanish Riding School, among the top 5 coolest things I’ve ever seen (do you ever wish you could go back to your childhood self and say…you won’t believe the totally random and unexpected ways that your dreams will suddenly, out of nowhere, literally come true?).

Thank you, Christopher, for the incredible tour!  Thanks, horses, for being the most extraordinary creatures on the planet!


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Austrian Markets, Promised Land of Cheese and Bacon

Vienna is divided into 23 Bezirke, or districts. And originally each Bezirk had a market, or more than one. The markets were the identity of the district — they sold different kinds of goods, and were gathering places for the (often culturally and ethnically defined) communities that surrounded them. They were important in the city’s transition from agrarian to modern, and they still bear the stamp of the districts they serve as well as of Austria’s food production more broadly. And, of course, they are vanishing. Today, most districts have a market, but these markets are diminished in size and offerings, pushed out of existence by the ubiquitous Billa supermarkets. Increasingly, they offer boutique goods — jars of jams, say — or pastries — in addition to, or in gradual replacement of, the more traditional produce.

So, we are on a mission to visit all of the markets, one by one, before they’re either gone or so radically gentrified as to be unrecognizable. In other posts, I’ll introduce you to some of our favorites — for instance, the Kutschkermarkt in the 18th district (by the way, one goal of this blog, as we’re getting to know each other, is also to get to know the districts — every single one of them, bit by bit. A bit like Colbert’s Better Know a District, but with more German and fewer politicians). But this weekend, we went to the Viktor-Adler Markt, in the seldom-visited 10th district. It was a pretty great market from the point of view of produce — unlike the more boutiquey markets, people here were seriously getting their Saturday shop on (N.B. Austrian grocery stores are all closed on Sunday; if you want to eat before Monday mid-day, you better shop on Saturday). Here’s the scene:



As you can see, it was grey.  And raining.  And in an inadvertent reflection of the day’s conditions, I managed to take a photo of a bunch of empty crates rather than the produce bounty beyond. Here, let me try again to capture the mood, if not the beauty of the veg:


As usual, I had no umbrella, and, let’s be honest, I wanted to go home. And then I saw it. The Promised Land. The Promised Land of Cheese and Speck. I speak, of course, of the cheesemonger. Cheese from the mountains, cheese from the goats (sometimes even the goats who live on the mountains):


There’s a cheese literally coated in shards of hay, called Haycheese (Heukäse. German is a very literal language):


There was cheese in a shade of green so terrifyingly bright that it demanded explanation (it’s made with basil). (It does stand out a bit, doesn’t it?):


When people think cheese, they usually think France.  But Austria has incredible cheeses.  They are semi-hard cheeses, not unlike what Americans think of as Swiss cheese, or maybe between Swiss and Cheddar, but with a much rounder flavor.  They melt well, go well in sandwiches, and, for all their apparent physical similarities, have an incredible variety of flavors.  And that’s before people start mixing them with additional ingredients! Like Bärlauch (that’s wild garlic):


This is just an introductory post, of course, while I figure out the platform and how to insert images, etc. So all of this is just a prelude to the eventual sequel, in which I dive into the many, many, MANY kinds of speck, a selection of which were being sold at the neighboring window:


Spicy Speck!!  You know we bought some of that.

This post is also a yet more distant prelude to the even further sequel in which I explain at great length Austria’s totally contradictory relationship with horses, and why we never, EVER buy meat from this guy:




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