Monday, July 27, 2015

Chasing the world's best chocolate cake

Vienna is wonderful! Little did we know however, that Vienna is home to the "World's best chocolate cake"

Lovely Vienna from atop the cathedral
A major part of our euro trip was based off of google maps and general internet research, working out directions to good restaurants and cafes was done just in time for lunch or dinner. On our very first evening in Vienna google pointed us to a couple of restaurants that had two things going for them - They were in the vicinity of where we were loitering about, and they were super highly rated.

Unfortunately, we were in the city centre, the lovely lovely city centre, which meant that the restaurants were also super expensive and of the fine dining types. This we figured out from getting to these restaurants, peeping in and then looking at the menus put up outside. Not our type of dinner place, given that there were 8 of us and meals were a time for laughter, leg-pulling and general boisterousness.

Strolling around randomly, we accidentally came across Gösser Bierklinik, a lovely pub, that served excellent pub food and some great beer.

Plate full of meat 

Barely managing to decipher the menu, I ended up ordering the "Bauernschmaus" which was described as  garnished sauerkraut with roast pork, smoked pork, sausage, bacon, potatoes and bread dumpling

It was wonderful!

Lesson learned however was that it was pointless for each individual to order a dish for themselves, the portions were large and finishing this plate of delicious pork took some doing.

At some point in the evening, over dinner, one of us, I can't remember who, figured out that Vienna is home to the "World's Best Chocolate Cake".

It was too good to be true. Google told us that it was available at a cafe called Sacher, which was a brisk walk away from the restaurant we were at.

At this point, it is worth noting that we had spent the previous night on a train to Vienna from Venice, waited at the train station for about 4 hours until we got the keys to our AirBnB apartment (our check-in time was at noon), and then spent the rest of the day walking around Vienna in the rain.
We were dressed in, what can be best described as travel casuals and we were on a budget of sorts.

Yet, Sacher and the world's best chocolate cake was a temptation too great to resist, so off we went in search of the famed Sacher Torte, as the cake is called.

The internet had described it as a cafe and we were expecting one of those quaint cafes serving pastries and the like. However, we were in for a bit of surprise when we got to "Hotel" Sacher, for Sacher looked something like this...

Pictures from the Hotel Sacher Website
What we had missed, was that Sacher is apparently amongst the foremost Luxury hotels in Europe. The doorman was dressed in all his finery and all the patrons of the restaurant were in the finest of suits and dresses.

We took a long look at the restaurant and we took a long look at each other, took a deep breath and headed right in!

After all, we had walked a couple of kilometres in the cold rain and the cake seemed within reach. This place was super posh. There was the customary coat-check - a place where, I am quite certain, the regular patrons deposited their Burberry Trench-coats. We, of course just had our travel weary jackets and some 5 Euro umbrellas to be deposited. To his credit, the man at the counter, took them without a word or a change in expression.

We went inside to be seated at a cramped table. The idea was that we would order a couple of slices of the cake between the 8 of us, enough for each one to taste and then scoot back to the safety of our apartment.
The waiter, who it is more apt to refer to as the maître d', broke this bubble. He had figured out that we were a misfit here and sternly but politely pointed out that each of us would have to order something from the menu.

The menu comes with a booklet on the History of Sacher

We had no choice but to sheepishly order some hot chocolate, apple pies and the prize of the evening - Sacher Torte.
"World's best chocolate cake!"

To say that it was a DISAPPOINTMENT would be an understatement. It was a piece of dry cake, that didn't go down well for the price that it demanded.
Maybe we were expecting too much, maybe we were too tired and overawed by the place, but we suspect that the truth is that the cake was far from the world's best.
When we were done, the maître d' stood hovering around expecting a tip. This far in our trip, we had tipped fairly generously and had never spared expense when it came to food or good wine. But tipping an arrogant, rude maître d' for a piece of dry cake was asking for a bit too much. So we left, only stopping to collect our umbrellas and jackets on the way out.

So, if you ever get a chance to go to wonderful Vienna, you know where not to eat cake. Unless of course you want to try the world's most over-rated chocolate cake.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

North East diaries - There and back

Day 1 | Day 2(morning) | Day 2(the rest) | Day 3 | Day 4 | Last couple of days...

I was heading back to Bangalore, the next day, to make it in time to attend a friend's wedding. So the challenge ahead of me was to try and pick the right thing to do on my penultimate day of vacation.

There are so many things to do in Meghalaya, that one is spoilt for choice. However having a constraint of keeping this to a day trip, limited my options.

I met Nanu, the super wonderful taxi guy, in Shillong and the original plan was to head to Mawlyonng, which, as I have mentioned before, is renowned for being one of Asia's cleanest villages and also boasts of it's own Living Root bridge.

However, as we set off for Mawlyonng, I again asked Nanu if it was really worth the visit. Fortunately he was honest and recommended I give it a skip, for two reasons - Firstly that I had already seen the root bridges near Cheerapunji and second, that the place was slightly more touristy and a little overrated.

So I asked him to turn the car around and we headed to the sacred forest - Mawphlang.

The sacred grove in comparison to the grassland around it

The sacred groves or forests are a fantastic concept. From ancient times various tracts of forests have been designated as sacred groves and saved from deforestation, thus leading to wonderful green patches with lots of trees. It is said that if one takes away anything from the forest without permission from the Gods then punishment awaits.

It was a very pleasant walk through the forest, despite having to be accompanied by a mandatory guide. So all in all I was glad I changed plans.
Leave everything as you find it

super day!
The rest of my day I spent going around the different view points near Shillong. I had only one demand of Nanu - Take me to only those places that aren't frequented by tourists, and he did not disappoint.

Nanu mentioned that there was a view point that very few people knew about, a dam he said. to be honest I was skeptical, but since I did not have any better ideas I asked him to lead the way.
After a quick drive, we got to what seemed like a parking lot of an official looking building, we parked the car and Nanu led me through a narrow pathway to right behind the building and that opened up this view!

View of the river as it approaches Mawphlang dam

This was followed by visits to places where I was literally the only person around, such as this wonderfully named waterfall.

Sweet falls - Happy valley

and the this view point that gave me a birds eye view of Shillong, though this was crowded

Shillong city seen from Laitkor peak

With such views ended my penultimate day at Shillong, on the last day I was supposed to take the taxi back to Guwahati airport, as the helicopter service was not functional that day. This would mean that I had to bear the entire cost of the taxi all by myself.

However, to my pleasant surprise, as I was settling the bill a couple of things happened. Firstly I met this Shibani. I had had briefly met her during the arduous trek to the root bridges, where we just gave each other one of those friendly nods that fellow trekkers give each other when each is traveling alone. Co-incidentally she was staying at Aerodene too and  we exchanged notes on places to see etc. Turns out that Shibani was out doing a recce for a travel company she runs, called "Wonderful World", tagged "Women on their own trip". She figured out offbeat places and then would offer holidays for women of all ages. I think this is a fantastic concept and if you are a woman who love to travel to unique places then here is the facebook page you may be interested in!

Second, my super hosts at Aerodene asked me if I would mind a fellow traveler to share the ride and the costs to Guwahati airport. This was a french tourist who was feeling quite ill and wanted to head back. She spoke no English and the hosts thought that going with Nanu would be the safest bet.

I was more than happy to have the costs shared. The only glitch was that I had planned to spend a couple of hours at the museum in Shillong, en route to Guwahati. Turned out that this was not an issue!
The lady was kind enough to wait patiently in the taxi, while I spent a good 2.5 hours at the wonderful museum going through the various exhibits on display. The best part of the musuem is it's terrace. Though I call it a terrace it was more a slanted roof of sorts that was accessible to visitors and it afforded me some beautiful views of the city around!

With that I was done with Meghalaya. It has been a super trip to the Northeast and definitely one of many more to come. Obviously if you need help planning your trip, catch hold of me, more than happy to help! :D