U2 360° Tour in Vienna 08-30-10

“You know, some people measure their years from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Eve.  We seem to measure our years from U2 show to U2 show.  Well, this year, at least.”

The above statement is what I said to Mrs. NH as we were heading back to our hotel, hot on the heels of our 2nd U2 show in a little over a year.  Overcome by the sense of euphoria and muscle fatigue that comes with 3-4 hours standing in the middle of a stadium with 70,000 of your closest friends, I reflected on the past year.  Monday night’s show was a fitting way to cap a year that has been less than business as usual for the NH clan.

The show was really one of the best I have seen by this band.  Having been lucky enough to catch them six times live since 1997, I’m getting to know what a really good U2 show is and this was one of them.  I entered the stadium with slightly lowered expectations.  After Bono’s 50th birthday and the US tour-scotching back surgery coupled with a complete lackluster performance on the U2 360 from Pasadena DVD, I thought my rock and roll heroes might have lost the magic.

Luckily, they proved me wrong and opened a huge can of awesomeness in the stadium on a Monday night and even moved yours truly to exclaim, “They’re on fire!”  Bono’s voice sounded like he was about 25 as he hit every high note and sang every lyric.  Larry Mullen’s snares sounded more like pistols as the percussive effect of each shot cracked through the air.  Adam Clayton’s bass was unusually “dirty” and really stood out in the sound mix giving some needed oomph to a road worn set list.  Finally, even though he was plagued by technical glitches, the Edge made up for it by playing like it was his last show.  Chords growled from his armory of guitars and he seemed to wrestle each one like a live serpent, as he set the cool Vienna evening ablaze.

The 360 tour has settled into a nice groove.  The band is no longer in awe of its own stage and has learned to instead concentrate on playing the best version of each song.  The sound coming from the “claw” was crisper than ever with lows that rumbled my jeans –  even in the center of a crowd of 20,000 punters on the floor.

But I would be wildly negligent if I didn’t comment a little further on Bono himself.  This is a man that has had ups and downs this year and is back with a vengeance.  His aforementioned voice punctuated the songs and his movement around the stage gave the whole show the theatrical boost that had been missing last year in Berlin.  Shades of the ZooTV tour were in his delivery of “Until the End of the World” on this night.  That transformed the song from merely rocking to something with infinitely deeper layers that even caused my mind to dip into the spiritual, Biblical strata of this 5 minute rock song.  This was U2, after all.

One gets the feeling that this band has seen the end of the world over the past year.  And like they always have, they bring it to the stage to put your world in perspective even if only for a few fleeting moments on one night in late August.

Happy New Year.

Slingbox in the Vienna Airport

Slingbox Screen CapMan, I can’t get over how much I love this chunk of tech.  It’s 7 in the morning and I’m watching Fox News in the Cafe Bistro Johann Strauss in the Vienna Airport.  I’ve got Russians slurping beers to one side and goodness knows what else to the other side and I’m focused on Newt Gingrich right in front of me.

I’m all ready for the Nebraska – Virginia Tech game as well.  First, I’ll have to get to Belgrade and hope for a good Internet connection from my hotel.  Then, I’ll just sit back and enjoy.

Until then!

Tewa – Naschmarkt – Vienna, Austria

Te Wa Sign

Situated smack dab in the center of Vienna’s Naschmarkt, Tewa feels suspiciously like it’s on a tourist clogged street in Mykonos.  Well, Mykonos or somewhere that organic, freshly prepared, Mediterranean food really thrives.

Te Wa BeerAs luck has it, Tewa is located in Vienna and only about a 4 hour drive from my garage.  The trip is worth every last mile.

I’ve already told you about the Naschmarkt, and Tewa is just another addition to the patina of flavors and sensory overload that the market offers.  As far as I can tell (I can’t translate the web site because it’s all in Flash), the philosophy of the restaurant is to offer organic, Mediterranean food.  I think it all may have been vegetarian, as well – but can’t recall.  There are lots of teas on the menu and some very fru-fru items but what I ordered was delicious and avoided high falutin’ pretense.

Mrs. NH and I both ordered the “Tewa’s Special with Falafel.”  It consisted of a tomato-eggplant sauce/salad, humus, Te Wa Falafelolives pita bread and freshly cooked falafel.  The flavors contrasted and meshed with each move of the tongue and were bright, full and light.  I enjoyed mine with a couple of beers and Mrs. NH enjoyed the Austrian/Italian “Spriz’s,” a craze she’s been riding lately.  It was a great lunch and it was difficult not to plan our next trip to Greece as we ate.

The surroundings add to the experience as well.  It’s situated in the middle of the market and stylish euros slithered in like well-dressed iguanas looking for a spot it the sun.  On this particular fall weekend, it was there and they lapped it up – big sunglasses, designer jeans and all.  Did I mention the people watching is almost as good as the food?

Te Wa CrowdTewa strikes the right notes on all levels.  The menu was good but focused (they had a tasty looking breakfast special offered as well but we had lunch) and the service was decent for a restaurant that was full to the gills.

We’ll be back; I just have to get bigger sun glasses.

Enrico Panigl Wine Bar – Vienna, Austria

Enrico Panigl 5

“I’ve got a theory about this place,” I said as I gulped from a tasty glass of Zweigelt.  “What?” said Mrs. NH.  “OK,” I continued, “see that flag under the light over there?  I’m betting P.C.I. stands for ‘partido comunista de Italia’ (said with my Spanish accent – not Italian).  And by looking at the wines, this guy isn’t from Vienna.  He’s Italian.”

Enrico Panigl 3Well, I was right about the flag.  The letters do stand for the Communist party of Italy.  The hammer and sickle kind of tipped me off, too.  And sure enough, the owner spoke Italian to the next guy who came in.  And with a name like Enrico, I’d consider that a trifecta.  Still, my little theory was totally missing the point.  The point was, we had by grace of collective foggy memory and sheer good luck, managed to find the best wine bar in Vienna for the second time.

The “Enrico Panigl” is something of a throwback to a different time.  Not just the flag under yellow light but the bric-a-brac nature of the decor, dark wood, marble bar and candle light.  It’s dark, inviting, cozy and bar-fly-romantic.  Its romance is in the dust on the bottles.  Rustic romantic, not frills and satin.

If you aren’t feeling the atmosphere when you walk in, it won’t take long.  Taking a look up at the beautifully written Enrico Panigl 4chalkboard wine list, you can choose from some of the tastiest (and affordable) wines from Austria, Italy, Spain and Montenegro.  There’s a grape and a character to suit every palate.  On this occasion I think I found at least three wines that were incredibly impressive.

Then there are the bottles lining the walls.  They’re all spent – uncorked, dusty, ageing mementos of revelries long past.  The dates on some of them go back to the 60’s.  Their labels look like yellow parchment stuck to precious vessels of the nectar of the gods.

Adding the last bit to the Enrico Panigl equation are the patrons.  People from all ends of the spectrum seem attracted to this place.  During our brief visit we saw ageing Viennese, a biker couple, an older Italian speaking gentleman that looked like a regular, and a young couple, seemingly on a first date, both from different corners of Europe trying to communicate in English.  Did I mention that people watching is part of the fun?

Enrico Panigl 2Enrico Panigl is one of the truly great bars in Vienna and I’d put it in my top ten bars of the world.  There’s no pretense, just good wine and feeling that you’ve really found a treasure in the middle of Vienna.  Even with communist flag on the wall, the place just feels right.  Hmmm, maybe I’ll ask him about that next time.

Figlmüller – Vienna, Austria

Figlmuller 2

In Germany, Wiener Schnitzel is a staple.  In Austria, it is protected by law.  And no place moreso than at Figlmüller in Vienna.  This was about my fourth trip to this sacred shrine of schnitzel and it never ceases to amaze me.  First, there’s the place itself.  It’s an unassuming entrance to a clean, homey, no frills restaurant.  Second, there’s the line.  There’s always a line.  You have to make reservations at least three days in advance.  We went for dinner at about 10:30pm and had a group of four ahead of us and another couple that slipped in behind us.  (Clearly rookies, they tried to cut the line.)  It only took us about two minutes to get seated that late at night, fortunately.  We didn’t have a reservation.

Figlmuller 3Then, there’s the meal.  Skip the rest of the menu and order the “Figlmüller Schnitzel gebacken” and ask for the mixed salad.  The mixed salad is a creamy, vinegar-based potato salad with a green salad with (I think) a pumpkin seed vinaigrette dressing.  Yum.  Of course, the real show is in the Wiener Schnitzel, itself.  The meat is veal pounded paper-thin and fried until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.  And it’s freakin’ huge.  It’s bigger than a frisbee.  Lots bigger.  The edges always hang way over the plate and I always eat the whole darn thing.  To do otherwise would be Austrian blasphemy.

I always order a beer to drink with it as it seems to complete the whole belly-stretching simplicity of it all.  You leave stuffed and sleepy (and if you’re like me, with the hiccups).  The walk home is always a slow one but always necessary.  In fact, I think Austrian law mandates it.

Naschmarkt – Vienna, Austria

Naschmarkt Fresh Vegetables

If there’s a place all epicureans should visit before they die, it’s Vienna’s Naschmarkt.  Mrs. NH and I trekked there this past weekend and were blown away by the sheer variety of food on display and for sale.  The market itself is located in the southwest quadrant of the city just outside the middle ring.  It has a pretty rich history, almost as rich and varied as the amount of food that it contains.

We spent at least five hours there on Saturday.  We couldn’t help ogling the fresh exotic vegetables, meats, spices and dried goods of all shapes and sizes.  Granted, we live in Prague where it takes a good deal of searching to dig up anywhere near the diversity of product – not to mention freshness.  However, the vegetables on display at the Naschmarkt look as if they were picked seconds before being put on sale.  The fresh seafood offering there looks as good as any I’ve seen in coastal towns and the variety of cheeses, olives and wine is enough to make all but the most jaded Italian blush.

Now, let’s talk about the pasta.  You may remember that I lamented not having fresh pasta available at the Little Italy Deli down the street from my house in Prague.  Well, there is no such problem here.  There is arugula ravioli, truffle ravioli, fresh tagliatelli, parpadelle, and all other sort of vowel ending pasta that you can imagine.  I’ll admit, for a minute I considered how long the commute would be from here to my Prague office.

Before we drove to Vienna, we were aware of the bounty that awaited us at the Naschmarkt and we arrived with a cooler and made plans with the hotel in advance to reserve a little fridge room.  Beware: the market isn’t open on Sunday so, you’ll need to do all of your shopping on Saturday.  And shop we did:  30 falafels, assorted olives (including pistachio stuffed), gourds, wine, cheese, more Italian olives, pumpkin seed oil, and plenty of drooling over the fresh produce.

Finally, there was a peculiarly Austrian aspect to the market.  About halfway through one of the rows of goodies stood a fellow in a dark suit over barrels of pickles in brine and sauerkraut.  In the 2-3 minutes I watched him, I saw him dig a gigantic wooden spoon in the kraut and offer tastes to passers-by.  Wow.  You don’t see that at Dean and DeLuca.

To me, the market is the highest form of capitalism.  It is all quality product.  Some of it is mass-produced and some of it is real hand-crafted artisan fare.  Still, in this market, there is only the best and quality mass-produced sits happily beside small-batch.  He who ends up winning here is the consumer.  The sheer experience of the market is worth the visit – even all the way from the Czech Republic.