Vienna – 1500 Foodmakers

Vienna – 1500 Foodmakers

Table reservation card at 1500 Foodmakers in Vienna.

Table reservation card at 1500 Foodmakers in Vienna.

On New Years Day we tried the restaurant 1500 Foodmakers located in the 25 Hours Hotel in Vienna. We reserved and found the sign in the photo waiting for us on a nice table.

The restaurant is very comfortable. Tables are big and well spaced. The music is good, you can hear it but it’s not disturbingly loud. It’s possible to have a nice conversation. It’s no smoking!

The staff were excellent. Very friendly and accommodating.

The food was very good. Generally simple dishes, but with a hint of complexity. We had 4 pizzas and a salad. All were very good. The menu also featured some pastas and interesting dishes. There was a nice basket of “pizza bread” with olive oil and salt waiting on the table (no charge). Much of the food seems to be sourced locally or at least with quality in mind.

The wine list is very nice with lots of good Austrian and international wines. We had a very nice Merlot for 25 Euro a bottle.

In the summer they have a converted Airstream Trailer outside where they cook hamburgers with picnic tables. We’ll certainly be back!

Antwerp – December 2013

Antwerp – December 2013

MAS Museum Antwerp

MAS Museum Antwerp

I visited Antwerp in December as part of a business trip to Brussels. Antwerp is only about a half-hour from Brussels Airport and there are about two trips per hour from the Brussels Airport train station.

MAS Museum Antwerp - view from one of the sky lobbies.

MAS Museum Antwerp – view from one of the sky lobbies.

The main purpose of my trip was to visit the Museum aan de Stroom (MAS). The MAS museum “tells the story of the people, the past, present and future of the city of Antwerp and the world.” The building, as you can see from these photos is really spectacular. There are changing exhibits and permanent exhibits about the city and port as well as some more esoteric subjects. You can ride the escalators up the building to a lobby on each floor without paying admission. From the 9th floor you can walk up a set of stairs to the roof where there’s an outdoor area with spectacular views of the city and river. It’s a very neat museum and experience.

De Groote Witte Arend Restaurant Antwerp - courtyard.

De Groote Witte Arend Restaurant Antwerp – courtyard.

Next I had lunch in a restaurant called De Groote Witte Arend (Flemish only website) which specialises in Belgian cuisine and beer. It’s on the other side of the historic city center from the MAS museum, about 15-20 minute walk. The building is quite old, there’s a short history at the back of the menu. For many years it was a nunnery and there is still a chapel off the side of the courtyard. The restaurant has several rooms arranged around the courtyard. It was quite quiet at late lunch on a mid-December weekday, but I can imagine it being a lot of fun when it’s crowded.

Carbonnades at De Groote Witte Arend restaurant Antwerp.

Carbonnades at De Groote Witte Arend restaurant Antwerp.

I ordered one of my favourite Belgium meals: carbonnade (or: Vlaamsche Stooflees in Flemish). It’s beef stew cooked in the local dark beer and is said to be the national dish of Belgium. Generally served with “Belgium” fries, here with a chicory salad too. The version here was the best I have ever had, the beef was cooked just right and the fries were just out of the cooker, the salad was a great counterpoint. One of the best meals I ate all year! I drank a De Arend blond beer with it. The waiter was extremely friendly and helpful (in English) in helping me pick a beer. In short, a great place to visit for the food and the beer!

Antwerp Zuiderterrace

Antwerp Zuiderterrace

After lunch I walked over to the river, it was a very grey day, but it’s always fun watching the water go by. There’s a beautiful art deco building that serves as a boarding ramp for large passenger boats, now there’s a restaurant inside too. It has great Antwerpen signs.

Tile diagram of St Anna Pedestrian Bike Tunnel Antwerp.

Tile diagram of St Anna Pedestrian Bike Tunnel Antwerp.

Next I walked across the street to the St Anna pedestrian – bike tunnel located at the Sint-Jansvliet square (end of the Hoogstraat).

St Anna Pedestrian Bike Tunnel Antwerp

St Anna Pedestrian Bike Tunnel Antwerp

This historic landmark is a 572 meter long tunnel under the Scheldt river. It was built in 1931-1933 to link the old city centre with the settlement on the left bank of the river. The building looks like the Battery Tunnel entrance in Manhattan and so I fantasised about filming a Men in Black parody here … They have preserved the wooden escalators, but there’s also an elevator for bikers. Quite neat.

St Anna Pedestrian Bike Tunnel Antwerp

St Anna Pedestrian Bike Tunnel Antwerp

I walked back through the old city to the Central Railway Station. The station has been renovated in recent years to allow trains to travel through on their way from Brussels and south, to Amsterdam and north. I visited while it was under construction several years ago, but now it’s finished and it’s wild. At least four levels of trains plus connections to the city’s metro system. They managed to keep the historic train shed – beautiful – and headhouse building. The photos here do not do the station justice, it’s very hard to photograph … just visit it!

Antwerp Central Station

Antwerp Central Station

The trip back to Brussels took about half an hour (we did not go via the airport station). By the way, it was very easy to buy my railway tickets on line at the Belgium railway’s website www.belgianrail.be.

Check out soundbitecity blog’s post Beer City Antwerp about Antwerp brewery DeKoninck and restaurant café Pelgrim across the street … they’re on my list for next time!

Here’s a link to my flickr photos of Antwerp. Here’s a link to a map with my flickr photos flickr Antwerp photos map. 

Burgenland Austria bike tour

Burgenland Austria bike tour

Frauenkirchen Church in Frauenkirchen, Burgenland Austria, August 2013.

Frauenkirchen Church in Frauenkirchen, Burgenland Austria, August 2013.

On Saturday I took my bike on the train to Gols in Burgenland (Austria). My goal was to combine a visit to Judith Beck Vineyards with some exercise on a beautiful end of summer day.

Saturday was Pannobile Day 2013 (German) in Gols. It’s organized by a group of 11 (opps!) 9 winemakers around Gols to celebrate the new year of Pannobile wine (they make a single red and/or white wine that they call Pannobile from a blend of grapes). The winemakers then work together on marketing etc. The name Pannobile comes from the Roman name for the area.

On Pannobile Day all the wineries are open for tasting and there is a big dinner party in the evening. Since I was on my bike I decided it would be best to only taste one and not stay for dinner (maybe next year I’ll stay overnight and go!).

I tasted three wines from Judith Beck Winery just on the outskirts of Gols. I chose her wine because I’d enjoyed it before and it’s organic. She has a beautiful winery building and tasting room. The people were quite friendly and there was nice food to nibble on. I tried a white, the Pannobile 2011 and the Pinot Noir. They were all very nice, but since I was on my bike I only took one bottle (the Pannobile naturally!).

Regional train from Burgenland at Vienna Hauptbahnhof (main train station), August 2013.

Regional train from Burgenland at Vienna Hauptbahnhof (main train station), August 2013.

The bike ride was great too. Although it’s a little hard to get to the Vienna Hauptbahnhof railway station by bike (there are very few direct routes with good bike paths right now). However the station is just being completed so hopefully this will change. The Austrian National Railways (OBB) has a nice feature on its travel planning software that allows you to select only trains where you can take your bike on board. You can take a bike on most of the local and regional trains. However, there was not very much space on this beautiful day for bikes, so my advice would be to get their early. You don’t need to pay extra to take a bike on these trains either, nice!

I took the train to Gols. There I followed Burgenland bike route B-23 (the Culture Bikeway). It goes through the vineyards to a small city called Frauenkirchen (named after a large baroque church in the town). The church was a pilgrimage church in the middle ages and there are several historic buildings around it including what looks like an old cloister across the street. The cloister is also a historic landmark and houses a restaurant called Paprikawirt – “Paprika Restaurant” in English – that looked excellent.

After a short break I headed back along the path through more vineyards and agricultural fields, then the towns of Halbturn and Mönchhof, before reaching Gols and the Judith Beck Winery tasting room. The path is quite well marked with signs and markings on the pavement, although I did get a little lost on the stretch between Halbturn and Mönchhof. After my tasting I rode around in the town of Gols since I had time before my train. There was at least one more Pannobile winery I passed and I also noticed the Pannobile Taxi, presumably to take people between wineries on Pannobile Day (another tip for next year!). The bike ride was about 24 km and the landscape was pretty much totally flat.

The trip to Gols from Vienna Hauptbahnhof (main railway station) takes about one hour. The OBB has a group fare called Einfach Raus that lets up to five people travel on regional trips for about 30 euros, it’s a really good deal for visitors.

Bratislava – August 2013

Bratislava – August 2013

Historic steam locomotive in Slovak Technical Museum, Transport Museum, Bratislava

Historic steam locomotive in Slovak Technical Museum, Transport Museum, Bratislava

Bratislava is about 60 Km from Vienna. It’s easy to get to using the railroad or by boat on the Danube. On Saturday I visited the transportation museum, adjoining the central station. They had a couple of restored steam locomotives out back (one of my favourites in the photo above) and lots of cars indoors.

After about an hour I walked into the city to meet some friends for dinner in the brew pub Starosloviensky Pivovar. The pub specialises in local sheep cheese and we tried three variations, all were very good. The beer was fresh and excellent. After dinner I took a short walk through the city and headed back to the railway station for the return trip to Vienna.

There is an inexpensive rail ticket from Vienna: round trip for 15 Euro including one day of public transport in Bratislava (Bratislava Ticket from Austrian Federal Railways – OeBB). The boat trip is quite cool and a nice way to see the scenery.

My Google Map of Bratislava.

My photos of Bratislava on Flickr.

Plaza Nueva Bilbao – a perfect place!

Plaza Nueva Bilbao – a perfect place!

Plaza Nueva Bilbao - February 2013

Plaza Nueva Bilbao – February 2013

I visited Bilbao twice in the last year as part of my work on the CIVITAS program. On my first visit I walked all over the city and discovered the Plaza Nueva in the historic city center. I fell in love with the space and decided that I’d make a point of returning.

Plaza Nueva Bilbao in September 2012.

Plaza Nueva Bilbao in September 2012.

My first trip was in September and so the city was green and warm (photo above). My second trip was at the beginning of February … gray, cold and rainy, with a little bit of snow! Would the Plaza Nueva be as appealing? Would the arcades be full of people enjoying a glass of wine? Amazingly, yes! And, that’s what really convinced me this was an extraordinary space.

Under the arcade in Plaza Nueva Bilbao, February 2013

Under the arcade in Plaza Nueva Bilbao, February 2013

The square is large, but not too big to be overwhelming. It’s surrounded by arcades, there’s no vehicle traffic. The arcades are about 4-meters wide and lined with a variety of shops and restaurants. Unlike many historic European squares the shops and restaurants seem to be oriented towards serving residents – sure there are tourists, but the majority of people seem local.

On my February trip I feared the worst … it was raining too hard for me to go very far from my hotel and so I needed to cancel plans to meet a colleague staying in another part of the city. I was glad to have picked a hotel near the Plaza Nueva. I did get wet in the 3 minute walk, but not soaked. And, here’s why arcades are so good … people were outside under the arcades – dry! – talking, eating, drinking and generally just hanging out on this rainy winter night. Not as many as in the summer, but more than I expected.

Tapas at Gure Toki in Plaza Nueva Bilbao, September 2012.

Tapas at Gure Toki in Plaza Nueva Bilbao, September 2012.

I revisited the Gure Toki  pintxos restaurant in the northeast corner of the Plaza Nueva for tapas (photo above: patates bravas and grilled pimento peppers from Gure Toki). The food, drink and atmosphere were just as good as I remembered. (They even had wine from California’s McManis Family Vineyards to make me feel at home. I asked the English speaking bartender about it and he said people there really liked the McManis wine.)

I love tapas and Gure Toki’s tapas are great. After eating two or three tapas there, I went next door and had another, but returned to Gure Toki for my last tapas of the evening. Tapas eating is an adventure for me, lots of pointing and gesturing because I don’t speak Spanish, but people in Bilbao, and everywhere in Spain, are very friendly. I love the tapas approach to eating … small plates, small glasses of beer and wine, move on to another cafe for a second, and another for a third, etc. The Plaza Nueva is a great place to do this because they have about ten different restaurants and cafes along the arcade.

Looking into the Plaza Nueva in Bilbao, February 2013.

Looking into the Plaza Nueva in Bilbao, February 2013.

The next morning I had my first coffee at the La Ribera Market, a nicely renovated market hall nearby, but then returned to the Plaza Nueva and had a second coffee and Iberian ham sandwich at the Cafe Bar Bilbao (see photo). The Cafe Bar is very beautiful inside with traditional tile work and decorations. The food looked great and I’ll be sure to stop here for a tapas next time I’m in Bilbao.

Take a look at the photos (my flickr photos of Bilbao) and just try to say that this is not life the way it should be lived …

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