Vienna coffee houses; the trams of Vienna; Zermatt cheaper than Vail?; amazing Austrian white wines from vineyards south of Graz.

Vienna Coffeehouses

The Washington Post's James Yenckel, who always writes clearly and interestingly about Germany, Austria and Switzerland, points out the differences between a Konditorei and a coffeehouse in Vienna, though both sell many of the same goods. Coffeehouses or Cafés tend to be older, with a more traditional style, and the waiters often wear tuxedos. Konditorein are usually newer, the decor is modern and one is more likely to be served by a woman.

He also discovered a couple of do's and don'ts regarding these establishments: Don't even attempt to carry your topcoat or raincoat to your table in the better places; you will almost certainly be ordered to the cloakroom. If tables are at a premium, don't expect someone to help you find one. Mr. Yenckel said he and his wife did what the Viennese do; they split up and "patrolled the room like Christmas shoppers looking for the last parking spot in the mall." (This procedure apparently is not universal; at Café Griensteidl the Yenckel's failed to note seating was handled by a maître'd, and when they headed for a table on their own were shooed back to the waiting area by a waitress who also delivered a loud lecture in German.)

At Café Gerstner he discovered, after being ignored for several minutes by waitresses, that one must first place an order at the display counter. A clerk there puts the selections on a plate and hands the customer a slip of paper to give to a waitress who then retrieves and serves the goodies.

At Café Tirolerhof Mr. Yenckel experienced another coffeehouse tradition; a table once occupied belongs to a customer as long as he or she wants it. There he watched as one patron dozed off over her coffee. Even though newcomers were milling about trying to find an empty table, she was not disturbed. The waiters didn't give her second glance.

The 200-year-old Café Demel is Vienna's most famous, most crowded and most expensive coffeehouse. Chocolate anything there, he says, is superb.

Some basics: small cup of black coffee is der kleine Mocca; Die Melange is coffee with milk, and der Turkische is strong black coffee.

Zermatt Cheaper Than Vail?

Cathy Carroll in the Seacaucus, New Jersey, Travel Weekly reports on Switzerland ski vacation packages which are less expensive than skiing in Colorado.

Deals from the East Coast, including air fare, seven nights first-class hotel accommodations, transfers, two meals daily and a six-day ski pass, were compared.

Grindelwald was $1624 compared with $2,213 for Deer Valley; Zermatt was $1,692 vs. $2,411 for Vail and St. Moritz was $1,767 vs. $2,473 for Aspen/Snowmass.

The Switzerland packages were taken from Swissair's 1998/99 Vacation Brochure.

Hundertwasser Scores Again

Caroline Scutt, in the same publication, writes about the resort of Rogner-Bad Blumau (opened in May 1997) in southeastern Austria which is billed as the "worlds largest habitable work for art." The artist, of course, is Friedensreich Hundertwasser, whose quirky but somehow satisfying design of a Vienna apartment house turned it into a tourist attraction.

The Trams of Vienna

Newsday's Ian Hamilton-Fazey likes Vienna's trams. With 35 lines and 991 stops in a city of 1.5 million people, he says, it is rare to wait for one for more than three minutes. Ridership has increased 36% in a 10-year period vs. 15% for automobile ownership.

He suggests Trams 1 and 2, which circle the Ring in opposite directions, as a way of not having to walk so far between major sights within the Ring. He notes that the N tram goes to the Hundertwasser municipal housing complex, and the D tram goes past the Karl-Marx-Hof workers flats in the suburb of Heilingstadt, shelled by government troops in Vienna's own war between fascism and the left.

Those who stay on the D line for another five minutes to its terminus, will find themselves in Nussdorf where Beethoven finished his Ninth Symphony. But most important about Nussdorf, says Hamilton-Fazey, are the town's many Heurigen, taverns attached to vineyards where the simple food always tastes good and fresh white wine goes down all to easily.

Austrian Wine Wins the World

In the Los Angeles Times, Stuart Pigott tells of a little-known Austrian white wine region that has been confounding expert wine-tasters. At a blind tasting to determine the world's finest dry white wine, the 1993 Zieregg Sauvignon Blanc from Manfred Tement in Styria was an almost unanimous choice over all comers, even the odds-on favorite, 1995 Montrachet "Grand Cru" from prestigious Domaine de la Romane Conti in France.

The wine comes from vineyards near the Slovenian-Austrian border south of Graz. According to Mr. Pigott, the Tement wines and others from this region are now on the lists of some of America's hottest restaurants.

He rhapsodizes over the Polz brothers 1997 Sauvignon Blanc: "Grass, sweet red pepper and black currant aromas leap out of the glass and lavish flavors pour over the palate. Yet it remains absolutely clean with a spicy aftertaste that comes back at you like a whiplash."

The Polz vineyards are located near the town of Ratsch.

January 1999