Royalty, Romance, and Whiskers

This is a post about grandeur, love (and loss of love), escape, suicide, assassination, and mutton chops. It sounds rather ominous, but all this and more was in the mix when we visited the Hofburg Imperial Palace in Vienna. The Hofburg was the home of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife the Empress Elisabeth, known as Sisi to Germans and Austrians. A tour of this huge and stately palace included—among other things—their opulent private apartments, the Sisi museum, and the incredible imperial silver collection.

The façade of one part of the Hofburg palace

Unfortunately, Sisi was rather ill-suited to the role of Empress. To us, she came across as a 19th century Princess Diana. In 1853, she was living the carefree life of a child in Bavaria. Then one day, the 23-year old Emperor Franz-Joseph arrived with his domineering mother, Princess Sophie of Bavaria. Their mission: to find a suitable, wife of course. The young emperor, who sported a spectacular pair of mutton chop sideburns, was immediately smitten with the shy Sisi, even though mama really wanted him to marry Sisi’s older sister Helene. Only five days after they met, Sisi found herself engaged at the tender age of 15. They married 8 months later, and she gave birth to the first of four children 10 months after the wedding.

Franz Josef 3
Those are some impressive whiskers!

Their union was not a very happy one. Although Franz-Joseph adored his beautiful bride, Sisi found life as an Empress to be isolated and confining. She was obsessed with her appearance, making sure that her 5’ 8” frame never went over 110 lbs. She was rather proud of her 16” waist which she achieved by having herself laced each day into leather corsets. This procedure could often take as much as an hour. She also spent hours taking care of her long locks of hair which reportedly cascaded to her ankles. When she wasn’t dealing with her arduous beauty regime, she could be seen riding one of her many horses, which she loved dearly. She was known by many contemporaries as one of the finest horsewomen in Europe.

As her life progressed, she became quite sickly and prone to melancholy. But her bouts of depression became almost clinical when she lost her first-born child at 2 years of age, most likely from typhus. At about the


same time she had a second child, a daughter who also became ill, but recovered quickly. But due to the heavy burden of Sisi’s despair, this child was basically ignored and the damage to their relationship over the years was irreparable. She did finally give birth to her only son, Rudolf who would grow up to have many of the same traits as his mother; he came to quite a sad end as we will see.

Part of the imperial silver (and gold!) collection

In my next post, you’ll learn about what happened to Rudolf and Sisi. And we’ll see how she became a larger-than-life icon to the Austrian people after her death (though her legend was mostly fabricated). More on that in the next post.


Water Music and Tortes

Vienna is an extremely popular city for tourists. Shops abound filled with tiny busts of Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss. Hawkers on almost every street corner sell concert tickets, dressed in finery to resemble those musical virtuosos. So is it any wonder that some of the ordinary, everyday things in a place like Vienna might just take on a different appearance, or sound for that matter?

Opera 3c
Step right up, Ladies and Gentlemen!

We found that a great (and cheap) way to enjoy a decent lunch on the go was to go to the food places in the U-Bahn stations. For example at the Opera U-Bahn station, we stopped at Anker, a great little chain coffee shop where we could pick up a quick bite and one of the best coffee macchiatos (macchiati?) we’ll ever have. Of course, coffee inevitably led to the need to scan for those two dreaded words, “public restroom.” Living overseas has sometimes turned that necessary visit into quite an adventure—like the evening in an obscure Paris café where I found the toilet to consist of a large square ceramic basin with two raised footrests and a hole. But I was not entirely ready for nature’s call to lure me into a night at the opera.

At the Opera U-Bahn station you can relieve yourself to the lilting strains of Strauss at the “Opera Toilet,” where the stalls have dressing room doors and the music of the Viennese masters is piped in. They even provide you with a photo backdrop bearing the establishment’s hallowed name. So once in the stall, if you feel so inclined you can capture that coveted selfie showing that you answered Nature’s call at the world-famous Opera Toilet! You sure won’t find that in Peoria. By the way, water music (apologies to Handel) does of course, come at a cost. You have to pay 70 Euro cents to get in. Exact change is necessary or you’ll end up tipping the recorded orchestra since the machine does not make change. However, the charge is pretty typical of public toilets in Europe, so the music really is a bonus.

Opera Coffeeb
A glass of Vienna’s finest

Since I was talking about coffee earlier, it really is a way of life in Vienna. It’s safe to say that ‘coffee culture’ was born here. A local legend dates the birth of the café to the final defeat of the Ottoman army at the second (and final) siege of Vienna in 1683. The story has it that the first coffeehouse in the city was opened by a shop owner with an entrepreneurial bent who found many bags of coffee beans in an abandoned Turkish encampment outside the walls. Whether the legend is true or not, Seattle’s got nothing on this city. Another story says the famous French croissant originated here, with the shape of the pastry being a representation of the crescent that appeared on the Turkish flags. I don’t know if it’s true but there is at least some historical evidence to back the claim. In any event, Vienna has a lot more in its culinary history than schnitzel.

One of the most wonderful varieties of the local brew is Iced Coffee—strong coffee with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, all topped with mounds of fresh whipped cream. And you can use it to wash down a slice of Sacher Torte, another truly great creation of this wonderful place! Of course you can get Sacher Torte in just about every café in the city, but the original and most famous is from the Hotel Sacher itself.

The real deal
The real deal

We tasted this luscious confection at a several cafés, just to ensure we were on firm ground when we decided whose Sacher Torte was actually superior. But after our fairly exhaustive taste test, we agreed that the original from the Hotel Sacher was indeed the best. The genesis of the cake dates back to 1832 and the recipe is a well-kept secret at the hotel. It’s made up of a dense chocolate cake that is layered with apricot jam and then topped with a rich chocolate ganache icing. It’s served up with a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream. And just like the Porsche, “there is no substitute.” It’s truly a decadent treat not to be missed when you’re here.

Our Fairytale Cottage in Vienna

Bill and I ventured to Vienna, Austria for a week just before the start of summer. What a glorious city. Art, music, architecture, history, wonderful cuisine, and more! Vienna has it all.

We’ll be writing more articles about our stay but I wanted to start with our lodgings. We were fortunate to find a wonderful chalet-styled Tyrolian cottage on Airbnb that was away from the crowds and noise of the city but still close to the action. The U-Bahn station was just a short 13-minute walk away, and from there it was a mere 10 minutes or so to the heart of the metropolis.

Vienna Cottage 01
View from the lovely garden

The house was located in a nature preserve that used to be the hunting grounds for the imperial family. In Europe, land is at a premium and quite scarce. The Europeans are also really into gardening. I mean really, really, into their gardens. So it is not uncommon as you travel to find small garden plots that people buy or rent. They’re tiny sanctuaries away from their high rise apartments where they can set up their own garden spaces to enjoy on the weekends. But in Vienna, instead of turning the excess land into just garden plots, they often build small houses on them. That was the case with our house and it was charming. It almost felt like the cottage was straight out of a Tolkien novel. The name of our street was actually “Hobbitweg,” (Hobbit Way).  The only thing missing from this fairytale house was siding you could eat!

Our hosts Silvia and Gerhard were very sweet and we managed to communicate with a great deal of smiling, laughter, and hand gestures. Our own command of German is somewhat less than comprehensive and the Viennese dialect can be quite difficult to understand, even for native German speakers. Reading it is not too bad, but once an Austrian begins to speak, all bets are off as to whether we will recognize what the heck we are hearing.

Vienna Cottage 02
Our cozy living room

We arrived to a lovely little feast set up for us in the living room with baked pretzels, cheeses, a variety of olives, chocolates, and a bottle of homemade Muscat wine (our host’s specialty). And the house itself was perfect—all cozy inside with wood interior and Alpine-styled furniture. It had three levels, which included a full kitchen, dining room, living room, three bedrooms and two full baths, not to mention a basement with a workout room and a sauna. It also had a private backyard that was a haven for us when we’d come home after a day of sightseeing. It made for the ideal getaway. This was truly a home away from home and it was the perfect way to start off our week in what has to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.

Vienna Cottage 03
A dining room fit for a feast

Next installment… Opera in the bathroom and what exactly is Sacher Torte anyway?

Another Great London Market

London Borough Market 2 (Compressed)
Treasures await inside…

Borough Market is London’s oldest fruit and vegetable market. But it is so much more. It houses approximately 100 food and produce vendors in an open air covered arcade environment. We were surrounded by a plethora of vendors—fruit and vegetable stalls, artisan bakers selling tasty breads and cakes, exotic tea sellers with a variety of teas from Sri Lanka, and lots more. Just across the street, we found the most exquisite coffee, made in small batches and brewed through hand-poured drip filters. Then there are the food vendors cooking up tasty treats from every imaginable local and ethnic cuisine you could dream of.

London Borough Market 10 Compressed
The best coffee in London

Clever travelers that we are, we planned our visit to coincide with lunchtime. We chose typically British fare that day. Bill got a steak and mushroom pie and I picked sausage rolls—lovely plump British sausages wrapped in flaky pastry. While we ate our lunch, we experienced sunshine, rain, and hail within the span of about an hour. That old saying that goes “if you don’t like the weather, wait a bit and it will change,” must have been coined in London.

Borough Market is most definitely a must see when in London, especially if you are feeling just a bit peckish. And even if you’re not, you soon will be as you wander past all the tempting treats that await you. For more information including opening times, events taking place at the market, and maps/lists of all the vendors, be sure to check out their website:

London Borough Market 7 Compressed 2
Cheese, glorious cheese!

Two London Markets

2016-03 LondonAntiquesAppleMkt_01
Apple Market in Covent Garden

Hello treasure hunters! We were recently in London and I wanted to share a little info on a couple of the markets we encountered. First is the Apple Market at Covent Garden. Vendors are there in the arcade all week and they sell lots of fun stuff for just about every budget. Local artists sell handmade jewelry and greeting cards; others are loaded with vintage phones, antique typewriters and military memorabilia. But every Monday a collection of additional booths is set up and they peddle lots of nifty stuff. Dealers sell everything from cigarette cards to vintage china and so much more. Items and prices run the gamut from dirt  2016-03 LondonAntiquesAppleMkt_02  cheap to take-out-a-second-mortgage expensive.

It’s close to the Covent Garden tube station. Then it’s just a very short stroll from the Market Building at the end of James Street. Covent Garden is on the Piccadilly Line. If you want to check out some of the vendors and get more information, here’s the link for the Apple Market:

Next it’s the famous (and super crowded) Portobello Market in Notting Hill. I don’t like crowds as a rule, but at the Portobello Road market, I don’t seem to mind the crush. I think it’s because I get lost in the thrill of the hunt. Be sure to wear your most comfy shoes, because this is really

2016-04 LondonAntiquesPortobelloMkt_01
Great shop!

huge. They have vendors selling a wide variety of antiques and collectibles. The street is lined with quirky shops and some outdoor vendors throughout the week but Saturday is the BIG day. You (along with a few thousand other people) squeeze your way through the maze of antique shops, multi-vendor antique arcades, clothing stores, and

2016-04 LondonAntiquesPortobelloMkt_02
What a salmon feels like…

outdoor booths on both sides of the street. You feel a bit like a salmon swimming upstream. The market opens officially at 8:00 a.m., but you might find some nice deals while they are setting up. In my experience, it’s best to go early—not only to possibly get a great price on that vintage cricket bat, but also to avoid some of the crowds. It’s fun, exciting, and colorful, and you just might find a lovely treasure. My hope was to come home with an English toast rack. This is a staple at any English breakfast table. I was happy to find not one but two! One was a nicely detailed example from the Victorian era and the other looked like a swan from the early 20th Century.


You can get to the market via Tube or bus. We took the 390 bus from our hotel in Bloomsbury but most people probably arrive via the Notting Hill Gate underground station (Central Line). It’s a 5-10 minute walk to the near end of the street market. Unless you arrive really early, you will probably be able to follow the crowd. Check out the Market’s online site ( under the “Where and When” pull-down menu for all the choices.



London Bill and Mary
Les deux petits cochons

Welcome everyone, to the debut of our blog, Les Deux Petits Cochons, (translation, The Two Little Piggies). In a future post, we will fill you in on the story of the origin of our title, but that’s for another time. For now, we are Bill and Mary, husband and wife for nearly 30 years who were bitten by the travel bug and never found a cure. We have a habit of getting itchy feet if we stay put for very long in one place. We have moved 12 times and three of those moves took us to Germany, where we currently reside.

I (Mary) am the main writer and frequent photographer, and Bill is the graphics and techie guy who is also a great writer and photographer in his own right. We decided to start a travel/lifestyle blog because I was always trying to keep friends and family updated about our wanderings. Then I found myself sending travel information to the teller at the bank who wanted to know about a trip we just got back from. Or someone in a restaurant overheard us talking about our trips and wanted to know more. This started to get out of hand, so voila! A blog is born.

We have a fairly unique perspective on life in Europe. This is our third shot at living here (actually the fourth for Bill, who lived in London for a bit before we met). Our first time was in the late 80s and Europe was a very different place back then. It was pre-internet and pre-Euro, and East Germany was alive and well and enclosed by the Berlin wall. During our second stay (1998 – 2003), we witnessed all sorts of changes. The introduction of the Euro and the opening of European borders resulted in—alas—no more cool stamps in our passports. But hooray! It meant no more eight different types of currency to carry around.

We will be posting about our current travels, as well as some “blast from the past” stories. We hope this blog will enlighten you, entertain you, and maybe even answer some questions you might have about living and traveling here in Europe. Whether you have your boarding passes ready or you’re an armchair traveler, we hope you enjoy the trip with us. Welcome aboard!