THE KAERU KID: A New Year’s Eve to remember

bioline_KaeruKidI don’t know why, but my ex-wife and I somehow always managed to have terrible New Year Eve celebrations in spite of the best intentions and plans. One year, I finally said, “We are going to have a fabulous one this year, regardless the cost.” (Be careful what you wish for).

My idea was to attend the New Year’s Eve Ball at the Royal Palace in Vienna. I asked my friend, the late Elmer Dills, a restaurant critic on radio and television for KABC in Los Angeles — he used to be in the diplomatic corps and spent many years in Vienna — for some tips. He said one of the newscasters asked him the same question and he had attended the celebration the previous year. Elmer suggested calling him and gave me his private number. When I called, he told me the Viennese travel agent who made all the arrangements was staying at his La Jolla condo and gave me that number.

The travel agent said she would drive to my Orange County home to discuss arrangements. What a (cha-ching) itinerary. Too embarrassed to rein in costs, I accepted all of her suggestions.

We flew roundtrip to Munich, arriving early on Christmas Eve. Within the airport there is a train station. Our first destination was Salzburg, Austria, and we quickly discovered one leaving in a few minutes. I erroneously thought I could purchase a ticket on-board to save time. (One must buy either at the ticket booth or from kiosks). The station and the cars were desolate because most passengers were home preparing for the holiday. No conductor came by to collect tickets as passengers rode on the honor system; but if caught without a ticket, a heavy penalty would have been imposed. It was a Christmas gift for a pair of ignorant Americans.

We were met at the Salzburg train station by a Mercedes limousine (cha-ching) and driven to the Goldener Hirsch Hotel (cha-ching). There was a party a few days later hosted by the general manager, Count Walderdorff, whose family once owned it.

In the late afternoon, we whisked off to the nearby chapel in Oberndorf (now a UNESCO World Heritage site) where “Silent Night” was first performed in 1818, sung by the young priest lyricist accompanied on guitar by the music composer. This rendition was in the same manner: http://tinyurl.com/zn3lt8v.

Returning to Salzburg, which was romantically dusted with snowflakes, we attended the Christmas Eve mass held in the awe-inspiring Salzburg Cathedral. A processional, including gowned archbishop, priests, musicians and choir entering was a real life spectacle. Exhausted, we wended our way back to the hotel and did not awake until 3 p.m.
Salzburg is one of the most romantic cities, with its charming old town where Mozart was born and home of the Von Trapp family inspired musical “The Sound of Music.” There is a long list of attractions in and near Salzburg (www.visit-salzburg.net).

An Austria-German rail pass insured having reservations for the rest of our itinerary on inexpensive, comfortable and convenient trains.

Arriving in Vienna, we went directly to the Bristol Hotel (the year we stayed it was selected as the top European hotel even over its sister hotel in Vienna, the Imperial) and learned our travel agent was the wife of the hotel general manager. We were given an upgrade that included entry to a private club room where complimentary drinks and snacks were always available (cha-ching).

Vienna is the capital of Austria and is the political, cultural and economic center, but also considered at or near the top of the world’s most livable cities. Classic music lovers recognize it as the City of Music, not only for Mozart and Strauss but many others (http://tinyurl.com/zy9zhw6).

Vienna’s long list of fun attractions (www.wien.info) would take more time than we had scheduled. We did, however, visit some of the castles and attended a performance at the historic Vienna State Opera sitting a few seats away from Walter Cronkite (cha-ching).

In preparation for our once-in-a-lifetime event, we had taken dance lessons and especially focused on the waltz. We had an extra suitcase to accommodate my wife’s ballgown and my tuxedo with tails. She wanted to ride the short distance (about 820 yards or half a mile) from the hotel to the Imperial Palace in a horse-drawn carriage a la Cinderella. I was told it would cost around $120 because of New Year’s eve (cha-ching). It was put on my hotel bill, but when I looked at the charge is was $220! I inquired and was told the carriage arrived at 8 p.m., but since we did not use it until 10 p.m., there was a $50 an hour waiting fee.

The Bristol Hotel general manager saw us before we left and he waved us over and introduced us to the general manager of the Royal Ball. When we arrived at the ball, we climbed an ornate staircase to be greeted by a couple dressed as the Emperor and Empress of Habsburg (cha-ching, cha-ching). There are strict protocols regarding dress, dancing, etc. (https://www.hofburgsilvesterball.com). A bottle of normally inexpensive Champagne such as André’s or Cook’s cost $200 a bottle and a bottle of fine French Champagne was $1,000 a bottle (cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching).

Fortunately, the general manager saw us, waved us to the bar and offered us a glass of the French champagne. We nursed it a long time.

It was a magical evening and I thought we did a credible job of waltzing among the crowd, although there were couples who twirled across the dance floor as if they owned it. We danced close to the clock on the bandstand as its hands announced the arrival of the new year. We stayed an hour longer savoring every second before trudging back to the hotel — our carriage had since turned into a pumpkin.

If anyone still has energy to burn, the annual New Year’s Day symphony by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra is performed at 11 a.m. in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein and broadcast worldwide (used to be emceed by the late Walter Cronkite). It is so popular tickets are decided by lottery and your entry must be submitted between Jan. 2 and the end of February (http://tinyurl.com/ndfmz92).

FYI: There may be less expensive (yeah, sure) ways to attend by Googling package tours to New Year’s Imperial Ball in Vienna.

Las Vegas Tidbits

I ate at the excellent original restaurant started by Mary Sue Milliken and her business partner Susan Feniger in Santa Monica when I used to live in Southern California.  They have become quite successful and have opened gourmet food trucks as well as branches in Los Angeles and two in Las Vegas, one at Mandalay Bay and another in Caesars Palace.

Prices have gone up quite a bit, but since I had a Travelzoo discount coupon, it didn’t seem too bad.  However, one was prohibited from ordering some higher prices items even if the total bill was less than the face value of the coupon. One could order the dish by paying extra.  There was also a mandatory tip added that was irritating, since the idea of a tip is discretionary.  The meat was covered with an extremely salty marinade with lots of cumin. It was my fault for not mentioning to skip the cumin. The manager and chef said the marinade tasted like it was supposed to,  but they kindly took it back and made it again without any marinade and then it was satisfactory. I complained in a review on Travelzoo and they gave me two $10 vouchers to use. I would be interested in the Gochiso Gourmet’s thoughts about diners like me who do not like the taste of cumin. My kids hate cilantro. Also, except for the very few who truly have a gluten allergy, I believe the gluten scare is overblown as are problems with ajinomoto (MSG).  I cannot recommend Border Grill at these prices.

The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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