Happy Blogaversary! Eight Statistics to Celebrate a Year of Blogging

This week marks our one year blogaversay. Around the same time last year we were preparing for our epic overland adventure through 13 countries on our way to Australia. While it was an incredible and life changing five and a half months we never really thought about what would happen to our blog once we safely returned back home to London. We finally decided to stick with it and are so glad we have. Year one as travel bloggers has been a steep learning curve, from negotiating Chinese firewalls, internet black spots, bloggers block and worse of all real life and having to go to work! It hasn’t always been easy finding time to blog but after a bit of a lull in the middle of the year we rediscovered our travel mojo and are excited about what year number two has in store.

Back at the beginning leaving home almost a year ago!

Back at the beginning leaving home almost a year ago!

So to celebrate our blogaversay below are some statistics to summaries The Smart Way Round’s first year:

1. Number of Posts: 79 (including this one)

2. Total Number of Website views: 8,604 (not bad for a small little travel blog)

3. Countries where people have read our blog: 104 (Great Britain, Australia & United States occupy top three spots)

4. Our most popular posts: “Rehabilitation of a Four – Letter Word”, “Our Pre Oktoberfest Checklist” & “Meet Us”

5 Followers on Twitter: 3,908

6. Followers on Instagram: 338

7. Likes on our Facebook Page: 712

8. Versions of our website: 1 (but we are slowly working on upgrading it, another steep learning curve)

The two of us would like to say a huge thank you for the amazing support we have received over the last year. From the comments, to the shares and follows ‘The Smart Way Round’ has far exceeded both our expectations. So here is to another fantastic year of travels, characters and amazing experiences, see you all on The Smart Way Round…

– Dean

A toast to another year of adventures

A toast to another year of adventures

 

Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world…

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”

– Humphrey Bogart, Casablanca

The dingy, overcrowded and dark hotel bar at the Havana Hotel in Cairo is probably not the first choice of bar to meet up with a friend. Long and rectangular with just enough room between the lounges and seats to squeeze past, during a week in October 2009 it became my regular haunt.

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

The not so glamourous entrance to the Hotel Havana

With time off between the summer and winter seasons in Europe, but not enough to do things independently I decided to jump on board an overland truck from Cairo to Nairobi. First things first however, visas and welcome letters had to be arranged. It was at the Australian Embassy waiting to get a letter confirming my Australian passport was real for Sudan that I met Chris. After reading an inch thick travel advice, and followed by the question, “So you still want to go to Sudan?” we had our government stamped confirmation letters and we were on our way.

Over the next few days Chris and I spent the days rummaging through Cairo’s souks, hopping between the Ethiopian Embassy and generally exploring Cairo. Throughout we met several other travellers who would be accompanying us on our adventure south. Every night we would return to the Hotel Havana, where most people were staying before the trip, to have a few beers, catch up and get to know each other.

Chris had spent some time in Dahab before arriving in Cairo to sort visas. During his time there he had met a British girl who would be joining our trip. As Chris put it, “Natalie is a really cool chick”. As the week progressed the odd assortment of intrepid adventures travelling with us filtered into the hotel, but no Natalie.

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

Natalie relaxing in Dahab before we met

One evening, several days before the trip, the band of merry adventurers had assembled in the bar. A thick smoke wafted up towards the ceiling from the various shisha pipes scattered throughout the bar and the heavy scent of apple tea hung in the air. In the background Arabic dance music rang out from an old CD player behind the counter and the low drum of hushed conversation would be broken by raucous laughter from one group to the next.

The rusty old metal detector at the front door would occasionally beep as a new guest entered but the fully armed security guard would only ever give a disinterested glance. I think the security was more there to make us feel safer but I had a feeling if something did happen they would be the first ones out the door!

It was at that point my life changed forever.

Against this backdrop of curling shisha smoke and apple tea the door from the hotel opened. A stream of bright iridescent light streamed into the bar followed by a ghostly silhouette. As the door creaked closed the beaming smiled Natalie replaced the silhouette. “That’s Natalie, the chick I met in Dahab”, Chris exclaimed. I don’t know how and I don’t know why but the moment I saw Natalie I knew I was going to marry her! Little did we both know, it was on that summery night in the smoke hazed hotel bar in Cairo The Smart Way Round was born.

It must have been love...

It must have been love…

That was five years ago. Our adventures have taken us all across the world, five continents and numerous countries. November sees the one-year anniversary of The Smart Way Round but the adventure started years ago. That’s the thing about travel, you never know who you are going to meet. I am always reminded of a comment a guest made on one of my first ever trips around Europe, “You make friends for a reason, a season or a lifetime”. Well in Cairo in 2009 it was definitely the latter….

– Dean

The Smart Way Round was born!

The Smart Way Round was born!

 

To spend or to avoid… Airport shopping!

Airport duty free shopping. It divides opinion. For some travellers it is a ticket to spend. For others it’s a painful gauntlet that’s full of dilly dalliering travellers rushing to catch flights.

I have some friends who look forward to the experience. They stock up on cheaper priced face creams, cosmetics and perfume.

I have others who avoid the shops like the plague and instead find a seat in the corner to ‘man the bags’ whilst their partner goes off shopping. I would suggest that this also works well!

Whether you are rushing for a flight or have time to kill, the Duty Free section is sure to get in your way or give you an escape!

Whether you are rushing for a flight or have time to kill, the Duty Free section is sure to get in your way or give you an escape!

As smelly, not washed often enough backpackers I’m sure we have all at one point or another felt that we could do with smelling a little sweeter. Bingo. Walking through the perfume section sorts this little problem perfectly. Like many others I always take the opportunity to try out a new scent and see what I think. I certainly don’t buy every time however I do from time to time make a purchase. Choosing the scent to try can depend on several factors. How long you want it to last, whether you go for something totally new or one you know. Perhaps above all it depends on where the shop assistants are located as to which one is easier to get the biggest ‘squirt’ of! The tricks of the trade….

Some Duty Free favourites...

Some Duty Free favourites…

It’s fair to say whilst we assume prices are cheaper, this is not always the case. I recently looked at a Ted Baker set in Boots at a London airport. Eager not to carry it round I searched to see if I could buy it online. To my surprise it was being sold on the Boots website quite a bit cheaper. However most things are ‘duty free’ and indeed less expensive at the airport. This in itself encourages travellers to part with their heard earned cash.  My tip – if you still have lots of time to kill and have your smartphone handy, then double check prices to make sure you really are getting a bargain!

Duty Free champers - these  appeal to The Smart Way Round!

Duty Free champers – these appeal to The Smart Way Round!

For me, the biggest thing airport shopping provides is that feeling of being on holiday. It’s a signal of the beginning, of the excitement that lies ahead. You might not want to buy anything, but with time to kill at an airport it provides a space to wander and stretch the legs. And hey, if yet another MAC eye shadow should fall into my shopping basket then who am I to complain….

– Natalie

We Blame Oktoberfest!

Hi everyone

To all our loyal followers you may have noticed that this week we have not posted a blog. Well a little something called Oktoberfest got in the way. You know, the world’s largest fair, where they consume close to 10 million litres of beer, 2 million bratwurst sausages, 400,000 chickens and 800 full oxen, or there abouts.

We will be back next week, but in the meantime thought we would share some of our photos from the festivities…

Prost!

 

At the main entrance to Oktoberfest grounds

At the main entrance to Oktoberfest grounds

The giant ferris wheel offers great views over the grounds

The giant Ferris Wheel offers great views over the grounds

Views from the ferris wheel the following morning

Views from the Ferris Wheel the following morning

Advertising in the U-Bahn

Advertising in the U-Bahn

First beer officially at 10:33am

First beer officially at 10:33am

A sense of the size of the Augustiner Beer tent

A sense of the size of the Augustiner Beer tent

Getting into the spirit of things...

Getting into the spirit of things…

Nothing beats drinking beer in traditional costume

Nothing beats drinking beer in traditional costume

 

Safe travels everyone!

N&D

Oktoberfest 2014: Top Day Trips out of Munich

It is now less than two weeks until Oktoberfest begins and if you followed are Pre Oktoberfest Checklist you should hopefully just about be ready to go! While a week-long beer drinking binge sounds good on paper, after a few days of being jammed into the Oktoberfest tents you may be looking to get out-of-town and rest your liver. Below we have listed a number of great day trips all within a couple of hours journey from Munich.

1. Ludwig II’s Fairytale Castles.

‘Mad’ King Ludwig’s castles are the jewels in the crown of Bavarian tourism. Neuschwanstein is the most famous, with an estimated 1.4 million visitors every year. Neuschwanstein was also the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella castle and has captured the imagination of tourists since the King’s mysterious death in 1886.

The view of Neuschwanstein Castle from Mary's Bridge

The view of Neuschwanstein Castle from Mary’s Bridge

However, while most people flock to Neuschwanstein, his other two castles are equally as impressive. Linderhof, near the famous Bavarian religious town of Oberammergau (also worth a look if you have time) is the only castle Ludwig ever completed. Much smaller than the other two, it is a far easier visit than Neuschwanstein and also doesn’t get the crowds. Nestled amongst the mountains and surrounded by lovely gardens, Linderhof would have to be our favourite of the three.

The smallest and only palace to be completed, Linderhof

The smallest and only palace to be completed, Linderhof

The final castle is situated on an island in Bavaria’s largest lake, the Chiemsee and is situated almost half way between Munich and Salzburg. Herrenchiemsee was built to be a living breathing museum dedicated to Ludwig’s idol, Louis XIV of France. An almost exact replica of the central sections of Versailles, Herrenchiemsee is probably the least visited of the three but has an idyllic location and can only be reached by a boat ride out to the island.

Numerous companies offer day trips from Munich and often combine Neuschwanstein, Linderhof and Oberammergau. If you do go with theses agencies double-check what you are booking, as a lot of the tours DONT include entrances into the castles themselves.

Rear facade of Neuschwanstein

Rear facade of Neuschwanstein

2. Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site

Visiting a concentration camp is not something you will necessarily say you enjoyed, but it is something you will be glad you have experienced. Dachau was the first camp set up in the 1930’s and now days is part memorial and part museum, dedicated to all those who suffered under Hitler’s regime. Getting out there can be a little tricky on public transport, however a number of local tour companies offer trips out to Dachau normally meeting in Marienplatz. We highly recommend the audio guide.

Shadow of the entrance gate into Dachau

Shadow of the entrance gate into Dachau

3. Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest

According to legend when God was creating the earth he gave all the natural beauty to the angels to distribute evenly around the world. As you can imagine this is a time consuming job. With the angels running behind schedule (he did only give them a week after all), God bellowed out “Hurry up!”, and the angels dropped all the natural wonders in Berchtesgaden.Or so the story goes.

Looking down over Berchtesgaden and the Eagle's Nest

Looking down over Berchtesgaden and the Eagle’s Nest

Approximately two hours from Munich the region of Berchtesgaden is stunningly beautiful. Dramatic mountains, crystal clear lakes and rivers and of course Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. Specially designed local buses drive you up one of Europe’s most amazing, and somewhat hair-raising roads to the base of the Eagle’s Nest. From here it is a short walk through a tunnel to the original elevator made of polished brass before arriving in the building itself. Eagle’s Nest has a little something for everyone, incredible alpine scenery and photo opportunities for the nature lovers and some very interesting history for the history nerds (like me). Our tip, try to get there early, queues for the buses and the elevator can be very long if the weather is good.

4. Salzburg

The hills are alive! That’s right, after only a two hour train journey you could be yodeling away Julie Andrews style in the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart . Salzburg makes for a great day trip from Munich if for no other reason to just ‘pop’ over the border into Austria.

Salzburg's gorgeous Old Town

Salzburg’s gorgeous Old Town

Combine the imposing Festung or fortress towering over the city and the charming medieval streets and alley ways, Salzburg is a photographer’s dream. There are plenty of sights from ‘The Sound of Music’ to keep you amused or for something totally different head out to Hangar 7, the home of Red Bull. For great views of the old town and fortress head to the Cafe Sacher and enjoy a slice of the famous chocolate cake, Sacher Torte.

Sacher torte, yum!!

Sacher Torte, yum!

There are numerous other possibilities that we haven’t mentioned her as well. Nuremberg has a great old town and huge city walls, while from Garmisch-Partenkirchen you can catch a cable car up to the top of Germany’s highest mountain. If you fancy staying in Munich there are also some great experiences to keep you busy. We love Mike’s Bike Tours, a great way to see loads of the city and have a seriously fun time doing it. You can also hire bikes from them and they also run trips to Neuschwanstein and Salzburg.

Remember (if you haven’t had too much beer), Munich is a great city and so is the surrounding countryside, so make sure you take time out from Oktoberfest and get out there and explore!

– Dean

Prost!

Prost!

 

Hometown Tourist: Travel Inspiration in the Heart of London

The best thing about living in London is there is always something going on regardless of what you are into. So with a day off work together and a quick Google search we discovered that the Travel Photographer of the Year exhibition was on at the Royal Geographic Society, how could we not go?!

The best thing about this exhibition is it is free!

The best thing about this exhibition is it is free!

The exhibition showcases the best photos and some honourable mentions of the 1000’s of photos that are sent to the Royal Geographic Society every year. From stunning landscapes, incredible wildlife shots and intimate local interactions, the winning photos come from all around the world.

Every year there are different briefs and categories and you can even win an award taking photos with your mobile phone. If ever you where in need of some travel inspiration, this exhibition is for you!

Set in the courtyard of the Society’s London headquarters, there are about 50 photos on display. Combine that with books on show of previous years’ award winners the exhibition makes for a great escape for an hour or two. There are umbrellas on hand should you need to borrow one (we did!) to continue browsing the pictures in the outside courtyard. Wandering around an outside gallery was a novelty in itself!

The Society's courtyard

The Society’s courtyard

Sadly the Exhibition finishes this Sunday (August 17th) before it begins to tour the UK and then the world. However it is a great prelude to our favourite photo exhibit every year, the Wildlife Photographer of the Year at the Natural History Museum which starts every October. If you have a spare hour at lunchtime, then its well worth a wander!

 

Our Top Wildlife Experiences So Far… Part 1

Nothing beats seeing wildlife in their natural habitat and over the years we have been lucky enough to see our fair share. From almost being trampled by a family of elephants in South Africa, searching for the elusive nocturnal Bamboo Lemur in Madagascar to the other worldliness of Antarctica, in this two part blog we explore our favourite wildlife experiences from our travels so far….

1: Mountain Gorillas in the Parc National des Volcans Rwanda

This would have to be one of the most amazing hours of our lives. We hiked for roughly an hour into the rain forests of the Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda to get up close and personal with one of mans’ closest relatives.

One of the most amazing hours of our lives.

One of the most amazing hours of our lives.

Visiting the Gorillas is strictly regulated, and rightly so, with less than an estimated 800 still in the wilds of Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Only 10 visitors per day get to spend one incredible hour with a family watching them go about their business. Despite their size, (the males can weigh over 200 kg), they can be extremely quiet and the sound of them beating their chests was more like hollow drums being beaten than anything out of a King Kong movie.

Up close and personal with a 200kg Mountain Gorilla

Up close and personal with a 200kg Mountain Gorilla

They truly exhibit human like tendencies and when they make eye contact you can sense the intelligence behind those eyes.  It is an experience you will never forget. I never thought anything would top visiting Antarctica, I was wrong.

2: Penguins in Antarctica

Antarctica is like another world, virtually devoid of human interference and one of the few places in the world where nature rules supreme.

Just one of the colonies of Penguins to be found in Antarctica's harsh environment

Just one of the colonies of Penguins to be found in Antarctica’s harsh environment

It really is a privilege to visit Antarctica and to watch a colony of roughly half a million penguins squawk, clamber, dodge and bully each other was one of the highlights of my years of travel. Each penguin had a totally unique personality, and armed with your camera and just sitting still they would move around, investigate and try and make sense of you being there. Antarctica is one of the few places in the world where wildlife has not had to learn to fear man and the penguin’s curiosity was fascinating to behold. We can only hope that it remains this way.

The penguins go about their business as if you were not there

The penguins go about their business as if you were not there

3: Madagascar’s Diverse and Unique Wildlife

After watching the BBC documentary series on Madagascar we thought we would be lucky to see half of what they experienced on the program, how wrong we were. Getting our Attenborough on was far easier than we thought, and we were lucky enough to see over 20 species of Lemur (our new favourite animals, sorry penguins you have dropped to number two!), dozens of incredibly colourful chameleon and geckos that looked like leaves.  We never thought we would get so excited about spotting insects!

A Ring Tailed Lemur in the  Andasibe National Park, Madagascar

A Ring Tailed Lemur in the Andasibe National Park, Madagascar

Each national park was famous for a different variety of Lemur, or a special type of Chameleon. Our tip, make sure you link up with experienced local guides in the National Parks, without a good one you wont see a fraction of what can see you.

One of the stunning Chameleon we saw on Madagascar's northern islands

One of the stunning Chameleon we saw on Madagascar’s northern islands

4:Lake Nakuru National Park, Kenya

You can’t talk about wildlife experiences without mentioning Africa!  While not the most famous, we loved Lake Nakuru National Park.  A stunning location and diverse wildlife made this one of our best game park experiences in Africa. Containing four of the big five (the park is too small for elephants) as well as loads of monkey and flamingo all set around a beautiful large lake and only a couple of hours out side Nairobi, make sure you add this to your Kenyan wish list.

Our first Lion in Nakuru National Park

Our first Lion in Lake Nakuru National Park

5: Diving with Thresher Sharks in Malapascua, Philippines

While there are without doubt far better dive sites in the world, and perhaps because it was my first shark experience Malapascua makes the list. It is one of the few sites in the world where recreational divers can see these deep-water sharks. Every morning at dawn they swim up to a cleaning station at 30m below the surface. Their ribbon like tails majestically waving behind them and their huge black eyes and open mouths they almost look as if they were stoned!  For divers, their fist shark experience is always something special, and mine was no exception.

 

The amazing tail of the Thresher Shark off Malapascua

The amazing tail of the Thresher Shark off Malapascua

Divers lined up at dawn as the Thresher sharks swim up to a 30m cleaning station

Divers lined up at dawn as the Thresher sharks swim up to a 30m cleaning station

Next week in Part 2 we round out our top 10 wildlife experiences. Any ideas what we will find? Leave a guess below or tell us about your favourite wildlife experience around the world and we will have to add it to our travel bucket list!

– Dean

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines: RAF Museum London

We continue our Home Town Tourist series with a look at one of London’ s unique historical museums a little out of the city centre.

London is full of museums, and the best thing about them is most of them are free. You can marvel at dinosaurs a the Natural History Museum, discover the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum and even explore London’s oldest prison in the Clink Museum (you do have to pay for this one). However, one of our favourites is the RAF Museum in Hendon.

 

The entrance hangar with numerous pre-WWI planes

The entrance hangar with numerous pre-WWI planes

Originally a RAF airbase in North London, the museum now houses over 130 aircraft tracing the history not only of the Royal Air Force but also of aviation in the UK.

From the early years of flight up to modern day fighter jets, the RAF Museum has it all

From the early years of flight up to modern day fighter jets, the RAF Museum has it all

Split across four hangers all interconnected the museum contains loads of audio visual information, a chance to sit in several of the aircraft, flight simulators and air traffic control simulators, all designed to bring the various aircraft to life.

One of the greatest military aircraft of all time, the Submarine Spitfire

One of the greatest military aircraft of all time, the Submarine Spitfire

There are several highlights of the collection including the Battle of Britain Hall showcasing the famous old war birds, the Spitfire and Hurricane that helped defeat Nazi Germany in the Battle of Britain. A Lancaster Bomber and Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress take pride of place in the Bomber Hall as well as the cold war nuclear deterrent the mighty Vulcan (our personal favourite).

The enormous Lancaster Bomber taking pride of place in the 'Bomber Hall'

The enormous Lancaster Bomber taking pride of place in the ‘Bomber Hall’

A special mention must be made of the Canberra Bomber, which my Grandfather was one of the chief engineers on. There is an amazing sense of pride I feel every time I see her, and was a real buzz visiting with my Dad last year when my parents came over to the UK.

The Canberra, the plane my Grandfather worked on.

The Canberra, the plane my Grandfather worked on.

It is easy to spend several hours wandering through the hangers marvelling at everything from early RAF Bi-planes, to modern day search and rescue helicopters. There are several free 30 minute guided tours throughout the day to help bring alive the amazing history and is a fantastic museum to visit with family and children. The RAF Museum in Hendon is a must for military history buffs, for pilots and aviation fans and also the perfect big boys toys museum.

For opening times to the RAF Museum Hendon click here

For directions and location please click here.

-Dean

 

A Glimmer of Hope in Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses row on row…

– John McCrae

This year marks the commemorations of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of The Great War, the war to end all wars.

Sadly the Great War was not the conclusion of hostilities but rather the beginning of one of, if not the bloodiest centuries in World History.

The next four years will see major battles remembered, historical debates reignite, blame and finger-pointing intensify, because for many countries WWI was a defining point in their history.

Gallipoli, the Somme and Flanders are all spoken with a deep-seated respect and reverence as thousands laid down their lives, often in appalling conditions fighting a war that no one could comprehend but felt compelled to participate in.

The battles in Flanders were some of the worst, soldiers fighting in waist deep mud and freezing conditions during the winters of 1915-1917.

The Iper Cloth Hall, home to the Flanders Fields Museum

The Iper Cloth Hall, home to the Flanders Fields Museum

However during this dark time, a ray of light, a glimmer of hope sprang from the small town of Poperinge. The village is situated about 12 km from the town of Ypres, today know as Iper and during the war as ‘Wipers’ by the Commonwealth forces.

The front facade of Talbot House

The front facade of Talbot House

This glimmer of hope was called Talbot House. Talbot house was founded as a ‘every mans’ club by army chaplains Neville Talbot and Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton. It was set up without discrimination of rank as a respite from the horrors of war. Men could shower and sleep in a clean bed often for the first time in months. Even if only for a short time, Talbot house was designed to allow men to forget the war and atrocities associated it, like Tubby Clayton said, it was “An Oasis in a World gone mad”.

 

Talbot House from the rear gardens

Talbot House from the rear gardens

Now days Talbot House is not only a museum but also a guest house with nine rooms in the original building and three rooms in the garden block. Staying at Talbot House truly gives you a very unique experience and a historical link to your Battlefields visit. The staff are very friendly and incredibly knowledgable and more than happy to sit down with you and help you plan your visit to the surrounding sites. Their hints, tips and advice all designed to ensure you get the most from your visit of the region, and it certainly helps getting some insider knowledge of out of the way places, monuments and cemeteries.

Talbot House is a great base to explore the region. From Poperinge you can easily visit the Tyne Cot Cemetary, largest in the region, or the Canadian Memorial commemorating the first use of mustard gas. Not far from Poperinge are some intact German trenches where Adolf Hitler served and was almost captured by Canadian troops and numerous other cemeteries and monuments.

One of the many Commonwealth War Graves around Poperinge

One of the many Commonwealth War Graves around Poperinge

Most convenient of all is the proximity to Iper which houses the stunning In Flanders Fields Museum and the famous Menin Gate. No visit to the region is complete without attending the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate. At around 8:00pm every evening the Last Post has been played uninterrupted, (except during the Second World War) since 1928 and is an absolute must if in the area.

The Menin Gate in Iper with 54,896 missing soldiers names engraved on it

Vancouver Corner Memorial to the first ever mustard gas attack

Vancouver Corner Memorial to the first ever mustard gas attack

The next four years will be a sombre time for reflection and remembrance for the thousands of lives lost many of which perished in the mud of Flanders Fields. However while it is important to remember the tragedy that was the Great War, we should also remember men like Neville Talbot and Tubby Clayton and celebrate what they did to help alleviate the suffering of those weary soldiers. By basing yourself in Talbot House you are honouring their efforts, in a special way you are remembering those who fought and most importantly, you are keeping this amazing piece of history alive.

– Dean

“In all my experience I have never known a place so vital to morale as Talbot House”

– General Sir Herbert Plumer, 1928

Das Schnitzel Kaiser

Walk into just about any restaurant, pub, or beer hall in Germanic Europe and there is sure to be one staple on the menu, the schnitzel. In fact the schnitzel and its various incarnations can be found all around the world. Veal, pork, chicken, turkey even fish and vegetables can all be given the schnitzel treatment.

In Australia it takes the form of the mighty chicken parmigana, a breaded chicken fillet, covered in Parma ham, tomato sauce and melted cheese. In the USA there is a hotdog chain called Wiener Schnitzel, but for the real deal or as I like to call it,  “Das Schnitzel Kaiser” or ‘The Schnitzel Emperor’ we have to head to the source where it all began – the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Now before we dive in and devour our schnitzel it is worth mentioning there is some controversy over the schnitzel’s origin. Most agree that the schnitzel recipe was bought to Vienna by Austrian General Joseph Graf Radetzky, a man more famous for the musical piece composed bearing his name by Johan Strauss Senior than any military victory he ever achieved. While down in Milan he discovered the Cotolleta alla Milanese and upon his return to Vienna the Emperor Franz Joseph, asked for the recipe.

Another story believes it originates from the Byzantine Empire, where in the 800’s Emperor Basilieios insisted on eating meat covered in sheets of gold! As you can imagine this practice was frightfully expensive so the sheets of gold were replaced with the golden coating of breadcrumbs. Regardless of the origins, Vienna is where one must head for the perfect Wiener schnitzel.

Wiener Schnitzel is the national dish of Austria, and the term Wiener schnitzel is rigidly protected. To call your schnitzel a Wiener schnitzel it must be veal, any other meat and you may refer to it as the Wiener Style, the Wiener Art or the Wiener Escalope, but not, repeat not a Wiener schnitzel.

This way to schnitzel heaven

This way to schnitzel heaven

Just like the Emperors of old, there is one Vienna institution that towers above all others in the culinary world of the schnitzel, a restaurant called the Figlmüller. In this small little restaurant nestled in the back alleys of St Stephens Cathedral, Figlmüller has been dishing out world-renowned schnitzels since 1905. So popular has it become that literally just around the corner a second restaurant was opened in the early 2000’s and every night people hungrily wait in line to try this enormous piece of history.

Natalie with her monster Schnitzel

Natalie with her monster Schnitzel

Painstaking attention to detail and schnitzel pride come to the fore to feed the starving masses a schnitzel that is the size of a pizza. Every cut of meat in hammered out by hand with a mallet until it is wafer thin and roughly 30cm in diameter. It is then shallow fried in three different pans until a golden colour. So particular are the chefs at Figlmüller only one type of bread roll is used to supply the breadcrumbs. It is served, hanging off the plate with a slice of lemon and that’s it! If you have room the traditional accompaniment is either a small green salad or a side dish of delicious Germanic potato salad, but again only if you have room.

A German friend once told me there are two ways to tell if you have the perfect schnitzel. Firstly, when you cut into the schnitzel there should be a small air pocket between the breadcrumbs and the meat, and secondly believe it or not, is to place a napkin on your schnitzel and then sit on it! That’s right, if you sit on your schnitzel and no oil soaks through the napkin you have the perfect meal. If you do decide to test this theory out on your next visit to Vienna, don’t blame us if you are asked to leave!

People lining up on a rainy night in Vienna

People lining up on a rainy night in Vienna

Whether you get oil on your trousers or not, Figlmüller regularly wins awards for it’s schnitzels, and the huge lines every night come rain or shine to try Austria’s National dish can’t be wrong. Figlmüller truly is ‘Das Schnitzel Kaiser’.

– Dean