Thursday, 5 January 2012

A Trio Of Bonkers Trips: No 3 (Austria & The Czech Republic) - Meeting The Olfactorias And "A Puffa Of Perfumistas"

Back in the summer, I was lucky enough to be working in Austria and met Olfactoria (aka Birgit) for the first time, in her home town of Vienna. We spent a very enjoyable afternoon in several high end perfumeries, sniffing the latest releases and generally chewing the cud about matters scent-related. Fast forward four months and I found myself back in the area, this time not far from the country bolthole where Olfactoria and her family spend most weekends.

And so it was that we arranged to meet again on the Saturday before Christmas in Sankt Pölten, which turned out to be Mr O's home town, and was fairly close to their cottage. The contrast between the weather this time and in August could not have been more stark: 35C plays -2C. In the summer I had been concerned about my sticky, creased skirt and glistening forehead, whereas the main priority on this occasion was to retain a full complement of fingers by the end of the morning.

I had had the foresight to bring along my good coat - which is lightweight, but as warm as one of those high tech sleeping bags favoured by bivouacing climbers. The Olfactorias were all similarly swaddled in down coats: Birgit's was a very stylish fitted design in matt black (photo is approximate), cinched in at the waist by an integral belt, while the children had anoraks with fur trimmed hoods. There should be a collective noun really for a gathering of quilted outerwear on this scale - a "wadding" perhaps? A "padding"? Or a "puffa"?

So having rendez-vous'ed at the train station, our puffa party set off in search of a cafe for elevenses. Olfactoria's younger son, Niki, who has just turned two I believe!, had a push chair at his disposal but preferred to toddle on ahead, pausing every few yards to hurl himself on the ground, much like a rock star stage-diving or a stuntman perfecting his "freshly-shot-in-the-chest" manoeuvre. Even though we attracted a few concerned glances from members of the public, Olfactoria and her husband remained calm and unfazed, for they knew that Niki would get up from his prone position moments later, only to start his toddle and deck-hitting routine all over again a few yards further on.

We had some difficulty finding a tea room with enough space to accommodate our party, but following a tip off from a passing relative of Mr O, finally secured a large table in a basement cafe in Sankt Pölten's main shopping plaza. Once we were all sitting down, I presented the boys with some chocolate money and a couple of soft toys (a German-speaking chicken and a teddy in a skiing outfit from Utah). I explained that both toys were unhappy in England, and had heard that there were two nice little boys in Austria who might consider giving them a home. I am not sure that Pauli, the elder son, bought this anthropomorphic emigration line I was spinning for one minute, but he graciously accepted the bear, while Niki took custody of the chicken - or he may do in a year or so when he has outgrown the potential hazards of the bird's beady eyes. : - )

Once all our drinks had arrived, Olfactoria and I discreetly exchanged perfume swap parcels, the focal point of which was a small decant of the discontinued Guerlain Plus Que Jamais (for B) in return for a large one(!) of Après l'Ondée for me. Additionally, I received a "starter kit" of Mono di Orio scents, while I introduced Birgit to Roja Dove Scandal and Damien Bash Lucifer #3, as well as rehoming a dirty amber. I also sniffed Olfactoria wearing her new love of Angélique Noir, which Lady Jane Grey had given her when they met up earlier that week. Now, I tried Angélique Noir in 2008 or so and remember it as being a hot, treacly mess on me, while it was spectacular on Birgit. At this point, Mr O leaned in and announced portentously: "Ah, but of course Birgit has 'magic skin'".

Now if Birgit has magic skin, young Niki would appear to have a magic gullet, for in addition to pavement-diving, he showed us his special party trick of finishing not just his own drink (like the well behaved little boy that he is), but also everyone else's. With such a prodigious capacity for fluid consumption, I could see him downing a yard of ale in one well before he is of school age.

After our pitstop in the shopping plaza, Mr O kindly took the children off to look round the Christmas market, giving Olfactoria and me an hour to ourselves. We spent it notionally sniffing in the Sankt Pölten branch of the beauty salon and perfumery chain, Nägele & Strubell. To be truthful, the store's name is the best thing about it, for the selection of niche brands there was quite limited; though I am sure they were more, I can only actually recall Annick Goutal and Ligne St Barth. Birgit introduced me to the Annick Goutal room spray range, notably the seasonal scent Noël, and I enjoyed walking into a generous ambient spritz of that.

Notes: lemon, bitter orange, mandarin and Siberian pine

You know, it truly didn't matter that Olfactoria and I spent as long as we did standing in front of the fixture without spotting anything worthy of our attention. Speaking for myself, we could have stood at a shelf of hosiery, hardware or baby food, and I feel sure the conversation would still have flowed. Perfume was never far from our minds, and yet it seemed less of a lynchpin in our budding acquaintance than at our first meeting.

Soon it was time to rejoin the rest of the family, and head over to a Japanese restaurant for a buffet lunch, to which the Olfactorias kindly insisted on treating me. For one so young, I was impressed at Pauli's adventurous taste in food: he cheerfully despatched dim sum and sushi with equal gusto. Niki slept through lunch in his buggy, flaked out after his earlier exertions, and thereby missing the opportunity to minesweep the last few mouthfuls of his mother's Diet Coke and my own "Apfelsaft, gespritzt", as I learnt to call the Austrian version of sparkling apple juice.

Lunch over, it was the parting of the ways, as the Olfactorias went off in search of a live Christmas tree to serve as a festive backdrop to their al fresco barbecue that night. "Very fresco", I hear you say. They'll be needing their padded coats, that's for sure...!

I wandered meanwhile round the shops a bit more, before ambling back to my hotel. Well, I say "ambling" - it was more of a limp actually, for five minutes after the Olfactorias had gone, I was suddenly aware of a pricking sensation in one of my feet, and discovered a nail protruding inside the lining of one shoe - it was the first time I had worn them since having them resoled. There was a splodge of blood in the shoe and another one staining my sock.

So there you have it - the ultimate sign of a good time with a fellow perfumista is immunity from one foot at least. Had I been bleeding from both feet I might just have noticed, however much fun we were having... : - )

Photos of Sankt Pölten from (Tibor Pospisil), photo of coat from, pefume shop logo from the company's website, other photos my own


Tara said...

Ouch! Your poor foot! That is proof of the power of perfume friends, indeed.

You know I had long suspected that Birgit has magic skin. How else can someone look that good with all their hair scraped back? (Not for me that's for sure). The O boys are adorable. I have quite a soft spot for Niki and all his antics. Glad you had such a fabulous time.

Hope your cold is better now.

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

It is proof indeed - I hadn't noticed a thing earlier!

Your remark about B's hair in a bun is spot on - she really does suit what on some people would be a very unforgiving style. She would probably even look fine bald, come to think of it, and even fewer people can work that look!

My cold is quite a bit better, thanks. I hope you continue to dodge it!

Anonymous said...

Oooh I do love a good Japanese/Chinese buffet!

You are a very dedicated fume head, not many would walk around with a nail in their foot. I salute you.

The Olfactoria's look like a lovely family :D

Vanessa said...

Hi Candy Perfume Boy,

I should perhaps clarify that the nail was grazing the sole of my foot rather than embedded as such. : - ) I don't wish to garner more credit for stoicism than I deserve. Though I wasn't even being stoical, tbh - I genuinely didn't notice the pain before that point, so it was more a case of being happily distracted!

When I took the offending shoe back to the cobbler's after my trip, he looked quite nervous...maybe he thought I might sue him!

Anonymous said...

Okay, first of all: I look as if I have about 250 pounds!!! Bonny, indeed! :Dear Bonkers-readers, I am not that fat, I swear!

V, I'm sorry to hear that your poor foot was damaged, and very proud to hear we managed to sufficiently distract you.

Thank you for your visit, your gifts and for this post. I laughed so hard when reading about Niki's tendency to kiss the floor. And the photos are great. (Again: apart from the one where I look like a beached whale).

Holly Cox said...

Hi. Saw your post on Facebook about having your posts removed. Can't help but think this is one of those silly computer program over reactions to the word Bonkers. In a similar way to a well known cable Media provider's subsribers having their TV's parental control locks block programs about Charles Dickens or Charles ****ens as they get to see it. Or the County Limrick town Effin which just can't get on Facebook because theyre name has been deemed offensive and spam. Who knows why companies prefer to use these programs rather than excercise some common sense! But believe me anyone who reads and enjoys your blog as we do won't be put off by that kind of Computer silliness.
Holly Cox (Daughter of Angie Cox)

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,

D'you know, I had to go back and scrutinise that photo because I didn't recall your looking overly bonny in it, and I still don't think you do, honest!

I know - and hopefully the readers will also infer - that that fine knit tunic top you are wearing is A RELAXED FIT, and that its folds may choose to drape over an area **beyond the outer limits of Birgit's person**.

It was the only snap I took of you and Mr O together, which is compelling grounds for its inclusion, but I would like to state quite clearly again - on the record - that Olfactoria is uniformly slender, EVEN when wearing her padded coat!

Vanessa said...

Hi Holly,

Thanks so much for taking the time to explain a possible reason for my Facebook ban. "Bonkers" could indeed be misconstrued, I suppose - why, my dear friend Bloody Frida (there's another FB casualty in the making...) even calls me "Bonks"!

Who knows what arcane algorithms have got it in for me on FB, but I appreciate your support, and the interesting theory.

Undina said...

Vanessa, I enjoyed so much both the story itself and the way you told it. I laughed more than once. Thank you!

Birgit, you have a very vivid imagination, we all know that. But whale? Really?!!

lady jane grey said...

Vanessa, it's funny for me to read about St. Pölten in a perfume blog - the town is "notorious" for me due to my work...
I tell ya, Niki will be a lady-killer one day (well, he IS one already): I fell for him for the first sight.
BTW, which part of CZ did you visited?

a.k.a. Warum said...

I can see how good times can distract you from pain, thanks for a great story! It was marvelous to see the pictures!

Julie said...

Vanessa, what a delightfully enjoyable read! I feel as if I were with you on your visit to the O's :) and Birgit, you do not look like a whale in any way, shape, or form. You and your family are truly lovely . Thanks for this post.

lovethescents said...

Sounds like you had SO much fun. Now did you get a chance to try that new AG, Mon Parfum Cherie? If so, what are your thoughts?

Can't believe how svelte Olfactoria is, after two small children. I guess she's not so interested in Austrian cakes?? :-)

Ari said...

OMG, the Olfactoria family is so damn pretty! And I'm so happy to hear that you finally got some Apres l'Ondee, even if it means that you won't be coming to the Waldorf-Astoria to see me :( I pray that I will have the chance to meet both of you someday!
Your nail-in-foot story is very familiar to me- when I was eight, I decided to fly my kite through what was (unbeknownst to me) a cactus field. In flip flops. I had no idea until my mom shrieked in horror, prompting me to look down at my feet and faint from all of the blood! I was not a very observant child. The eventual ADHD diagnosis came as a surprise to no one!

Anonymous said...

What fun! I am sorry to hear about your foot, but glad you had such fun with Olfactoria and Co. (None of whom look anything but fit and slim!) :)

Suzanne said...

I feel like I got to drop in for a spot of "Apfelsaft, gespritzt" with the Olfactoria family, too! Thanks for making us feel so included, Vanessa.

Birgit is beautiful and could never look less than so; it only follows suit that her husband and kids are, too. Your photos really made the post sparkle, Vanessa; I especially loved the ones of Niki downing his drink! :D

Vanessa said...

Hi Lady Jane Grey,

I am intrigued to learn in what way St P is "notorious" in your line of work. : - )

Speaking of which, I gather our professional paths may potentially intersect around Hochgeschwindigskeits-Blisterverpackungs-Anlagen. And if you additionally have anything to do with tablet presses, that would suggest that "Kilian" has an additional resonance for you beyond the perfume brand of (approximately) that name...

Vanessa said...

Hi a.k.a Warum,

Thanks for dropping by to comment - I recognise your name from OT, Cafleurebon and a number of other blogs!

Glad you liked the story and the pictures - they are a very photogenic family, I must say.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Sorry these comments are out of sequence - I didn't scroll up far enough just now...

Anyway, good call to reassure Birgit about her physique in that photo and point out that any excess pounds are a figment of her (overactive!) imagination. : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Lady Jane Grey,

I forgot to mention where I went in the CZ Republic. On this occasion only as far as Lovosice (on the way to Dresden), but my work has been taking me to the area on and off since the mid-90s. Do I infer yours does also? Then in September I had meetings in Zlin, Jihlava, Podborany and Prague, but the bit of Prague in question was a Starbucks wedged between an IKEA and a Tesco on a retail park just off the orbital motorway!.

Vanessa said...

Hi Julie,

Thanks for visiting and for your kind comment.

I do feel fortunate to have met Olfactoria twice in one year, and I hope more of her readers get a similar opportunity some time - they are indeed a lovely family, and very hospitable.

Vanessa said...

Hi lovethescents,

I tried Mon Parfum Cheri in Zurich in the autumn and on card thought it had way too much patchouli and headache-inducing potential. If I have dismissed it prematurely, do let me know! I don't believe Olfactoria is a fan either for that matter. Now she likes more perfumes generally than I do, so that fact may be significant.

Birgit is indeed very svelte - there was nowhere to hide behind the cinched-in belt of her padded coat, let me tell you! I can't say I saw her eat any cake during our lunch, though in fairness it was a Japanese restaurant.

: - )

Victoria said...

Oh, I am jealous--a Vienna trip and meeting Birgit too. :) Sounds like you guys had a great time. Nikki looks so much like Birgit.

Thank you for sharing, Vanessa, and for making me laugh out loud. "In the summer I had been concerned about my sticky, creased skirt and glistening forehead, whereas the main priority on this occasion was to retain a full complement of fingers by the end of the morning." Oh, I so can relate to this!

Vanessa said...

Hi Ari,

You can be sure our mooted rendez-vous in the Waldorf-Astoria is in no way contingent on an ongoing Apres L'Ondee quest! I would definitely be up for meeting if you ever come to Europe or if my travels take me to the E Coast again.

And what a great story about how you blithely carried on kite flying with spine-studded feet! Have you tried walking on hot coals lately? I think you would be a natural.

So did you grow out of the ADHD? You strike me as pretty focused and single-minded, tbh. : - )

Vanessa said...

Hi anotherperfumeblog,

Thanks for adding your voice to the "Birgit Is Not Unduly Bonny" lobby. I hope this groundswell of opinion will convince her that she herself is not "swelling" by any "stretch" of the imagination.

: - )

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

I am pleased that you could imagine being there with us, and hopefully it is just a question of time till you do get to meet B in person. : - )

I was pleased with that series of shots of Niki draining the dregs of someone else's drink - I had to be quick off the mark, mind, and luckily the shutter on my new iPhone camera is just that!

Vanessa said...

Hi Victoria,

Thanks so much for reading and for your comment. I can imagine it is jolly chilly where you are at this time of year - you are much better off indoors perfecting your baguette-baking technique! : - )

Interesting that you thought Niki looked like B. I think Pauli looks more like B, and Niki more like his dad. But you may be picking up on different traits!