Tag Archives: austria

Oh Vienna – Day 3: Schönbrunn

My last full day in Vienna? That just feels incredibly wrong. This is the problem of having these short weekend breaks, as lovely as they are it is just over too soon.

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Still, we made the most out of today and the way to do that is with a good breakfast (well, brunch by the time we started). In many ways Vienna has similar prices to London, but if you are smart about it you will not break the bank. See this breakfast for two that I shared with the hub. It really kept us going through most of the day, where we were on our feet pretty much all the time.

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The destination today was Schönbrunn, which is a very short metro ride out of the city centre. The main draw is the UNESCO Heritage recognised palace and gardens.

The palace was the former summer residence for the Habsburg emperors of Austria-Hungary and is absolutely massive. I swear that we don’t have palaces to this scale in the UK, when you consider that this former hunting lodge expanded into well over 1000 rooms.

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I would be so interested to see what the grounds are like in summer with full flower beds and running fountains. In December it is still beautifully grand (and smells of cinnamon thanks to the resident Christmas market), but a little bit bleak.

There were signs that said you would need to wait 2.5 hours before being able to enter the palace to have a look around. What these signs did not tell you is that you could head in straight away if you bought one of the combined tickets to another nearby attraction. We know this purely because it was our plan to do this anyway.

The interior of the palace that we saw as part of the “Imperial Tour” was extremely grand. Sadly there were signs everywhere that said no photography was allowed inside, but I think we all disobeyed that rule when it came to the this grand ballroom.

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I haven’t never been to Versailles, but if the hall of mirrors there is meant to be greater than this ballroom… well I think I know where my next planned trip might end up being. Seriously though, going to this palace, the Imperial Crypt and seeing how much they still revere Maria Theresa makes me want to learn more about the history of the Habsburgs. If you have any suggestions of where I can start, please let me know.

After an hour long tour of the palace we walked through the gardens on the way to Schönbrunn Tiergarten (ie the zoo). This was originally started as an imperial menagerie  and has since expended into one of the best zoos I have ever been to.

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This is not just because of the variety of animals (which includes polar bears, sea lions, leopards and pandas), but also the condition of the enclosures. This is a zoo that has successfully bred polar bears and pandas so you know they are doing something right.

I has running about this zoo like a little kid (who was cold seeing how we didn’t get too far about freezing today) looking at all the animals that I could see in the few hours we had in this amazing zoo.

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Of course we ended up spending a lot of time with the pandas. How couldn’t I? They’re pandas! We were there a solid 10 minutes hoping it would turn around and only when we went to leave did she suddenly move and allow me to take such cool pictures. This was better than seeing the pandas at Ueno in Tokyo. Can’t believe I was actually so close.

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We stayed into the zoo until it closed. The closing announcement came through whilst we were in the aquarium staring at a rather lively octopus. So it was back to the city centre before we got locked in with the crocodiles.

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Rather than heading straight for food (we were all hungry by now) we visited the, now dark, Stadtpark to see some of the statues. The main ones were still lit up anyway so the emptiness of the park just added to the ambience. The statue that I came to see was this golden one of Strauss. It’s nice to see someone other than Mozart being revered in this city.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
img_4579Food item: Linzer Torte

By now we needed a sit down so it was an early evening cake and drinks before a final runthrough of the Christmas markets. Finally I was able to try some Linzer torte. I got it as a slice because could not find it as the typical torte. Better than Sacher torte by a mile. The toasted hazlenuts and the crumbly cake are brought together by the seam of redcurrant jam. Where the Sacher torte was a disappointment this Linzer torte is a pleasant surprise.

img_4582Food item: Horseradish
Progress: 593/751

One of the big things that my mum wanted to have from the market stalls was some Tiroler gröstl. We had it when we were in Kitzbühl back in 1999 and there were stalls selling it here. To my surprise they put grated horseradish on top. There is nothing I like more than a surprise list item and this horseradish really complimented the fried bacon and potatoes. Makes me feel like I am 9 again.

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The final Christmas market we went back to was the one on the Rathausplatz, which is both the biggest one and the nearest to our hotel. There were some last minute purchases and a complete final runthrough. I can’t believe we are going from somewhere this filled with Christmas and going back to a flat where the decorations aren’t even up yet!

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Of course I finished the evening with a hot dog. I have not had anywhere near enough wurst since I have been in Austria and at least I was able to finish this trip the right way.

That’s it for Vienna. There is a separate food post coming up where I will finish off this run of posts, but for now here are some things I will miss about Vienna:

1) Classically trained buskers – we have seen a violinist, a cellist and a tuba player playing film themes on the street. In London you are more likely to see a man playing a traffic cone.

2) Seeing Mozart’s face everywhere i go. We don’t do the same in London and now I want to know why we don’t plaster all our tourist shops with the face of Dickens or Shakespeare. Such a missed opportunity.

3) Architecture. It’s overblown and utterly amazing. The commute to work will feel all the more boring after visiting Vienna

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4) Christmas markets – come on London we can do something on this scale and with this high level of quality. Sod off with your Hyde Park Winter Wonderlands and give us something decent!

Oh Vienna – Day 2: Coffins and Art

So begins the first of the two full days that we have in Vienna. Being a city of coffee culture it is very important to find a good place for breakfast. Thanks to a bit of googling I found a place near St Stephen’s Cathedral called Haas & Haas.

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This is one of those places that was built for the long brunch. The sheer variety of breakfast items (from dim sum to a full English) was astonishing. Seeing as we are in the German speaking world there was no way I could say no to Weisswurst, a pretzel and Bavarian sweet mustard. I also had a lovely pot of rooiboss tea flavoured with cacao nibs and coconut. Truly this is the breakfast of champions.

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Of course the logical first place to visit after such a breakfast was the imperial crypt. Looking at it from the outside this is a very unassuming church, but this does not reflect what you find in the basement.

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Coffins. Rooms filled with the coffins of members of the Habsburg royal line. I have never seen anything quite like this. True, there were some coffins on the simpler side but, then there would be one covered in bronzed skulls, veiled women and maybe an angel or two.

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Nothing could compare to the massive coffin (if you can call it that) of Maria Theresa. This was bigger than a car and had many details including large weeping women and engravings of buildings. Every coffin afterwards just paled in comparison.

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You had a special room for Kaiser Franz Joseph, Sisi and Rudolf, but those coffins were still a plainer affair than Maria Theresa’s.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 65/100img_4470Sight: MuseumsQuartier
Location: Vienna, Austria
Position: #338

We walked from the imperial crypts to the MuseumsQuartier and…honestly I don’t have much to say about this place. Maybe it was the wrong time of year to visit? But after coming from the crypt and walking passed some amazing buildings via the Maria-Theresien-Platz; well it was an extreme let down to be honest.

How is this the only thing from Vienna on the Lonely Planet travel list? This has really given me some doubts about the rest of the list.

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After this disappointment we spent the rest of the afternoon in the Art History Museum (pictured is the Museum of Natural History, but apart from a few sculptures these are pretty much identical).

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Inside this building was a melange of marblework. The hallways were just an astonishing mixture of colour and polish, which just goes to show that some of these baroque are just as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside.

img_4482The first rooms we went through were paintings from the Flemish, Dutch and Germanic schools. In it we found the twin painting of the Tower of Babel scene we saw in Rotterdam. Strange, yet lovely way for these two rather different cities to be linked.

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Amongst the other paintings we saw were some rather weird looking Jesuses (so many great painters just cannot depict babies well), a strange depiction of groping and a very famous painting of a young Catherine of Aragon.

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We roamed around the other painting gallery for a while before heading for the antiquities. In the Roman section I was very much taken by the weird room where they had arranged a lot of statue heads/busts so they were all facing one direction. It was a very strange thing to walk in on.

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It was getting towards 4:30 when we left and we need drinks and snacks. Thanks to the Christmas markets you are kinda spoilt for choice at the moment. Personally I felt the flavoured pretzels calling my name and went for a pizza pretzel.

We headed back to the hotel room via a bunch of smaller Christmas markets and Julius Meinl (where I found a few food items that we will be saving for the day we leave).

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Dinner was our attempt at finding something Austrian to eat, and I found a place on Annagasse that did the trick. Pancake soup to start, Wiener schnitzel for main and a cheese strudel for pudding. I walked out of that restaurant a very happy man for I had eaten schnitzel in its spiritual home of Vienna.

We went for a final turn around the main Christmas market at the Rathausplatz before turning in for the night. We managed to be there until it closed…

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…but not before we got ourselves a langos. Think of it as a Hungarian treat where you deep fry a disk of dough and then brush it with garlic butter. Seriously, I love how much this city and their Christmas markets speak to my Germanic roots.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings. Hopefully some gröstl.

Oh Vienna – Day 1: Arrival

I know, I know. “Oh how the other half live” and all that. Honestly, I cannot believe how I ended going on 4 holidays/minibreaks in two months. I really need to space these out more. Seriously, my passport has been water damaged since the first day in New York and I need to get that dealt with.

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Vienna is one of those places that, for whatever reason, never majorly featured too highly in my holiday consciousness. I knew it was beautiful and know people who have been there and really loved it, but as I was walking around the city centre I felt this weird disconnect.

It was something along the lines of “I’m in Vienna? This is Vienna? How have I lucked out and ended up in Vienna?” Maybe I just went through a bit of disassociation due to having to get up at 04:55 this morning.

The first day in a new place has the tendency to be odd. You need time to get used to a place in terms of geography and culture. Having gotten to our hotel little after midday we still had most of the day to explore the local area.

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You don’t have to walk too far in Vienna’s centre to come to the conclusion that the architecture in this city Is deliciously overblown. Buildings aren’t only grand, but they are domineering with their flourishes, statutes and cornices. This is by no means a criticism. It’s just that in London you’ll get a small area with interesting architecture and then it’s pretty pedestrian, whereas in the Vienna city centre it’s pretty much all singing all dancing wherever you end up.

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I mean just look at their parliament building. There is nothing about this building that doesn’t feel grand about this place. Makes sense that it was originally built as a seat of power for the empire of Austria-Hungary.

We spent most of the afternoon wandering the streets, looking at buildings and trying to find some form of lunch. Vienna is famous for its cafe culture and, honestly, we were looking in all the wrong places as we found nothing for a very long time.

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Having given up hope on finding a place to have a sit down meal (where the queue didn’t stretch out of the door) so we opted for the classic bratwurst in a roll. You can never go wrong with that.img_4405

Of course this is when we started to spot cafes. So, we dragged our tired feet into the Mozart Cafe (side note: everything here is Mozart themed – it’s actually quite weird) and it allowed me to grab the first, of what may be a small number of, food item.

List Item: Try three quarters of the 1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die
Progress: 591/751
img_4404Food item: Sachertorte

Aside from schnitzel there are few things more Viennese than a Sachertorte. It was invented in the Hotel Sacher around the corner from this cafe (would have gone in, but lines) and is pretty much the city dessert. Think of it as a dense chocolate cake with apricot jam spread around the sides and in the middle. It is then finished off with dark chocolate icing and a quiet of whipped cream.

Think this cake sounds rich? Then you would be right. Pretty damned moist as well, which is also helped by the side of cream. The cup next to it was a hot chocolate with pistachio syrup. I guess chocolate cake was to satisfy that craving.

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By the time we left the cafe the sun had gone down and we were able to enjoy Vienna for the reason we actually came here – Christmas lights. Not just one uniform set of lights either; it would appear that each street do their own lights since there was no real repetition that we saw.

Not only are there so many lights, but also there are so many Christmas markets dotted all around Vienna. I think we came across six different ones today and I am sure there are more left to be discovered.

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We meandered around and ended up at the biggest of all the Christmas markets: outside the town hall (and coincidentally a 3-4 minute walk from out hotel). There are over 100 stalls here selling food, souvenirs and all things Christmas. I know that during our time in Vienna we will be back here every night for a roam, a browse and a snack.

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For dinner myself and the hub opted for soup in a loaf of bread. Honestly, we just stood there eating soup out of the hollowed out loaf before then eating the bowl itself. There was just something so satisfying about ripping apart that bread bowl that had become saturated with garlic soup.

After an early start this morning it is an early night tonight so we feel human as we tackle the one Lonely Planet area of Vienna.

The Great EU Quest – Austria

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 12/28
Country: Austria
Year first visited: 1999

Continuing my belated writing up of different countries I am looking at Austria for today’s post. This was the last holiday (one of only three I can think of) where I was abroad with both of my parents. It’s not like they were together or anything, I can’t even remember that actually being a thing since the split happened before I was 2, so it is pretty note worthy in my memory.

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During our time in Austria we stayed in two different parts. Firstly, there was the Tyrolean town of Kitzbuhel and then there was somewhere on Wolfgangsee lake… a town whose name I can not quite remember.

Whilst I was always aware of my German-Polish ancestry (I know it’s a quarter only, but it’s cool so I will continue to milk this) this was the closest that I had ever been to those particular roots. This was over 15 years ago so, obviously, my memories of it are a little bit sketchy. I know that I went up mountains, visited waterfalls at Krimml, we did a day trip to Salzburg and hopped across the border twice. Once into the Czech Republic to the town of Český Krumlov and then into Germany to visit Herrenchiemsee (a palace of King Ludwig II). Note: For the purpose of this challenge I do not count either of these as a visit to check them off the EU list… I need to have actually stayed there.

The main memory I have of this holiday was a trip up the Grossglockner on August 11th 1999. Why is was this so memorable down to the date? Not because of the cute marmots that I saw on the mountainside, but because:

austria2List Item: Witness a total eclipse
Progress: Completed

That’s right, I was up Austria’s tallest mountain during one of the very very few times there will be a total eclipse viewable from Europe. Due to the height, the visibility of the eclipse was perfect (not that I actually looked directly at it, I am not dumb, but I did successfully view it).  I wish I could remember this event a lot more clearly than I do, but there are certain things that strike me. Firstly, just how much the temperature seemed to plummet in the short time that the sun was covered. Then there was the fact that whilst it didn’t actually go too dark it was basically like having the beginning of a sunset at lunchtime. Finally, I remember the marmots and the birds being really confused at the prospect of this lunchtime sunset.

Thinking how rare these eclipses are, especially viewable from Europe, I truly count myself lucky that I was able to see it under such optimal conditions.

Around The World In 100 Films – Catch-Up

100WorldFilms - Catch-UpList Item: Watch films from 100 different nations
Progress: 37/100

Okay, so as with yesterday when I decided to change a bit of the rules when it came to the gaming I am doing the same with the films from 100 nations challenge.

So I have now altered the map to show this fact and thus the following countries have now been ticked off:

30. Austria – Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters)
31. China – Dà Hóng Dēnglóng Gāogāo Guà (Raise The Red Lantern)
32. Iceland – Mýrin (Jar City)
33. Iran – Offside
34. Israel – Bikur Ha-Tizmoret (The Band’s Visit)
35. Mexico – Y Tu Mamá También
36. South Africa – Tsotsi
37. Romania – 4 luni, 3 săptămâni și 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days)

The Great E.U. Quest – The Starting Point

List Item: Visit all EU countries
Progress: 12/28

I am a very lucky person in a number of ways. Despite being the child of a single mother (who is the best mum a guy can ask for) we still managed to have the most amazing holidays. I still can not quite believe how many different countries I have under my belt at the age of 24.

This particular bucket list item is a curious one since it is another that has a potential to be completed and then become incomplete within my lifetime. The item being to visit every country within the European Union.

Europe Visited - 1

The map (see above) shows how far I have gotten so far (although due to scaling there is no way to see Malta but for this exercise it should be a yellow colour since I haven’t seen it).

So far I have had the privilege of visiting 12 of the current E.U. nations and they are coloured in as blue on the map, something that struck me immediately is how all the countries I have been to are linked together on the map; except for Portugal since I have not been to Spain yet.

At some point in the future I will write about visiting each one when I am up to date with all the items I have already since I did promise proof. But for now I am writing this to officially class this item as being in progress.

If you have any suggestions of trips I should make to help cross off some of the remaining 16 E.U. nations (Spain, Ireland, Greece, Malta, Cyprus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Finland and Luxembourg) I would love to hear from you since I have yet to book a holiday for this year :-D.