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Monthly Archives: November 2018

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 12

Tues. Oct. 2, 2018:
Cesky Kremlov, Czech Republic:

It was a little jarring waking up in the room. It had high dark ceilings and it was an unusual sight to see upon waking. The mattress was stiff and I woke up with a sore back and aching legs. And yet despite all that I managed to sleep another hour, 8:30am just seemed too early to be getting up. I had overshot the sleep in by just a little bit and had to rush to get ready so I could still make it in time for breakfast. It was served buffet style and they had self-serve coffee. I avoided the carafe- what if it’s decaf?! And went instead for the machine. It was reassuring to see that the machine freshly grinds coffee beans when you press the button.

We walked over to the castle and stopped in at Cesky Pernik for some “Bohemian” pierniki (gingerbread). The cookies were ok, but they were definitely not baked that morning- which is what I had been expecting. As promised, there was a bear in a moat. It was not how I had imagined it. I was expecting a bear with a giant river that went all around the castle but it was just a large pit on either side of a bridge. It was not a moat at all. I felt sorry for the bear who kept pacing in circles, periodically pausing to sniff the wall.

The castle had many different parts, all with different admission tickets. started out with the castle museum. It was much the same as usual: portraits, furniture, books. After that we headed over to the tower. It was an awkward climb up as in certain parts the stairs were really narrow. In yet other parts there were loose nails sticking out. The stairs were made of really cheap wood at certain parts and it was quite disconcerting. Off to the side of the tower there was a “dungeon”- complete with fake skeleton. From the tower we could see the bear down below, still pacing about. The church artifacts room was horrifying. There was a real human skeleton of an alleged saint, dressed to the nines in church robes and a rosary. He was encased in a glass box below an altar. When we had first entered the room my eyes landed on a skull, making me do a double-take and swear under my breath- WTF? I actually had to check the info panel to verify- nope, yup, it was a real human skeleton. It creeped me out to no end. Continuing in the vein of creepy, we tried to find the castle dungeon (different than the tower dungeon). We had no luck, there weren’t even any signs. We checked so many times, even checking as we backtracked. There wasn’t a trace of it.

Up next we tried to find the ticket office to visit the stables. Did I mention that there were multiple box offices for the different parts of the castle? We saw that there was a guided tour in English at 11:30am, a quick glance at the clock- 11:25am. The next one wasn’t until 1:30pm. The stables could wait. It was also the only way that we could see inside of the castle. We figured that maybe the tickets for the stables were sold at the actual stables? We had seen no sign for it thus far. On the tour of the castle we learned what happens to the bears when they pass on: they get turned into bearskin rugs. There were 7 throughout the castle. It was kind of interesting to see the different examples of taxidermy and how it has improved over time. On the tour we got to see what the rooms of the castle looked like during different times periods.

On the way to the stables and gardens we passed a door into what looked like a crypt. We had missed out on the dungeon but maybe this would be cool? There was a weird contemporary surrealist sculpture exhibit on display. I must give the artist credit, this was one of the coolest art exhibits we’ve ever been to. Even though we had to pay to get in, it was well worth it. We got to see the castle cellars. We found a sign pointing to the gardens and one to the winter riding school. There was no mention of stables. We tried to go towards the riding school, assuming they must have stables but instead we wound up at the entrance to the gardens. Thankfully we also found a bathroom there. It cost 10kr (about 50 cents) to use and it got me thinking: how much do they pay the attendant to sit there an collect the money. How do they possibly make a profit on this? The gardens were really pretty and it was relaxing to walk through. There weren’t really any pretty views because of the high walls. Walking back to the castle we kept our eyes open for the stables but had no luck. On our way out, we had one last look at the bear.

We stopped at Co-op grocery store for drinks and snacks. I found two ciders, one I had tried previously but it was a different flavour this time. I also got another rorka z kremem and a bag of Bohemia chips aptly slonin (really fatty eastern European bacon) flavoured. We stopped at Na Luzie pub for lunch. I liked the name, it was the same as in Polish and meant to relax and chill out. This time the mulled wine was seasoned but I still had to add some sugar. We split an order of the housemade pork jelly with onions and vinegar. It was more of a pasztet (pate) than a galeretka (gelatin-dish). I was not too happy about the vinegar being poured on it, I would have preferred less of it. For my main I ordered the (possibly fresh caught) carp. It sounded so damn good- except I had forgotten about the osci (tiny bones). It was so delicious and it was the perfect dish, served with potatoes of course. It reminded me of Christmas dinner. Brent had the pork with kopytka (potato dumplings). It came with a side of warm sauerkraut- making me more nostalgic for Christmas dinner. This was my kind of eating. The portion sizes were enormous and once again we were too full for dessert.

We walked around the streets. We saw a bulldog who was a mascot for a smoothie shop, he even had a sweatshirt on with the logo. It was too cute. I saw another market and went in but they had the same cider selection. I was about to leave but then I saw white chocolate Snickers and white chocolate Kinder Bueno. It took us almost 5 hours but we saw the whole town. Except now it was 3pm and we didn’t have much to do until dinner time. My plan was to drink tea, read and play Mario Odyssey. I had my iPad charging while I played= genius. Meanwhile Brent was napping.

We went out for a walk just after sunset but there were no nice views of the sunset because it was behind us, not near the castle. The bear was still lumbering about. We walked through the castle courtyards. It was hard to get a photo of the town because of the glaring spotlights on the castle. In one photo all of the bugs flying around all got illuminated. Walking around really built up my appetite. We dropped our stuff back in our room and I finished off the last of my Kingswood rosé cider.

The main dining room in the hotel restaurant was full so we grabbed a table in the adjacent overflow room where we’d had breakfast that morning. There was only one other table of people there and they were all middle-aged mildly racist white people. It was an awkward dinner as they complained about their food and sent stuff back. The service was very slow, our dinner lasted close to two hours. I tried to order a glass of Bohemian dry white wine but apparently, they were all out, as I was saying that’s ok he suggested Prosecco and walked away before I could order something else. I had meant ok, as in I’m not mad, I’ll order something else. I finished it before our dinners arrived. I tried to order mulled wine. He heard it as more wine, but just to be sure he brought over a menu to clarify. He came back again, no dice on the mulled wine. I tried to order grog, still no go. He asked me if I wanted red or white wine. I gave up and just said red. I was kind of worried that for the steak dish they didn’t ask how it should be done. When the dish arrived, I could see why: it was more of a braised beef. The roast potatoes were in fact mashed. At this point it seemed like the norm. Brent’s pork tenderloin was the clear winner. The pumpkin puree was amazing. The sauerkraut had bacon bits in it. Brent tried to order an Eggenberg beer, and nope, they didn’t have any. We ordered the praline dumplings for dessert. Brent was only going to have a bite. Instead they brought us each one dish- and charged us for two desserts. He tried to order a plum liqueur (sliwowice), nope, not in stock. Looking back, I have no idea why we kept trying. The really kicker was that the dessert clearly had plum liqueur in it. I have never had such a bewildering restaurant experience in my life. In total four of the five drinks we tried to order had ended in failure.

Back in the room my iPad was charged and ready for more reading. I cracked open the Frisco brusinka cider. I think it was cranberry?

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Posted by on November 30, 2018 in Travel

 

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 11

Mon. Oct. 1, 2018:
Durnstein, Austria to Cesky Kremlov, Czech Republic:

We woke at 8:30am so we could have enough time to grab breakfast. Even still we had to rush. I stole a sip of Brent’s grape juice, apparently it is in his 1000 Foods book (it’s an Austrian and Italian specialty). It was weird, the flavour was really strong and I was expecting it to be thick and syrupy but it wasn’t. I took the last bites of my breakfast with me to go, finishing it off as we walked back to our room. How could I say no to a brioche-braid bun?

Hotel checkout was sheer agony. We were on a schedule to catch a bus. It made me really miss express checkout. The guy was being so chatty and nice, it was killing me. As we were leaving, he gave us a small jar of apricot preserves. We got to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare. Another couple showed up minutes before the bus arrived. We both agreed that was too risky. At least we knew we were at the right spot. Even the views during the bus ride were beautiful. There was a church down below in the valley and a castle up above on the hilltop. All being bathed in golden early morning light, filtering through the clouds. It was killing me. Where had these clouds been yesterday?!

We arrived at the train station just in time to catch the train back to Vienna. Amazingly, I fell asleep in the train. Even I didn’t see that one coming. I had no intention of sleeping so early in the day. We arrived in Vienna at the other (aka crappy) train station. I was king of disappointed. The first train station we had been to was great: there was shopping, there was a bar, and I later learned there was even a Dunkin’ Donuts. At the train station we saw that there was an earlier train we could take to Cesky Kremlov. Brent had bought tickets online ahead of time for the 4pm train, but there was a 12:30 train in an hour. Except it was way (way!) more expensive- 5 times as expensive maybe? We asked at the ticket booth to make sure we weren’t missing something. We asked if we could switch our tickets. The agent asked if our tickets had been super cheap. We said yes. He said no. The reason they were so cheap was because they were bought in advance and non-refundable. Spending an extra three and a half hours in Cesky Kremlov instead of in a crappy train station? The decision was easy.

We still had an hour and a half before our train departed. Thankfully the train station had a McDonald’s and a Billa grocery store. Brent had a “super” bacon sandwich. It had so much bacon, they were no lying. I had the McFirst burger, it was nothing special. The crunchy chicken strips were massive. I dipped my seasoned waffle fries in the curry dip I had for the chicken. I wish the waffle fries had been curly fries, they had the right seasoning just the wrong shape. There was a Lotus caramel McFlurry and as I sat there, between heavenly bites it occurred to me- if McDonald’s has Biscoff cookies maybe other places sell it too?

I’ve never been so excited to go to a grocery store: Biscoff cookies!!! In retrospect, I should’ve grabbed more. One package is never enough (even though I can get them back home now at Pusateri’s- I still get real excited about it). We got some soda and snacks for the rest of the travel ahead of us. Again, there were no signs of ciders or mixed drinks. We sat around outside on some stairs. The previous train was still at the platform so we couldn’t even board early. While sitting I noticed a logo across the street, it looked like Aldi but the internet said it was Hoffa, still a grocery store. I had forgotten to get some crackers for our apricot preserves. I ventured out in search of that and some drinks for the evening.

The store was so weird. They had giant plastic bottles of beer akin to soda. They had 4 foot pretzel sticks. A half bottle of rosé was less than one Euro. It was a Syrah from France, complete with a designation of origin protection label. I was floored. I found some nice butter cookies for the apricot preserves. It was a nice surprise, I had been wanting to buy some during the course of our trip and now I didn’t have to go looking.

We had to switch trains in Ceske Velenice. We were switching train lines as well, because now we were in the Czech Republic. It was so cold just standing there on the train platform waiting. I kept fidgeting and shifting my weight from one foot to the other in the typical “I’m cold” dance. From there we set off to Ceske Budowice- still not Cesky Kremlov. This was a long day of travel.

When we got off at Ceske Budowice I noticed an Asian family with roller suitcases. I had seen them in Vienna! We lost them as we entered the main train station. Now we were looking for a bus station. Google Maps said it was nearby. I was distracted by all the potential options for getting to Cesky Kremlov. It appeared there was a commuter train we could take? As we left the train station, Brent saw three little boys- about 10 years old- rejoicing because one of them had stolen a pack of cigarettes off a passerby. The bus station was across the street. Except it was inside of a mall. More confusion ensued. We found a board with bus departures and in front of it a giant line of people lining up to some service kiosks. Presumably they were all buying bus tickets. No sooner had we queued up, our travel buddies showed up. They had the same idea as us. As we slowly inched forward, I was suspicious. Why were there so many people in line, why was it moving so slowly? And for all different bus lines? I saw the young guy from the family go to the information booth. He then got on his phone frantically trying to find the rest of his family, he walked over to them. And they left. They did not get in line. I followed his lead and went to the information booth. At this point I was working on the theory, based on my limited understanding of the somewhat-similar (barely) language that we were in line for the DMV. The info lady pointed upstairs/out of the office and told me to buy a ticket on the bus. I never did find out what line we had been in.

It had been a little unclear where she had been pointing. We stepped outside and it didn’t seem right, there were buses but it was clearly outgoing traffic from the bus station. We went back inside and there was a giant sign saying bus upstairs- complete with an arrow. If only we had entered through that door initially! We had seen an arrow earlier but it wasn’t bent, it was straight so we assumed it meant ahead not up.

We got to the bus platforms and again there was a confusing layout. We mistakenly lined up at platform 9 not 10. A few second later, once we were in the right line, our travel buddies did the exact same thing. I was really enjoying their company, it made our mistakes feel less silly and more the fault of poor design decisions. The bus pulled up and a new round of confusion ensued: how much was the bus fare? Apparently, we just had to trust what the bus driver told us. Brent tried to pay with a 500 crown note and the bus driver pointed at Brent’s wallet. I had been right, a 100-crown note was more than enough. Brent tried to walk away without his change. I was pretty sure that the bus driver was making fun of us to three local teenage boys. Something along the lines of: did you get a load of those two?! have they ever ridden on a bus?! It was a 30-minute coach bus ride and again it lulled me to sleep.

We arrived in a bus depot (more like a parking lot and one shelter) just outside of the historical part of town. It was atop a hill and from there we could see Cesky Kremlov and the castle. It was a short walk to Hotel Růže. It was one of the wackiest hotels we have ever stayed in. the decor was medieval and throughout there were mannequins. They were weird and unnerving, I kept thinking they were people. The furnishings were also medieval-style. Right down to the toilet. It had a wooden throne frame around it, even though underneath it was a modern toilet. The frame made it all but impossible to flush the toilet. It took us a few failed attempts and ponderings to even figure out how to flush the damn thing. The frame hid the button but we eventually figured it out. We also had three appliances for one outlet. But finally- FINALLY- there was a tea kettle. I was elated and happily unplugged the fridge. I knew there would be, there simply had to be a tea kettle in the Czech Republic. Once I had boiled my water, I could plug the fridge back in. It was a very stupid setup. From our room we had beautiful views of the river and the back part of town. Except the window didn’t have a screen, I could lean all the way out. It was more than a little scary.

We had back-to-back UNESCO world heritage site days: both Durnstein and Cesky Kremlov have the designation. We went out for a walk through “town” (it’s way smaller). We had dinner at the Eggenberg Brewery restaurant. By our hotel there was a nice overlook giving a view of the castle and town. It’s not every day that you walk by a castle on your way to dinner.

At dinner we ordered two starters both because it was so cheap and each one said 1 piece. I should have seen it coming. We were having dinner at a restaurant in Eastern Europe (and apparently so close to Poland). The marinated Camembert was the size of a small wheel of cheese. It was salty and good- even if it was a solid three servings. Brent had the pickled sausage. Something I had never even heard of but I turned out to be a fan of it. Again, he was served an entire full-size sausage. I thought based on the price that it would be reasonably sized. Nope. It was good food, for real cheap and oh-so-plentiful. I had ordered the potato dumplings with meat, cabbage and onion. It was so good- even if it was two full-sized dinner portions. Needless to say: I was beat. I made a sizeable dent but in the end the dish won out. The mulled wine was just warm wine. No spices, no sugar, no extra alcohol. It did some with a packet of honey on the side which improved it considerably. Not really sure what I expected from a brewery. Brent had ordered the ham hock. Except unlike last time we had no warning. I helped as much as I could but I was fighting my own battle. Dessert was out of the question.

We walked back via a different route. It was nice to see some stores still open at 7pm. Alas the gingerbread (piernik) store was closed. We went back to the overlook and I took some nighttime shots of the castle and the town, using the ledge as a tripod.  We walked onto the hotel terrace but it was too dark to see anything. We could hear a waterfall but we couldn’t see it. We would have to come back tomorrow to investigate. It did not seem far-fetched for the moat around the town to have a small waterfall.

Nick@Night was the only English channel we got. They had a short animation, “1000 Faces,” between shows that reminded me of “Sąsiedzi” the Czech show I used to watch as a kid. I immediately turned to YouTube desperate to find it, to explain to Brent why I was laughing so hard at the short animation that was so “Czech”- and what that meant exactly. We watched the one where the guy tried to roast a chicken, accurately titled “Grill.”

I got mad again at the toilet. It took two flushes and still had not cleared. I figured it was time to start getting ready for bed. Only now the shower was also being frustrating. It was a removable shower head hose, but it wouldn’t stay in place in its crook on the wall. It kept falling down and hitting me, spraying water everywhere. I also almost fell getting out of the shower because of the weird height discrepancy between the tub and the floor. I was ready for bed. Reading in bed= heaven, said my notebook.

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2018 in Travel

 

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 10

Day 10: Sun. Sept. 30, 2018:
Durnstein, Austria:

I was (rudely) awoken by the cleaning people knocking on our door. In my sleepy haze I thought they desperately needed to clear our fruit plate before it went bad. They had also tried to come in the night before as we were leaving for dinner. We went downstairs for breakfast at 9:45. I wasn’t even sure if they would let us in or if there would be anything left, breakfast only went until 10am. Apparently the hotel rules are pretty loose, because people were still coming in at 9:55am and ordering a hot breakfast (instead of just grabbing food from the buffet). I didn’t feel bad about cutting it so close, by eating from the buffet we were lessening their work load: less food to put away. I made two mini sandwiches with fresh sliced baguette. I had an Irish Breakfast tea (no clue how it differs from English Breakfast tea) because there was no sign of coffee anywhere. It was also nice to have my first tea of the trip. As we were eating the server came by and asked if either of us wanted coffee: yes please! Brent had gotten a mini brioche braided bun and had spooned some apricot jam on it. One bite and I had to go back and get one for myself- it was delicious. It was a much better finish to my breakfast than the original: a not-so-good cheese Danish. The coffee arrived just as I was finishing the last bites of my breakfast. I had noticed that the couple sitting behind Brent had gotten up and poured themselves glasses of what appeared to be sparkling wine chilling in ice buckets (no way was it real champagne). I mentioned this to him as I sipped my coffee and he set off to investigate. It was chilled Riesling, but it was definitely self-serve.

After breakfast we walked back out onto the terrace. It was too cold to have breakfast out there but we wanted to see the view and to check the temperature to see if it had warmed up from the forecasted 7 degrees Celsius. We deemed it warm enough to head out for the castle ruins.

I was so grateful for all of the lookout vantage points along the trail. The photo ops gave me a chance to rest without looking weak. As we hiked, I quietly regretted having put off buying a full frame Canon camera or at the very least a lens hood and a polarizing filter. The views were so beautiful and I felt like I wasn’t doing it justice. The views from the top were amazing. We could see so many small towns off in the distance along the Danube river and vineyards all along the hillsides. We also climbed up some pseudo-stairs worn into a giant rock to get to the very top. It was all well worth the climbing and the huffing and puffing. I was surprised how many photos I managed to get without people in them.

Once we were back down, we decided to walk away from the tourist-y part and see the rest of the town. we assumed there would be a grocery store or a gas station. We saw a sign pointing to the marina. Another option for transportation tomorrow was to take a boat so we went down to the marina and scoped it out. We almost ended up backtracking to our hotel, following all of the docks looking for the one we would potentially be taking. Back where we had entered the marina, we saw a sign for a supermarket. Walking back we admired the views of the vineyards, with churches and houses all set amidst the hills, complete with the castle ruins up above. We got to the supermarket, the parking lot was full but the automatic doors wouldn’t open. Apparently, it closes at noon, and it was ten minutes after.

Back on the main street we looked in vain for any sign of a gas station or a store. Google Maps showed nothing. We saw a sign for a train station, so in the spirit of our afternoon, we set off looking for it. Another potential transportation option for tomorrow. Except this was the last weekend of full service, they were switching to the less frequent schedule that day- limiting it to only weekends.

Back to “town” we went. We stopped at the wine shop to sample some local fare before lunch. We split glasses of the Gruner Veltliner Steinfeder and the Freunde. The second one was way better but apparently I had mispronounced it so bad that the woman had no idea what I was trying to order and I had to point. I went into a souvenir shop because it looked like they had glass bottles of Pepsi (aka another bottle cap for the collection) but they were plastic and way overpriced.  We went to the Schmidl Wachauer bakery. We got a pizza mini-baguette, a brioche pretzel, and an apricot-jam filled chocolate-dipped cookie. We stopped at another souvenir store with a Nestle flag for some ice cream. I finally got my Milka ice cream bar fix. I had been craving one ever since I saw it advertised somewhere earlier in our trip. The ice cream was vanilla with chocolate swirls and all coated in rich creamy milk chocolate. It was perfect. Brent had a cola popsicle and it just tasted like watered down soda. We stopped at a third souvenir shop, this time so I could get some snacks for tomorrow’s day of travel. I got Manner apricot wafers and a Manner Mozart-Wurfel chocolate.

We lounged around in our hotel room, devouring our bakery snacks and planning the next day. I had already eaten all of the strawberries from the fruit plate yesterday, now I finished off the grapes. Up next were the plums. We had a very relaxing afternoon, I snuggled up in bed reading my book. We went back out around 4pm to find dinner- given what we now knew about the hours of operation of this town. We ended up going back to Durnsteinerhof, where we had lunch yesterday. Our only other options were a café or the bakery. We ordered the same dishes, they were that good. I had a glass of the local Riesling (not the Veltliner). We ended up cheersing with the people sharing our table because when the server brought Brent his sturm he mistakenly tried to give it to them. Someone said “kanadian” and they all laughed, apparently the word is the same in German as it is in English. While we waited for our food, Brent went back to the bakery to get some non-Brioche pretzels for an evening snack. There was no way we were doing a hotel dinner again. He said they were all sold out and came back with nothing. In turn I went back- we needed something to tide us over in the evening. Except when I got there it was a zoo. I couldn’t believe how busy the bakery was. I quickly bailed and went back. I timed it perfectly as our dishes had just arrived. The restaurant didn’t take credit card so we had to pay cash. We went back to the bakery but they also only took cash.

We found the bus stop we would be going to tomorrow. There was no indication of how to pay the fare or how much it was. We walked over to where we had first gotten off the boat to figure out our backup plan. We were kind of skeptical about this bus stop with very little information. Back in the hotel with Wi-Fi, we figured out how much the bus fare would be. We had just enough Euros left. Good thing the bakery was so busy. It was also a good thing we hadn’t ordered schnapps when the rest of the table had. I wanted to see the sunset from the hotel terrace but we still had an hour before it would start setting. We walked outside just after it had started but the sky was only slightly orange-y. We walked down to the vineyards and back. It was nice out, not a lot of people. The sunset sky had improved a little bit but it still was underwhelming. What the sky needed was some clouds. The only sign of pink was in the contrails.

On our way back to our room the cleaning lady saw us and gave us each a small Ritter chocolate for turn down service. I played Mario Odyssey on the Switch, having finally figured out how to connect it to the TV. We opened the Melker Krauterlior. It was an herbal liqueur meant as a digestif. Earlier we had finished the apricot brandy. This one tasted like tea. I gave up on reading pretty quickly, I was so sure it was time to get ready for bed. It was just after 9pm. I distracted myself and kept myself awake by whiling away the time on Pinterest- I was all caught up on Try Not To Laugh videos.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2018 in Travel

 

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 9

Sat. Sept. 29, 2018:
Vienna to Melk to Durnstein, Austria:

We packed up the rest of our stuff and headed to a nearby subway station. We were off to our next destination: a pit stop in Melk on the way to Durnstein. We got to the train station 5 minutes before the 10:20 train was leaving. It was an hour-long ride on a commuter train. Lots of tourists, including ourselves, got off at Melk.

As soon as we got off the train, we could see the abbey on a hill overlooking the town. it was the main draw. We walked through the small town where apparently there was a children’s festival and a rummage sale going on simultaneously. In addition, we had to also dodge cyclists. It was less than ideal to walk through.

It was a long slow trek up the stairs to the top, I was not helped by my heavy backpack and purse. My calves were screaming. When we got to the top, I saw that there had been an easier route for cars and cyclists. I really wish I had known about it beforehand.

There were lockers at the Melk abbey, allowing us to enjoy a short reprieve from lugging all of our stuff. There was a giant group of people all going in ahead of us. They moved so slowly and just filled the rooms. We struggled to see and get around them. We kept getting stuck between tour groups, there seemed to be no end. The abbey library was so beautiful and it was killing me that I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. The church had gold gilding as far as the eye could see and high vaulted ceilings. The only spot where we were allowed to take pictures was the grounds outside. Our tickets also included admission to a lame art exhibit. From the terrace and the abbey grounds we had beautiful views of the town and the Danube river. In one of the buildings we got to go to the top and have a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. We could see the foothills of the Alps far off in the distance.

On the way out of the abbey we stopped in at the gift shop. You cannot go to an abbey and not leave with either bread or alcohol. I chose the latter. Because they didn’t have any bread. We got an apricot liqueur and a spiced brandy-looking liqueur. Afterwards we wandered around in the gardens with more nice landscape and river views. Part of the garden was blocked off because of some 250-year-old linden trees with loose branches.

In town we stopped at the bakery for some “brunn” aka rorki z kremem. I went in there hungry and I came out with an assortment of cookies in addition to the pastry rolls with cream. A chocolate one with raspberry preserves, the same cookie but not chocolate and with apricot preserves and a macaroon with hazelnut nougat.

We got a bit lost trying to get to the marina to buy tickets for the boat ride to Durnstein. We ended up cutting through a gas station parking lot but eventually we found it. We got tickets for the 1pm cruise up the Danube river. Turns out the earlier one had to be cancelled due to mechanical failures. We wondered what we would have done if we couldn’t travel by boat up the river- backtrack to Vienna and catch a train?

We sat on the riverbank devouring the cookies. We were almost an hour early. Because we boarded early, we were able to get seats at a table on the open-air top deck. Our table was shared with two other benches. The boat had wifi and table service. This was my kind of travel. Icing on the cake: they were serving sturm. This one fell in the middle percentile, not as strong as the market one but stronger than the square one. I just remember sitting there, eating crackers and listening to Stuff You Should Know about dark matter and Science Friday while enjoying the beautiful views. The time flew by, it was very relaxing. We had beautiful views of the hills and small towns set along the river and vineyards set into hillsides. We saw ruined castles and churches set high atop the hills.

We got to Durnstein and Google Maps said our hotel was 3 minutes away. What it failed to mention was that it was actually at the top of a giant hill, where the whole town was actually. And that yet again I would have to climb more stairs than I cared to. Again, we found ourselves weaving among tourists and dodging cyclists.

Our hotel was confusing. To enter we had to push a button so someone would open a gate. Except when we pushed the button nothing happened. Apparently, Brent hadn’t pushed it for long enough. Even though there was a sign saying to hold it for only a short moment. Someone else came by and pushed the button for a long time and the gate opened, making us look like idiots. The hotel room had very high ceilings and a plate of fresh fruit but no bidet this time.

We had a dinner reservation at 7:30pm at the hotel. This left us with around 4 hours of time to kill. We walked around the town which took all of 20 minutes, maybe less. It is less of a town, more of a single street with a few shops and restaurants. We had barely eaten all day so we were also on the lookout for an easy lunch. I couldn’t help but stop and try some apricot liqueur, apparently the region is renowned for it. The shot glass had an apricot half in it and it had soaked up even more alcohol. Not the best idea on an empty stomach. There were signs for sturm everywhere and it was so tempting but I needed food if I was going to make it. We tried to go into one restaurant but all of the tables were marked as reserved. The second place we tried to go to was closing- it was 4pm. The third place we went to was behind the main building and down a small alley. It was set up like a beer garden with an outdoor patio. I immediately took a liking to it. The guy brought us our drinks and told us where the bathrooms were, stating that alcohol goes right through you. I also loved the way he said “shturrrm.” It made me want to order more. We ordered bratwurst and schnitzel and traded halfway. It really hit the spot and was the perfect lunch. The fries and potato wedges made for excellent sides. Brent also ordered a glass of Gruner Vertliner Federspiel, the local wine from just down the way.

After lunch we walked around some more, wondering if maybe down the side streets there were some shops? Nope just houses and vineyards. We met a really friendly cat that let me pet it, until a dog showed up and ruined all the fun. We found the route we would take to the castle grounds the next day. Back in our room I was crashing from the drinks. The fresh strawberries helped a bit. My case was not helped by the fact that it was super hot in the room. I found the remote for the AC but it was all for naught because only the remote turned on. The AC showed no indication at all. I resorted to opening the window but there was no screen. I ended up falling asleep. I started drooling which woke me up slightly. I rolled over and took two Advils but at that point I was awake. I took to half-asleep internet-window-shopping. We were having dinner at the hotel restaurant but I still got all gussied up, sometimes it feels nice. I drew the line at putting on makeup and earrings though.

We did not realize that asking for still water was not the same as tap water. It meant paying €6 for a bottle of water. You better believe I finished it. The amuse bouche was confusing. It was salty and chewy and minty and apricoty and it had cream. We were not fans of it. You could say, we were not amus-ed. We split a local char and scallop appetizer. It was underwhelming, the best part was the pumpkin sauce, followed by the quinoa. The char and scallop were both too salty. For my main I had the venison with chanterelle ragout. I thought ragout would be noodles, nope it was some weird bread thing on the side that I did not like. The dish was ok but it was a bit too salty overall. Brent had the goulash, it was better than my dish but it had a bit too much paprika. The spaetzle as the best part of both mains. They were little noodles you scooped up with the goulash. Needless to say, we did not have dessert after that underwhelming meal.

After dinner we walked out onto the terrace but it was so dark, we couldn’t see anything. We walked through the town again except now it was a ghost town. all of the tourists were gone and everyone had closed up shop. The odds of our finding a bar for a nightcap were nil. The only other people we passed by were a family who had left the restaurant at the same time as us. All the lights were out and there was no sign of anyone anywhere, not even the friendly cat from earlier. We went back to the overlook near the hotel parking lot to stargaze. We saw one of the dippers and we could see the faint band of the Milky Way galaxy directly overhead- but it hurt my neck to crane my head back like that. Part of the castle ruins were also lit up.

As I was grabbing my stuff to go have a shower, I noticed the lemonade shandy Zipfer I had gotten earlier. It was 75% lemonade and only 25% beer so I thought it would be an ok shower drink. Then I noticed it was a twist-off. The label said “alcohol frei.” I had been duped, it was jus tin there with all of the regular stuff and the label barely differed. On the plus side I didn’t have to worry about it making my head hurt. The only downside to shower drinking is that the label comes off (leaving glue on your hands), and shower water can get into your drink. It also risks warming up. I snuggled up in bed under the covers to read my book- except it was a bit too warm so I had to stick my feet out.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2018 in Travel

 

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 8

Fri. Sept. 28, 2018:
Vienna, Austria:

I woke up to the sound of horse hooves clopping on the cobblestones outside- a new one to me. I was really confused: what time was it?! Turns out I had slept in, it was almost 10am. We took the subway to get to Schonbrunn Palace, it was too far to walk. The original plan had been to take the subway to the train station and switch to a streetcar there but while we were on the subway we found a more direct route that only required us to switch to another subway line. To give an idea of what we were up against: there were 6 different subway lines. The first train we were one was old, the second one was much newer. At first it all seemed so confusing but it was all clearly marked and we made it to Schonbrunn no problem.

Once at the ticket booth we split up, Brent went into the regular line and I took my place in the self-serve kiosk line. It was madness how many people were in the building. The admission prices were confusing because it did not list the zoo- I assumed it must be free like the Lincoln Park zoo in Chicago. Just a nice small zoo set in a giant park. It made sense, palace grounds with giant gardens and an accompanying zoo. Adding to the confusion, there was a sign at the info desk stating that there was a 2+hr wait. We later found out that this referred only to tours of the palace itself. The most annoying guy in the world was lined up behind me. I was ready to bail and go join Brent in the slower line. Except as soon as I had that thought Brent showed up. At least now I had a witness to the unbelievable experience I was having. Brent asked me if there was a grounds map anywhere, the guy quietly as if to his friends, said yes and it’s €20. I pointed out that they were over by the information desk. Then the guy asked us why we weren’t using the free kiosk up ahead. The screen of the kiosk was displaying a computer starting error. It was a black screen with garbled code on it. Why were we not using it? Seriously? We ignored him. He started whistling Christmas carols. He legit made me uncomfortable and sent shivers down my spine.

We had an hour and a half before our palace tour so we decided to meander through the gardens and make our way over to the zoo. The first set of gardens were pretty nice, rose bushes and fountains, the usual. Then there were some tree-lined paths with sculpted bushes. It was oddly satisfying to see all the trees lined up perfectly, their tops cut to match up evenly with all the rest.

When we got to the zoo we found out it was separate admission. We decided to go in anyways. It was the world’s oldest zoo and from what we could see through the fence, it looked awesome. We have been on so many palace tours, it all starts to run together after a while. The first animal we saw was a dwarf mongoose. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. Throughout the zoo they had some historical exhibits, showing for example an old bear enclosure.

We saw a koala, who of course was fast asleep in a tree. The lions were by far some of the best. One lioness jumped up onto a rock but she did it so stealthily and quietly. Apparently the lions spend a lot of time lying on top of the fake rock cave, so the zoo designers created a window so that people can walk behind the cave and look up at the lions through a window. We got to see a lioness’s belly. It was really cute seeing her fidget to get comfy.

We walked through a darkened building full of bats zipping about. It was unnerving to say the least. Just as I was starting to get used to it, one brushed against my hand as it flew by and just freaked me out. The pandas were laying on their backs, lazily munching on bamboo shoots. The flamingoes gave the penguins a run for their money in the smelliness department. There was a walkway high above the zoo on an adjacent hilltop. From the forested walkway we had a view of the zoo down below, Schonbrunn Palace past it and the city in the background. Along the walkway there was information about the local flora and fauna. There was a small working farm and a restaurant/beer garden as well. I couldn’t look at the beehives, even though I really wanted to see the bees hard at work.

Back down in the zoo we watched an enormous tortoise awkwardly and slowly settle in for a nap. For lunch we had bratwurst. I had tried to order it on a plate but the guy didn’t really understand and I ended up getting bratwurst in a hollowed-out bun. There was so much ketchup and mustard in it that when I bit in, it all leaked out. Brent ordered what turned out to be a cheese sausage and on his second bite cheese squirted everywhere.

Up next we were going to do the hedge maze which had been included with our Schonbrunn admission ticket, but on the way to it Brent noticed the Panorama Terrace (also included) and we decided we would do that one first. The terrace was located at the top of a giant hill, thus making it a good vantage point for a panorama view. Instead of taking the slow, easy way, winding our way up- we cut straight up the hill. It’s ok, other people were doing it too. I was huffing and puffing real hard. At the top it was confusing because there were- what appeared to be- 4 different entrances. We kept picking the wrong one. There were staff entrances, an entrance to a restaurant. Nothing was clearly marked. Once we finally got to terrace, we had an amazing view of the gardens and the Schonbrunn Palace. It had been well worth the effort of struggling up the hill. The hedge maze sucked and we quickly bailed on it. On our way out we tried to visit the Orange Garden but it had just closed. We peeked in through the gate and at least we had a glimpse of it.

We took the subway a few stops to the Nasch Market, hopefully finding dinner at the market. At the hedge maze I had tried to buy an ice cream from the vending machine but it rejected my coins. The market was all outdoor stalls but it was mostly butchers and dried goods sellers. I had been hoping for a sausage stand but there weren’t any. On our second walk through we found a small restaurant with deli in the name. That seemed hopeful. I was sold as soon as I saw that they sold sturm. I was all for getting to try it second time. The menu was more complicated than I had anticipated, a lot of vegan and weird stuff. I had thought it was a deli, I wanted a sausage or a sandwich. Not a salad or some soup. Brent ordered the pastrami sandwich, I stole a few bites. It was better than I had expected but I am still not a fan of pastrami. Sturm #2 was way stronger than our first try. It was much closer to, maybe even above, the 10% of the 4-10% range I had read about. It was also not the best idea to be drinking it on an empty stomach. Walking back to the hotel we stopped at the Spar grocery store to stock up on a few more drinks and get some snacks. We also stopped at a sausage stand, Wienerwurstl, just off the main Hoher Square by our hotel. Brent had the currywurst and I had the bratwurstl which was a white bratwurst served with a slice of rye bread. We ate on a ledge at the back of the stand (there were no tables available). The food was served on proper plates, we would have to return them. As we ate, Brent regretted not having ordered a beer. I pulled out my wallet (there’s a bottle opener keychain on it) and opened one of the beers we had gotten earlier at Spar. I opened the Ottakringer radler for myself. It was the perfect meal. It was much better than the sausage stand nearby that we had gone to previously.

We walked back to the hotel, trying to covertly sip our drinks. We passed a guy drinking a beer but he gave us no nod of solidarity. We had some time to relax in the hotel. I caught up in my book and finished my radler. I didn’t get to finish writing because I soon had to get ready. We were going to a concert of Mozart music. On the walk over, we wondered if it was going to be related to all of the people we saw around town, dressed as Mozart trying to sell tickets to a Mozart concert. If so, we were way overdressed for a tourist trap. We reasoned it couldn’t be, our tickets had been so expensive online and the Mozarts about town seemed to be selling a cheap experience for tourists. We got there with only 5 minutes to spare. We found the back entrance to the Musik Verein and we knew we were in the right place because we saw a Mozart standing outside the door vaping. The sight of him also confirmed our suspicions: we were going to the tourist trap performance.

We went upstairs thinking we had balcony seats. Nope, it was just rows of chairs in the back section of a large (very ornate and pretty) room. Our view was partially obstructed by a pillar. There was a stage set up at the front of the room. Sure enough, all of the musicians were dressed like Mozart, for one must dress as Mozart if one is to perform his music. It made no sense, only the conductor should be in that costume. The performance also included some really bad opera. The performers were only good on the last song and it made me wonder if everything prior had been bad on purpose, a campy take on opera? The drummer also ruined two songs with his incessant pounding. When we first sat down a guy walked in front of us and seemingly said to no one, “I need to charge my phone.” It was really funny also to see all of the cellphones up before it started, all ready to record but then an announcement came on in a bunch of languages, saying no recording or photography allowed. At the intermission we saw that some other people had also dressed up, we felt less alone. Especially given one lady was in a fancy evening gown. It was weird to look over and see a guy in ripped jeans and a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt standing nearby. It was an odd juxtaposition.

At the intermission the ice-cold Pepsi revived me from all of the earlier drinking. I also ordered a little pink dessert. It was super sweet and had really thick icing. It was like an overboard cakepop. At one point during the opera portion, the lady was just shouting in short bursts at different pitches. Brent said it reminded him of Home Alone and I asked if he was referring to the shaving scene. He started laughing because what he meant was that the music sounded like a song in the movie. As the performers took their final bow all of the cellphones came up and the screens lit up. It was over so now they were free to take pictures to their hearts content.

The building was beautiful from the outside. I had trouble appreciating the performance hall just because of the show that took place there. The performance made the hall itself feel fake and tourist-y even though it actually wasn’t. In the end it was actually quite an enjoyable (if overpriced) show. It entertained.

Walking back, all of the patios at the bars were crammed full of people. Clearly it was the weekend. It was a nice evening so we walked over to St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It was all lit up and I was regretting not having brought my camera with me. I was also mad I hadn’t brought my postcards with me, we walked right by a mailbox. By the time we got back it was too late to read. I still had to finish writing in my notebook and pack up all my stuff.

 
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Posted by on November 19, 2018 in Travel

 

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 7

Thurs. Sept. 27, 2018:
Vienna, Austria:

I finally had a good nights sleep only to be awoken to much confusion. Brent kissed me on the forehead waking me up. Oh crap! How could it already be 10am I thought?! Had I really slept in that late? Nope, apparently he took what I always say on vacation when I sleep in- why didn’t you wake me?– to heart.

No sooner had I woken up did I realize we had to toss the Camembert. Through the wooden container, wrapping, plastic bag AND fridge door we could still smell it. The cheese had to go, not just in our trash bin but far outside the hotel. I tossed it in a bin on our way to McDonald’s. The McCafe was on the second floor and they did not have kiosks. I admit, I was disappointed. The caramel latte was ok, but it had not been properly stirred. At first it was bitter and had no caramel flavour- and then halfway through it was way too sweet. I also ordered a chocolate chip & German-word-no-idea-what-it-was cookie. Turns out the indecipherable word was German for hazelnut. The cookie was stale and not good.

We started the day back at the Hofburg Imperial Palace. It was kind of becoming a daily thing. We visited the Imperial Treasury and saw the crown jewels. Problem was, we had gone during the late morning aka the school-trip hour. We had to double back to see the crown jewels once the students had moved on. I was more than a little creeped out by the religious reliquaries. I especially did not care for a tooth, alleged to have been John The Baptist’s, that was hanging by a string in the middle of an altar piece. No thank you. One crown looked like a helmet made of gold. Adding to the weight, it was jewel-encrusted. It looked so heavy and uncomfortable. For that matter, all of the religious vestments looked heavy and uncomfortable. I swear some of them looked like a modified floor rug.

We had time before our 12:30 lunch at Café Demel. We wandered around the Hofburg Imperial Palace grounds. We watched a giant black crow with some grey feathers (making it look like he was wearing a vest) tackle a grape he had found. We didn’t have time for the butterfly pavilion. We were about to cross the street to go look at more gardens when we realized we didn’t even have time for that either. We had to get to the Anker clock before noon to see the show.

We were unsure if we were headed to the right place but then I saw the giant crowd all looking at the side of a building and I knew we had come to the right place. It was blatantly obvious, right down to the giant clock on the wall. We waited in anticipation as the minutes passed, I had read that there would be a figure parade and music. We laughed at the tourist coaches passing the clock a little too early and missing the show. The clock was linear and not round, each hour a historical figure- of importance to Vienna- holding a Roman numeral, would pass across from left to right. At noon the clock ran through all the hours at a faster pace, allowing you to see all of the figures to the accompaniment of some music. The only one I remember is XI, held by one of the principal architects of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. I only knew this because the guy standing in front of us was a local acting as a tour guide for his friends. It quickly got repetitive but we stayed until the end.

We arrived at Café Demel right on time. It was confusing though because downstairs was a shop and a to-go bakery. Upstairs was clearly the restaurant but there was no one to seat us or to take our reservation. We ended up going back downstairs and asking only to be sent back upstairs. More confusion ensued when it was time to order our cakes. The way it worked was that you went to the cake buffet, made your selection and it was written down on a ticket which your server picked up and then brought you the order. In the end it worked out well, we got to see all the options before ordering. I ordered the house coffee with whipped cream and orange liqueur. We split a mini-Sacher torte, Anna torte and Schaumrollen. That last one I could not pronounce but I recognized it as pastry rolls with cream and I knew it would be good. The Sacher torte was better than the one we had at Café Hawelka, it went up a notch in my books. The Anna torte was also a chocolate cake but it was rum and hazelnut, it was a nice contrast to the orange/plum of the Sacher torte. In the end it was too rich, especially given the coffee I was working on. The clear winner in my books was the Schaumrollen. I couldn’t get enough of it. Between the rolls and the coffee, I could see why Café Demel was known for their whipped cream. Would I have ordered a plate of just whipped cream? No. That is going too far. The only reason I know this is an option is because the table beside us did just that. Brent had read that Café Demel was known for their plum crumb cake but it wasn’t on offer at the cake buffet. On our way out of the shop I suggested we look at the to-go offerings and sure enough, there it was. Breakfast for tomorrow was taken care of. Or a snack for later.

We stopped in Hoher Market (the main square by our hotel) to try some sturm. I called it strum. There were two options: red and white. It reminded me of sangria. Except we were drinking it out of plastic cups in the middle of the day in the middle of a town square. Given we had only eaten cake for lunch, we were still kind of hungry. We backtracked to the bratwurst stall that I originally thought sold sturm for some sausages and a pretzel. Brent’s ordered out to be a hollowed out mini-baguette with two sausages. I ordered the small frankfurter plate, both for the size and also, I didn’t want any extra bread (we had the pretzel). Instead of a small plate I was given two large sausages and a kaiser bun. It did hit the spot though and it was just what I needed and it would hold me over until dinner that evening.

There was no sign of the catacomb tours at St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We did find the entrance to the south tower stair climb. The guy told us that the next tour was on Sunday. But at least we got a bonus activity: the stair climb! It was 343 steps in total, so said the sign. The views of Vienna were amazing and well worth the stairs. Some parts of the stairs were very narrow, some sections were dark, it was mildly claustrophobic on the way up. I briefly started to regret the midday drinks and heavy sausages as I lumbered up the stairs, panting and red in the face. Regardless of my cardiovascular state, I made it to the top. We got to look in all four directions at Vienna, albeit through barred windows instead of a full 360 view. We talked to a guy from Erie, PA. He made fun of the Blue Jays. It was a slow and dizzying descent down. I was grateful for the people on their way up, I was more than willing to pause and let them pass. It also made me feel better, for they too were huffing and puffing on the way up. There was one couple that was the reverse of us. The guy was barely hanging in there and the girl was concerned and he ignored her and pushed on.

We went to the Billa grocery store by the McDonald’s near our hotel. The selection was awful. There were no ciders and no coolers. I had to risk it and settle for radlers. Back in the hotel we discovered that Brent’s beer bottle had absorbed the smell of the cheese in the fridge. I was not a fan of the Gosser NaturRadler. It tasted like fake lemon juice gone bad. It was nice to relax in the hotel, lounging about reading. Being on the go everyday starts to wear the body down and I was thankful for the hour or so of rest.

We went back out around 5pm to the Kunst Historiches Museum Wien. I had been told this was a natural history museum. I was all set to learn about European flora and fauna, see some taxidermied animals. The museum started off with stuff that had been owned by past Austrian emperors. There were lots of fancy bowls, jewellery and sculptures. There were some amazing, mind-boggling, miniature pieces carved in ivory. There were intricately detailed wooden sculptures. It was awe-inspiring and more than once we remarked that there was no way we could ever in a million years even attempt that. The second half of the floor was Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities. The Egyptian rooms saved us quite a bit of time. Most of them contained giant sarcophaguses and no English translations. One room had marble sculptures of Roman emperor’s heads. There were like 30+ marble heads on columns all looking at me. It creeped me out to no end and I walked through the room without stopping. The Italian, Spanish and French painters were boring as it was mostly religious paintings. There were a few Caravaggio’s and Velazquez’s in the mix but they got lost in the mire.

Part of the Dutch, Flemish and (I forget) gallery was closed off as they prepared for a Breughel exhibit. We did get to see a Vermeer (artist at the canvas with a girl- this is what my notebook says) and some awesome Peter Paul Reubens giant paintings. I gained a deeper appreciation for Durer, we saw a lot of his work. Our tour finished off with a boring coin collection. There is just so much out there, it’s hard to be interested in seeing it- similarly to the religious paintings that depict a limited range of subject matter. In total we had seen zero animal skeletons and nothing resembling natural history. Fast forward to the future: a quick search reveals it was never a natural history museum, I/we had been misled.

We finished just in time for dinner at the Sacher Hotel. The doorman tried to direct us to the café, but we had to clarify: we had reservations and we were on time. As soon as we got to the entrance to the restaurant, we realized why all the confusion had happened. It was a fancy restaurant, we were in jeans. We hadn’t planned this out very well, we went straight from the museum to dinner without changing. Everything was decorated in plush red velvet with gold trimmings. Soft piano was playing in the background and everyone was dressed to the nines. Except us. Brent at least had on a collared plaid shirt. We have never walked so briskly to our table. At least when seated you couldn’t see my jeans or running shoes.

Our server asked us if we wanted an aperitif. We said we’d like to see a list. She started naming drinks. I ordered a peach bellini, aka the second thing she named. I felt even more like a tourist when I ordered the schnitzel. Brent had the boiled beef (tafelspitz according to his 1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die book). As we waited for our food we stared out the window, thankful that we were kind of off to the side and not in the main dining room in view of everyone. One lady walked by and almost did a double-take looking at my hoodie. Before our main’s arrived, we were presented with the “chef’s gift” little pieces of beef with hazelnut sauce. It was a weird combination and the hazelnut overpowered it. The schnitzel was amazing, it was the best I have ever had. It was perfect, it was so light and perfectly breaded. It was served with buttered potatoes and a bit of parsley. Nothing fancy, just plain simple, high quality food made very well. Brent didn’t like the potatoes so I ate most of them before we traded. The boiled beef was delicious but, for the first time ever, I had to use the salt shaker at the table. I always salt my boiled beef when I eat it at home. The dinner made me nostalgic for my mom’s home-cooking, I had grown up on these dishes. After I had finished my bellini I ordered a glass of sparkling wine, for fear of if I tried to order a glass of red she would start listing stuff again. I knew they only had one sparkling wine by the glass from her previous list so it was a safe bet. It was only after Brent finished his beer that she offered him a wine list. Why had I not been offered the wine list after I finished my bellini?! We ended up splitting a half bottle of pinot noir from Vienna. We were on our honeymoon so it was justified.

For dessert we split the Sacher torte (seeing as this restaurant had invented it). To go with it, Brent had the Sacher coffee with house-made liqueur (which came on the side in a shot glass). This saved us from having to come back to the café tomorrow night to try the coffee. The cake was delicious and obviously the best one of all three that we had tried. I had been intrigued by the crème brulee with corn flakes but on the way to our table I had seen the size of the cake slice and I knew what we were in store for.

Before we had left I had opened a Stiegl Radler but I did not like it. It was malty and not at all like the one Brent had earlier in the day at Café Demel. There were no stores open when we left dinner. Which was weird because it was not that late. It was only 8:30pm and adding to it, the Spar grocery store we had gone to before was just around the corner. So close!

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2018 in Travel

 

Budapest, Vienna, Prague: Honeymoon Edition: Day 6

Wed. Sept. 26, 2018:
Vienna, Austria:

I slept poorly in the night and only woke up when Brent was getting ready to leave. In my sleepy haze I was confused: why was he leaving? I had forgotten that he was going to go ahead to the Spanish Riding School at the Hofbrun to get tickets to the morning practice. I tried to sleep some more but I couldn’t. Now I was anticipating updates from Brent about the line-up. I turned my phone up really loud and got ready. As it turns out Brent had rushed to the ticket office for open for nothing. There were only 12 people in line ahead of him and within minutes he had tickets. We stopped in at Starbucks along the way because once again, our hotel room lacked a kettle or a coffee maker. They had a maple latte. We split a stale grocery-store-quality chocolate donut for breakfast. I also got a Starbucks version of a stroopwafel for snacking on later. The espresso in the latte was so mild that I strongly considered if there was any espresso in the drink. I didn’t end up with a headache so there must have been.

There were two line-ups: people waiting to get in and people wanting tickets. The two lines got tangled in a mess of confusion that only really resolved itself once the place was open and those with tickets could go in. Even though we had gotten there 10 minutes before open, we got one of the last standing spots. Everything else was taken. I did wonder how long people had waited in line to get seats. The horses were so cute. There was one dopey looking one who kept drooling, but he was also the best at doing the fancy footwork. They practiced their prancing, their side-steps and their diagonal steps. I had no idea horses could do all that. It was nice to see the horses get a nice pat on the neck and a sugar cube after a good trot. Once the second group came out and started doing similar routines we figured we could leave. There was no way we were staying for the full two and a half hours. I got a postcard from the souvenir shop except later on that day when I got more postcards I realized that the gift shop one had been way overpriced.

We walked to St. Charles Church to get some views of the city. We had to wait in line because only 15 people were allowed up at a time. There was quite a bit of construction happening inside the church and I didn’t realize until we were lined up that the elevator was only temporarily put up to get to the scaffolding way up above. It was all a bit unnerving to look at. Every little step up there made the scaffolding shake a little. And while the views were great and it was a unique opportunity to see the dome of the church so up close, I was very glad to be back down on solid ground. Looking up afterwards, it was even more unnerving because part of where we had walked was a little walkway jutting out from the main scaffolding. It made me weak in the knees just seeing it. We found a grocery store, Spar, and got drinks and snacks. We found paprika chips, Mozart chocolate balls to bring home as a souvenir and some AOP Camembert (aka real Camembert). We stopped at the Lindor store where Brent found cherry liqueur Lindors which are supposedly the best chocolate they produce. Another souvenir for the family and another item checked off the 1000 Foods book list.

We backtracked past the Imperial Palace to Café Central for lunch. You could tell it was the most famous café of them all based on the line outside. It’s always awkward having to push past the line and be like we have reservations, let us in! I feel rude even though I shouldn’t. We debated the menu. I was tempted by the schnitzel but we were having that tonight for dinner. I considered the potato soup but, in the end, I went with the sausages. Brent had the toasted steak sandwich. Because our lunch took longer to prep, we had our desserts first. It worked out well seeing as I ordered a “Viennese” iced coffee which was very sweet and paired perfectly. Brent had the warm apple strudel meanwhile I hacked at a flaky pastry layered with custard. I ended up having to tip it on its side because it was too tall and unwieldy. When our mains came out I paused on the dessert and switched over. I was not going to finish my dessert while my sausages cooled down. It would be gross. Plus, I needed break from all of the sugar. In the end it worked out well, I ate way more than I would’ve without the switch. The sausage came with some shredded stuff on the side. I tried it on its own thinking it was cheese and as I bit down I remembered: it was horseradish. I would never forget now. The sausages were the skinny parówka kind I had grown up eating. The mustard was amazing. We traded halfway and I regret not having taken a dessert break then. I would’ve eaten more that way. I couldn’t even finish my half of the sandwich and I had to give up.

We stopped at a tobacco shop so I could buy some stamps. I was surprised how expensive they were and the lady was confused that I wanted more than one stamp. Our intended pit-stop at the hotel didn’t happen, our room was being cleaned. We walked over to Belvedere Palace, the park that we had initially walked by when we first got to Vienna. It felt so far away when I thought of that walk the first day. We couldn’t find the closer-to-us entrance and had to walk all the way to the other end. Eventually it worked out as the park was not circular and we left by the entrance we had initially been looking for.

There was not much to see in the botanical garden, part of it was closed and the rest was not in bloom. We started in the upper building with the Gustav Klimt exhibit. It was a really nice collection of art housed in a beautiful historic house. I had not expected to see so much art, I thought we were just going to see some gardens and a nice park with a fancy house in it. From the top of the hill we had a nice view of the grounds, the second building at the bottom of the hill and the city of Vienna behind it. Brent had lost one of the tickets between our entering the upper house and getting to the lower house. I sat down with my podcasts while he went inside with his tickets. Turns out it was all for naught. Our tickets didn’t include admission to the lower house. There was some confusion earlier when we were buying our tickets- it was unclear what our tickets included and when we tried to clarify he only confused us more. On the walk back we saw a cat sitting in a second floor open window above an antique store sign.

Back at the hotel we took a well-deserved rest break. It was already close to 4pm so we didn’t have that much time. I was drinking an impossible-to-pronounce therefore-no-idea-what-is-in-it cider that was really good. The cider was red in colour and the only thing I could understand from the label was Adam and Eve- so it was either cherry or apple cider. After much Googling I finally figured out that it was a cherry cider but what Adam and Eve have to do with cherries I have no idea. At least the bottlecap was pretty, it had a nice bird on it. The Camembert had a very strong smell- definitely not like the fake stuff we have back home- this was the real deal. It was salty and briny but also creamy. We didn’t have a knife so I just picked off pieces and placed them on my crackers. I read Amy & Isabelle by Elizabeth Strout, we still had some time before we had to leave.

Before we got to the Albertina art museum I insisted on a pit stop at the Paris version of David’s Tea, called Kusmi Tea. Even though I had yet to see a kettle during all my travels, I still insisted on getting some loose-leaf tea. Mostly with the hope of having a kettle soon but also to compare it to David’s. I got a nice rose green tea and they even threw in some samples. On the way there we passed a grocery store a few doors down from the McDonald’s- how had we missed it before?! I noted it for the next day.

The Albertina museum was amazing. It is one of the best museums we have ever been to. We started out in an exhibit of beautiful documentary photographs by an Austrian photographer. After that we moved on to some Warhol and Lichtenstein. Our tour continued with some contemporary pieces that didn’t suck. There were giant hyper-realistic drawings and paintings that were astounding to look at. Just jaw-dropping, how incredibly real they looked. Half of the second floor was some historical rooms. They didn’t have the usual velvet rope and you could walk around freely. This was awesome because it allowed you to get a better sense of the space and what it would have been like at the time to live there. That countered the fact that most everything was (obviously) replicas. The second half of the top floor was 8 rooms of Monet. His work was displayed chronologically and you got a sense of how he developed as an artist. There were some Monet paintings that I was not too fond of, the Japanese bridges just didn’t stack up against his other paintings. That’s how much Monet we saw. The top floor was Picasso, Braque, Matisse and Renoir (aka “the creep”- neither of us like him that much). While the museum was small, it was very well curated.

The 45-minute walk to dinner took us past the tourist-y areas of Vienna to the canal that branches from the river. We walked along the canal, passing some guys drinking beers. One was playing the acoustic guitar and they we’re all singing I Want It That Way by the Backstreet Boys. It was dusk and we saw bats swooping about. There was an initial debate whether they were bats or fast birds. But birds can’t fly that fast and swoop that sharply.

We were having dinner at Schweizer Haus. It was confusingly situated inside of an amusement park. Adding to the mire, no one there spoke English, we were that far away from the tourist centre. It was unclear if were to wait to be seated or just grab a table. We asked a server and he- rudely- told us to go sit wherever. The outside patio was crammed full of people and there was only room at the standing tables. But then half a table cleared out. At this point we went for it but I was unsure whether the people at the standing tables were all waiting for seats or not. No one gave us dirty looks and no one told us to leave so in the end it worked out. When the server came to our table we spoke to him in English. He brought us menus but then sent another guy to take our orders. They only served 500mL of beer, not the 1L that Brent had been hoping for. Obviously, he would have to get a second to remedy that. The first beer that he ordered also didn’t come in the standard beer mug, it was in a tall glass. I ordered what I hoped was red wine off the German menu. Brent ordered the giant 1kg ham hock and I was about to order schnitzel when the guy cut me off. He said the ham hock was a dish for two people. Turns out he was right, he was so very, very right. The ham hock, even not counting the bone, was enormous. Even with bites of bread, it was too much. Towards the end I gave up and resorted to carving it for Brent. He had carved himself a piece that was just fat. I would occasionally still sneak a bite, thinking maybe I had recovered- only to discover, that no, no I had not recovered. The crispy crackling skin was just so tempting! I was headed for a meat coma. I ate about a third of it. The patio was really nice, it as heated and we were surrounded by locals. There were even 2 cops enjoying pints.

It was a long, slow walk back to the hotel. It felt a lot longer than half an hour. We walked over a bridge that had another bridge running underneath it, both over the canal. Looking down I could see that it was subway tracks. I so wanted a picture of a train running underneath us. As soon as I had turned around, having given up, a train zoomed by and I missed it. Back in the hotel I had the Stibitzer apple cider (from Austria) in the shower. I spent the rest of the evening trying to write everything down in my notebook. The TV was so weird. There were so many different languages but the only English language channel was CNN.

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2018 in Travel

 
 
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