Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Long “Weekend” in Vienna

As interesting as Budapest was, and as beautiful as Prague was, Vienna was my favorite city on our trip. My mother lived there in her first few years of elementary school because my grandfather worked for the State Department/was a spy and he had business there. I’ve heard stories about Vienna my whole life and distinctly remember a puzzle at Gramma’s house of elegant Viennese formal gardens, so I’ve grown up wanting to visit Vienna, this elegant city with which I feel I have a history, a connection.
We arrived in Vienna in the afternoon and spent the rest of our first day in the Schloß Schönbrunn, a magnificent palace on the edge of the city. It’s like Versailles in that it is a huge yellow palace surrounded by tons of formal gardens. We didn’t go in the palace (we’re cheap, okay?) but we did spend a lot of time walking around the gardens and admiring the fountains, statues, pigeons that looked like doves, and fake Roman ruins. There were a ton of people running in the park, which made it feel like we weren’t just tourists.

We also stopped by the Easter market in front of the palace and got a snack of kaiserschmarn which is small bits of pancake that you eat with an incredible apple sauce. Deeelish. After our snack we went to dinner, which was schnitzel the size of your head. Tourist trap? Definitely. Something you have to do when in Vienna? I’d say so.

We packed our second and last day full of sights. We started at the Belvedere Museum, which houses Klimt’s famous “The Kiss” painting and numerous other beautiful works of his.

We also stopped into St. Stephan’s Cathedral, which was an important stop for me because my mom said that she and her family went to church there a few times. To walk in that beautiful sanctuary and know that my Gramma, Grandpa, mom, and aunts had worshiped there, in that exact space, 40 years earlier was just really incredible.

We also visited the Music Museum which was gimmicky but I got to create a waltz and waltz around the room so that was pretty cool. We ended our day in the Prater, an amusement park inside a large city park, which is known for its giant ferris wheel. It’s basically a low-tech version of the London Eye, and it was so fun to ride it over the city to see Vienna at our feel in the dusky sky.

We ended our trip with a 13 hour night train from Vienna to Geneva (with a 7 am transfer in Zurich) which was certainly interesting, I’ll say that, but not too bad. It was improved by my “kitten tongue” chocolates.

Although we certainly stretched the definition of a long weekend to mean eight days, this trip was an incredible introduction to Central and Eastern Europe, and I can’t wait to go back! x
*I am writing this from the Geneva Airport - what up technology!

A Long “Weekend” in Prague

[It is my literal last day in Switzerland, so clearly now is the time to catch up on trips from over a month ago. Stay tuned for lots of entries and a wrap up in the next few weeks.]
Our first morning in Prague, we went for breakfast in an Art Deco restaurant with a funny waiter and tea with milk. Heaven. Then we went on another free walking tour. I can’t stress enough that these are the best way to learn about a city. We only had a day in Prague, so not only did we get to check off a lot of the key sights, but we also learned more than was in the guidebook and saw other things, like the Jewish quarter, that we wouldn’t have otherwise. We obvs saw the famous Prague clock, but didn’t get to see it strike the hour. Not that we would have known when that is - this clock includes moon cycle, astrological symbols, day, month, year, temperature, GPS coordinates, cooking times, etc.

A definite highlight of the day was our lunch at the Easter market. We got kielbasa sausages and these traditional Central/Eastern European pastries called trdelniks (literally no idea how to pronounce that) which are baked or fried dough covered in cinnamon sugar. How lucky were we to travel in the weeks before Easter when every city has its Easter markets?

We spent the afternoon in the castle, which we got to by walking across St. Charles’ Bridge, a famous pedestrian bridge lined with statues and 5,000,000 caricaturists. From the castle, on a hill in the midst of a sea full of red roofed houses, we could see over the river and the whole city. We didn’t go in the actual castle, but saw the cathedral on the castle grounds at just the right moment to revel in the stained glass light.

Fun fact about Prague: My friend Anna’s family lives in Prague (pray-gue), Oklahoma, so this whole trip was centered around matching Czech and Oklahoma traditions (and mispronouncing the name of the city). One thing we had to do was go to the church from which the people of Prague, OK, supposedly stole a baby Jesus statue. Anna was pretty much dying laughing when we finally saw it. We also went on a hunt through the city for kolaches, a Czech pastry that has its own festival in Oklahoma. They are like Danishes, but are pesky to track down. We gave up after looking in tons of pastry shops and bakeries, grabbed dinner (disgusting, unless you like gravy and dumplings that are both made from flour+water paste) and then stopped in a convenience store for some snacks and there they were! Kolaches!

The Church of the Well-Dressed, Stolen Baby Jesus

The next morning we took the train to Vienna. On the train I finished The Kite Runner, which was so incredible. I read it the entire 6 hour train ride from Budapest to Prague, and opened it almost as soon as we got on the train to Vienna. So vivid, so emotional, and such a far cry from the life I am blessed to be living. x