Hey guys! I’m finally back with another blog post. I haven’t traveled in a while, so it’s been a while since I posted. Last weekend I took another trip, this time to Barcelona. Let me just say – Barcelona is an absolutely beautiful city. Unfortunately, it rained almost all weekend, starting when we arrived on Friday and it didn’t stop until right as we left Monday morning. As a result, we didn’t get to do a whole lot, and I wasn’t able to take pictures most of the weekend. Even still, we made the best of the weekend and I still had a blast! Unfortunately, I was hoping I could use my Spanish knowledge from high school, but we quickly learned that Barcelona is in the Catalonian region and they speak Catalan more so than Spanish. Oh well!
The trip started Friday evening when we arrived. We got dropped off in the city center, Plaça de Catalunya, and instantly fell in love with the city. It actually wasn’t raining quite yet, and the square was packed with people, and surrounding the center were some massive, beautiful buildings and fountains and the like. We had to find our way to pick up the keys to our apartment, which took a while, but eventually found our way. We rented an apartment that was right across from the Sagrada Família, a massive cathedral in the city. It was one of the many buildings in the city designed by the famous architect, Antoni Gaudí, and considered his most famous and impressive work. Construction on the church began in 1882 but just passed the halfway point in 2010. Construction has hit many roadblocks in history, but even the part that is done is impressive. When completed (planned for 2026) it will contain 18 colorful towers of differing heights, symbolizing the 12 apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four evangelists, and finally, Jesus. However, only 8 of the spires are completed as of now. I never got a great picture from my phone of the whole church, so I’ll pull one of google to show you what it looks like.
After finding the apartment and spending a few minutes in shock at the church, we went to dinner at a restaurant right around the corner that served tacos and some of the best guacamole in town (per a Yelp review we read). The review was right, it was probably the best guacamole I’ve had thus far in my life. The traditional Spanish eating times are much later than what we were used to, so it was really weird to observe this. We got to dinner fairly late (by American standards) and the restaurant was empty except for one or two tables, but we had to sit outside as all the places in side were “reserved”. Sure enough, towards the end of our meal, around 21.00 or 22.00 the restaurant was packed full.
The next day, Saturday, was the primary day we had to enjoy the city. We ended up splitting up into two groups, as some people wanted to take a bus tour and some of us didn’t want to pay, instead choosing to explore the city on foot. I was in the latter group with Alex and Tim, and we had an awesome day. We started off by heading towards Park Güell, a famous park/architecture area on a hill in the north of town, also designed by Gaudí. However, we had no clue how to get there, so we ended up wandering around throughout the north area of town. We spent a few hours wandering through other parks, hills, and neighborhoods, before finally finding the park. Although it took us forever to find, we had a blast just walking around and seeing all sorts of sights. The park itself was cool, as it offered a view over the entire city, all the way out to the Mediterranean, although it was rainy and foggy, so the view wasn’t as good as it usually is.
After seeing the park, we wanted to go down to the beach, so we took a long metro ride down there. Unfortunately, it was really windy and rainy at this point, so we stayed there long enough to get a few pictures, and then we had to turn right around again. We headed back to the city center to sit in a Starbucks, relax, and plan out the rest of the evening. After taking a short break, we decided to go to the Picasso museum. The museum itself was really neat, as it is housed inside of multiple medieval palaces. It’s considered the largest collection of Picasso works, and it was really cool to see how his style changed over the years, especially because the museum was free for students!
By the time we finished at the museum, it was past 19.00, so we headed back to the apartment to meet up with the others. We went to a really nice, authentic Catalan cuisine restaurant. The restaurant had very cheap (2.5€ or 3€ for a full bottle) house wines, and we ended up staying for a few hours just chatting and laughing and having fun. The food was amazing as well – the most notable dish was the Paella that Alex and Whitnie got. Paella is very famous in the city and region, and it was extremely yummy as well.
Sunday was more of a relaxing day, as we spent most of the day sitting at our apartment doing homework, chatting, and watching a bit of Sunday football as well. For a few hours in the day, John and Tim and I took a nice walk from our apartment to the city center, and then down the famous street La Rambla, which is full of shops and restaurants and people. We ended up at the sea, and went into Maremàgnum, a mall at Port Vell.
All in all, the weekend wasn’t the best for sightseeing and being in the city, but we still made of the most of our time and explored and had a great time!
Holy crap guys. This past weekend I went to Budapest, and let me tell you, it was easily the best weekend I’ve had since coming over to Europe. The city was absolutely beautiful, and we got to do many exciting things. In addition, Friday was Halloween, so that made the entire trip 10x better. I also finally brought my camera with me on a trip and I took some really neat pictures, so I hope you guys enjoy!
After arriving in Budapest, the first thing we did was drop our stuff off in the hostel. Normally this would be a fairly easy, straight-forward matter, but I feel like this deserves mentioning. We originally were staying in a hostel named “Tiger Tim’s” but showed up at a really run down building. After a half hour of confusion, we found out we were actually staying at the building we were currently in. The hostel we stayed in was named the “Sexy Tractor”, and had the most interesting theme to it. Needless to say, many of the things about the hostel I won’t post on this blog, but from the pictures I upload I think many of you can assume how interesting the building was…
After everyone was freaking out about the creepy hostel we were staying at, we met up and started out tour of the city. The tour of city was just amazing. Budapest was originally two cities: Buda, and Pest, which merged in 1873 to form the modern Budapest. There are many theories of the origins of the meaning of the name, but our tour guide supported the idea that buda comes from the slavic word вода, which means water, and pest comes from пещ which means oven or furnace, possibly referring to local caves where fires burned. Budapest is filled with old churches and cathedrals, gothic buildings, castles, and many other awesome sites. Interestingly enough, Budapest’s tallest buildings are the Parliament and St. Stephen’s Basilica, which gives Budapest an awesome look as it lacks modern skyscrapers. Our tour guide also told us this was due to a local law that prevents buildings from being taller than these two, but I’m not sure if I completely believe him!
After starting and walking through the sites of Pest (where we were staying), we crossed over the Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Buda. The Chain Bridge is the most famous bridge in Budapest, and is a major cultural and economic wonder. The bridge has been likened to New York’s Brooklyn Bridge, and it definitely looked beautiful. Crossing into Buda, you can see the famous castles and churches up on the hill in front of you, and since it was dark at this point in the tour it looked beautiful. We took a very long staircase up the hill and walked around a few castles and monuments. On the top of castle hill is the famous Matthias Church, which was supposedly built in 1015 but restored very recently. It still retains an old Romanesque look, and has an extremely beautiful roof. After that, we went up to the Halászbástya, known as Fisherman’s Bastion, a terrace/castle wall on the top of the hill. The view from the wall was absolutely breathtaking. One of my favorite parts of Budapest is that most of the city is along the Danube river, so you can see all these amazing buildings at once when you are on the bridge or on the hill. At this point the tour was pretty much over, and we headed back to the hostel to rest and get ready for dinner. However, along the way there were people outside all the stores in costumes handing out free candy, hot wine, and roasted chesnuts. I’ll awesome take free food and drink!
Dinner on Friday night deserves an entire post of it’s own. We ate dinner at a place called Sir Lancelot’s Knight Restaurant, which was a medieval-themed restaurant. The entire restaurant was themed like a dungeon/castle, they had no forks to eat with (only knives to cut mean and spoons for soups). Throughout the meal, there was lots of entertainment, including dancers, knights dueling, a woman spinning around some flaming objects, and dancing. The knights, however, require a story of their own…
When the two knights came into the room and started dueling, their act began with one knight telling the other he “accidentally fell upon the other’s knight’s wife in bed last night”, this being the cause for their fight. The knight that was angered challenged the other knight to 3 challenges, upon completion of which he would be forgiven. The first challenge involved cutting an apple, but wasn’t too exciting. For the second challenge, however, the knight issuing the challenges asked “who is the most beautiful girl in the room?” After a quick second of no one volunteering, I yelled “ALESIA!”, nominating a friend that was sitting at my table. She instantly got embarrassed and tried to say no, but the knight was already pulling her up. She had to end up standing on the table while the knight doing the challenges sang a love ballad to her. I’m not sure why but she kept making the “you are dead” hand signals to me the entire time…no clue why though.
Naturally, on the third challenge, when the knight asked for the “bravest man in the room”, the entire room erupted in a chorus of “MARK!”. It wasn’t just one or two people, either. The entire room decided I needed payback. So I had to arm wrestle the knight as his final challenge. BUT he refused to wrestle a non-knight, so right then and there I got knighted! I took a pledge, kneeled, and I am henceforth known as “Sir Mark the Brave.” Mom and Dad, I hope you are proud of me – I’m finally accomplishing something with the family name!
The food was also amazing. We ordered a “plate for 4”, which was a massive platter of wood with meats of every size, shape, and color. I’ve never seen such a large meal in my life. I don’t have a great picture of the meal, but the two I uploaded hopefully can do it some justice to how awesome the meal was. After dinner we got dressed in Halloween costumes and went to a pretty fun club and stayed there all night. Although I didn’t have a real costume, Tim and I had matching shirts (mine is black and his is white) so we dressed up and said we were Salt N Peppa. Kinda lame but it worked…
After waking up around noon, we all got together to go visit some more famous sites of Budapest. We first walked to the Hősök tere, or Hero’s Square in English. The square is another iconic monument, consisting of many large statues and surrounded by large museums and ornate buildings. After stopping for pictures and sightseeing, we continued on Városliget (City Park) which is right behind Hero’s Square. The park was very large and featured many fancy buildings, which was very nice to stroll around and see. After seeing all the buildings, however, we went on the most important attraction of the day: the thermal baths. Budapest is famous for its thermal springs, to the extent that both the Romans and Turks conquered Budapest back in history and built many spas and baths. For the majority of the day many of us spent the remaining time at the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath, the largest thermal bath in Europe. The bath was a large complex consisting of many indoor and outdoor pools with varying temperatures from 18°C-38°C. All Saturday afternoon we relaxed in medicinal baths, hot tubs, pools, saunas, and turkish saunas (hammams). I have never felt so relaxed in my life! The craziest thing was when we went from a 70°C sauna straight to an 18°C cooling pool. For those of you unfamiliar with the metric system, that’s a 158°F to 64°F. Pretty insane! I didn’t get any pictures of the thermal bath as I didn’t have my phone or camera, but I’ll pull a couple off the internet to show you what it was like.
After a very relaxing day and a very sad, cold walk back to the hostel, we got ready and went to dinner. On Saturday night we went to a traditional restaurant. I had a very nice meal of bacon-wrapped pork and some potatoes/dumplings and vegetables, alongside a lot of good Hungarian wine. For the evening we went to a so-called “ruinpub” downtown. Quoting a definition online about ruinpubs:
The beginning of the 21st century was an exciting turning point in the nightlife of Budapest: in the central area of the city new places were opened one after another in tenement houses and factory buildings doomed to destruction. These were equipped with rejected furniture of old community centres, cinemas, and grandmothers’ flats, bringing a retro feeling into these places. They were soon called ruinpubs and became popular very fast among the youth of Budapest – ruinpub is the exact translation of the Hungarian name.
Ruinpubs often move to a new place, or close for some years, then open in a new place again. They are are not only good places to drink and have a party but also function as cultural community areas with film clubs, theatre performances, concerts, exhibitions, and creative workshops, too. They do not work in a franchise system, there is no specified design, and there are no rules, how to make them. Every place has a unique style and atmosphere. In Szimpla kert (Simple Garden) you can have a beer in a cannibalized old Trabant car. In Instant you can stroll around in the labyrinth of the tenement house. In Kertem (My Garden) you can feel the atmosphere of a socialist beer-garden of the 1980s. From Corvin tető (Corvin Roofgarden) you can have a view at the nightlife of this cosmopolitan city. Some of the ruinpubs are open in Summer only, while others have indoor areas, so you can visit them all year.
The place we went to was interesting. It was alright, but I definitely preferred Friday night over Saturday.
On Sunday we had a few hours left to kill before we left, so me and 3 other friends signed up for an “escape the room” game. They’re apparently fairly popular in Europe, although I’ve never seen one in America. It’s literally a room/collection of rooms that you get dropped into and have to find your way out. This involves solving puzzles and riddles, looking for hidden keys and objects in the room, and eventually finding your way out. I absolutely loved it, as many of you know I am very analytical and love puzzles. Quite literally we found the building that it was in, walked inside the front door, and the door locked behind us. No meeting with people beforehand, no lobby, we literally just walked in and it started. We showed up late but still managed to get out before our time slot we reserved was up. It was a flurry of searching drawers, looking behind paintings, solving riddles, and many other fun activities. As we left at the end Robin pointed out how heightened our senses were after doing it – I felt like Sherlock. After this, we just got a coffee and walked back down to the river one last time before leaving. Budapest trip was already over, but it was easily the best weekend I’ve had so far!
Hey guys! I’m back again. I really need to catch up so I’ll try and do two posts today, if I have enough time. This first post is a lot of pictures, so enjoy the beautiful views!
After leaving Prague a few weekends back we visited Český Krumlov on our way back to Linz. Český Krumlov is a small Czech town that is very much a quaint, medieval town. Český Krumlov was easily the prettiest town I’ve visited so far. The entire day I felt like I was in another world. I wish we had places like this in America! The town has a large castle, and is situated on a river that has absolutely breathtaking views. Throughout the day we had a chance to walk around, eat lunch/dinner, shop for snacks and gifts in the town, and visit the castle, castle gardens, and other areas. There’s not a whole to write about the city, so I’ll just post a bunch of pictures and let the absolute beauty do the talking!
Hello! I apologize for not making a post in almost a month, I’ve been super busy. I’m going to try my best to make a few posts and catch up this weekend. I’m going to start with last weekend, which I took a tip up to the Czech Republic. The trip was put on by REFI, the student group that takes care of us at school, including our mentors and other students here. I took a ton of pictures in Prague, so this post will probably be mainly visual, so enjoy! Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my camera again due to fear of rain, so the pictures might not be the best quality, but nonetheless hopefully you will find them interesting!
The trip started early on Friday, We had to wake up at 7:15 and be on the bus at 7:30 to leave. Although we were all really tired, we had quite a fun bus trip there, playing games and sleeping a bit. We got to Prague around midday and got dropped off near the main train station. We then got our stuff off the bus and walked to the hostel we stayed our near downtown. After checking in and dropping our stuff in the rooms, we headed for a lunch at a traditional Czech restaurant. We had a couple choices of meals, and I ended up getting a beef goulash with dumplings which was pretty good. The food was good at the restaurant, but the service wasn’t so great so that kinda lowered our mood a bit, but nonetheless we were still ready to have an awesome day!
After lunch we got a 3 hour walking tour of the city. While the weather was decent, the entire day was really cloudy and muggy out, which was also kinda depressing, but the city still was beautiful. We started the tour in Wenceslas Square, right next to our hostel, which is one of the main squares in New Town. The square is named after Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia, and the square aptly features a large statue of Saint Wenceslas. The square, which is technically more of a boulevard, also has the National Museum at one end, a large Neo-Classical building. We continued our tour through New Town, going through all sorts of beautiful alleys and streets. We stopped at sites including Lucerna Palace, the Estates Theatre, and the famous Powder Tower, a large gate into Old Town.
We next made our way to another district, Old Town. We stopped in the Old Town Square for quite a long time, as there are many sites to see in this area. The square was absolutely beautiful and had builds of at least 4 different architecture styles next to one another. The first building we saw was the famous Prague astronomical clock tower. The tower features an astronomical clock dating back to 1410, making it the third oldest in the world and oldest one that still works. The dial on the clock has all sorts of arms and balls, and tells not only the present time, but ancient czech time, sunrise and sunset times, current zodiac sign, position of sun and moon, and a few other astronomical functions. The clock looked very fantasy-inspired, almost like it was out of Harry Potter.
Towards the end of the tour we headed towards the Charles Bridge, one of the most important attractions in Prague. The bridge crosses the Vltava River, the largest river in the Czech River. Each side of bridge is guarded by extremely large, Gothic-styled gate towers, which look very impressive. The bridge itself is packed with tourists, street performers, vendors, and over 30 interesting statues and plaques. The statues are mostly baroque architecture, and depict all sorts of saints, biblical figures, and historical stories. We spent a long time on the tour walking across the bridge, as the tour guide had a plethora of information on each section and statue on the bridge. The most interesting was the legend that the construction for the bridge started in 1357 on July 9th at 5:31 am, which makes 135797531. Charles IV laid the first brick himself, and the Holy Roman Emperor was a strong believer in numerology, believing such a time would give the bridge extra strength.
After walking across the bridge we made our way to the Wallenstein Palace, a beautiful baroque building that houses the Czech Senate. Although we couldn’t make our way inside, we walked around the extensive palace gardens, which were extremely beautiful and housed a few peacocks wandering around. Still not sure about that one…
We ended our tour back near the river at Charles University, the oldest university in Central Europe, established in 1348.
After the tour we went back to our hostel for a bit of rest and showering, and then headed out for a dinner at a place called The Pub. The Pub was arguably my favorite part of the trip – it was a restaurant with tables that had a large tap in the center of each one. The tap kept track of how much beer your table drank and compared to other tables in the building, as well as other tables in other locations throughout Czech. The night was very fun, as tables were competing and having a blast. For the record, my table clearly won, beating our rival table by 4 solid litres of beer. In addition to being a tap, the console in the center could be used to order food and even as a jukebox. Our table dominated the jukebox all night as well, playing songs ranging from Michael Jackson, Joe Cocker, Bon Jovi, and even the dreaded Nickleback as a joke on our Canadian friends! The food was good as well; I split a 4-person dinner that included chicken wings, grilled chicken steaks, sirloin steak strips, Honey BBQ ribs, and a healthy portion of potatoes and garlic bread. After this, the group left to go out and see Prague nightlife, but a few of us wanted a calmer night, so I went with some Canadian and Spanish friends and walked all around town, ending up at the Prague Castle on a large hill with a beautiful view of the city.
Day 2 gave us the entire day of free time to wander the city on our own, so we walked to locations that we didn’t see the previous day. The biggest attraction of the day was the Prague Castle, which we didn’t hit on the tour before. The castle is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic, and is listed as the largest ancient castle in the world with an area of 70,000 m² (according to wikipedia). The castle grounds hold 4 churches, 4 palaces, and many other various royal buildings and gardens.
The most impressive attraction in the castle grounds is the St. Vitus Cathedral, a large church. It’s amazing that each city we visit has at least a handful of cathedrals like this one, and that each one is so intricate and ornate and different from the last. I wonder how Europeans would think if they saw our churches in America and how they are all modern buildings? Anyways, the present cathedral was founded in 1344, and is extremely large inside. We could only get into the first area inside, as the rest cost money, but the small part we saw was still awesome.
The rest of the day my friends and I walked around the surrounding area around the castle. The buildings were all very old, beautiful, and very nice. We definitely felt like we were in a rich area of town, seeing lots of fancy cars and people dressed nice. It was a very relaxing day, and I enjoyed the sights more than the previous day. We enjoyed street food along the way, and Mike and I ended up shopping back in Wenceslas Square at H&M and Zara afterwards. For dinner we went to a brewery called Pivovarský Hotel U Medvídků. I got some sort of pork roast meal, which was of course delicious. Afterwards we had a pub crawl throughout Prague the rest of the night. We went to three different bars throughout town, and ended up at Karlovylázně, a 5-story club and the largest in central Europe. We also got free, unlimited alcohol at the first bar we were at, which was awesome, especially for my wallet. The night was a massive blast with all my friends, although I was exhausted at the end of night!
Hey guys! Okay, I know I’ve yet to write about the rest of my first week but I’m skipping that for now to write about this weekend at Oktoberfest because it was absolutely INSANE. Saturday marked the beginning of the festival, and the idea was somewhat last minute, as we decided to make this trip last Wednesday. I went to München with Bianca, one of my Austrian mentors, and a few Canadian friends that I’ve met since coming to Linz. We left Friday as soon as our German class ended, taking the train through Salzburg towards München. We arrived around 4 in the afternoon and made our way to our Hostel that was around 10 minutes away. After checking in, we walked around the city for an hour or so, and eventually we also walked to the fairgrounds to scope out the area and tents for Oktoberfest. Nothing too exciting, although while walking through the fairgrounds dressed in our Tracht (the traditional Bavarian/Austrian clothing, which is Dirndl for women and Lederhosen for men) a photographer for a newspaper stopped us and took photos of us doing different things to be published in the paper. Kinda cool!
After a very short night of sleep, we woke up around 4:30 and started getting ready. The tents for Oktoberfest usually consisted of a bunch of tables that you can reserve online and some seats that were first come, first serve. Since we didn’t have a reservation for any tables, we were told to get to the fairgrounds around 6 to get in line. We got a few recommendations on what tent to go in, and we ended up inside the Hofbräu-Festzelt (festzelt is a sort of carnival tent in German), which is aptly sponsored by the Hofbräuhaus, an extremely famous and old brewery in München), which has a young, crazy crowd which tends to be a lot of Americans, Australians, and New Zealanders. We had to wait in line for the tent to open at 9, and it was pretty miserable since we had no sleep and it was cold and rainy all morning. Once the tent finally opened we scrambled inside and barely got a table. The table ended up being an extremely lucky spot, as it was right in the front next to the main podium. Our tent is one of the largest, with probably 8,000 people inside and another 4,000 outside. There’s 14 large tents and 21 smaller tents at Oktoberfest all in all, and while they’re called tents, the structures are each extremely beautiful inside, take months to erect, and are each themed uniquely.
Since we came on the first day, they didn’t start serving beer until noon when the famous keg tapping ceremony by the mayor, so we got a chance to meet our neighbors at our table – across the table was a group of 3 Australian girls from Perth who have been travelling Europe the past 4 months, and a large group of Americans next to us from California, including the famous “Beer Jesus” – but more on him later. We were still extremely tired at this point, so waiting another 3 hours was not fun at all, but when 11:30 rolled around the crowd started to get anxious, chanting repeatedly and singing songs and other random things. Finally, around 12:00 the government officials rolled in the tent with a large escort parade, including a band and tons of news crews. After a while of getting situated the keg tapping finally happened, and the crowd was going absolutely crazy. Beers immediately started getting poured, and the party finally started! The beer was really good, even for someone like me who isn’t a huge beer fan. It’s only served in a litre size, and they are all brewed in München and are very strong. I can’t even begin to explain how crazy the day was – people were all standing on the tables, singing songs, meeting one another, someone was standing up chugging a beer every few minutes – all around insane. What made me amazed was the sheer amount of people packed together, all partying around one concept (a royal wedding in the 1800’s, actually). All day the party continued; some of my favorite parts were the many times the crowd sung Seven Nation Army and Hey Baby, the singing of Hey Caroline, and meeting people from all over the world! (I even spent almost an hour chatting with a pretty Norwegian girl named Caroline who was studying medicine in Hungary – quite an interesting conversation). Although Oktoberfest is known for its beer, Bavarian food is also extremely good – we spent all day snacking on the famous Bavarian pretzels and I even bought a half of a roasted chicken for dinner.
So more on Beer Jesus. As we started chatting with the Californians next to us, one guy was telling us the story of Beer Jesus. Last year, one of the Californians came to Oktoberfest for the tapping ceremony. He got one of the first beers from the first keg, and he proceeded to chug the entire thing at an extremely fast pace – which got the mayor’s attention. The mayor came over and dubbed this guy Beer Jesus for the rest of the event. So naturally, this year he came back. Within the first 10 minutes he got up and chugged his first litre, and the government officials recognized him from last year and someone came over and wrote Beer Jesus on his shirt again! Beer Jesus chugged 3 litres within the first hour. I took a video one of the times, and he chugs the litre in 3.3 seconds. (I can’t post the video on my blog, but I might post it on Facebook later). Needless to say he was an awesome person to party with!
Later in the evening Bianca and I took a walk around the fairgrounds outside, looking at the attractions and people, getting snacks, and sitting on a grassy hill for a while. When we returned to our tent it took forever getting back inside, and we had lost the Canadians, so we ended up deciding to leave a bit earlier. I was starting to feel ill cause I hadn’t gotten sleep the past two nights, and Bianca was really tired, so we just went to the train station and got on the train back to Linz. Even though I didn’t stay a whole day, the festival was still absolutely insane (in a good way) and I would highly recommend everyone go at least once, if given the chance.
Hello all! I apologize for taking so long to get my first blog post up, but a combination of being busy and having horrible wifi at our hotel made it nearly impossible until just now when I found time. Also, it has rained a lot this week so I haven’t been taking my camera with me, instead just using the camera on my iPhone. Anyways, this post will cover two of my five days of my travels and it will be fairly lengthy – grab a hot chocolate or snack, sit back, and I hope you enjoy it! Hopefully tomorrow when I arrive in Linz I will have time to add a post for the rest of the days.
Day 1 – Vienna
Quick note before I get started, I flew from Toronto to Vienna with Austria Airlines and they deserve a special shout-out for being an awesome airline – the food was actually really good, I was comfortable in my seat, and they had a good selection of entertainment for us on the plane to choose from. Anyone coming to Europe should definitely consider flying with them. Anyways, after arriving in the airport and getting through customs, I went to my baggage claim area for my bags. I met up with two of the other group members, Mike and John, who took a flight from Dayton->Newark, and headed to our hotel. Whitnie and Alex were supposed to catch a flight from Cincinnati and meet Mike and John in Newark to connect to Austria, but their flight from Cincinnati was delayed so they missed their flight and had to take another flight to Frankfurt, Germany and then on to Vienna. Mike and John and I ended up walking around for an hour or so in the area our hotel was in. We found the Donaukanal (Danube Canal) nearby and walked in that area. At first we thought it was the Danube River but then we were told later by the hotel staff the actual Danube is much larger, cleaner, and more north in the city. Oops…
After meeting up with Whitnie and Alex later we headed back out into the city, wandering around somewhat aimlessly. We eventually bought some lunch and sat in a nice park underneath the Votivkirche, a large gothic church that was built in 1853. We sat there and talked for a while, all of us extremely tired from essentially skipping a night of sleep from the plane and time change. After more wandering and discovering we got a late dinner of pizza and wine at a place near our hotel. The pizza was surprisingly good, and we ended up sitting at our table and talking for a while again. Eventually we returned to our hotel and hung out in our room for a while before heading to sleep – sleep that was extremely overdue for all of us!
Day 2 – Wachau Valley/Vienna
Day 2 started off much better, considering we all got a good night of sleep. We woke up fairly early, as we had tickets for a Wine Tasting Bike Tour of Austria’s famous Wachau valley, which lasted almost all day. Fair warning, I took a TON of pictures today with my phone! (It was supposed to rain 80% so I left my camera at the hostel. It never rained and was sunny all day. Figures.)
We got to the tour place after a quick breakfast of coffee and pastries and sat down to wait. While waiting, we met some of the other participants in the tour. Our group ended up being myself, Mike, John, Whitnie, Alex, a girl named Rachel from Chicago, and three older couples – one from San Francisco, one from Toronto, and one from Colorado. The entire group was awesome, and to top it all off, we had the world’s COOLEST tour guide, a Spanish man named Alain (pronounced uh-line) who has worked and traveled to many countries around the world.
We took an hour train ride out to Krems, a city in the valley, where we picked up bikes and headed out for the day. We rode around through the valley along the Danube river and the scenery was amazing. I can’t think of a more beautiful place I’ve ever seen. All alongside of us were vineyards of grapes, and the hills were also lined with terraced vineyards. It was interesting to learn a lot about the grape-growing process, especially the difference between growing grapes on the flat ground vs. hills, as well as all the different grape types and wines Austria is known for. Austria thankfully is known more for their white wines (the national grape is the grüner veltliner) but their wines are usually pretty dry, which made me somewhat sad, although they were still really good! After a short ride we stopped at our first winery, named Domäne Wachau, was the largest of the three wineries we visited. We learned that the winery doesn’t own a single vineyard itself, but instead all the local vineyard farmers who can’t afford the expensive equipment will have the winery make the wine and bottle it under the name of the winery. We got to taste 5 wines which were all very good, and then we headed out.
Next we made our way to the small town of Dürnstein, which was absolutely amazing. We spent most of our afternoon here. When we first arrived in town we were told about the Dürnstein Castle, which was some old ruins on a hill that at one time held an imprisoned Richard the Lionheart for two years after he tried boldly walking through Austria while on bad terms with the Duke of Austria. We had a 45 minute free period where we could either explore the city or hike up the mountain to the castle. Obviously I took the hiking option, and boy was it worth it! The views were insane, and kept getting better as we got higher and higher and higher. Finally I made it to the top and got to see the entire valley and the river, and I instantly fell more in love with Austria.
After hiking back down (and trying some apricot schnapps in a store) we went to an old rustic inn for a traditional Austria lunch. We had a choice between four meals, but I picked the goulash and dumplings. Our tour guide informed us that each place will make goulash differently and that this restaurant made some of the best goulash. The goulash was amazing as predicted, and also extremely filling! After lunch we slowly trodded back to our bikes and started riding again. This time we stopped in the next town at a midsized winery. The winery won the award for cutest of the day, as it was situated inside a nice courtyard with lots of flowers and trees and string lights. Here we tried 3 wines, included a world-class award winning White Chardonnay that was phenomenal. After the wine tasting we went down to the “beach” along the Danube, for a short break, and then got back on our bikes. We started heading back towards Krems, stopping at our last winery, located inside an old church, where we got to pick any two wines to have full glasses of. I choice a Riesling mix and a sparkling wine, both that were good. After this we rode back to Krems, hopped on the train, and made our way back to Wien. The tour set an extremely high bar for the rest of the trip, as it was an amazing time. After arriving back in Wien we got a late dinner at a random restaurant near the hotel, got a beer at a bar downtown, and relaxed after a long day.