Monday, February 17, 2014

The Weekend of Austrian Adventures: Vienna, Innsbruck, and Hallstatt

My unanticipated day of exploration in Vienna on Friday started with a visit to St. Stephen's Cathedral. A friend of mine back in St. Louis asked me to snap some photos of the interior for a project she was doing. By this point, I'd spent more than one month in Vienna and I had yet to visit the inside of the city's most famous landmark. The favor was a good excuse to do so. I met Jenn outside of the cathedral and in we went (with all of the tourists) to discover the beauty St. Stephen's. There was a service going on when we entered, so I will have to come back another time and see the cathedral in its entirety. 

The exterior of St. Stephen's Cathedral
The interior of St. Stephen's Cathedral
The organ in St. Stephen's Cathedral

After visiting the cathedral, I had no official plans for the day. I had a class trip at 4pm, and that was it. Jenn was making her way to the St. Charles Cathedral at Karlsplatz next, and I decided to tag along. The exterior of the church was stunning. Visitors had to pay a handful of euros to view the interior, so we decided to save that for another day.

The St. Charles Cathedral

The Wien Museum was next. I had passed it many times before, seen many posters for exhibits on the U-Bahn, and I was curious as to what was actually inside. I'm glad I did so. There was a wide range of artwork and pieces relating to Vienna and it was a great way to learn more about Austria and its capital from an artistic standpoint.

Following the artistic theme, I went to the photo gallery, OstLicht, with my Visual Literacy class. We visited the current exhibit displaying René Burri's work. Burri is a Swiss photographer known for his photos of major political, historical, and cultural  events and key figures of the second half of the twentieth century. He's a Magnum photographer and has photographed Che Guevara and Picasso. The exhibit was largely made up of those series of photos and images captured in "the decisive moment".

The class at the gallery was followed by Valentine's Day sushi and noodles, wine, and free sherry with the check. Emielia and I then went to Hotel Sacher and each had a slice of the classic Viennese Sachertorte to top off the evening.

Sachertorte and a Wiener Melange at Hotel Sacher

I woke up at 3:30am the next morning to make my way to Innsbruck, Austria. In short, Innsbruck was perfect. The sky was the most excellent blue, the air was warm, the city was colorful, and the mountains were gorgeous.

Views of the mountains from the walk from the train station to our hotel
Walking into Old Town
So much color in Innsbruck!

 Emielia, Wyatt, and I were able to see a lot of Innsbruck in the fourteen hours we were awake in the city. We visited the Golden Roof (built by Emperor Maximilian I).

The Golden Roof

We visited the City Tower to get magnificent views of the city and the mountains.

View of the city and the mountains from the City Tower

We visited the Cathedral of St. James. I've visited many cathedrals since coming to Europe, and this is one of my favorites. The artwork and the organ were magnificent.

The exterior of the Cathedral of St. James
The interior of the Cathedral of St. James

Next, we visited the Landestheater, the exterior of the Hofburg Palace, and made our way up the mountain in a cable car to the Alpenzoo for spectacular views of the mountains and to see some animals.

The Alpenzoo
The mountains from Alpenzoo

Exhausted, we made our way back to the hotel after visiting the zoo, napped, ate dinner, and then went to bed. We had to be up at 6:00am the next day to get to Hallstatt.

Once arriving in Hallstatt by train, we had to take a boat across the lake to get to the village. It was rainy and cold in Hallstatt, but the village was still charming, even on a Sunday when practically nothing was open. 

Arriving in Hallstatt 
Crossing the lake to get to the village
The village of Hallstatt

We made friends with the woman who worked in one of the few open cafes, visited the Hallstatt Museum, and explored this historical village.

I'm glad I took the weekend to explore the country I'm living in and absorb its beauty. Midterms are soon approaching so I am unsure of the traveling I will do in the next two weeks. All I know is that I cannot wait to be in Rome in two and half weeks with my mom! I can't wait to see Rome, Florence, and Venice with her and eat and drink and be merry!


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Returning to one of my favorite European cities ... Budapest!

This past weekend, I was able to return to one of my favorite European cities - Budapest, Hungary. Upon arrival on Thursday evening, I was welcomed by the bustle of the historical train station, Keleti Railway Station. The anticipation of revisiting a city I had once spent time in four years ago built as I exited the train station and made my way to the metro. I could not wait to experience this city in a completely new light without parental supervision and as a college student!

Most of my interactions with the Hungarians I met were incredibly positive. When Wyatt, Emielia, and I stood at the top of the escalator at the metro station unsure of where to purchase public transportation tickets, a woman approached us (who clearly knew we were American), and told us where to go in English. After we purchased the tickets, off we went to the hostel.

The hostel we stayed at for the weekend was wonderful, and I highly recommend it to all travelers going to Budapest. It's called Wombats Hostel and it was large, clean, the staff was great, and it's right near the city center. Once we arrived there, we dropped our bags and went in search for food. We ended up at a nice restaurant nearby called Suelto. Post-dinner, we met up with the other Webster students who traveled to Budapest by bus, had a free drink at the hostel bar, and went to sleep.

Friday morning began with a fog-filled free walking tour. We started in Pest and worked our way to Buda. Pest is the more metropolitan side of the Danube, while Buda is home to castles (the Buda Castle), churches (the Matthias Church), and the Buda Hills. Our first stop on the tour was the Tree of Love Locks on Elisabeth Square:

Tree of Love Locks

Then, we proceeded across the Chain Bridge to Buda:

Chain Bridge

We took a short walk around Castle Hill and saw the exterior of the Matthias Church, a nonexistent view of Pest (due to fog), and bought souvenirs. Following the tour, a select few of us went to the Hungarian National Gallery (the national art museum). My favorite exhibit in the museum was on the top floor. It was called 'Shifts. Hungarian Art After 1945.' Here is a link to some of the pieces I saw:

That night, we all went out to a great bar in the Jewish Quarter called Szimpla. It is one of the pioneer ruinpubs in Budapest (an abandoned building turned into a pub). Drinks and shisha were enjoyed by all. The place was very cool and very crowded. Some might say it was infested with hipsters.

Saturday began with a must-see, the Central Market. Paprika and colorful fruits and veggies were around every corner!

The exterior of the Central Market

Colorful fruits

Fresh vegetables

Paprika was everywhere!


The market was very busy on this Saturday morning

The adventure continued after the Central Market when a handful of us trekked out to a suburb of Budapest and went caving! We were glad to discover that this location did not seem touristy since the tour of the cave was given only in Hungarian.

Once arriving back at the hostel around 5 o'clock, I desperately needed some time to myself. As I sat on my bed thinking of what to do with my evening, the memory of going to the Opera House during my last visit came to mind. I remember seeing the opera, Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, and not only being floored by such an extravagant performance, but also by the immense beauty of the space.

I immediately threw on a dress, my heeled boots, and a scarf and walked quickly over to the Opera House (which was only ten minutes away). I was determined to escape to the darkness of a theatre. Ironically, the performance that night was the ballet, Onegin. Four years ago I witnessed the opera and now I was seeing the ballet! I was able to snag a wonderful seat in the middle of the orchestra with a perfect full view of the stage. I was overjoyed to be in the theatre, as it has been since December since I'd seen a live performance. To add to my great experience, the woman seated next to me turned out to be a set decorator for film in Budapest. She told me about her current project and her past experiences and we ended up exchanging names to find each other on Facebook. The performance was extremely classical, intense, and elegant.

The lobby of the Opera House

More of the lobby

More lobby ceiling

The exterior of the Opera House

The ceiling inside of the theatre

My view of the stage

The box seats

Attending the ballet on Saturday night was just what the doctor ordered.

The final day in Budapest, Sunday, was my favorite. It began with a melange and a croissant. It is custom in Budapest to make the melange with honey, and I fell in love after my first sip. Delicious! It's better than the Wiener Melange ... but shhhh! After planning over breakfast, Emielia and I decided to make our first stop the Dohány Street Synagogue. It was important to me to visit the synagogue while in Budapest. It is the largest synagogue in Europe and the third largest in the world. I had visited during my previous trip, and it was just as gorgeous and I remembered.

The exterior of the Dohány Street Synagogue

Inside the synagogue

Inside the synagogue

The Ark

There is the holocaust memorial cemetery on the grounds of the synagogue as well, and that was very moving. In 1944, the Dohány Street Synagogue was part of the Jewish Ghetto for the city Jews and served as a shelter for a lot of people. Over two thousand of those who died in the ghetto due to cold and hunger during the winter of 1944-45 were buried in the courtyard of the synagogue.

Weeping willow in the Raoul Wallenberg Holocaust Memorial Park

Our next stop was the Opera House (in the daylight) and St. Stephen's Basilica.

The Hungarian State Opera House in the daylight

St. Stephen's Basilica

Then, we strolled along the Danube Promenade to The Shoes. The Shoes on the Danube Promenade is a memorial concept by film director Can Togay. The memorial was created by him and sculptor Gyula Pauer on the bank of the Danube. It honors the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest during World War II. They were ordered to take off their shoes, and were shot at the edge of the river so that their bodies fell into the river and were carried away. It represents their shoes left behind on the bank.

A pair of shoes and Buda across the water

Many shoes has flowers draped on them

Candles are lit around the shoes in the evening

I'd been to The Shoes prior and it was still just as eerie to sit with my feet dangling off the edge of the bank among the shoes. I think it is one of the most powerful memorials I've seen.

The day was topped off with a visit to the Hungarian Parliament, a bowl of goulash, one more melange, and a pleasant train ride back to Vienna. Another full weekend in an amazing city.

This coming weekend I am taking two days trips to Innsbruck and Hallstatt in Austria!


Monday, February 3, 2014

W.A. Mozart, the Mountains, and the Selective February Sunshine

On Saturday, myself and four others took a short train ride to Salzburg, Austria and spent the day with Mozart, the mountains, and the selective February sunshine.

During the two hour and forty-five minute train ride from Vienna, Emielia, Jenn, and I met the sweetest mother and son! Kasia and Ferdi (short for Ferdinand) were on their way to visit her mother just beyond Salzburg. Kasia works at an elementary school, and Ferdi is an eighth-grade student interested in computer science. We shared many stories and cultural differences with each other for the whole ride. As we neared Salzburg, Kasia invited us over for dinner sometime at her home fifteen minutes outside of Vienna. I was overwhelmed by the kindness, and just as I asked for her phone number, Ferdi whipped out the most adorable business card. It was a heartwarming train ride to say the least. We will be visiting Kasia and Ferdi soon.

We arrived in Salzburg around 11:45am. It was about a twenty-minute walk to the city center along the Salzach.

The Salzach and the city in the distance

Our first stop was to Café Tomaselli per recommendation of Kasia for an einspänner and some food. It was delicious and very Austrian. Next, we roamed through the streets, and ended up in a chocolate shop to buy some Mozartkugel. Mozartkugel is a signature of Salzburg and is made up of green pistachio marzipan, nougat, and dark chocolate. Here is a photo of a cutout of Mozart holding a Mozartkugel.

Mozart selling some Mozartkugel

After accomplishing the most necessary purchase of the trip, Emielia, Wyatt, and I went to visit Mozart's birthplace and museum.

The outside of Mozart's birthplace

The plaque marking Mozart's birthplace

Not only did we get to see the rooms that he grew up in, his first violin, and various intriguing letters between family members, but there was an entire floor devoted to his operas - Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosí fan tutte, etc. It was filled with scale models of various sets, set sketches and renderings, and costume renderings. There were also small booths in which video recordings of productions looped while the scale model of the set was displayed above the video screen. That was pretty cool. Of course the exit of the museum was through the gift shop, where I picked up a couple of cool postcards and a magnetic bookmark that reads, "I would like to have everything that is good, genuine, and beautiful!" by W.A. Mozart.

Our next stop was the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Instead of taking a lengthy hike up to the fortress, we paid a handful of euros to take a steep rail up the mountain. Here is a video on the way to the top:


The views of the city and the mountains surrounding the city were breathtaking. Each city I have visited thus far has had locations "at the top of the world" to admire the structures below. As I round the bend at each location, I am always stunned at the simple beauty of these European cities.

The tree frames the mountains so nicely!

The view of Salzburg from the fortress

The fortress was filled with interesting items related to Salzburg, but my favorite display was this one:

A display inside the Hohensalzburg Fortress

It reminds me of the famous marionettes in Salzburg. The Hohensalzburg Fortress is a must-see when visiting this wonderful city.

The day trip concluded with dinner, a nice glass of white wine, and a peaceful train ride back to Vienna.

I am visiting Budapest, Hungary this coming weekend!