Friday, November 26, 2010

Oh Vienna!

Our time in Vienna spanned the greater part of our visit, but we really didn't have a chance to do a lot of sight-seeing.  Our hotel was on a very busy street, with lots of shopping and restaurants, so we really didn't have to wander too far to get a taste of the area. 

With all of our mini-travels leaving from Vienna, we became very familiar with the U-Bahn (their subway system.)  Anytime I travel anywhere with a decent subway/public transportations system, I come back to Minneapolis wishing we had something like that which covered our whole metro area.  And I do not mean the bus system.  Our light rail system is ok, but it covers such a limited area.

Anyway!  Back to Vienna...

Tuesday, November 9:  Our train from Budapest arrived in Vienna in the early evening.  We managed to snag a cab, and were delighted to find out our hotel was only 10 minutes away.  The lights on Mariahilfer Straße were amazing - we couldn't believe how lucky we were to have picked a hotel right in the middle of so much activity.  And bonus!  They upgraded us to a very cool corner room...

After we checked in, we found a great Italian restaurant.  My favorite comment from that evening is that we were told our English had an Irish dialect to it.  Huh. I always thought our flat, American accents were easy to distinguish.

Waiting to board the train in Budapest


And we're off!



Bye bye Budapest!


Lots of stairs at the Hotel Kummer Wien (Vienna)


The view of Mariahilfer Straße from one set of our windows


We had company on our balcony.


Wednesday, November 10: Today was designated as our shopping day.  By the end of our walking/shopping, I was carrying so many bags, I was feeling like a packhorse.  Emilie was much more fortunate, and her only purchase was jewelry, which was certainly easy to carry!

After we got tired of shopping, we walked down to Museum Quarter, and took a break in a local park. It was very, very good to rest our feet.

The view from our hotel during the day


In Museum Quarter




And now we skip a few days, as we traveled to Brno and Graz...

Saturday, November 13:  We arrived back in Vienna (from Graz) in the evening, and realized that we had a LOT to do to get ready for our 3am departure from the hotel.  But, we also didn't want to waste our last evening in Vienna.  So, we dropped our things off at the hotel, and went back to the trusty U-Bahn.  Em's cousin's husband had advised us that Vienna's Christkindlmarkt was opening this night, and it would be a great place to check out.  This is basically a Christmas Market in Vienna's City Hall Square.  Lots of food, treats, crafts, and people in attendance!

First stop: we had to purchase some glühwein to warm us up on this cold Austrian night.  Glühwein is a warm, mulled wine - very tasty. We managed to eat our way through the market, and even attempted to order in German.  It was somewhat successful. 






After we went numb from the cold, we decided to head back to the hotel and get ready to come back to the States.  We packed everything up, and were in bed by 11:00pm.  Lots of time before our early pickup...!

Here we are at the Vienna airport, waiting for our flight to Amsterdam.


The rest of our trip home was so-so...we didn't have the greatest service on the long flight between Amsterdam and MSP, and when we got to the airport, we found out our luggage had missed the connection in Amsterdam, and was on the next flight over.  No biggie, as it was delivered to our homes later that evening.

One thing I thought was very interesting was that in Austria, people would come up to us and speak full sentences to us in German.  We'd have to stop them and ask if they spoke English.  Apparently we blended in well enough that it wasn't as easy to spot us as tourists!

It was a great trip, and I was so happy to see another part of Europe besides France.  But by the end, I was ready to come home...I missed speaking a language that I knew, being able to read the signs, and, of course, my family.  I came back with lots of great memories, and a different outlook on the U.S. I'm happy to live here, but am also understanding that there are many different ways of living life.  It opened my eyes quite a bit - and I think that's a great thing!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Little Brno and a Little Graz

Because we split our time in Vienna, I've decided to do that as a separate post, so here are our adventures in Brno, Czech Republic and Graz, Austria.  You'll have to excuse the time jump!

When Emilie purchased our train passes, we opted to buy the 5-day, 3 country pass, for the countries of Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic.  Even though we were overseas for more than a week, and we left our schedule pretty loose, we were busy, and had a hard time fitting everything in.  All I know is that I wanted to go to the Czech Republic.  So we made it work.

Thursday, November 11: We boarded the train in Vienna for Brno, the 2nd largest city in the Czech Republic (Prague being the 1st.)  Our rail passes were for 1st class, but for some reason, we missed out on the 1st class car on this part of the ride.  I don't want to be a snob or anything, but boy, 1st class is the way to go.

This was the longest train hauling cars that I have ever seen.  Seriously, it went on for as far as the eye could see.


It was a beautiful day in Brno!  The sun was a welcome relief after a few cloudy days in Budapest and Vienna.


We came across a farmer's market, so we decided to see what was for sale. I learned the one word in Czech that I will never forget: cibule, which is an onion.


I liked the combination of modern and traditional architecture shown here.


After wandering around for a bit, we stopped at a pizza place.  We got this amazing pizza, shown below.  The Czechs know how to make some good pizza pie!


At one point we noticed three things:
1. Everyone was converging into a main square, as there was a wine festival taking place.  What's not to like about that? 
2. We also noticed, at about the same time, that there was a high level of very good looking men in Brno. 
3. And the last thing?  Women who dyed their hair red had all chosen a very interesting shade of red.  Definitely not a natural shade.






We weren't in Brno very long - maybe 4 hours.  But it was enough to know that it would be worth coming back to Brno at some point in the future. 

And then we hopped on the train and went back to Vienna...it felt like coming home.  Which was good, as we were leaving again the next morning for Graz, and needed to rest for a bit.

Friday, November 12: Today was the day we were heading to southern Austria to visit Emilie's family.  Her cousin Amy, lives there, along with her husband and two girls: Isabella (9), and Sophia (6).  This was a much-needed break to visit with other people, as we had run out of things to say to each other.  And at this point, I was missing being around Ava, so I was craving some kid-time.  Plus it's always nice to experience a new place from a local perspective.

On the train...unfortunately, pictures don't do the Austrian Alps justice.




This reminded me of Northern Minnesota with the pine trees.




There is a department store that had been recently renovated, and they were serving drinks on the roof.  What a great introduction to the area!


This is Sophia.  She and I bonded very quickly...and she reminded me so much of Ava (4 years in the future), she instantly had a special place in my heart.



One of the trees the town will decorate for Christmas - it was huge!  That's Isabella and Sophia in front.




That night we had dinner at the restaurant by the Schlossberg (clock tower).  Another amazing view of Graz (which I wasn't able to capture in images), and a ton of steps to walk down to get to the bottom.


Unfortunately, I don't have any more pictures from our time there.  I was having too much fun hanging out.  We didn't do much...we went to the Spar (grocery store), and just enjoyed our time at their home.  We played with the girls, we chatted, we ate, we relaxed.  It was perfect.  I was sad to board the train to go back to Vienna later on Saturday afternoon.  But, I will always look back on my time in Graz with some awesome memories...(and a few new friends on Facebook!)

My Adventures in...Budapest

I love traveling.  I'm so-so on taking pictures - usually I'm too busy absorbing the scenery to remember to pull my camera out.  But on this past trip, I tried my best to capture some random shots of our time in Europe.  The problem is then that we end up with a million photos, and it takes forever to weed through to find the best.  And be warned, I don't know the names of the buildings that I took pictures of - I just liked the way they looked.

And that is the reason I haven't posted any photos yet - I needed to find the time to sort, organize, and condense.  And what better time than when Thanksgiving dinner is being prepared, and my child (and husband) are both napping!

For now, here are the photos from our time in Budapest.  I'll post the other cities later...and no worries, I'll have many more posts about Ava to come in the near future!

Saturday, November 6: We arrived after a full day of traveling from Minneapolis to Budapest, via Amsterdam.  We wisely took the option to upgrade to the Executive Level at our hotel - giving us free food, beverages, and internet access.  And a beautiful view of the Danube! 

Our view from the rooftop terrace at the hotel - overlooking the Danube and Buda.



Sunday, November 7: After washing all of the travel grime off, and trying to beat jet lag, we were up, and over the river to explore Buda.



This just made me smile.  And miss Ava.


Interesting place to lose one's head...


Creepy little windows, right at eye level on one of the buildings.



Admist all of the fallen leaves, a little flower was poking through.








Lots of dogs in this one.



One of the bridges to get back to Pest



And the sun came out...what an amazing difference it made to bring out the colors in the buildings.


Tired, and working our way back to Pest.





Finally back to the hotel, and enjoying the amenities. 



The nice thing about vacation - we could take a break on eating well.  5 desserts and beer - sounds like a great dinner to me!


Another night on the terrace




And we brought snacks to bed with us.  Why not?  We're on vacation!


Monday, November 8: We wanted to explore more of the Pest side, so we walked. Somewhere. Not really sure where.  It rained a little this day, but that's ok, we were prepared for that!

Something about this building caught my eye - not sure why.  The darkness of it, perhaps?

We saw a lot of beagles in Budapest, but they were much bigger than ours!


Heroes Square



My newest Hungarian friend - a pigeon.  It came right at me, and just hovered...  Once it realized I didn't have any food, it settled down for a bit.


But it had friends.  More pigeons and ducks!


One of the cities baths...I wanted to go in and try it out, but we weren't prepared for that experience, unfortunately.


Our adventure to Margaret Island - advertised as having medieval ruins, spas, and beer gardens. The perfect combination!  Except for the fact that the bridge was under massive construction and it took us an hour to figure out how to cross it.  We also noticed that the bridge workers did a lot of standing, and not a whole lot of working...


When we finally made it across, we sadly noticed everything was closed.  Luckily, this dog with the huge stick made us laugh.  It took a lady out behind her knees with the stick when she passed by it.


Again, back at the hotel, ready to go out and have fun on our last night.  This is what happens when a self-portrait goes awry.


Much better.


We ventured down to the hotel bar, looking for drinks, and suggestions on where to go!



The young bartender suggested we go to Szimpla...just a short 20 minute walk through the deserted streets of Budapest.  Nothing to be worried about...


And we made it!  Cheap beer, friendly people, and lots of graffiti. 





We left our own little mark - hard to do without a knife.  But our new Moroccan friend lent us a pen.


This was just odd - and I loved it.  A blue squid.  Really?


After we shook Em's new admirer (the Moroccan, not the squid), we walked back to the hotel and crashed.  The next morning, we packed up, and left for our next stop...Vienna.

More to come in the next post!