Saturday, May 30, 2009

feeling salz-y

Climb every mountain...
Or rather, take a train to every mountain. Which we did, quite early in the morning, to head from Vienna to Salzburg. For all you non-musical-fans, Salzburg is the town in Austria in which the Sound of Music is set. Outside of that, it's a beautiful place to see a little bit of Austria outside of Vienna, and to see some of the incredibly beautiful mountain scenery.  After napping uncomfortably on the train, we awoke to a mountain view and a short walk to our hostel.Salzburg is like walking through a display of hollywood scenery: every corner turned, anotherbacklit, blue, snow-capped mountain pops out at you. The city is a mix of modern and old, but still manages to retain its small-town charm. At our hostel, we were checked in by a man who may or may not have actually been the child of an elf and a hobbit (why do I keep referencing Lord of the Rings here?). He had elvish ears, was of short stature, and liked to do little dances. He also had a beer belly, since he kept running away from the counter to drink from a beer he had waiting across the room. There was seriously not a moment when this guy did not have a beer.
checked in, we headed to our room to drop our stuff and encountered our roomates, alsoamerican. These girls were the quintessential opposite of the type of traveler we've tried to be. They had money belts. They had zip off pants. They were headed to Prague next as well, but were concerned to take the same evening train we were taking since "the czech republic after dark is really not a good idea for three small girls like ourselves." While they were very nice, they seemed very sheltered for college grads who were travelling europe for 3 weeks. They didn't like to leave the hostel after dark, felt the need to check their money belts every morning, etc. It made me feel very glad that while we're safe with our belongings and ourselves (we travel together, and in Rome at any hostel without a locker I sleep with my purse like its a teddy bear), we're still able to unwind enough to not be constantly on edge. There's danger everywhere, even *gasp* in the united states! Being careful shouldn't mean being unable to really enjoy your trip because you're too scared to experience anything.
Anyway, moving on. Salzburg was the one place we decided that we would be shamelessly touristy. So, we signed up for the sound of music tour. cheesy, I know. but it was so much fun! We got some lunch, watched some of the movie (which our hostel shows a few times a day), and got ready for the tour. We boarded a bus which took us around to all the filming locations, with a guide in a traditional austrian dress telling us movie facts and bizarre jokes the whole way. Up in the lake district, we were able to get out and spend a little time in one of the small towns,Mondese (where the church was were Maria and George got married :) ). the views were so stunning, like something out of a picture book. Quite hard to describe and impossible to capture in pictures. The hillsides were vibrant green, dotted with bright yellow and blue and coral houses, among other colors, and bracketed by a brilliant blue lake on one end and deep blue and white mountains on the other. sitting in a cafe in this small town eating strudel and drinking coffee was honestly one of my favorite moments of the entire trip. I suppose that's not a strange thing, that my favorite moments should include coffee and dramatic views.
Okay, so I should stop waxing poetic about Austria. To summarize- Go to Austria. Absolutely.
So, moving on, we headed back to salzburg on our bus (including a sound of music sing along :) ) We walked around the old town for a bit and found a restaurant that was serving exactly what we wanted: beer and Weiner schnitzel.Yum. We each ordered a different beer off of a menu completely in German by just blindly pointing, and ended up quite happy with our choices! sated on food and sound of music, we decided to make it an early night so we could get up the next day and see some more of Salzburg before our two'oclock train.
Continuing on with Salzburg (I know this entry is very long!! Sorry!), We woke up early the next day, grabbed some breakfast at the hostel, headed out to walk around and see more of the old city. We walked up a short section of the mountain, following the stations of the cross statues. Gorgeous views, of course. Then, we headed up towards the Salzburg fortress. Because we were intrepid and cheap, we decided to take the hike up rather than the funicular. Which was... difficult. Beautiful views, but so tough! Still, it was worth it for the incredible views. we could see a lot of the places we went on the bus the day before. I tried to take a picture of every single part of the view, so when I get back I can put together a panorama. Hopefully it will turn out alright, since i don't think there's any other way I could describe it! After, we hiked back down and got some lunch, followed by German pretzels from a market (yuuuuum. We got a chocolate, a nutty one, and an apple one, and split them). Then, we headed back out to the train station! Which brings me to right now, where I'm sitting on a train writing blog posts to post later when I can get internet. We got a whole compartment to ourselves, 6 seats for 3 people :) So now, I'm off to look out the window as the Czech republic flies by. 

Friday, May 29, 2009

Wandering through Wein

On our second day in Vienna, we had breakfast in our hostel and then headed out into the city to visit the Hofburg palace. As the seat of the hapsburg dynasty, the hofburg is expectedly lavish. We first went to the imperial apartments and viewed the tableware/ kitchen stuff. It took an hour. No, I'm not exaggerating. they owned so many dishes that it took an hour to view them all. There were gold plates, silver plates, glass plates, porcelain with religious scenes, with botanical scenes, with pastoral scenes... Perhaps its a strange thing to wonder, but I kept wondering how they decided what dishes to eat on every night. And for that matter, how they remembered what dishes they owned. There were also entire sets of different shaped bundt pans, bathroom sets, pastry sets, tea sets, drinkware... It was ridiculous but very interesting to look at. 
After that, we went into the exhibit dedicated to Empress Elisabeth. Everyone around us was using those little audio tour things and we soon found out why- the exhibit itself had little to no actual information in it. It was also bizarly new age looking. It annoys me when museums are badly curated, especially when they're so badly done that the visitor can't get the point without an audio tour. All I got out of the museum was that empress Elizabeth hated being empress and was assasinated. I'm still not sure why there were so many movies made about her, etc. However, the imperal apartments were overall pretty cool.
Moving on from this exhibit,we headed to the market to check that out. It was a really interesting place, full of rich smells, spices, and funky looking fish. Around the market, we grabbed some lunch (more kasekreiner :) ) and decided to walk around and see some of the important buildings in vienna: the rauthaus (town hall), opera, parliament, burg theater, and votive church. the Rauthaus was absolutely gigantic. I didn't quite expect it to be so huge. It opened onto a big pedestrain circle, so we were able to really spend some time looking at it from every angle. By the time we made it to votive church, we  were pretty much exhausted. We took a break on a park bench by beautiful votive church (under construction but still gorgeous to look at) then made the hour long walk back to our hostel. At the hostel we took a short nap, and then headed out for dinner. The restaurant we wanted to go to either didn't exist or was somewhere completely different than we thought it was. So, really hungry, we ate at the first place we found, which was not too great. Still, unphased and decided upon getting spectacular dessert later, we jumped on the metro to head to the Haus der Musik, the music museum. Snafu number two, we got lost on the way there and missed the last entry by 2 minutes. 2 minutes :( Ok,well, we were still determined to get the most we could out of our night, so we walked over to a little place we had heard of. It was down a steep flight of stairs into a dark cellar decorated with heavy wooden tables and thick red candles-- very atmospheric. We ordered a chocolatey cake and apple
 struedel with vanilla sauce. Oh, my goodess. So good. To go with them, we had beer mixed with lemonade, which was an interesting and yummy new expereince, in big glass tankards. So, though the museum and dinner didn't work out so well, we still had a great night drinking and eating dessert, then headed back towards the hostel to buy our train tickets for the next day and head to bed.


6 am is never, never fun. But, 6 am rolled around today, and we dragged ourselves out of our beds to catch our bus to Vienna. Luckily, Balazs clued us in about the bus, so we saved a lot of euro by taking that instead of the train! So we bid goodbye to the very nice couple who ran our hostel in Budapest and jumped on the scary-fast Hungarian metro with its insane escalators (tall, fast, steep, and liable to jerk to a stop…) We got our bus and after a bit of planning, fell asleep with and woke up in Austria.

With no time to rest, we dropped our stuff at the hostel and set out for the Hundertwasser museum (after a bit of second breakfast, since when you eat breakfast at 6 am you really should have another. In fact, I think the hobbits are on to something with all their meals.) Hundertwasser designed this phenomenal building that houses his art- he didn’t believe in flat floors, since they restrict creativity and the natural movement of man, so every floor in the place is curved and sloped and hilly. The walls are bowed or curved, the windows are at weird angles—it was a trippy and surreal place. His art is hard to describe, because it really has to be seen, but safe to say he is one of my favorite artists. He designed schools and entire neighborhoods that reconcile man and nature—hobbit-like hill dwellings, rooftop gardens, trees in window frames. It was beautiful and looking at the model, I picked my house out J no pictures allowed in the museum so I don’t have any to post of inside, but I’ll put up one of outside, and definitely google him and ask to see my postcards when I get ba


After the Hundertwasser, we went to St. Stephen’s church and took the very swift elevator to the top of the spire to look out over Vienna. The city looks really small but quite incredible, and we picked out a few spots to go to from our eagle eye view. Back on the ground we finally found a shop that sold stamps, so those of you expecting post cards will hopefully get them in the near-ish future. Then, we grabbed lunch from a street vendor.

 A friend of Leslie’s had told us to try this food called Kasekrainer. It’s basically a cheesy sausage inside a baguette, with ketchup and grainy mustard. It was soooooo good. We sat on the steps of the film museum and inhaled our kasekrainer.

I just realized, when uploading this, that I forgot to write the rest of the day- I'll come back to it!

Buda Bound

Second day in Budapest! We woke up a bit late, and went to Garbeaud bakery, the most popular bakery in Budapest. It reminded me of CafĂ© du monde in New Orleans a bit. I had a sour cherry pastry, which was the perfect combo of sweet pastry and tart filling, and a coffee, of course. From this point on we’ve resolved to all get something different at meals so we ca

n try the most things possible. Leslie had an apricot flavored cake, and des had a pastry similar to the one I had the night before. After a long breakfast- every meal is long, since service is slow by custom. You ask for your check when you want it, which takes a while- we walked towards Buda for the day. I imagine you all know, but Budapest is the combo of two cities, Buda and Pest, with each on one side of the river. Everything we did yesterday was in Pest. Today, we crossed the pedestrian bridge, where a nice tourist took a picture of all three of us (these are rare- usually we take 3 pics in combos of 2), towards a beautiful waterfall fountain. Then we walked up to Buda castle on the hill. We took the funicular up to the castle, which was incredibly beautiful, and picked up some postcards in the shop. However, the castle itself was museums inside, and we were museumed out, so we continued around to Mattyas, or Matthias, church. It was under construction, which covered some of the beautiful, multicolored tile roof. It was wide open on the inside, though, and covered in paintings and carved wooden arches. We took just about a million pic

tures in there- check facebook sometime in the distant future and I’m sure they’ll be up. We ate up on the hill in the charming town around the castle and church (brightly painted houses along thin roads), and I had some sort of Hungarian dish with sausage, onions, and peppers in a tomato-based, spicy sauce.

 I wish I had written down what it was called, it was incredibly good. Leslie had stuffed paprika- which is a major export of hungary- which was also good. The flavors are different from anything we taste day to day in the US, and often the menus are not in English, which makes things very exciting. Sometimes it’s fun to just point at something on the menu and see what you get. For dessert, we had an apple flavored crepe-like pancake covered in sour cherry sauce, which was luscious.

After lunch, we strolled back to our hostel, a little over an hour’s walk.  On the way, we made plans to meet with Balazs and Leslie’s friend Lee for dinner. After a short siesta break and time to change, we met them at the tram station and went for dinner. We had burritos, which is so American but were really good anyway. It was interesting to see how another country interprets those flavors. After, we went out for drinks, and Lee and Balazs ordered a Hungarian drink for us that I really wish I could remember the name of. Mine was honey and raspberry flavored—so, so good. It was sad at the end of the night to say goodbye to Balazs but I’m glad he’ll be back from Brussels and at WashU in a few months! After dinner we rode the tram back (illegally- the ticket machine broke. Oops!) and packed up our stuff to catch a 7 am bus to Vienna the next morning.

Meat Pastries and other culinary adventures

Our hostel in Budapest, Big Fish hostel, was an awesome change from happy days. Getting there was nerve wracking- the airport shuttle dropped us off in what looked like an abandoned alleyway, pointed at a doorway, and drove away. We rang the bell and the door just clicked open, so we went up with trepadation. But the hostel itself was beautiful, the people are very nice, and it was, importantly, actually a comfortable and quiet place to sleep! In the morning, our street wasn’t scary but was actually pretty close to everything we wanted to do. Breakfast was dubious- we woke up a bit late and finally found some pastries and coffee. Everything was in Hungarian (which is terrifyingly confusing with its accents and its long words) so we just kind of pointed at what looks good. I’ve been pleased to discover that I have a good eye for yummy pastry (mine was flaky and soft, with a mascarpone type cheese in the middle), and that coffee is a universal word. We all know how I get without my coffee. I don’t want the world to see that. Leslie, however, might not have the greatest eye for breakfast food. After a nice sip of her chocolate milk, she bit into her pastry and declared , rather shocked, “this is meat!” It had looked like chocolate from behind the glass and was right next to the sweet pastries… oh well, live and learn. According to leslie it was still good, just a bit strange with chocolate milk.
We jumped up on our tired feet and headed out to the market. It was a cool place, with music, fruit and vegetables, meat, and handicrafts. We wandered around and looked at everything for a bit, and I lusted after but did not buy the beautiful embroidered table runners. After, we went to the national museum. Of course, after working in the museum field for a bit, I compare every history museum to the one I work at. This one stood up to my measurement. I love galleries that have period clothing on display, and this one had lots of different interesting outfits from the middle ages on. The waistlines on those medieval dresses- yowza. These women had 17 inches tops around their waists. I’m imagining the tight corsets necessary to make your ribs bend like that and it hurts to think of it.
After, we wandered over to the city park where we met up with my friend Balazs, who is Hungarian but goes to WashU. He gave us a quick but thorough history overview and showed us around the park, took us to the parliament, and showed us the American embassy. After we assigned Balazs to pick a lunch location, and it took him half an hour to decide, we had lunch at a restaurant on the river bank, overlooking the spectacular parliament building on the other bank.Everyone at our table ordered goulash, which turned out to be wonderfully good and filling. Then, Balazs headed out and we walked back to our hostel, about an hours walk but a good way to see the city. We spent some time resting in our hostel and then went to dinner at Menza for traditional Hungarian food and wine. We all ordered the same traditional Hungarian dish, a kind of bread wrapped around spiced chicken. Since we all ordered the same thing, I just ordered three of it and the bottle of wine. Since I ordered, she brought the bottle to me for the fancy label/cork/tasting approval thing, which was super fun  I felt very adult thoughtfully tasting the wine and then nodding for it to be poured. We hung out until the restaurant closed, drinking and having a thoroughly good night. Finally, at about one am, we went back to big fish to get a good night’s sleep.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Yes we (Vati)Can

Bright and early, we woke up to get in line at the Vatican. After a quick breakfast (which only cost me one euro, which is ridiculously awesome), we walked through the Vatican gates and encountered St. Peter’s, which was huge. We also encountered the line to enter the basilica, which was equally huge. We walked around Vatican city to the museum entrance, which had a line but not nearly as horrible a line. We  waited about half an hour and finally entered the Vatican museum. The Vatican museum is basically a very winding path to the Sistine chapel, so it’s not easy to pick and choose what you want to see. We got lost a bit but saw some beautiful works of art, including the school of Athens and about a million beautiful statues of roman gods. The funniest thing was the way the Vatican deals with the nudity in these statues. At some point, they had a bunch of ubiquitous leaves made up to cover the crotches of the statues. They come in various sizes to accommodate different statues and are unceremoniously plopped on. Of course, this just draws more attention to that certain area when you realize “that’s weird, the past 20 statues have had that same leaf.” Still, the statues shone through their leafy cover up.

                As we were funneled towards the Sistine chapel, the crowds began to grow. We were meeting up with all the people who walked in and made a beeline for the Sistine chapel without considering the rest of the museum (when we went to the early Christian art section, it was pretty much just us there). We joined the crowd and got fed through a bottleneck of galleries before finally reaching the Sistine chapel. Which was, of course, incredible. It was a bit daunting, knowing you can only stay so ling. There’s just no way to examine every detail like I would love to do. No pictures allowed, but we grouped around leslie and she got a sneaky, contraband picture so I’ll have to have her send that to me.

After our last italian food, we went to St Peter's and then headed back to the hostel to grab our bags (and for me to forget my postcards, boo).  Then it was on a flight, hungarian airlines style!

hopefully pictures to come- the internet is slow here in rainy prague!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

just a quick note- internet is not too easy to get in Austria, so all my posts are written and will be up when I can get wireless!