Finally Vienna (and Budapest, Brno, and Bratislava)

A few weeks after I got back from Poland, Chris and I had planned to visit Vienna.  It was a place that we’d always wanted to visit and what better time then Christmas.  Chris got a bit overly-ambitious and also planned for us to see Budapest, Hungary – Brno, Czech Republic – and – Bratislava, Slovakia.  This meant we’d see a lot more places and Christmas markets, but that I’d also be driving a lot more.  I just prayed that it wasn’t bad weather.  Like the previous post I’ll be doing my Top Ten (because I’m a slacker).  If you want more detail then you can always check Chris’ blog posts.

Vienna (and its neighbours) Top Ten

1.  Budapest, Hungary

I have to say this was my favourite part of this visit even though it was FREEZING!  We caught the train early in the morning and spent the day in Budapest.  We got to explore LOTS of Christmas markets and it was a very picturesque city.  I could have probably spent more time there (I didn’t get to see the Synagogue – not pointing any fingers….. Chris).  We took the City Sightseeing Tour, which included all the different routes and boats and everything.  We stuck to the first line and after 45 minutes on the open top of the bus, we pealed ourselves from the frozen seats and got out to see the market.  But it was a beautiful city!

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2.  Driving Through the Countryside

We decided on one day we’d visit the Czech Republic and Slovakia.  It sounds like a lot, but they were all very close and only a few hours at the most away.  I was so glad that it was nice weather.  It was foggy, which kind of ruins sightseeing while driving (and pictures), but that cleared and led to some off track sights and beautiful countryside.  Oh by the way, check your rental car for the Vignette before you pay for a new one for only a few hours – right Chris?

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Ode to Conchita Wurst (said in a think Austrian accent – by me). 

No idea who she is?  Well, SHAME!

 

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3.  Brno, Czech Republic

After finally parking the car in what might have been the tiniest car park ever (ever mindful of the rental deposit), we took a nice walk to the town centre to see the Christmas market.  Chris and I both remarked about how strange it is that you can cross a border (Austria to the Czech Republic) and immediately see the influence of the Soviet Era.  It was a quaint little market with a live nativity lots of little stalls and yummy food.  I really like the smaller markets, they are less commercial and have a lot more atmosphere. 

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4.  Bratislava, Slovakia

This little town was suggested by a wonderful friend when we once had a conversation about the places we have loved to visit.  I knew with her suggestion we couldn’t go wrong planning in a visit.  Vienna is only 30 minutes away and so we added this gem to our visit.  I wasn’t disappointed it was a lovely little town, one that I’d never visit otherwise, but well worth it.  We found a place to park just as the sun was setting so we didn’t get to see a lot of the scenery.  We walked past a little preview of a market and followed the crowds to a huge market!  Like most, it was in the shadow of an old church.  We walked around the stalls and through the Old Town.  I would love to go back here too!  A few hours wasn’t enough.

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5.  Schonbrunn Palace

The next day we had the whole day to spend in Vienna.  Unfortunately it was raining…. a lot.  Luckily we made it to the Schonbrunn Palace before it started to pour.  Chris really wanted to visit here because he’d seen in on TV.  It was spectacular!  We didn’t know it but, we got a Christmas market to boot!  It was pretty packed with school trips and LOTS of tourists.  It was quite the setting.  It may be the one place in Vienna I’d like to go back and see.

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6.  Vienna

I cant do a top ten of Vienna without adding Vienna, can I?  To be honest it wasn’t my favourite place ever.  I don’t think that helped that it was freezing and absolutely pouring down!  Would I pay to go again, no.  Would I go if someone paid for me, yes.  I am sure it has so much more to offer than what I got to see.  But, in-between the downpours I did see some lovely architecture and it is really nice to be completely surrounded by history.  Later that evening after drying off we headed to a concert we had tickets to.  We stopped by another market and, luckily it had stopped raining.  The market was WAY to commercial for my liking but it was a nice setting.  We tried Kinderpunch (the non-alcholic version of their version of mulled wine).  It was really nice and we even got a free mug! (Okay, not free they charge you a lot for the drink). 

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Did I mention it was raining… a lot…

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Equality street signs – I loved these.  They were left from when Vienna hosted Eurovision earlier in the year.

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7.  Audio Tour by Rick Steves

I find it crazy that Chris doesn’t know who Rick Steves is.  I spent many Saturday morning with him when I was growing up (maybe that’s what ignited my wanderlust).  I guess he is just an American treasure.  Anyway, this American treasure has an app to download free walking tours around Europe.  I found one for Vienna and decided that it was a great idea.  Unfortunately the rain, cold, and Chris had other ideas.  I was chuckling to myself during the first part at all of his lame jokes (they didn’t translate for Chris).  Before we turned it off and went to seek cover, he took us to an amazing memorial for WWII.  It was out of the way of the bus tour so I’m glad Rick (yeah, we’re on a first name basis – well at least I am) helped me find it.  From Chris Blog:

It is located in the triangle of Augustinerstraße, Fürichgasse and Tegetthoffstraße.

There are 4 carved granite columns (the granite comes from the Mauthausen Concentration Camp near Linz in Austria). Behind and to the middle of 2 of the columns is a cast iron statue of a Jew that was forced to clean Anti-Nazi slogans from the streets of Vienna afterAnschluss. This statue showed just how much the Nazi’s were prepared to degrade and humiliate the Jews and those not of the Aryan race.

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8.  Strauss “Concert”

While we were waiting for the sightseeing bus, we got accosted by a man dressed like Strauss (or that style) telling us about a concert that night full of Strauss and Mozart.  Chris was sold at the word Strauss (his favourite composer) and I was sold (well I was sold before we even met the guy – I was looking at tickets the night before) by the word Opera.  We got to the Palace Auersperg and got to see a semi-professional concert.  It was really beautiful, but don’t believe the guy when he says he’s giving you a deal because he only has a few seats left.  There was a great mix of ballet, instrumental, and opera.  The venue made it even more impressive.  We couldn’t record anything or take pictures during the show, so you’ll have to just take my word for it.  Worth the money?  Not really but if you love Strauss or Mozart you wont be disappointed. 

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9. and 10.  The FOOD

Okay, lets just pretend that I had 10 things I loved from this trip.  After looking through all the pictures there is one thing that is highlighted more than any other – the food.  The markets were full of unique food and I don’t think we’ve ever tried so much of it!  So here are some of the things we got to try.

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Baltic Cruise–Copenhagen, Denmark

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The Little Mermaid Statue – Copenhagen, Denmark

1.  We got to Copenhagen just in time for my absolute favourite music contest, ever… EUROVISION!!!  To be honest I was pretty sad I was going to miss the broadcast of it, and didn’t even realize that once we stepped off the bus and into the main square we’d be right in Eurovision Village *whoop whoop*. This made the Denmark stop for me!

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2.  Going to the imposing royal square and watching the changing of the guards.  Its not as precise as the changing of the guards in London, but was fun to watch.  But, it took a while and at one point while recording it, I made a kissing sound when they were facing each other – I found it quite funny.

3.  Chris and I went into one store and found a Viking Horn.  The twins that I look after were studying Vikings in school and I thought that would be a good souvenir for the little boy, but it was a bit pricey so we left it.  Later, Chris said he needed the toilet and when he came back he had the Viking horn in hand.  He had gone back to the shop to buy it for “J”.  Very sweet!

4.  On our first stop (there were 3 on the tour we booked) we went into a beautifully white church.  It was in a style that I hadn’t seen before.  As we walked towards the pulpit we saw something quite familiar.  As members of the LDS church the Christus is a very recognized symbol and a main focal point at Temple Square.  There it was at the head of the church we were in.  Come to find out that is the original Christus, the LDS church uses a replica of that very one.  Very cool!

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5.  On our next stop we got to see some pretty amazing architecture around the Royal Palace, namely some pretty strange steeples.

6.  At one point we crossed a bridge and on the side it had a warning to boaters to watch out for the sculpture under the water.  If you looked a bit closer you could see the sculptures of men under the water.  Strange place for a sculpture.

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7.  We had some time to just wander the back streets before the bus left for the next stop.  Chris and I love walking around and people watching.  As we walked past a cashpoint we noticed that there were quite a few Euros still in it and there was no one around.  So…. we took it!  Just kidding, we walked into the bank the ATM was attached to and handed in the money.  They did look at us a bit strange when we handed it back, maybe it was their lack of understanding English, but I think they were mostly surprised that we brought the money back in and didn’t just take it.

8.  One “memorable” thing that happened was that we were on the bus and the tour guide passed a very spectacular amusement park.  She told us that when Michael Jackson visited one time he offered to buy it and wanted to make it his private park.  They declined his offer and kept it for the people of Denmark.  I found this to be an interesting piece of information then the elderly woman sitting in front of me (within earshot) turned to her friend and said, “Typical American!  Think they can just buy anything they want!”  I was slightly offended but by the end of the trip was used to little digs at Americans and “youngsters”.

9.  We got to make a quick stop to see The Little Mermaid statue.  I sat in the bus, but as everyone got off of the bus the tour guide did say, “Don’t try to get too close, the rocks are slippery!” Not everyone listened and it was quite entertaining to watch people trying to get the “perfect picture”.  Luckily no one fell in… that I saw.

10.  Did I mention Eurovision was there?!?!?!?

Copenhagen over all:  Honestly this was not my favourite stop.  I was happy to see the Eurovision things, but other than that could take it or leave it.  But, I don’t think this is because the city isn’t amazing.  Thinking about it a bit more, I think the reason that I didn’t really love it was that we were on a tour organized by Marco Polo.  Chris and I really prefer the hop on hop off tours to get a good idea of all the good places to visit, the history and stories behind the city and buildings, and the freedom those kinds of tours provide.  Cruise and Maritime Voyages didn’t make us aware that we were right next to the port and that there would be independent tour operators (like the hop on hop off operators) right there waiting to take us.  They made it seem like in order to do a tour we HAD to use their tour options.  The tour we went on had 3 stops but the stops were hurried and our tour guide didn’t give us a lot of information.  If we could do it again, we wouldn’t use the tours from the cruise but source our own.  I think that if I got to explore, with the help of the hop on hop off, I’d have enjoyed Copenhagen a lot more than I did.  Given the option – I’d go back and do it again, but far away from the Marco Polo’s controlling grip.