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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Pancake Day!!

One holiday here in England I can really get behind and celebrate is… Pancake Day!  Here in England we always celebrate it on a Tuesday (Shrove Tuesday).  The pancakes here in England are like crepes – but I figure why celebrate Pancake Day in England with American Pancakes??  People over he put all kinds of things on their pancakes – sweet or savoury.  I went to the store and got some strawberry jam, chocolate spread, marshmallows, peanut butter, and pancake mix (I know, I cheated).  Chris got home from school and we made the pancakes together –here are some pictures:
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Pancake Day originated a long time ago when people would use up all their sugar and butter to begin Lent the following day.  Although I don’t do Lent, I thought this year I would try to give something up for the time of Lent, this year -chocolate (yeah…we’ll see how this goes!).

Pretty Much an Awesome Day

Hello Internet!  I had a pretty great day today.  A few days ago I was talking to one of my American friends who has access to the American Military Base.  She is moving back to Utah on Friday (for good) and I was telling her how much I loved visiting the base in November last year.  She kindly suggested that we should go again before she left and, of course, I was really up for that (how could I say no?). 
Today I got ready and headed out to the base.  I was happy to have the freedom of the car again and happily turned on my MP3 player to show tunes and started on my way.  Oh how I missed the freedom of having a car!  I was just driving and singing (and to be honest acting out the parts as much as possible while driving).  I realized that it was getting a little warm (I had the window only rolled down a little to try to keep my hair from looking like I got struck by lightening) and decided to turn on the vent.  Forgetting that the vent hadn’t been used since February, I turned it on full blast.  Luckily I was driving slow, and luckily I had sunglasses on to protect my eyes from all the bits of leaves and dust FLYING out of the vent.  But, nothing – nothing at all, could protect me from the flying spider that spewed out of the vent.  It hit my arm, I started freaking out, forgetting about the whole “driving” and “eyes on the road” thing and struggled to turn off the vent.  Needless to say I just stayed hot for the rest of the ride – Yuck *shutters*.
After the drama I proceeded to follow Chris’ directions to the letter and promptly got lost – as I was about to enter a motorway headed towards London – I decided to cut through 2 lanes on the roundabout (a giant plus about roundabouts) and go back the way I came.  I went up a side road and called Chris.  He quickly admitted that he wrote down the wrong directions and got onto Google to find where I was, and low and behold I was only about 2 minutes away from the base.  Somehow I had made it there.
Once my friend met me at the entrance and we got my pass we headed to another base to go to lunch and do some shopping.
First we stopped here:
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This was heaven.  The only Taco Bell in England are on the American Bases.  It was one of the places I was mourning the loss of when considering my gluten free diet.  I got my yummy meal (and ate the whole thing even though they put tomatoes on it) and also ordered 10 more soft tacos to take home for Chris and save for tomorrow.  They also had American Dr. Pepper (with FREE refills – something they don’t have here in England) and I got two cups full of that.  Then we headed out to go shopping. 
It is a strange feeling that someone who hasn’t lived out of their own country can never understand.  It is strange to go somewhere in England and have it feel like America – but the second you walk into the main grocery store that is what it is like.  There are American trolleys (carts), American foods, American accents, and American money.  I was in heaven again walking up and down the isles and getting the food that I have been craving (or missing from recipes).  They have everything that a regular grocery store in America would have (meat, dairy, frozen food, etc.).  This was my “loot”:
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Imagine Handel’s Halleluiah Chorus in the background….
The freezer is packed full and notice the Cool Whip and 4, yes 4, packages of Turkey Bacon:
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(My gluten free bread that I got for .60p from £1.99 but that is beside the point.)
After spending my money, we went back to the base and decided, since we still had some time to spare, we’d go shopping at Tesco.  We got there and were looking around, my friend didn’t think that she needed a trolley so she just carried what she had, but then she decided to get some English chocolate to send back to America and she didn’t decide on just 1 package but 20 packages of 4 – meaning a multi-pack of 4 bars in one package – she asked me to carry it and I can only imagine what people were thinking when they saw the chubby girl walking around with all that chocolate – it was quite funny.
Then it we went back to the base (again) and said our goodbyes.  Goodbyes are always hard for me (I nearly cried when we sent a missionary home).  This friend has been so good to me.  She has an amazing personality and you cant help but be happy around her.  She is funny and wise and honest – and I love it!  She knows how much it meant to me to go get some things that reminded me of home and she took me – just days before flying home.  Luckily she is moving to Utah so this isn’t the last I’ll hear from her.
It was a good day.  It makes me miss Utah but makes me even more determined to get things in order to move home – I cant wait!! 

Jamie the Cake Maker

Yesterday was Chris’ Birthday, and it was a big one – 30!  Last Saturday we had a party for him.  We had it at the chapel where we meet for church.  We spent quite a bit of time setting up and cooking party food.  We didn’t have as good of a turn out as I would have liked, but we had most of the family there and some good friends from church.  I made a special train cake for Chris which he really liked and so did the kids!  That along with 45 cupcakes kept me in the kitchen the entire night before here is the cake:


I was pleased with the way it turned out. 
Here is the party before the party:

His sweet sister Rachel did the signs and also spent a lot of time helping me set up.
Yesterday we didn’t do much to celebrate.  We went to dinner but it was PACKED so we ended up coming home and getting a take away.  I felt really sad because no one from Chris’ family said Happy Birthday to him but his dad and sister and he has to wait to get his present from America, so I tried a new recipe for a chocolate cake.  It was one of the best cakes I’ve ever had (if I do say so myself):

One of the things I did for Chris’ party was get his friends from around the world to send him birthday cards – we got quite a few and I am so thankful for them because I think it make Chris’ birthday even more special knowing that so many people care about him.  Here in England they give cards for everything and then display them so here are Chris’ cards:

17 cards in all (yes the one on the far right on the TV is a pickle – thanks Abbie).
All in all it wasn’t the surprise 30th Birthday party that I wanted but, I hope Chris’ knows how much people care about him!