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!

DSCN0444          DSCN0448     DSCN0463   

DSCN0464

DSCN0490  DSCN0475  DSCN0479DSCN0488

DSCN0492  DSCN0495  IMG_9513

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?

DSCN0507

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

No idea who she is?  Well, SHAME!

 

DSCN0509    DSCN0512

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. 

DSCN0528

DSCN0539   DSCN0536

DSCN0545

DSCN0551     DSCN0543

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.

DSCN0567

DSCN0585

DSCN0572

DSCN0579     DSCN0593 

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.

IMG_9672

DSCN0607   DSCN0608

IMG_9675

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). 

DSCN0627

Did I mention it was raining… a lot…

DSCN0629

IMG_9692

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

IMG_9655

IMG_6633IMG_9657IMG_9700

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.

DSCN0621      DSCN0623

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. 

IMG_9711IMG_9713IMG_9714

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.

DSCN0478

DSCN0483    DSCN0485DSCN0480  IMG_9588  IMG_9595IMG_9628  IMG_9699IMG_9704

   DSCN0546

Advertisements

Fabulous Venice – 2014

Venice is a city I’ve always wanted to visit.  It’s always been on my travel bucket list, unfortunately it is one of the few places Chris had no interest in seeing.  So, I decided for my birthday I would visit Venice – even if that meant I had to do it by myself.  So I put it out there on Facebook that I was planning on going and did anyone want to join me – and luckily for me – a great friend called Susannah lived near(ish) and offered to let me stay at her house and said she would be happy to come with me into the city.  It had been a while since I had seen Susannah, we met at church and she moved away a few years ago.  I decided to take her up on her offer and planned the trip.

Because it is super cheap to fly on the low budget airlines I decided to use them to get to Venice.  Unfortunately, with those airlines it means flying at strange times – really early or really late.  My flight was early in the morning so I stayed at a hotel the night before so that I didn’t have to travel for an hour and half the next morning (or middle of the night for me).  I’ll put this out there – I was pretty nervous.  I hadn’t seen Susannah for a while and I worried if we’d have anything to talk about or if things would be awkward – but I needn’t have worried.  As soon as she saw me and hugged me it was like no time had passed and honestly, I don’t think we stopped talking during waking hours for most of the trip.

The day I arrived was my birthday but I didn’t tell anyone and Susannah didn’t know.  We went back to her charming Italian home and she made some salad for the Halloween party of some friends of hers.  When we arrived at her friends house I was instantly in love with the area and the scenery.

2014-10-31 17.13.49

We spent the day there just relaxing and chatting the women were very friendly and great hosts.  Its always interesting to me to see how people adapt and live in different parts of the world.  It is amazing to step into a home in Italy and feel like, despite the decor and architecture, you’re stepping into a home like back in Utah.  It was a lovely afternoon.

Once we got back to Susannah’s house we decided to order authentic pizza for dinner and go for gelato for dessert.  Still keeping my birthday under wraps. I did well until, for some reason, we got into a conversation with the kids about birthstones.  They were all surprised when I admitted it was my birthday.  Instead of cake we had yummy Gelato – perfect!  I have to say the pizza was some of the best I’d ever had (I was in Italy after all). I was a bit surprised at some of the toppings – we had a pizza with baked potato pieces (yummy) on it.  Here are some of the options (pay attention to the Chris option):

2014-10-31 22.26.55

2014-10-31 21.09.57     2014-10-31 21.16.14

At first I thought that the Coppa Spaghetti was actually spaghetti noodles topped with gelato.  Come to find out it is just spaghetti shaped gelato.  I was super impressed when the kids all ordered their treat in Italian.  I wasn’t brave enough to try it out myself, so luckily little “M” did it for me.  We went home and settled into sleep ready for a day full of Venice the next day.

We woke up early the next morning to catch the train into the city centre.  It would be a short train ride (about an hour – hour and a half) and we’d be dropped off right in Venice.  Luckily for me, again, Susannah knew how to get the tickets and get us there safe and sound. 

use train 

We stepped off the train and we were there – we were actually in Venice.  When I travel I often have moments where I think to myself, “I cant believe I am actually standing right here.  I’ve seen in on TV and books, but I am actually here!”  I felt this stronger here than anywhere I’ve ever visited.

DSCN1127

The view right out of the train station…. overwhelming.

DSCN1129            DSCN1133

The view over the Grand Canal – GUYS I WAS STANDING ON THE GRAND CANAL –

IN VENICE!!!!

We got to Venice early and it was just me and Susannah.  We had a concert to get to at 8:00 that night so we had the whole day to explore.  Susannah was pretty excited to get to explore without children (I think all Mothers would be).  At first we thought we’d be struggling through crowds the whole day.  It was blindingly sunny and pleasantly warm so there were loads of people around.  We decided to just walk wherever the mood took us.  When we came to a crossroads we’d choose left or right (usually the less crowded) and got lost in Venice and, to be corny but completely honest, it seemed magical.  There were streets and alley’s that we went down that literally were deserted.  For as busy as it was when we first got there walking around, away from the tourist areas, you feel like you might be the only people there. 

DSCN1134       DSCN1136

Surprisingly, to us, there were a lot of wide open spaces.  It was so strange – you’d be walking through a labyrinth of alleyways and all of the sudden you’d walk straight into a wide open square.  Complete with trees, churches, shops, and children playing football (and STILL not too crowded!).

DSCN1139    DSCN1140

The best part of exploring was finding hidden places and charms. 

DSCN1145

DSCN1146

I love that little cat in the window!

DSCN1164

Sitting on some steps leading to the canal.  Not another person in sight for at least 15 minutes.

There are just too many favourite pictures here is an album with all the pictures I love:

 

DSCN1157IMG_4267IMG_4268

DSCN1170DSCN1171

We decided it was time to take a break and have some lunch.  We found a place with some really yummy food.  Restaurants are great in Italy because after they give you your food they just let you sit there as long as you want and don’t disturb you.  We spent more time talking and enjoying lunch and then decided to head back out and explore some more. 

DSCN1172

After a while of more walking and shopping and eating pastries and chocolate we decided that the trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit to St. Mark’s Basilica and St. Marks Square.  In these pictures you can see how busy it was and how many people there really were.

DSCN1189

We decided that this was a great place to sit on the steps and people watch.  They are very strict about sitting on the steps and made us move (along with a lot of others).  We ended up sitting on the risers that they use when the tide is high and the square is flooded.  At one point (before we were told to move) we were sitting on the steps and this Asian man was taking me and Susannah’s picture.  I think he was trying to be discreet but it wasn’t working – we both noticed. I think he was just surprised to see two curly red-headed women (this isn’t the first time this kind of thing has happened to me).  It was starting to get colder so we went off in search of dinner and ended up at a pizza place having yummy pizza while waiting for our concert to start.

When I decided to go to Venice I knew I couldn’t go there and NOT see an opera – its Venice after all and I love opera!  I found a concert that was a taster opera program featuring performers in authentic period costumes and a mixture of well known opera songs and instrumental pieces.  It did not disappoint!  It was performed in a old concert hall and included some amazing singing, moving music, and temperamental singers (the audience never knew when to clap so when the usher directed us to clap in the wrong spot, after the song, the temperamental tenor stormed out and slammed the door).  It was long enough to enjoy but not so long that it got boring.  They were animated and entertaining and I would suggest anyone visiting Venice GO SEE THIS!  Even if you don’t like opera or classical music I’m pretty sure anyone would enjoy it! 

DSCN1199  DSCN1200

DSCN1202    DSCN1204    DSCN1203

We were planning on getting the last train of the night back to Susannah’s house.  So we thought we’d take a boat taxi to the station.  I am sure when those gondoliers saw two American women walking up to them they thought they would be making some easy money – they could say whatever price they wanted and we’d do it – WRONG!  After being quoted around 80 euro to get to the train station (the travel books I read said about 20) we decided to walk…. quickly.  We walked from one side of Venice to the other in time to get the train.  It wasn’t without its problems.  There were dodgy people hanging around in the alleys, rogue dogs, and we had to get out the phone to have the sat nav guide us out of the maze but we did it safely and with a few minutes to spare. 

Susannah and I were shattered once we got on the train (hoping it was the right one since we both didn’t know for sure).  As we were sitting there a young, dark, Italian man sat across from Susannah.  I will spare you (and her – for embarrassments sake) the details but the conversation ended abruptly with a flash of a wedding ring and awkward silence until it was his stop.  It kept us laughing for the rest of the train ride home. 

The next day was Sunday so I went to church with Susannah and her family.  I got to see more of the countryside.  The chapel was unlike anything I’d seen.  The members were gracious and kind.  Visiting that ward gave me a deeper understanding of what an opportunity I have to attend my ward here in England.  I got to spend the last 2 hours in nursery and enjoyed every minute. 

IMG_4279

Once we got home from church we all settled in and ate Halloween candy and watched the movie Life in Beautiful.  It was a emotional and thought-provoking movie that I would recommend to anyone.  We had a yummy pancake dinner and then Susannah dropped me off at the airport and I had an uneventful fight (LATE NIGHT) and drive home.  It was sad to say goodbye to Susannah and her family but luckily I get to see them soon and hopefully we can have some more adventures!

This trip was short and sweet but quite amazing.  Being around a women with such a strong testimony of the gospel, who is positive and optimistic was food for my spirit.  That short trip changed my life and made me realize things and make choices that will echo for a long time to come.  Some of the  things I learned and felt have lead me to some changes in my life that were a long time coming but just needed that reassurance. 

So at the end of the post I’d say:  VISIT VENICE!  Surround yourself with good friends and appreciate your beautiful life – no matter where you are living it.