Christmas

Funnily enough, more things were open on Christmas than on Christmas Eve, and most of them were open for longer. My Dad and I were pretty content to just call our trip our Christmas present, but our hotel had graciously given us holiday slippers and sweets the night before. So, after testing out the slippers and eating a few of the sweets we prepared to begin our Christmas adventures.

The first thing we went to was Schwedenplatz so that we could board a Ring Tram Tour. The Ring refers to the road called Ringstraße, which also happens to be where Vienna’s city walls were. The tour mostly consisted of riding a yellow tram around the Ring and listening to an audioguide point out notable sights along the way. All in all the tour took about 25 minutes. While the tour wasn’t particularly exciting, I still found it worthwhile since it pointed out some of the major sights in the city, taught us a little bit of history, and helped orient me.

IMG_6993  IMG_6982  IMG_6987After the tour finished, we made our way to the Belvedere museums. The Belvedere property contains the Upper Belvedere, the Lower Belvedere, the Winter Palace, and the grounds. Unfortunately it was raining, so my Dad and I decided against exploring the grounds and immediately made a beeline for the Upper Belvedere. The Upper Belvedere is famous for having a large number of Klimt paintings, most notably The Kiss, but it also contains other well known pieces such as Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleon Crossing the Alps. I’m a Klimt fan so I enjoyed seeing his artwork, but I didn’t find much else in the Upper Belvedere particularly exciting.

I will also say that the Belvedere has particularly confusing photography standards. Some rooms you could photograph, others you couldn’t, some statues you could photograph, others you couldn’t, etc. Because I’m a shutterbug I was alternately yelled at and encouraged a number of times.

IMG_7025  IMG_7023  IMG_7026IMG_7046  IMG_7036  IMG_7052My Dad and I hadn’t originally planned on going to the Lower Belvedere since it mostly speicalizes in modern art, but a sign caught our eyes saying that the Lower Belvedere currently had a Monet exhibit. My Dad and I happen to be big Monet fans so we made our way over to the Lower Belvedere to upgrade our tickets. To our surprise, we ended up liking the Lower Belvedere much more than the Upper Belvedere. The Monet exhibit was fantastic and featured a large number of his paintings. The rest of the Lower Belvedere was interesting, but the Monet was what made the entire Belvedere trip really worthwhile.

IMG_7056  IMG_7062  IMG_7065Once we had finished with the Belvedere, we made our way towards Schloß Schönbrunn, or Schönbrunn Palace. My Dad and I initially had some difficulties remembering the name Schönbrunn and so my Dad decided to dub it “Sunnybun.” The palace lies just outside the center of Vienna so we had to take the subway to get there, but it was well worth the trip. Because we were going later in the day we only had time to do a tour around the palace. The guide that we were provided with turned out to be an audioguide, and while I’m generally not a fan of audioguides, this one wasn’t actually too bad. Some of the audioguide numbers were a bit outdated, but overall it was a pleasant experience.

Schönbrunn was originally commissioned in the 17th century to serve as a hunting lodge, but under Empress Maria Theresa it became the focus of court life. Since then it has hosted a number of momentous events and notable people. Some of the rooms that we saw featured great historical events, but the majority of the rooms were the private rooms of the Habsburg family. In retrospect, Schönbrunn was one of my favorite sights.

After we were done with the tour, we wandered around the grounds and paid a visit to the Christmas market.

IMG_7120  IMG_7092  IMG_7093IMG_7099  IMG_7108  IMG_7116IMG_7121  IMG_7140  IMG_7131Once we finished, we went back to our hotel before coming back again for the Christmas concert. The concert primarily featured two of Austria’s golden boys, Mozart and Strauss. The music was great and to top it all off there was also some opera and ballet mixed in. So, in honor of the concert I leave you with Austria’s unofficial national anthem, Blue Danube.

Christmas Eve

To our very great surprise, Vienna doesn’t totally shut down during the Christmas holidays. So, even though it was Christmas Eve we were still able to get in some sightseeing. Our first stop of the day was Stephansdom, or St. Steven’s Cathedral.

IMG_6632  IMG_6635  IMG_6660IMG_6646  IMG_6649  IMG_6648 IMG_6650  IMG_6669 IMG_6759According to their website, Stephansdom is the number one attraction in the city and attracts just under 3 million people every year. It is clearly the star church in the city and is something that can be seen from most places within central Vienna. I really wanted to take an English tour of the church, since after a certain point European churches all tend to blur together, but the only English tour the church offered was an English audioguide that only addressed the inside of the church. My dad and I decided to pass on this in favor of buying all inclusive tickets. These tickets gave us access to the South Tower, North Tower, church, catacombs, and treasury (which was closed for the day).

We quickly wandered through the main cathedral before heading to the North Tower. The thing that struck me the most about the interior was the almost complete lack of stain glass windows. My initial guess was that the church had been bombed. Sure enough, we spotted some pictures of the church and the work that had to be done on it after World War II. We could see that the roof had completely collapsed so it was hardly a surprise that the windows hadn’t lasted either.

IMG_6641  IMG_6642  IMG_6645Afterwards, we made our way to the North Tower. Thankfully the tower had an elevator that we could ride up. Once at the top it provided us with a truly wonderful view of Vienna and the church’s unique roof.

IMG_6683  IMG_6701  IMG_6711IMG_6714  IMG_6688  IMG_6716After that we made our way down to the catacombs. Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take pictures there so you’ll have to either use Google or your imagination. The catacombs contain some Hapsburg remains and those of senior clergy and cardinals, but they weren’t solely reserved for the upper class. Mass burials occurred in the catacombs, especially when it came to burying victims of the Black Death, and you can still see the bones in the pits that they used for these burials. Additionally, prisoners were once forced to clean and stack some of the bones in the catacombs so there are literally hundreds of bones on display underneath the church.

Once we had finished there, we made our way to the South Tower. You can’t actually get to the very top of the South Tower, but you can get to about the halfway point (67 meters up). Once you climb the requisite 343 steps you get an even better view of Vienna than at the North Tower. Because there are so many steps however they do tell you that you shouldn’t drink beforehand. So no glühwein (mulled wine) for us.

IMG_6768  IMG_6770  IMG_6788IMG_6780  IMG_6783  IMG_6786When we finished, we stopped for coffee and lunch at the famous café Demel and then crossed the city to go to the Prater Ferris Wheel. Now for those of you who are:

  • From my parent’s generation
  • Into old movies
  • Watched post-World War II movies for class

you may recognize the ferris wheel from The Third Man. I of course recognized the ferris wheel from James Bond but sooner or later hazy memories from the class “The European Postwar: Literature, Film, Politics” reminded me that I had also watched The Third Man my senior year in college. Clearly I considered pursuing all things James Bond related (allegedly for my senior thesis) more interesting that paying attention to my postwar class. Oh well.

Because we went to the ferris wheel on Christmas Eve, the amusement park that houses it was pretty deserted (in fact it was very similar to the ferris wheel scene in the Third Man), but that also meant that the lines were short. Without too much of a delay my Dad and I were able to get on board and enjoy the view from the top.

IMG_6826  IMG_6845  IMG_6849IMG_6867  IMG_6869  IMG_6878IMG_6919  IMG_6928  IMG_6920The ferris wheel only takes about 20 minutes so before we knew it we were back on the ground. While things had been open towards the beginning of the day, things started closing soon after we got off the ferris wheel. Our attempts to go to the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien and the Hofburg Palace were in vain so we ended up settling with the Christmas market in the Museum Quarter and drinking Christmas punch. I decided to try something that roughly translated to “Mozart’s punch,” and I have to say that if Mozart was drinking that I have no idea how he managed to get anything done since it had a very generous amount of alcohol poured in.

IMG_6957  IMG_6950  IMG_6966Everything more or less shut down at 3 pm, so after that my Dad and I just relaxed around the hotel until our Christmas dinner reservations. Thanks to a random recommendation from Travel and Leisure we decided to try our luck at a restaurant called At Eight. Even though the restaurant started out pretty sparsely populated, it filled up towards 7 pm and for good reason. The food was some of the best that I’ve ever had. Not a bad way to spend Christmas Eve at all.

Chugga Chugga Choo Choo

Again, I’m really not very creative with titles, but, in case you can’t tell, I was on a train! After a drawn out series of family debates, my Dad and I decided to spend part of our Christmas holidays in Vienna and Salzburg. To get there we decided to go by train. Now, you’re probably wondering how long that takes. The answer: four trains, four cities, and about 26 hours. We went from London St. Pancras to Vienna via Brussels, Cologne, and Prague. Yes, it took awhile. Yes, this travel plan was part of our family debates. But hey, we made it.

Our first stop was in Brussels. Unfortunately, it was only for about an hour so we didn’t bother to leave the station. But, this did mean that we had a chance to wander around and explore the station. The one thing that really intrigued me was the special charging stations that they had. Instead having standard outlets, they had outlets that were connected to bikes. In other words, if you wanted to power your electronics you had to be prepared to hop on a bike and power them yourself. I had used my laptop for a bit on Eurostar (I’m sad to report that they did not have wifi) and decided to try testing out this bike system in order to charge my laptop for a bit. The system definitely worked, although I don’t believe it charged my laptop as quickly as a regular outlet would. But, it was a fun experiment. I was also thoroughly impressed by the middle aged woman next to me who managed to pedal her bike, charge her phone, and talk on the phone all at the same time. Granted, she wasn’t able to sustain this for too long.

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From Brussels we boarded an ICE train to Cologne. Unlike the last time I boarded an ICE train, this time I was supposed to be on it. Like the last time, it was an incredibly pleasant experience. The seats were plush, the atmosphere was nice, there was wifi, and we were even offered snacks and drinks. Before we knew it we were in Cologne.

Now I had heard two very different things about the city. One friend living in Germany told me that Cologne was supposed to be nice, while my German cousin told me “I can’t stand Cologne, although the Rhine bridge and the cathedral are nice.” So my Dad and I arrived in Cologne without a clear idea of what to expect. We had about three hours to kill and it just so happens that the Cologne Cathedral, one of the two things that my cousin likes, is right next to the train station. Unfortunately we arrived around 7:15 pm and couldn’t go inside, but we contented ourselves with walking around the cathedral and taking a few pictures.

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But, not all was lost. We were very lucky because Cologne’s Christmas market is right next to the cathedral. So, once we had finished taking pictures of the cathedral we spent our free time wandering around the market. In retrospect I think it’s probably the best Christmas market that we went to.

IMG_6430  IMG_6434  IMG_6436 IMG_6440  IMG_6445  IMG_6451 They sold just about everything. They had Russian dolls (as you can see in the picture), Christmas baubles, food, Christmas drinks, and more. The market was pretty large so we managed to spend a good two hours or so there just snacking and looking around. The Christmas market closed at 9pm so after that my Dad and I made our way back to the train station to wait for our night train to Prague.

IMG_6483  IMG_6476  IMG_6479 The night train wasn’t anything special and we managed to get to Prague without a hitch early the next day. We had about an hour before our final train to Vienna and so we went for a quick walk around Wenceslas Square (above). It was here that in a happy twist of fate I happened to catch up with my Brazilian roommate, Nicole, and her boyfriend. I knew that she was spending Christmas break in Prague but didn’t bother to tell her that I would be there since I was only there for an hour. I figured the chances of us meeting were pretty remote. Guess I was wrong!

After we boarded our train to Vienna it was all a matter of just sitting back, relaxing, and enjoying the final stage of our journey. We spent the majority of our trip going through the Czech Republic (for a better idea of our trip I pinned all of the major stops we made on the Map page) and I managed to snap a few pictures before we crossed into Austria.

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Return to Oslo

This week I took a short trip back to Oslo for what is arguably one of the most important Norwegian events of the year: the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony. Unfortunately I like to work through my blog chronologically, so you’ll have to wait a post or two before I talk about that. Sorry!

So, starting from beginning, I took the train down to Oslo from Trondheim and it was yet again another lovely experience. There was however one key difference between this time and the last time: the amount of sunshine I was exposed to. Because of the decreasing amount of daylight and the fact that I was moving North (where we have less daylight) to South (where they have more daylight) I effectively had a longer day with a very long sunrise and sunset. Unlike my last trip, I was able to witness the start and the close of the day all from the train. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed chasing the sun and basking in the extra two hours or so of daylight. Oh, and it helped that the scenery still remains breathtaking.

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Lud, one of the Roving Scholars, and his wife Susan were my hosts in Oslo and they helped me pick out a few new spots to explore in the city. Once I got settled in, Susan and I went to one of Oslo’s bigger Christmas markets, or julemarked, on Karl Johans Gate (Oslo’s main street). While I abstained from buying things, it was wonderful to walk around and soak in the sights and smells. There was of course knitwear (hats, gloves, scarfs, sweaters, etc.) for sale but there were also animal pelts, tourist trinkets, and food. I adore food and was excited to see the caramelized nuts, baked goods, chocolate, reindeer, cheese, and even moose burgers on display. While I was tempted to try the moose burgers I ended up deciding against it due to the excellent meal that Susan had already fed me.

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