Vienna Wrap Up

I really enjoyed my trip to Vienna and loved that there was always something to do. In fact, I still have plenty of things on my bucket list, so hopefully I’ll make it back at a later date. Here are my tips and tricks:

  1. Vienna is a very walkable city (unless you’re going out to Schönbrunn Palace) and the subway is also easy to use. Note: Google Maps doesn’t really work well with Vienna’s public transportation, and I still have no idea how the trams or the buses work.
  2. I would say that depending on the length of your stay it might be more economical to buy a transportation pass instead of a Vienna Pass. The Vienna Pass gives you only around a 1 Euro discount on major sights as well as access to public transportation. Be sure to validate your transportation card if required (the week long passes don’t need validation).
  3. Make dinner reservations in advance or go to dinner on the early side (around 6 pm) for the more popular places. I would highly recommend At Eight, Plachutta (for tafelspitz), and Figlmueller (for schnitzel).
  4. When you are ready to order close your menu, otherwise the waiters will ignore you.
  5. Don’t forget to tip about 5-10%.
  6. Stock up on 50 cent coins since you need to pay for a surprisingly large number of bathrooms in Vienna.
  7. Go to a concert! Vienna is known as the City of Music and a concert is well worth your time. You don’t necessarily have to make reservations in advance since there are plenty of registered ticket sellers who will try to sell you tickets on the street. There are also plenty of free concerts that you can find, especially in the churches.
  8. Go to a café. Café culture is really big in Vienna so stop by one to grab either food or coffee.
  9. Be sure to have some Sacher torte even if it isn’t at the Sacher Hotel.
  10. For me the permanent must sees were: Karlskirche (take the elevator up to the top of the dome), Stephansdom (get all-inclusive tickets and prepare to spend at least half a day there), Prater Ferris Wheel, Schönbrunn Palace, and Imperial Treasury.
  11. The temporary must sees were: the Monet exhibit at the Lower Belvedere and the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien
  12. If you’d like to get a good and quick sense of the city and where everything is take The Ring Tram Tour (the yellow tram) starting in Schwedenplatz
  13. Keep in mind that most museums have strange photography policies (some things you can photograph, others you can’t)

Museum Quarter and the Opera

This was our last day in Vienna so we decided to take it at a more leisurely pace. Our first stop was the Museum Quarter so that we could visit the Kunsthistorisches Museum, or Art History Museum.

IMG_2090  IMG_2087  IMG_2092IMG_2094  IMG_2096  IMG_2095If you look closely at the middle picture in the second row you can JUST make out a bit of artwork above the arches. That was done by Gustav Klimt.

My Dad particularly wanted to see a Velásquez exhibit that was on, and Velásquez is one of the few artists that I vaguely remember from my AP Art History class. Sure enough, I recognized some of his more popular works such as Venus at Her Toilet and Las Meninas. To be honest I’d always thought Las Meninas was a rather blah painting so I was interested to see if I found it boring in person. To my great surprise I really liked it…until I saw that it was actually a copy of the one in the Prado.

Anyways, I still managed to remember enough art history to point out to my Dad that the entire painting is a rather large self-portrait. Velasquez is the rather shadowy painter off to the left of the painting and the canvas in the picture is supposed to represent the painting Las Meninas. So it’s a painting of Velásquez painting the painting. Trippy right?

As for Venus at Her Toilet, the only thing I could remember was that it’s clearly connected to an old and rich history of similar paintings (which at one point long ago I could recall at the drop of a hat). That and the fact that Venus isn’t looking at herself in the mirror. She’s looking at the audience. At the time, this indirect gaze was significant since it represented a shift in these types of classic paintings. And that’s about all my brain managed to dredge up from the depths of my rather shaky art history memory.

meninas  velazquez-toilet-venus-rokeby-venus-NG2057-fmAfter seeing the Velásquez exhibit we walked around the rest of the museum. The top floor mostly contained paintings while the ground level was devoted to a variety of things. My Dad and I liked looking at some of the old clockwork that was on display, particularly because a lot of the clocks were automatons, but we also had a good time wandering around the Egyptian and Roman artifacts.

IMG_2106  IMG_2112  IMG_2108After that it was time for a coffee break. Café culture is huge in Vienna and there are a plethora of well known cafés scattered throughout the city. I decided that it would be fun to visit Café Central. Not only does the café have beautiful vaulted ceilings, it also used to be a favorite haunt of people like Arthur Schnitzler, Sigmund Freud, Peter Altenberg and Leo Trotzki. This meant that my Dad and I were able to sip our coffee and feel somewhat like intellectuals.

IMG_2115  IMG_2117  IMG_2120Once we finished eating, we made our way to Hofburg Palace. Schönbrunn was not always a popular palace and was only regularly attended as a summer palace starting in the 18th century. In contrast to this, Hofburg was used as a residence for over 600 years and was therefore the center of the Holy Roman Empire. It also served as the winter palace for the Habsburgs. To be honest, the information presented in the Hofburg was pretty similar to that in Schönbrunn. That’s not to say the Hofburg wasn’t impressive, but I would say that it’s slightly less impressive than Schönbrunn (but maybe that’s just because I saw Schönbrunn first).

The thing that the Hofburg did have that Schönbrunn didn’t was the Imperial Silver Collection and a current exhibit focused on demystifying Empress Sisi. The overall sense that I got of Sisi was that she was a very unhappy woman who wasn’t particularly attached to her husband (who in contrast was absolutely devoted to her). She’s also well known for being particularly attached to her Bavarian family and for being obsessed with maintaining her beauty. So, while the Sisi exhibit was a bit grim, I would say that overall the Hofburg is worth a visit.

Afterwards we cleaned up for the opera and then headed out for a quick dinner before Rigoletto.

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Unfortunately, Rigoletto is a truly depressing opera. It can be summed up by saying that pretty much everyone dies or is unhappy, while the culprit, the Duke, manages to get away scot-free. I was actually pretty surprised at the lack of a good Christian moral, though I suppose “revenge is never worthwhile” might suffice. The opera is originally based off a play by Victor Hugo (who also wrote Les Misérables) so I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that the opera is decidedly sad. That being said, my Dad and I didn’t have any of this background knowledge when we bought the tickets. We mostly just knew it as a famous opera.

As for the opera itself, it ended up being great. The quality of the singing more than made up for the depressing plot. We even managed to enjoy ourselves despite the fact that we could only see about 50 percent of the stage.

Funnily enough, one of the opera’s most famous songs is one that I remembered from Disney’s Aristocats. If you watch the beginning of the Disney video you can see that George, the old lawyer, hums the tune “La donna è mobile” during the first 15 seconds of the video. I guess back in the day Disney was teaching me opera without me knowing it.

Don’t worry, I don’t think our Duke had eyes quite as crazy as Pavarotti’s.

One really great thing about the Vienna Opera is that they offer very cheap standing room tickets (we saw people queuing for them a good two hours ahead of time) and they also project the live performances on a screen outside of the building.

Once the opera had finished, we went to the Sacher Hotel for some of their famous Sacher torte. Now the Sacher Hotel is a fairly swanky place, to the extent that a man helped me out of my coat at coatcheck (he ignored me when I said I could do it myself–I felt a bit like Matthew Crawley in his early days at Downton Abbey).

Fun fact: although the Sacher torte is a renown Viennese dessert, it was an accident. Apparently the court chef fell ill the day a lot of high ranking guests were scheduled to arrive at court, leaving the apprentice chef, Franz Sacher, to come up with a dessert. Clearly he passed with flying colors. Now the Sacher torte at the Sacher Hotel is made from what is essentially a secret recipe. The recipe itself apparently requires 36 steps and exclusive wooden boxes. While this sounds like an excessive amount of effort to spend on a slice of cake, I will admit that it was pretty delicious.

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Thoroughly stuffed, my Dad and I gathered our coats (this time I let the man at coatcheck help me with my coat) and we walked back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Vienna Decked Out

The next day we returned to Schloß Schönbrunn. Our tickets still allowed us access to the Desert Experience, Palm House, Zoo, Carriage House, Strudel Show, and more. And while we wanted to get the most out of our tickets, we also wanted to see everything during the day.

We started out by walking somewhat aimlessly through the grounds and then climbed the hill behind the palace to the café. This ended up giving us quite a nice view of the palace, grounds, and the surrounding city.

IMG_7145  IMG_7173  IMG_7195We walked by the zoo but decided to pass on it. To our delight however we did manage to catch a glimpse of the rhinos on our walk by.

Because we spent about a solid hour walking around the frigid grounds, we were quite happy to enter the Palm House. What my Dad and I hadn’t realized was that this would cause enough of a temperature shift to completely fog up our camera lenses. While my Dad decided to wipe his lens off, I decided to leave mine the way it was and play with the effect it made on the pictures.

IMG_7211  IMG_7214  IMG_7220IMG_7229  IMG_7236  IMG_7223Once we finished walking around the Palm House and accidentally crashing a small wedding ceremony, we crossed the road to the Desert Experience. It was only slightly less exotic than it sounds. It turned out to be similar to a greenhouse but without the humidity. Similar to the Palm House, there were a variety of plants, or in this case cacti, but there were also animals! One of my favorite moments was finally spotting the elephant shrew below. After hiding almost the entire time we were there, he decided to dart out and say hi at the last minute.

IMG_7244  IMG_7302  IMG_7267IMG_7273  IMG_7288  IMG_7296As much as we enjoyed the Desert Experience, it was eventually time for us to return to the bitter cold. All we really wanted to do by then was just finish our walk around the grounds before heading back into the city.

IMG_7310  IMG_7312  IMG_7316But then I heard my stomach growl. So instead of going back into town we decided to go to the Strudel Show. The show was actually quite good–then again my apple strudel sample might have a large part to do with my satisfaction.

It was only after we cleaned even the crumbs off of our plates that we finally left Schönbrunn. My Lonely Planet book on Vienna had warned us that Schönbrunn was worth a day trip, and considering how much time my Dad and I spent there I would definitely agree, especially considering that we didn’t even manage to see everything.

After that we went to the Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien. The exhibit was there to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Toulouse-Lautrec’s birth. Now if you have no idea who Toulouse-Lautrec is never fear. You probably recognize his most popular work Moulin Rouge-La Goulue, which also happens to be the work that made him an overnight success:

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Overall the exhibit was really great. It covered Toulouse-Latrec’s very short life and did a good job of chronicling his work. Half the fun was just seeing how his art developed over time. His posters in particular were great to see up close. If you happen to have the chance I’d highly recommend a visit.

Our next destination was the Imperial Treasury. I’ve always enjoyed looking at the various treasures that nations have so I was excited to see some of Austria’s crown jewels. They were impressive to say the least. My favorite piece (which unfortunately isn’t pictured) was a “unicorn horn.” The sign clarified that it was actually a narwhal tusk, but it’s always nice to dream.

IMG_7331  IMG_7337  IMG_7345IMG_7383  IMG_7391  IMG_7396IMG_7366  IMG_7371  IMG_7376After we finished with Treasury, we slowly walked back to our hotel. This allowed us to soak in a few more of the sights along the way, such as the National Library, Mozart monument, and Opera House. While we were at the Opera House we decided to look into tickets for the next day’s performance of Rigoletto. The ticket seller had only a few nosebleed seats left but my Dad and I decided to take them.

IMG_7417  IMG_7425  IMG_7429After that, we were off in search of the famous Figlmueller, a restaurant chain that claims to be the home of the schnitzel. Even though we didn’t have a reservation at the restaurant and when we called the restaurant claimed that it was full, my Dad and I decided to go early and see if we could just walk in. It turns out we made it just in time. We were just able to get some of the last seats available. I of course ordered the schnitzel and it was as delicious as advertised. Considering that the schnitzel took up my entire plate, I believe the restaurant when they say that they measure each schnitzel to make sure that it’s 30 cm (11.8 inches) in diameter. I have to admit that overall my Dad and I did a good job on the food front.

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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.

Vienna At Last

We finally make it to Vienna at around 2 pm. Because most things were closed by around 5 or 6, we really didn’t have too much time to explore the city on our first day. But, we managed to make it to two major sights that day. Our first stop was Karlskirche, or St. Charles Church. Karlskirche is one of Vienna’s best baroque churches and also happened to be close to our hotel. So, we duly walked the three or so blocks to the church and were almost immediately accosted by a man trying to sell us concert tickets.Vienna is known as the City of Music so this wasn’t much of a surprise. Alix had also warned me that there would be plenty of people trying to sell us tickets.

My Dad and I had contemplated buying concert tickets before our trip, but in the end we decided to just wait and organize something once we were in the city. So, while we were surprised to see someone selling tickets outside of Karlskirche we decided to listen to his sales pitch. He ended up doing quite well and managed to sell us two discounted tickets to a Christmas concert at Schloss Schönbrunn.

After that we entered Karlskirche. Karlskirche was built from 1716 – 1739 in order to give thanks for the city making it through the 1713 plague. Both the exterior and the interior are remarkable, but the best part about the church is being able to take an elevator up to the top of the church where you can view the basilica’s frescos up close.

IMG_6547  IMG_6549  IMG_6554 IMG_6559  IMG_6592  IMG_6588As someone who is somewhat scared of heights, I found the wooden viewing platform above the church a bit too rickety for my taste, but it was still fabulous to have the opportunity to go up and see everything up close. My favorite part was one particularly well known fresco that features an angel burning Martin Luther’s German Bible. It was funny seeing the Catholic Church’s small ways of thumbing their noses at the Protestants.

IMG_6577  IMG_6578  IMG_6585After that we made our way to the Secession Museum. The Secession Museum was built and designed by the Vienna Secession art movement, which included star artists such as Klimt, Josef Hoffman, Kolo Moser, and Joseph M Olbrich. Unfortunately, it seems like the museum is only really well known for displaying Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze, a work inspired by Beethoven’s ninth symphony. Although the museum staff couldn’t have hurried us to the exhibit any faster, once we were there we weren’t allowed to take any pictures (the one below is a replica of a section of the mural), but then again that’s where Google comes in handy. The mural spans three sides of the room and according to the brochure depicts mankind’s search for happiness. The mural can be summarized by saying that it starts with mankind enlisting a knight in shining armor for help. This knight then fights off “Hostile Forces” such as Sickness, Madness, and Death, but eventually succeeds and finds fulfillment in poetry and the arts. The painting concludes with a kissing couple which, again according to the brochure, is based on the lyrics to “Ode to Joy” which contain the line “This kiss to the whole world.” I personally really enjoyed the Beethoven Frieze, although it isn’t placed at eye level which makes it slightly more difficult to view.

Afterwards, we took pity on the rest of the museum (which seems a bit neglected considering how quickly the museum staff ushered us into the room containing the Beethoven Frieze). We saw works from about three or four current artists, but the one that I enjoyed the most was a piece by Renata Lucas which involved a record player. The record player was attached to a revolving door so in order to get the record to play you had to keep spinning the door.

IMG_6602  IMG_6601  IMG_6605Once we had finished at the Secession Museum we felt like it was time for dinner. I happen to have a friend living in Vienna and she highly recommended trying out a restaurant called Plachutta. So it was with food on our minds that my Dad and I duly set off in search of this restaurant. Lucky for us we were able to get a table and I ordered their most famous dish, tafelspitz. Little did I know what I was getting into. My dish included a type of vegetable soup, boiled beef, beef marrow (which was supposed to be spread on bread), creamed pumpkin, potatoes, horseradish applesauce, and a chive sauce. It was a meal big enough for two and it was superb. I have to say that Plachutta absolutely ruined any other tafelspitz that I had for the rest of the trip. It really was just that good.

IMG_2034So, it was with very full stomachs that my Dad and I concluded our first day in Vienna. We did pay a quick stop to Naschmarkt food market just to look around, but after that we called it a night.

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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