Posted on 09-08-2007
Filed Under (Vienna, Great Food) by admin

It was just about 9:00 pm, and the ride to Vienna would be 11 hours… That meant we were about to ride in a legit. sleeper train. Our room had four beds, Two on the bottom and 2 above. We got settled into our cabin, and I hopped onto a top bunk. As sweat began pouring from our bodies, we became more and more aware of the temperature. Our cabin clearly had air conditioning, but with the train off it wasn’t running. I’m normally pretty good with heat and cold, but the thermometer on my watch was reading just around 100 degrees and our train was already 20 minutes late leaving the station. I put my iPod on closed my eyes and tried to enjoy the sauna we were in.

Something about the heat knocked me out. I planned to try and do work late into the night, but I just fell into a coma for the entire ride. I do remember stopping at the next stop, another station in Venice, and a fourth guy came in our cabin to fill it up. I woke up at some point late in the night, heard a few minutes of conversation between the other guy, Mike and Hayley, but then fell asleep again until the morning. I woke up to a cup of bitter tea and a roll being delivered. I met the other guy in the room, who’d Mike and Hayley were up until about midnight talking to. He was older than us, in his late 20s, and apparently some kind of teacher. We arrived in Vienna about an hour later, and said our goodbyes.

I’ve gone most of my life without ever really knowing Vienna even existed, but then saw Before Sunrise. It’s a movie about an American guy and a French girl who meet on a train through Europe, and spend a night exploring Vienna together. Needless to say, I was interested in seeing how the actual city matched up with the movie, and was hoping I would recognize some of it. Looking at a map at the train station, though, I noticed that there were 4 train stations; we were in Westbahnof (West Station) and there was one for each of the other directions. In the movie, they exit a large train station, and cross a bridge. We were at a fairly small station, away from any water, and were pretty far from the North Station, which is right by a river. It seemed we were, at the moment, relatively far from where it all took place, so I put the idea of recognizing things on the backburner as we started out to find our hostel.

We were a subway ride away from our area, so we took an elevator down to the “U”, as it’s called in Vienna. We got to the tracks and thought, “…Do we need tickets, or something?” We went back to the main subway area, found an information booth and learned that Vienna works on a similar system as Italy. Tickets are bought and validated in a machine before getting on. The validation prints the time and station you got on, and each ticket has some amount of time its valid for (75 minutes, 24 hrs, etc). Tickets are rarely collected or checked, but occasionally they are, and then, I assume, you pay hefty fines for not having a ticket. It’s an interesting honor-system twist to managing transportation fares, and it seems like few people try to cheat it.

Our subway ride lasted a little under 10 minutes, and we started following the directions to our hostel. We were walking down a street reading the page we had, when we heard an old woman asking if she could help us. She read the directions, and told us our street was 2 blocks away on the left. A few minutes later, after going 2 blocks and taking a left, we were at our hostel, which was more of a cheap hotel. The kind of accomodations possible for 20 Euro a night in Vienna, and much of Europe, are pretty amazing.

It was still morning, so we relaxed from travelling, tested our beds out and then headed back into the heart of Vienna. Reading the guidebook, we often saw it referring to the “Outer Ring” and the “Inner Ring” of the city. Apparently, Vienna used to be comprised of a busy inner city, and big homes with farmland encircling it. Now though, the farmland has become more like the inner city, and in many cases is clearly separated by major large roads that make a ring shape. So, we were heading towards the inner ring, inside those large roads towards an area that would probably be somewhat comparable to Piazza Navona.

Vienna is known for its kaffe, coffee, so we started by heading to Klein’s Cafe. We sat outside, infront of colorful buildings and a statue. Hayley and Mike had Melange, a strong cappucino-like coffee, and I had Eiskaffee, black coffee with whip cream on top (though, its usually served with ice cream). I am normally not a coffee fan at all, and it might have just been that I happened to be sitting in Vienna, but this coffee was really good. We also ordered some light food for lunch. ‘Vienna’ is actually the English name for the place, most of Europe calles it Wien (Pronounced Veen), as in Wiener, the sausage. So, Mike ordered the staple dish, Wienersnitzel, I ordered “Sandwich Royale”, a tomato, cucumber, ham and camambert sandwich, Hayley ordered Apple Strudel, and we all shared. We had read that it was expected and proper to “linger” in Vienesse cafes, so we stayed for quite awhile, enjoying our kaffe, food and started planning our time in Vienna.

After we left, we spent the rest of the day wandering around the Inner Ring. There was a lot of action; street performers, people selling tickets for operas, an art sale of these cute little cartoons… all the sorts of things we’ve come to expect from European cities. At one point we saw a large crowd of people, so we headed in that direction to see what the fuss was. There was a group of, what looked like, Russian breakdancers. They were lively and some of them were really good, so they attracted a lot of people and it was hard to stop watching once we started.

But, just as they were starting to do their spiel to get people to put money in their golden trophy, we heard a roar of people from behind us. We looked over and it looked like two crowds of people rushing together, holding Iraqi flags. They were cheering and jumping and holding each other in the air… It all seemed pretty jovial but we had no clue what was going on, and it seemed most Austrians didn’t either. Oddly enough, soon after it started all the church bells started going off and didn’t stop! We couldn’t tell if they were celebrating too, or trying to over-power the other celebrators. We watched for awhile, I took a bunch of pictures, and finally noticed a guy holding a sign that said Asia Cup Champions. It was a pretty awesome sight, but quickly broke up the breakdancing, and most other street performances in the area.

We then started heading out of the Inner Ring and towards a restaurant called Centimeter, where they sell Viennese sandwiches by the Centemeter. I guess I didn’t explain earlier, but my sandwich at Klein’s Cafe, and those at Centimeter are prepared differently than the way we normally have sandwiches. They have a long, thick slice of bread on the bottom, that can be basically any length, and then put toppings on it and cut it into, roughly, inch-wide pieces. So, at Centimeter, we ordered 20 centimeters of ham & tomato au gratin. There was more on the menu at Centimeter though, and a few options looked hard to resist. They had a few different dishes that included “chops”, so we tried one that came with 2 chops and chips… And then the main event… TWO METERS OF WURST.. for just 6 Euro. How could we possibly pass that up? It came with shredded raw horseradish, which seemed common in Vienna, and 2 mustards. Everything was delicious, as usual, and we had cheap Viennese beer to go along with it.

We walked back to the hostel, and saw quite a bit of Vienna… The walk was not a short one. We got back to the room and all sorda just crashed. We’d been up since pretty early in the morning and were walking most of the day. There was this one techno song they played at the Pink Palace both nights that seemed very Spanish/Greek, and bunches of Spanish girls would dance this particular dance whenever it played. The three of us liked the song, so we’ve been trying to keep the tune in our heads long enough to figure out what the actual song is. We finally had some consistent internet in Vienna, so I stayed up trying to figure out what song it was, but went to sleep to no avail. We still don’t know, and I have a feeling it will be nagging me for a long time…

Anyway, we woke up the next morning and this time we bought a day pass for the subway in Vienna. We took the subway into the Inner Ring and went to eat, this time at Stein’s Cafe. This time, my Eiskaffe really did have ice cream in it and it was pretty amazing. I also ordered ‘Putenfilet’, basically at random. Unlike the stracciatella in Rome, though, this turned out to be a great blind-pick. It was sesame roasted chicken on rice and vegetables with cream sauce, and very, very good.

After lingering, we saw some of the sites, including Stephansplatz, a church in the center of Vienna with a large steeple. After checking out the inside of the church, we took an elevator up to the top of the steeple. The top was pretty high up, and we got a great view of all of Vienna. I walked around the steeple and then, finally, saw a familiar sight! Far in the distance was a large ferris wheel that had a cameo in Before Sunrise. From the movie, I remembered an amusement park/carnival around the same area as the ferris wheel, so we figured we’d take the subway over and see what it was like. The great thing about having the metro day pass in Vienna is that we could take any form of transportation anywhere all day, so shooting over to the other side of Vienna was no problem.

When we got there, it was clear that it was definitely the ferris wheel from the movie, and we learned that it is actually a very old part of Viennese history. The Riesenrad, as it’s called, now holds 15 large gondola-type cars but used to hold 30 (You can see the extra old supports and that the cars are numbered with only even numbers). We entered the old amusement park that the Riesenrad sits in, and agreed that we would ride it as the sunsets, but for now just check out the park.

I thought it was awesome… It was clearly very old, but considering that it seemed to be in pretty good condition. There weren’t many people there, but it seemed more like a boardwalk, where people start flooding in as the sun goes down and all the carnival games turn on their blinking lights. There were a ton of rides and games, and it actually was bigger than I had imagined. We walked around and played some games, then saw the tallest set of amusement park swings we’d ever seen and had to ride them. The ride was fun and spun us so high around Vienna; we got more great views of the city. We found the kiddy-area of the park, where they had some intense kiddy rides… They actually had real go karts for them to drive, not just a flat track with a wobbly steering wheel.

We had left overs from lunch, so we sat down at a table and ate them after checking out a pretty standard arcade. The sun was looking quite nice as it approached the horizon, so we got donuts from a woman who made them right in front of us with this little contraption, and then headed to the Riesenrad. Unfortunately, it looked like there was a long line, and it turned out to be much more expensive to ride than we’d anticipated. As much as I wanted to experience the Riesenrad, we decided it didn’t really make sense.

Instead, we checked out the gift shop. Inside, we saw a variety of standard gifts, and I began looking through the postcards of Vienna… Flipping through, and realizing we were leaving the next morning, I felt like we’d missed so much! There were so many other interesting buildings, gardens and sites to see. One in particular, which we’d read about in the book but never got around to going to, was Schloss Belvedere, a large estate type home with what were supposed to be beautiful gardens. The sun was still shining light over Vienna, so we decided instead of wishing we’d seen more, we’d use our last bits of the day to go checkout Belvedere. We hopped on the subway and walked the rest of the way, passing by Sudbanhof, the South Station.

We walked along rows of trees lining a pathway to the gates of Schloss Belvedere as the sunset just behind it. It was a pretty amazing site, and I think this was the perfect time to see it. I got a few pictures of the front of the main building at Belvedere just before both my camera’s batteries died after working hard all day. I missed a few great pictures, but had a chance to really take in the gardens as we walked through. The front had flowers and garden’s as I’d expect the, while the back was mostly groomed bushes and fountains… Actually, we noticed in one area that they were actually growing bushes inside of bushes… Ballin’.

Outside of Belvedere, we took a tram to where we were hoping to find a U stop that would take us back to our hostel. On the way to the tram, though, we ran into a bunch of the other buildings we were afraid we wouldn’t get a chance to see. It was nice to see a bunch of places in Vienna we hadn’t seen the day before, and hadn’t been planning on seeing. I got on the train satisfied with the day, and we made it back to the hostel to get ready for the night.

Vienna supposedly has an incredibly happenin’ night-life, so we were excited to check it out. There was an area called the “Bermuda Triangle” which is a triangular street known for its club-scene. We’d read about “experimental-techno” in Vienna, and our curiosity was perked. Unfortunately though, it was the middle of the week and this crazy bar scene appeared to be completely dead. We asked some girls on the street where a good place was, and they pointed us to “Chill Out Bar”… It was a nice bar, but a bit too chill… The laid back music and comfy chairs were putting us to sleep, so we headed out. We wandered around the area more, but it seemed hopeless, and we had a train to catch the next morning anyway, so we called it a night.

All in all, I really loved Vienna… It’s one of the tops on my list of places to come back to. We got a great feel for the city, but it seems like there’s still so much more to experience, namely the Riesenrad and experimental techno.

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Posted on 05-08-2007
Filed Under (Site Message) by admin

Helloooo there!

It’s been awhile, I know. But, I’m ready to get my updated posts online whenever Europe’s internet is ready for me.

Let’s see… I’ve got Vienna ready to go, Prague just about done… We didn’t go to Salzberg, as planned, but instead to the mountain village of Halstatt, which was amazing. I’ve still got to write about our time there, but that will be a pleasure.

I’ve got a ton of pictures to get online, too… Our hostel here in Munich has WiFi, it just doesn’t work and they can’t fix it. Pretty sure Mike & I could, but I’m not sure how they’d feel about that.

 Anyway, things are going great, and hopefully I’ll be able to catch everyone up in the next day or two.

It’s nightime here, so Guten Nacht!

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Posted on 01-08-2007
Filed Under (Italy) by admin

We woke up at about 6:00 am, but weren’t really functional until 6:10. Our train to Venice left at 6:52, and we had about 15 minutes of walking, so we really had to be leaving E & S by 6:30…

As we got to the bottom floor, I watched my watch tick past 6:38; we were moving quickly towards the train station, luckily a walk we’d done several times before, so there would be no getting lost. A few minutes more of walking, and it seemed like my watch had jumped ahead, suddenly it was 6:45 and we were still pretty far from the station. Hayley was behind me, and I guess she decided things were getting too close, so she started running. Mike and I followed suit, and we hopped on the train just as it started pulling away.

We made it to Venice at around 11:30 and had all day to check it out. Staying in Venice a night would have cost a huge amount of money. Hayley had also been to Venice before, and said there wasn’t that much to see Venice, so we decided to go for the day, see what we could and experience its uniqueness. We arrived in a station that looked like most of the train stations we’d been to in Italy. We waited on a long line to check our luggage, and were finally ready to see what Venice was all about.

I stepped out of the train station and immediately saw a large sidewalk and a road with boats driving down it… No, wait… that’s a river. I mean, of course I knew Venice basically had streets of water, but seeing it with my own eyes was such a strange experience. It was great though; there were nice big stone walking paths enclosed by stores and restaurants on both sides. Every once in awhile we would get to a bridge, cross over as a motor boat speeds under and remember, “Oh yeah… this is Venice!”

We spent the first half an hour or so looking for one restaurant in particular that the book suggested, and when we finally arrived we saw that it was closed until August 2nd. A lot of Italians take this time of the year off for vacation because its so hot in Italy during late July… And, while we thought Venice would be cooler than Rome since it was North a bit, it was actually incredibly hot… Much hotter than Rome. It may have just been the day, but it was really just sweltering, searing heat.

Since our restaurant was closed, we headed to the #2 restaurant on the list, Bepi’s. We ordered a few different things and shared… Lemon Shrimp, which turned out to be tons of tiny tiny shrimp, Brouchettes of Chicken, so basically shishkabob, Garlic Spaghetti which was “Chili-Spicy” and a salad. Although, Venice doesn’t seem to be known for their food, Bepi’s was excellent. The chicken was incredibly flavorful and the spaghetti truly was chili-spicy.

After eating, we made our way to the sites of Venice, mainly Piazza San Marco, where the Church of San Marco and Doji Palace are. They were two more incredible buildings in Italy to add to our list, but there was something about this Piazza that made it even more memorable and unique… PIGEONS. Tons of them, everywhere! For one Euro, Hayley bought me a bag of dry corn and we placed it on my arms… Suddenly, I was attacked from all angles. Pigeons were landing on my arms and grabbing onto my fingers to eat from my hands. They crowded around my feet stepping on my toes as they nibbled at the corn dropping to the ground. I put some corn on my hat’s brim, and a few pigeons were brave enough to land on my head and try to get them. It was a great time… Actually, I think on the scale of fun things we’ve done in Europe, I would put playing with Pigeons right below Skydiving and just above ATVing… Or somewhere around there.

We hung around the area and looked at some shops in the area for a bit, and then headed towards the Grand Canal and saw the Bridge of Sighs on the way. The story, as Hayley told me, is that the bridge connected the Doji Palace to the prisons, and it was named from the criminals sighing as the were brought into the prisons. The Grand Canal was on our right as we walked down a bridge towards a bunch of smaller stands selling small souvenirs, including the staple gift of the refiion, Ventian Glass. We’d been popping in and out of stores selling Venetian Glass all day, admiring their work. The heat outside in the sun wstanding by all the stands was just about unbearable though, so we made our way to the Water Taxis.

We rode the water taxi along the Grand Canal for quite awhile, until we were just about back to the train station. We’d walked to just about the other end of Venice. The water taxi was great, though; we got to really look at Venice from the perspective of the water. We were trying to fiure out exactly how Venice was built… If it was completely man made, or built on bits of land; It really looked as if it was entirely built on the water. Branching off of the grand canal, in between buildings would either be a narrow alley/walkway, or just simply a small stretch of water in between buidlings. I’d actually seen this once before, in China, I believe in Suzhou. We took a boat ride in between buildings and there would just be steps going from the doorway down into the water. It’s a strange site that makes me wonder what life as a whole like is like when actually living in water cities.

I’d been taking a ton of pictures on the water taxi, and about halfway through a girl came on with the same camera as mine. We each sort of glanced at each other, recognizing cameras and had a photograph-othan until she got off. She was the first person I’ve ever seen take more pictures than myself… Impressive.

We got off, found the station and then walked arond for a bit more, since our train didn’t leave for awhile. We passed by several Tabacco stores, or Tabbachis, as they are in Italy, and in the window of one saw a small hookah, or nargileh. Just in case, a hookah is a middle-eastern/eastern-european smoking pipe that has a water bowl-base that sits on the ground or table. A pipe rises from the base, and a bowl holds a flavored tobacco/syrup mix, Shisha, that is heated by a coal on top. A hose connected to the pipe pullls the smoke through the water, filtering it, and then out.

Now, I am certainly no smoker, but hookahs are really very different then just whipping out a cigarrette throughout the day. Mike & I had a hookah when we were roommates, and its amazing how it brings people together to relax and converse for hours, though not actually smoking all that much. There have been many times along the way, especially in Corfu, where we thought about how great it would be to just have a hookah we could take out. So, we decided to purchase the small hookah. It came with a case that kept all its parts under control and it didn’t seem like it would be too difficult to manage… We’re pros at moving around with our bags now anyway.

We went to a grocery store and got the usual ingredients… Some bread, cheese and italian deli meats. There was a nice little square along the water with a statue in the middle that we’d passed earlier in the day that we thought we be a nie place to eat. When we arrived there was an accordian player there; accordians have really been growing on me lately, its an incredible instrument. We peacefully ate our sandwiches and smoked hookah by the water, watching people go by awhile accordian music played in the background.

Our train was at 20:44, 8:44, so at around 7:30 we headed back to the station and got ready for our ride to Vienna. We made to our train with plenty of time to spare, for the first time ever, and said Arrivederci to Italy until our next backpacking trip through Europe.

Next stop, Austria!

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