Thursday, August 16, 2012

Wien and Wieners

Okay this will officially be the last travel post for a while. At least until I go somewhere else. The final leg of our trip was to Vienna, Austria. This destination was actually the original impetus for the trip as my cousin is currently living there giving Vienna the dual advantages of being able to visit him and also being able to stay there for free. His apartment was conveniently located right in the heart of the city. We could walk to almost any tourist destination. His building itself was very cool with a door beautiful enough that I photographed it and ceilings so high it was like two apartments stacked on top of each other. Apparently Freud once lived in his building back in the day. Possibly in his very apartment, but there is no documentation to support this. Anyway, onto the photos!

A block or so from his apartment is the Rathaus (City Hall of Vienna), seen here, and in front of that during the summer is a large outdoor film festival. We didn't watch any of the films (mostly operas and ballets it seemed) but we did partake in the delicious variety of food vendors that were part of the festival. We bought an assortment of tasty things from around the world and then made ourselves a little picnic in the surrounding park. Definitely not a bad thing to have just around the block.

Our first day was spent visiting a number of museums (there was a big deal Klimt thing happening in the city in celebration of the artist's 150th anniversary) and also going out to Schonbrunn Palace which is essentially the Versailles of Vienna. Located just outside the city, it was the summer home for the Hapsburgs. The grounds were intensely large with giant fountains and a hedge maze (which we failed to complete). The palace itself was extensive. We sprung for the 40 room tour with audio and learned a great deal about the many daughters of Marie Therese.

After the palace we met my cousin and went to partake in another beer garden. This one had delicious things like pork knuckle and was located just past a large amusement park. Apparently a World's Fair was held there in the last 1800s. The highlight of the amusement park is a large ferris wheel called the Prater Wheel which is apparently an emblem of Vienna. We didn't ride it because ferris wheels are kind of lame, but after a few beers we did end up trying out a number of the rides (including bumper cars which are far less safe than their American counterpart and from which I still have some ugly bruises on my knees). The one seen above is the largest starflyer (swing ride) in the world at 117 meters. Naturally we had to ride it.

The next day my cousin had off work, so he drove us out to a small town in the wine country. We went on a short hike up to these castle ruins where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned for a number of years. 
The best part about the hike was the beautiful view of the towns below and the Danube. We wandered the town for a while afterward, enjoying some wine and snacks. Apparently they grow a lot of apricots in the area because they were featured in just about every product you could buy.

Now that our group numbers five it's harder to get a full group picture. Here's the majority of us though. 

The next day we visited the Spanish Riding School to watch the morning practice of the famed Lipizzaner horses. We weren't able to see a show while we were there, but I'd seen them before previously (in Little Rock, Arkansas of all places) so I knew the drill. This isn't a great photo, but we actually weren't supposed to be taking photos at all, so this stealthy, illicit image was the best I could do. 

On our last day in town we visited more museums and did a little souvenir shopping. We also visited St. Stephen's Cathedral, a truly magnificent cathedral for which Vienna is well known. We paid to take the elevator up the bell tower to get some great views from the top of the city below. Note how cool the roof is.
Me at the top of the bell tower. This seemed a fitting final image (not quite as good as the sunset in Zurich, but what I can say). My cousin was a wonderful host and not only ferried us around and let us stay with us but helped co-create pokeropoly (a poker Monopoly hybrid that really does improve both games). So to sum up, it was a lovely trip with wonderful travel companions, and I'm glad I was able to join up. Next year, Hawaii?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Another day, another city, another blog post yakking on about my recent travel in Europe. Today's city of focus is Salzburg, known by tourists (as judged by the tours and souvenirs available) only for two things: Mozart and The Sound of Music. However, in addition to this, it is just a fun, little town with lovely scenery and some of the best pretzels I have yet eaten. Before we got to Salzburg however, we had to take a 5 hour train ride through Switzerland and western Austria. Needless to say the scenery was stunning.
This is somewhere in Switzerland. Or possibly Austria. I was more interested in studying the scenery than understanding the in-train electronic map.

This was definitely in Switzerland. The scenery just outside of Zurich is breathtaking. Believe it or not, I have many more of these train photos (it was the most interesting thing to do for 5 hours), but I'm sparing you some of the more blurry, obviously-shot-from-a-high-speed-vehicle shots. On to Salzburg!

The obligatory group shot. The issue with taking these is that now our faces are obscuring the beautiful thing we were trying to photograph ourselves in front of. Oh well, at least we all look good. You can see what was behind us in the shot below.

We declined to go on an official Sound of Music tour because members of our party were either apathetic toward the movie or not wholly convinced they had ever seen it. Instead we just wandered around on our own. We did visit this stop that would have been on the tour though. Apparently the Mirabell Gardens were where Maria and the kids sang "Do Re Mi." Didn't seem familiar to me, but they sure were lovely gardens.

After our jaunt through film history, we arrived at our real destination: Brau Mulln, the largest beer garden in Austria. Astorian readers will note that, other than obviously being larger and having more individual tables, it bares a resemblance to our own Bohemian Beer Hall and Garden. The difference is they only had one kind of beer which they served you out of giant casques. You got a mug and were supposed to rinse it in this well fountain before handing it to the beer guy. 

While at the beer garden, we also feasted. Salzburg had some excellent pretzels. We also got a sausage that oozed with cheese. I'm not sure what it's called because we were operating under the point-at-what-looks-good method or ordering, but it sure was tasty.

A large cathedral in Salzburg (it's actually called the Salzburg Cathedral or, in German, Salzburger Dom). It didn't seem like a proper trip to Europe post unless I had a least one cathedral interior shot.

This fountain is clearly a step up from my fountain of choice in Zurich. 

We took a funicular up to that fortress on the hill. It's called Hohensalzburg Fortress and it is apparently one of the largest medieval castles in Europe.

Naturally, from the fortress there were some excellent views of the city. Instead of showing one of my overdone "views of Salzburg" shots, I chose this one of the countryside because for some reason the tiny houses look fake to me. Is that a camera setting? How can I replicate that? 

The fortress interior. We walked around for a bit. Saw the museum. Some of us got ice cream. Others shot crossbows. It was a lovely day for all. 

You might think this is just a terrible picture of Mozart's birthplace, but I have my reasons. Mostly I just wanted to document the fact that his boyhood home now lies next to an H&M.

That's about it for Salzburg (we were really only there one night). Tomorrow, I will return with photos of the final leg of our trip: Vienna!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

In the land of cheese and chocolate

I'm back from a weeklong trip through Switzerland and Austria and (now that jetlag has mostly subsided) ready to post some photos of my trip. I decided to divide the trip up into three posts (one for each of the cities I visited) so as not to overwhelm with length, number of photos, or sheer awesomeness. The first city I visited and thus this first post (Astorian Dream is nothing if not chronological) will cover Zurich, Switzerland: the city of $16 ice cream sundaes. Zurich is first and foremost a beautiful city: scenically located on a lovely lake and full of cobblestone streets and grand cathedrals. It is a city with a culture as rich as its copious dairy products. It is also an incredibly expensive place. I experienced sticker shock I haven't known since first moving to New York City four years ago and discovering $8 beer night. Needless to say, the group went through quite a number of Swiss Francs. But enough of the lamentable state of my finances, onto the pictures!

For some reason I kept taking pictures of this fountain right by the train station. Probably because it was the first thing I saw when I arrived and I felt the need to start capturing the experience immediately. It's an okay fountain. I saw better later. But since I found about five photographs of it in my pictures, all from different angles, I figure I might as well include it as representative of my time in Zurich.

This photo was taken on a street in the expensive shopping district (as if there is any other kind in Zurich). They did have an H&M though, which was patronized by some in our party as well as, inexplicably, a Claires. I chose this photo for the Swiss patriotism it lends to the post.

This is a view of the Grossmunster across the Limmant River (note: swans). This church, built in the 800s, had the coolest windows made of slices of agate. Alas pictures were not allowed inside, so you will just have to visit Zurich to see how neat they looked. Or google it, I guess.

We climbed the tower of the Grossmunster to get some incredible views of the city. Not too shabby, Zurich.

We walked through the old town of Zurich in search of a Mondrian designed museum. Most of us chose not to actually go inside because we were cheap, but we sent my sister as an emissary and then took naps on the grass in the surrounding park. 

The surrounding park eventually led to Lake Zurich. You can swim in the lake (and we saw many people doing just that), but those of us who had brought bathing suits had left them at the hotel, so we did not partake. We did wade and lounge for a bit though, which is similar but doesn't require as much effort.

Those of us park nappers who did not visit the museum wandered into a nearby free gallery. I wanted to include this picture simply because I like the composition. This is one of the few blog entries that I've actually taken all of the photos for, so there's that.

While not technically in Zurich, I'm not going to make a post for every place we visited, so this gets lumped in as part of the city's surrounding environs. On our second day in town, we took a short train ride out to the Rheinfall, which is the largest waterfall in Europe. Fun fact about the Rheinfall: the falls cannot be climbed by fish, but only by eels. 
I wanted to include a group photo even though this isn't an especially flattering one of me. In addition to the spray from the falls, it was also raining pretty substantially at this point. We were vigilant in our touristing nevertheless.

Although the prices kept us from eating out every meal, we did make what I considered to be an important splurge: a fondue dinner our last night in town.

This was taken on our last night in the city on the walk back to our hotel. However, even if it weren't chronologically one of the last photos I took (well, except for some desperate last minute shots of that one fountain by the train station), I would probably include it last because I think it provides a nice finality to the narrative of the trip (or rather this leg of the trip, which for all intents and purposes of this blog post is the same).

Tune in tomorrow for photos from the next stop on our trip: Salzburg. Plus some surprisingly decent (in my opinion) bonus footage of the train ride there through the Alps. Who says you can't take credible photography through the window of a high moving train? Also, if your interest is piqued and you want to see more photos, let me know, and I'll invite you to visit the web album.