no matter where you go, there you are

Monday, December 20, 2010

but the sun rolling high through the sapphire sky keeps the great and small on the endless round

The inspiration for this first post of course comes courtesy of Molly, my wonderful travel companion and best friend. She sent me an image from a tumblr account earlier today and bang, I had the subject for my first post: sunset on the Grand Canyon.

The two days Molly and I spent at the canyon was the mid-point to our trip and on the evening of our last night there, we somehow motivated our stiff and sore bodies to get in the car (walking the mile or so was out of the question), drive over to one of the lots, walk to the Rim Trail and find a spot overlooking the canyon. Hopefully without many people around. It didn't take too long to find a great overlook; a jut out into the canyon with the nature-made rock-formed seats. There was one other family nearby and the view consisted of the vast canyon and surrounding jut outs. Sunset was still 20 or so minutes away so I pulled out a book I was enraptured in and Molly wandered the area a little.

All of a sudden, as we were sitting there amongst the peaceful serenity of one of the seven natural wonders of the world, came the most amazing thing either of us had ever heard. A young male belting out the opening to "The Circle of Life" from The Lion King out into the canyon. He and his group of friends were over on the neighboring jut, but we could hear his chanting clear as day. It was glorious and hilarious and amazing. The saddest part probably was that within the first "nahhh" I knew he was singing "Circle of Life," and not just yelling into the canyon.

Nothing more came from the group after that intitial singing, and no more was sung past the first few lines, but they became the highlight of the evening. Yes, the sunset was very nice...but I thought the canyon looked much prettier in the midday light rather than the harsh colors of sunset. The sun was also setting on "our" side of the canyon so maybe viewing sunset from the other side of the canyon, or sunrise from ours, would have been nicer. The light cast on where we were sitting was wonderful though; that beautiful orange glow from the setting sun illuminating the beginning of the end.

the green patch in the bottom center is Indian Garden, where we'd hiked to that afternoon

Friday, December 10, 2010

life is a highway...i wanna ride it all night long

So for the retelling of my adventures across the grand ole US of A, I'm going to try a different format from that of Europe. With Europe, I got tired of writing in chronological order and wanted to change how I did things, but my OCD wouldn't let me. It made me way too anxious. So I'm changing it up this time. I'll touch upon everything at some point or another, but there won't be an "order" to it.

From July 27th - August 31st, my best friend, Molly, and I lived in her 2003 Toyota Camry (who we end up calling Betty) as we traversed across the country. We drove about 12,000 miles and did a LOT! As we both don't have "real" jobs, we were able to get the time off and take a loooong vacation. It was terrific! I'm going to put our driving itinerary below so you'll know the general path we took and can always resort back to it since I'll be blogging "out of order." And I provided a visual as well. Hope you enjoy everything this time around!

July 27th: Hingham, MA to Richmond, IN
July 28th: Richmond, IN to St. Louis, MO
July 29th: St. Louis, MO to Omaha, NE
July 30th: Omaha, NE to Badlands National Park
July 31st: Badlands National Park to Black Hills National Forest
August 1st: Black Hills National Forest to Yellowstone National Park
August 2nd-3rd: Yellowstone National Park
August 4th: Yellowstone National Park to Portland, OR
August 5th: Portland, OR to Tillamook, OR
August 6th: Tillamook, OR to Brookings, OR
August 7th: Brookings, OR to Berkeley, CA
August 8th: Berkeley, CA to Yosemite National Park
August 9th: Yosemite National Park to Independence, CA
August 10th: Independence, CA to Las Vegas, NV
August 11th: Las Vegas, NV
August 12th: Las Vegas, NV - Grand Canyon National Park
August 13th-14th: Grand Canyon National Park
August 15th: Grand Canyon National Park - Arches National Park
August 16th: Arches National Park
August 17th: Arches National Park - Amarillo, TX
August 18th: Amarillo, TX - Tunica, MS
August 19th: Memphis, TN
August 20th: Tunica, MS - New Orleans, LA
August 21st: New Orleans, LA
August 22nd: New Orleans, LA - Orlando, FL
August 23rd-24th: Orlando, FL
August 25th: Orlando, FL - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
August 26th-27th: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
August 28th: Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Williamsburg, VA
August 29th: Williamsburg, VA to Arlington, VA
August 30th: Arlington, VA to Philadelphia, PA
August 31st: Philadelphia, PA to Cohasset, MA

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

the time to enjoy a european trip is about three weeks after unpacking - george Ade

Make that 52 weeks. Exactly one year from today I returned to Boston after an exhilarating, eye-opening, fantastic adventure in Europe. I got to visit four countries, twelve cities, an abundance of landmarks, and made my way through the wonders and history that define western/central Europe. I'm pretty sure I covered everything I saw so by reading this blog from the beginning, I hope you get a sense of all that I experienced.

Paris was better than I expected or hoped for. Though on my sister's travel radar for years, Paris never really interested me that much. I don't really know why, and if it hadn't been for the flight availability, I would never have thought about visiting. My eyes were set on Southern France, Prague, Croatia or Greece, all of which I unfortunately couldn't fit in. I certainly don't regret the choice now. Paris had sooooo much to see and so much to choose from. Yes, it was a little on the expensive side, but it offered an abundance of historical museums, churches and landmarks to visit giving me plenty to do in my short time there. Highlights for me were the Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, and Louvre. Yes, cliche and probably typical answers. But there's a reason they're so popular. They're outstanding.

Tours was nice, and I liked being in a smaller city, but if I were to go back, I'd give myself a few days and I'd rent a car. The chateaus are very spread out and each is unique enough that I'd want to see the different designs so I'd need to go at my own pace and not that of a tour. Pompeii was a definite highlight and a must-see if you're in the Rome area. You can definitely make it a half-day trip, but I'd allow myself the entire day to travel from Rome, see and explore the entire place, and return back. Maybe I'd give it two days and spend the 2nd climbing Mt. Vesuvius.

Rome had plenty to do to fill up two days and I think I certainly covered most of it. I didn't feel rushed which was nice but If I had one more day, I would have gone to the Borghese Museum and maybe spent a little more time in the Vatican and St. Peter's as well as giving myself more time to explore Palantine Hill. But other than that I have no regrets about things I wish I'd seen. And even a year later, I still think the Capuchin Monk Crypt was one of the coolest things ever in Rome...and in Europe.

I didn't quite realize until I was there that I'd planned much of my Italian experience in Tuscany, but because I was to rely on trains and public transportation, I purposely chose large cities rather than smaller ones. So Rome, Florence and Venice immediately shot to the top of the list. Siena ended up being a "transition" city, and though the first part of my day there was awful, the view at the top of the Duomo complex more than made up for it. Rolling hills...the wind in my hair...I'm such a cliche. Florence gave me "David" so no matter how shitty the rest could have been (it wasn't, but IF it'd been) "David" more than made up for it. I don't know if I've ever seen a more perfect piece of art. Venice was such a change from Tuscany and it really felt like a completely different culture. While the other cities felt foreign because they had this essence of being "old" and "classic," Venice was it's own little world...a water planet according to Anne and I. And I loved every minute of it. Venice was beautiful, yes...but overall it was just really, really cool.

Munich was a great change of pace from both France and Italy. There was such a different cultural feeling to it that I didn't feel when transitioning from France to Italy. Yes, Italy was different from France, but Munich really gave me this "look you're in a new place" kinda feel. The Bavarian architecture with its onion domes and more streamline designs was quite different from that of Venice, Tuscany or Paris. I don't know the correct terminology for architecture, but visually you could see, and even feel, the difference. My visit to Dachau, though very sad, was a great learning experience. There are many concentration camps open throughout Europe but by finding one in my "path" of travel, I lucked out. I definitely think you should try and visit at least one throughout your lifetime since they are such an iconic piece of history and a great visual as to why an atrocity like the Holocaust should never happen again.

I don't want to assign beauty, as each and every city was gorgeous in its own way, but Innsbruck would take the crown in a fight. The snow-capped mountains surrounding this small, Alpine city makes for a picture perfect vacation spot. Not to mention the kindness of the Hotel Weiss Kruez's staff. Everything about my single day there was perfect. If the weather had been worse, my opinion would probably be different, but the sun was out and shining gloriously!

Salzburg...oh Salzburg. You had the crappy weather, yet you still got me to fall in love. What a classic, endearing place. It's with me every day, and not just cause my panoramic poster hangs above my closet so I get to look at it all the time. I got to live out a childhood dream of living The Sound of  Music and every time I watch it now, I think of being there and that excitement I felt. Salzburg is somewhere I would return to in a heartbeat. The lakes region and the surrounding mountains would be a terrific place to spend a week exploring.

Finally, there was Vienna. A gorgeous city that doesn't need much more discussion from me. Overall, I really, really loved my adventure in Europe. I'm the kind of person that wants to see and do everything, all dependent on cost of course, so it was ridiculously hard trying to figure out my itinerary because I wanted to go everywhere in Europe. I barely scratched the surface of my "to do" list. I think I need at least a year and a completely disposable income next time. But with what I did see and experience, I would never give that up. I saw history and iconic landmarks...places where I could have easily spent the entire day staring at their amazingness. There's not much more I can think of to say, but I will leave you with the quote below. My blogging isn't over, but my European recollections have come to an end.

the rewards of the journey far outweigh 
the risk of leaving the harbor - unknown

Sunday, December 5, 2010

people travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home – dagobert d. runes

Towards the end of my trip last year, I wrote out a long list of topics that I wanted to "blog" about, yet a year later the more eloquent thoughts about such topics have dissipated from my mind. And looking at my notes, some things I wrote make no sense at all. Yet,  I do want to comment on some of them so this is going to be a multi-topic post.

Women in Art
Although I only really went to two large art museums, each church or iconic landmark contained numerous paintings so I saw quite a bit of artwork and there was one thing that really stood out to me. I've never studied art and really know nothing about it as a critic, but I can tell you I really liked how accurate the depiction of women was. In a society obsessed with dieting, beauty and airbrushing/photoshop, it was so nice to see women with curves and that little pudge of stomach I know I have around the belly button. It was so shocking to see every single bare skin painting have this aspect of a woman's body. Even the Egyptian statue made of stone had the belly pudge. I know that being skinny was bad back then cause it meant you were poor, but I still wish girls were raised with these images instead of all size 0 models and celebrities. Its funny how the image of "ideal" has been completely inverted.

Cece's Advice #6 - Don't feel guilty about not doing everything you want, or feel you should.
I already wrote out my apology for not enjoying Vienna that much, but I want to give a little advice for those out there like me with obsessions about utilizing and not wasting time/money. With everything I did I thought about whether each activity was worth the admission cost or the time and effort; or whether I was utilizing my time during the day well enough. So in Vienna, when I did a day and a half of activities in three, I just kept having to remind myself "it's okay not to do everything...I'm tired...I'm on a budget..." This way, the guilt was suppressed. I occasionally had to tell myself that same thing in Paris or Rome because there was just so much to do, but there's only so many hours in a day that places are open, and I just had to accept that its alright that some things were missed. Its like picking and choosing your battles. And I only ever had two days to do "everything." 

He who would travel happily must travel light - Antoine de St. Exupery 
While I already said my spiel about the suitcase vs. backpack debate, and what is the best way to hold all your belongings on a trip, I didn't talk about what goes inside. If I recall correctly, this was the contents of my suitcase: 7 long-sleeve shirts, 3 jeans, 7 pairs of underwear, 3 bras, 7 or so pairs of socks, 1 pair of sweatpants for sleeping, 1 or 2 t-shirts for sleeping, 1 sweatshirt, 2 fleece zip-up jackets, 1 windbreaker, 1 hat, 1 scarf, 3 pairs of gloves, 1 pair of hiking boots, 1 pair of sneakers, 1 belt. Sounds like a lot when all listed out, but for 21 days, it's actually not that much. Especially since I didn't do laundry at all (I understand if you think I'm completely disgusting right now). My clothing decision was probably the most "down and dirty" one I made, but it saved me a lot of money and time/effort in not having to find a laundromat. In the end, it was a good decision and I had thick enough skin for the worst of the dirty laundry. But...had I not had a shower available at least once a day, my feelings may have been different.


When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money.  Then take half the clothes and twice the money - Susan Heller
I've touched upon keeping a tight budget in many posts and how I'm really cheap, therefore decided not to visit certain museums or eat because of that. But I thought I'd mention it one more time because it's important. And I really liked the quote. It kind of goes along with the packing/laundry piece above. Besides my plane ticket, which was purchased with frequent flyer miles, I spent about $2000...that's less than $100/day. Before I even left, $500 was spent on my EuroRail pass which was my main source of transportation and all my lodging was $300. That's almost half of my total expenses. Add in the $400 I planned to spend based on my research about city passes and tourist cards plus the $150 I budgeted in advance for the "big events" like the bike tour, chateau tour and "Sound of Music" Tour and you've got a grand total of $1350. Which means I spent $650 on food, souvenirs, gifts, train reservations, other transportation and anything else I needed. That's only $30/day, which I think is pretty good for a vacation like that especially when I think about all I did and accomplished. Although I budgeted for a total less than $2000, I can tell you that I wasn't way over and easily could have spent more if I wasn't so cheap.

Airplane Behavior
This one is not related to Europe specifically, but travel in general. I think people's behavior in airports and airplanes is fascinating. You go to the airport and sit at the gate, and the second they warn you boarding will start in 5-10 minutes, people are already standing and getting in line. Even if they're in the last boarding group. It's really funny. They're trying to be the first on in order just to sit some more. And unless you're flying Southwest, its all assigned seating so it's not like being early is going to get you a better seat. Best choice in overhead baggage storage, but that's about it. I do think part of it comes from nerves and anxiety around flying, but sitting in the Vienna airports, I was just really astounded and absorbed in all the "craziness" I was witnessing.

Pros/Cons of Traveling in Low Tourist Season
I traveled from November 18th - December 8th, certainly not prime tourist season (though by the time I hit Vienna, it was much busier due to the Christmas season). And as such, there were definite pros and cons I discovered to traveling at that time of year. The biggest pro of all was fewer people, fewer people, fewer people. If you got the hint earlier, I'm not a huge fan of crowds. I love cities, but being pushed and shoved and surrounded by people in small spaces stresses me out. And less people also means more availability with lodging therefore more choices, shorter lines...all great things. Hotel/hostel rates were another pro. I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure the rates I got at my hostels were less than during prime tourist season. Especially in Venice, when our hotel in Lido cost almost nothing for 3 people. It's an island, so like Nantucket, is dead in the way to great lodging rates. The cons were few and far between, but the one that kept popping up for me was limited hours of operation, and in some cases complete unavailability for some attractions. Many places didn't open until 9 or 10am, and then they also closed at 4pm rather than 5 or 6. Another battle I had to overcome in terms of scheduling.

Money belts/Saftey
Before I left for Europe, a lot of what I heard from people were bad things about items getting stolen, and warnings to be careful. I should bring a mace, or a weapon or something. I listened, sure, and did my research about safety; but in the end all I brought for security was a money belt, my laptop security cord and a small TSA approved lock for my suitcase. The money belt was a great thing to have because I was never paranoid about my wallet, passport or any other important document being stolen or falling out of my bag. It was always on me no matter where I went. Sure the money got a little sweaty and my passport a little warped and I looked like an idiot when paying for stuff, but it took so much nervous anxiety away and allowed me to enjoy myself much more. I wasn't paranoid or scared about anything else except losing my money, or passport, or driver's license, so quelling these fears by wearing the belt was an excellent decision. I had one fright on the Paris-Milan night train that I'd lost my license, and had accepted it was officially lost when I departed, until I pulled it from the pages of my passport.

The laptop security cord was from college and is used to lock laptops to desks to prevent stealing. I used it to lock my suitcase to my hostel beds. Each night I would organize everything and pack it all up tight, loop the cord through the handle of the suitcase, around my bed post and then lock it, along with the zipper of the bag, with the TSA lock. It may have looked crazy and paranoid but it helped me sleep at night. When I was 13, I was a victim of attempted pick-pocketry in Bolivia so robbery scares me more than anything else. A friend's mother thinks I'm an absolute nutjob that I shared co-ed hostel rooms, and in Munich's case my roommates were all male, but that didn't phase me at all. It was whether or not my belongings would be there the next morning that freaked me out.

Walking everywhere
Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time - Stephen Wright 
So true, Stephen Wright, so true. With each city I came upon, I was one with the streets. In Paris and Rome I would take a train to a "starting" point for the day, but each city was easy to navigate and I could find an efficient walking route that hit all the landmarks and led me back around to the hostel by the end of the day. All that walking, combined with all the tower climbing, gave me thighs of steel by the end.

Monday, November 29, 2010

throw off the bowlines. sail away from the safe harbor. catch the trade winds in your sails. explore. dream. discover. - mark twain

I'm going to write a more detailed "reflections" kind of post, but before doing so, I thought it would be good to write down my "conclusion" entry from my travel notebook. Word for word, these were my thoughts as I was sitting in the airport waiting to board my plane back to Boston. Some of it might make no sense because I was just writing my stream of consciousness, but it gives a good picture of all that happened in my three weeks abroad.

  • great city for history, architecture, art
  • not wild about prices for things and people on street trying to talk to you
  • Notre Dame was my fave 
  • hostel okay; staff wasn't the friendliest; bad breakfast
  • Metro was good; got me places 
  • Chateaus - gorgeous
  • Tours' cathedral - cold, but really neat
  • tour made me sleepy but I don't think I missed much of the English narration
  • hotel - good; wish there'd been breakfast; far walk; shower took awhile to heat; best towel ever!
  • really interesting place
  • wish I knew booklet had descriptions of each place
  • huge, but I saw most of it
  • more detailed art/decor stuff made it fantastic rather than the architecture
  • crazy city drivers
  • very interesting things; both Ancient and Catholic
  • Renaissance Art - fantastic
  • sculptures throughout city - cool
  • each church pretty distinctive
  • monk bones!
  • Duomo etc. actually very nice and interesting; Tuscan overlook one of my fave places
  • Piazza del Campo - very nice
  • gelato!
  • everything had an admission fee that wasn't cheap
  • black and white marble design of Tuscan churches
  • all had fancy facades but plain sides
  • illegal bag selling
  • it's own planet and culture
  • lots of churches
  • getting lost is easy
  • boat pass - wonderful
  • flooding! so neat!
  • overall - underwhelming compared to previous cities
  • Olympic Tower - overpriced
  • Marienplatz - neat/awesome
  • Dachau - depressing
  • had lots of little things with nothing overwhelmingly awesome
  • Nymphenburg - HUGE
  • My FAVORITE place!
  • gorgeous weather, gorgeous mountains
  • cheap, cutest, central hotel. LOVED
  • crystals were trippy/weird
  • Nordpark my fave; trampling around 2 ft. of snow on the Alps with parachuters and rock cliffs
  • such an awesome, old, old, city
  • SoM!! - all the filming places
  • wish mountain wasn't closed
  • saw the Untersberg! Gorgeous! Alps diff!
  • panorama painting and my poster
  • a lot like Munich
  • not a lot to do for 3 days without spending a lot of money
  • everything had admission
  • enjoyed art museum a lot - wish I could have seen all, but I saw all paintings
  • Karlskirche - best church
  • a lot hindered by crowds and Vienna's lack of herding abilities and awful space layout
  • royalty history- very interesting
And though this has nothing to do with my thoughts on my trip, I have to add the last comment I made in the journal, from the airplane, because I don't remember it at all and I find it hilarious. It's also a great conclusion as its not a conclusion at all..."someone keeps farting; it smells."

Friday, November 26, 2010

stop worrying about the potholes in the road and enjoy the journey - babs hoffman

a letter of apology to Vienna

Dear Vienna, 

I want to apologize for not enjoying my time within your city walls as much as I wanted to. I feel quite sorry for being angry and frustrated instead of happy and excited, and I wanted to let you know that it wasn't entirely your fault and I don't blame you in any way. Compared to my other travels and daily routines, it looked like I neglected you a lot. I spent a lot of time in Anne's dorm and in the 3 days I was with you, I saw less than I did in the 2 days I spent in Rome. But there were quite a few things that factored into that "neglect" and my enjoyment. I think I've narrowed it down to these:
  • fatigue
  • not researching; visiting with a "resident" 
  • bad, sad weather
  • horrible crowds and terrible crowd control
  • high admission prices
  • Anne's dorm had internet and was more homely than a hostel
By the time I got to you, it had been almost 3 weeks since I departed Boston. And that was right after I'd just completed stage managing a show and working as a PA on two back-to-back feature films over the previous 8 weeks. In short, I was tired. Really, really tired. And I know that's not a good excuse because I was also tired in every other city, but mixing fatigue with the other negative factors, and it's just a bad combo.

With every other place I visited, I meticulously researched for hours the best sights, museums and landmarks. I had each day planned to the hour including contingency plans regarding what to cut if one thing took more time than others. I was prepared. However, dear Vienna, for you I was not. I left it all in the capable hands of my sister. And it wasn't that she did a poor job of showing me the city. She chose great places and I really did like some aspects of them all, but because I hadn't researched them, there was no anticipation on my end because I was completely clueless as to where we were going each day. Seeing a city with a "resident" is quite a different experience than going about it alone. I wouldn't call it a phenomenon, but in my opinion, the differences in experience are certainly noteworthy.

Finally, the bad weather made me sad. The terrible crowds and lack of crowd control made me mad. And the cost of admission to many landmarks was unattractive. Though I would of loved to see more museums and other sights, I did had a budget to stick to. All these things, plus Anne having heat and unlimited internet in her dorm, made me want to stay inside.

So in conclusion, Vienna...there were a number of factors that contributed to my disappointment with you, and my lack of desire to explore your streets. But most of them weren't your fault and I certainly don't blame you. But I'm still sorry.


PS Your Christmas Markets were amazing :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

one’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things - henry miller

December 8th, the last full day of my trip, was finally here. The next morning I would be leaving early for the airport. Anne and I began the day late, taking the time to sleep in and hang out in her warm dorm room. The layers I'd brought with me were coming in handy as the temperatures were staying low, but I think that's normal for early December. We only had a couple of stops, Votivkirche, Karlskirche and the Aida Cafe for sacher-torte, a delicacy of a dessert in Vienna.

Votivkirche was right near the Rathausplatz and it was a great little gothic church. A little like St. Stephen's in appearance, Votivkirche has two towers, both very narrow and symmetrical. But overall its  much, much smaller.
christmas trees for sale
Inside, there were tons of wall frescoes at both the back and side chapels. The stained glass was quite different than the multitude of others I'd gotten to see in the last few weeks. It was made up of larger pieces and very bold colors. Most of the church was lit by natural sunlight and since there wasn't much of that it was quite dark inside. Not to mention all the dark stone used in its design so the walls just absorb any light shining in.

We then wandered through the Rathaus Market once again...the fourth time, I think...bought some gifts and then hopped on the U-Bahn towards Karlsplatz and Karlskirche. This was one of the churches that Anne talked about when we were in Florence together, but to be honest I didn't retain much of the infomation. There were lots of churches in Vienna to keep track of. So I didn't remember what about Karlskirche she liked but did know she kept talking about going up scaffolding. There was a fee to go in Karlskirche so Anne opted for waiting outside while I went inside to explore.

The scaffolding Anne kept referring to was in the center of the room, set up to restore the massive ceiling frescoe. There was an elevator all visitors were able to go up and then a series of stairs that brought you to the very top of the dome where you could look out the teeny windows up there. Before going up, I strolled around the rest of the round church which wasn't that large. It was tall and the marble columns supporting it all were really cool. Lots of pink and browns. The organ was also very pretty.
you can kinda see the tippy top

Up in the scaffolding I thought it was really cool how close you got to be to the paintings and looking at all the detail in them. And I was only on the elevator level. Once I started the ascension of the stairs to the top, where only a few people max were recommended to be on, it got even better. The frescoes became life-like and there were so many elements to look at. Women, men, Jesus, babies, clouds...all were soaring around me. I took a ton of pictures, but here are just a sample of the ceiling.
The only part I didn't like was as you neared the top the stairs started to shake just a lil...not fun when you can look down and see how high up you are. The view from the dome was very nice but the lousy weather outside got in the way of it being better. Oh well, it wasn't going to get sunny anytime soon.

The last task of the day was to meet up with Lauren and get sacher-torte. Both Anne and Lauren had delayed this experience because they knew if they had it early in the semester they'd want it too much later on and that would be bad. It wasn't an overpriced dessert but I can say it wouldn't have been the healthiest of eating choices. But the semester for them was almost over and so sacher-torte it was. The cafe was busy and crowded and disgusting only because were were surrounded by smokers. Blech. The sacher-torte was quite good, its chocolate shell being very dark and rich, but the truffel-torte we also got was much more my style. It was much lighter and tasted like a decidant chocolate mousse. MMMMM. After fillimg up on dessert, Anne and Lauren had class to attend so I went back to the dorm to warm up and dry off. The rain had picked up again by that point so a nice relaxing afternoon and evening was exactly what I needed. I was exhausted.

For dinner we made chicken noodle soup in the dorm kitchen and I chopped the onions, carrots and chicken getting no criticism from Anne!! A great finish to a terrific trip. My trip to the airport the next morning was mostly smooth. The traim from the dorm to the train station wasn't handicapped so I had to lift my small suitcase and Anne's large one I was bringing home onto a crowded tram. I had a lot of trouble and NO ONE helped me out. They just stared. Finally, I guess I was taking too long or looked like I was in over my head because someone finally lent a hand. And when I got off, they all just rushed around me...tram people early in the morning aren't very nice.

me and my bags
Check-in was a short walk from the train departure, but I found my terminal and airline counter pretty easily. They didn't even weigh Anne's bag which was a good thing cause we had no idea how much it was going to weigh. The lady who was tagging carry-on luggage confused the s*it out of me though. I don't think she understood that I didn't speak French or German. When I went through the main terminal entrance I flashed my boarding pass to the guard and that was it, no security. Or so I thought. In the Viennese airport the security scanners are at each individual gate so that was new. And so was getting my first pat-down. Which I can say took great restraint in not squirming because it was such a tickle-inducing experience. I will now try and avoid those as best I can from now on. More so than before.
three weeks later

Boarding was an hour before departure, not 30 minutes, and I got a great window seat. The flight to Paris was short, and delayed, so when I got to Paris I prayed my next flight was in the same terminal. it wasn't and not only was it in a different terminal, but I had to take a bus all the way around the airport, go through security again and then run to my gate. I felt like I was the family in Home Alone when they're running to catch their flight. There was no one at the gate when I got there so I thought I was really late, and to top it off they gate people wanted to search my bag. Gah...not good for an anxious person. Turns out the flight wasn't that full hence all the people being on board already. And I ended up sitting for almost a half hour before we even departed the gate. At least I made it.

Six or so hours later I landed safely in Boston. And an hour or so after that I was finally home.

no one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow - Lin Yutang

Sunday, November 21, 2010

the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes – marcel proust

Day 2 in Vienna was all about the palaces and the royalty of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Anne and I began the morning at Hofburg, the winter palace of the kings and queens of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which ruled most of central Europe for hundreds of years until the dynasty's fall. The assasination of Franz Ferndidnand, which kick-started World War I, really did the Hapsburg family in. Anne, by living here in Vienna, knew all about the family and kept talking about them as if I knew exactly who Maria Theresa and Sisi were. Yeah, no idea. They're not in our history books.

Part of the admission price of Hofburg is the inclusion of the audio guide which would have been great had it not been abnormally crowded. The palace had run out of guides so we got pamphlets with all the same information in the guide instead. Though a good substitution, it really didn't work out well. Yes, in the beginning it was nice reading about all the artifacts they had to look at from the really cool porcelain collection, silverware, gold tables, chalices, etc...but the layout of the museum was so narrow, complicated and CROWDED that my attempt to follow along failed miserably. Anne had already been to Hofburg before so she didn't really care about the informational part. I did however, and since I don't like disorganization or crowds my patience started to thin. There was a lot to see and learn but it was just so hard.

The second section of the palace to see is the "Sissy" museum. From what I learned by asking Anne "who the hell was Sisi?" she is the Princess Diana of Austria. So famous, but never entirely the ruler in charge. And she was murdered so with life cut short, she's now immortalized in the Austrian culture. The Sisi Museum, to be truly honest, was a creepy and trippy. A dress she wore to a funeral was one of the highlights, glowing eerily in the dark. Narrow passageways, really low light, black walls and all of her posessions encased for eternal protection. Oh yeah, and people. Lots of people. All attempting to be herded through, but stuck in the worst traffic jam possible. Some people were listening to their audio guides, blocking the comb they were looking at from being seen by anyone else. Now the patience snapped. Anne really didn't like me complaining, but it was all I could do to not punch someone.

The apartments of Hofburg were much better than the earlier sections. Though still being herded through the room, the walkways were wider and at least there was light and space around me. Breathing came easier. Anne then needed to go to class so she told me how to get to Schonbrunn, the summer palace and agreed to meet there in a couple of hours with Lauren so we could do more Christmas Market shopping. There was one right there at Schonbrunn to explore.

Schonbrunn was similar to Hofburg, but gave a much better history of the family and who lived where and when, and it was mainly apartments and rooms within the palace instead of artifacts or creepy dedication special areas. There was a thing called the Sisi Pass though where you could see more of the palace than the basic pass. It may have been worth it, but I soaked in enough in what I did see. I got a real audio guide this time and it just helped so much better. It was a little less crowded and the crowd control was better so overall, I enjoyed this palace so much more. Hofburg was just like a bad nightmare, though it's probably wonderful in other circumstances.

Schonbrunn also has extensive grounds to explore. I only walked through the center part right behind the palace, all the way up the hill to the Gloriette. It was closed so we couldn't go in it or on top, but it was still great to see. The large fountain at the base of the hill was also pretty neat.

view from back of palace of gardens
back of palace
Gloriette up on the hill

I met Anne and Lauren after I finished my tour and we spent time in the Christmas Market. I had a delicious Baked Potato with a garlic sauce for dinner and then Anne and I split a chocolate waffle and caramel crepe for dessert. Great decision making on our part. We then returned to the Rathaus Market since it was so big a second time around was definitely needed. Here, I thoroughly embarassed myself in front of 2 Viennans by exclaiming to them by accident how cute one of the reindeer I was obsessed with was. I thought Anne was standing right next to me but she was on the other side of the booth. Woops. They probably just thought "crazy tourist..." But I got all my reindeer that night so it more than made up for it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

the beginning of the end

Anne and I get to Vienna late and we travel to her dorm via a series of subway and tram cars. The best part of the trek was a kebab place called "Sultan Imbiss" and their logo is the Sultan from Aladdin. Amazing.

At the dorm we settle in, I get to catch up on lack of internet capabilities and to bed we finally go. We decide Anne and I will share her twin bed because the floor is tile and I'd rather not sleep on it. In the morning, Anne puts her foot down and says she had a bad night sleeping and I will have to endure the floor for the next couple of nights. I slept fine in the bed, well as fine as it ever is with 2 people in a twin, but whatever...

Since Vienna is where Anne had been living the last few months, I didn't spend any time beforehand looking at things to do. I glanced at it, didn't like the high admission charges on everything, and decided Anne will tell me what is good and worthy to see. I also didn't want to plan too much cuz my sightseeing was dependent on Anne's schedule since we were going to go places together. We departed the train at Stephensplatz, the downtown of Vienna. Strolling through this popular, ritzy shopping district what hit me immediately was all the architecture and high-end designs on statues and around buildings. It's all very consistent and beautiful. The detail in the carvings, the gold highlights; it's magnificent.

We first went to the Kindermuseum (Art Museum). Except for the museums in Paris where my pass was accepted, I'd avoided art museums for the most part because they had the pricier admission fees and if I didn't know of anything inside, I didn't want to spend the money. I may have missed out some, but I was on budget. This one was really neat and quite large. In the Lourve I'd spent most of my time in the non-painting galleries so for the Kindermuseum I was going to start with the paintings. Anne wanted to see the sculptures so we split up and designated a rendevous time and location.

I don't remember any specific names of paintings but I was definitely impressed with all of them. There seemed to be a great mix of styles too; the Baroque and Venetian stood out in particular. There was a couple I really liked especially for the level of detail. The tiniest strokes had to have been used; the paintings looked like photographs they were so accurate.

one of my faves, but i can't remember the name
One in particular was a still life of flowers and the petals had teeny tiny water droplets.
if you zoom you can see the water droplets
After the museum we met up with Lauren and wandered through the Christmas Market between the art museum, and its twin, the history museum, across the way. Now that it was early December, the Christmas Markets were just everywhere, especially here in Vienna. It seemed like any place with people was bound to have a market. On the way back to Stephensplatz we passed the library whose archtecture design really impressed me. All the buildings did. If they weren't all built at the same time then they were just really good about making all the buildings similar and matching.

St. Michael's church was on the way, and one of Anne's recommedations, so we stopped inside. Anne told me this was one of her favorite organs she'd seen, and it was pretty cool.

Next was St. Peter's, a church one of my best friends had been to before and decided it was where she wanted to get married. I liked it, but it wasn't jaw-droppingly awesome for me. The pews and pulpit were of note and the dove in the dome was really interesting too. Moreso when I saw it in the dome of Karlskirche later on in my visit.

Aman Hof was another church we wandered into. It had a very simple exterior, blending in with the surrounding buildings. The interior was plain but the pulpit impressed me.

Last but not least was St. Stephen's in the heart of Stephensplatz. The Notre Dame of Vienna, this gorgoeus cathedral, though partially under scaffolding, held so much potential for my enjoyment. The church has 2 unsymmetrical towers which I hadn't seen before and it had a very gothic exterior. I don't know about inside since I didn't see much of it.

I guess I'm partially to blame for being so cheap and not wanting to pay for the audio guide, but it's kind of dumb for the biggest church in Vienna to require an audio guide to visit and explore 75% of the place. The rest of the public area was limited and you couldn't see much of anything. Not to mention the masses of people and the lack of crowd control. If you know me, I don't like disorganization and I don't like crowds of people so I hated this.

vienna staatsoper
We left quickly and walked through all the shopping, and all the intense decorations, to a very famous Wienerschnitzel restaurant. The wienerschnitzel was really good and putting lemon juice on it was even better. The best part was the magical potato salad served with it. Definitely a meal worth the price.
its like Target took over
The rest of the evening was devoted to Christmas Markets. I think these markets must have originated in Vienna; or maybe because Vienna seemed to be a more classy, ritzy city they have more money to put into the markets, but each market seemed to get beter. The selection was better with a lot more variety than others. And its where I found my moose/reindeer. Between the ornaments or just decorative pieces for your Christmas filled household, each reindeer I found got cuter and cuter. They were irresistible; and it took 2 more days of reasoning and decision making to decide I wanted to buy them all. They now sit on my desk looking cute as ever.

The second of the markets we went to my first night there was the Rathaus Christmas Market in front of City Hall. Lit up and decorated to the hilt, City Hall was gorgeous and the Christmas atmosphere was wonderful. The windows of the hall were converted to an advent calendar so some days had revealed messages and others were still covered. Though it was getting cold it was a great night overall and even knowing that I had to sleep on the floor with a fake pillow that night didn't smother the mood.