Friday, January 13, 2012

A Wiener Christmas

We left Prague on Christmas Eve morning, and took a train to Vienna.  It was a bit of a rough day for me, with not getting to see my family, and having a vicious cold (train ride + bad cold = not the most fun you can have).  But, we were in a beautiful place, and I was with Ken.  So, in retrospect, maybe I should've been a little less pissy than I was that day...sorry Ken!

We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Vienna, walking around, taking pics, and dining at any place that was: a. open, and b. non-smoking.  Not an easy feat during the holidays in this city!

Side note:  One thing I find strange about the English language is that, somewhere along the way, someone decided they couldn't pronounce the names of various European cities and countries, and decided to change perfectly easy-to-pronounce names to something else.  Such is the case with Wien/Vienna.  In doing this, they missed out on the glorious fun that can be had when the word Wiener is written on various signs in a city.  And when you're taking the Wiener Linien (subway) all weekend.  (FYI: Wiener = Viennese in English.)

Now for some Wiener photos...

Rathaus (City Hall)

Schönbrunn Palace (open on Christmas, and with a Christmas market!).

Amazing apple donuts at the Christmas market.

The Gloriette in the gardens at Schönbrunn Palace (which are probably really beautiful when there are leaves on the trees, and flowers - still nice, regardless).  

Close-up of the Gloriette.

We also attended an orchestra/ballet/opera performance at the Orangerie here on Christmas night, and had a delicious dinner at an Indian restaurant called Nam Nam on our way to the show.  So, it was a little different than our usual Christmas celebrations, but a good one.  We also found an English-speaking church on Christmas morning, and it was cool to see the diverse group of people in one place due to a common language.

And a little more of the Wiener experience (no, it doesn't get old)...

Ken's new friend.

Can't remember the specific building here...

Athena and the Parliament building.

On Christmas Eve, we walked the streets of Vienna for quite awhile before finding an open restaurant that either wasn't ridiculous expensive, or full of people puffing away on their cigs.  We finally landed at a random ice cream shop/cafe, and they had a menu featuring tons of way-too-huge-for-two-people ice cream creations.  Being Christmas Eve, we decided to go big with the most ridiculous of the creations, named the Kaiser Franz.  The menu presented the option to add some Mozart Symphony liqueur to the top, which we tried to order, but they were out of the liqueur.  I'd say we still did alright without it.

The day after Christmas, we headed to a town called Steyr to visit a friend we met in Oslo.  I met Katrin in Norwegian class just a few weeks after moving to Oslo.  Our class was awesome, and everyone wanted to hang out, since we were all new in town.  Katrin recently moved back to her home in Austria to attend nursing school, so I definitely wanted to see her while we were nearby.  She picked us up at the train station and spent the day showing us around her lovely hometown.  It was lovely, and so great to see her.  And her uncle filled Ken up with Austrian beer, to Ken's delight.  Thanks for a fun day, Katrin!

Visiting the Christkindl church in Steyr.  The Christkindl is the Christmas gift-bringer to children in Austria.  There's a post office here where children all over Austria send letters during Christmas.


The palace in Steyr.

We were very excited to see this awesome Alpine ibex (steinbock) roaming the walls of the palace garden.  He made quite the impressive leap onto this wall like it was nothing. 

Posing for the camera.

Katrin and I with pretty Steyr in the background.

The cleanest river I've ever seen running through a city.

Cool buildings.

Apparently, the river floods the town every so often.  This chart tracks the water levels of the floods.

More cool buildings.

Love this one.

And the last one before it got too dark.

We had a nice Austrian dinner and hopped on the train to Salzburg at the end of the evening.  Thanks again for showing us around, Katrin! 

We may be nerds, but I'd say finding our new ibex friend was probably the Moment of Zen for both of us.  He was adorable.  Also, seeing Katrin was lovely!  And the Wiener apple donuts were pretty fantastic.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Czech It Out

The first stop of our holiday trip was Prague, a city we'd heard was beautiful from many people.  And they weren't lying.  It was very pretty.

But first, I will begin with a story.  A story about the title of this blog post, for which I cannot take credit.  

You see, I grew up in Oklahoma, where there's also a town called Prague, which was originally settled by Czech immigrants (if you don't believe me, here's some reading for you).  I'm not sure how I remember this, but when I was a child, my uncle used to wear a t-shirt that said "Prague, Oklahoma: Czech It Out".  

I remember being mystified by this t-shirt, and by this other Prague in a faraway land.  

Now that I'm typing this, I can't believe I forgot to look for a "Czech It Out" t-shirt in the original Prague.  I also feel the need to visit Prague, Oklahoma when I get back to the U.S. to make a comparison, as I've never been to the Okie version.

Anyhow, on with the trip.

We arrived on December 22nd, and had a couple of days to explore.  There were beautiful buildings.  There were Christmas markets.  There was glühwein (mulled wine they sell at Christmas markets).  There were (semi-scary) sausages.  And there were people smoking in the "non-smoking" sections of the restaurants.  

Oh, and this is very important!  I have to give a shout-out to the friendly people of Prague.  

When we arrived in the city, I had to lug a heavy suitcase up the stairs in the train station a couple of times.  And as soon as the person walking behind me saw I was struggling with the suitcase, they kindly grabbed the end of the suitcase and help me up the stairs with it!  

Without saying a word, they just helped.  This hasn't happened anywhere else I've ever been.  When I felt the burden of the suitcase lifted the first time, I looked back and saw a smiling person holding the other end.  I heaped words of gratitude on them, that's for sure!  A little while later, it happened again.  It was such a thoughtful, nice gesture, and I assume it happens all the time there if it happened to me twice in one short journey?  I hope so.    

All in all, Prague was an interesting place.

Walking along the Vltava river.

Church of Our Lady Before Týn.

Same church, from the Christmas market in Old Town Square.

Old doors are some of my favorite sights in Europe.

Pretty buildings.


And more.

Václav Havel, the first President of the Czech Republic, passed away on December 18th.  This sign says "Thank you, Václav."  (At least that's what I got from Google translate.)

His memorial service was held at St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle while we were in Prague.  We went up to the castle when the service was over, and watched a long procession of cars carrying dignitaries away from the castle.

A tribute outside of the memorial service.  

The Charles Bridge, connecting Prague Castle to Old Town.

Statue on the Charles Bridge.

View from the bridge.  We walked across the bridge approx ten times in two days.

Kafka statue.  I read The Metamorphosis in college, and thought it was pretty odd.  This statue seemed equally strange, and fitting.

And the Moment of Zen belongs to Ken this trip:

Very cheap, very good Czech beer by the half liter.