We have been back in Alberta for a week now, the jet lag has faded and I have had time to look over our pictures and think about the trip. So some final reflections on the places we visited….

Berlin is full of history – with such significant 20th century events – and museums abound, telling those stories and those of more distant history, as well as featuring an abundance of art treasures. It is a gritty city; outside the tourist centre, graffiti covers almost any reachable surface and in the early morning, you encounter litter of bottles and fast food wrappers. But it gives the impression of a livable city – unpretentious and vibrant, full of new construction as the former East Berlin still grows, 24 years after the fall of the wall. Also, the local people were so helpful – offering assistance when we hadn’t even asked!

Having visited Berlin, would I return? It’s not on the top of the list, but given the opportunity, I wouldn’t pass it by. I would like to delve a bit more into the history, by taking a walking tour and spending more time on Museum Island. I would also like to visit Potsdam and take a boat ride on the Spree.
We arrived in Dresden in the early afternoon and departed the next morning, so my impressions are fleeting. The central core we visited was an interesting mix of the old and new – or perhaps the new and the new made to look old, as 75% of the Old Town was destroyed by WWII bombing and many of the historical sights have been reconstructed. We were in Dresden on the Day of German Unity, a national holiday commemorating the reunification in 1990, so my impression is of a busy, fun area, full of local German families enjoying their day. Probably not the scene every day, but it made for a fun day for us as we mingled with the locals, enjoying wurst and Gluwein (hot mulled wine).

On another visit to Dresden (again, not topping the list, but worth consideration if in the area) , I would take the time to actually know what I was looking at, rather than just admiring the fine Baroque architecture. I would like to visit the interior of the Frauenkirche – this church from 1743 was completely destroyed by bombing, but was painstakingly rebuilt with international donations and reopened recently. Unfortunately, due to the holiday, the line-up was prohibitive when we were there. Other sights to include on a possible future visit are the Historic Green Vault, which houses a glittering Baroque treasury, and Volkswagon’s Transparent Factory where the Phaeton is produced.
Ah, Prague – what a beautiful city! I would describe ‘Praha’ as charming, historic and so unique. The architecture is amazing – the city of spires and an eclectic mix of architecture, ranging from Gothic and Renaissance to Baroque and Art Nouveau. All of the people we encountered were so friendly and made us feel welcome in their city. The opportunities for entertainment are many and varied – street performers, classical concerts, black light theatre…… And the food – we ate in small, local restaurants that rival some of the best I have encountered anywhere.

I would love to return to Prague – to wander the streets, to try more small restaurants and to further explore the sights – more time in the Castle and Jewish Quarters, a concert at the Opera House and a paddle boat on the river.
20131029-162451.jpgCesky Krumlov
Cesky Krumlov is a well-preserved fairy tale town. The narrow streets are fun to stroll through and the castle gardens are beautiful. The small town is probably crazy during the height of tourist season, but on an October afternoon and evening, it was delightful.

If passing by Krumlov in the future, I would probably stop in for a night at the wonderful Penzion Delanta and enjoy the ambiance of the town again.
Vienna is an elegant, opulent city, with wide boulevards, beautiful architecture, grand classical music and shopping for the rich and famous. But away from the central area, it is home to small excellent restaurants and coffee shops, concerts in historic venues and everyday people enjoying their lives.

I can’t quite put my finger on why, but Vienna captivated my interest and I would love to return. I would visit the Opera House, attend another concert and a church service in one of the beautiful churches, watch the Lipizaner Stallions practice or perform and spend an evening at a wine tavern. I would love to take a day cruise through the Danube Valley or return to visit the Christmas market in December!
20131029-163430.jpg Salzburg
The hills really are alive in Austria. Travelling through the countryside, especially with the fall foliage, was awe-inspiring – similar, and yet very different, from travelling through the wonder of our Rocky Mountains.

Salzburg shows a different side of Austria from Vienna. It has a well preserved old town, a foreboding fortress, beautiful gardens, pride in Mozart everywhere and the Sound of Music! But it also seems fresh, outdoorsy and fun!

We didn’t have enough time in Salzburg and I would love to return to visit the Fortress, Hellbrunn Castle, spend another evening at the Augustiner Braustubl and travel to the lakes district.
20131029-170157.jpg Rothenburg ob der Tauber
It was a treat to visit Rothenburg. This well-preserved medieval walled town is visited by 2.5 million tourists per year, and there is a reason why! It is magical, transporting you to the Middle Ages when it was a free imperial city and a major trading stop. There are sights to see, and we enjoyed visiting some of them, but it was such fun to just explore the many small narrow streets, walk the wall, wander through the beautiful countryside outside the wall and snap photos at every turn. The Nightwatchman’s Tour is a must, again accentuating the feeling of being in the Middle Ages while outlining the history of the town.

I think we covered most every street inside the walls of old Rothenburg, so as much as we loved Rothenburg, we probably wouldn’t return – unless it was to share this fabulous experience with someone who hadn’t previously visited.
20131029-170637.jpg Wurzburg
Wurzburg wasn’t even on our trip itinerary, but we had some time to kill enroute from Rothenburg to Frankfurt, so we stopped in and were pleased that we did. We only spent a few hours, so again my impressions are from a quick look. As we drove in and out of the city, it could have been most any large city anywhere – there appeared to be urban sprawl and we could see a city skyline of tall buildings (not something we had typically seen on this trip). The Old Town that we visited was a lively, downtown area with a mix of old and new and we enjoyed wandering there.

If I were to have some time to spare on a future trip beginning or ending in Frankfurt, I might again stop in Wurzburg and further explore the Residenz Palace and the Marienberg Fortress.
20131029-170951.jpgIt was a marvellous trip – we saw so many wonderful sights, learned so much history, ate great food, drank great beer, wine & coffee and walked many kilometres. We are so lucky to be able to take trips like this and I can hardly wait for next time! Stay tuned for the next stops along our long and winding journey!


Bev & Harvey

Now That WAS Brilliant . . . and We Know It

Here’s Debbie, back with another theatre review.

Of the top 10 things to do in Vienna, attending a classical concert in a church that dates back hundreds of years is high on the list.

As fortune would have it, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons was advertised at the Karlskirche during the time we were in Vienna. Serendipitously, Karlskirche (St. Charles Church) was a mere five blocks from our rental apartment. Once again, we scurried for tickets, laying out 25 Euro, or about $36.00 each for the most affordable seats which we felt was most adequate given our collective lack of musical ability. We picture beautiful strains of music in a grand cathedral with a large and knowledgeable audience.

Again, we eat supper early for our big night out. It is a dark, cold, rainy evening. Once again, we arrive early to get the best of the poorest seats. We enter through the magnificent marble entry into a gorgeous, stately, white and gold domed cathedral with ornate and intricate paintings on the walls and dome ceilings. We find our seats in the pews in the front of the back section. The cathedral fills up with a majority of locals (some dressed very well for a classy evening out) and a few tourists.

The 10 musicians and one vocalist entered the front alter area and, precisely on time, the concert began. For one and a quarter hours, beautiful notes swirled around the cathedral, some energetic and some slow and soothing, I suspect to reflect the emotions of the four seasons. Now, let’s be honest – none of our party could really identify Bach from Beethoven from Mozart from Vivaldi. And none of our party could really identify if the musicians were ‘tight’ in their performance. But we do know that, to us, this concert was perfect. On a cold, rainy night in Vienna, we were all together, in an amazing cathedral, listening to classical music, feeling soothed and peaceful.

We exited the cathedral with clarity of mind – there was no doubt after this concert. It was brilliant!

We took the 71…..but we came back alive

Today, we awoke as we have every day in Vienna, to the church bells of Saint Elisabeth, located just steps from our apartment. We had such a variety of activities planned for our last day in Vienna.

First we walked a few blocks to the U-Bahn station and caught the train to Schonbrunn Palace (Schloss Schonbrunn). This was the summer home of the Hapsburgs and is one of the two largest palaces in Europe.
20131014-201617.jpgThe opulence of the Hapsburg life that we saw yesterday at the Hofburg, was emphasized here at Schonbrunn. The highlights of our visit were a tour of the Royal Apartments and strolling through the palace gardens. The palace consists of 1441 rooms; we toured 21 of them. The audio guide provided us with great information, much again on Franz Josef and Sisi, but also Empress Marie Theresa.

The palace gardens occupy about 435 acres and consequently, we only saw a small portion. They are amazing and I can only imagine what they look like when in full bloom. However, I’ll trade that sight for what I can only imagine the summer crowds are like, as Schonbrunn is Austria’s most visited spot.
20131014-202414.jpg After leaving Schonbrunn, we took the train back to city centre and hopped on a tram.
20131014-203019.jpg Arriving at our destination, we first stopped for lunch at what sort of looked like a haunted house. It was in fact a very interesting restaurant with great soup!
20131014-203444.jpgWe crossed the street to the Zentralfriedhof, Vienna’s central cemetery. This is one of the largest cemeteries in the world, largest by number of interred in Europe and the most famous cemetery among Vienna’s nearly 50 cemeteries. The cemetery spans 2.4 square kilometres with 3.3 million interred here, up to 20-25 burials daily. It was amazing to see the grandeur of the headstones, family mausoleums, and statuary.
20131014-210126.jpgIn the cemetery is a section devoted to great composers. Not all of these were originally interred here, but they were moved here to encompass a great musical tribute.
20131014-211245.jpg After a very interesting time at the Zentralfriedhof, we were back on the tram, over to the U-Bahn and we emerged at the Prater. The Wurstelprater amusement park, commonly called the Prater, is a large public park filled with permanent attractions. The 220 foot Riesenrad Ferris Wheel is the most famous attraction. It was fun to walk through the park and watch Viennese families at play.
20131014-212538.jpg Our final plan for the day involved another trip on a tram – this time to a Heuriger district. These areas are home to family-owned wine garden restaurants. They sound great but unfortunately, we picked a small district and the Heurigers were either closed or very busy. But there was a Biergarten restaurant in the area so in we went. It was a great choice – small tavern atmosphere and great food and beer. Larry had an amazing Styrian Beef salad, Deb enjoyed a salad with chicken strips and Harv & I shared pork schnitzel, a baked potato with feta & spinach and salad.
20131014-213902.jpg It was another grand day in a grand city!



Why did you leave us out here sniffing glue?

This morning, we headed off for different pursuits.

Debbie went to a hot yoga class – she says it was an excellent class for technique and the instructor, and other yogis, were kind enough to conduct the class in English in deference to Deb’s attendance. The class however was ‘luke-warm’, or maybe ‘room-temp’, yoga, not the 40 degrees she is used to!

Larry headed to the Naschmarkt, a large permanent open air market. He reported that the food stalls looked good, but the ‘flea market’ area was jammed with people and junk! He carried on to a used record store where he did find some treasures to purchase.

Harvey & I returned to the Hofburg Palace, and went on the Imperial Apartments tour. This audio-guided tour consists of 3 parts. First, the Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection. Those Hapsburgs had a lot of dishes! And over-the-top table settings! It was surprisingly quite interesting. The next leg of the tour is the Sisi Museum. The life and death of Empress Elizabeth (Sisi) are chronicled in a compelling story of a 16 year old girl married to Emperor Franz Joseph. He was head-over-heels-in-love with her, and she reportedly was fond of him but did not take to her role as Empress. She withdrew from her official obligations and family and pursued her solitary interests. Only after her death did the Sisi-mania begin.

Finally the tour goes through the Imperial Apartments of Franz Joseph and Sisi. It was an enjoyable and interesting glimpse into the opulence of royal life. Sorry – no pictures of the interior as photography was not permitted but here are a few more of the Hofburg exterior.
20131013-204447.jpgAs we left the Hofburg, we passed by the stables of the Spanish Riding School and were lucky to see four of the famous Lipizzaner stallions being led to the training centre.
20131013-204711.jpg After our morning travels, we all met at the Opera House and headed for a walk down Mariahilfer Strasse, a broad boulevard filled with the Viennese enjoying their Saturday. We stopped at Ankerbrot, a great old Vienna chain bakery for lunch.
20131013-205432.jpgAlong the way, we encountered a protest march – they seem to be annoyed with Monsanto and additives to cornflakes. The local polizei were out in full force to ensure a peaceful event.
20131013-205956.jpgAs we walked along the boulevard, we encountered a number of grand sights.
20131013-210253.jpgAnd then we came across what must be the most elegant part of Kummer Property Management. We stopped in, but Brad’s picture didn’t seem to be on display.
20131013-210823.jpgWe had mentioned yesterday that we had heard Cafe Sacher was not the best place for Sacher Torte. The reviews said try the Aida Cafe. And serendipitously, as we wandered through a neighbourhood, we came across one of the locations. The coffee and Sacher Torte were everything that had been promised!
20131013-211628.jpgWe had a delightful afternoon, walking in the sun, stopping in at various shops and generally soaking up the atmosphere of Vienna.
20131013-212230.jpgThe fountain is in Schwartzenburgplatz and when we saw it later in the evening, it was dramatically lit with changing colours.

To finish off the afternoon, we stopped in at Belvedere Palace. Our VRBO is on Belvederestrasse, only about 3 blocks from this palace, so we thought we really shouldn’t miss it. We had a look around the impressive building and strolled through the gardens for a bit.
20131013-213112.jpgFor dinner this evening, we tried a Chinese restaurant that we had found well-reviewed in the neighborhood. The food was excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed it. We were however put off a bit at the end of the meal. We were brought 4 small glasses (think shot glass size) of warmed plum wine. What a delightful gesture, right? Well not really, when we got the bill, it included a 10 euro charge for this item that we hadn’t ordered. Being the polite Canadians that we are, we paid it without comment but in retrospect felt that we should have protested being charged for something that we hadn’t asked for. Ah well, live and learn.

It was another grand day in Vienna!!



Do you think they are tight enough – or is that why Tex is napping?

Vienna is a grand city – it has wide boulevards, ornate architecture and concert venues on practically every corner.

Skies were grey this morning but that didn’t put a damper on our plans. We spent the morning following the Rick Steve’s walking tour of central Vienna. It started at the Opera House, where we admired the Neo-Renaissance exterior.
20131012-205807.jpgAcross the street from the Opera House is the venerable Cafe Sacher, where Vienna’s famous Sacher torte was invented. We have heard however that a better version can be found elsewhere, so we didn’t stop in.
20131012-210320.jpgNext we passed Albertinaplatz, where the Albertina Museum is located. We spent time at the Monument Against War and Fascism. This monument, commemorating the years when Austria was under Nazi rule, has four parts. The Gates of Violence remembers victims of all war and violence. The split in the stone depicts the gates of a concentration camp and the statuary is a montage of wartime clubs, gas masks, a dying woman giving birth to a future soldier, and chained slave labourers.
20131012-210952.jpgNext you see a hunched-over figure on the pavement, representing a Jew forced to clean anti-Nazi graffiti off a sidewalk with a toothbrush.
20131012-211054.jpg A statue of Orpheus entering the underworld reminds all of the victims of Nazism and the on-going vigilance of our governments that we must exert. Finally a large stone has the 1945 declaration that established Austria’s second republic etched on it.
20131012-212351.jpgThe area where the monument stands is very meaningful, as during a WWII bombing attack, several hundred people were buried alive when the cellar they took shelter in collapsed.
20131012-212640.jpg We continued down Karntner Strasse, a wide boulevard once the home to the elegant Viennese shops, now a pedestrian mall filled with tourists and street performers.
20131012-213116.jpg At the end of Karntner Strasse is Stephansplatz, filled with the grandeur of St.Stephen’s Cathedral and numerous hawkers dressed in robes trying to tempt tourists with concert and tour tickets. St. Stephen’s Cathedral is a massive Gothic church dating from 1300 – 1450 and is at the geographic centre of Vienna.
20131012-213703.jpgWe followed the walking tour route past the Holy Trinity plague column and St. Peter’s church, both built in gratitude for saving Leopold I from the 1679 plague.
20131012-214446.jpg It was now time for a break and we veered off the route to a side street where we happened upon the Backerei Arthur Grimm where we thoroughly enjoyed refreshments.
20131012-215137.jpg Back on the tour route, we strolled down Kohlmarkt, Vienna’s most elegant and unaffordable shopping street. Here you could find most any designer. We stopped in for a peek at the cakes and other delicacies at Demel, the ultimate Viennese chocolate shop.
20131012-215301.jpgKohlmarkt ends at Michaelerplatz, which is dominated by the gates of the Hofburg Palace.
20131012-215448.jpg We wandered through the Palace grounds and gardens, marvelling at the architecture and statuary.
20131012-220216.jpgRick’s tour ended here, but we continued our walk. It now started to rain so out came the umbrellas and we enjoyed walking in the rain. We passed the Parliament Buildings, City Hall and other grand buildings along the Ringstrasse.

Time for another break and we stopped at another venerable Viennese cafe – McCafe! No photos of the fare we sampled here.

We made our way home for our afternoon break and then headed out for an early dinner as we had evening plans!! We are needing a bit of a break from the heavy meals we have been focusing on, so it was off to an Italian restaurant. The fare of Calzone, gnocchi, spaghetti and lamb chops was excellent.
20131012-220619.jpgWe had some time to spare so stopped in at an event we had noticed on our morning walk – Container Art. Here some avant-garde artists (Deb suggested somewhat tortured) displayed their creations in shipping containers. In the centre was a large globe tent; we wandered in and witnessed a couple of visual presentations displayed in 360 on the inside of the globe. It was all very interesting, albeit a bit “out-there” for our tastes, and we were glad we had stopped in.

Our main event was a concert at Karlskirche (St. Charles’ Church). Many months ago while planning this trip, I had found this concert listing, but had not purchased tickets. On our arrival in Vienna, it was pleasing to find that the church is within blocks of our vrbo and we stopped in this morning and purchased tickets.

Karlskirche, dedicated in 1713 and completed in 1737, is said to offer the best Baroque architecture in Vienna. It’s elegance is evident on both the exterior and interior and was such a wonderful venue for our foray into classical music.

The presentation was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and was performed by Ensemble 1756 on period instruments. Four Seasons is a favorite of mine, primarily because many of my favorite figure skaters have skated to selections from this composition. We all enjoyed the performance, although we certainly are not experienced in this type of concert. It seemed almost surreal to be hearing live classical music, performed in a 300 year old church in the grand city of Venice!


Vienna better bring out the big guns

We started our day with a wonderful European breakfast at the pension.
20131010-200611.jpgThen we were on the road heading off to Vienna. We stopped for a coffee break after crossing the border into Austria and as the wifi hadn’t been working at the pension, I took advantage of the free wifi and uploaded two blog posts. I also downloaded my email but didn’t read it until we were on the road again. To my surprise, I had a bank notification of a $5000+ transaction on my visa at Emirates. Knowing that wasn’t me, we immediately pulled off the road and I called Visa in Canada. Apparently, I had purchased tickets from Emirates Airlines. NOT! The fellow on the phone was excellent – cancelled my card and notified security to take the charge off the account. No idea where the card was compromised as I have only used it in ATMs and at one major hotel. Definitely advise anyone to set up alerts on their accounts as it was good to know about this immediately.

We carried on through the beautiful Austrian countryside – so picturesque! Despite all our admiration, we didn’t take any pictures. We will be sure to do so when we leave Vienna.

Petula again performed well and took us directly to our VRBO in Vienna where we were met by the owner, Leo. The VRBO is newly renovated and will be a great home base for our 4 nights in Vienna.

After finding a parking garage for Petula and a relaxing glass of wine, we went just down the street to a Gasthaus for dinner. It was typically Viennese and very good.
20131010-201116.jpgNow to plan our adventures for tomorrow.