A Travellerspoint blog

Different Faces of Vienna

BY MURIEL

sunny 29 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Fountain in Vienna

Fountain in Vienna

It’s getting harder and harder getting all four of us out for an adventure – could we REALLY be getting tired of each other after only 36 weeks? Abby opted for being sequestered on her own in the apartment, although she did brave the heat for a bit during a short walk. Meanwhile, the rest of us, comrades three, took the metro into the centre of Vienna. It took all of fifteen minutes with the walking, deciphering of ticket sales (it’s always different) and actual ride. Leaving the busiest subway station in Vienna, we walked up the metro stairs into the bright sunlight and were immediately met by hoards of people. Stephanplatz, large though it was, seemed very crowded. And with the tallest church in Austria, Saint Stephan’s Cathedral, dwarfing all of us, I felt claustrophobic. We popped into the cathedral to see another example of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and realized all three of us felt the same way: we were satiated and could no longer appreciate the grandeur. It should have left us awestruck but didn’t ... so I think we need to let some months go by before seeing any more. One note I found interesting is that the church was saved from destruction at the end of WW II because a German captain disobeyed an order to render it debris upon the German retreat. As we deliberated which way to proceed to get to the Rathaus (the townhall), we were accosted by no less than four vendors selling tours. It was quickly turning into a madhouse so we escaped the platz and endured the longish walk to the Rathaus in the considerable heat.

Every summer, Vienna puts on a music film festival, where it shows free movies in the Rathausplatz. The movies are of musicians ranging from the operatic to rock genres. At this venue, there are a number of culinary vendors selling their wares. As we walked through the offerings, we delighted in the sights, sounds and smells of Japanese, Australian, Chinese, Italian, Austrian, Indian and American cuisine (is that last one an oxymoron?) It reminded us of the effort in Ljubljana, only it was even more professional and twice as expensive. Nonetheless, we found a wonderful covered table by the cooling fountain and shared plates of duck with noodles, butter chicken (with all the mango chutney I could get away with) and some Austrian meat and vegetable mixture; all were delicious and we forgave the assault on our pocketbook, telling ourselves we were paying for the great atmosphere too. We may try to get down here one evening when a film is showing.

Swing ride at the Prater

Swing ride at the Prater

The heat sapped all our energy so we returned to the nest to rest. In the evening, we were drawn to the nearby Prater, a large amusement park that sports the Wiener Riesenrad, a large ferris wheel stemming from 1897. As night fell, we enjoyed the sights and sounds of the carnival atmosphere (but not the smells, which were disappointingly sewer-like). Alas, there was no all-encompassing pass for the rides so we had to be very choosy as each one cost an arm and a leg. All four of us enjoyed the Praterturm, a 117 metre high swing although Abby did look even paler than usual coming off it; watch the experience if you wish. It provided an amazing view of the park and surrounding city. Seeing a ride similar to one they had loved in Montreal, Hannah and Abby were eager to try Discovery, a highflying twisting speedy affair that I knew best to avoid. Well, it turns out it wasn’t quite exactly like that fondly remembered ride from Montreal; it was much faster and felt extremely long at three minutes. From below, we saw Abby clutching her glasses and looking quite ill. She said later she wanted to ask Hannah whether it almost over but just couldn’t get the words out she was so scared. That pretty much finished her for the evening. After Hannah extracted a promise from Ben that he would try it with her another night, we retired for the evening.

Posted by KZFamily 12:45 Archived in Austria Tagged vienna austria rathaus prater saint_stephan Comments (5)

Tursko to Vienna

By Hannah

sunny 28 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

We drove and drove and drove today, only stopping for food and fuel on our six hour travel day. After lunch at a little roadside restaurant, Mom and Dad gave Abby and I the 45 remaining koruna (just under $2.50 Canadian) to spend at the gas station convenience store. We each got treats for the road, and were going to have just two koruna left, which we were going to keep as souvenirs. Unfortunately, I decided just to hand the clerk everything, and even after counting through the change twice, he didn't give those two little coins back. I was upset on principle, as well as a little disappointed that we weren't going to have any Czech money to bring back with us. Luckily, Mom had kept a coin. Still, the nerve of him!

Our apartment is clean and spacious, and I like it even though Abby and I have to share a bed. Mom and Dad went grocery shopping, and Dad made what he thought was going to be some sort of delicious Alaskan fish alongside ravioli and green beans. It turns out all they had bought was pollock, and we've never eaten fish that needed more tartar sauce. The ravioli was good, though, and the green beans were something of a rare treat, as they seem to be particularly uncommon in Europe. Yes, I know that the two stolen koruna and what we ate for dinner might not be of any great interest, but as it was a travel day, that's about all I have to write about. Our next post, however, will detail our first day in the famous city of Vienna, which is sure to be much more exciting than this one.

13 days to go!

Posted by KZFamily 06:52 Archived in Austria Tagged vienna travel austria day czech republic tursko Comments (0)

Culinary Experiences

BY MURIEL

sunny 28 °C
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Muriel drinking mead

Muriel drinking mead

This morning included a sleep in for all of us, a welcome change to the routine after several busy days. As Ben was needing a rest and Hannah elected to stay home and draw, it was Abby and I who ventured into the city this time. We elected to stay outside Prague for two reasons: we felt we would appreciate the country’s change of pace and it was a lot cheaper to stay a bit outside of Prague. We drove into the city in the afternoon, found our favourite ‘park and ride’ lot and headed for the metro. It’s a snap to get into the heart of the historical district and we can make it there from our home in 40 minutes. Prague has a nice metro option that lets you ride anywhere for 30 minutes for only a dollar (fifty cents for Abby) so it’s hard not to go that route. Today’s visit to the city included meandering around the streets, visiting shops when they called loudly enough to us. When I said I wanted to poke my head into the Church of Our Lady before Týn, Abby rolled her eyes and said ‘Another church?’ I told her I would be quick, and I was, just staying long enough to take in the many beautiful gilt baroque altars and Tycho Brahe’s grave. I, too, am becoming satiated with baroque and just on the eve of going to Vienna, which is poor timing! Maybe I have a few more baroque buildings in me yet.

The first stop (real stop, in Abby’s mind) was the Gastronomy Museum, an eclectic collection of write ups, still life kitchen models, pictures and culinary equipment traversing the history of eating and cooking from our first ancestors up to the present day. There were big gaps in the spectrum but one could still glean interesting tidbits here and there. Abby particularly liked all the information on the prehistoric world (even though she’s considering relinquishing her carnivore heritage once we get back to Victoria). I enjoyed seeing some of the interesting utensils and reading the intriguing quotes about gastronomy: “The discovery of a new dish confers more happiness on humanity than the discovery of a new star.” “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” “A host who cannot carve is equally shameful as an owner of a library who cannot read.” And one just for Ben: The characteristics of good beer, according to Czech brewer František Ondřej Poupě are as follows: “It must quench the thirst and replace the missing moisture in the body as well as be filling, but it must not cause wind or constipation. It must strengthen even the fatigued body, excrete urine in ratio to the delight, also with semolina to prevent stone formations, encourage bowel movements and a warm stomach and not chill as many beers do.” I’d say that’s a tall order! Ben would say let’s have another one to assess it again. At the end of the tour, we’re able to taste a tiny meringue and have a very tiny glass of mead. I didn’t care for either while Abby took a strong liking to both. It just shows the effect a father’s drinking genes can have on a child.

Muriel's Dinner - Svíčková na smetaně

Muriel's Dinner - Svíčková na smetaně

Since we still had some kronos in our pockets, we chose to extend our culinary experiences by having a real sit-down dinner. Going on the recommendation of someone on the internet, we stepped into a smoky Czech restaurant. Abby selected the goat cheese gnocchi while I went for a more traditional Czech dish, slices of beef covered in gravy and topped with cranberry jam and cream. It was served with sliced bread dumplings. Both dishes were delicious and we were quite satisfied with them and a salad. It’s very fun trying the dishes of various countries as they combine foods and flavours in ways you wouldn’t necessarily consider yourself. Abby and I enjoyed our ‘mom and daughter time,’ I very aware that this was something to be cherished and hopefully still scheduled once we get back home. With that, we concluded the evening, reversing our route to get back to our homebodies.

Posted by KZFamily 04:17 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged food prague czech_republic gastronomy_museum Comments (0)

Prague in Words

by Ben

sunny 25 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

This morning as we emerged from the Prague subway Muriel asked me for the camera so she could photograph an optical illusion that occurs on the subway escalator. Everyone appears to be leaning backwards at such a preposterous angle that they are in danger of falling over backwards. As soon as Muriel said, “camera,” I realized I had forgotten it at home. After a daily ritual of over 250 days, I had put our family camera in an unfamiliar location and charged our camera in obscure outlet in our dining area. With no visual cues, I completely forgot to pack it along for our outing.

At first it felt like the day would be akin to travelling without a memory. Without photographs how was I going to document our day, how was I going to remember? In some ways it felt like an extension of my body had been removed. I also felt partly blind. In reality, I had been given an opportunity, albeit very late in our trip, to view or surroundings very differently. Looking around me I saw everyone else observing their surroundings completely through their camera lens. Even before they understood what they were looking at, they had photographed it. On some days that was me. I would be so preoccupied with documenting the moment for posterity’s sake that I didn’t really comprehend. It left me wondering how my photography would change if I spend more time initially observing with my naked eye?

If a picture is worth a thousand words and we take anywhere between 50 and 150 photographs on a sightseeing day, I should conservatively be writing a 50,000 word blog post today in order to make up for the lost visuals. Hannah and Abby note that my blog posts are long-winded so don’t despair dear readers, I won’t be permitted to make up the pictorial deficit with words.

Our first destination of the day was Prague Castle. We entered a gate which had a ceremonial guard posted on either side. As we lingered there a group of ten teenage girls started posing around one of the soldiers. They edged closer and closer to the young officer trying to top each other in their silly poses and conduct. As their antics and incomprehensible comments began to take on the appearance of outright mocking of the guard, Muriel stepped in. Despite the language gap Muriel gave them a stern tongue lashing and a lesson on respect. She didn’t stick around to see if lecture prompted a change in their behaviour but by tone alone the girls were quite clear on what they had just been told. I certainly am proud to married to this plucky Canadian girl who just can’t stand by and do nothing at the sight of injustice.

After Muriel’s defence of the castle troops we passed through the north gate and took in Saint Vitus Cathedral which stands in its midst of the castle complex. We found that several hundred tourists had the same idea. The cathedral is in a neogothic style and of gargantuan dimensions. Since it took so long to construct (nearly 600 years), the stained glass windows are quite modern with the last of them being completed in the 1930s. Saint Vitus is considered the most important church in the Czech Republic not only because it is the burial place of its kings but because it visually depicts the entire religious history of the Czechs starting with the story of Christ. One could stare at the interior and exterior of this edifice for days and not take in all the stories it conveys.

The neighbourhood around the main Palace is an amazing collection of houses built by the nobility and high ranking clerics who wanted to have direct access to the monarchy. Think of it as the Czech Beverly Hills of the 1600s. At the outer edge of this neighbourhood we had a light lunch in a simple cafe. It was interesting to watch how a couple of labourers spent their lunch break. They ordered no food but each had a two ounce shot of hard liquor followed by a large bottle of beer. Halfway through their beer they both had another two ounce shot. I am not sure how productive they were going to be that afternoon but by the look of their ruddy complexions I think they were just wetting their whistles for serious drinking after work.

In the afternoon we took in our second mini museum of our trip. We visited one in Hungary and Hannah had put this one on her wish list for Prague as a result. As with the previous museum, the set up was a bit quirky and the admission price at odds with diminutive theme. Despite this, Muriel expressed a grudging respect for the Siberian artist who created all these works, a sentiment which I have to echo. Among the odd items on display were a metal replica of the Eiffel Tower placed inside a cherry stone, the Lord’s Prayer printed on a strand of hair, a flea shod with metal horseshoes and holding a lock and key, two metal ships floating on a mosquito’s wing and several metal swans mounted on a poppy seed.

After our considering all things small we looked for a contrasting experience. We walked through the hillside Petrin park overlooking Prague and climbed the tower of the same name to take in some magnificent views of the city. The resemblance between Prague and Budapest is uncanny. Prague is merely a more compact version of Budapest with much narrower streets and a smaller river flowing through it. The tower itself, which was built in 1891, is like a mini version of the Effiel Tower without an elevator. The 299 steps to the top led to a fairly crowded and stuffy observation area at the top. Muriel chose not to linger lest she be tempted to toss a few of the more exhausted looking climbers out the window to reduce the temperature and humidity on the deck.

Upon our descent from the tower, we enjoyed the cool shade of the park below and stopped for some refreshments. It was there that we saw street entertainment that I believe parents of young children would all be willing to generously support. A man with a number of buckets of soap solution was creating huge bubbles non-stop. He was surrounded by kids chasing and popping the bubbles. He never let up the whole time we were there. Parents just relaxed on nearby benches and chatted with their spouses as if for the first time in years and a few wandered over to the nearby canteen to buy a cold beer. It would seem that these parents, let alone the kids, would remember this interlude as their most enjoyable time of their entire vacation in Prague.

Posted by KZFamily 04:14 Archived in Czech Republic Tagged prague czech_republic Comments (3)

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