European Rail Adventures: Salzburg, Austria


The last episode in the saga of my ‘European Rail Adventures’ led me to Salzburg, Austria, best known to some as the site of ‘The Sound of Music’. Although not done intentionally, I did not make an effort to visit any Sound of Music sights, or sing any Rodgers and Hammerstein songs. The history of the place, and the beauty of the landscape were enough for me. The first thing I did on arrival was find my hostel and check in. The view from the hostel was glorious!

Room with a view - at the Stadtalm Hostel!

Room with a view – at the Stadtalm Hostel!

Some places just renew your faith that not all hostels are full of creepy people and indifferent proprietors. All the same, after this entire trip, I am wondering if I have perhaps outgrown hostels. But my budget will make that decision in future… as soon as I was checked in, I headed back down the hill in search of food and entertainment! Food came in the form of a hip little cafe full of Austrians near the Mirabell Palace. I had my first real conversation with a local seated at the next table over, who in his limited English told me he had been to Chicago and rode a Harley… and thought it was indeed a very windy city.

I had to cut out on the conversation early to make it to my last stop of the night: a live classical concert inside the Mirabell Palace. I barely made it before they shut the door to the small gilded hall where a pianist and violinist presented a few Baroque pieces (with the ubiquitous Mozart thrown in there) to a very appreciative audience. And all without being too touristy or pretentious. What better way to spend an evening in Salzburg? After the concert I stumbled back up the hill in the near-darkness to my hostel, and drifted off to sleep while gazing out the window at the city lights below.

Attending a concert in the Mirabell Palace

Attending a concert in the Mirabell Palace

With such limited time left on my trip, I had big plans for my one full day in Salzburg. I already know that I could easily have allowed myself more time in this historic city. And can I just say how cool it is that I could wander around listening to a Rick Steves walking tour on my ipad, and stop to take pictures on the ipad, and then skype my Dad at work?! I used the audio tour as the form for my day, and made prolonged stops at places that interested me. For instance, the Salzburg Museum for a look at the city’s history and an interesting take on the Salzburg landscape in Romanticism…

After my morning spent in the museum, I again got sidetracked (this time by something a little less cerebral) when I discovered a festival outside the Cathedral, and thought it would be a perfect spot to stop for lunch. It claimed to be an ‘eco festival’, but it was really a festival with barely a few eco-friendly vendors thrown in. I spotted one of the food vendors with the longest line and judged this must be the best food in the place, though I don’t even know what it was: a fried dough frisbee with sauerkraut?

Fried dough and kraut deliciousness

Fried dough and kraut deliciousness

To go with my lunch I ordered a half liter of the local brew! The older couple sharing my bench in the tent seemed to think it was a lot of beer for such a little lady. The beer did embolden me to try out a sentence in German, and they kindly agreed to take my picture, whether or not they understood me. I did in fact finish my glass, and listened to some funky live music before moving on.

Chilling at the outdoor festival with a stein of Stiegl

Chilling at the outdoor festival with a stein of Stiegl

Last order of the day was to burn some calories and check out the hilltop fortress overlooking Salzburg. Again, I walked up, but passed on paying to go inside the actual fortress, and walked along the hill instead. It was not too cloudy and I was blessed with these spectacular views south into the mountains, and looking up at the fortress. My little hike eventually led me back down to town, and to the train station where I caught my last overnight train towards a flight home out of Frankfurt, Germany. Another whirlwind visit, and another beautiful city explored.

The view south along the Monchsberg

The view south along the Monchsberg

Hohensalzburg Fortress in the clouds

Hohensalzburg Fortress in the clouds

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European Rail Adventures: Vienna, Austria


And… welcome to Vienna, the next stop on my journey! The train ride from Zurich to Vienna was about 8 hours long, but was also the most comfortable of journeys. Sitting in First class, with hardly anyone around me, I could get up and check out the window views on either side of the coach. You do go through some lovely countryside on that journey. And if you think you’d be bored on such a long haul, well, I was getting things done (like searching my guidebook for a hostel to stay at, oops).

The UNESCO designated Wachau valley outside Vienna

The UNESCO designated Wachau valley outside Vienna

Originally, I was going to head to the small town of Hallstatt for a couple nights before heading to Vienna. But without a pre-arranged place to stay I figured it would do just as well to spend the extra time in the capitol city. Thanks to my flexible Eurail pass I was able to change my mind mid-journey. And it worked out well; with the extra time I was able to get outside Vienna for a day, visiting the UNESCO designated Wachau valley that is pictured above. I picked the best day weather-wise, and enjoyed a sun-drenched boat ride down this historic stretch of the Danube.

Day out at Melk Abbey

Day out at Melk Abbey

My most noteworthy stop in the Wachau region was at Melk Abbey, about an hour outside of Vienna. The fantastically Baroque Abbey has been a place of prayer and scholarship since the 11th century, and commands a prominent spot above the small village of Melk, and overlooking the Danube river. Further downstream from here are still more picturesque villages, castles and ruins, and many small vineyards. Sampling some of the local wine is a must!

While I loved the countryside, the old center of Vienna was a gem. Especially in cooler weather, the amount of museums, cultural events and atmospheric cafes gives you plenty to do indoors. First order of business was to attend an opera at the Vienna State Opera House, in the standing room only parterre! Following the suggestions from my ever trusty Rick Steves guidebook, I went to line up for standing room tickets outside the stage door, about an hour and a half before showtime.

The Vienna State Opera House

The Vienna State Opera House

I found a long line already getting longer, but soon enough I was inside, and receiving instructions on standing room only etiquette, and the concept of reserving your spot with a scarf. Apparently this was a very important point that I disregarded, and suffered for it by suffocating through the first half of the show with no view of the stage. After intermission things eased up considerably and I had a perfect view, despite the older Austrian man who would have liked to punch me for infringing on his space, and then daring not to understand his German tirade against me!

Intermission at the Opera

Intermission at the Opera

Between walking all over the city center and visiting numerous museums and churches, I often needed some refreshment in the form of Viennese cafe culture. The least touristy of the cafes that I visited was Cafe Hawelka, where the waiter claimed he had no menu – so coffee and cake it is! Cake was the well-known Sacher torte, a Viennese type of chocolate sponge cake served with plenty of real whipped cream. Somehow I couldn’t tell when I ate it, but apricot jam is a part of the recipe. Anyway, more cake was to follow, including some yummy raspberry chocolate cake at Cafe Central. Mmm!

The selection at Cafe Central

The selection at Cafe Central

The last place to visit in Vienna, and a particular highlight, was the Schonbrunn Palace for the Hapsburg monarchs. Even in the relative chill of October the beauty of the place was fantastic. The grounds are lined with alleys of manicured trees, and some hidden surprises like fountains and gazebos. Overlooking the whole complex is the somewhat useless Gloriette monument, which houses and expensive cafe and little else. It looks down over the hill towards the palace and the city beyond.

After paying for the entrance fee and audio tour, and an exorbitant price for a packaged sandwich and a soda, I was reluctant to pull out my wallet again for the nearby Carriage Museum. But the price was well worth it, and I learned more about the much-loved Austrian Empress Elizabeth or “Sisi” than I had in the entire palace complex, with some shamelessly extravagant royal carriages to boot. This rounded out my 3 days and 4 nights in Vienna, leaving me with the feeling that I would need a lot more time in Vienna to see everything worth seeing. Plans for a second trip??

Schonbrunn Palace, the Hapsburg Residence!

Schonbrunn Palace, the Hapsburg Residence!

Family comes to Europe


It was brought to my attention that since my transition from the UK back to the US, I have neglected to post anything! I’ve been back home in Chicagoland for 2 weeks now, and enjoying being back. But thinking back just a few weeks ago, my parents and my brother both made the long trip over to the UK (separately) to visit with me before I came home.  Mom and Dad came over to see Exeter (and to help take some of my luggage home, for which I was grateful). They came on the last day of my internship at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, which in typical fashion at the museum, was celebrated with cake. Over the weekend, my parents and I enjoyed a Devon cream tea together, took a tour of Exeter Cathedral, and enjoyed several wonderful pubs. It was a very quick visit, but convinced Mom and Dad that they will have to come back to England in the future.

Noriko and I on our last day at RAMM

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Mom and Dad at the Jolly Roger Tearooms

The following week my brother arrived in London and we spent a few days there together, before heading to Italy for a week-long trip. With nothing to do the night before he arrived, I treated myself to Kew Gardens, and then a musical at the Aldwych Theater: Top Hat! (for those who know me, I am a huge fan of Fred Astaire movies, which this musical was based on). My brother and I visited the Tower of London, British Museum, Harrod’s, Kensington Gardens and plenty of pubs.

Top Hat at the Aldwych Theater

Harrod’s at night

In Italy, we visited three cities in the north: Verona, Bolzano, Milano. Having spent a semester abroad in Verona in college, we stayed at my former landlady’s house, passing many hours at her kitchen table. In Bolzano we took advantage of the Dolomites, and the fresh mountain air. The locals spoke Italian and German since the town is so close to Austria, and only became a part of Italy after WW1. My favorite part of the trip was our train ride up through the Alps, and spending a few hours in St Moritz, Switzerland. Then half a day in Milan before catching our flight back home. It’s no wonder I was so tired by the time we arrived back in Chicago.

Enrico and Brian may not share a language, but they share soccer.

Enrico and Anna, with my brother and I.

Taken from the train at over 6000 feet.

Milan’s famous Cathedral, where we toured the rooftop as well as the inside.

And after all that excitement, I am happy to be home!

A Victorian Education


Once again, it has been awhile since I last wrote. I had just gotten back from Berlin, and had a few days off before new classes started. It had been a rough few weeks as I got the flu, was stuck in my room reading, and still jumped into a full on week of 9-5 lectures for my special option ‘world arts/museum ethnography’. Then I had a matter of a week to write my 3,800 word essay on repatriation and museums. The highlight out of this mess was visiting the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, which is essentially a museum of a museum. It’s stuck in the early 20th century and consists of cases crammed full of the weird and wonderful, like a puffer fish helmet, or the ever popular shrunken heads.

Inside the Pitt Rivers Museum

While I was working on my essay, we were also beginning our final taught module, on communication, media and exhibitions. This includes a group project creating an exhibit out of several random objects and our burnt-out imaginations. At the end of this month, each group will be installing their exhibit in one of the display cases around the museum studies building. With eight people in a group, you can appreciate that it’s difficult to come to consensus, but I suppose this is what real work will be like. After completing the exhibition installation, we then each need to write some long-winded essay on our process, before being set free for a month of vacation, and preparing for the dissertation period beginning in May.

I realize that most of what I’m talking about is school-related, but it’s not ‘all work and no play’. That is if by ‘play’, you think hiking and museum trips! Last weekend, I went on a long 6 hour hike with a few friends in the Peak District National Park (google it). It was full of beautiful scenery, but I spent two days just recovering from the effort. Yesterday I went with the ‘Museum Society’ to Ironbridge Gorge, and the Blists Hill Victorian Town, where we traded our money in for farthings and shillings, and explored the streets, shops and houses to our hearts’ content. Ironbridge Gorge happens to be a UNESCO world heritage site, as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and home to the world’s first iron bridge!

Thanks for reading, and hopefully next time I will know my summer internship placement, as well as my dissertation topic, and a few more other weekend trips to talk about.

A bit of atmosphere in the Peak District

 

Singing songs in the Victorian public house!

Verona: Vinitaly, the wines of Italy


This April I will be attending Vinitaly, an international wine and spirits exhibtion in the beautiful city of Verona, Veneto region of Italy. What could be better?

Held in the Verona soccer stadium, the exhibits are divided up by the regions of Italy, with the Veneto and Tuscany boasting the largest exhibits. The wine show has been going on for 42 years, adding other spirits along the way, like the Italian liquor grappa (I was never fond of it, but you have to try it to see if you like  it).

Besides boasting some of the best wines in the world, Verona is an elegant and charming city, and a UNESCO world heritage site (see my previous article on “3 Perfect Days in Verona“). Hoping for warm weather, and expecting great wines.

Vinitaly - That's a lot of wine...

photo taken by Aline Wetzelaer

Currently Reading: Not That Kind of Girl

A New Jersey girl raised in the evangelical church grows up, goes off to college, then to NY, constantly struggling with her faith, ambition and desires. I identify with a lot of the things she says, and the desperate struggle for a coming-of-age.