Christmas 2: Graz, Vienna, and London

Graz

So to continue where Tara left off, we hopped on the train in Salzburg and headed to Graz.  It was a fairly long train journey.  It took about 4 hours and we had to switch trains.  I had never heard of Graz before doing research for this trip, but it is the second largest city in Austria (behind Vienna) and a lot further south than I had remembered.  Everyone on our first train was headed to Badgastein to go skiing.

Since we were only staying 1 night in Graz, we did a super fast whirlwind tour.  As soon as we got into town, we bought a 24 hour public transit ticket and used the tram to head toward the highest point around: a big park on top of a giant plateau overlooking the city called Grazer Schloßberg, or Castle Mountain.  We barely did any research on Graz and we only had about 2 hours of daylight left when we arrived so we just winged it and headed toward the city.

Shortcut through a mountain?

Shortcut through a mountain?

While searching for the funicular to get us to the top of castle mountain, we ended up in this cave tunnel thing.

Finally found the furnicular

Finally found the funicular

By the time we got to the top, the sun was going down which made for some really cool photos.  I took a TON of photos up here.  Here are a few.

Lung Building

Lung Building: Kunsthaus = Art Museum

If you guessed that the alien lung building was an art museum, you are correct.

Graz at Sunset

Graz at Sunset.  My favorite picture

So Focused

So Focused

Christmas Tree is still on display

Christmas Tree is still on display

After some more wandering around on top of the mountain, we headed back down into the city for some dinner.  On the way, we stopped by another of Graz’s famous landmarks, which is an artificial island in the river.  It has a restaurant/bar and a little amphitheater on it.

Murinsel, or artificial island

Murinsel, or artificial island

That evening, we wandered the Christmas decorated streets and ended up at a Mexican restaurant for dinner.  With the lack of good Mexican food in the UK, you gotta take what you can get.  We went to bed somewhat early in anticipation for our train over to Vienna.

Vienna

After a relatively short train ride and quick subway connection, we made it to Vienna.  Our hotel/guest house was right in the center of the city.  It was walking distance to all of the major sites and right next to a main metro station so you could get anywhere really easily.  One of the first things we did was our typical Rick Steves audio tour. It was based on the circular tram route that surrounds the city.  The city used to be surrounded by Roman walls, but in 1843 Emperor Franz Joseph I decreed that the walls shall be demolished and a circular road be built.  Today that road, the Ringstrasse, is a busy road with a popular and handy tram service.  Rick Steves’ audio tour tells you all about stops along the way.  I should really get kickbacks from Rick Steves.

Tram around the Ringstrasse

Tram around the Ringstrasse

Ready for some Rick Steves

Ready for some Rick Steves

One of the things we learned from Rick is that Vienna is famous for its coffee houses.  These aren’t the kind of coffee houses you would find in Amsterdam.  They are actual coffee houses where you hang around while drinking coffee, eating cake, and reading the newspaper.  Every coffee shop we went in had a huge selection of newspapers to choose from.

Our first coffee house in Vienna

Our first coffee house in Vienna

They also serve beer in coffee houses FYI

They also serve beer in coffee houses FYI

One of the other things we did while in Vienna was visit the Hofburg, which is the place where the Austrian royal family lived for centuries.  The most famous Austrian royal family was the Hapsburgs.  The buildings were really impressive, but the actual stuff inside was not that impressive in my opinion.

Impressive Hofburg Exterior

Impressive Hofburg Exterior

Inside the museum was the royal collection of dishes.  I didn’t really know what I signed up for going in.  I just figured it was another museum with fancy royal stuff inside.  No, it was actually just a display of royal dishes complete with an audio tour explaining why all these dishes were so amazing.  It was probably the worst tourist experience I have experienced to date.  Imagine an audio tour of a really old Bed Bath and Beyond.

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Can you believe it?!?! SPOONS!

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OMG Plates!

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The single cool thing in this musuem. A duck press

The one useful thing in this whole display was the duck press.  This was used for crushing a duck carcass so that you could use the bone juice for stock.  Pretty cool if you ask me.

After the spoon museum, we went on to tour the Sisi Museum, which is a museum dedicated to the life of Empress Elisabeth of Austria.  There were no pictures allowed as usual.  The museum documented how hard and painful it was to be an empress.  It was so hard that she had to build houses all over the world to escape the shackles of having to sign official documents and take part in the government.  This museum was really odd.  It had exhibits explaining that Elisabeth went to the dentist because she valued her oral hygiene.  It had dimly lit rooms that tried to express her depression suffered as a result of being forced to be an empress.  Maybe I missed something, but I did not feel bad for this lady and I did not understand why she warranted a decently sized museum to chronicle her oddly eccentric aristocratic life.  It didn’t seem like she really accomplished anything other than coming close to achieving the Guinness World Record for longest hair.

Long Haired Austrian Lady (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Long Haired Austrian Lady (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

There were some royal apartments on the tail end of the Sis museum that were pretty cool.  They were your typical lavish royalty living space but they were a lot more interesting than the long haired lady and her spoon collection.

Later, on another RIck Steves audio tour, we made our way to the famous Demel chocolate shop.  Tara was in heaven.  A lot of other people must have known about this place because it was super crowded.  You could barely move and everything was pretty pricey.

mmmm... Fancy Chocolate

mmmm… Fancy Cakes

You could see them preparing the cakes

You could see them preparing the cakes

Another museum that we did that was the crown jewels museum.  This was WAY cooler than the dish and plate museum mentioned before.  Here are some photos.

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Fancy Royal Robe

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The King’s Crown

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What Austria looked like back in the day

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Unicorn’s Horn (not kidding)

I’m a little skeptical about the unicorn horn, but at least it’s more thought provoking than spoons and tea sets.

That evening, we took advantage of another Vienna staple: The Opera.  Neither Tara or I had been to the opera before so we figured what better place to check it out than Vienna. The prices for seats ranged from 70 to 240 Euros so we decided to try our luck with standing room only tickets for 3 Euros.  An hour before the show, the standing room tickets go on sale.  We got there right on time and we were decently far back in the line but still got tickets.  Here’s a view of the front row of the level we were standing on.  We were 3 rows behind standing against a railing.

Being Classy at the Opera

Being classy at the Opera

After an hour of holding down our spot (literally), the show started.  I say literally because the standing room crowd was vicious when it came to reserving their spaces.  Everyone hung scarves and sweatshirts along the railing to distinguish their spot.  We realized this a few minutes too late and ended up with a pretty bad view of the action, but at least we had a spot.  There were people who came at showtime when there were no more spaces to stand and they would try and butt into your railing space.  How rude!

The opera itself was alright.  There was a translator screen for each standing room spot that translated what the singers were singing about.  To me, it seemed to take a ridiculous amount of time to sing a simple verse.  The verse would be 4 or 5 words and the opera singers would stretch it out for 30 seconds.  After an entire act of this, Tara and I were all opera’d out.  I’m glad Tara and I share the same taste for opera because I don’t think I could have managed the second act.  We gave up our coveted railing space and headed to a coffee shop.  I don’t normally drink coffee in the evening, but when in Rome…..

Authentic Coffee Shop

Authentic Coffee Shop

Next up on our agenda was St. Stephens Cathedral.  We did the Rick Steves audio tour of the exterior and tried to make our way inside but we were turned away at the door because it was restricted to mass patrons only.

St. Stephen's Cathedrial

St. Stephen’s Cathedral.  We climbed the left tower

Since we couldn’t go inside during mass, we decided to pay a few euros and climb the left tower in the picture above.  It’s also shown below.

Tara and the Tower

Tara and the Tower

The tower looks super tall, but you only climb up about halfway.  Still, the long spiral staircase was not designed for loads of 2 way tourist traffic.  It was more likely designed for one person to make the journey.  The spiral stairway was not wide enough for 2 people to pass each other so whenever you came to other people, one person had to press flat against the wall so the other could pass.  This seemed to happen every 5 steps or so.  As far as church towers go, this was probably my least favorite.  The view at the top was okay, but you were looking through dirty glass so you couldn’t get great photos. (I’m aware that I sound like a total old church snob.)

View from the Top of the Stairs

View from the Top of the Stairs

Next up was the Natural History Museum.  It was a nice change of pace to look at science related stuff instead of historical stuff.

Natural History Museum

Natural History Museum

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Fish Fossils are a lot cooler than old spoons

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Tara and an old school Texas Longhorn

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Gotta love dinosaurs

That about does it for our trip through Bavaria.  Back to jolly old England for New Years Eve.

London

The cheapest way to fly back from Vienna was to fly on December 31st into London, so we decided to hang around London to celebrate the New Year.  Tara found an amazing deal on a swanky 4 star hotel near all of the foreign embassies.  We somehow got upgraded to the penthouse level and we had our own suite.  We enjoyed a bottle of champagne in our suite before we headed out on the town.  On our way out of the hotel, we stopped in the posh hotel pub for a drink.  We were ushered to our seats at the piano.  A few minutes later, a really entertaining piano guy came in and started to play.  We ended up staying in this spot for the whole night because we were having such a good time.  We chatted with the piano player and enjoyed the fancy ambiance.  I was secretly hoping to avoid fighting all the NYE crowds and this was the perfect excuse to stay put.

Front Row Seats at the Piano Bar

Front Row Seats at the Piano Bar

HAPPY NEW YEAR

HAPPY NEW YEAR

That’s all for now.  All in all, the trip through Bavaria and Austria was a great time:  The beer was cold/delicious, the people were friendly, the scenery was great, and the cities were a lot of fun to explore.

Next on the agenda is Liverpool.

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