Vienna. What a dream city. Cafes, tons of restaurants, beautifully kept, cafes, incredible architecture, parks, antique shops... Did I mention cafes? This is the urban city I would live in if I had to choose. So Vienna... Sigh. It is the most laid back and beautiful city I have seen. Loved it! To top it off, we rented a GORGEOUS apartment in a fantastic neighborhood right by the river. It was in an old building (of course - everything's old in Europe!) and it had ceilings that were probably 15 feet high and it overlooked trees and clay tennis courts. The owner lived in the unit above us and kept it for when her children came home to visit. We arrived and picked up the keys at the 'tea and chocolate' shop down the street (she had left us 2 chocolates with the keys - so sweet, no pun intended) and checked out the neighborhood, got some sushi nearby and then to a cafe for an amazing hot chocolate and coffee before heading to bed. It was funny at the cafe, there was a non smoking room at the back, closed off from the rest of the cafe so we were the only ones in there. When you could smoke in restaurants in Canada, they usually had a smoking room, not the other way around. Lots of people smoke in Europe though. I'm personally not a fan.
Oh, we have also been watching lots of 'Kitchen Nightmares' on YouTube before bed so basically what I'm saying us that Gordon Ramsay is our only friend at the moment. Really entertaining. It's strange at times to travel for long periods of time and be lacking many social connections like spending time with friends and family. Skype, email and FaceTime is great but never come close to replacing the actual interactions... We miss that. Downside to this type of travel! Luckily we have had those 2 weeks with Monique and Trevin, are meeting my friend Kirstine in Berlin, are going to London, England to see Mike and Nicole and will end our time at Marcus' (Tracy/Neil's friend) place in Brussels! Lots of social time coming up!
Our only full day in Vienna was awesome. We walked the 15-20 minutes to the city center to the pedestrian area, walked around but were feeling anxious by the amount of tourists so headed to the huge outdoor market by the river. We had curry carrot soup and potato dumplings, walked end to end and finished at a cafe. I got frozen yogurt from a store nearby - it was plain frozen yogurt (not vanilla - plain!) topped with raspberries and chocolate shavings. It was so good. I've never had plain soft serve frozen yogurt like that and it will be happening again. With the chocolate... Of course. Then we walked to the National Library/Museum, were too cheap to pay admission so walked throughout the city before we saw a Cafe Coffee Day! We didn't realize they existed outside of India so naturally had to stop in.
Then it was mid afternoon and we already had walked 5-6km so were tired. This meant after our tough day we were ready for some relaxation. Hah. Back to our neighborhood, bought groceries, made super nachos for dinner and hung out with Gordon Ramsay for the night.
The next day we packed up and walked the grueling 2.5km back to the train station with 25-30lbs of luggage to carry. Our poor backs/necks... Sore so much from carrying so much weight. Next it was off to Bratislava, Slovakia for 2 nights!
Another gem city. We really need to get back to Slovakia in the future. It was amazing! Our apartment was awesome and only a 20 minute walk to the city center. We arrived around lunchtime so had the rest of the day to become familiar with our surroundings. Our host recommended 'Slovak Pub' as a place to eat and let's just say we over indulged there. Twice. Think oldest pub... Built in 13th century or so. High ceilings, exposed wood everything - chairs, tables, ceiling beams, walls, it was gorgeous. The family that owns it has their own bakery and sheep farm (sheep's cheese is very popular in Slovakia, tastes like a milder goat cheese).
Note: *Bryndza = special Slovak sheep's cheese produced only in Slovakia.
Ok so our lunch at the Slovak pub. We started with bryndzove halusky so slaninou (potato dumplings with bryndza and bacon), then an order of bryndzove pirohy so slaninou a koprom (bryndza pierogi (turnovers) with bacon and dill), an order of pirohy s masom smotanou a slaninou (vyprazane) (fried pierogi with meat, sour cream and bacon)and finally zemiakova placka (potato pancakes). I can't even describe how good everything was! From here we took a walk through the pedestrian streets and went to Presporak Cafe (another recommendation by our host) which turned out to be one of the coolest cafes we have been to. It was small and chock full of antiques. You walk in and see full bookshelves up the ceilings, a huge (very old) model ship standing against another wall, an old wood stove in the middle of the room against the windows, Old pictures on the walls... Key word = old. So neat. After hanging out here for a bit, we walked back to our apartment still very full and lazed for the evening before heading for dinner to a nearby restaurant where I tried the Slovakian garlic soup. Yum! That wrapped up another 5km walking day! I definitely need a good foot soak after this trip.
One thing we did notice about Bratislava is on Saturday and Sunday, very little is open. Also, it's interesting to visit a country that is not in the mix of popular travel spots, you can see that it's in transition. There is a lit of graffiti here too. For example, we would be downtown in the old center where it's busiest and one side street over there are abandoned buildings, graffiti all over it, smashed windows, chains attempting to keep the door locked that's already falling down, foundation crumbling, and 2 buildings down is the most gorgeous historic building. It takes time for these cities to get up to speed with others but on the other side of it, we loved the charm!
The next day we got up and walked to the Bratislavian Castle overlooking the Danube River. It gave us a beautiful view of the old city and the red roofs as well as across the river to where new development takes place. We mosied our way down to the old part of the city and were blown away by this area. Pedestrian streets lined with shops, cafes, restaurants and people out and about with friends and family. The main pedestrian 'drag' was amazing. It had a walking street in the middle of a huge walking street. That doesn't make sense. Picture a road with businesses on either side. Now double the size of that road and stick another road right down the middle with a park, fountains, trees lining the whole way down. On either side of this 'middle' road is paved road for a car to pass and then on the other side of the paved road is where another sidewalk is, then restaurants, cafes, bars, etc. so it's like there are 3 roads within the whole thing! Maybe it's easier to look it up... I'm obviously horrible at explaining this.
Anyway, we walked back to Slovak pub for lunch and here's the rundown of what we had: cesnakova polievka kremova v bochniku posypana syrom (creamy garlic soup in a homemade bread bowl with cheese), bacova kapsa (shepherds bag - spicy pork mixture in a potato pancake), and our tried and true perogies with sour cream and dill from the day before.
We took a walk back down towards the river, naturally stopped at a cafe, checked out the local outdoor markets, watched an outdoor chess match on that road I tried to describe (it was giant version, the 2 people had to walk to their pieces), and finally grabbed a drink at a restaurant before walking back to our place. Another 5km! Love this new habit! We left the next morning but not before running down to a coffee store to buy Derek his own Italian stovetop percolator! What we saw of Slovakia was amazing. The people, food, history, architecture and amazing city planning! All rate way up there in our books. This is a place I am coming back to explore.
The next day was a long day... Anticipated to be 7 hours travel but turned into 10 hours due to a train schedule change we weren't aware of so we missed a connection but here we are in Ceske Krumlov, Czech Republic. This was another 'oh my god it's so beautiful' type of place. A castle perched on the river next to a gorgeous church and the rest of the town built around it and then on the little islands connected by small bridges, what a sight. Our apartment was on the island the street back from the river and was so cool. Think old wood stove, lots of old wooden beams, loft bedroom, tiny kitchen appliances in a stone kitchen, wooden windows you open into the apartment and a swing hanging from the beams! The woman we rented from lives downstairs in the same building and gave us suggestions in where to eat so we headed the next street over to a delicious vegetarian restaurant called 'Laibon' which is right next to the river. We had guacamole to start (they served cucumber slices on the side which I've never thought of and was so good!), I got the red vegetable curry with rice and Derek got 'Dragon's tongues' which are spicy tofu steaks with rice and vegetables. Dessert was blueberry dumplings with a whipped cream sauce and caramel. Everything = amazing. The owner, David, is so great. Loves his work and the passion obviously shines through.
The next morning, we decided to walk to the local brewery called 'Eggenberg' to find out about doing a tour but were told tours were finished for the day. Thank goodness we went to the tourist information center because there was a group tour at 12:30pm so we signed up. Back to the vegetarian restaurant we went for hummus and bean burritos before the tour. The brewery was incredible... Has been around since the 1500's and only has 25 staff total. They don't export their beer because it's on a smaller scale but it's pretty much all that's sold in this region of Czech. There is do much history that is behind the brewery and the town, it's so fascinating. They do everything by hand there - even the huge cylindrical beer drums are cleaned by hand. There's a woman who has been cleaning them for 43 years and has to climb in the drum through a hole about a foot in diameter. She uses a flashlight to clean because obviously no other light comes in! Claustrophobics need not apply. Also, we were told a few hundred years ago, everyone drank so much beer because it was pasteurized and safer than water to drink in those days due to illness from drinking contaminated water. Our guide said the poorer people would drink beer that was 'washed' 2 or 3 times which gave it a very low alcohol (~1-2%) and carbohydrate content. So basically that was their water source.
There were only 3 of us on the tour, one was a man (Adam) from Boston who just defended his PhD in sport management and was taking a month to travel before starting his first teaching job at a university in Texas. He ended up hanging out with us at the brewery restaurant afterwards and we had some drinks together. Such a nice guy! We parted ways but made plans to meet up later on as well. Derek and I then walked around the town and back to the brewery restaurant for dinner. Yum! We had the garlic soup (different than in Slovakia - was broth based with cheese, ham and carrots), then Derek got the potato dumplings stuffed with pork and onions, served with homemade sauerkraut and I got the beef filet with a cream gravy, cranberry sauce and bread dumplings. Soooo good.
Body by Europe in the making over here! Hah
We met up with Adam later on for a few hours and said goodbye for now! The next day we walked the 2km to the train station and arrived 3 hours later in Plzen (Pilsen), Czech Republic. I bet you can guess what this place is famous for!
So we arrived yesterday afternoon and arrived at the house we rented a room from, hopped on a tram and went to the Pilsner Urquell brewery where we were 2 minutes early for their last tour! Will write more details for the next blog entry on our time here.
3 weeks left until our return to Canada... wow... time sure does fly.