Well I'm not sure how spontaneous it was. Last Monday we found out at work that two large conferences canceled due to the Icelandic Volcano and the numerous closed airports including all of the German ones. So with so many open rooms there would literally not be enough work for everyone scheduled last week. OF course they came straight to all the Americans and just started throwing days off at us. I ended up with Tuesday through Saturday and Ryan with Tuesday through Friday. Obviously our first question to each other was, "where do you want to go?"
Later that night in discussion Ryan threw out the idea we just pack up in the morning and drive, not knowing were to. Now this is a very "me" idea and I was surprised he even said it, but as I found out later he wasn't as serious as he sounded. I call the trip spontaneous more because we didn't book hostels before we left and because we were open to where we went if somewhere on the map looked appealing and was nearby. But when we left around 10am on Tuesday morning we were headed to Vienne (They call it Wien over here, but 'W' is pronounced like a 'V' in German and that is what they speak in Austria too).
I'm so glad that we left in the morning and didn't try to rush back after work Monday to pack and leave. So far most of our driving has been at night after work and after dark. The country side we drove through getting to Austria and then primarily once we entered our neighboring Country was absolutely stunning. Lush and green, rolling hills, and we even came across a couple lakes that we definitely want to find our way back to when it gets hot this summer.
When we arrived in Vienna we got a little lost, no surprise eh? We really need to get a GPS soon, Amy any luck in the hunt? :) It was a lot better though being lost in the day light and we got to see a little bit of Vienna that wasn't in the main area we spent the remainder of our time in. Eventually we found our way to where may directions were taking us, which was the Wombat hostel. There are Wombats also in Munich and Berlin. This place was great. Although we did have an old guy from Kosovo who slept all day in our room because he said he was jet legged from a train ride from Italy to there, but as far as I know Italy is on our time zone. It was clean, the reception people were friendly, helpful, and spoke great English, the bedding was clean and came in a sealed plastic bag, we had a bathroom in our room which was a 6 person dorm, and they gave us a coupon upon arrival for a free drink in the bar in teh basement. Oh and they had free internet in the lobby. It was one of my favorite hostels we have found so far. Come to think of it though I think it was also the most expensive. I guess you get what you pay for with hostels, but sometimes you do find a really great deal for a cheaper price. Oh and a huge bonus was we found a parking spot on the block just around the corner from the hostel for FREE! And when we went in to ask for a room and also inquired about parking and whether it was allowed where we were they guy said we were incredibly lucky. When Ryan had read about parking on the internet he thought we'd have to park outside of town and train in and that it would be at least 10 euros a day. So the beginning of our time in Venice started out great.
Once we dropped our things in a lockers in our room we headed toward town. We could have bought a fairly inexpensive 24 hour tram ticket, but for the sake of money, exercise, and seeing more along the streets we opted to walk the whole time we were there. The street we headed down was a major shopping street and was bustling with people. Something else we noticed is that throughout Europe in their main pedestrian areas all the restaurants (and there are a lot) have outdoor seating. The sidewalks are huge and we started talking about how the buildings are so old, but yet when they were built they left a huge space from one side of the road to the other, which today leaves a ton of space for a double lane road and a huge sidewalk on each side. But the buildings were built before cars so were the roads wide for horses or some other reason. It is fun to think of what life was like when these cities began and the buildings were built. It all goes back so long ago.
We stopped into several churches along our way all of which were BEAUTIFUL. I have yet to find a church here that I do not find magnificent. Right after walking into the first church we came across we came upon a Kebab restaurant, which was really a hole in the wall you order off the sidewalk. Many of you probably do not know what a kebab is because it is not like when we grill chunks of meat (well I don't, but you do) and veggies on a skewer. Here they roast, simmer, sizzle, I don't know what to call it a HUGE thing of meat vertically and it spins with the heat thing behind it. And when someone orders a kebab they either use just a knife or a electric knife like a saw to cut off the meat very thinly. By the end of the day the huge chunk of meat is down to almost nothing. I wish I had a picture, but I haven't thought to take one. I'll try to remember to do that. And I'll get more pictures in general up soonish I hope, but the internet is super slow right now and I'll be lucky to get this post loaded. Back to kebabs... they buy or make this bread that is really good and in the shape of a square ciabata roll, but it is really soft and has a little bit of sesame seeds on top. Then they put various things in with the meat like lettuce, tomato, feta cheese, yogurt sauce, other veggies, and then they offer a sprinkling of chili peppers. You might all be thinking... "and you ate this?" Well not exactly. I had a falafel kebab. Falafel, did I describe it in an earlier post from Nuremburg? Falafel is a ground garbanzo bean stuff that they fry. So I got this on that delicious bread and with some modified toppings one of which was roasted veggies and that was so scrumptious. We each had a kebab at this time. Then we shared a falafel one later that night and then each had them the next day before we left. And now that we are back we miss them. They are so good and so cheap. And they are literally everywhere you turn in Vienna. We have a kebab place here in Garmisch, but I don't like it as much as in Vienna. That probably is because the one here does not do falafel so the only time I had one I had just veggies in the bread and it was good, but I love falafel.
So once we had our kebabs in hand and continued walking we eventually came to a huge park that has high cement walls around it. I think it is part of the museum quarter. There are a ton of museums all in this one area, but we didn't go to any of them while we were there. The park was nice though and there were lots of people in it because it was a very nice and pretty warm afternoon. Through the park we came out and got our first siting of the Opera House. Vienna is world re known for their opera and I'd love to go back and see one while we are here. You can get standing tickets for only 3 euro if you get in line (and we witnessed the line) an hour or two before the show. Then we kept wandering trying to find the main Cathedral St. Stephen's that you can pay to climb and have an excellent view of the city. We finally did find it, but it was closed for walking up although we did see the inside. So the plan was to come back in the morning. On our way out the front doors we were stopped by a guy dressed in a costume selling tickets to a show that night. Well we fell prey to his trap and bought some tickets, at a discount he said was a great deal however the tickets were printed with the price we paid so I doubt it was such a special discount. The show was supposed to have a small orchestra, a little opera singing, and some ballet. After that we walked back to the hostel to change before the performance. On the way to the hostel we ran into the Sacher Café. Some of you may have heard of the Sacher torte, for those who have not is is basically a chocolate cake. I made one in high school with my friend for another friend's birthday and we all thought it turned out a bit dry. Being the foodie I am and having read about this place in a book I definitely wanted to check it out so we added it to the list for the next day. I forgot the significance of the café, maybe you figured it out on your own. The Café in Vienna is where the torte (and torte=cake) was first created back int eh 1800's by Mr. Sacher. I think he was a cooking apprentice and came up with this cake as something new and different for someone important they were cooking for and from then on the cake was a hit and so was Mr. Sacher. Something like that anyway.
So we got back to the hostel, changed, and headed right back out again in the direction of parliament to find the palace our show was to be performed in. When we arrived it was even more evident we were caught in a tourist trap by the loads of Asians that were there fresh from their tour bus. They also made us check our coats and pay a euro each, gosh darn them. The palace was a pretty building inside and the room we went to upstairs was also nice but definitely just a side room, rather small, and not a performing arts hall by any means. The stage was the temporary kind you might see at a church or a school. Thank goodness we didn't feel the desire to pay for the "better" seats because although we were in the back row we were only 20 feet from the stage. I was thinking to myself that I could triple jump further than that distance. :) So all this somewhat negative commentary aside we still liked the performance. Well we enjoyed the music, the opera was not great and the ballet was just silly because what could they do in such a small area. The songs were by Mozart before intermission and Strauss after intermission. I was pleased to recognize many of the songs, which I am sure also plays into the whole tourist thing that they would play recognizable songs, but hey let's face it we are tourists. We are glad we went. When we got back we talked to our friend who has been to Vienna and when he was there went to basically the same show at a different palace and thought it was so bad that he left at intermission. So either ours was actually better or he has a better ear for good and bad music. I think maybe it is a little of both. Oh well. We were in Vienna and it is a city the is huge on their music and the famous composers from there so we got to experience a little piece of that.
After the concert we were hungry having not had time for dinner before, but also we had a late lunch. So that is when we got the kebab and then some gelato across the street. Back at our hostel we went down to the bar in the basement for our free drink. We each got 1/8 a liter of wine. All the glasses in Germany and Austria are marked with the amounts for beer and wine. Beer is typically in .3 or .5 liter glasses or a mass which is an entire liter and that doesn't need a line to know what you've got. And the wine seems to often be 250mL markings, but we got 1/8L. Then up three flights of stairs to bed to rest up for another great day.
The next morning we were hungry so we wanted to head to the Sacher Café. We got side tracked checking out new places though and drifted away from our known route. We ran into more guys in costume selling tickets for the same show we went to the previous evening. They made sure it was the same exact location before letting us off the hook of hearing the schpeel. This guy was from kosovo and said he like Americans because he liked President Clinton for helping him and his country be free. He also said he liked us because now we have Obama. I always think it is interesting to hear what people from other countries opinions are of us. We saw ore guys selling tickets, but this time one of them said, "how did you like the concert last night?" We were taken aback and he said, "don't you remember me?" And I asked "coat check?" and he said "yes" so we told him yes we liked it and jokingly he said "do you want to come again..... half price?" We said no but I think he would have sold us tickets for half price had we wanted them.
We ended up at St. Stephen's without even meaning to so we thought while we were there we'd climb the stairs. There was A LOT of stairs and the stairway was VERY narrow. When you reach the top you are in a gift shop (they would) and it is all enclosed with a few smallish windows, but the view was still cool and I thought the climb was fun.
From there we found the Sacher Café and guess what? My torte wasn't bad that I made. The thing really is dry cake. That is good to know. I didn't hate it at all, but I wouldn't say it is my favorite thing ever. They make a ton of specialty "Sacher" items. To drink I had a hot chocolate with Sacher Apricot Brandy and that was really good until I got to the bottom and realize the reason they gave me a spoon was to stir it and mix up the liquor. I didn't love the bottom because it was too strong, so Ryan drank it. Poor Ryan had a ice chocolate shake, which tasted like totally unsweetened chocolate blended with ice and maybe water cause it didn't seem milky. It wasn't very good. I think we spent the same amount of money here as we did for the rest of our meals combined, which was all kebabs, but it was worth it for the experience of having real Sacher torte.
After that we went back to the car and headed to where we decided would be our next destination Bratislava, Slovakia. These two capitals are only an hour apart making them the closest in the world. When we arrived we were lost and everything was in Slovak. Although we aren't fluent in German we are learning enough to navigate a bit on roads. We turned away from the city, realized it, and turned around to go back. On our way back we were flagged down by a cop standing in the road. He didn't, or claimed not to, speak any English but after a moment of not understanding one another he reached in the car and flipped on our lights. Even though it was broad day light we realized EVERYONE had their lights on. It must be the law. Our same friend who went to Vienna also came here on the same trip and was also pulled over, but had to pay 60 euros to the cop who said the road they were driving on was closed, as cars were zooming by them, so they think it was a shady cop preying on American tourists.
When we crossed the Danube river on a cool bridge and entered Bratislava we were again very lost. The street made no sense and very very few had street signs. Because the castle is on top of a hill we were able to find our way there and found ourselves on the map. We got out to explore the castle, which turned out was being redone. It looked like the were re stuccoing the outside and painting it all white. It looked brand new. That was sort of lame. There was a nice park though and a good view over the city.
We once again managed to get lost once feeling like we had found the way on the map from the castle to the street the hostels were on we planned to pick from. But we ran into the tourist office, so we thankfully found parking and went in. They gave us a nice map of the city and a map of the outer country area where there was winery area that of course made my ears perk up. I am loving experiencing international wine. Although I miss Oregon and Washington wine all the time. Then we decided to walk around a little while we were in that area because it seemed to be where all the main "attractions" were. We went into a church but it seemed like evening mass was going to begin and it asked that tourists not come wander in during that time. So we wandered away, but then we went back and actually stayed for mass. I am so glad that we did. It was definitely my favorite part of Bratislava or the only part I liked, but it made it worth the trip. There is always something special to me about going to mass and having the familiarity of it that I had growing up going to mass or going with my Grandparent's to their church. And even though this service was all in Slovak it didn't matter. I knew what they were doing and could even part take a little I just used English. And I knew why they were doing what they were doing and that was to worship the same God that I worship and I found that very powerful. As it was about time to go up and receive communion I realized it was the first time I would be taking communion since my Grandma passed away. Taking communion is always a very special and emotional experience for me, but this time was even more so. I was in such awe of the sacrifice that Christ was because if it wasn't for His death I would not be guaranteed eternal life in Heaven where I know that I will see my Grandma again. I was also pleased to be accepting this sacrament during mass just as my Grandma would have done being Catholic herself and as I did many time along side her when I was younger. It was perfect.
After mass ended and we went in peace (they always seem to say at the end of mass "mass has ended you may go in peace" so I imagined that was what they said at the end of this one too) we went back to the car and headed again in the direction of the hostel. We were lost again, but very randomly ended up on the street we needed to be on, then we drove right by the hostel, but there wasn't a place to turn around. As we were trying to navigate back there I got a phone call. If we were available they wanted us to be extras again for the movie and go up to the Zugspite and do some snowboarding. After a mini conference with Ryan I called Lara back and said we'd do it. So we grabbed a kebab at a place along the road and headed back to Garmisch. We just didn't get the vibe in Bratislava like we wanted to explore anymore anyway so it was all good. And what perfect timing before we were to pay for a night in a hostel or something. We got back to Garmisch just before midnight and went straight to sleep for our big movie day.