Monday, February 29, 2016

All Around the World: Austria, Hungary (and a little bit of the Czech Republic) Whew!

Wanderlust: A very strong and irresistible impulse or desire to travel the world.

Before I can share other recent adventures with you, I have to clear out the gazillion pictures that are taking up all the space on my computer. So let's start with one of my favorite (and fairly recent) trips.


Reasons you should go to Austria:
1. It's an amazing place
2. See #1
3. If you really need a third reason then you're not paying attention....and, um, I love you...

Austria is simply stunning. I wish I could put emoticons on here because I don't think words accurately describe how fantastic this place is! It seems like there's a never ending amount of things to see and do, nooks and crannies to explore and uncover. If Austria isn't on your travel list it should be added immediately and bumped to the top. During our time there, we stayed in Vienna and did a quick trip to Salzburg as well. It wasn't enough, friends. It wasn't enough. I could spend two solid weeks exploring all of Austria and it wouldn't be enough. It's breathtakingly beautiful, architecturally dreamy, and it seriously pulls at the heartstrings with it's rich history.


While in Vienna, we went on a bike tour with Pedal Power. Now, I know I say this about basically every place I go, but the people of Austria are so nice that I don't think "nice" even does them justice. They're kind, polite, hilarious. They tell you stories of Hitler sincerely and compassionately, but they also throw in some good hearted humor to lighten the mood. I learned more about Hitler and World War II than I'd ever learned in school. This- this is another reason to travel. Books will only tell you so much. You need to experience, you need to see. You need to walk where people walked, where people bled, where people died.

Austria is a country of art. It's the home of Gustav Klimt and Mozart, two world renowned figures. Everywhere we went we saw their work. If you're a fan of either, you need to go here. I would also recommend a viewing of The Woman in Gold to really get you primed

Austria is full of theaters and museums, music stores and art stories. In Austria even horse training is an art.

One of the my favorite sights of Vienna was all the graffiti. To be clear, Vienna is very neat and clean, but Vienna is also very wise. The city gave the people of Vienna a giant, popular, widely used canal as a canvas for their art. The hope was that this would prevent graffiti from making it's way onto buildings. From what I can tell, it's working pretty well. The canal is amazing. It's great for biking, running, taking your kids to the little playgrounds, grabbing a bite to eat, shopping...there's so much to do in this canal, of all places!

This is my favorite. It is a remarkable piece of art.
Getting around Vienna is easy. They have trams and tram stations, plus an underground metro. No matter where you're at, you can easily get from one side of town to the other, which you'll need to do to really see everything. Such as Prater- a super cool amusement park right next to their central park. The pictures really don't do the park justice. The are rides similar, but oh-so slightly different than what we have in the US. It's like an international mix between Disneyland and Universal Studios.
Central Park - Vienna Style

Just me making friends with a terrifying looking clown.
I'm saying "Don't kill me. Please." 

We're not sure what this was, but it had football and that's all that mattered to The Fiance.
I would be remiss to not mention the very cool Hudertwasser. The village, the artist, the man. Freidensreich Hundertwasser was an architect with a serious love of art. He's basically the Austrian version of Gaudi. He has buildings speckled throughout Europe that are all worth seeing, but while you're in Vienna I highly recommend you visit these two beauties, below.

HundertwasserHaus (The equally cool shopping village is right across from it)
KunstHausWien - Also has a shop inside
We stayed at the Best Western Premier Harmonie, which was uh-maze-ing. Beautiful, fancy, comfortable. The room wasn't huge, but it was glorious. Plus, they had tea time every afternoon- Bonus! As for places to dine gluten free, you need not worry. Austria, in general, was very food allergy friendly. They were, in fact, very food cautious. The country believes in organic foods and fights hard to maintain a high level of food quality. It's rare to hear about a country so deeply passionate about food quality- and I mean passionate, people. For instance, the entire country is fighting against Monsanto. Austria is full of my kind of people.

Before I go off on a Monsanto tangent, let's get back to the eating. Ragusa had tons of allergy friends options for anyone with any kind of food allergies. This is a seafood restaurant but they had other options as well. If you're in the heart of town, check out Plachuttas Gasthaus Zur Opera. Get the boiled beef. Trust me.

Almost every single menu I saw in Vienna had a list on it from A-Z of food allergies, labeling every menu item so you knew exactly what to avoid. The tricky part: gluten was not G on the menu, but A. Outside of that, easy to understand entirely.

Salzburg - The City of Salt

I know what you're thinking. The Sound of Music. You're right, this is that beautiful backdrop to the movie...but it's so much more.

When in the land of music, what do you bring back for your friends and family? Salt, of course. Bath salt, garlic salt, spicy salt, salt rocks. You name it, they've got it! And yes, you want it.

Salzburg- gloriously beautiful and filled with things to do, see, eat, buy. I was in heaven. Absolute heaven.

Back to this whole salt business. Salt, while seemingly boring (yet tasty), has a rich history. On our day trip to this magical place, our guide (who happened to look just like Dexter!) told us story after story of the way salt has shaped the world. It's had an impact on religion, politics, wars. It's been used, in essence, as a weapon. (If you're interested...Salt - read all about it!)

We started at Mirabell Palace, and worked our way through the "new" city, over the bridge, to the "old" city.

The old city is where you want to be,  my friends. Every view you want to capture, every Sound of Music picture you want to take, this is where to make that happen. Within the city lies endless streets and alleys to wander down where no wrong turn exists. Every direction leads you to something worth seeing.

One of my favorite things about the city were the signs that lined the main streets. Our guide informed us that signs, in the past, were meant to be a visual representation of what the shop offered, not something you read as not everyone could read. The old signs are now intermixed with new signs, but they're beautiful none the less.

This was in a different part of the city, but it made me LOL.
If you wind your way through the city going straight back, you'll find Petersfriedhof, a beautiful cemetery.
Follow along the main path and you'll come across alleys leading to more amazing views, sculptures, and a chance to sink your teeth into Mozart Balls. These balls are a big deal, people. There's a serious scandal between two families over who created this very popular treat. From what I was told, these are gluten free and I have to admit, they are REALLY good. However, there is a difference in flavor between the two main types you'll find here. I suggest trying both versions and deciding for yourself which is better!

On this particular trip we used Austria as our home base while we went out and had adventures in Hungary and the Czech Republic, my other two new Favorite Places Ever. While we didn't have nearly enough time in either, it was a good taste of what we one day hope to go back and revisit. Here's info on those two lovely places.

Hungary - Budapest

I had no idea what to expect of Budapest and I knew almost nothing about it, except that I wanted to go see what could be seen. Having now been there, I can't help but wonder why this magical city isn't on every single person's travel list. I think about it all the time, so much that I wrote a special rap/chant/thing because I love it that much.

Buda, Budapest. You da, you da best. Hey! (repeat x100)

Amazing, right? Right?

I feel like this is one of those places that has a little something for everyone. There's fantastic shopping, amazing sights, great food, and of course, the people are wonderful. Don't be dummies like us and only spend one day here. Give yourself time to really invest in all there is to see and do.
Hook tere
I highly recommend a trip to the city park, below. Not only is it beautiful to stroll through, but this is the place where I got some of the best gifts. Here you will find handcrafted ceramics, watercolor artwork, and wood carvings.

Hungry in Hungary? Check out Varosliget Cafe, an authentic Hungarian restaurant right next to the park. The decor is gorgeous and the food is amazing with plenty of gluten free options. Definitely order the lemon iced tea. It's one of the best teas I've ever had in my whole tea loving life.
Mathias Church and sorbet from Varosliget Cafe
Next up, some crazy beautiful buildings and what not. I'm such an architect nerd. I could stare at/take pictures of this stuff all day long. And I kind of do already (as you can see).

I don't know what I'm doing here.
Fisherman's Bastion

For more shopping, more eating, and maybe even a sighting of Budapest man, go to Vaci street.

This is a fraction of the gorgeousness of Budapest. There are so many other sights to see, I encourage you to spend quality time in this beautiful old city...and then tell me about all the awesome stuff you saw that I missed!

Czech Republic - Prague

Last, but not least, one of the places I had personally been looking forward to the most- Prague. We didn't have nearly enough time (again, because we're dummies) and we had to rush through this gorgeous place. Our original plan was to have a few days here, which is really what you should do. THERE IS SO MUCH TO SEE.

I realize I've already said that about the other two places, but it's like that quadrupled. Like being in a never-ending maze of awesome. Just when you think you've reached the end of one super amazing place, you turn the corner and BAM. Another street full of awesome. Over and over and over.

First, we started with this gigantic and breathtaking church, St. Vitus Cathedral, which just so happens to be next to another giant architectural beauty, the Prague Castle. This is a great starting point.

From here - make sure you have a map - you can wind up and down, following paths full of people across the countryside. Fair warning, from here on out it gets very crowded, but for good reason- so much amazingness to see! Keep navigating your way around and following the path which will lead you to your next destination...

...Charles Bridge. This is the spot to be. What I came to discover was that you'd really only gotten started once you hit Charles Bridge. Should you go left, right, up, down? Who knows! You are surrounded by options. If you choose to go toward Old Town Square you'll come across vendors galore that line the bridge with their art and handmade goods, not to mention views from every angle for miles.

From there, believe it or not, it just keeps multiplying. More to see, more to do. As you cross the bridge to the old town, you then come across the Prague Astronomical Clock. There are plenty of places to eat at and some very good food stand vendors that sell ham and potatoes. I would recommend those as a fast and easy meal.
Old Town Square
Astronomical Clock

This was the end of our journey in Prague. What a lovely, remarkable place. I hope one day you too will get to see this beautiful city.

You can find most of these pictures, and a whole lot of other ones, on my Society6 page.