Austria: The Hills are Alive (Week 2)

Updated: Feb 1

Since most of my traveling will be from Thursday-Sunday (my classes are stacked M-W) during my time abroad, my “weekly blogs” will end with Sundays from now on. This week’s post is mostly a reflection on two local Prague tours, my 19th birthday, and my four-day excursion to Vienna and Salzburg. Travel itinerary and trip highlights included! 

August 26, 2017 – S(art)urday


Went on a beautiful but exhausting 3 hour walking tour discussing the street names, religious relics, neo-classical/neo-Gothic/neo-Reinaissance/Art Noveau/Art Deco buildings, and more around our dorms. I wish I could say I’m someone who really appreciates architectural constructs as much as I appreciate a perfectly peppered and cooked cacio e pepe al dente, but unfortunately, I don’t. (Although I really am in awe of anyone who can spend hours admiring every feature of a building, from its physical structure to its physical location to its periodicity to its past owners’ lives.)


While I’m not an art and architecture expert, here are some sceneries I personally found quite breath-taking and/or thought-provoking (and me + my suitemates):

Proceeded to have an artful treat yo’self evening with Wes and John. It went like this:

  1. Made omurice from scratch and watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi (finally!)

  1. Played Coup with friends

  2. Started and finished Girls Trip way past 2 A.M. while binge-eating fruit sorbet, chocolate croissants, and cream-filled pastries

  3. I would say I regret this choice but I don’t because there’s only one time to enjoy the “college student lifestyle” and that time is now.

  4. Went to bed at 4:30 A.M. after journaling, probably in an incoherently sappy way considering it was 4:30 A,M. I don’t really remember.

August 27, 2017 – (Opera)ting On Adventure


Beautiful Vinohrady Fortress hike and tour.

Later in the evening, I saw my first opera, Madame Butterfly, at the National Theatre. Breathtaking lobbies, hallways, staircases, and theatre before the actual show even started. It’s so crazy to me that my ticket to an elegant opera performance is the same price as a movie ticket to AMC.

The actors’ and actresses’ voices were so rich and absolutely beautiful. Don’t know how they were able to belt Italian tunes for hours on end without ever sounding hoarse or looking winded. Wasn’t the biggest fan of the plot, but the costumes, songs, stage props, and characters were all very well done. The pit orchestra was wonderful! And at least I understood everything–thank you, synopsis and subtitles.


I’ve realized though, that like art and architecture, opera is not really “my thing” either. I am ashamed to admit that I briefly nodded off several times throughout the 3+ hour show. Maybe because it was a 3+ hour show. So while I will certainly share my appreciation for the talent, beauty, and grace of the performance if anyone asks, I don’t think I can (or should) ever be pegged as a die-hard opera fan.

August 28, 2017 – First Day of Classes!


Packed my lunch and a bag of apples and carrots for the day. Attended two classes, Organizational Communications & Its Social Context and Modern Dissent, from 9 A.M.-1:20 P.M, and really enjoyed both! It’s so great to officially be back in the classroom, learning and listening and debating again.


Both of my professors are incredibly knowledgeable in European politics, media, journalism, revolutions, religion…you name it. Jan Urban, I’ve heard, is known for his incredible life stories. Past students told me I had to sign up for his class just to listen to him talk about his past political activism, campaigns, government getaways, revolutionary actions, near-death experiences, and more. Can’t wait for the lectures to come. We’ll be discussing The Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf on Wednesday.


Bought a small carry-on suitcase for traveling after class. Cooked chicken, broccoli, cabbage, and eggs for dinner with John. Watched the season finale for Game of Thrones with Jesse (!!) and screamed way too many times and almost cried and died simultaneously at the end when EVERYTHING IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN BUT DOESN’T BECAUSE HBO IS DUMB AND MAKING US WAIT ANOTHER 2 YEARS FOR THE FINAL SEASON. Will be 20 by the time Season 8 premiers. That’s cool. I’m fine. I’m okay. *heavy breathing*

August 29, 2017 – A Sweet Nineteen


Elaine texted me early. Gabe called me at 12:00 A.M. sharp. Wes, John, Kelly, and Jessica surprised me in my room right after. Jesse texted me a Game of Thrones video of the Night’s Watch talking to me. All to wish me a happy birthday. I ugly cried with happiness (yes I cry too much it’s my way of releasing every possible emotion).


I’ve learned not to expect anything on my birthday. I used to be the kid who woke up on August 29th expecting to be treated like a queen just for being born. It was a tragic moment when I realized August 29th was not “Amy’s Coronation Day.” At least I managed to make going to Dave&Busters with my family an annual birthday tradition.

But not expecting anything on this day made the surprises all the sweeter—literally. Wes, John, Kelly, Victor, Matt, Jesse, Jessica, Ashley, and Sean threw me my first ever surprise birthday party after a traditional Czech dinner at Machova, somehow managing to sneak a chocolate raspberry cheesecake into the kitchen while I was dropping stuff off in my room. Their “Happy Birthday” singing was accompanied by my breaking down in happy tears. (Crying, I’ve realized, is my prime method of communication for literally every emotion.)

After sharing the cake, I then watched a video that my sister had secretly put together of all of my closest friends and family wishing me happy birthday to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Still can’t shake off the shock And yes, I cried again.


And finally, I loved reading and replying to all the messages my friends left me on social media. One of the best parts about birthdays is chatting with people I haven’t seen or spoken to in years. It’s always nice to hear from those who have touched your life, one way or another.


So here we are. One more teen year.


Saved the best for last.

August 31, 2017 – I Slept at 5:30 A.M.


Two words for those who get it: Retro Wednesdays.

August 31-September 1, 2017 – Vienna


With 2 hours of sleep, I hopped on a bus to Vienna at 9:30 A.M. on August 31th. Didn’t get to writing this until I was on the bus back home from Salzburg on September 1.

Impressions:

  1. First fell in love walking along the river during golden hour. The graffiti art, sunset colors reflected in the water, local shops and bars, bikers and locals, bright lights…

  1. The palaces and churches are exactly the kind of historic beauty you’d expect.

  1. The city is an interesting juxtaposition of new and old structures.

  2. So many bursts of color.

  1. So much gelato in the town center. At least 3 gelaterias on every block (Castelletto on the left, Zanoni & Zanoni on the right).

  1. The Museums Quarter is touristy but so worth it.

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  1. Perhaps now would be a good time to start collecting and sending postcards.

Highlights:

Figlmüeller. Known for its famous pork schnitzel, an original recipe for more than 110 years. For perspective: the plate is much bigger than your head, and the pork schnitzel is much bigger than your plate. Who knew something so simple—fried pork with a squeeze of fresh lemon—could be so good?! Loved the calf’s liver, rosemary potatoes, veal goulash, and beef stew, too.

Mumok Museum of Contemporary Art. Definitely one of the top 3 art museums I’ve ever visited (if not my favorite). Provoking feminist art exhibition, unapologetic celebration of nudity in all forms, geometric 2D and 3D art, written word poems, beautiful digital stills and art pieces by Martin Beck, and more.

Schönbrunn Palace. At night. We snuck in by slipping through a locked gate two people just so happened to be exiting. Wish I could also have seen it during the day for the gardens and palace tour, but there’s something about being there at night that you can never get when it’s packed with thousands of other tourists. We had the entire palace and its gardens to ourselves. The soft violet sky peaked out through thundering clouds that stretched on endlessly. The palace’s golden columns, even off in the distance, radiated imposing splendor. We stood in the gardens, shivering slightly in the light rain, marveling in silent awe as time slowly crept on.

Historic Note: Schönbrunn Palace is one of Austria’s foremost cultural and historical heritage sites. 1,441-room Baroque palace. Former imperial summer residence.

Jonathan & Sieglinde. Austrian restaurant frequented by locals and known for its potato and apple dishes. Delicious potato skillets and salads. Didn’t know that many options of baked potato even existed. Only get the steak if you don’t like apples or potatoes, and if you’re ready to cook it yourself!

Ribs of Vienna. I kid you not when I say these were the BEST RIBS I’ve had in years, maybe ever. 1 meter racks, juicy and perfectly seasoned, for only 16 Euros. And over 10+ differently seasoned ribs too, served with coleslaw and potatoes (we tried the Asian garlic ribs and Provence herbs ribs). Nothing but bones left on our plates. And we may re-visit Vienna just to come here again.

September 2-3, 2017 – Salzburg

Impressions:

  1. Immediately a cool city for being the birthplace of Mozart and the place where The Sound of Music was filmed.

  2. Just as visually stunning as Vienna, if not more (minus the rain).

  1. Everything is surrounded by lush green mountains and rocky cliffs.

  2. Our view from the Holiday Inn was a mountain whose peaks we couldn’t even see because they reached through the clouds.

  3. Wish we had had more time to learn about the history and culture behind many of the famous statues, fountains, and gardens we visited.

  4. Mozart’s chocolate liquor is great. Mozart chocolates are an expensive tourist trap but I got them anyway.

  5. There’s a Love Locks Bridge here!

  1. Visited three The Sound of Music shooting sites to walk the steps of Maria and the von Trapp family. (Played the soundtrack on the walk there to prepare myself.)

  2. Unfortunately cold and rainy for 90% of the time we were there—and yet still amazing.

Highlights:


Mozart Concert with Three-Course Dinner at Stiftskeller St. Peter. By far the best night of the entire trip. Chandeliers, ceiling murals, and candle-lit tables greeted us inside a grand Baroque Hall within the St Peter monastery. Classy elderly couples and families sitting all around us. My friends and I, dressed up to match a room of elegance and style, sipping champagne and enjoying Mozart’s pieces performed by a quintet of string musicians (3 violinists, 1 cellist, 1 octobassist) and two lead singers (I was serenaded by the man!) all dressed in period costumes. Different songs were performed in between each course of our meal. Savored each morsel of music and food.


Fun fact I discovered only later: Stiftskeller is Europe’s oldest restaurant: it was first mentioned in 803 on occasion of Charlemagne’s visit, and even the Mozart family had dinner there!


The Sound of Music Shooting Locations

  1. Mirabell Palace and Gardens

  2. “In the film, Maria and the children dance around the Pegasus Fountain in front of the palace, singing the song “Do Re Mi”. At the end of the scene, the Trapp family stand on the steps in front of the Rose Hill and sing the song’s final bars.”

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  1. Residenzplatz Square & Residence Fountain

  2. “During their carriage ride through the city, Maria and the children sing as they pass the Residenz Fountain.”

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Notice the horse statue. Who did it better?

  1. Karajan Square & the “Horse Pond”

  2. “During a carriage ride through Salzburg, Maria and the Trapp children marvel at the famous square and the unique Horse Pond.”

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Played songs from The Sound of Music and sang along on the walk to these locations in giddy anticipation. Look at the photos to see why I couldn’t have been disappointed.

I’m writing this—from my birthday to the end of this trip—on the bus ride back to Prague. I’m physically exhausted, quite dehydrated, and severely sleep-deprived. I’m aware that, as the first trip outside of the country—this wasn’t as well-planned as it could have been, and that we honestly winged most of it. We also chose a not-so-great weekend to come because it rained more than half of the time we were here.


But despite all that, I can confidently say I loved everything I was able to do, and that I would do everything (and more) again.


I’m living out a European travel blog or in a beautiful movie scene.


I’m (privileged enough to be) a wide-eyed tourist and local observer.


I’m with a group of great people—some of whom I’ve known for just over a year and some of whom I’ve only just gotten to know here. Traveling with people is completely different from studying with them given you do literally everything together. I’m fortunate enough to say I thoroughly enjoyed (almost) every second of my first travel experience because of Wes, John, Matt, Victor, Kelly, Jessica, Ashley, Jesse, Sean, and Richard (thanks guys!).


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