Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Austrian National Day and the 50th Anniversary Celebration

Today is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Austrian State Treaty. Just to give you some background history, after the end of World War II Austria was occupied by the four major Allied forces – United States, Great Britain, France, and Russia. The whole country was divided into four sections with each of the Allied countries controlling one section. Since Vienna is the capital of Austria, it was also divided into four different sections for the countries to control.

Austria was finally granted its freedom as an independent sovereign state when the State Treaty was signed at the Belvedere Palace on May 15, 1955. However, it still took some time for the foreign troops to withdraw from the country. On October 25, 1955, the last foreign troops left Austria. So, October 26 was the first day without occupation by foreign troops, and it was declared “Austrian National Day.” This was also the day that the Austrian Parliament passed the Neutrality Law, declaring that Austria would always remain a neutral country in international affairs. Even though neutrality was a clause of the State Treaty, the Parliament passed the law on October 26 as a symbolic measure to show that no other country was influencing their decision.So now we come to the 50th anniversary of this great occasion. Since all of the federal museums have free admission for this holiday, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. In the morning, I went to the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum, which is the Military History Museum. It is actually located in the Arsenal in Vienna (which is a huge complex housing the museum and many other military departments). I wanted to go here because my uncle Jimmy told me that the car that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in (which started WWI) was in a museum in Vienna. I did a little bit of research and found out that it was in the Military History Museum, so that’s how I ended up there on the morning of Austrian National Day.

I enjoyed visiting the museum a lot. There were so many displays with different types of weapons and armor, and the history dated back to the early reign of the Habsburgs. Some of the most interesting exhibits included a French military surveillance hot air balloon from the 1800s and a display on the Austro-Hungarian navy (which no longer exists because Austria became a land-locked country following the loss of most of its territory at the end of WWI). I was able to see the car that the Archduke and his wife were assassinated in, as well as the uniform he was wearing when he died and the chaisse lounge that he died on.

My choice to visit the Military History Museum on the 50th anniversary of Austrian National Day was very appropriate because it was also the 50th anniversary of the Austrian Army. In the afternoon, there was a huge parade at the Ring in the middle of the city (the Ring is the 3 mile road that circles the historic center of Vienna). I was able to be on the front row in the crowd, so I had a great view of the entire parade. It lasted two hours and I was amazed to see all of the military equipment and troops that participated. According to a press release by the city, it was “a military parade of arms and armor around Vienna’s Ringstrasse…Four thousand soldiers, 195 tanks, 100 aircraft and 100 horses and dogs will form a convoy 7.5 km long (~4.7 miles), accompanied by military bands, guards, and standard bearers from all the nations of the European Union.”

The entire parade was phenomenal! Although I am not an Austrian citizen, I felt proud to be able to witness this historic event. There were so many different things to see in the parade that I don’t know if I can remember all of them. First, squadrons of helicopters, fighter jets, and cargo planes flew over the center of the city. It was amazing because they just kept coming, and it seemed like they would never stop. After that, the parade began around the city. I think the Army brought every piece of equipment that they owned to this parade because it seemed like it would never end. They had everything from heavy tanks to Bradley armored vehicles, construction equipment to ambulances, jeeps with machine guns to fire trucks. In addition, every unit from the Army was represented – firemen, K-9 units, cavalry, packhorses, divers, hazardous materials handlers, troops outfitted for service in desert, mountain, and snowy climates, military police, medical units, honor guard, and many others that I can’t remember. The parade also featured United Nations peacekeeping forces and equipment, which is very appropriate since Vienna is the 3rd headquarters of the United Nations.

The city had set the entire parade to music and they had speakers set up around the Ring. It was so thrilling to see all of these military machines going by with the instrumental music playing in the background – I kept getting goosebumps! In addition, they had standard bearers from EU nations and several other countries, including the USA. I felt very proud to see representatives from the Marines carrying our flag in the parade.

It was such a wonderful experience to be able to participate in this historic event, and I will never forget it. If you would like to see additional pictures of the parade, click on “Andria’s Travel Photos” and look in the folder labeled Austrian National Day.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Family Vacation – Part I

When my parents found out that I would be living in Vienna for four months, they decided to plan a vacation to come and visit me. So, my dad planned out their ‘travel route’ and I planned my schedule so that I could do some traveling with them. They arrived in Vienna on 18.10.2005 and had some interesting stories to tell about the flight over and trying to find the pension that I had booked for them. (Apparently, my directions weren’t quite as good as they needed to be and my father doesn’t like to ask for directions, so my mother said he made her walk all around Vienna.) I met them at their hotel after my class, and I was so happy to see them! My mom (being the wonderful mother that she is) brought me a suitcase full of things that I had requested. She’s so good to me! We went out to dinner that night, and I got to hear all about their adventures and how the rest of the family was doing.

Over the next few days, my parents did some sightseeing around Vienna and generally entertained themselves because I had class. At night, we would find a new place to have dinner. On Wednesday night, Lara came to dinner with us and we went to a little Italian restaurant that I had found called Cantinetta La Norma. I had been there one time before, but the waiter remembered me and he treated us so well for the entire evening. It was a nice treat for all of us, especially when he brought us little glasses of amaretto at the end of the meal.


On Friday 21.10.2005 (Dad’s birthday!), we took a train to Prague. It was a lot of fun for me to see how much enjoyment Mom got out of the train ride – she enjoyed watching the landscape as much as I do. We talked about what a nice way it is to travel, but unfortunately, I don’t think it would work as well in the States. The train ride took about four hours, and we arrived in Prague around 3:30 pm. We took the metro to our hotel, and it was very nice and located right around the corner from the Old Town Square. The desk clerk told us that the building was built in the 15th century. Our room is very nice, and it has a wonderful mural painted on the wooden ceiling beams.

After getting settled, we ventured out to find a restaurant. We had a wonderful dinner of goulash with bread dumplings and potato pancakes and a beer. Yes, that’s right, yours truly drank a beer – and it was very good (the Czech Republic is known for its beer so I figured that I had to try it). After dinner, we walked around the city for a while. Many of the buildings, including Prague Castle, were lit up and they were beautiful at night.

On Saturday, we started the day with a visit to Prague Castle. There is a beautiful cathedral there, and Dad and I climbed to the top of the tower. We were able to see the entire city from the top of the tower, and I was surprised by how big Prague really is. It was such a pretty day, blue sky with no clouds in sight, and we got some wonderful pictures of the city below the castle. After visiting the cathedral, we watched the changing of the guards at the castle gates, and it was an impressive sight. After the changing of the guard, we toured the Old Palace and the Golden Lane.

After visiting the castle, we walked to the Charles Bridge and climbed the Lesser Town Tower. it was really neat because it had an exhibit that told about the history of the Charles Bridge. I had no idea that it had been rebuilt so many times! After the visiting the bridge, we found another restaurant for lunch and then I did some shopping before we went back to the hotel to collect our bags and go to the train station. Our night train (to Munich) was leaving at 10:00 pm, but we wanted to get to the train station before it got dark. Once we got to the train station, we had an interesting experience. Apparently, a lot of interesting people hang out at the main train station in Prague, and we got to see quite a few of them as we waited for our train. In the end, we made it to our train safe and sound, and were on our way to Munich.


We arrived in Munich around 6:30 am on Sunday (23.10.2005) and we had about three hours before our train left for Fuessen. Since I had visited Munich the weekend before Mom and Dad arrived, I was able to give them the 50 cent tour through the historic district. We also had some breakfast before catching the train.


We arrived in Fuessen around 11:00 am and checked into another wonderful hotel. So far, I had been batting 0.1000 since I booked all of the hotels for Mom and Dad. This one was particularly nice because we had a sitting room with a TV attached to our room. After finding some lunch (at the Pizza Americano restaurant), we decided to take a walking tour of Fuessen. It started to rain lightly, but we still enjoyed seeing the historic sights in the town. Dad lent me his hat so that I could stay dry, but I don’t think I can pull off the “Aussie hat” look as well as he can. After another wonderful dinner, we decided to go to bed early since we had a full day planned for Monday.

Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein Castles

On Monday, we left our hotel early to go to two of King Ludwig II’s castles. Hohenschwangau was his boyhood home and Neuschwanstein was his dream castle that was never completed. I had visited Neuschwanstein when I was in Europe in 1997, but I did not get to visit Hohenschwangau then, so I was looking forward to it. We visited Hohenschwangau first and I really enjoyed being able to see the castle and its furnishings – it seems to bring the history to life when you are able to see it in person, versus just reading about it and looking at pictures.

After visiting Hohenschwangau, we took the bus to the top of the mountain that Neuschwanstein is located on. We went to the Marienbrucke, which is the bridge that Ludwig used to visit so that he could watch his dream castle become a reality. Then we walked down to Neuschwanstein. This castle is truly amazing, and I can see why Walt Disney modeled Cinderella Castle after Neuschwanstein. The castle was only 1/3 completed when Ludwig II died (under questionable circumstances), and the Bavarian government started giving public tours in it within six weeks of his death (Ludwig had used a quite a bit of money to build the castle, and the government wanted to recoup some of it). After seeing how incredible the castle was in its unfinished state, I cannot even begin to imagine how it would have looked if it was completed.

After visiting the castles, we took the bus back to Fuessen so that I could get my bags and catch my train. I had to travel back to Munich, and then on to Vienna so that I could go to class on Tuesday. We went back to the hotel and had a picnic lunch, then Mom and Dad walked me to the train station (I guess they didn’t want me to get lost). I hopped on my train and headed back to Vienna. Mom and Dad were staying in Fuessen for the night before heading down to Venice for a few days. I was sorry that I wouldn’t be able to go with them, but a little bit glad to have a few days “off duty.” This ‘tour guide’ stuff is hard work!

Well, this is the end of the first part of our family vacation. At least I was able to rest for a few days before the second part began. Hopefully, I will be able to finish the story of our travels over the next few days. If you would like to see additional pictures of our family travels, click on “Andria’s Travel Photos” and look in the folder labeled The Family Vacation.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Munich – Capital of Bavaria

I left for Munich on Saturday, 15.10.2005, which was pretty amazing since I had only decided to go there two days earlier. As most of you know, I am a planner, so it was unusual for me to just “pack up and go” (well, as close to packing up and going as I can get). But I am really glad that I went because I had an incredible time and met some wonderful people along the way.

After I arrived in the city, I decided to do a little bit of exploring. The Old City was very close to my hostel, so I walked down the street towards Marienplatz, which is where the old and new town halls are located. The city of Munich was pretty much destroyed in the WWII bombings, but the Germans made picture catalogues of all the buildings before the bombings started. So, after the war, the city was rebuilt to its previous grandeur. However, the New Town Hall did survive the bombings so it still looks as it did when it was completed in 1906.

I also visited the three main churches in the Old City – St. Michael’s, St. Peter’s, and the Frauenkirche. I was able to climb to the top of the steeple in St. Peter’s and the dome in the Frauenkirche to look out over the city. It was beautiful, especially since the sun was beginning to set. The New Town Hall has a 100-year-old glockenspiel in its tower, and I was able to make a video of it moving when the clock struck 17.00.

On my way back to my hostel, a group of street musicians were playing in front of a store. The group was Tal Consort, and they were absolutely incredible! They played several different classical pieces (the instruments were flute, oboe, violin, and bass) and I enjoyed the music so much that I bought their CD. It was definitely a good investment, and I have already enjoyed listening to it.


On Sunday morning, 16.10.2005, I got up early to go to the Dachau Concentration Camp (located about 45 minutes outside of Munich). On my way to Dachau, I met a wonderful man whom I now call “the good samaritan.” I was looking at the subway map to figure out which line I should take to get to Dachau and he came up and asked me if I needed help (in German of course). I pointed to my map and said “Dachau” and he communicated to me (using hand gestures) that he was also going there, and that I should follow him. At first, we were going to take the train to Dachau that I had seen on my map, but then another train came and he motioned for me to get on it with him. So, I did (even though I was somewhat apprehensive). We got off the train at another station and he said “busse Dachau”, telling me that there was a bus to Dachau. Still skeptically following him, we walked out of the station and I saw that there was indeed a bus going to Dachau. When we got on the bus, he said “das zu arbeit”, which I could understand meant “this works too.” We had a 40 minute bus ride to Dachau and I am glad that I took that route because I got to see some beautiful scenery along the way. During our trip, he was able to communicate to me that he had three children – two daughters and a son. His son is an electrical engineer, one of his daughters is a designer, and the other daughter is studying medicine at Princeton in New Jersey. I could tell that he was very proud of his family. As our bus ride came to an end, I asked if I could take a picture of him. He seemed surprised, but was very pleased that I had asked him. As we got off the bus, he took me to the bus stop for the concentration camp, and told me to wait for the bus going to ‘KV-Gedenkstatte.’ Then, he gave me a big hug, I thanked him for all of his help, and we parted ways.

Once I arrived at Dachau, I was somewhat apprehensive of how I would feel when I walked into the actual camp. Since I know that many people are reading this blog and I don’t want to upset anyone, I am going to refrain from going into details about what I saw or how I felt during this experience. The exhibits were very descriptive, but pictures and text can never convey the whole truth about Dachau. I think the curators did a very impressive job of putting the memorial and museum together. It was a very moving experience for me to visit the camp, and I am glad that I went. The only way that history will never repeat itself is if we don’t forget what happened in the past.

Schloss Nymphenburg

After Dachau, I headed back to Munich and went to Schloss Nymphenburg, which was the summer home of the Bavarian royalty (like Schonbrunn is the summer home of the Habsburgs in Austria). It was not as impressive as Schonbrunn, but I still enjoyed visiting the palace and gardens. (I think I am beginning to be spoiled by all of the beautiful palaces and museums in Vienna!) I was able to see the palace as well as a small palace that was built for one of the queens to use as her ‘hunting lodge.’ It was very intriguing because it was basically a miniature version of a palace. One of the more interesting exhibits was the Masrtallmuseum (Royal Carriage Museum). There were so many beautiful carriages, and I could not believe how ornate some of them were. One of my favorite pieces in the museum was a miniature carousel for the royal children.

Duetsches Museum

On Monday, 17.10.2005, I got up early and went to the Duetsches Museum. This museum is basically the European equivalent of the Smithsonian, and it was truly amazing! I spent over two hours going through exhibits on many different topics – mining, electricity, chemistry, pharmaceuticals, printing, textiles, music, aeronautics, cars, trains, bicycles and carriages, marine transportation, tunnel construction, bridge building, glassblowing, ceramics, and paper, just to name a few. All of this, and I didn’t even see all of the different sections of the museum! Most of the museum exhibits were described in German and English so being able to understand the descriptions exponentially increased my enjoyment of the museum. In addition, the outside of the museum had a barometer, an astronomical clock, and a sundial on the buildings.

After the Duetsches Museum, I wandered around the western part of Munich before heading back to the Old City one last time. While I had been wandering through the city the past few days, I kept seeing metal statues of lions that were decorated with different artistic motifs, usually reflecting the type of store that they were placed in front of. I asked the desk clerk at my hostel what they were for, and she said they had been created by the city of Munich. Different individuals or businesses can pay to have artists decorate them with a theme. The money is given to charity, so it serves a dual purpose of philanthropy and advertising for the business. The two shown below were both for the clothing store Hertie.

It was time to head back to Vienna on Monday afternoon, and that is when I had my second encounter with some wonderful people. I was sitting on a bench waiting for my train when I heard the couple next to me talking. It was surprising to hear them speaking English…and even more surprising to hear them speaking English with a southern accent! I asked them where they were from, and the woman said “Alabama.” I told them that I was from North Carolina, and we struck up a conversation. We talked during the whole trip back to Vienna. Fred and Reneea are from Alabama, but they are living in Switzerland for three months to start a NGO (non-government organization) to help orphans. When I met them, they were heading to Romania to deliver blankets to children in an orphanage in Oradea. We had a wonderful trip back to Vienna, and once we arrived, I helped them find a place to store their luggage and a hotel near the train station, since they were leaving very early the next morning for Romania. They have reached Oradea, Romania by now, and I hope they have a successful journey.

And so, my trip to Munich came to an end. My parents arrived today (18.10.2005) in Vienna, so I will be showing them around the city and traveling with them for the next couple of weeks. Next up on the itinerary…Prague, Czech Republic!

If you would like to see pictures from my Munich trip click on “Andria’s Travel Photos” (on the right) and click on the folder labeled ‘Munich.’ I will try to have them posted in the next couple of days.


Friday, October 14, 2005

Switzerland – The 6-Day Whirlwind Tour

I started my tour of Switzerland on Wednesday, 05.10.2005, at approximately 7.30 in the morning. In order to get to Lausanne, Switzerland (on Lake Geneva), I took a 12 hour train ride. The scenery in Europe is so amazing, and I love being able to see so much of it during my train travels. The European train system is incredible, and I will definitely miss being able to use it when I go back home. Just to give you an idea of my itinerary for this trip, I was planning on going to Lausanne, Interlaken (and up to the Schilthorn), and Lucerne. This meant that I would be traveling in the French-speaking part of the country (Lausanne and Lake Geneva) and the German-speaking part of the country (Interlaken and Lucerne).


I arrived at Lausanne around 19.30 on Wednesday night and found my hostel pretty easily (which is good since it was dark by that time). I have been impressed with all of the hostels that I have stayed in while traveling and the ones in Switzerland were no exception. Unfortunately, I had started catching a cold the day before I left for Switzerland, so my next stop was at the Pharmacie to get some cold medicine. After that, I got some dinner and went back to the hostel to settle in for the night.

On Thursday, 06.10.2005, I got up and took a train to the Chateau Chillon. It is a castle located on Lake Geneva, and it is also one of the most well-known castles in Switzerland. As an added bonus, this is one of the places that I visited during my last trip to Europe (8 years ago) and I wanted to come back and see it again. I enjoyed touring the Chateau, which is known as the place that inspired Lord Byron’s poem, “The Prisoner of Chillon.” After returning from the Chateau, I explored the Old Town of Lausanne and visited the Cathedral, which is the biggest church in Switzerland. I climbed the tower of the Cathedral and when I stepped out onto the balcony, I had an amazing view of the city. The sky was bright blue and so clear that I could see the mountains on the other side of Lake Geneva. I finished exploring the Old Town and ate dinner at a self-service cafeteria called Manora, and then I decided to head down to the Ouchy district. The Ouchy district is on the waterfront of Lake Geneva, and it includes a large marina and a boardwalk. I walked along the waterfront and watched all of the skateboarders and families enjoying the beautiful evening. Lausanne is known as the “Olympic Capital” of the world because the International Olympic Committee is headquartered there, and they have a large Olympic Museum (Musee Olympique) located in the Ouchy district. When I arrived at the museum, it was already closed for the night since it was after 18.00. This did not bother me since my main reason for coming was to walk around the gardens and see the Olympic flame. However, when I arrived at the flame, all I could see was the natural gas coming out of the fixture – apparently, they only turn the flame on at noon every day. So, I did what any normal tourist would do – took a picture of the flame fixture (minus the flame) to prove that I was there, and headed back down the waterfront to enjoy the evening.

Interlaken and the Schilthorn

I left Lausanne on Friday morning (07.10.2005) and headed for Interlaken, a small town at the base of the Swiss Alps. My objective was to go to the top of the Schilthorn, which is the mountain where they filmed part of the James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” The Piz Gloria, a revolving restaurant, and a viewing platform are located on the top of the Schilthorn. If you would like to learn more info on how the James Bond movie and the Schilthorn are linked, go to

(there is a button on top of the menu to translate the site into English). I had to take two trains, a funicular, and two gondolas to get to the top of the Schilthorn (it is 10,000 feet high). I could feel my ears popping as we kept going up towards the mountain. When I got to the top, it was COLD! It was about 23ºF, as opposed to the 50ºF weather at the bottom of the mountain. I went out onto the viewing platform, and it was snowing. That means that I saw snow twice within one week, and it was only the 7th of October. (I can tell that this is going to be a rough winter for me.) I do have to say that the Swiss Alps were phenomenal, so I did not mind the cold weather too much. It is so mesmerizing to see all of this beauty surrounding me. After my trip to the Schilthorn, I came back to Interlaken and checked into my hostel. I asked the desk clerk for a recommendation of a good restaurant for Swiss fondue that was not touristy – someplace where the locals would go to eat. So, she told me about the Restaurant Laterne. It is a quaint restaurant located on a side street in Interlaken, and it was exactly what I had asked for. I had a wonderful mixed green salad and traditional Laternen fondue, which is a cheese sauce with white wine and garlic that you dip chunks of bread into. It was the perfect ending to a wonderful day in the Swiss Alps. Lucerne

I took the 7.08 train to Lucerne on Saturday, 08.10.2005. I arrived in town that morning and dropped my luggage off at my hostel so that I could spend the day exploring. My first visit was to the Fortress Furigen. This museum is actually located between the towns of Stansstad and Furigen, so I took a 15 minute train ride to get there. The Fortress Furigen is an actual fortress that the Swiss government built in 1941. It was built as part of a plan to protect Switzerland in case of a Nazi invasion. Many fortresses like this one were built in the Alps. If an invasion occurred, the Swiss government would go to a secret bunker in the center of the Alps while the troops left their border posts to gather around the fortresses in the Alps. But, after the end of the cold war, the government decided to open it up to the public as a museum. As an aside, the Swiss roadway system was designed so that it could be destroyed – if an invasion occurred all of the roads leading into the country could be blown up, making the entire country into a mountain fortress.The inside of the fortress was an interesting place – lots of dark, damp passages and rooms cut out into the mountain. It was somewhat unnerving when I first arrived, because I never would have found the place if I had not seen the wooden ticket stand built onto the side of the mountain. I walked into the museum and the first thing I saw was a machine gun aimed at the place where I had been standing outside. Seeing that machine gun aimed in that direction sent a little chill up my spine. Overall, the exhibits in the rooms were well done, but I must admit that the museum gave me a strange feeling when I left. I am used to seeing military museums that have well-lit rooms with exhibits displayed in glass cases – a very clinical and sterile environment. However, this museum was completely different. It was such a cold, calculating place, and it made me think about the “art” of warfare in a totally different light. It also made me wonder what other fortresses I might be walking past without even knowing it. After the Fortress Furigen, I headed back to Lucerne and went to the Swiss Transport Museum. This is a museum that houses so many different exhibits that it is overwhelming – and they are all about transportation! I enjoyed seeing the different exhibits on cars, planes, trains, and even an exhibit on the building of the Gotthard Tunnel (which is the main road through the Alps connecting upper Switzerland with Italy). Plus, since the museum is on the waterfront of Lake Lucerne, I was also able to enjoy some wonderful scenery as I walked to and from it. The next stop on my itinerary was the “Crying Lion.” This is a statue that represents the Swiss mercenaries who died while fighting in the French Revolution. The inscription above the lion says ‘Helvetiorum fidei ac virtuti,’ which means ‘To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss.’ On Sunday morning, 09.10.2005, I decided to head to Bern for a night (even though it was not originally in my plans), so I walked around Lucerne a little bit more before I caught my train. One of the most beautiful sights that I saw was the old Chapel Bridge and Water Tower. Bern

The town of Bern is the capital of Switzerland, and when I arrived there I immediately started exploring the area. The tourist information center had a good city map with a walking tour, so I started out with that first. As I walked along looking at the different sights, I noticed that Bern has a lot of fountains. You see them in the middle of the streets, in the middle of the squares on street corners, etc. I bought a guide book, and found out that the city has over 100 fountains! Here are two of my favorites: During my tour around the city, I found two interesting museums. The first was the Bernisches Historisches Museum (Bern History Museum). I was able to see the history of Bern from the 13th century, as well as exhibits of Nordic nomads and Asian culture (these two were traveling exhibitions). I also went to the Schweizerische Schutzenmuseum (Swiss Shooting Museum), which shows the evolution of marksmanship in Switzerland. One of the most interesting things that I saw was an assault rife that was made as a movie prop. It looks pretty normal, doesn’t it? Until you look at the view from the back, of course! This rifle was designed to shoot around corners and it really works! After my walking tour and museum trips, it was time to head for the hostel and a good night’s sleep before I started my journey back home. As I walked back to the hostels, I was amazed by the scenery that was surrounding me. One of the best things about Switzerland is all of the beautiful views of the mountains and lakes or rivers. It seems like every time I think I have seen the most beautiful landscape, I find another one that is even more impressive.

I will have pictures posted in my photos page in the next couple of weeks. Click on Andria’s Travel Photos and look for the ‘Switzerland’ folder.


Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sights Around Vienna


Even though I have been traveling very frequently, I have also managed to see a few of the sights in the beautiful city that I am living in right now. On Tuesday, 27.09.2005, Lara, Patti (Lara’s friend that was visiting), and I decided to go to the opera. Tickets to the Staadsoper are quite expensive, but on the day of the opera you can get standing room tickets for 3,50 Euro. So, we went to the Staadsoper at around 16.30 and stood in line for an hour and a half waiting for the ticket window to open. When it opened, we bought our tickets and then went to stand in line for another hour to wait for the auditorium of the Staadsoper to be opened. We finally got to go into the auditorium, so all of the people with tickets herded into the standing room. It was quite crowded, and I don’t think the city of Vienna has the same fire codes that we do in America. The opera that we were seeing was Carmen and it was amazing! I cannot even begin to describe how incredible it was to be in a beautiful opera house hearing one of the world’s greatest operas. I am so glad that we went, and I am looking forward to going again before I leave Vienna.

Spanische Hofreitschule

On Tuesday, 04.10.2005, I went to see the Spanische Hofreitschule (Spanish Riding School), which is the home of the Lipizzaner Stallions. The school has been the home of the stallions since the 1700s and it is world-renowned for being the one of the best riding schools in the world for precision horsemanship. During my tour of the school I found out several interesting facts. First of all, there are only 17 riders, and they train 65 stallions that are stabled there. No other riders are allowed on the horses. Also, women are not accepted as riders or horses – it’s an exclusive “Boys’ Club.”

Another interesting story regards a superstition about the Spanische Hofreitschule. Lipizanner stallions are born with a dark coat of hair, but as they grow older, the hair lightens until their coats are completely white (which is a well-known characteristic of the Lipizzaner Stallions). However, there is a small percentage of the Lipizzaners (less that 1%) that are born with a dark brown coat and they stay that way as they get older (I could go in to the biology of it, but it’s too boring). These horses are thought to bring good luck to the riding school. The superstition says that if there is ever a time when there is not at least one brown stallion in the school in Vienna, all of the riders and horses will get sick and the school will collapse. So, there are currently three brown stallions residing in the riding school in Vienna right now. Rathaus Reception

On Wednesday, 12.10.2005, the Mayor of Vienna held a reception for the exchange students that are studying at schools in the city. A large group of us went to the Rathaus together, and it was nice to see everyone so dressed up, instead of in jeans (like we normally are). As we entered the Rathaus, I was amazed by how beautiful the inside was. We had our reception in an enormous banquet hall, where they served plenty of food, wine, and beer. Everyone had a wonderful time. I even got to meet Sonja Kato, Social Democratic member of the Viennese Parliament (far left); Dr. Hans K. Kaiser, Vice-Rector of the Technical University Vienna (left); and Mag. Ulrich Hoermann, General Director of the Austrian Exchange Service (far right). There are no words to describe how fortunate I feel to be able to live in this beautiful city and have so many wonderful things to see and do right at my doorstep. I have to keep reminding myself to explore the city that I live in as well as the surrounding areas, so that I don’t miss out on anything. I hope I will have the chance to do that since my parents will be visiting in a few days and I get to be their tour guide for the city.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Lara, Patti (Lara’s friend) and I met up in Budapest on 01.10.2005. Lara and Patti were coming from Prague, and I came from Vienna (after getting back from the Dumlerhutte the night before), so we all met in the Keleti pu train station in Budapest.

Before I tell anything about the city of Budapest, I have to tell about my misadventures getting to the city in the first place. Originally, Lara and Patti thought they would arrive at a different train station, so we agreed to meet at our hostel. Before I got to the Keleti pu train station (where I happened to meet up with Lara and Patti), I originally got off the train at the Kelenfold station. This station was closer to my hostel (according to the directions from the hostel), so I thought it would be faster to get off at this station, instead of going all the way to the main station. Before I go any further, I need to preface the rest of my story by saying that I made a bad decision because I did not exchange any Euros for Hungarian Forints before I arrived in Hungary. Part of this is due to the fact that I was running late and afraid that I would miss my train, but part of it is also due to my arrogance in thinking that I would easily be able to find an ATM and take money out of my bank account when I arrived in Budapest.

So, I got off the train at the Kelenfold station, and start looking around for an ATM. I quickly realized that there wasn’t one anywhere at that station. Kelenfold wasn’t really a train station anyways, but more of a train platform for the locals to use. So, I wandered around, getting more and more anxious, because lack of money was not my only problem. As I was looking for an ATM, I began to realize that nobody in the whole train station spoke English…except for me, of course! For the first time, I knew what it felt like to arrive in a foreign country with no money and no way to communicate…and that is the scariest and loneliest feeling in the world. After continuing to wander around the station for about 40 minutes, I saw that a night train was coming from Vienna to Budapest. So when it stopped at the station, I hopped on board and illegally rode the train for ten minutes to get to the main station in Budapest. When I arrived at the main station, Lara and Patti were waiting for me…which was a very welcome sight after my early morning adventures!

After I finished hugging Lara and Patti and telling them how glad I was to see them, we found an ATM, got some money, and then headed out to the Backpack Budapest Hostel. The directions to get to our hostel were not entirely straightforward, so we had a little bit of trouble finding it. But, we eventually found it and got settled into the “Jungle Room,” named because of the jungle animals painted on the walls. Since it was after 1 pm, we decided it was time for lunch and headed to Borbirosag Etterem, a restaurant that was recommended by the lady who runs our hostel. It was an excellent choice, and we enjoyed a wonderful meal that included traditional Hungarian goulash and a wonderful Hungarian wine. It was nice to sit down and have a relaxing meal after the crazy morning that I had gone through.

After lunch, we decided to walk around Pest, and we ended up at the National History Museum. The National History Museum was a very nice museum, with a lot of interesting historical information about Budapest and Hungary. One of the most interesting sights was a suit of armor from the 15th century that was smaller than me. It was very surprising that the men in Europe used to be that short. Once we finished touring the National History Museum, we headed back to the hostel to rest for a little bit before going out for the night. We wanted to go up to the top of Buda Hill and view the city lights after it got dark. Lara, Patti, and I left the hostel around 8:30 pm and took the tram to Buda Hill. From there, we climbed up to the castle, and walked along the front to look out on the city. We were rewarded for our efforts with some magnificent views of the Chain Bridge and the Parliament building. After taking some beautiful pictures of the city lights, we were going to go to a café on Buda Hill to have some coffee, but it was getting late and we were afraid that the tram would stop running and leave us stranded on the hill. So, we headed back to our hostel, and did what any normal American would do when they want coffee at midnight – we stopped at the Jiffy Jet to get some! On Sunday, we checked out of our hostel and headed across the river to view some of the sights in Pest. Our first stop was the Zsinagoga (Jewish Synagogue). This is the largest synagogue in Europe, and it is very beautiful. One of the interesting features of the Zsinagoga is the twin clock towers. The clock on the right tower is set to Budapest time and the clock on the left tower is set to Jerusalem time. The Hungarian Holocaust Memorial is located over a mass grave from 1944 (next to the Zsinagoga). It is dedicated to the 600,000 Hungarian Jews who died in the Holocaust. The memorial is very unique, because it looks like a weeping willow with steel leaves, and the names of the victims are engraved on the leaves. It is a beautiful and moving tribute to those who were killed during the Holocaust. After visiting the Zsinagoga, we headed towards Szt. Istvan Basilica (St. Stephen’s Basilica). This is the largest church in Budapest, and its size is very daunting when you are standing beside it. We originally approached the church from the back side, so it was quite an experience to walk around to the front entrance and see the actual size of it. From the Basilica, we went on to the Opera House. It is a beautiful building, and we were disappointed that we could go inside because it is supposed to have one of the most beautiful auditoriums in Europe. However, we still enjoyed looking at the outside of the building, which was very impressive. The next place that we visited was the Terrorhaza, or House of Terror Museum. This is a museum that was opened in 2002 in the former Secret Police Headquarters in Budapest. The museum showed how the Hungarian people were treated by the Arrowcross (who were affiliated with the Nazis) from ~1914 to the end of World War II and by the Soviet Police from the end of World War II until the fall of the Iron Curtain. It was a very shocking experience to see the methods that the Secret Police used to control the Hungarian people and to realize that they were still being used only 15 years ago. Seeing this museum has once again reinforced for me how incredibly fortunate I am to live in America and be able to experience all of the freedoms that we take for granted on a daily basis. In retrospect, I am very impressed with the museum curators and how they have displayed this unsettling history to the people of their country and the world. It will hopefully serve as a constant reminder of the past, so that these acts will never be repeated in the future.

After the Terrorhaza, we had lunch at a place called the Mensa. It is an old Communist cafeteria that has been turned into a restaurant, and they still serve traditional Hungarian food at excellent prices. I had chicken goulash, which was amazing! I am going to have to learn how to cook some of the meals that I have eaten over here so that I can enjoy them when I get back to the States. The other dish that I had was baked chicken with potatoes, mushrooms, and mozzarella cheese. It was excellent, and I was stuffed by the time we left the restaurant. As an aside, Lara had a bowl of yellow pepper soup with dumplings in it (or so we thought). It turns out that the white balls (which we thought were dumplings) were actually balls of fresh mozzarella cheese! So, here is a picture of Lara showing off one of her many talents…blowing a bubble with a ball of mozzarella cheese! It was time to head back to the hostel after we finished our lunch. We picked up our bags, and headed for the train station to go home to Vienna. It was a fun-filled trip, and Lara and I were both very glad that Patti was with us during our explorations of Budapest. As you can see, we were very tired when we got home! If you would like to see more pictures from this trip, click on “Andria’s Travel Photos” (on the right side) and select the album titled ‘Budapest.’ I am going to try to get my Switzerland adventures posted in the next day or two, so stay tuned!