Monday, November 28, 2005

Innsbruck, Austria – Time for Christmas Shopping!

Wow, I’ve been traveling so much that I can’t keep track of where I’m going! I have really enjoyed being able to see so many wonderful things during my time in Europe, but I have also started to get a little tired of always being on the move. So, my weekend in Innsbruck was the perfect opportunity to relax.

I left Vienna at 6.00 on Friday (25.11.2005) and took a train to Innsbruck. On the way to Innsbruck, I worked on some homework for my International Corporate Finance class. It was due the day after I got back, so I wanted to get it done quickly so that I could have some fun during the weekend. After working on homework for a couple of hours, I started reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I had brought it with me to Vienna, and it was fun to reread a book that I enjoyed when I was younger. The train arrived in Innsbruck at 10.45, and I immediately bought a bus ticket to head to Wattens, Austria. The Swarovski Kristall Welten (Crystal World) is headquartered in Wattens and I was very excited to be able to visit it. The bus ride to Wattens took about half and hour and it was very pretty. The mountains around Innsbruck were covered with snow, which makes for some beautiful pictures.

Once I got there, I was able to go right into the Kristall Welten. I was amazed by all of the different things that they are able to cover in the crystals. There were so many different pieces of art and they were all very unique. After my visit, I stopped by the gift shop – I couldn’t leave the home of Swarovski Crystals without buying something! I finished my shopping and had a cappuccino in the café before catching the bus back to Innsbruck.

When I got back to Innsbruck, I headed to my hotel to put away my luggage. I was staying at the Hotel Wiesses Kreuz. The hotel is over 500 years old, and Mozart stayed there with his father on their first journey to Italy in 1769. It was a beautiful hotel, and it reminds me of the hotel that my family stayed in during our trip to Fuessen, Germany in October. The hotel is located on Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, which is the pedestrian town square in Innsbruck. The Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof), one of the biggest tourist attractions in Innsbruck, is located at the end of the square. The Innsbruck Christkindlmarkt and the largest Swarovski Gallery in the world were also located on the same street, so I was feeling pretty happy with the location of my hotel.

After checking into my hotel, my first stop was the Swarovski Crystal Gallery (conveniently located next door to my hotel) – are you starting to notice a trend here? It had a lot of interesting displays, including Elton John’s Red Piano from his Las Vegas show, and a bicycle and lawnmower that were covered in crystals. After spending a bit more money (another trend that started in Innsbruck), I left the store and headed down the street to the Christkindlmarkt. It was a nice little market, but not as nice as the ones that I have seen in Vienna. I am really enjoying all of the different Christmas markets that I have seen in Austria, and I will definitely miss this during the next holiday season. I ate dinner in a little Italian restaurant, and then I walked around town watching the snow fall. It had been snowing all afternoon, and there were 3-4 inches on the ground by the time I finished my dinner.

On Saturday morning (26.11.2005), I took the train to Garmisch, Germany. My uncle Hubert had told me that I should visit the town if I got a chance, because it was so pretty. It took me about an hour to get to Mittenwald, and then another half hour by bus to reach Garmisch. The train ride was beautiful, and there was snow everywhere. I am constantly being reminded of the “Courier and Ives” Christmas scenes when I look out over the landscapes. When I arrived in Garmisch, I wandered around the town for a couple of hours before catching the bus/train back to Innsbruck. It is a beautiful little town and it looked so pretty with all of the snow. Garmisch is a big ski resort town, and I can see why since they had a foot of snow already in November. A lady that I talked to said that there is a big international ski jump competition on New Year’s Day. I enjoyed my time in the town, and I was really glad that I had the opportunity to go there.

When I got back to Innsbruck, I decided to go shopping. Innsbruck is very well known for its shopping opportunities and its ski resorts – since I wasn’t going to ski, I decided to take full advantage of the shopping. I bought a few Christmas presents and a warm hat that afternoon. I headed over to the Christmas market for a mug of Gluhwein and some people-watching. I wandered over to the river, and then walked through the Old Town. Along the way, I started to notice that different shops had put fairy tales characters above their doorways. I walked down the streets taking photos of the different characters, and I got a pretty good collection of different fairy tales.

On Sunday morning (27.11.2005), I got up and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before heading to the train station. The train ride back went very well, until the train broke down. We had a 40 minute delay while the crew worked to fix the problem. But, I eventually made it home.

I truly enjoyed my trip to Innsbruck, even though I did not do much sightseeing. If you would like to see additional pictures of my trip, click on “Andria’s Travel Photos” and look in the folder labeled Innsbruck.


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Krakow – Jewel of Poland

My journey to Krakow started at 6.00 on Friday, 18.11.2005. Yes, that’s how early I had to leave to catch my train to Krakow. I was surprised to see it start to snow as I traveled north (through the Czech Republic) to Poland. I knew that it would be cold, but I didn’t think about the possibility of seeing snowing during my trip. There was a woman in my train car that was from Krakow. She has been living in Vienna for the past 22 years, and she was going to Krakow to visit friends and go to the theater. I enjoyed talking with her during the trip, and she even gave me the name of a café to go to in the Old Town. When we arrived at the station, her friend’s son met her at the train. I said goodbye to her, and then she turned to me a moment later and said that her friend’s son had asked if I could go to the theater with them that night. I thanked her for the offer, but declined since I didn’t have any nice clothes to wear. We all laughed about it, and then went our separate ways. It was such a nice beginning to my trip.

After finding my hostel and getting some money (the currency in Poland is zlotys) I walked to the Old Town. Krakow has the largest town square in Europe, and I was impressed when I walked into it. A large part of the square was under construction, but it was still incredibly large, even with that part fenced off. Since I had arrived so early, I was able to walk around the Old Town for a while before the sun went down. I was amazed by how compact the Old Town was and how all of the streets are laid out in a perfect grid pattern (after the Tatars invaded and destroyed the city in the 13th century, the streets were rebuilt in a perfect grid around the main square). After walking around for a few hours, I found a café. It was a nice little place with about five tables and really good cappuccino. Krakow is such a pretty place, and it seems so different from the other Eastern European countries that I have visited during my travels. After enjoying the café, I went back out into the cold and wandered around some more. I had a dinner of meat pierogis and a Fanta for less than 2 Euros – the food in Krakow is really cheap! Before heading back to my hostel for the night, I was able to hear the bugler play from the city watchtower. This is an interesting tradition, and it dates back several centuries. During the Tatar invasion, a watchman in the tower saw the enemy approaching and sounded the alarm. Before he could finish the tune, an arrow pierced his throat – cutting him off in the middle. Today, the bugler always stops on the same note that the watchman was on when he was killed. I also learned that the buglers in the tower are actually firemen who watch over the city. Their first duty is to be a fire lookout, and the second is to play the bugle.

I got up on Saturday morning (19.11.2005) at 6.00. I was catching the 7.18 train to Oswiecim, so I needed to be ready early. The train ride took a little over an hour, so I arrived in Oswiecim around 8.30 that morning. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, “Oswiecim” is the town that Auschwitz is located in. The Nazis renamed the town “Auschwitz” when they arrived in Poland. By the time I arrived in Oswiecim, there was 3-4 inches of snow on the ground. It was incredibly cold and it was still snowing. Out of respect for anyone who may be reading this, I am not going to give any more details of my visit to the camp. I can say that it is the most emotional experience that I have had during my travels. I think it was very appropriate for me to be there on a cold, snowy day so that I could experience even a small fraction of the discomfort that the people in Auschwitz experienced. If you want to discuss this part of my trip in more detail, please feel free to email me.

I had dinner with Steve (from Australia) and Vanessa (from Canada) from my hostel on Saturday night. We had seen each other at Auschwitz, so we ended up spending the day together. For dinner, we found a little café and had a wonderful meal of pierogis and cabbage rolls. I was sooo full by the time we finished eating, but it was incredibly good.

I got up on Sunday morning (20.11.2005) and headed to Wawel Castle. Along the way, I was able to see several sights in the city, including the house that Cardinal Karol Wojtyla lived in before he became Pope John Paul II. Wawel Castle is located on Wawel Hill, which overlooks the entire city of Krakow. I was able to visit the Wawel Cathedral (the Polish National Cathedral) and the Royal State Rooms in the Wawel Castle.

Steve and Vanessa met me at noon, and we agreed to meet up again at 2 pm after they had toured the castle. I wandered back down the hill and ended up at Jama Michalika Café, which is located on Florianska Street (one of the main streets in the Old Town). This is the place that the lady on the train told me about. It was a neat place, with artwork all over the walls and an elegant atmosphere to have a cappuccino and a piece of cake. I really enjoyed it and I am so glad that I was able to find it before I left Krakow.

I met Vanessa at the bottom of Wawel Hill at 2 pm, and we headed for a shopping mall that we had heard about. It was near Kazimierz (the Jewish Quarter) so we walked through the Saturday Market on our way there. The mall was very nice and I felt like I was at home when I walked inside. It was just like being in Crabtree Valley, with Christmas decorations and everything. Plus, it was a Sunday, so I was really excited to be able to shop. (There are no shops open on Sundays in Vienna, which is something that Lara and I have not been able to adjust to.) We had a good time looking in all of the stores but I didn’t find anything to buy. That night, we ate dinner at the Bar Mleczny, which means “Milk Bar.” This is a cafeteria-style restaurant that was subsidized by the government during the Communist era so that the citizens could afford to go out to dinner. I think my meal cost 2 Euros, and it included meat pierogis and a mixed salad plate – very yummy! (I really enjoyed the pierogis there!)

Monday (21.11.2005) was my last day in Krakow. Since my train did not leave until 3:30 pm, I had a good part of the day to explore. Vanessa and I decided to go to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, which is 30 minutes away from Krakow. The Salt Mine is over 700 years old, and it is truly amazing!! We started the tour by climbing down 360 steps (200 feet below the surface) to the first level of the mine. During the tour, we visited the top three levels of the mine (there are nine levels total). There were so many great sculptures and the underground lakes were very pretty. The Chapel of the Blessed Kinga was incredible. It was carved by three men over a period of 67 years and the entire thing (even the chandeliers) is made from salt. I think the most amazing part of the salt mines was that all of the different sculptures and carvings were done by miners who taught themselves how to do all of the sculpting in their spare time.

Our tour guide told us a lot of great facts about the mine during our tour. For instance, the miners stopped digging the salt in 1996 – now they produce the salt by evaporating and purifying the brine from the underground lakes and the mine produces 15,000 tons of salt per year. She said that about 1 million people visit the mine per year and that there are more tour guides than miners currently working in the mine.

After the tour of the salt mine, we headed back to Krakow and had lunch before I went to the train station to head back to Vienna. It was a wonderful trip, and I am glad that I had the opportunity to go there. If you would like to see additional pictures of my trip, click on “Andria’s Travel Photos” and look in the folder labeled Krakow.


Monday, November 07, 2005

Il treno aveva luogo in tempo! (The train was on time!)

Lara and I decided to go to Venice about three days before we left (so, I guess that means we made the final decision on 01.11.2005). So, we left for Venice at 15.30 on Friday (04.11.2005) – yes, that was the day after my parents left. Just to give you a little bit of background information, we were only going to be able to spend one day in Venice because we were arriving on Friday at 22.30 and we had to catch a train at 6.45 on Sunday morning. We planned the trip in the midst of our Global Strategic Management class, which was a week-long block class, so we had to be back in class at 9.00 on Monday morning (see, we go to class!!).

When we arrived in Venice (on time!), we found our hostel and checked in. It was a neat little place and it was close to the train station (a plus, since we had to leave so early on Sunday). After checking in, we walked around for about an hour and even had some gelato. Ironically, we found out of Saturday that the district we are staying in is the Getto. This is the old Jewish Quarter, and it was one of the most densely populated regions in Venice. It was named “Getto” for the copper foundry that was located there, and it is where the origin of the current word “ghetto” came from.

On Saturday (05.11.2005), we were up and out of our hostel by 6.30. Since we knew we would only have one day in Venice, we wanted to see as much as we could. First, we took the vaporetto (water taxi) down the Grand Canal and looked at all of the beautiful buildings. I found out that most of the ground floors of the buildings are not occupied because there is so much flooding in Venice. We arrived at Piazza San Marco (the only Piazza in Venice) around 7.45 and I was surprised by the size of the square. It is much larger than I thought it would be. When we got there, the square was almost deserted, except for a few people and the entire pigeon population of Venice (well, it seemed that way). We were able to take some nice pictures because the square was so empty.

Then, we decided to find some breakfast. We walked for quite a while, following the “Per Rialto” signs (Dad had told us not to rely on the map, but to follow the signs and the crowds). We got to the Ponte Rialto, which was also very quiet, so we were able to take some good pictures there too. We continued looking for a place for breakfast and eventually ended up in the market that we had passed during the Grand Canal tour. It was so neat to see all of the fruit and vegetable stands, along with butcher shops, fish markets, and cheese shops. We also saw plenty of boats pulling up alongside the market to unload their produce at the market. As we walked past the fish markets, the smell of seafood was so strong that it reminded me of fishing off the dock in Morehead City, NC. It was the first time that I found a place so completely different from home, but with such a familiar feel (or smell) to it.As we were walking around, I came to the realization that the Venetians are entirely dependent on their boats for every aspect of daily life. We saw boats loaded with fresh produce at the market and also boats loaded with things like toilet paper, paper towels, and bottled water – essentials to everyday life that you don’t really think about in terms of how they are transported to their final locations. After walking around for a while, we found a little coffee bar and we ordered cappuccino and pastries for breakfast. I felt like a local as I stood at the bar and drank my cappuccino.After breakfast, we headed back to Piazza San Marco to see the San Marco Basilica. While we were waiting to go inside, we saw workers starting to set up the wooden sidewalks that are used when the city floods. Since Piazza San Marco is the lowest point in the city, it is the place that gets flooded first. Before we left Vienna on Friday, I had looked at the weather forecast and it looked like it was going to rain a lot on Saturday. So, I was fully expecting to get wet at some point on Saturday, but I was hoping to get out of Piazza San Marco before it started flooding. We went inside the Basilica and it was beautiful. We were also able to see the Golden Altar, which is an amazing sight – 150 enameled panels with different scenes on each one of them. It was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. The Basilica was impressive, but I don’t know if I am used to seeing ornate churches now or if it just wasn’t as good as some of the other ones. At any rate, it didn’t blow me away like some of the other churches that I have seen, but I am glad that I was able to see it while I was in Venice.As we came out of the Basilica, we were able to see and hear the outdoor orchestras that play in the cafes surrounding Piazza San Marco. The music was nice, and I was glad that I could have the opportunity to hear them play. Another interesting sight that we saw was the multitude of tourists that played with the pigeons in the square. A few enterprising entrepreneurs sell pigeon feed to the tourists (which explains why all of the pigeons were there this morning – they were waiting for breakfast!) and people will actually pay for the chance to feed the pigeons. So, we watched these people pay for the pigeon feed and have their friends take pictures of them with pigeons sitting on their hands, arms, shoulders, and even their heads. A couple of the people even poured it on their friends’ heads so that they too could enjoy this thrill. It was a very entertaining sight, and it reminded me a lot of “Home Alone 2” and the Bird Lady in Central Park.After watching the pigeon entertainment for a while, we headed back to the Ponte Rialto to go to a bookshop that was listed in Lara’s guidebook. This bookshop makes and sells leather-bound notebooks and photo albums. The shop was amazing and the man and woman who own it were so friendly. He was joking around with us and telling us that we could work for him – he said he would give us “bread and water…and if you work very hard, a little wine.” We had a wonderful time in the shop, and I bought a leather-bound scrapbook to fill with the memories of my semester abroad. I am looking forward to getting home and starting work on it.

After our stop at the bookshop, we headed for the Fondamente Nuove to take a boat to Murano. We bought our tickets for the vaporetto and headed across the Adriatic Sea to Murano. The boat trip was amazing! Just being out on the water was such a wonderful reminder of home. Seeing the choppy water splash against the boat reminded me of being out in the boat with Dad – something that I have really missed this semester. During the trip, we passed San Michele, which is the cemetery island of Venice. It is filled with mausoleums and has different sections for different religious faiths. We arrived in Murano, and it was a very interesting little town. It is actually made up of four islands that are connected by several bridges. We walked around all four islands, stopping to look in many of the glass shops (Murano is world-renowned for its glass-blowing shops and showcases). We even went to the showroom on the brochure that Mom and Dad had given us from their hotel in Venice. We decided that the hotel must have thought they were wealthy, because even with a 20% discount, we still couldn’t afford anything in the showroom. I think we wandered around Murano for about three hours before deciding that we wanted to go to Burano. We had a little bit of trouble finding the boat dock for the LN line (to get to Burano) and we ended up missing the first boat, but we eventually made it onto the second one (barely).The boat trip to Burano was even better than the one the Murano! There is something that I love about being out on the sea in a boat and smelling the salt air. It was such a great reminder of the beach at home. The town of Burano is very small (even compared to Murano) and we wandered around it for about an hour. Burano is well known for its lace, and there were so many shops selling everything from tablecloths to toilet paper covers to doilies. The houses on the island are all painted different colors, and they are so bright and cheerful. It reminded me of Rainbow Row in Charleston, SC (except that there were a lot more houses here than on Rainbow Row). We caught the vaporetto from Burano at 5 pm and took it all the way back to the Fondamente Nuove stop in Venice. It was a wonderful ride, and I enjoyed being on the water one more time. We started looking for a place to have dinner (all we had eaten was pastries and cappuccino this morning) and finally settled on a little rostericcia near the Ponte Rialto. The food was pretty good (I had spinach and ricotta cannelloni and tiramisu) and Lara and I shared a bottle of Chianti. After dinner, we walked back to Piazza San Marco because I wanted to see the square and the Basilica lit up at night. The square was very pretty (especially because the pigeons were gone). We took a few pictures, and then decided to take a vaporetto back to our hotel since we each still had one more ticket to use. It was an interesting trip because it took us through a part of the city that we had not seen (including the port) and I got to see a really big container ship being unloaded (yet another reminder of Morehead City). It was such a long day that we were both in bed by 9 pm.

Luckily, it did not rain on us at all while we were sightseeing. The rain started on Saturday night, after we were back in our hostel for the night and it was still raining when we left on Sunday. I guess you could say that we were really lucky. We had a great trip (even if it was quick) and I am so glad that I got to see that part of Italy. If you would like to see additional pictures of Venice, click on “Andria’s Travel Photos” and look in the folder labeled Venice.


Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Family Vacation – Part II

So, at the end of Part I, Mom and Dad were heading down south to Venice while I was going back to Vienna for a few days of classes. It was nice to get a chance to relax before resuming my ‘tour guide’ duties. I really wanted to make sure that Mom and Dad had a memorable trip, but I didn’t realize how much work it would be to organize all the logistics.

On Friday (28.11.2005), I headed to Salzburg to meet Mom and Dad. On the way there, I took a detour to the Mauthausen Concentration Camp near Linz. The concentration camp is located next to the Weiner Graben Rock Quarry, which is where the prisoners were forced to work. The entrance to the quarry is a steep stone road and 186 steps leading to the bottom of the quarry. These steps were known as the “Stairs of Death.” The concentration camp was smaller than I thought it would be, but still a very overwhelming place. As I continue to visit different concentration camps, it continues to amaze me that these seemingly tranquil places were once the scene of such horrible atrocities. Even though I am able to see the remnants of them, it is still difficult for me to imagine and understand what actually occurred there.

After my visit to Mauthausen, I continued on towards Salzburg. I checked into the hotel and watched a little TV (CNN International – TV is a luxury that Lara and I don’t have right now). I headed back to the train station to find some food and write a few postcards while I waited for the train from Venice. It was a rather long wait (about three hours), so I got to do quite a bit of people watching. The train station in Salzburg wasn’t as interesting as the one in Prague, but I still managed to entertain myself and stay out of trouble. Mom and Dad arrived at 9 pm and we headed back to the hotel. They had brought a bottle of Chianti from Venice, so we stayed up late drinking wine and talking about what they had been doing.


On Saturday (29.11.2005), we got up early and headed into the historic section of Salzburg. When Patti (Lara’s friend) visited us in September/October, she had gone to Salzburg for a day and taken a “Sound of Music” tour. She had really enjoyed it because you got to see a lot of the countryside and some of the places that the movie was filmed. So, after talking to her about it, I decided that I wanted to go on one, too. I found a really good tour company listed in my guidebook, so I convinced Mom to sign up for it with me. Since it was foggy this morning, we went to the tour office first and signed up before beginning our tour of the city. After that, we decided to visit the cathedral because it was still too foggy to see the city. The cathedral was beautiful! I am constantly amazed by the fact that I can see so many different churches and cathedrals, and no two look the same. Every time, I think that there cannot possibly be a more impressive one, but there always is. After visiting the cathedral, we came back outside and the fog was gone! So, we walked about the historic part of the city and saw many interesting sights – the Glockenspiel with 35 17th century bells, St. Peter’s cemetery (which was the model for the graveyard scenes in the “Sound of Music”, Mozart’s birthplace and the town horse bath (a big pond in a square that basically functioned as a car wash for horses). We also found a market in the University Square. Since it was Saturday, there were many vendors selling everything from vegetables and fresh meat to candy and clothing. We got lunch at the market (hot dogs and a krapfen brezel – an Austrian donut shaped like a huge pretzel). After lunch, Mom and I split off from Dad and did some shopping before we headed to the tour office for our “Sound of Music” tour at 2 pm.When we started the tour, I wondered if it would be cheesy, but it actually turned out to be very good. We did see some of the sights (the house that was used for the back side of the movie house, the Glass Pavilion, and the church where the wedding was held) but we were also able to see a lot of great scenery as we drove around the Lake District. We even drove through the mountains and stopped to take pictures of a steep gorge. Part of the tour included stopping for coffee and cake at a café, and seeing the headquarters for Red Bull. Apparently, the owner of Red Bull wanted to build his company headquarters on the lake, but the city officials would not let him. So, he built the headquarters and had a man-made lake put around this, so the building is on a lake.I also learned some interesting facts about the Sound of Music, and I figured that I would share some of them with you.

  • Two separate houses were used to film the house in the movie. The house that was used for the back side of the film house really is on a lake, but there are not steps leading from the pavilion into the lake (like there are in the movie). Also, when they were filming the scene where the canoe tips over, the littlest girl in the movie (Gretel) was afraid of the water, so they had divers in the water to help her. Unfortunately, when they filmed the scene, the boat tipped over the wrong way, so they couldn’t really help her that much.
  • The Glass Pavilion scenes were filmed using two different structures. One of them is the real Glass Pavilion (in Salzburg) and the other was a prop made for the movie. The movie prop did not have any windows in it so that the actors could swing around the columns during their dance sequences.
  • The church that the wedding was filmed in is much smaller than it appears in the movie. Apparently, when they were filming those scenes, Julie Andrews had to be filmed coming down the aisle four different times, and then the pieces of film were spliced together to create the look of the long aisle in the church. Also, the abbey for the nuns was not connected to the church (it is actually located in a different town all together) so the scene where the nuns let Maria out of the abbey through the gate was filmed in two different locations as well.
Dad met us at the end of our tour, and we headed to dinner. He had scouted out a couple of restaurants while we were on the tour (that was part of the ‘to do’ list that we gave him). After dinner, we wandered back through the Old Town to our hotel and enjoyed some Sacher Torte and wine while we watched the news.

On Sunday (30.11.2005), we got up and packed all of our bags to check out of the hotel. Before breakfast, we walked up to the train station to see if there were lockers so that we could store our luggage until our train left. I had heard that Daylight Savings Time was supposed to occur that day, so we happened to check the clocks at the train station – and they had been turned back an hour! I’m glad that we checked so that we were able to take our time checking out of the hotel and eating breakfast.

After checking out of the hotel and storing our luggage at the train station, we headed towards the Hohensalzburg Fortress above the town. On the way, we stopped at the Mirabell Gardens to take a couple of pictures. Schloss Mirabell is a huge house that the Prince-Archbishop built for his mistress and their 15 children in the 17th century. The Catholic Church did not take kindly to him having a mistress and 16 children, so he was forced to resign and imprisoned in the Hohensalzburg Fortress until his death. The Mirabell Gardens are famous (because they were used in the “Sound of Music” and they are beautiful, too. One interesting section of the garden is the Dwarf Garden, which has different statues of dwarves doing different tasks. We even managed to find the dwarf that was sticking his tongue out! We continued through town towards the fortress and took the funicular up to the top of the hill that it sits on. (Mom really liked watching the funiculars go up and down the hill, so I took this picture for her.) The fortress was interesting (although not as impressive as Prague Castle) and we enjoyed seeing it. Dad and I took some great pictures of Salzburg from the top of the fortress. After that, we headed back to the train station to collect our bags and take the train to Vienna. When we got back to Vienna, I made dinner (a smorgasbord of meat, cheese, bread, fruit, and wine) and did a couple of loads of laundry for Mom and Dad. Then, I took them back to their hotel (I’m such a good daughter!) and made sure they got checked in and settled for the night.


Mom and Dad spent the last few days of their trip in Vienna. On Monday (31.11.2005), we toured the Hofburg. This is the palace that the Habsburgs lived in during the winter months. The tour consisted of seeing the Royal Porcelain and Silver Collection (very impressive – and I was glad I didn’t have to polish all of that silver), the Sisi Museum (about Franz Josef’s wife, Empress Elizabeth), and the Imperial Apartments. One of the interesting displays that we saw in the Porcelain and Silver Collection was the Imperial Napkin Fold. Apparently, it is a closely guarded secret that only two people in the world know.We sat down to eat lunch (leftovers from last night’s dinner) on a bench near the Hofburg, and we had an uninvited guest try to join us. A dog came over and kept sniffing at our food and trying to get some of it. Fortunately, we were able to keep it away from the food, but I can say that I am glad I don’t have to guard my food that closely for all of my meals – it definitely takes away from being able to enjoy your food! After lunch, we toured the Schatzkammer, which is the Royal Treasury. Some of the impressive pieces that we saw included the Holy Roman Empire Crown and the Chain of the Order of the Golden Fleece. The next stop for the day was Paolo Bortelolli’s – where you can get the best gelato in Vienna (in my opinion, anyways). We ate gelato and walked around for a little bit before heading back to their hotel. I didn’t eat dinner with them that night, but I heard that they had a good meal.

Tuesday (01.11.2005) was All Saint’s Day, so a lot of the attractions in the city were closed. I also did not have class because the university was closed, so I was able to spend the whole day with Mom and Dad. We went to the Lipizzaner Museum to see the history of the famous Spanische Hofreitschule. After that, we walked around the 1st District for a while until Dad suggested that we could “go to Starbucks and get some real coffee” while we were waiting to tour the Stephansdom. My mouth dropped open when I heard that! (Dad won’t touch Starbucks at home, but I think he was missing American coffee.) That’s where we ended up though, and it was nice to sit down and have a cup of coffee in a warm place (it was cold outside). We went back to the Stephansdom at 3 pm, but they weren’t giving tours that day (since it was All Saint’s Day), so we just wandered around and looked at the church. It is very impressive, just like all of the other churches that I have seen. We parted ways for a while after the Stephansdom, and then Lara and I met back up with them later for dinner. Dad had found a little Italian restaurant on Floriangasse, so we went there and had a wonderful meal. After dinner, we walked to the Hotel Sacher and had the original Sachertorte and apple strudel for dessert. Lara was so nice to us – she picked up the bill for dessert (although Mom and Dad did protest a lot about it).


Wednesday (02.11.2005) was the last day before Mom and Dad left to go home. We decided to go to Bratislava (just over the border in Slovakia) for the day. We took the train and got to town around 10 am. Unfortunately, we did not arrive in the main train station, so we had to figure out how to take the bus to the town center. It was an adventure, but we eventually got there. I’m just glad that Lara had let me borrow her map so that we knew where we were going (sort of…). Bratislava is a cute little town, and our first stop was at Schokolade Maximilian (a place where Lara had told us to go). We had chocolate fondue with whipped cream and sugar wafers – it was really yummy, and hopefully Lara and I can go back there one more time before we leave. We wandered around the town for a couple of hours and had lunch at a place called Lebowski before catching the bus back to the train station. Overall, I enjoyed the trip to Bratislava. It is a cute little town, and I think it will start to become the “Prague of Slovakia” over the next few years. When we got back from Bratislava, I headed back to my room to grab my computer. Dad had brought a CD-Rom with him on the trip so that he could have a copy of all of my pictures before he left. We went to dinner at the same Italian place that we went to on Tuesday night, and it was just as good the second time around. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel for a glass of wine. I said good-bye to Mom and Dad (yes, I did cry a little bit) and went home. They were leaving early the next morning to get to the airport and catch their flight.Well, this is the end of our family vacation. We all had a wonderful time, and I’m so glad that Mom and Dad could come over to visit me for a while this semester. 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.