WEEKEND GETAWAY: SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK DAY 3

This was our last day here. Our original plan was to go back to the Park and do another trail but we decided to cancel that plan. We didn’t want to wait again to get through the entrance. Instead, we decided to go over to another recreation area that was close by called Slick Rock Recreation Area.

You can park in the parking lot but once it’s full, it seemed like you can park on the street. If you stay at the Lodge, you can walk to the stream as well. Once at the parking lot, you have to walk down to the stream area. We noticed that some parts were shaded by trees and some weren’t. It would be best to bring mats and tents in case all the tree shades are taken. We were lucky to find a small spot in the wooden area and setup our mat.

The water here was super clear and cool. You could even see little fishes swimming around. And I even saw a dragonfly just chilling. The water isn’t as deep as the Kaweah Recreation Area but comparing the two, I prefer Slick Rock Recreation Area. This place also seemed pet-friendly, as there were several dogs, small and large, enjoying the waters. Kai really liked the water and he was just jumping around, following his favorite ball.

We were able to have a slow, relaxing day, dipping our feet in the flowing water before heading back home. Perfect for that summer sun.

This was a short and somewhat impromptu trip but it was well worth it and I was able to spend some quality family time. This trip made me really want to see more nature! Time to plan my next trip 🙂

WEEKEND GETAWAY: SEQUOIA NATIONAL PARK DAY 2

Today was going to be a full day! There were several things we wanted to see and trails we wanted to do. So we ate breakfast, packed some snacks, grabbed our masks and hand sanitizers, and headed out. We left the lodge around 9:30am and we thought we started the day early but not early enough! The road to the entrance gate was super backed up! It’s a single lane road all the way into the Park so we were stuck in it for over an hour! Once you get closer to the gate, there is a second lane for people who already have a pass so to make it a bit faster, I would recommend purchasing the pass before heading to the Park.

We decided to Hike the Moro Rock and on the way, we first saw the Tunnel Log. Follow signs for Moro Rock and you should see signs that points towards the Tunnel Log so keep going. The drive thru for the Tunnel Log had a huge line so we decide to walk it. If you really want to drive through it, there is a bypass around the log. So many cars were waiting in line to get ready for videos and pictures.

There were also several people climbing up top of the log and taking pictures. I didn’t see any signs prohibiting the action but do be careful and follow signage.

Other than the Tunnel Log, the area had a short trail and some large redwoods! And they were impressively tall! I couldn’t get the photo in one go so I tried a panorama shot. It looks so much better in person 🙂 Just being next to the trees made me feel so small and it made me appreciate nature more.

After walking around and admiring the trees, we headed back to our car and drove over to Moro Rock. It is very close to the Tunnel Log and the drive through the forest was really nice.

The parking lot was really small and was already packed but you can park on the side of the streets. This must be a popular spot since we started to see packs of people. Most of them were wearing masks which made me feel slightly better. There were Covid related signs so please follow the signage! Moro Rock is a staircase hike that is narrow so if you want to social distance yourself, this is not for you!

I don’t mind stairs that much so I was excited for the hike but only about 15 minutes in, I realized that I was so out of shape! There are several “rest area” on the way up and I took full use of them. Some part of the stairs had railing and others didn’t so just be careful when other people are around. Also, as I mentioned, parts of the trail are super narrow and zigzags. Meaning only one person can pass at a time. So be mindful of people heading the opposite direction of you.

Once that the top, you get a great panorama view of the Park and it made the hike worth it. There weren’t a lot of people at top and most of them were wearing masks. I did notice people taking off the mask for just the picture and putting it back on. People were being mindful of each other and being considerate. We were all able to enjoy nature together.

The hike down was easier but again, we had to be careful of the hikers coming up. If there is traffic headed your way, wait a couple seconds for everyone to pass before heading forward. Courtesy goes a long way on these narrow hikes.

There is a bathroom at the start of the Moro Rock trail if you need to use the bathroom. Make sure to take hand sanitizer/wipes with you. The people in line were social distancing and there were signs on the round indicating where to line up.

After the hike, we decided to head back to our lodge to grab lunch and go to the recreation park nearby. We saw people swimming and jet-skiing so we wanted to check it out. It was called Kaweah Recreation Area and there were lots of tents, people swimming, jet-skis, and more. The water wasn’t as cold as I thought it would be. Actually, it was rather lukewarm (meh) but my family had a good time here. My dad didn’t want to go in so he just dipped his feet and watched people on their boats (you can see a part of a boat on the right side)

My brother and SIL brought their dog Kai and he didn’t want to swim at first. I think it was his first time swimming? He wanted to escape so bad but he got used to being in the water on one condition. That his favorite ball was also in the water with him.

After playing in the water for a bit and using all our energy, we headed back to the lodge. We relaxed until the sun went down and headed out to see the stars. This was around 11pm and it was dark enough to see the starts with your own eyes. The one that was clearly visible was the dipper. Sorry for the picture quality. My camera isn’t the best for night time photography. But you can still see the dipper on the left side 🙂 We watched the stars quietly for about 30 minutes and headed back to the lodge and passed out.

Weekend getaway: sequoia national park day 1

Every time my parents visit the US, we try to do a small family gathering by traveling together. My brothers live in opposite coasts and usually we only get to see our parents once a year. However, with covid this year, we couldn’t all meet up since the domestic flights were still pretty packed and we didn’t want to risk anyone’s health while gathering.

So the ones that were together decided to go camping. We asked dad to pick between Yosemite and Sequoia and he picked Sequoia. I instantly went to Sequoia National Park’s website to make sure they were open and luckily they were. The website had all the information about what would be open and what would remain closed. I tried to book their lodge but they were already filled up for the days we were planning.

And when I checked the campgrounds, they were also all booked! This was 2 weeks prior but they were already booked, weekdays and weekends. For campgrounds, they had limited number of spaces available (for social distancing) and you can make reservation 3 months in advance, so it must have booked up quickly. We ended up reserving a lodge about 6 miles out from the Foothill entrance in Three Rivers area called Western Holiday Lodge.

On the day of our trip, we had a slow start. We stopped by the Asian Market to grab some food and snacks for the trip. Plus, we were on vacation and decided to take it slow. When we arrived, the lodge didn’t seem too bad. The check-in process was very quick and the staff were all wearing masks. There were people grilling in the picnic area and kids playing in the playground. It was very family-friendly. The rooms were spacious too but the amenities for the rooms were slightly different so that was interesting. We booked 2 rooms and room A had a seating area with a sofa and coffee table while room B had a mini kitchenette. Both rooms had a fridge and microwave. If you have an amenity that you need, I would let the lodge know ahead of time.

We arrived late (around 6pm) and started cooking dinner right away. The sun was already starting to set and we needed the light to cook. The balcony had enough space to place our small burner and grill. We pan grilled samgyupsal (pork belly), washed up some veggies, opened up some side dishes we brought from home, and microwaved rice! And Voila~

There were not a lot of restaurants around the area so it might not be so bad to bring food and prep them at the lodge. There is only one BBQ spot so come early and claim it or bring your own! If not, bring microwavable food.

We were able to cook and prepare dinner before the sunset and that sunset was on point! The drive wasn’t too bad but we wanted to make it slow so after dinner, we just enjoyed some free time and each others’ company. I loved looking at the sunset glow and relaxing. Day 2 was going to be a full day!

CHASE ultimate rewards: pay yourself back program

As an avid traveler, I held on to my Chase Sapphire Reserve card for its reward program. I believe it had the best benefits for travels. Even with their high annual fee ($550), it was still worth it because of all the rewards and perks.

Their perks included:

  • $300 Annual Travel Credit: If you spend $$ on travel, you can receive up to $300 in statement credit per year
  • No foreign transaction fee: A MUST!!! for international travelers
  • Global Entry or TSA Precheck Fee Credit: Receive up to $100 every 4 years for application fee
  • Complimentary Airport Lounge Access: Enrollment through Priority Pass for access to their lounges

As for points, when using the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, you would get 3 points on travel and dining and 1 point on every $1 spent on anything else. And every 100 points is worth a $1(1 cent per point) if we converted to cash.

However, you get even more bang for your buck when booking your travel through the Ultimate Rewards website using the points. 50% more! This was one of the biggest perks for me. But since I’ve stopped booking my international trips, I’m not using my points and they were just sitting there.

Well.. SAY NO MORE!

Chase has a new program called Pay Yourself Back and you can use the points on certain purchases (like grocery and dining out) with the same extra value (So 50% more!) and receive a statement credit. This is literally the same value as traveling! So why not take advantage of this and use the points?

So how do you use your points for Pay Yourself Back? Here are the step by step.

First, go to your ultimate rewards point website. You can go here by logging into your chase account.

From the homepage, click on the 3 dash bars on the top left corner. You should see a drop-down menu. From the drop-down menu, click on Pay Yourself Back. (As you can see, it is a new program)

Once you click on the Pay Yourself Back, you should see a list of all the purchases that are eligible. Most of mine were groceries and dining out. Click on the check box for ones that you are interested in using the points and click CONTINUE at the bottom.

On the next page, they will ask you how much of the points you want to use. I clicked on the Apply Full Amt since I just wanted to use all my points.

At the bottom of the page, it will tell you how much statement credit I would be getting back and how much points I used (and the balance). Without the Pay Yourself Back program, I would be spending around 60,000 for $600 but with the program, I’m saving so much!

And after clicking on Comfirm & Submit, BOOM! I’m getting $$$ back.

With the COVID-19 crisis, I was on the verge of cancelling my card since I am not traveling but with this new program, I feel that I’m still getting some value from it. Plus, this program will help a lot of people save money on things that are necessary like grocery. You are still getting the same/maximum point value. This is to be a limited time program so please go use it!

QUARANTINE: US vs south korea

Before I get started, no, I did not travel to South Korea. My dad had an emergency and had to visit the US to take care of some things and I’m logging this from what he told me. He purposefully stayed in the US longer so he would have plenty of time to quarantine and to take care of the issue. So here are his thoughts.

He flew on Korean Air and the plane was practically empty and he was able to have the whole row to himself. Everyone on board had to wear a mask at all time, including the flight attendants. The flight attendants took it a step further and even wore gloves.

Once he arrived, he went through security normally, no added check points for quarantine. He gathered his bags and left the airport. He said that majority of the people at the airport were wearing masks but there were some who had it down to their neck and/or was only covering their mouth.

After getting out of the airport, he headed straight to a place he was going to quarantine in. My brother and his wife stocked the fridge with food for him to last for 2 weeks so he wouldn’t have to go out. However, this was all optional in the US. My dad quarantined himself for the safety of him AND others.

My brother had booked him a drive-thru test 5 days into his quarantine. So on day 5, my father drove to the drive-thru testing center and got tested. It was self administered test (throat swab test). He stayed in the car while taking the sample and only opened his window to drop off the sample. Afterwards, he drove straight back home and wait for the results.

The results came back after 2 days and he tested negative. After hearing the result, my dad started to slowly go out, little by little. He went for small walks around the neighborhood but did it super early in the morning, around 5am or later in the evening, around 8pm. He did his best to avoid people during his walks. He did meet with a friend to have lunch but he told me he only took his mask off to eat and they had outdoor seating.

He did all of this even though it was optional. It is recommended but nobody, not even the government, was enforcing this.

Now, he is back in South Korea and the way the government is handling the quarantine is vastly different and they are very seriously about it.

First, when he arrived in Incheon, they took the screening very seriously. He had to answer questionnaires, check his temperature, and they made him download an app for checking on his whereabouts during quarantine. Dad said the process took a long time but was glad that they are doing a great job.

He had a connecting flight from Incheon but the connecting flight was cancelled and everyone who had a connecting had to go to the Gwangmyeong train station (about an 40 minutes away). The airport gathered all the people going in the same direction and put them on the bus to the train station. This was only for the passengers coming from international destination and they were very organized.

Once at the train station, they were screened again before getting on the train. The staff doing the training was very professional, fully covered up, and answered all the questions from the passengers. Before getting on the train, they were told which compartment and which seat to use. The train compartment for passengers from the flight used was separate from the one the others. So they even had some quarantining on the train!

He finally arrived in his hometown and was screened again before leaving the train station. He couldn’t take the regular taxi and had to take a special taxi called Duribal Taxi. These taxis are meant for disabled people but during quarantine, they were also used for transporting quarantining people. Again, another separation.

He couldn’t go home because he needed to quarantine separately from my mom. So he stayed in a nearby rental. Mom filled the fridge this time and they were able to talk through the door. Once he arrived at his safe house, he received a call from the local government office to talk about the quarantine process. So even before the day was over, he had 3 screening and 1 official phone call and this was on a Saturday! So they were not lessening up just because it was a weekend.

On Monday, a government official came by his safe house, fully covered, just like the staff above, and dropped off some goodies and again, explained how to quarantine and answered my dad’s questions. The goodies were masks, hand sanitizer gel, sanitizing spray, thermometer, and trash bags. ALL FREE! To make sure that people were actually staying safe, even at home.

One thing that amazed me was the trash. My dad was told that the trash from people who are in quarantine are collected separately so the trash collectors are safe. WHAT!!! Another separation. This was amazing.

My dad is still in quarantine but he cannot leave the house for 14 days. The app he downloaded will track him when he leaves. The app will also tell users if there are COVID positive people nearby and where they have been. This makes sure that people are able to track down the spread and the government can do their best to contain it. They really were trying to keep all the bases covered and I truly applaud the South Korean government for doing their best.

While it is not safe to travel abroad at this time, if you really need to travel, please be cautious and keep clean! Wear a mask and gloves and carry hand sanitizer, just in case.

[Day 26] Last day in Europe

Today was the end of my long vacation and I was going to make the most of it. I really wanted to see at least one artwork by Gustav Klimt before leaving Austria so we decided to go see one. We didn’t have time to do multiple museums since my flight back was in the afternoon so we had to pick one. After looking at which museum or palace we should visit, we decided to visit the Belvedere Museum.

This Museum was a former palace and was separated into Upper, Lower, and Belvedere 21 and you had to buy tickets to each part separately. Lower Belvedere featured artwork and artifacts from Middle Ages and Belvedere 21 was for more contemporary art. The Upper Belvedere was the main part of the museum and we decided to visit here since they had Klimt’s work.

I checked out of my hotel and stored my luggage here. Make sure your hotel provides luggage storage service before booking! Some hotels in Europe don’t offer this service for free.

The Museum wasn’t that far from my hotel so I decided to walk. On my way, I passed by the Soviet War Memorial. Europe has gone through so many wars and this was to commemorate the soldiers who fought against the German fascist. There was so much history in every part of the city and I wish I had more time to learn all about them.

After seeing the Memorial, I headed to Belvedere Museum and met up with my brother and sister-in-law. The entrance and the ticketing booth was located at the Lower Belvedere. We had purchased our tickets online and just needed to walked through towards the Upper Belvedere. To get to Upper, you had to walk through the Belvederegarten and this was huge.

I really wished it was spring time because this Garden would have been an sight to see! With all the greenery, flowers, and the fountains, it would be a great place to just relax. However, since it was wintertime, the Garden was rather bare and the fountains were turned off.

As we got closer and closer to the Upper Belvedere, I was really in awe of the building. I really loved the teal dom tops and the symmetrical look. There was a line outside and a museum worker checking the time slots on everyone’s ticket. For Upper Belvedere, all tickets have time slots so if you have a set schedule, make sure you purchase tickets early to get the time slot you want.

The line outside did not take long since we arrived right around our time slot. Once inside, there was another line for security. They checked bags and this took some time. After getting through security, we had to check our bag and coat. It was nice to walk around without any baggage.

We decided to see everything, starting from the first floor and we started with medieval art and it was mostly religious artwork. Lots of statues of Mary and baby Jesus.

Where we mostly spent our time was on the 2nd floor. This was were they had the Baroque, Romantic, and Viennese artist’s artwork and they had a lot more than just Klimt. I actually did not do much research other than that I wanted to see Klimt but the Upper Belvedere surprised me with a famous artwork that I’ve seen in my history textbook for years!

Tada! I know you all know this famous painting of Napoleon. I did not know this was at the Upper Belvedere but it was really amazing to see it in person. The painting was a lot bigger than I expected and it had charisma. Just looking at it, you probably would want to follow him. There were also works by Vincent van Gogh and Monet and these were all good surprises.

Once we entered the Viennese artist section, we saw several tour groups surrounding the first Klimt painting: Judith and the Head of Holofernes. At first, I didn’t even realize that she was holding a head! It seemed so modern and she had so much sex appeal. It was always interesting to see how different artist interpret the same theme so differently.

And right around the corner was the painting I was looking forward to seeing: The Kiss. It was so beautiful. The painting was larger in person and you could clearly see all the details of the gold, silver, and platinum. The way she receives the kiss from her lover and how softly he caresses her. And looking at the different patterns Klimt used on their clothes was great too. Artwork is something you really have to see in person to get the most of it.

Lastly, the 3rd floor featured impressionism and realism. Some of the paintings here were a bit hard for me to understand and there were several pieces that made me tilt my sideways but they were still beautiful art. You couldn’t take any pictures here.

After seeing all the artwork, we headed to the back of the Museum to see every corner of this Museum. The man-made lake and the old Palace building looked so majestic. I really wanted to get the reflective shot that is on the Belvedere Museum website but it was too windy.

Walking around for hours and it being lunch time, we needed to find a place for our last meal together and we ended up at an Italian Restaurant named Pizzeria Pozzuoli. We were pretty lucky to get seated right away. It was a small, hole-in-the-wall sort of restaurant but the food was fantastic and the servers were really nice.

We enjoyed each others company as much as we could before I had to leave first to catch my flight. I was so glad that my brother and sister-in-law surprised me with a visit in Vienna last minute and I was really happy to share this experience with them.

I walked back to my hotel, picked up my luggage, called an Uber, and headed to the airport. The airport was pretty busy but I was able to check in and do some last minute shopping before heading home. This was the longest trip I’ve taken but it was so worth it. I wish Europe was closer to home so I can visit more often!

Until next time!

[Day 25] Exploring Vienna

This was my only full day in Vienna and I was going to make the most of it. I was going to meet my brother and sister-in-law for brunch so I had the early morning to myself.

My first stop was Karlskirche, a baroque cathedral. It was walking distance from my hotel so I thought of it as a morning stroll. When I got there, the square was empty and it seemed like the cathedral was closed. So I enjoyed the architectural details while walking around the square. I knew they had a huge Christmas Market here so I was hoping to see it but they had already cleared the market. But judging by the size of the square, it would have been worth a look.

You can also look at Karlsplatz station. They have the old station pavilion that serves as an exhibition hall. The actual station is underground but this pavilion served as a landmark. I really liked the old feel of it.

After looking around the square, I slowly walked towards Naschmarkt, Vienna’s biggest outdoor market for food and others (you can say everything and anything), and met up with my family. When we started to look around, I only saw restaurants so I assumed it was all food related but once you get to the end, they have vintage stalls for clothes, electronics, and even artwork!

The Market was bigger /longer than I expected! And it was packed with tourist! Navigating from one end to the other took some time and on top of that, it started to rain! So we decided to eat first. We did some quick google search and headed to Zur Eisernen Zeit, one of the restaurants on the Market strip.

The restaurant was pretty small on the inside but we were able to get a table. There menu also had information about the restaurant and I learned that this restaurant was the oldest restaurant at the Naschmarkt and that it started in 1916! They served mostly Viennese cuisine but they also had popular breakfast food during brunch time.

We ordered the Fiakergulasch and Wiener Schnitzel vom Kalb and they were both really good. It was a great combo: warm soup and fried veal. When we ordered the Fiakergulasch, we weren’t sure what it was going to be like and it was really interesting. Goulash with sausage and fried egg on top. We knew it had to be good and it was.

After a filling meal, we decided to walk around the market and luckily, the rain had stopped for a moment. The first couple blocks of the market was under a tarp so we were good. This area was mostly food and restaurants. And once the tarp ends, you could see a wave of stalls selling all sorts of goods. Most of them were vintage items and there were several people bargaining with the vendor.

One thing that caught my eye was the vintage camera stall. They were selling the camera body and parts and while they had newer styles and brands available, they also had vintage ones as well. There were lots of brands that I’ve never even heard of so it was a lot of fun looking at them.

We wanted to look around more but it started to pour so we couldn’t stay here anymore. So we started to look for something to do indoor and my brother found a sparkling wine cellar we could tour called Schlumberger Kellerwelten. It was about 15 minutes away from the city center and we took an uber.

They had a reservation section on their website but since it was off-peak season, they were able to accommodate us without a reservation. They had several different tour and tasting options and we went with the classic tour. The tour itself was a self guided audio tour and it took about an hour or so. There was a lot of history here and the cellar had several places that were used as exhibition space.

When you return to the lobby/bar area after the tour, you can start the wine tasting. With the classic tour, we got 3 glasses: Sparkling Brut, Rosé Brut and Grüner Veltliner Brut. They gave us all very generous pour and I ended up giving mine to my sister-in-law. I don’t know my wines and I usually prefer sweet wine so I thought I would enjoy the sparkling wine. However, they weren’t actually that sweet and quite strong for me. I still enjoyed the tour.

After ending the wine tasting, we headed back to the city center. We had booked a tour with Tripadvisor called Historical Hitler Walking Tour of Vienna. We wanted to learn some history on Vienna and thought this was our chance to learn more. The tour started at Albrechtsbrunnen and we walked for about 2 hours, learning about Hitler’s early years on how he wanted to become an artist to his rise in power, the relationship he had with Austria, and lastly, the Holocaust.

The guide was very knowledgeable and pointed out several building that influenced Hitler. One of which was the Vienna Opera House. Hitler used to draw postcards of the Opera House and sell them on the streets. The guide had a reprint of Hitler’s artwork and they weren’t bad. He was rejected from art school twice but history could have been very different if he became an artist. We also visited the institution that rejected him but it was under construction.

We also visited Heldenplatz (part of Hofburg Palace), the infamous place where Hitler made the annexation speech. Our guide point out exactly where Hitler made the speech and it was weird to know that I was looking up to where Hitler stood years ago. It was interesting to learn that when Hitler first came to Austria, many people welcomed him at the border. Austrians just thought that the power was being moved from one fascist to another. They did not know what was to come after the annexation.

And one of the last places we visited was the Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial. The other name it goes by was “The Nameless Library” and you can see all the books that are on the shelf. However, no one can enter this library because there is no door knob and no one can read what type of books these are because the spine is on the inside. It represents the number of unknown victims and their lost stories and it was very hard and sad to hear this from our guide. It is part of our history and it is something we should never forget.

When the tour ended, we visited Cafe Central for a quick dinner but since the line was long, it wasn’t very quick. The line moved relatively fast and we were able to look at the menu before heading in. This cafe had a long standing history (opened in 1876) and became a famous meeting spot for key political figures in Vienna. They said that Hitler was also a regular here.

The cafe was huge! They had several sections and we were seated in the front side by the cake display. I was able to walk around and in the back section, they even had a live pianist playing some tunes. We ended up ordering several different desserts (Viennese Apple Strudel, Kaiserschmarrn, and tea cakes) and Viennese coffee and just enjoyed each other’s company.

Once we were done with our desserts, we headed to see our concert with the Wiener Royal Orchester. During my tour, I have seen several different concerts and I think this one was my favorite. This concert showcased classical music, ballet pieces, as well as opera pieces. I think it would be a great entry concert to the classics. For something we bought last minute, it turned out great.

After the concert, we ended up back at Albrechtsbrunnen and ended up eating some hotdog/Würstel at Bitzinger Würstelstand. This was a simple food stall and while they did not have seating, they had a small bar area to eat at. They didn’t have a full English menu so we ended up getting 3 würstel, all different styles, and just trying them. And it was really good! I would totally recommend this if you needed something quick and were on the go. They also sold alcohol here so a great combo could be a hotdog with a local beer.

We did not want to part yet so we ended up on the balcony of Albertina which was right next to the Würstelstand. The view of the Opera House from up here was really pretty and I could see people just relaxing up here. It was really too cold for us and we ended up just taking some pictures and heading out. It was really a full day!

[Day 24] Things to do in Hallstatt and off to Vienna

I had a pretty packed morning scheduled. I had booked a train to Vienna at 3:07 pm so I needed to be make sure to get on the ferry before then. I made a quick breakfast with the materials from yesterday’s shopping spree. It was really nice to have a kitchen!

I left the apartment at 9am and headed to the Luggage Depot. There were several places to storage luggage in Hallstatt and this was one of them. They opened at 9am and was close enough to the ferry pier. It was €5 for luggage and €3 for handcarry/backpack. I stored both my luggage and backpack here and luckily, they took card!

With nothing to hold on to, I ventured around town. There were several cute locations that seemed like photo zone. One was behind one of the restaurant and it was a small pier at the lakeside. You could see across the lake and see the other city, Obertraun. The air was cool and the peaceful atmosphere just made me want to sit here (and I did!)

Another one was up from the square. I was really aimlessly wandering and I found this spot was accident. There were signs pointing towards a set of stairs but I could not read them. The view of the city from up here was very beautiful. Again, since it was early morning, it was really quiet and I really loved that.

TIP: If you want a city view, I think this place and the postcard photo point are the best. If you want the lake view, the alley behind the restaurant would be the best.

Around 10:30am, I headed to the funicular. I bought by tickets for €38 euro and headed to the top. Do not throw the ticket away until you get back down if you bought a roundtrip ticket. I headed to the World Heritage View point first since it wasn’t very crowded. It was amazing up here! I highly recommend it! The view of the lake and the mountains were just breathtaking.

At the view point, I asked another tourist to take pictures and since the line was starting to form, I didn’t stay long. But right above the view point, there is a balcony that provides a similar view so I took lots of pictures here.

After all the photos, I headed to the salt mine. If you are on a schedule, you might want to do the tour first. They have time slots and limited spot for each tour. I was able to get in the 11:20am tour and it was about an hour and a half long. The tour was interesting. They gave us suits to wear on top of our clothes and had lockers in the lobby area.

The tour is so much fun! You learn about the history of the salt miners and how salt was formed and how it gets harvested. The tour was in German and in English. There were some jokes thrown and the guide made it fun for everyone. And the highlight. The miner slide! It was awesome! I wish I could have done it more than once. My top speed was 22.3 km/h and I thought it was pretty fast. However, our guide’s record was 42.6! Amazing.

At the end of the tour, you are given a small souvenir (salt) and a chance to purchase your slide photo. After the tour, it was already 1pm so I headed back to the funicular and made my way back to the city. I had some time to do some shopping so I looked around several souvenir shops and made some purchases. They have several handmade shops that were worth a look.

Afterward, I picked up my luggage and headed to the pier. The line for the ferry formed rather quickly so I suggest getting here early if you need to make the train. Since it was during the off peak season, the ferry did not get packed but I could see the ferry turning people away during peak season. I took a last look of this peaceful town and I hoped I could come back again.

Since it was only one platform, make sure you listen to the announcement before boarding the train. My train had a connection at Linz so I stayed awake till then. Once I got off the platform, I checked the info display to find where the next was going to be. I made memorized my next train’s number so it was easier to find the platform.

When I got on the next train, I was surprised! When I made the booking online, I couldn’t figure out how to book tickets with seat reservation. I had a choice between coach and regular and I assumed coach was the cheaper option. When I got to the coach 2nd class, it was a 6 seater compartment! And on the door, there was a sign that indicated that a seat was booked. The conductor came around to check people in and it was really cool! I have never been in a closed compartment train before. Since I had the whole compartment to myself, it was able to get to Vienna in peace.

Vienna was already dark when I arrived and I took an Uber to my hotel. I checked in as fast as I could and headed back out. My brother and sister-in-law surprised me with a visit in Vienna! This was a total surprise for me but I do love a good surprise 🙂

So we met up at Ulrich for dinner. My sister-in-law found the place and it was a good pick. When I got there, it was pretty late but the place was still packed. It was a cafe/bar type of restaurant and they had a lot of healthy options, including their drink section. I ended up getting their schnitzel and here, they made it with boar! Plus, they used pumpkin seeds in their breading to make it more “healthy.”

After a good meal, we went for a stroll. Most of the places were closed but we were still able to enjoy the Holiday decors and architecture. One that stood out was Domkirche St. Stephan (St. Stephan’s Cathedral). It was huge and very hard to miss. The tower and roof was what made this unique. It was too dark to see all the features of the Cathedral but even with a short glimpse, I was in awe. The design and colors of the tiles on the roof was really pretty and I wished it was light out so I could see all the details.

After seeing the Cathedral, we visited Zanoni & Zanoni for some dessert. Luckily, this shop was opened until 12am so we had some time to eat. We ordered ice cream shakes and cake and they were all really sweet. I mean, REALLY SWEET. And the portions were pretty big for a dessert. So if you are not that into sweet things, be prepared to share.

Since it was a surprise, we had to go our separate ways to our accommodation. But we promised to meet up in the morning for brunch. What a day!

[Day 23] Goodbye Salzburg, Hello Hallstatt

To make the most of my last day in Salzburg, I woke up early and checked out. I was able to leave my luggage at the hotel and explore the last bit of the city.

First, I headed towards Mirabell Gardens to find the Schrannenmarkt, a weekly market that is held at the square by St. Andrew Parish Church. The Market is held every Thursday and they had various booths from produce to artisan bakery.

The wrapped around the whole St. Andrew Parish Church so and is worth exploring! Since I visited the market early in the morning, there were lots of empty spaces but there were enough things for me to see and eat. The market is a great place to look around if you are intrested in local food culture. It seemed that during the Winter there isn’t a lot of treeses but it might get packed during the summer.

I ended up buying several baked goods from one of the vendors and headed to my last destination: the Hohensalzburg Fortress. To get to the Fortress, I had to take the funicular. Both the funicular and the Fortress were part of the Salzburg card. Since it was morning time (9am), it was relatively empty and the ride was pretty short. Once you get off the funicular, you are literally inside the Fortress.

This Fortress sits at top of a mountain and is visible from every point in the city. It is really hard to miss. And it is considered one of the largest medieval castles in Europe and I could tell! Just walking around the courtyard area took some time. There is an audio guide for the Fortress as well so take advantage of it if you want to listen to some history. There is also a restaurant here that provides an amazing view of the city and could be quite romantic.

It was nice to get to the top early in the morning because it was so empty! I was able to take all the pictures I wanted without having too many tourist in them. One bad thing about going up early was that even though the castle was open at 9am, nothing was open, not even the information center. Most of the things including the museums did not open until at least 9:30am so plan wisely.

We spent about 2 hours just exploring the castle. They had an photography exhibition so I was able to look around and they also had a marionette museum where you could see some of the puppets from the Salzburg puppet theater and also the backdrops. It was really interesting and I wished I could have seen a show.

After seeing the castle, I headed back to my hotel to grab my luggage and to head to my next destination. Before heading in, I visited an Asian supermarket named “Look! Asia Supermarket” that was close to my hotel. I wanted to grab some food for later. I was really starting to crave home food. I ended up getting some Korean chips and ramyun. It wasn’t cheap but I knew it was going to be worth every penny.

When I bought the Salzburg Card, I thought that my bus ride to Hallstatt was included. However, I had to buy a separate ticket for the 150 bus and for a one way ticket, it was €11. They do give change on the bus by if you do not have any euros on you you can purchase the ticket on the mobile app. I downloaded BusBahnBim mobile app to purchase my ticket.

I first took the 150 Bus to Bad Isch and from there, took a train to Hallstatt Station. Once at the station, I had to take a ferry to the city. Train was €4.20 and the ferry was €3 one way, €6 round trip. I would recommend sitting on the right side of the train to get a quick view of Hallstatt as the train approaches the station. As for the ferry, outside definitely had a better view for photos but if you are inside, both side gets a nice view but I personally liked the left side.

Hallstatt was amazingly beautiful. I only got to spend 1 night here but I think it would be better to spend at least 2 nights here. I arrived around 1:40pm and headed to my accommodation first. The apartment I booked really had a great view of the lake and mountain. But it was quite far from the ferry pier and there weren’t a lot of taxis (none when we arrived) and I couldn’t use any taxi apps. So I had to walk with my luggage. Also since it was an apartment, I could not keep my luggage here after check out time.

One thing that was recommended to me was the salt mine tour so I headed over to the ticket booth to buy tickets for the funicular and the salt mine. However, the salt mine was already closed! During the winter time, the salt mine closed early at 2pm so even if I did go up using the funicular, I wouldn’t be able to do the tour. Since the salt mine was already closed and the funicular was too expensive to ride twice, I decided to do it tomorrow morning.

Everything in this small city closed early so I decided to just do some sightseeing. Right next to the ticket booth, there was a trail leading up towards the mountain so I decided to go on a hike. It was a bit of a hike but the view of the city and the lake was well worth it. Plus it was really quiet and I was able to enjoy this nature by myself. There was also a waterfall that was visible from the city.

I did meet some other hikers that came up from a different entrance and they told me that you can actually hike to the salt mines! If you have time and love hiking, this might be good! Walk up and take the funicular down.

If you keep walking, you find a set of stairs that lead back into the city. The trail ends at the church’s graveyard and terrace. You can take more pictures on the terrace or if you take a left and keep walking, you can find the “postcard viewpoint.”

This was the photo point that you see in all the social media. It was really beautiful. They said that Hallstatt was the inspiration for Frozen’s Arendelle and I could see it. It was just picturesque.

There were lots of people here with tripods and many of them were waiting for the sunset and taking time-lapse video. Tip: If you want a good picture here, go early and get a spot. A lot of the photographers did not leave their spot for very long period of time.

Even though I did not take time-lapse video, I stayed until it got dark and saw the city light up and how the lake reflected the city. It was beautiful. But it got cold real quick! I had several heat packs but my hands were still freezing. So I headed back towards my apartment.

On my way, there was a supermarket that was still open. And since I had a kitchen in the apartment, I decided to get some more food for breakfast. The supermarket was relatively big and had lots of options. I grabbed some eggs, bread, and bacon and headed home. For dinner, I cooked the ramyun I purchased in Salzburg. The best remedy for a cold day for Korean = ramyun 🙂

[Day 22] Starting of 2020 with a bang

Another busy day! Today was my last full day in Salzburg and I wanted to make the most of it.

First, I wanted to start 2020 with a clean slate so I decided to “hike” Untersberg. I didn’t really hike it. I took the cable car up to the top. The cable car was part of the Salzburg Card so I had to take advantage of it. It was about 30 minutes outside the city and it felt really nice to get some nature in. I got to the station around 10am and it was pretty empty. The cable car operated every 30 minutes and they were very true to their schedule.

There were several people who had ski gear and when I got to the top, I realized that there were areas that people could ski and I thought that was so awesome. Once I got off the cable car, the view that greeted me was just breathtaking. To see such a clear view on the 1st of 2020 was a blessing. The top of the mountain was full of fresh snow, the sun was beaming brightly, and no cloud in sight. It was a perfect weather.

I fully enjoyed the snow and hiked a little to the top of the hill. I always love getting the aerial view of the city and even though we were quite far from the city, I could see it in the distance. After making a small New Year’s Resolution wish, I took the cable car back down and headed into the city.

My big activity for the day was the Sound of Music tour by Panorama. Sound of music is one of my all time favorite movie and since I knew it was filmed in Salzburg, I could not let this chance pass by. I did some research and decided to do the Panorama tour. They had 2 time slots (9:10am and 2pm) and made it easier to schedule.

They ushered us into a huge tour bus with the Sound of Music sign (hard to miss) and we were on our way. Our first stop was Leopoldskron Palace. This was the back end of the house with the lake. It was where Maria and the children rode the canoe. We were able to see the Palace from afar because it is a private property. But you could still see where the filming took place. As I looked across the lake, I could imagine hearing the children singing.

Currently, it is used as a hotel and you can make reservation. (I wanted to stay here but they had a 2 day minimum stay and during the Holidays, they had several days that were closed so I couldn’t get 2 consecutive days)

Our next stop was the Hellbrunn Palace. The Palace itself was closed since it was winter time but this was where the famous gazebo was rebuilt! The one from “16 going on 17”! They tried to keep the gazebo at its original location (Leopoldskron Palace) but too many visitors came so they had to move it. We could not go inside but just looking at it and touching the door knob made it feel so surreal.

After seeing these two places, we were back on the bus for a long ride. While on the bus, our tour guide, Michelle, gave us some information about Salzburg as well as some movie trivia. I did not know that Salzburg was the 4th biggest city in Austria and that salt was their #1 source of income. 2nd being Mozart and 3rd being Sound of Music.

And some fun facts about the film. Did you know that the children stayed at the Sheraton Hotel and they almost got kicked out? Why? Back then, people who wanted their shoes polished overnight would leave their shoes outside their door. The children would go and swap the shoes between the floors! What little rascals! Also, did you know that the Captain’s singing voice is not his? I had no idea! It was so much fun learning these fun little facts!

While on the bus, we passed by two big lakes, Lake Fuschl and Lake Wolfgang. Lake Fuschl was a resort town for the people in Salzburg and during the summer, it would be filled with people, swimming in the lake. We could not get a good view of Lake Wolfgang because the fog started to come in. But that didn’t stop Michelle from making our tour fun! We did some sing-a-longs with mama goat!

When we got to Mondsee, the fog was gone and it was just starting to get dark. It was about an hour drive so why did we have to come so far? The church where Maria and Captain von Trapp get married at was here. In the movie, it looked they it was part of the Abbey but since they could not film inside the nun’s abbey (Nonnberg Abbey), they filmed it at the church in Mondsee and some of it back in Hollywood.

Mondsee was a very small town but had some cute characteristics. If I were a local, it would have been a great summer getaway location. There was a lake that was walking distance away and several shops and restaurants. It was small enough to just relax quietly. We were given some free time to enjoy the inside of the church and also to explore the city.

Afterward, we were back on the bus and off to Salzburg. On our way back, they played a small documentary about Sound of Music and it was a peaceful ride back. Once back to Salzburg, they gave us the option of visiting the Mirabell Gardens but since I already visited it, I decided to opt-out and go off on my own.

It was already dark in Salzburg and most of the museums were closed but there was one that was still open: Museum of Modern Arts. Plus, it gave me a chance to use my Salzburg Card again. I was able to take the Mönchsberg Lift and I highly recommend this. It might be a nice place to see the sunset. The terrace provides a good view of Salzburg Palace and the city. I was able to relax and take in the night view on my own.

I was starting to get hungry so I headed back to the main street. I’ve been eating a lot of the local foods and was starting to miss American food. So today, I decided to try Burgerista, a hamburger restaurant. It was like a fast food place. You order at the kiosk, sit yourself if there are empty tables, and grab your food when ready. The food gets prepared once you order so I guess it a little bit more high-end than Mcdonalds.

They also had an English menu so it wasn’t too hard to order. I ordered the Meisterstuck and I really wished I could eat more since it was really good! They had several sauces for fries (and maybe the burger) and they were really good too. Definitely worth it if you are craving some home food.