[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 10] Cusco City Tour and Cooking Class

We’ve been in Cusco since day 5 but didn’t get to explore all of the city yet! So we dedicated the morning to just wandering around town. This was also the first day I got to sleep in a little. The weather was perfect for a city tour. We decided to walk around some major parts of the town and just sightsee and shop around.

Our first stop was at the Plaza de Armas. We’ve seen it in passing so it was just nice to walk through it and take in the beautiful architecture. The two major buildings that stand out is the Cusco Cathedral and the Natural History Museum. During our visit, the City started to renovate(?) the Plaza’s central sculpture piece but the Plaza was just bustling with people.

Right next to the Museum, there was a Starbucks. One thing I like to do is to try different frapps from different country’s Starbucks. And Peru had one unique one called Lucuma frapp. I just had to try it. So we headed to Starbucks and was quite amazed at their courtyard and their view of the plaza. If you want to grab some coffee and get a nice view, I recommend this place! (Of course, you might be able to find a nice local cafe nearby too).

So Lucuma. I’m not sure if I would say I liked it but it definitely was interesting. The explanation the staff gave me was that it would be close to a butterscotch flavor? But to me, it was just a tad bit too sweet and I wasn’t sure how to distinguish the lucuma flavor 😦 If anyone else has tried this in Peru, please let me know what you thought!

After grabbing the drink and enjoying the view, we were getting a bit hungry so we headed to Plaza San Blas area to find some cafe. From the guide book, it said that the San Blas area was like the “art-sy” area and was up and coming. There was an outdoor market here as well (mostly handmade goods) but also a lot of cafes and smaller restaurants. It was definitely less crowded but you still got the beauty of Cusco.

One thing. San Blas is on the hillside so from Plaza de Armas, it is going to be an upward walk. Be prepared. (But most of Cusco is this way)

While walking around, we found a nice cafe named Pantastico and bought several empanadas and a pie maracuya to go. I’ve heard of the maracuya fruit and I wanted to try it. They packed everything neatly and we headed back to the Plaza to eat while taking in the view. The empanadas were amazing and filled our stomach but the pie was too sour. If you like sour things, try maracuya!

As I said earlier, there was a small open marketing happening here. While looking around, we found ladies who had alpacas for photos! I’m not a big fan of paying for photos, the baby alpaca just got to me. The ladies are very nice and they let you take pictures with the baby on your lap or you holding him. After several pictures and 5 sol later, we were off exploring again.

From San Blas, we started to talk towards Mirador de Plaza San Cristobal. It was a bit of a hike but the road there was full of things to see. Lots of cafes with great views, colorful drawings on the street walls, and just the view of the city from up top! 3 combo! At first, walking up the hill was so hard! I felt like it was never ending (similar to Machu Picchu) but the interesting surrounding area made the hike more enjoyable.

And Mirador! 100% recommend if you want to see Plaza de Armas from above. The view of the city here is spectacular!

You can see things that are only visible when you are up top, such as the EL PERU written on the mountain. Here is a video of the view from San Cristobal.

Once we were done walking around the city, we headed to our cooking class. It’s always fun to take local cooking classes to learn about the history of the food culture and also to learn some new recipes. You never know what you might learn.

So after some research, we decided to take a class with Peruvian Cooking Class. The classes were small but offered various types of dishes. The location was very easy to find and was about 10 minute walking distance from Plaza de Armas. The first floor of the building was the cooking station and the second floor was the waiting room/dining room area.

When you make the booking, you have the option to choose which menu you want to make. The choice of menu is decided by the person who made the first booking for that day. So if you have something you really want to make, make the reservation first! We decided on menu #2 : Pisco Sour/Chicha Morada, Palta Rellena, Lomo Saltado, and chocolate.

Once we checked in, we found out that we were the only 2 people taking the class. Score! A private class. It was awesome! They even let us change the menu a bit. So we picked Chicha Morada as our drink, Palta Rellena, Lomo Saltado, and Arroz con Leche!

With the chef of the day, Yuli, we first got to try some local fruit: Granadilla, Tumbo, Lucuma, Perito Abuel, Lima, Pacay, and Golden Berry. I hope I got all the spelling right 🙂 Granadilla was my favorite and it tasted like passionfruit but much sweeter. Tumbo was also good. It used to be used in ceviche back in the days but when the Spanish brought Lemon, it was replaced. I got a real taste of Lucuma here and it was closer to a persimmon. Perito Abuel was small and tasted like sour apple. Lima looked like a small citrus but actually it didn’t taste like a citrus. It can actually replace lemongrass. Pacay looked like cotton balls. Very furry. And Golden Berry looked like a cherry tomato but very super sour.

After tasting several fruits, we made our grocery list and walked to San Pedro Market to buy our ingredients. What we didn’t know was that the Market was CLOSED until Monday! They were doing a massive cleanup for the festival.

So we went to a smaller market behind it. It was more local and less clean but we were still able to get everything. While shopping, Yuli continued to talk to us about Peruvian food and culture. She even helped us get some Granadilla for later.

Once we had everything, we headed back to the shop and started cooking. It was so much fun. Yuli explained everything, step by step, and demonstrated just a little and we had to do most of the actual work. She showed us how to cook the meal as well as plating it just right. The Palta Rellena was a chicken and potato salad and Lomo Saltado was stir fried beef with rice (one of my favorite Peruvian dish) and Arroz con Leche was sweet rice pudding. The meal was extremely satisfying. The fact that I made the food made it even better 😉 After cooking, we took our food upstairs and got to enjoy it as dinner. It was delicious.

And satisfied, we went shopping. I wanted to get some alpaca scarves for my family members so I visited SOL ALPACA. I wanted to get them something that was more authentic and trustworthy when they claimed 100% alpaca. SOL was considered a luxury brand and everything gave it a high rating so I gave it a try. Everything here was really soft and it did not give any scratchy feeling what-so-ever. Everything was really pretty and I wanted to buy everything but I stuck to my plan and purchased different colored scarves. Next time, I want to buy more!