[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 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 2] Montserrat and family

Full day ahead! We had time until our other brother and his wife were landing in Barcelona so we decided on a quick day trip to Montserrat. We had found Julia Travel agency the night before and made a last minute booking for a Montserrat Mountain and Basilica half day tour and it started at 9am.

We walked to Julia Travel and checked in around 8:55am and received our tickets, discount coupons, and the audio receiver. We met up with our tour guide, Clara, at 9am and boarded our bus. It was one of those greyhound bus with lots of seats. Our tour wasn’t full so we had plenty of seats to pick from. While on the way, Clara talked about the history of Spain and Barcelona in both Spanish and English.

We also learned about the history of Montserrat. It was destroyed many times by fire and other accidents but several architects participated in restoration of the monastery over the years.

As Montserrat is built on a mountain, they used a lot of curves to fit with the nature. So on the way, the mountain roads had a lot of hairpin turns. The right side had mountain views and the left side had the cliff view. If driving is not your think, you can take the cable car but our tour did not include other transportation options.

When we arrived, it was very cold compared to Barcelona. Make sure to wear lots of layers here! But we all hurdled around our tour guide to listen to the legends of Montserrat. She said that there were 2 legends. One was about how a ray of light pointed at one location. When the people went to check, they found the Black Madonna statue there. They tried to move her but she was too heavy. So they left her at the same place and built a house on a cliff.

After a brief history lesson from Clara, we had free time. So we hiked up to the view point, which was only about 30 minutes away. It gave us a panorama view of Montserrat. Follow signs to Cami de Sant Miquel. It is about a 20 to 25 minute walk uphill. But the panorama view and the fresh wind makes it all worth it.

Once back, we stood in line at the Monastery to see the Virgin of Montserrat(the Black Virgin). The line seemed long but it moved rather quickly. The line led us upstairs to the front of the chapel and we got to see the Virgin and there was a small part that you could touch. I noticed a lot of people in front of us, touching her and praying.

Once we were out, we headed back inside to listen to the L’Escolania choir. This is an all boys’ choir at Montserrat and our guide highly recommended them. These boys all lived at Montserrat and only got to see their family a few times a year. They were schooled at Montserrat in all areas including music and had published hundreds of albums. They performed at 1pm inside the basilica so we were able to enjoy about 15 minutes of the singing before heading out.

TIP: If you would like to spend more time in Montserrat to hike around more, the public transportation is a good option!

After arriving back in Barcelona, we walked around the neighborhood and found cute popup shops. There were a lot of handmade goods and all the stores were full of cute knickknacks. We also tried to look for a place to eat and most of the restaurants were closed for Siesta or had reservations. We ended up at a restaurant called El Raco. More like stumbled upon it. The staff were very friendly and seated us right away. Their menu had various things including tapas, pasta, pizza, steak, and more. They also had a good list of wine and beer.

We didn’t understand the full menu but with some recommendation from the staff. we ordered a risotto, a crepe, and a steak as our late lunch. When we got the food, the risotto was the only one that looked like the ones in the States. The crepe was open faced? and the steak was more of a open faced sandwich with only the bottom bun. It was interesting but it tasted good! We enjoyed our meal (€34.45), relaxed a bit, and headed back to our accommodation and waited for the rest of the family.

My brother and his wife arrived a little later then expected due to flight delays but when they arrived, it was perfect time for dinner. We didn’t want to go too far from our place since everyone was still tired from traveling. So for dinner, we visited a place called Oporto. It had high reviews on tripadvisor and we were excited to try new food. What we didn’t realize was that it was Portuguese food.

When we arrived around 8pm, we were the first ones there. We ordered multiple tapas to share including pulpo salsa verde(octopus), gambas aguillo(shrimp), arroz marisco(seafood pot), and bottles of wine. When you order at this restaurant, start small. The size of these tapas were huge. And the Arroz Marisco can be ordered in 1/2 sizes so make sure to ask! The food was really good. Everyone enjoyed the meal (€117.50)

On our way back home, we stopped by the local super market to pick up more wine and snacks. I picked up a lemon beer (Damm Lemon) and it wasn’t what I was expecting but very refreshing. It was a pretty good match with some jamon.

[Day 1] San Diego to Barcelona

A start to a new trip! This trip is the longer trip I’ve ever taken so I’m so excited to write about it.

First day was mostly travel day. I’ve never flown to Europe from the West Coast and wow! It was long! I try to be a frugal travel when I can be and usually that means cheap(er) flights.

I usually fly with Star Alliance because I have good status with them. So this time, it was with TAP Air Portugal. And my schedule was the following.

It was long but since it was broken down and at each airport, I got to rest up at the lounge, it didn’t feel that bad. And maybe because I took the breaks, I wasn’t hit with jetlag.

My first stop, JFK, I was in terminal 5 and it did not have any lounges I could use. So I sat close to the gate and waited. While waiting, there were people who are asking if anyone wanted to join an auction for the first class seats. I’ve never heard of this before but seemed interesting. By joining the auction, you may be able to get cheaper first class seat for a 5+hour flight. I saw several people sign up for it but this wasn’t for me.

At my second stop, Lisbon, I would have gone out to venture the city if I had more time. But with 3 hours, it wasn’t worth it. Lisbon had Priority Pass lounges as well as Star Alliance lounges. Usually, I go for Priority Pass but this time, I tried the Star Alliance lounge (TAP Premium lounge).

This lounge was great! It had a great view of the runway, had lots of great amenities including a shower, and great food and drink selection. If you are a wine drinker, this place had a wine dispenser! They also had several cheese and meat selection to go with the wine.

And after another flight, I landed in Barcelona airport. This place was a bit of a nightmare! The signs were so confusing. It took me awhile to find the exit to baggage claim and once I got my bag, I was looking for a taxi symbol. I found one and followed it and suddenly, it disappeared.

I had called a taxi using an app called FREE NOW (similar to UBER) and the driver called me to ask where I was. He did not speak much English, he waited for me to find the taxi loading area.

The taxi area very difficult to find if you follow the signs. It was very close to the exit and had a huge TAXI written on it. So keep your eyes open. You take a sloped escalator down and you will see a line of taxis. Not all taxi pick up is here so make sure you check the app to see where the pick up is exactly!

TIP: If you are going to use FREE NOW, use my promo code jin.moon to get a €5 coupon. Also, this app has a feature that presets the cost and even if the meter goes over, you will only pay the set price. Another option is that you can pay either via the app or pay in person, credit card or cash. All options are open.

I got to the airbnb and met up with my brother and sister-in-law. The place was pretty big and had separate rooms for all of us. I put my luggage in my room and we all went out for our first meal.

My first meal in Spain ended up being Italian! But no complaints because it was actually really good. We visited the restaurant BelleBuòn around 7pm and it was empty! They asked if we had reservation and even without it, they were able to seat us. We ordered a bottle of wine, pizza, and lasagna. And everything was delicious!

TIP: While in Europe, a lot of places asked for reservation. Even small cafes. So if you are set on visiting a specific restaurant or cafe, call and make a reservation!

Afterwards, while walking back to our accommodation, we noticed a beautiful building. It was the Sant Pau Art Nouveau site. We did not go inside but just the building itself was gorgeous. I couldn’t wait to see more of Barcelona.