[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 19] Last full day at Český Krumlov

This was my full day at Český Krumlov and also our last full day as a family traveling together. We wanted to make the most of it.

Like I said before, Český Krumlov is a very small town. You can definitely do everything in 1 day. 2 day at max. So with this being our 3rd day, we weren’t pushing to do anything extreme. We just wanted to see more of the town, do some shopping, and just spend time together.

We did not have any plans but to check out all the side streets and corners of this beautiful little town. So we just walked. Even though most of the museums were closed, we were still able to find things to do. (One thing we wanted to see was the marionette puppet show but they were closed, too)

We did find a marionette store but it wasn’t what we expected. It was called Puppet Museum – Fairytale House but when we got there, it seemed like a small store. The actual puppet museum was only upstairs and there was a small fee to get in. During the peak season, they have tours but while we were visiting, they only had a walkthrough.

So instead, we checked out their wine cellar. It isn’t much of a cellar but they do have some local wines. If you have a thing for local wine, you can check it out. We wanted to ask for a tasting but the staff did not speak English.

After, we were off again. There were a lot of local boutiques and we were able to find some gems! Austrian designer clothes, handmade ceramics, and even hats! Oh hats! I don’t think I’m a hat person but my sister-in-law and her family were all getting one so I ended up getting one too.

While walking around, we found a 3D museum that was open and we all decided to try it for fun. We were the only ones there (no surprise) and the fee was 100kc per person (about $4 USD). They had several different illusions and we tried them all. It was 3 floors high and had more than 10 illusions. We all had a blast and it was totally worth every dime! If you have kids, I think this would be fun activity.

We also found a record store! I feel like back in the States, we don’t have music related stores anymore? At least I haven’t been in one in years. So this was a treat. We looked through several CDs and vinyl records and it was actually fun finding different artist we all knew.

We wondered around town for a bit and headed to Restaurace Lazebna for dinner. Again, if there is a restaurant you want to try, make reservation 100%. We went to several different restaurants before finding this one. If it was peak season, we wouldn’t have been able to eat! This restaurant offered mostly traditional Czech cuisine. We ended up with several meat dishes including koleno, and soups such as goulash. The portions here were huge! So prepare to share.

[Day 8] Royal Alcázar of Seville and off to Madrid

We had one last thing we needed to see in Seville and that was the Royal Alcázar of Seville. My brother really wanted to see this since it was in Game of Throne. We booked tickets in advance again and visited early in the morning. When we got there, the regular line was starting to get long.

This time, we got the audio guide and walked around, listening to the history of the Royal Alcázar of Seville. The architecture here was heavily influence by islamic design but while listening to the audio guide, I found out that because the construction took a long time, several different styles were incorporated. I guess 500 years of construction will make you want to change your mind about what is popular then.

The Royal Alcázar of Seville is made up of several different halls, courtyards, gardens, and more. I would suggest you time your visit wisely. You can easily spend 3 hours here just looking around and taking pictures.

While looking and admiring the details in the design and decor (especially the tiles), my brother was eagerly looking forward to the Game of Thrones filming locations. He was looking for mainly three things: Mercury’s Pond (Estanque de Mercurio), Baths of Maria de Padilla (Los Baños de Doña María de Padilla), and the Fountain of Neptune (Fuente de la Neptuno) in Jardines del Principe.

These must have been major view points because all of them were bustling with people. We had to patiently wait for people to trickle out. The signs in the Garden’s are not easy to follow but Mercury’s pond is hard to miss because it is higher up and Baths of Maria de Padilla is right next to it. Mercury’s pond is relatively small compared to how big Alcázar is but the small waterfall makes a very calming sound and I could see the royals relaxing on that balcony.

Baths of Maria de Padilla is just steps away from Mercury’s Pond and it is underground. All the arches and its reflection on the water makes the wait worth awhile. The water here wasn’t all that clean and I’m guessing they don’t use it for baths anymore 😉

And lastly, we had to walk a bit through the Gardens to find it but we located the Fountain of Neptune. There were so many small fountains around the gardens and even the gardens were huge! Luckily, this fountain was also relatively close to Mercury’s Pond.

It was fun, walking and exploring Royal Alcázar of Seville with a mindset of “I’m going to find these filming locations!” because it gave us something to look for. And we tried to take pictures similar to the casts and had a lot of fun looking for pictures to try.

We didn’t get to spend a lot of time here but we had to catch our train to Madrid so we had to cut our tour short. We headed back to our accommodation and called an uber to head to the station.

At the station, we didn’t have much time so we quickly grabbed lunch from McDonald. If you have time, there are other restaurant options in the Station. When it was time, we found our platform and got on the Renfe train. It was about 3 hours 30 minutes to Madrid. The reason why we decided on taking the train was that the cost was slightly cheaper and if you consider checking in time and the time to and from the airport, it was going to be quite similar.

Once we were at Madrid, we took a cab from the station to our next accommodation near Plaza Mayor. There were lots of cabs waiting outside the station and it was very easy to find a bigger cab that can fit all our luggage.

Our accommodation was literally across the street from Plaza Mayor and it was crowded with people who were celebrating the Holidays. There was a Christmas Market here as well but they were selling more carnival goods such as masks, wigs, and small knick knacks.

For dinner, my brother recommended an interesting sandwich called Calamares Bocadillos. Literally Calamari sandwich. He took us to Bar La Campana, walking distance from Plaza Mayor, and got one sandwich. Why? Because they only took cash and we only had enough for one sandwich. They don’t give you any sauce or seasoning. It is just calamari. So if you like calamari, this is it! Since the calamari was fresh, the crispiness of the fried calamari with the soft bread wasn’t too bad. I do with they had some sort of sauces. (Maybe sriracha?)

To grab a real meal, we headed to Gourmet Experience. This was the top floor of a shopping center and the whole floor was about food. The roof top view of the place was really nice. However, all the seats were taken and there were multiple lines everywhere.

So we took this time to just enjoy the view and headed to a place my brother recommended for tacos called Taqueria El Chaparrito. And it was pretty legit tacos here. If you are in town and are craving Mexican food, this could be your spot! Great place for some late night tacos and beer.