[Day 3] Horseshoe bend and grand canyon

Today was our main event! We were planning on hitting 2 major view points in Arizona, Horseshoe Bend and Grand Canyon. The last time I visit this area was 4 years ago and at that time, we were only able to drive by Horseshoe Bend so this was my first time actually visiting. I was super excited for it.

Before heading out, we made samgak kimbap (triangular kimbap) for lunch/dinner/snack. It was our first time making it but it wasn’t too hard. We made Tuna-Mayo gimbap and kept it cool in the ice box. We weren’t sure what time we might arrive at Grand Canyon so we made sure to take enough food and drinks with us.

Our first stop was Horseshoe bend. There were several changes since 3 years ago! They now had a paid parking lot with a gate and had a $10 per vehicle entry fee. And the trail down to the overlook was all new as well. Before, there was no actual trail but a sandy path that people took. The new trail was great, with a few stopping points, as well as, semi-fenced path. The path itself took longer than before since it wrapped around but it felt more safer. This was also pet-friendly area as I saw several dogs on the trail, all leashed.

Once we got to the edge, I noticed that they fenced off the main area, making the place safer for families with children. There were several spaces, left and right, that did not have the fence and people were sitting on the edge, all enjoying the view. And I don’t blame them! It was beautiful.

We visited in the morning but I would recommend visiting during the afternoon to avoid the shadows shown in the picture. However, it was still amazing to see it in person. Just watching the boats go by and enjoying the sun and wind made things very serene. The horizontal line that split the canyon and the sky, the view of the river… I definitely could have just sat here for hours.

Also, visiting at 10am, there wasn’t a lot of people at the Bend. We were able to take pictures without people in it and enjoy the scene quietly. I cannot say for sure how busy the afternoon gets. But my guess is that it will be slightly more busy to see the Bend without the shadows.

After taking in the scene, we headed out to Grand Canyon North rim. This was my first time going to the North rim so I was super excited to see the difference. Everyone told me that they enjoyed the South rim more but I wanted to see it with my own eyes. On the way to Grand Canyon, we passed by the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs wilderness area. Only if we had won the lottery. I will have to try again next time 🙂

The drive to Grand Canyon was longer than expected but quite surprising. We were driving through the desert one moment and next, we were passing through a forest! There were so many trees! We rolled down our windows and enjoyed the cool, fresh air. Also, from the welcome sign and entrance booth, the canyon was another 30-40 minute drive! Due to Covid, they were not accepting cash/credit card at the booth. You had to purchase the pass from their website. The park ranger handed us a map with the website’s QR code.

We didn’t have a lot of time to explore the rim but we wanted to do at least do one trail. And there must have been several people who visited the Rim with the same idea because they had a sign for it!

We decided to do the shortest one so we can have lots of time for photos and it was the right choice. Once we were on the Bright Angel Point trail, every few steps, we ended up stopping and taking photos because it was just breathtaking. The depth, the colors, the ridges… it was all just amazing.

I really loved seeing all the red shades! Just wow. Just these simple glimpse were enough to make the trip worth it. The North rim had its own kind of beauty and I would not compare it to the South rim. However, personally, I think I prefer the North rim. Getting here is troublesome but the view really took my heart away.

We had to walk a bit more to reach the end of the trail. The trail itself is not hard but there are small ups and downs. Several area did not have railings and were a bit narrow as well. But the view at the end made it all worth the walk.

The camera does not do it justice! The 360 view of the Canyon was amazing. Plus, when we got to the end, there were only a handful of people. Most of them were wearing masks and just taking pictures. We ended up doing the same. It was amazing to see the red and the green together. We both stood here in awe for a few moments.

After taking in the view, we headed back to the parking lot and found a picnic area to eat our packed lunch. And the view from the picnic area was amazing too. We were able to eat while enjoying the Canyon and the fresh air! The openness really made my cabin fever go away.

On our way out, we saw some buffalo and deer. The cars in front of us stopped and for a moment, we didn’t know why. We only noticed when people started to get out of their cars to take photos. It was pretty cool. We didn’t want to disturb them so we drove off slowly. The sun started to set as we got out of the forest area and the way the sunset light was beaming on the canyon was something that just made us pull over.

Just looking at this, I was mesmerized. I started to wonder what the sunset would be like at the Grand Canyon North rim and told myself that next time, I will try to spend a night at the rim. Once the sun started to set, the light was gone quick! We ended up arriving at our hotel in the dark! But we both agreed that it was all worth it.

We took a break and rested a bit before heading out again. This time, to see the stars! I love stargazing and it is definitely better in the dark. We left the hotel around 11pm and drove into the darkness. And while driving out, we were able to see stars brightly shining in the sky. It was just amazing. We parked safely and viewed the stars. Because we were on the road, we had cars go by but only a few and it didn’t bother us. We were able to see the Milky Way with our naked eyes and it came out even more clearly in the photos. What a great way to end the night!

[day 2] lottery and onwards to page, az

Today was a big day! Lottery day for the Coyote Buttes permit. According to their website, the lottery would take place daily at the Kanab Center at 8 am. Luckily, the Perry Lodge was walking distance (across the street!) from the Center so it was an easy walk. There is a parking lot at the Center if you are bringing your vehicle. At 8 am, they open the doors for people to fill out their application.

Things you need to know about the application

  • Bring your own pen/pencil
  • license plate number
  • emergency contact (someone who is not traveling with you)
  • cash or check of $7 per person in case you win the lottery

I arrived around 8:15 am and there was already several applicants. After filling out my application, I decided to wait in the room and ask some questions about the lottery. The rangers told me that only 20 people can enter per day and 10 are pre-selected from the online lottery and 10 are selected during the in-person lottery. For the in-person lottery, they keep picking groups until they hit 10 people, not 10 groups. Meaning, if the first lottery picked has 2 people, the rangers keep picking the lottery until 10 hits. And if they are at 9 people, and the next group picked has a group of 4, the group can decided to pass their chance or kick people off their group.

While waiting in the room, I noticed a lot of repeat applicants from the day before. The ranger mentioned that they keep the application since people do come for second and third rounds. The ranger also told me that the day before they had 82 applications and it was their busiest day so far.

At 9 am, the room was packed with applicants and the ranger did a roll-call and gave every applicant their lottery number. Today there were 75 applicants and I was number 50. The ranger asked if everyone remembered their number and there were several people who could not remember and the rangers provided the numbers again. The lottery proceeded quickly from here and unfortunately, I didn’t win. Sad but I guess more reason to come back 🙂 The ranger recommended several different local spots we could visit so we decided to pick one and go with it.

After not winning the lottery, I headed back to the lodge’s lobby and pick up our breakfast bag. Usually they would provide continental breakfast but since COVID, they were giving out small lunch bag. The Lodge’s bag wasn’t bad. It had yogurt, pastry, fruit bowl, juice, apple, string cheese, granola bar, and a water bottle. Not bad. We thought it was perfect to take it for our hikes. We packed our things and checked out and headed towards the Coral Pink Sand Dunes.

On our way, we made a pitstop to see the Sand Dune Arch. This wasn’t on Google maps but it was on the pamphlet that the ranger gave out. The direction on the handout wasn’t very clear so we got lost a bit but luckily, there was no one around and it made it feel like we owned the place. While following the google maps toward the Dunes, from HWY 89, you will make a left turn at Hancock road. From there, you have to park your car around 64B. Walk towards the bird-like rock (on google maps, this is the Lone Rock Overlook) and keep following the road to the left that goes down the hill. At the end of the hill, you should see the Arch. It wasn’t as grand as the name makes it to be.

It was a mid-sized arch. It looks pretty small in the picture but the hole in the center was about 5feet5inches. We spent some time here, climbing the Arch and looking around the area. But other than the Arch, this area was empty and no visitors. After seeing enough, we headed back to our vehicle and drove off to the Dunes. About 15 minutes in, we started to see the Dunes and lots of ATVs. And while driving, the GPS told us that we arrived but it was in the middle of the road?! Not even a parking lot! So we parked on the side of the street and walked into the Dunes. There were small trail like area so we followed that in.

Guys. The sand dunes are not something you should just walk into. We saw the high dunes and thought they were relatively close but it wasn’t. We ended up walking around 40 minutes to get to the bottom of the dunes. However, it was really impressive! The sand was really soft and as we climbed to the top, we kept sinking a bit. By the time we got to the top, we had sand in our pants and shoes! The sand waves were really pretty and from the top, you can see the other dunes and there were teams of people in ATVs and also sandboarding.

One thing to definitely consider is the sun. There were no shade and it was 98 degree sun just beating on us. After our climb, we headed back but we got lost. All the trails were starting to look the same and we ended up somewhere we didn’t pass. We were lucky we brought our water bottle but it was just too hot. We ended up following the sound of vehicles passing on the road and got out. I think if you were to walk, make sure you bring something to help you navigate (like strings you can tie around plants?).

After getting out of the maze-like Dunes, we headed to our next destination, Page, AZ. The drive to Page was very straight forward with lots of canyon views. The red colors of the canyons along the roads were a sight to see! And once at Page, we were amazed to see all the water from the Lake Powell into the canyons! We quickly checked into our hotel for the next 2 days, Sleep Inn & Suites, ate a quick lunch/dinner, and headed to Lake Powell.

We brought our swimsuits just in case and it was a good thing we did. The hotel gave us two options for swimming: The Wahweap Marina and The Chain. The Marina was a bit further but it has a beach and is part of the National Park. The Chain was more of a local people’s gathering area and was close to the dam. We decided to give The Chain a try and I’m so glad we did.

From the hotel, you have to follow signs/GPS to The Hanging Garden Trail. Do not park at the parking lot but keeping driving down until you see another parking lot (there is a small building at the end). Park here and you can follow the trail down to the bottom. It is about a 10-15 minute walk. Once at the bottom, you should see people swimming, fishing, and just enjoying themselves.

It was amazing to swim between the canyons! The colors were amazing and the water was just right. At some parts, it was shallow but it dips rather quickly so if you cannot swim, I would not recommend this place. On the deeper end, we noticed small motor boats driving by so watch out for those as well. This place was really peaceful and nice. No wonder the locals come here to relax! And I couldn’t believe we were able to swim so close to the dam! It was definitely an experience 🙂

We played in the waters until sundown. After getting out, we explored the area a bit before heading back. The view of the canyons along with the rock formations were just amazing. We didn’t want to leave! Plus, there were still several groups of people here when we left.

Once back at our hotel, we washed up, relaxed, and talked about our plans for the next day. Tomorrow was going to be our big day: Grand Canyon!

[Day 1] Off to Kanab, UT

We wanted to start the day early but after packing all our food in our icebox and moving things to the car, we ended up leaving the house around 10am. Our plan was to get to Las Vegas and eat lunch or late lunch and make it to Kanab around 9pm. I thought we would start seeing the fields but it wasn’t until we hit the border that I felt that we were truly on the road. We were prepared to be on the road for a while but I think the bathroom was our biggest fear. Our first stop was at a local gas station on Route 5 and luckily, they let us use the bathroom. Right before we hit the border, we also saw a truck stop that had a bathroom so plan accordingly.

We made our first stop at the Seven Magic Mountain around 3pm, a lot later than we expected. We also didn’t see the art installation until we were really close to it so I thought they were small. But once we parked at the lot and started to walk towards it, I realized that they were actually really tall!

We did see some people but most of them were wearing masks and people were distancing themselves as well. But it was still hard to get a picture with no one in it. The colors of the rocks were so bright, contrast to the bare sands of Nevada and really gave it that POP. We admired the work of Ugo Rondinone, took some pictures, stretched our bodies, and headed to the nearly picnic area (which happened to be in Las Vegas).

We brought some food that needed to be cooked and we needed a bathroom and picnic table and ended up in a park named Jesse Ellyson Picnic Area. It was a bit into the residential area but had a gazebo, picnic table, a grill, and a bathroom. However, the bathroom here was closed to the public. We took our what we needed and started cooking.

We brought my burner and camping equipment set so we had pans, pots, plates, and even bowls. We bought meat and veggie the day before and were able to enjoy our meals this way. I cooked some and my roommate cooked some and we both enjoyed it. We ended up eating around 4:30 pm so we assumed this would be our lunch and dinner and we would snack on the way if we got hungry. We filled up our gas and tried to use the bathroom at the 7-11 which was part of the gas station but they said that they were closed to the public (the horror!) but luckily, there was a gas station across the street and they had their bathroom open to the public (phew!)

Once out of Las Vegas, it was all desert again. The road went from 3-4 lanes to just 2 lanes and it got dark very quickly. And because of how dark it was, the stars were becoming visible. We ended up parking on the side of the road around 8:30 pm and just looking at the stars for a bit. And by the time we arrived at our lodge, it was close to 10pm.

We stayed at the Perry Lodge because it was walking distance from the community center where they would do the lottery in the morning. The check in was quick and the lobby area was very clean. They had hand sanitizer and were giving out masks for people who needed them.

The Lodge seemed pretty empty and they still had the vacancy sign on. They were being very careful with things so people won’t have to touch what other people have touched. So breakfast was going to be bagged and we would need to pick it up in the morning. And also, ice. They turned off their ice machine and if we wanted ice, we needed to ask front desk for a bag of it.

When we got to the room, we were surprised at how large it was. We had 2 king size beds and also had a fridge and microwave. The view out the window was just of the community center but still nice. It was very quiet and we were able to sleep in peace.

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!

[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 🙂