Bratislava has the best food (Vienna trip, part II)

After a wonderful day on Wednesday of markets and historical buildings, we decided to also make a full day of Friday. We got up early, actually took the metro and tried to find Brunnenmarkt. However, after such a successful day with the Naschmarkt the day before, the second market was a bit of a letdown. Though it was early Friday afternoon by the time we got there, many of the stalls were closed and many others seemed to actually be Turkish or Turkish related. Considering we can get plenty of kebab spices in Istanbul, we made our way quickly through the second market and decided to walk a bit farther to check out a Brauhaus that was supposed to be nearby. We did find out that the brewery, Ottakringer, was there, but the security guard informed us that there was no Brauhaus. So we wandered a bit more to find a metro station and made our way back to the Naschmarkt area, where we found a quick Chinese/Thai restaurant to eat at (after finding that the Thai restaurant for which we’d rave reviews was not open for lunch). We then made our way back to the Museum Quarter where we thought we could check out the last art museum from our combo pack. We left disappointed after just 15 minutes and ventured toward what we thought could be a better museum. Across from where we were stood the Natural History Museum and the Art History Museum. They were identical, elegant buildings which faced each other with a courtyard in between.  I wouldn’t be surprised if one or both building had once been a palace.

Friday so far hadn’t lived up to the adventures of Thursday, so we didn’t hold high hopes for the Natural History Museum, but once we entered the foyer, we knew we’d made a good decision. Even the entryway was grand and inviting. It said, “I’m elegant, yet educated and I want to share my knowledge with those willing to learn and discover,” which, coincidently, we were. The first five rooms or so of the first floor were set up with cases and cases and cases of ROCKS. Rocks in all shapes, colors, sizes, and from all over the world. The detail was incredible. Apparently it used to be a private collection, but was opened to the public by the late owner’s wife a long time ago.  We moved from rooms of rocks to rooms of asteroids, meteors, and moon rocks to fossils, dinosaurs, skulls, Neanderthals, early weavings, ceramics and weaponry. On the second floor we found stuffed animals, reptiles and fish.  And lining the ceilings of each room were corresponding paintings, painted in a Romantic fashion: the rock rooms had pictures of deserts and mountains; the rooms with fossils had pictures of whimsical, tropical lands; the rooms with fish had boats and ships sailing on stormy waters. You get my point. It was awesome. It took us at least 20 minutes to get through one room; we ran out of time and the museum closed before we got to see the whole thing.

The next morning we got up early and took the bus out to Bratislava. It only took an hour and the tickets were 13 Euro, roundtrip. Finding our way around Bratislava didn’t take too long, because it’s not too large, but it’s well worth it. We stayed at the Hostel Blues, which while not providing cheap breakfast buffets, did have a very helpful staff and much more character than the Wombats Hostels. We walked around for a bit and tried to find some of the recommended spots we’d looked up. The one thing we were really excited about and ended up visiting everyday was the Slovak Pub.  The best part about Slovakia was the food and Slovak Pub had excellent food. The traditional Slovak dishes such as potato dumpling, garlic soup in a bread bowl, and the best potato pancakes I’d ever had, were incredibly delicious and hardy—the perfect meal for a windy, cold Slovakian day. And cheap, too! We got four entrees, two beers, one soday,two shots of spirits, and a dessert for about 25 Euro. Not to mention that the atmosphere was incredibly relaxing and all the staff was very friendly and helpful.

Our second day in Bratislava we took a walking tour around the city. If you’ve never done a walking tour and you’re on a budget, I highly recommend it. Pretty much every big city has one and they’re usually quite informative—and free! Well, they work on tips, but it’s still cheaper than a paid tour. Most hostels have information on a local walking tour. Anyway, the tour was super informative and we learned a lot about Bratislava’s history, back from when it was still a part of the Hungarian Empire, to when it was Czechoslovakia, to the first time it was independent, then Czechoslovakia again, and then once again, an independent Slovakia. (They also aren’t huge fans of Prague.) As we were walking around, it was obvious that the country had once been communist. You would get to sections of towns were all the buildings shared an industrial feel. Yet there were other parts of town that were magical. Apparently there were much more magical parts before the communist government tore down a bunch of old buildings in the 1970s. After the tour was over, my fingers were almost numb inside my gloves, so we went to a nearby pizzeria. And even the pizza was good! A brewery later that night, and then Slovak Pub again (in addition to a few other local pubs).

We caught the bus back to Vienna the next morning (after one last stop at the Slovak Pub). Overall, we were satisfied with Bratislava and wouldn’t mind visiting it again, but not in the winter. But we were ready to be back in Vienna. Aftergathering and repacking all our belongings and readying for the flight the next morning, we decided to have one last night of wandering the city. We saw St. Stephen’s Cathedral at night and it was simply breathtaking. We walked down by the water, got some ice cream, and a bratwurst. We found Kleines Cafe, which provided a cozy atmostphere for our last tea in the city.

The following morning we caught the metro back to the airport and were back in Istanbul before we knew it. Of course we’re already planning our next trip.


My trip to Vienna

It’s easy to forget how big the States are (is?) until you either travel through them or leave them altogether. I’ve lived in and been to more of the US than most people I know, and still there is so much I haven’t seen and, depending on time and circumstances, may never see. But it has always been my rule to see and do as much as possible and that has obviously not changed since coming to Istanbul.

So as my winter break comes to an end (school starts back up on Monday), I thought this would be a good time to update on my recent trip. Since I would have some time and a little bit of money, my boyfriend and I decided to travel to Vienna, Austria. It was a good compromise since I wanted to go to Odessa, Ukraine, and he wanted to go somewhere warmer. We both speak German (though we are both quite rusty), and neither of us had ever been. And since we were in Vienna for a week, we thought we should also take a couple of days to go across the border to Bratislava, Slovakia.

We flew into Vienna on Tuesday and stayed at the Wombats Lounge Hostel on Mariahilferstrasse next to West Banhof metro station. Though the hostel wasn’t centrally located, we were able to easily walk or take the metro anywhere we needed. We got there late and didn’t venture out too much until the next day when we decided to take in a few museums. Before we left, we decided to eat breakfast at the hostel. They provided an all you can eat buffet breakfast for about four Euros. After eating a large breakfast and taking some fruit for the road, we usually didn’t eat much again until dinner. Wednesday morning, we headed to the Museum Quarter and bought a combination package which got us into the MUMOK (the modern art museum), the Leopold (a contemporary art museum), and another art museum (which I can’t remember the name of because it was really quite awful, but it was right next to the MUMOK) for about 21 Euro per person. That day we made it through the MUMOK, the main exhibit which was Dan Flavin, and the Leopold, which had three main exhibits: Egon Schiele and Klimt, Naked Men, and Japanese Art. The Leopold was by far my favorite of the day. When I was in grad school, I had a poster of Klimt’s “The Kiss” above my dresser. So to see some of his work and much of Schiele’s, who was inspired and mentored by Klimt, was really amazing. The Japanese Art was also quite breathtaking. They had an array of mediums and styles, but my favorite of the Japanese art was being able to see Hokusai’s “The Great Wave.” The Nude Men exhibit was interesting, but not something I need to see again. That night we did a bit of shopping. There are many things you can get in Turkey, but some things, like corn chips, are hard to find or expensive to get. But after a bit of shopping, we had dinner at a local brewery, 7 Stern Brau. It was a little pricey, but had good food, good beer, and a good atmosphere.

On Thursday we started off by going to der Naschmarkt, an open-air market near the center of town. Though it wasn’t exactly the Grand Bazaar, it was still quite large with spices, meats, cheeses, clothes, restaurants, wines, beers, jewelry, and trinkets. We got some spices, a few post cards, and a pretzel, but mostly just enjoyed the atmosphere. After walking through the market, we decided to (call us crazy) walk some more. Vienna is so beautiful and even if you don’t manage to make it in any building, it’s almost enough to walk outside and look at the detail and care that goes into each stairway, column, or spire. We walked past St. Charles Church, posed for pictures, then walked and all the way down to the Belvedere Palace. The Belvedere belonged to the Habsburgs who ruled the Austrian-Hungary empire until 1918. We didn’t go in the palace, but instead just walked around the grounds. And though it was winter, the grounds were beautiful. They had mazes of bushes, gorgeous statues of women and mythical creatures, and overall created a regal air that transformed you to an earlier time (when all the money of the country could go to making palaces and beautiful grounds for the monarchy and women waltzed in ballrooms, lightly stepping and standing straight, and men made business deals, smoking pipes on a bench by the fountain out back). I would definitely like to go back during the spring one year to get the full effect.

We then made our way through some of the main walking circle, or Ringstrasse, and let the roads take us where they will. We ended up in a small café for a while before stumbling upon my favorite part of the whole trip: The State Hall National Library. What girl who grew up addicted to books and watched Beauty and the Beast could not fall in love with a library like this? The shelves of books reached the ceilings, which you could reach with any of the wooden, rolling ladders (well, if you’d been approved to touch any of them, that is). The second floor opened up into a balcony so everything was visible. The ceiling was a work of art in itself, and in the middle of the library stood a statue of the original owner posing as Hercules. Each book was individually printed and leather-bound, many were hand-printed. They dated back all the way to the 1500’s; some were the size of a pack of matches and others were at least half my height. They had some pages on display for the public to view and it made me realize that no matter how well read you think you are, you could never possibly be well read enough. There are just too many books and too many languages.

After dragging me away from the library, we walked some more, back towards our hostel. Along the way we managed to find the most beautiful Rathaus that ever existed. Its spires and detail reminded me of the dripping, natural feel of the Gaudi Cathedral in Barcelona. It seemed crazy to me that this could be a government building. It was also crazy to me that they were blocking much of the view with a large winter festival in front of it, ice-rink and all. We hung around the Rathaus and checked out the Parliament building before heading back to our hostel. After a long day of walking, we decided to get a late dinner of pizza before going to bed.

This is already a long post, so I think I’ll give you a break and divide the trips into two posts. More to come on our last couple days in Vienna and our couple days in Bratislava.