Christmas market in Vienna: part II.

In my last post I already showed you the most popular and the most famous Christmas market of Vienna – the Viennese Christmas Market in front of the city hall. In this episode of the mini series of Christmas markets in Vienna I will show you two other markets of Vienna. One is almost equally popular to the one in front of the city hall but smaller and more romantic – the Christmas market at Spittelberg. And the second is even smaller, but situated right between two grand, old buildings (museums to be precise) – the Christmas Village Maria-Theresien-Platz.

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Christmas market at Spittelberg

The Spittelberg Christmas market has a very unique atmosphere because it is set in the charming Biedermeier lanes of the 7th district. The market has an arts and crafts focus, and you can buy many delicious treats from there which are sometimes sold by the local cafés. And of course, you’ll also find your mulled wine and punch there!

This market is definitely one of my favourite ones. Because of the lanes it exudes a romantic feeling, and I just love walking through the streets while looking at all the things that are offered there and stopping for a bite to eat once in a while. Unfortunately, the narrow lanes are prone to be quite crowded as well, especially on weekends, so I actually hardly ever go to this one.

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Where to find it
At the Spittelberg, in the 7th district of Vienna

Opening times
Mon–Thu 14:00–21:00 | Fri 14:00–21:30 | Sat 10:00–9:30 | Sun 10:00–21:00

Duration
November 17 until December 23

For more information – check the website


Christmas Village Maria-Theresien-Platz

This market at the Maria-Theresien-Platz is one out of four Christmas Villages that can be found in other locations in Vienna as well. There’s the usual Christmas market knick knack that you’ll find at any other market, so the Christmas Village isn’t that special when it comes to market stalls. However, the location of the village make the market especially unique in my opinion.

This cosy little village (in German it’s Weihnachtsdorf) is situated in an imperial setting right between the museum of art history and the museum of natural history, and you’ll also get a glimpse of the Hofburg imperial palace through the Äußere Burgtor on the Ring side (the Ring is an important street in Vienna), and at the Museums Quarter on the other. So the visitors of this little village are surrounded by some great pieces of architecture.

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Where to find it
At the Maria-Theresien-Platz between the KHM & NHM (museums of art history & natural history)

Opening times
Sun–Thu 11:00–21:00 | Fri–Sat 11:00–22:00 | special opening times December 24–26

Duration
November 22 until December 26

For more information – check the website

There will also be a Silvesterdorf there from December 27–31! Check here fore more information

Christmas markets in Vienna: part I.

It’s that wonderful time of the year again: Christmas time! I’ve been in a very Christmassy, festive spirit for quite some time now, and it’s the first time in 3 years that I can actually enjoy the Christmas spirit here in Vienna. So I took my chances and went straight to all of the bigger Christmas markets, or Christkindlmärkte in German, already shortly after they opened at the end of November.

So for the sake of this year’s Christmas spirits I will show you some of the Christmas markets of Vienna. The first episode of this mini series brings us to one of the classics when it comes to Christmas markets in Vienna: the Viennese Christmas Dream in front of the City Hall.

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Viennese Christmas Dream

The Christmas market at the Rathausplatz in front of the City Hall, also called Viennese Christmas Dream, is probably the biggest one in Vienna, and also the one with the most kitsch. The surrounding of the market – the trees and the park – are lavishly decorated, and there is even some kind of fun fair at one part of the park and an ice skating rink at the other.

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You’ll find all sorts of stalls there where you can buy the typical like wooden kids toys, beeswax candles, knitwear, Christmas tree decorations, and all other sort of knick knack. There are plenty of food stalls, and there are many different varieties of punch and mulled wine.

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This market is usually bustling with people (mostly tourists), and trying to find your way through the market can be a dreadful undertaking, especially during the weekend.

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With this one I definitely have a love-hate relationship. I mostly avoid this one, as it’s just too busy with people, and the trade stalls don’t attract me that much. However, I like walking or driving past it, the gloomy looking city hall with the beautiful lights of the market are looking really beautiful. And in general, I just like the scenery with all the grand, old buildings located next to the market. So there’s definitely always something to look at, be it the bits and bobs on the stalls, the beautiful architecture, or the many people walking around. It never gets boring.

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Where to find it
Directly in front of the City Hall on the Rathausplatz

Opening times
Sun–Thu 10:00–9:30 | Fri–Sat 10:00–22:00 | special opening times on December 24 & 25!

Duration
17th November to 26th December 2017

For more information – check the website

Parks & Recreation: Park Pobedy.

Moscow is one of the biggest cities in the world, and it is known for its pompous architecture and great boulevards. Many of the concrete structures are a reminder of past times which are still vivid in the people’s hearts, minds, and memories. One example of such a structure or area is Park Pobedy, a grand park located in the (South-)Western corner of Moscow.

Park Pobedy, or Парк Победы, was constructed in honour of the country’s victory in World War II or, as the Russians remember it, Great Patriotic War. It’s also where the name comes from – Pobeda meaning victory, so it’s the Park of Victory. It is actually a vast memorial complex that includes many monuments, fountains, museums, and a church, synagogue, and mosque. Every year on May 9, Russia celebrates Victory Day in which this park becomes the centre of celebrations.

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The park at Poklonnaya Hill is set as a reminder that Russia and its citizen suffered a great deal during the war. The area actually used to be the tallest point of Moscow and was an open-air museum to remind of Russia’s victory over Napoleon. The hill was leveled down to the ground in 1987 and has been gradually turned into the war memorial it is today.

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Right at the entrance to the park there is a long promenade that gives a great view over the area and the surrounding city. This big road lined with fountains leads to the obelisk, a war memorial museum and an exhibition of tanks, war planes, and other weaponry. The park ends into a forest.

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The park was carefully constructed, and certain numbers were kept in mind when planning it. For example, the central avenue, the “Years of War”, has five terraces which links to the five years of conflict. A total of 1,418 fountains can be found there – one for every day. The memorial chapel, mosque, and synagogue are for the different religions of the fallen soldiers. The height of the obelisk with a statue of Nike, the Greek goddess of Victory, represents every day of Russia’s participation in WWII (141.8 metres, 10 cm for a day). In 2005, 15 pompous bronze columns that symbolise the main fronts and navies of the Red Army were added.

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What I especially liked about this park is that it is such a huge “empty” space within such a big city. It is such an interesting feeling that you get when walking around in such a massive park surrounded by skyscrapers. It is a mix of feeling secluded from everything but also being in the middle of a huge town.


The Museum of the Great Patriotic War is open TUE, WED, SUN 10:00–20:00 & THU, FRU, SAT 10:00–20:50. The entrance ticket for the museum is 300 rubles (4.30€ or 5.05 USD), or for the whole exhibition area 400 rubles (5.74€ or 6.73USD). The park area is free.

Quick & easy dessert treats for your guests.

In need of some quick and super easy dessert for the guests that are coming over in an hour? You’re hosting a party and don’t want to make a huge deal out of it but still want to present your guests with a wide range of delicious-looking treats? Or it’s one of those days where you just can’t be bothered to be in the kitchen for a super long time but still want something yummy to go with your afternoon coffee (or your Sunday breakfast)? In this post I’ll be sharing four quick, super easy, and plant-based recipes with you that have saved my ass a few times already.

1. Chocolate Raspberry Bites

What you need (for 8 bites):

  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 tblsp. maple syrup / rice sirup / agave nectar
  • 150g + 100g dark chocolate
  • 8 muffin liners

How to make them:

Heat the frozen raspberries in a small pot on medium heat and mash them until there are no chunks left. You can add any sweetening of your choice (or skip it). Set it aside to cool for a bit. Melt the first batch of chocolate in a double boiler. Then carefully place around 1.5 teaspoons in a muffin liner and tilt the liner so the chocolate can spread and form an edging. Repeat this for all your liners and put them in the fridge or freezer for a few minutes so the chocolate can harden.

In the meantime you can start melting the second batch of chocolate. While you’re waiting add about 1 teaspoon of the raspberry filling into the chocolate coated muffin liners and then pour over a bit of the melted chocolate so everything is covered with it (this doesn’t mean you should fill up the entire liner with chocolate, only so much that the raspberry filling is covered). Repeat the process for all your remaining liners and put them in the fridge or freezer to harden (this only takes a few minutes). Carefully remove the muffin liners and you can finally enjoy your chocolate raspberry bites!

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2. Apple Pie

For this easy apple pie you can be extremely lazy (like I was for the one in the pics) and buy puff pastry in the store (most of the stores offer plant-based puff pastry these days, so check the ingredients), or just quickly make your own dough. Either way – it’s simple, easy, and you don’t need a lot of ingredients.

What you need:

  • 3 apples
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. of any other flavour you might want to add (pumpkin spice, nutmeg etc)
  • 1 tsp. vanilla sugar
  • 1 tbsp. coconut sugar / brown sugar / cane sugar
  • 1 tbsp. corn starch (can be skipped)
  • 1 package of (plant-based) puff pastry

How to make it:

Preheat the oven to 170-180°C. Peel the apples and chop them into small slices. Combine the apples and the spices + sugar + starch, add them to a large pan and put them on medium heat. Let the mix stew for a few minutes until slightly softened. In the meantime you can cut the dough so it fits whatever baking dish you are taking (a spring form, or a casserole dish like I used). Make sure to have a bit of dough as your edging and keep a bit of dough for the finishing touches. Fill in the apple mix and cover it with a nice lattice layering. Put your apple pie into the oven for around 30-40 minutes until the dough is golden brown. Enjoy!

If you want to make your own dough: Add 350g of flour, 4 tbsp icing sugar and 225g of dairy-free butter to a food processor and blend them until they are well combined (you can also do this by hand as well, but it’s just faster/easier with a food processor if you’ve got one of these at home). Slowly add water to the mix (in total around 80 ml, maybe more) until the dough clumps together. You can still kneed the dough a bit by hand, roll it into a ball and cover it with clingfilm and leave it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

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3. Simple Banana Bread (or banana muffins)

What you need:

  • 225g flour
  • 100g brown sugar
  • 3 tsp. cinnamon
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 75g vegetable oil
  • 3 ripe bananas
  • 50g nuts, chopped

How to make it:

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Mash the bananas with a fork and mix them with the sugar and oil. Combine all the dry ingredients and add them to the banana-sugar-oil mix. Add any other ingredients (like chopped nuts, raisins, a tablespoon of maple sirup). Pour the dough into a loaf tin (or into muffin forms if you’d rather have it like that). Let it bake for at least 30 minutes, check whether the muffins are already done or if you should still keep it in the oven (the loaf definitely needs more than 30 min).

For a marble banana bread: mix 1 tbsp. cocoa powder with a bit of plant-based milk or water. Pour only half of the mix dough into the loaf, add the cocoa mix to the remaining and pour this into the loaf onto the other dough.

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4. Nut rolls

Another really easy recipe and finger food dessert are mini nut rolls. I’ve already introduced the nut roll recipe a few months ago, but instead of making a yeast dough  from scratch you can easily just swap it with store-bought puff pastry. Still delicious, and very easy to make!

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I hope you enjoyed this small collection of quick & easy plant-based dessert recipes. I’ll enjoy the last piece of apple pie with a cup of coffee now!

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Liechtensteinpark in Autumn.

A rather small park (but not as petite as the Japanese Setagayapark) in the heart of the 9th district of Vienna is the Liechtensteinpark. It is not the perfect picnic-park (stepping on the grass is forbidden), but it’s great for taking a brief exit from the stressful city life. And during autumn it’s magnificent in there! The foliage is amazing, taking a walk on a sunny autumn day is a great exercise to get your mind off things.

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A Prince of Liechtenstein acquired a garden in Vienna in the 1687 and had the grand palace built in the south of the park (Fürstengasse 9). The Palais Liechtenstein, a mix between country house and townhouse in Roman style, used to hold the art collection of the Principality of Liechtenstein which was transferred to Liechtenstein during WWII and was thus not damaged. In the years thereafter the palace was used as a museum until 2012. Now, there is still a part of the private art collection of the Prince from the early Renaissance to the High Baroque era which can be viewed as part of a guided tour. The palace can also be hired as an exclusive venue for certain events.

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At the North side of the park (Alserbachstraße 14-16) there is another grand building, a former “Belvedere” (a pavilion) erected in 1700 that was demolished and rebuilt as a garden/summer palace for the widow of a prince in the late 19th century. As far as I know it is home to various companies.

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The former baroque garden with its 5 hectares used to have many statues and vases, which were mostly sold in the 18th century, and was later transformed into a landscape garden. A part of the park is left almost untouched and there are even beehives there, so it’s a good mix between a cultivated park and wild-growing nature (I am fairly sure that it’s not 100% wild-growing, but whatever :D ).

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I live quite close to the park, so I thought I knew the ins and outs of the park, but turns out: I don’t (or didn’t). On my hunt for ivy leaves for the homemade all-natural detergent the other day I stumbled upon the wild-growing part of the park and found the beehives (my bf was like – duh, I knew about this all along *eye-roll* ). It’s always great to discover new things in your neighbourhood, if you ask me!

General information

The grounds still belong to the Prince of Liechtenstein Foundation, but this green oasis in the 9th district is open to the public during the day.

Unfortunately, dogs are not allowed in this park, so no dog-stalking for me :(

 

Autumn recipe: easy DIY all-natural detergent.

Autumn isn’t only great for taking long walks while enjoying the beautiful colours of the trees or the many autumnal pumpkin food recipes. It is also great for various DIY projects. I’m not talking about decorating your home with pumpkins, chestnut figures or other things like that, but DIY things that you can actually use throughout the year: your own homemade all-natural detergent made from things found in your garden or your local park!

This sounds super boring, very housewifey, and not fun at all, I get it! However, it’s a nice activity that includes a walk in the nature, it is a great idea for a homemade Christmas gift, and it’s good for the environment. Plus, think of the money that you might be saving throughout the year (as you won’t be spending money on buying detergent). Win-win situation.

Many things in nature contain Saponins – a soap-like chemical compound. Because like soap, the plants containing this chemical form a lather when combined with water. Saponins can be found in various veggie plants like soy beans, peas, spinach, tomatoes, potatoes, garlic, or in various herbs. In horse chestnuts and ivy there is a higher saponin concentration, and thus  they are more favourable for detergents. In the following I will show you how to make your own detergent out of chestnuts and ivy leaves.

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How to make & use: chestnut detergent

Supply for 1 year for 1-2x laundry per week
  • Collect around 4-5kg (11lbs) of horse chestnuts and wash off the dirt
  • Cut them into quarters and shred them in a blender to a fine mix
  • Let the shredded chestnuts dry
    • on a piece of cloth or on a baking sheet
    • air dry in the sun or in the oven at the lowest heat possible (70°C for 2-3 hours)
  • Put the dry shredded chestnuts in several jars
  • Et voila! That’s it!

Make sure that your food processor or blender is strong enough! In case it isn’t, just take your time and give your blender a well-deserved break from time to time. If you don’t have a decent blender or food processor, you can also try it with a hammer or just cut the chestnuts into very small pieces with your kitchen knife. This might take a while though.

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How to use the detergent:
  • Put 2 tablespoons of (dry) shredded chestnuts in a jar and add 250-300ml hot water
  • Let it soak for around 15-20 minutes (10 if it’s boiling water), the water will turn milk-like
  • Filter the chestnuts-water mix by using a strainer and put it in the machine where you’d put any other liquid detergent
  • To get a certain scent you can add a few drops of any essential oil of your liking
  • For a white load or for hard water you can add 1 tsp. of washing soda
  • Turn on the machine!

If you want to try it with fresh chestnuts, you can just take 5-8 chestnuts, cut them into quarters, soak them in 250ml hot water for about 8 hours, filter it, and use it.

Good to know

The smaller you shred the chestnuts, the quicker the saponins will dissolve into the water. So if you don’t have a blender and only cut the nuts with a knife it might take longer than 15 minutes.

Some people say that you should peel the chestnuts if you want to use it for a white load. However, this is such a tedious process and many people who have been using this homemade natural detergent for years say that it makes no difference at all. So you can skip the peeling! For a white load you can just add a bit of washing soda.

Leftover chestnuts can be composted or re-used for a second or even third time if you plan on washing another load.

NEVER PUT THE SOAKED SHREDDED CHESTNUTS IN YOUR MACHINE, this will ruin your machine! Only use the milk-like water!

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How to make & use: ivy detergent

Option 1 – the one with the sock:

  • Take a handful of fresh ivy leaves (with the stem) and tear them apart in the middle
  • Put them in a sock (or a mesh laundry bag), tie it off, and throw it into the machine with your laundry
  • Start the machine!

Option 2 – the one with the blender:

  • Take a handful of fresh ivy leaves (with the stem) and blend them in a food processor with 500ml water (not Smoothie-like blending – use the pulse function instead)
  • Put the water-ivy mix in a pot and let it come to a boil, remove it from the stove and let it cool completely.
  • Strain the mixture through a sieve and pour the green liquid into the detergent compartment of your machine.
  • Turn on the machine!
Good to know

Add a bit of vinegar – this will make the hard water softer, remove the grayness of your whites, enhance the colours, and get rid off the lime scale in the machine

Add a bit of washing soda – this improves the cleaning effect and also softens the water. Don’t use it for wool or delicates though, this can destroy the fabric.

Don’t use the young, light-green ivy leaves. Use older ones that have a rich, darker colour. This will maximise the cleaning effect!

Ivy is poisonous, but only if you eat a lot of it! So don’t worry too much about it, just don’t drink the water, don’t eat the leaves, and wash your hands afterwards.

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My experience with it

The whole process of collecting, shredding and drying them might sound like a tedious job. My boyfriend and I combined it with a walk in the park, and an evening in front of a tv show that we liked. Fortunately, we were able to borrow my sister’s strong food processor/blender so it took us only one hour (drying not included) to produce our one-year-supply.

I’ve been using horse chestnuts for over a year now and I can say that they indeed do their cleaning job! Personally, I find chestnuts a bit more user-friendly than ivy as I can just store the nuts in a jar and they don’t need to be soaked for such a long time in comparison to the shredded ivy leaves. However, there’s an ivy plant growing on one side of the house we live in, so we can also get the handful without much effort, so we might be using more of it in the future.

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What I like best on the all-natural detergents is that I can use something that I made myself, that is for free, and that is beneficial for the environment. And it’s a nice autumnal activity in September or October (depending on the chestnut season of course).

Travelling through Austria: St.Pölten.

The last one still missing on my Austrian province capitals to travel to was St.Pölten. This is only partly correct because I’ve been to a music festival in the city 3 or 4 times but this was ages ago and I never really explored the city. St. Pölten is one of those cities that hardly anyone ever really travels to for tourist reasons, and I’ve never really had a good enough reason to go there. But in order to see my friend Madlene (my Russia travel buddy) we decided to (more or less) meet half way between our homes and ended up spending a few hours in St. Pölten. I finally made it to all nine state capitals of Austria! Whoop whoop!

The city

St. Pölten is located in the northern parts of Austria, 65km west of Vienna, north of the Alps, on the Traisen river. It is the largest city and the capital of the largest state – Lower Austria. The city is the 9th biggest town in population, with only 52,700 people living there. Noteworthy though is that St. Pölten is one of the oldest official towns of Austria (which means it was given special privileges by someone in 1159) and celebrated its 850th anniversary in 2009.

St. Pölten has always been a rather sleepy village throughout history, which only changed in the late 19th century. The rapid growth & development of the Austrian Empire gave reason to extend the railway network and connect the city to Vienna. Only in 1986 was St. Pölten made capital of Lower Austria. Previously, the province was administered from Vienna but this was deemed not suitable any longer and a referendum was held in which St.Pölten was chosen as the new place to be. This also lead to the construction of the Landhaus governmental district.

The sights

Due to the size of the city there is actually not much to see or do there, but enough to spend a few hours there. The best way of exploring this small city is definitely by just walking around aimlessly and one will pass by every major sight in the end.

After arriving at the central train station we headed south and walked past the Stöhr House on Kremsergasse (the shopping lane of town, which was of course closed because of the fact that it was a Sunday). This is a Jugendstil house that was built by the same architect as the Vienna Secession building, Joseph Maria Olbrich. Stöhr derives from a local artist who was influenced by the Secession Movement. The Cathedral is one of the most prominent buildings of St Pölten. Erected on a 13th century square and associated with an Augustinian monastery, the church was actually built in the early 18th century.

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The Rathaus (Town Hall) is the official landmark of the city. The house was bought by the city in 1503 (so I guess it was erected before that date) and was at a later point refurbished with a Baroque facade but still has various architectural styles united in one building (eg. a Renaissance style tower). The Town Hall is surrounded by many other great architectural pieces and is located on a big square (the Town Hall Square, surprise surprise) with the Holy Trinity column (which can be found in every major city in Austria I guess).

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One of the brand-new parts of the town is the Landhausviertel Quarter. This is where one can find a more modern architecture, and the 67-metre high Klangturm (“Sound Tower”) throning over everything. Opened in 1996 this tower is a landmark for sound art, and home to an info center and an observation deck that is open 365 days of the year, free of charge! The view from up there is just great, one almost has a 360° view over the whole city and its surroundings. And there are super comfy wooden seats up there which are a mix of a deckchair and a rocking chair.

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Other interesting buildings in this quarter are the Landesmuseum (the local museum of Lower Austria), the Festival Hall, and the Waterpark by the river.

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The food

There weren’t that many options for us to choose from as we did not want to eat typical Austrian food, and it had to have vegetarian/vegan options. As it’s usually very common for Austrian restaurants to be closed on a Sunday (which is really absurd if you ask me) this was another fact to consider. So we ended up going to one of the only Pakistani/Indian restaurants of the city. Rajput turned out to be quite a nice stay, the place was super interesting (with something like Christmas decorations?) and the staff was super friendly. What I especially liked about this place was that one had the possibility to make every dish on the menu vegan! So many options for me to choose from! Yay! The place was packed and we were quite lucky to get a seat, so I think it’s a very popular spot for a late lunch or early dinner on a Sunday. The food was quite good and cheap as well, but to be honest I’ve had better Indian/Pakistani food before, but to their defence I eat and cook quite a lot of Indian/Pakistani food so I know my way around this cuisine.

The bottom line

Funnily enough the whole city was dead, hardly anyone was actually walking on the streets. The only things missing were howling coyotes and tumbleweed. Especially in the Landhausviertel we only saw one or two people walking around. It felt so empty and lifeless there, which was actually great for exploring everything & taking pictures of the architecture. My favourite of the town was definitely the Klangturm – I like everything with a great view (especially if it’s free!) – and the Traisen river (it’s possible to just go there and bathe in it, perfect for summer!). There’s really not a lot to do in this small city (correct me if I’m wrong!), but I’m glad that I can finally tick this city off my list.

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Travelling through Austria: Salzburg.

Salzburg. The city of the classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Home to the renowned Salzburg Festival, an annual cultural event held in July and August, with music and drama and the play Jedermann (Everymann) by Hugo von Hofmannsthal as the annual highlight. A city with magnificent architecture and many great Baroque examples. The shooting location of the classic movie The Sound of Music that isn’t even that famous or popular in Austria. Apparently Salzburg is a place for everyone during every season. Despite actually liking The Sound of Music a lot, my last visit to this town was during a school visit around 10 years ago. So a while ago. At the end of summer I decided that it was time to change that. I hopped on a train and spent an afternoon in Salzburg and also met up with a friend of mine (Moscow Reunion #?).

The city

Salzburg is close to the border with Germany, and is divided by the river Salzach. The Oldtown underneath the Mönchsberg and the Hohensalzburg Fortress is located on the left side of the river, whereas the ‘New Town’ is on the right side, south of the Kapuzinerberg. With a population of around 150,000 people the city is the fourth largest one in Austria (after Vienna, Graz, and Linz). It is also the capital city of the federal province Salzburg. The city’s name derives from ‘salt castle’ and comes from the salt mining done around the city.

Salzburg actually has quite a long & rich history, reaching back to the Stone Age. Key events that made the region and city important happened during the Middle Ages, especially in the Baroque times of the 17th and 18th century when many great buildings were erected. A former independent country – a prince-bishopric of the Holy Roman Empire with Salzburg as the seat of the Archbishopric – Salzburg was annexed to the Habsburg Monarchy in 1816 because the Archbishops lost their secular power as a result of the Napoleonic wars and lost much of its economical cultural prosperity. At the end of the 19th century the city was finally able to recover, and after WW1 the famous Salzburg Festival was founded. It started to become a fashionable place to be during summer, especially because of this event. The city became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in honour of the unique baroque architecture in 1997. Besides that and being the home of Mozart and the shooting location of The Sound of Music there is a lot to discover in Salzburg – the rich art scene, the many restaurants and cafés, manicured parks, and the narrow streets with many shops and boutiques make it a wonderful place. And the many tourists that venture to this city can agree with me on that. Salzburg is Austria’s second most visited city after Vienna.

The sights

After arriving at the central train station one of the first sights that one encounters en route to the old town is the Mirabell Palace. The name derives from mirabile & bella – admirable & beautiful – and is a perfect description for the palace and its garden if you ask me. Erected in 1606 for the archbishop and his mistress as a pleasure palace, it can now be booked for weddings and is also home to municipal offices.

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The Mirabell Garden in its underlying geometric form (typical for Baroque) is perfect for taking a stroll on a warm sunny afternoon. And on all other days as well. It is one of the shooting locations of The Sound of Music movie. Sounding like a modern fairy tale but it actually happened: the story of the Trapp family. A young woman leaves a convent to become the governess to the seven children of a Naval officer widower in the 1930s. They get married (surprise surprise), found a family choir, emigrate to the US (because of the growing popularity of the Nazis in Austria) and gain international success and fame. The ‘Sound of Music’ movie portrays this story, and even won five oscars. It is loaded with stereotypes about Austrian people, and no, we (the Austrian people) don’t sing that much.

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Crossing the Salzach via the pedestrian bridge (that always reminds me of the Harry Potter Bridge – the Millenium Bridge in London – even though it has no similarity to it at all) one already gets a glimpse of the old town with its baroque buildings and of course the Hohensalzburg Castle on top of the Festungsberg. This is one of the largest medieval castles in Europe and was built in the early 11th century. My friend Viktoria and I decided not to go up there and spend the afternoon in the old town instead.

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born and grew up in this city, visitors bump into Mozart around almost every corner of Salzburg. Almost the entire old town is a walkable Mozart museum: his birthplace, former residence, a monument, the grave of his sister and so on. In my opinion both his former residence and birthplace are rather unspectacular from the outside (I’ve never been inside though), but it’s still a tourist attraction nonetheless. The funny thing to me was that in the house of his birthplace there is now a super fancy looking supermarket that is actually just a regular one.

One of the most pompous places in Salzburg is the Residenzplatz, a large square in the historic centre. Its name derives from the residence of the Prince-Archbishops of Salzburg. The Salzburg Cathedral, founded in 774 and rebuilt in the 12th c., is located in the south and the Alte Reisdenz in the west. There is also the Neue Residenz with a bell tower, a Renaissance building that was erected in the 16th century. Also around the corner is the rather prominent statue of a huge gold ball on top of which a man is standing. This is part of an art installation – the Sphaera – by the German sculptor Stephan Balkenhol.

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The food & sweets

A restaurant chain that was founded in Salzburg is my Indigo. They offer food that is healthy, versatile and perfect for those that do not have that much time to eat but still want to grab something healthy for lunch or dinner. Sushi, salads, curries, and soups are on their menu. Many of their dishes are either vegetarian or vegan, and they also have a lot of gluten-free options as well. I went for a vegan curry (low carb option – so with more veggies and no rice or couscous) and it was truly delicious. Feel good food for everyone. The restaurant that we went to is located near Staatsbrücke on Rudolfskai, and is open Mo–Sa 11:00–23:00 & So 12:00–21:00.

The go-to souvenir and typical confectionary of Austria – the Mozartkugel – has its origin in Salzburg. The small round confection made of pistachio marzipan, nougat, and dark chocolate was first created by the Salzburg confectioner Paul Fürst in 1890, then known as Mozart-Bonbon. Fürst’s descendants still manufacture this confectionary and sell it in their bakery in the heart of the old town. For 1.30€ per piece one can buy one of those and go into Mozart-heaven. Even if one doesn’t like marzipan (I don’t) one should definitely try them at least once.

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A coffee and a piece of cake is a must in a city like Salzburg. The Café Fingerlos is a great place for doing that. It’s a very typical and rather traditional coffee house (actually it’s a patisserie and confectionary) that also offers breakfast and lunch. They have a great assortment of cakes that look really exquisite which makes it the perfect location for a person with a sweet tooth like me. Oh, and they even have a vegan cake of the day, so of course I had to try this one with a cup of good old-fashioned ‘Verlängerter’ (a typical Austrian coffee – espresso prepared with double amount of water).

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The bottom line

Unfortunately, Salzburg faces a similar problem as Prague, Venice, Barcelona and many other places do. Like them, Salzburg has too many tourists and no added value is created for the city (because of the types of tourists coming to the city and the way they consume hardly anything to nothing). The city reports many traffic jams and most of the parking lots are occupied because of the hoards of tourists coming to the city. Many tourists are brought to the city via organised bus tours and only spend 2-3 hours in the city and don’t consume much but still overcrowd the historic old town. Many of the locals avoid going to this place at certain points of the day because of the many tourists. (read more about the problem here)

This should in no way discourage you from visiting this beautiful city though. However, I must admit that this was also a reason for me why I haven’t visited this city in such a long time: everyone’s always talking about the hoard of tourists roaming the city, making it less enjoyable. Nevertheless, I like the city, especially because of its wonderful architecture. I’d never want to live there though, but for a day visit it’s a great place. And you should pick a weekday and not a weekend to visit, there are definitely less people there. Oh, and it helps if it’s a rather gloomy day :)

Here’s my favourite Sound of Music song. I couldn’t withhold it from you. A great end to a blogpost, don’t you think? Enjoy. ;)

 

 

 

Travel and boat adventure: Bratislava.

Slovakia – apparently the country with the highest number of castles and chateaux per capita. A country that claims to be the geographical midpoint of Europe (however, 7 other European villages claim to host this one as well). The interest in the country as a tourist spot is increasing, and the capital has been reporting over a million visitors per year in recent years, most of them coming from the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Hungary, and Austria. So it’s been long overdue for me to pay our neighbours a visit, and at the beginning of September – at the end of summer – I finally had the time for doing so.

The city

Bratislava is situated in the southwest of the country. It is the only capital in the world bordering two independent countries, namely Austria and Hungary. It is located on the banks of the river Danube and the river Morava. With a population of about 450,000 Bratislava is the largest city of Slovakia.

The history of Bratislava has been strongly influenced by various nationalities besides the Slovaks, e.g. Austrians, Croats, Czechs, Hungarians. The city has always been flourishing, mainly because of the beneficial location on the Danube and at the intersections of important trade routes. It used to be the coronation site & legislative center of the Kingdom of Hungary from 1536 to 1783, and strongly connected to Vienna economically, culturally, and politically. Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa had the castle in Bratislava rebuilt in the 18th century so she could use it as a summer residence. However, the former advantageous location of the town suddenly turned into a misfortunate position after the communists came to power in 1948. The Iron Curtain was drawn which could already be seen from the city center, dividing what had once been united in many ways. The fall of communism in 1989 made it possible to once again develop the city, and re-establish relations with their neighbours. The entry into the European Union in 2004 has further lead to growth and development.

City sights

Upon arrival at the bus station we headed straight up the castle hill to walk around for a bit in the Bratislava Castle and enjoy the view over the city. The rectangular building with the four corner towers on an isolated rocky hill thrones over the city and its surrounding. From up there it provides a view over Bratislava, Austria, and sometimes even as far as Hungary. The first fortification on the hill was erected in the 9th century and a castle was first named in 907. Since then the castle had experienced several (style) changes, starting out as a stone palace, then a Gothic style fortress (15th century), followed by a rebuilding in the Renaissance style (16th c.), and in baroque style (17th c.). During the 18th century the castle was arranged according to the needs of a son-in-law of Maria Theresa, empress of the Habsburg Monarchy, turning the castle from a fortress into a residential castle. As it was usually the case when Napoleon invaded a country, the castle was heavily bombarded in 1809, and burst into flames two years later because of soldiers’ carelessness which lead to the gradually deterioration of the destroyed castle. In 1953 it was decided to restore the castle, and long restoration works began. In 2008 the castle underwent another comprehensive project with the aim of another massive restoration.

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The view from up there was really great. We could even see the windmills in Austria!

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The next prominent building of the city is definitely the St. Martin’s Cathedral, a Romanesque church that was built in the 13th century. Its tower used to serve as a defensive bastion, and the cathedral is/was part of the city walls which can still partly be seen today.

In the heart of the city centre is the Michael’s Gate with the 51 meters tall tower which can be spotted from a distance away already. Its original gothic tower was built in the 14th century but remodeled into its current baroque style in the 18th century. Underneath the tower on the street that passes through the gate is one of the ‘zero kilometre’ plates. The tower is open to the public and visitors can enjoy the view over the city from the upper terrace.

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Situated on the Main Square of the city is the Old Town Hall which dates back to the early beginnings of the mediaeval town in the 13th century. Also located not far away is the Slovak National Theatre is the oldest professional theatre in the country and was founded in 1920.

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The statues that can be found in the historic old town are noteworthy as well as they are among the most photographed attractions of the city. Čumil “the watcher” is located at the junction of Laurinská and Panská Street. Apparently it either depicts a typical communist era worker who is not bothered about the work he is supposed to be doing, or he’s just looking under the skirts of women. The Schöne Naci standing on Sedlárska Street is an old man with a hat and apparently the only statue of a real existing person, namely Ignac Lamar who lived in the city in the 19th/20th century and was always seen in top hat and tails, greeting women with the words ‘I kiss your hand’ in various languages and giving them flowers. The Napoleon Soldier leaning on a bench can be found on the Main Square near the Old Town Hall. Allegedly he fell in love with a Slovak girl, stayed in the city and became a producer of sparkling wine. A very important Slovak poet – Hviezdoslav – ca ben found on a square named after him. A few meters further down the square there is also a statue of Hans Christian Andersen, but I have no idea why there’s a statue of him in Bratislava – he’s Danish.

The world’s longest cable-stayed bridge to have one pylon and one cable-stayed plane is located in Bratislava – the Most SNP (Most Slovenského národného povstania / Bridge of the Slovak National Uprising), or also called UFO Bridge. It is one out of 5 bridges over the Danube in Bratislava. The most noticeable thing about this bridge is definitely the flying saucer on top of the bridge’s pylon – a unique observation tower, bar & restaurant (hence the nickname of the bridge).

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Devín Castle is another beautiful spot located on the shores of the Danube atop a hill, just 10km west of Bratislava’s city centre. It is located on the confluence of the Danube and Morava rivers which form the border with Austria, making it a strategic place for a royal border fort. In 1809 this castle was bombarded by Napoleon’s troops as well, and was subsequently destroyed. Paradoxically, both castles of Bratislava (Devín and Bratislava castle) were destroyed within the same two year period. However, Devín has not been restored and remains a ruin that is open to the public.

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The food

As it is often the case with a city like Bratislava (and a country like Slovakia), the local cuisine is very much influenced by other cultures that used to dominate the city at some point in history. Variety in the food during the communist area was not to be found, as filling hungry bellies was the main aim of it. Today, reminders of this era can still be found, but many restaurants have started to go above and beyond in what they are offering. Some of the traditional local dishes consist of different types of roast & grilled meat, grilled fish, fried cheese and fresh veggies.

As I was only staying for such a short time in Bratislava I only had time to try Bryndzové Halušky – thick soft potato dumplings with sheep’s milk cheese. Usually crispy streaky bacon is added on top as well, but I skipped this one. My Mom & sister had a mixed platter with  my dish, Kapustové halušky (potato dumplings with cabbage and dumplings), and pirogi with bryndza sheep cheese. So a lot of bryndza cheese for the whole family!

The Danube & our boat trip

The main reason for us going to Slovakia’s capital was actually my mom’s birthday present. She’s been telling us how she wanted to go to Bratislava by boat, so my sister and I decided to take her as a surprise. We took a bus from Vienna in the morning, and went back by boat in the afternoon. The Twin City Liner is a decent priced catamaran that connects Vienna with Bratislava via the Danube, and departs 5 times a day from each city. It takes around 75 to 90 minutes to go from one city to the other, and the sights and nature along the Danube are great.

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The bottom line

Bratislava is quite beautiful, but it reminded me a lot of Austria or the Czech Republic. But I already mentioned the influence those countries had on Bratislava/Slovakia, so I am not surprised to find so many similarities, especially if one takes into account the spatial proximity of Bratislava to Vienna.

I was rather surprised however to read afterwards that Bratislava had so many inhabitants as the city itself felt rather small to me. There were still a lot of things to discover and many cafés and restaurants to sit in and take in the city. The few hours that we had there were definitely enough for a tour through the historic old town.

Taking the boat was a great opportunity for us to discover the city and the surrounding from a very unusual viewpoint that we would not have gotten otherwise. It is a very unusual way of traveling from one city to another, and I’d definitely recommend it to people who have enough time for doing so (the bus or train would be of course cheaper and faster than the boat).

Hiking in Vienna.

Hiking is a very popular sport among Austrians, and the many hills and mountains in Austria are truly inviting. Even in the capital city hiking has a long standing tradition – many are drawn to the numerous Heurige (wine taverns), the Vienna Woods, and the vineyards that can be found in the outskirts of Vienna. In recent years it seems it has become even more popular, especially among the young generation. Needless to say, hiking was on my summer to-do list for 2017.

The city – to be more precise: the Forestry Office – has laid out eleven city hiking paths called ‘Stadtwanderweg’ that lead around the outer corners of the city through beautiful scenery and with great viewing platforms. They are all properly kept, well signposted, and accessible by public transport. There are also many picnic tables, benches, and playgrounds along the paths. People who manage to collect stamps at official stamping points along the hiking paths will even be rewarded with pins and certificates that recognise their efforts: a silver pin for 3 stamps, a golden pin for 7+ stamps. Too bad that we only found out about this after our hike, or else we would have gotten 2 pins already.

So on a mild Sunday after a rainy Saturday in August my boyfriend and I wanted to check out some of the best viewpoints over the city and decided to hike across the three hills in the north of Vienna: Leopoldsberg (425m), Kahlenberg (484m), and Hermannskogel (542m). A total of 13 kilometres, fairly easy, well-signposted (nowadays with Google Maps this is no must anymore), and the start & endpoints are easy to reach via public transport – perfect for a person who hasn’t been on a proper hike in years!

We loosely followed a suggested route, a mix of the Stadtwanderweg 1a until Kahlenberg, and later Stadtwanderweg 2. We started our tour in Nußdorf where we walked along the Danube for the first part, and then headed up the steep paved passage with a 300m altitude difference to reach the Leopoldsberg. This was definitely the toughest part, but luckily we already had a great view over the vineyards, the Danube, and parts of Vienna on our way up the hill. On top of the Leopoldsberg there is a church dedicated to St Leopold that was built in 1679 which is already clearly visible from Vienna.

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The view from up there was great – we saw parts of Lower Austria, Floridsdorf (a district of Vienna), Vienna itself, and the vineyards that lie in the north of Vienna.

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We then continued on our way to the Kahlenberg where we met hundreds of tourists on a terrace, taking selfies with the scenic view over Vienna in their backgrounds. This lead to only a brief stop to take in the view – way too many people for our taste! We could definitely see that day that the Kahlenberg is one of the most popular destinations because of the view over the entire city and even parts of lower Austria. The 165m steel tower serving as a transmitter for the Austrian Broadcast Corporation, a private university, and the Stefaniewarte, an observation tower erected in 1887, are also located on the peak of the hill.

Interesting to know: the Leopoldsberg used to have the name Kahlenberg because of the bare rocky slope down to the Danube and was later given the name Leopoldsberg after the emperor Leopold in 1693. Whereas the now-called Kahlenberg was first called Sauberg (sow mountain or pig mountain) because of the many wild pigs roaming the forests and then Josephsberg (Joseph’s Mountain) after an emperor in 1628. Only after changing the original Kahlenberg into Leopoldsberg did the now-Kahlenberg receive its final name.

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From there we first walked along the Höhenstraße but soon came to a non-paved path through the forest. It was the most quiet part of our walk, we encountered less tourists and casual walkers there. We then reached the highest natural point of Vienna – the Hermannskogel atop of which the Habsburgwarte is standing. This 27 metre tall observation tower was erected for the Habsburg emperor in 1889. In 1892 the tower was specified as kilometre zero in cartographic measurements which was used in Austria-Hungary until 1918. The lookout tower is open for the public for a small entrance fee on weekends during summer. Luckily the sun was shining and most of the clouds were already gone, so the view was great from up there!

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We then started our ‘descent’ in order to get back home, but made a quick coffee break at the restaurant “Grüass di a Gott Wirt” which was quite funny because this place had chicken and a rooster running around in the outdoor seating area, not minding all the people sitting there. A true countryside feeling I must say! The final kilometres took us through a forest and past some other beautiful vineyards with a view over the outskirts of Vienna.

The hike was fairly easy, but the first part was quite tough. It is definitely not suited for strollers or wheelcharis because of the steps on the Nasenweg (the steep part at the beginning). However, hiking boots are not a must, but solid footwear is definitely recommended. We walked for around 5 hours, but had many breaks to enjoy the view, look at the nature, eat our lunch, go up the observation tower, or have a coffee. The Leopoldsberg and Kahlenberg are both reachable via public transport (Bus 38A), so if you ever want to enjoy the view but don’t want to hike or don’t have the time for doing so – that’s a great option as well.