"To finish the moment, to find the journey’s end in every step of the road, to live the greatest number of good hours, is wisdom....Since our office is with moments, let us husband them."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Monday, December 03, 2007

I went to Vienna & I was Punsched Three Times

I think I will provide you with a "blow-by-blow" recap of the weekend, but it's been a couple days so I'm sure I'll be forgetting some details.

The trip began with my first outgoing experience at Kastrup, the Copenhagen airport. Let's just say it was a little less than ideal. First, there were only 3 check-in counters available for 4 different flights. This resulted in a decent wait in line. Then I attempted to grab some dinner, but again too long of a line and slow service at Burger King prevented any chance of that happening. Security wasn't much better as they only had 2 security lines open in the entire airport. All in all, it was good that I gave myself 2 hours.

The flight itself was great. I would highly recommend Austrian Airlines to anyone. We only spent an hour and 20 minutes in the air, which is less than a flight from Cleveland to Minneapolis/St. Paul, yet not only was I provided with food, it was hot! An actual meal! It was quite the surprise. I didn't think airlines still provided that kind of service. Otherwise, getting into Vienna was hassle free with nothing else exciting to report.

Getting to the hostel was also relatively easy, although there was a fun moment as I turned down a street -- as the directions told me to -- and was confronted with a six or seven prostitutes. That was an interesting development, although it sounds a lot more exciting/sketcky than it really was. Since, I had been up since 5:00am that morning, and didn't sleep on the flight, I quickly passed out.

The next morning I woke up and met Hannah, a friend from Carleton, downstairs to start off the sightseeing. The first stop was the Hofburg Palace complex, where I was told prior to leaving that I had to see the Spanish Riding School. Training took place in this gorgeous building, which looked more like a ballroom than a place to ride horses. I probably was missing the impressive difficulty of the riding as I know so little about horses because it didn't seem to be that exciting, but I assume all the hype means something.

After that we crossed the street to Maria-Theresien Platz, which is in between the art and natural history museums, and also had a Christmasmarkt. Hannah and I perused through the market for a while amazed by a couple things. First, the sheer number of punsches available. Evidently, this is a Vienna thing to serve Christmas punsch, and there are an endless amount of varieties. Beerpunsch (berry punch), normal Christmaspunsch (orange/berry flavored), Mozartpunsch, Schillerpunsch, and Apfelpunsch (apple punch) to just name a few. In reality, the sheer number of hot alcoholic drinks was overwhelming, which included Jaga Tee, which is Jagermeister and hot tea. An interesting combination to say the least. Regardless, we passed on the punsch initially. Second, we were surprised that the music playing in the background wasn't some classical, Christmas piece, but rather crappy American pop Christmas music. I had higher expectations than that. Third, I made my first of to be many food purchases which was some really tasty Kaiserschmarrn with apple sauce. Just imagine torn up pieces of pancakes and you've got it. I also managed to buy a pizza pretzel for lunch, too. Fourth, for some cognitive dissonance, one of the other food stands in the market was selling Kartoffelpuffers, which were pretty much potato pancakes, at a "German" Christmasmarkt. A little weird to say the least.

We then went and checked out the art museum, which in a very similar fashion to Italy, was disappointing for me personally, as I didn't feel like I had a good understanding of what I was looking at. Couple that with the ticket booth guy stealing 10 Euro from me, this was probably the low point of the trip.

After the museum we walked around a bit and found ourselves in front of city hall, which was absolutely gorgeous. Kind of on the level of the Hungarian Parliament, albeit smaller. This comparison makes a lot of sense if you think about it, as at one point it was the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There also was another Christmasmarkt in front of city hall. This supposedly was the classic market and it was jam packed with people. Hannah and I were on a mission to find Mozartpunsch -- warmed egg liqueur with spices, etc. -- but came up empty.

Making use of the metro we headed outside the city to see Schoenbrunn Palace. After walking through the assosciated gardens we decided it would be absolutely beautiful in any season but winter, when everything wouldn't be dead. Instead, we had to let our imaginations do the work envisioning all the trees, plants, and flowers. Surprisingly, there was another Christmasmarkt. Sensing a pattern yet? This one also had some live signing in front of a big Christmas tree. But to throw us off when we arrived, they were singing a Jewish song. How confusing. At this market though we were able to find the punsch we were looking for -- with a different name, nonetheless. Prices for punsch are always 2 Euro higher than listed as you place a deposit for the glass mug that it comes in, which is either yours to keep and reuse or to return to the booth. I now have some mugs as souvenirs. The punsch itself was amazing. It was pretty much warmed eggnog and was a whole new experience in terms of eggnog drinking. Highly recommended.

Post warming via the punsch we took a tour of the palace and were amazed by the grandeur that the Haupsburg's lived in. I'm pretty sure we both commented on how this would have been a decent place to live. We also made the decision that we should go back and have our 21st birthday's there. It would be a kind of cool place.

We walked around the Christmasmarkt a bit more after the tour, bought some more punsch, and then just sat in the gardens, enjoyed our drinks, and the gorgeous sunset. It was pretty impressive:

It was then back into the heart of the city to wander around before dinner. Thanks to it getting so dark so quickly we were able to see the city all lit up, which included having images displayed on the facade of St. Stephen's Church in a very similar fashion to the Berliner Dom in Berlin. Once again, it was really cool.

Dinner was a great meal combining Austrian and German influences as I had veal in a paprika sauce (Austro-Hungarian) with spaetlze (German). Accompanied of course with good German beer. After dinner we headed back to the hostel as Hannah had a train to catch, and I was exhausted. It was another relatively early night as it had been a long day, and I needed to wake up pretty early the next morning.

I was up at 6:30AM the next day. Why this ungodly hour? Well, because of God I guess. I had tickets to attend mass at the Hofburg Chapel; however, the real motivation was a chance to see the famous Vienna Boy's Choir perform. It was an interesting event, although I'm not sure if was worth the money or the waking up early for. The night before I had created a list of things to do on Sunday, so I was off to make my list happen.

The next stop was walking by the Votiv Kirche, which had some really cool spires that attracted me. I then headed down towards Freyung, which took me through another Christmasmarkt, then towards Hof, where yes, there was again a Chirstmasmarkt. After that it was over to Judenplatz where I checked out the Holocaust memorial, then to Danube Canal and the Marien bridge, followed by St. Ruprecht's Church -- the oldest church in Vienna.

It was then time to head to the Ankeruhr for its 12:00PM showing. 12 figures from different time periods parade across the front of the clock accompanied by time related music. I took a ton of pictures and a couple videos from this, which can be found on my Webshots site. Once I took that in I walked down one of the main shopping streets to St. Stephen's Cathedral, where I took a quick glance in. Then it was off to see dead bodies as I checked out the Habsburg Crypt where I got to see all the people's coffins that were important within the dynasty.

I then strolled down to St. Charles's Church where one more Christmasmarkt existed. Turned out that this was acutally my favorite of all the markets I visited. It had the greatest assortment of high quality goods for sale. I was then drawn in by the magnificence of St. Charles Church; however, once I entered the outer room I questioned if I wanted to pay the 4 Euro fee and actually enter. Eventually, I decided to, and what a great decision. First, the church itself is gorgeous. Second, and more importantly, the frescoes on the ceilings were in the process of being restored, so you could take an elevator up into the cupola. All the way up there:

What an experience! I was close enough I could touch the paint!

My legs were shaking the entire time. I've never been one to be scared of heights but I was freaked out. Maybe because I was on scaffolding that said it could only support 10 people -- and there was definitely more than 10 people up there -- or maybe the fact that I was someplace that part of me knew I shouldn't be. Regardless, it was amazing.

It was then over to the last Chirstmasmarkt, the Spittleberg. Supposedly, this was the best one to shop at, but I was actually pretty disappointed. In the end I headed back to Maria-Theresien Platz and its market. There I made my last purchases although not without incident. By this time my time in Vienna was running short, and I was out of money. To top it off, I couldn't find an ATM anywhere to save my life. After wandering the streets and asking a handful of Austrians if they knew where one was -- no one was able to help -- I finally tried a hotel, where the receptionist directed me. Much to my chagrin, when I reached the ATM it was out of service. Luckily, there was one across the street, but when I tried it I was told that the service was unavailable. I tried 2 more times. Still no luck. Something told me to try it a fourth time, and magically it worked. I then ran back to the market and made my last purchases, as well as grabbing a last glass of punsch -- the third of the trip -- and a wild boar meatloaf sandwich. And that's how my trip in Vienna came to a close. It was back to the airport and on an Austrian Airlines flight, and the food was included again! Then it was time for sleep back in Copenhagen.

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