Monday 8 December 2008

Vienna, Will You Wait for Me?

We ended up sleeping in again! As before, Maggie cooked us eggs, this time boiled! Unfortunately, I am apparently not skilled at deshelling eggs.

German tool to "scoop" out boiled eggs

Per Michelle's affinity for classical music, we headed to Zentralfriedhof cemetery. There, one can visit the graves of the greatest composers of all time - Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, etc. Or if one so chooses to be like Michelle, he or she can stand in front of their graves while listening to their songs on an IPOD. I chose to finish my journal writing in the church.

Ludwig van Beethoven's grave

1:08PM - I asked Michelle what time her flight was to which she responded "2:45PM!" Oh, geez.

We rush to the city center so she could take the CAT, Vienna's train that goes right to the airport in only sixteen minutes. Conveniently, certain airlines also allow you to check in there too. To my surprise later, Michelle actually jumped in a taxi as the next CAT wouldn't leave for another half an hour. Unfortunately, she never made it in time and had quite an adventure through Switzerland.

I went to buy a shotglass and the postcards that she was never able to pick up and luckily made it back to the CAT with eight minutes to spare. Oh, Vienna! Superb!

Vienna at sunset

Sunday 7 December 2008

Palaces Galore!

Michelle and I walked back to Schönbrunn Palace to take pictures in the Gardens. It was perhaps the prettiest hike as we made our way up to the Gloriette. Built in 1775, the Gloriette is dedicated as a monument that leads to peace.
Hiking up to the Gloriette

View of from the Schönbrunn Palace from the Gloriette

To warm ourselves up, we each had a lauch-speck nockerl! It's deliciously comprised of pasta, bacon, and leek.

Lauch-speck nockerl

At Stradt Park, we (along with a handful of other tourists) took pictures with Johann Strass himself! Well, with his statue at least!
Johann Strauss statue in Stradt Park

The Hofburg Palace was impressive with its multiple museums. It is comprised of The Silver Collection, the Sissi Museum, and the Imperial Apartments. Going with the Sissi Museum was a good choice as we received the opportunity to learn about the Princess's life. With quite a sad lifetime, Sissi originally loved her life, but was forced to live the royal life in which she soon hated. Her assassination was originally unintended; the assassin was waiting for someone else and when the latter canceled his trip, Sissi happened to be there as she was taking time for health relief - so sad!

The Hofburg Palace

As it was the holiday season, there was no better place we wanted to be than in the Viennese Christmas markets! We first went to the Museums Quartier Market and then back to Rathaus (third time woohoo!). According to one of our mutual friends, there was a famous ice skating rink we had to find. EVERY local we asked was befuddled and after following directions on a map, we ended up on a lonely backstreet...HMM...

Afterwards we headed off to a relaxing night at Loop Bar where we enjoyed the last night in Vienna. Can I plan my next return already?

Saturday 6 December 2008

Some International Flavor

The morning started off with Maggie making us breakfast - OVEREASY EGGS FOR THE FIRST TIME IN EUROPE! Finally!

My ideal breakfast - delicious!

Julia and I walked to the Floh market and found a real Vietnamese-owned restaurant! Exciting. The fruit was fresh and the finds were affordable. We soon headed off the the UN event that Minda told us about the night before.

There were so many countries and I ended up buying an origami swan and ball from a young Japanese girl. She was too cute! She had me sold as after I asked which one I should buy, she responded in the most adorable voice, "You can have them both or choose just one. " She was so excited that she ran happily behind the table after she made the sale! 3.50euros for paper, but so worth it for the good cause!

Buying origami from the Japanese booth

At the international food fair of the event, each country also provided some native food. After asking the price of some dumplings, I received seven pieces for 1euro. Meanwhile, a gentleman who approached received only two pieces for the same amount! Oh, geez.

Of course, at the USA booth, the native food was hot dogs! We walked over to the rummage sale where I bought a book on Casanova and then headed over to the Austrian booth where we met back up with Minda!

After taking some pictures by the river, we went to take a quick picture of the Danube Tower. As the tallest structure in Austria, it carries antennae of cell phones and radio stations.

Tallest building in Austria at 252 meters - The Danube Tower

Michelle finally called and we agreed to meet at the Schönbrunn Palace! The Gardens were quite like Versailles in which one could just walk for hours. How gorgeous it would be in the summertime! While randomly walking the Gardens, we found Michelle! We all decide to tour the Palace (I chose to go with the French-only speaking tour). The royal residence features the tastes and interests of the Habsburg monarchs.
In front of the Schönbrunn Palace!

The Christmas market outside provided nice gifts and tokens - we had to buy some Christmas cookies because one was shaped as a flying pig!

As Michelle took a nap and Julia headed to her next adventure, I met back up with Minda at Rathaus Christmas market. He helped me try
Glühwein and punsch, two traditional German mixes for the holiday season! I decided to be daring as the hot chocolate punsch sounded delicious; however, I quickly learned that it was only for the tourist! A local worker quickly commented, "Punsch is punsch and hot chocolate is hot chocolate!" Haha, oops!

Glühwein and punsch!

We walked around Vienna and with its peacefulness, the city truly lights up! We saw Parliament and Hofburg Palace at night and I loved going on the short night tour with Minda.

After getting Michelle, the last stop of the night was Club Flex! It was located right by the river, resembling Club Showcase in Paris. Next door, the Flex Cafe served as a nice break from dancing as people can actually have conversations without yelling in each other's ears! Just another good day in Vienna!

Friday 5 December 2008

Vienna Waits for You...

It was the usual 4:30AM wake up call for the 7:15AM flight. Luckily, Jordan and Anne lived in the heart of Paris, so the Chatelet RER stop was just a short walk away. The check in process at CDG Airport was surprisingly smoother than other airport experiences; after utilizing the kiosk and going through security check, the check in was complete in only thirty-six minutes! Nice job, Air France!

Entrance to Chatelet RER at 5AM

With two and a half hours before Julia arrived, an exploration around the Westbahnhof train station was necessary. Vienna can actually remind one of Saigon, but much less dustier. It was a city, yet held a small town feel. Shops were locally owned with not many chains. English was barely spoken, but they were used to foreigners.

There was a sudden urge to get acrylic nails - if only they were less than 70euros! Make sure you make an appointment too!
Without a new set of nails, it was time for a durum kebab at Schnitzel Urfa Lezzet. Luckily there was an outlet to charge a phone and there was entertainment as the kebab guy had a crush on one of the customers.

Vienna hosts holidays lights EVERYWHERE in the city!

After Julia arrived, the next step consisted of jumping on Tram 5 to get to our CouchSurfing host, Margit! We conversed with her for a good hour about travel, CS, etc. Surprisingly, she was learning Chinese and spoke quite well with Julia!

First attraction was the Albertina. There was a 1-1.5 hour wait, but it was worth it to explore the museum and the new Van Gogh exhibit. With over one million master prints on top of more modern works, it was a sight to see! The Monet and Picasso were quite good as well (as expected).

Inside the Albertina

On the way to the Christmas market, I received a phone call from Michelle Chan at our university. She was so bored that Friday night that she decided to book a flight out to Vienna for Saturday! It worked out well because Julia would be leaving Saturday night, so Michelle could take her place as a CouchSurfer. We then walked to Rathus Park for the "Rathausplatz Christkindlmärkte" a.k.a. "Kris Kringle" Christmas market. The lights were absolutely stunning as City Hall counts down the days until Christmas.

Rathausplatz Christkindlmarkte! (City Hall's Christmas Market)

It was time for the Voice Mania Music Festival at the Odeon Theater! The international festival featured everything from pop to beatbox acapella-style. The show started with Vocaldente, a boy band-like acapella group which actually performed some 'NSYNC and Spice Girls! The crowd was a bit older (mostly senior citizens), so they didn't catch the boy band/Linkin' Park melody too much, but Julia and I loved it!

Vocaldente's boy band-style performance!

The older performers of Cantabile then had their turn - the best moment of the night came with audience participation. Singer: Let's have all the men yodel (deep yodeling)...All the ladies (gentle yodeling)...Let's make it more interesting now. All the ladies twenty through forty years old (light yodeling)...Hmm, sounds promising...All the women ages twenty through forty that don't have a boyfriend (silence)...Alright, let's move onto something else before I get angry! Hahaha.

With 2/5 of Vocaldente

Back home, we discovered that Margit and Nina had been drinking for two hours while waiting for us! We were able to catch the last tram by three minutes - whew! We headed out to Club Sass, where they allowed one person to go in and see if the club was good. Report back to the others: good potential!

After sitting in the lounge for a bit, we met Minda, a P.h.d. student from Lithuania. Soon after, we all hit the dance floor! After Nina went home, Julia took a nap in the club, Minda and I conversed about everything from culture to life, and Maggie kept on dancing! Haha, we soon left at 4:30AM.

The crew at Club Sass

After Facebooking the directions to Michelle, I climbed into bed at 5:30AM. I tried to get inside the comforter, but had issues, so had to wake Julia up. In her soporific state, she yelled, "You're not supposed to get in it!" Apparently, it was just a really fat pillow! Good times, Vienna!

Sunday 30 November 2008

Running in London Rain

We passed by a travel agency this morning where they actually had the Contiki brochure in which we did a photoshoot! With my usual luck; however, it was definitely not open!

No visit to London would be complete without visiting Hyde Park. Covering 350 acres with over 4,000 trees, Hyde Park serves as a getaway from the busy city. Being December, there was also a WinterWonderland complete with snow and ice skating.

Hyde Park on a dreary, yet still nice London afternoon

Speaker's Corner, in the northeast part of the park, allows individuals to publicly speak or declare their opinions on a variety of subjects. It was here that George Orwell and Marcus Garvey voiced their thoughts and points. Make note; however, that it might not always be occurring in the winter months.

10:41AM - Marble Arch picture. Must get to Princess Diana's Memorial and then to Buckingham Palace at 11:30AM to watch the changing of the guards.

The Marble Arch comprised of Carrara-marble

10:48AM - Running around Kingston Gardens, but where is Princess Di's Memorial? Oh, what a hunt!

I jumped back in the tube to get to Buckingham Palace in time. It wouldn't be a complete trip to London without running in the rain!

11:29AM: I reach the Palace, but where's the changing of the guards? After a few minutes, I notice the sign: Changing of the Guards is canceled today. Always my luck! However, it was nice to see the British monarch's official residence.

Buckingham Palace in her glory

At the train station of King's Cross, one receives another passport stamp (for a total of 3!) and luckily Cafe Nero accepted credit card with no minimum as I spent the rest of my 1.60pounds on a 1.99pound shot glass. As I received my panini, the cafe worker stated, "I hope you like it; it's not good." Ahaha.... Will miss you, London!

Saturday 29 November 2008

The Jewels of London

Leslie and I started the morning by taking pictures on the one and only London Bridge. The modern bridge, opened in 1973, lies roughly 860 feet long and carries five lines of A3.

London Bridge; it's not falling down.

We then headed off to the Tower of London to learn the city's great history! The best exhibit was the Crown Jewels, which showcased a beautiful collection of gems and stones. There in the gift shop, I also found the perfect wallet - functional and trendy!

The London Tower - a must see!

A necklace in the Crown Jewels collection

Walking across the Tower Bridge provided great pictures as well. Originally painted brown, it was repainted in 1977 as red, white and blue for the Queen's Silver Jubilee. We then took the bus to the Shakespeare Globe.

Tower Bridge

Note: Make sure you are at the right bus station! The station is different depending on which side of the intersections you're on.

Christmas Markets are plentiful and beautiful in London! At Covenant Garden Market, gloves were only 3pounds. The markets provided great photography as well.
Jubilee Market, next to Covenant Market was small, but provided nice crafts. There was an amazing Audrey Hepburn matted drawing that I wanted, but I was able to refrain. Maybe next time!

Covenant Garden Market

We headed off to Leicester Square for theater tickets at half price. However, by that afternoon, tickets were either all sold out or super expensive. I was able to grab a 37.50pound seat to "Imagine This."

Before the show, a trip to the contemporary art museum of Tate Modern was a necessity! Tate Modern is Britain's national museum of international modern art. And it's free - love it!

I went back to Covenant Market for the photography frame where I gave the artist all my remaining pounds. Power-walking to get to the show on time, I backtracked to Leicester Square to the New London Theater. This was actually a good move as I forgot my new gloves at the Covenant Garden Market!
A fantastic Broadway show!

"Imagine This" was fantastic as it was based on a Jewish family forced into the ghettos of Warsaw, Poland. The father wanted to continue the play to inspire others and give them hope. At the conclusion, the family has to decide if they want to warn the others in the community or save themselves. Of course, a love story ties into the play and the effects (i.e. gunshots) sounded ridiculously real.

Ironically, a Texan couple sat next to me and told me that they were proud of me for coming to Europe. Sure thing! The show ended with a World Aids Day announcement asking for donations to the theaters MAD (Making a Difference) Fund. Good idea!

With only 1.60pounds left, I successfully found a Subway! Unfortunately, the sandwich was only 3pounds and it was 5pounds minimum for credit card. So I ordered a drink...4pounds. And then a cookie...4.60pounds. How about a donut? 5pounds and 30 cents! Phew! There's just too much to do and see in London!

Friday 28 November 2008


The experience of taking the Eurostar is quite like going through the airport, yet the difference - one can show up much later (only thirty minutes before)! After getting my e-ticket boarding pass from the kiosk, I filled out the landing card, and went through security. I was pleasantly surprised that even before I arrived in London, I received two passport stamps. Woohoo!

Although arrival was scheduled at 12:38PM, there was a broken train in front of us. Thus, we didn't reach London until 3:30PM! We received a return ticket as a consolation - too bad I already bought my non-refundable one in advance!

Tip: A one-way ticket in the tube is 4pounds! However, a one day pass is only 5.30pounds!

After checking into St. Christopher's Hostel (note ISIC card gets you a 10% discount here), I headed off to the Southbank Center for my night of concerts! In the front room of Elizabeth Foyer Hall, was the Diabel Cissokho Trio. Utilizing traditional African sounds with jazz and Afro-beat, the music was phenomenal! More please?

The Diabel Cissokho Trio!

Since there was a break, I headed outside to discover that London is beautiful at night!

The Golden Jubilee Bridge

The Cologne Christmas markets were beautiful as well! I bought some delicious cheesy bratwurst and then walked on the Golden Jubilee Bridge that provided a gorgeous skyline view! Big Ben and the Golden Eye were the main attractions along with everything else by the River Thames!

The River Thames, Big Ben, and London's Golden Eye

I then headed off to a benefit concert that helped the Magic Bus (which provides sports in slums to promote the self-confidence of children) and AMC (which promotes Asian artists throughout the world). At times, it was easy for one to get lost in the music.

Note: Make sure to read which elevator one should take while in the Royal Festival Hall. Each color and floor corresponds differently.

At the hostel, I met with Andres and Leslie Mao. We had dinner at a local pizzeria, Penne al Pollo, and then Andres and I headed off to the West End in Central London. We both took the London bus for the first time which provided us with a great view of London by night. While on our makeshift "tour", we passed by the Royal Courts of Justice and the St. Regents Cathedral. To a faulty website description, Trafalger Square does NOT resemble Times Square. Haha, it's just more of a square.

Christmastime in the city!

We then headed off to Picadilly Circus. With its Christmas lights, flashing neon signs, expensive and trendy stores, and upscale clubs, Picadilly Circus was the one that resembled Times Square.

The night ended with a visit into Ain't Nothin But Blues, a local blues bar. The live band was fantastic and everybody inside was dancing and having a good time. Good stuff!

On the walk home, we toured Liecester Square, another great location for food, pubs, and clubs. After taking numerous pictures of the snowmen decorations in the sky, I bought a gingerbread man/snowman cookie. After a fantastic day, could London perhaps rank up next to New York City and Paris? Perhaps!

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Can I Have Some Mustard Please? Dijon-style!

I had a 5:45AM wake up call as it would take 1-1.5 hours to get to Paris Montparnasse.

Note: There's a Versailles express train that drops you off to Paris Montparnasse in twenty minutes. Wish I would have known that sooner!

Arrival to Dijon is like traveling back in time. The Romanesque architecture provides an obvious old stylistic look and the city itself provides quite a small-town feel.

Jardin D'Arcy

Unfortunately, to my disappointment, the Mustard Museum was closed! C'est terrible!

I started the day at Jardin D'Arcy where I took pictures with the famous Pompons Polar Bear! The same sculpture can be seen at the Musee D'Orsay in Paris. The city's architecture and quaintness really makes a person want to walk. Next stop was to grab a quick chicken kebab at Darcy Kebab.

Pompons Polar Bear of Jardin D'Arcy

The St. Benigne Church has a fantastic crypt exhibit downstairs with the sarcophagus of St. Benigne. A Roman Catholic cathedral, it originated as the church of Abbey of St. Benignus.

Underground at the St. Benigne Church

Apparently, A walk down Place François Rude will lead you to a block full of hairstylists! At Hypnotyk, there was a student haircut special for 18euros. They asked if I really wanted a haircut as they didn't speak English, but I didn't care - I just responded "Oui, c'est bonne!"

I had the full shampoo, cut, and brush. In French, she spoke to me about food, Obama, why I'm in France, etc. She even told her non-snail eating daughter, "See, even an American likes escargot!" Haha. The haircut was actually quite amazing and it looked very European with the hairspray.

As Monoprix was on the same street, I went to do a bit of grocery shopping! The H&M was very edgy and West Coast comparative to other H&Ms in the world. Je t'aime!It was too easy to feel like a local in Dijon.

The Musee des Beaux-Arts was free and fantastic. As it's quite small, it provides a legit stopping. There are actually quite a bit of landmarks in the city as I strolled by St. Michel and St. Chappelle.
Hébé et l'aigle de Jupiter

While at Place Wilson, a woman approached me inquiring about my life as I did not look like a local! We spoke (en Francais) about why I was in France, what I thought about Dijon, good things to see in Dijon, etc. AND she stated that I spoke French well! I watched her leave and apparently, she had her husband pull over specifically so she could speak to me. Celebrity status!

I walked Cours Du Gal De Gaulle like she suggested and came across Parc de la Colombière. The French royal park was very pretty with it's 6,000 grandiose trees and crisscrossing alleys.

In the park, a young boy asked me for the time and then if I were an American. The next words from him were then specifically about my hometown! Considering that he had never been and only had three relatives in New York, I was quite surprised. I blame it on American reality television shows.

The Temple of Love in Parc de la Colombière

Note: Don't go to the Temple of Love by yourself! Even if you are in a relationship, make sure to approach the gazeebo with somebody!

The Notre Dame was very different from the ones I've seen. It seemed like the inside had switched out! The Gothic church features gargoyles and slender towers topped off by the Jacquemart Clock.

Dijon's Notre Dame

Of course, no trip would have been complete without a protest!

I sat and waited for this apparent "free" tram, but it never came. Thus, I went to Moutarde Maille to buy some mustard! They actually allow one to sample various mustards.

Mustards galore at Moutarde Maille

Tip: Be weary of which mustards you taste! The Du vin blanc made me tear up!

I walked to Place République and used the ATM at BNP (yes, another errand). However, I unfortunately learned the lesson that one should NOT leave money in the machine as it will eat it back up after some time! Grr.

The day trip only cost me 6euros (well maybe 12euros because I cancelled on another trip). Yay for the Eurorail pass! And yay for being a "local" and for my new haircut!

Sunday 16 November 2008

Goodbye, Bordeaux!

I knocked on the roomate's door to go to the morning markets. The voice of a female was heard speaking to him (the other roommate, Laura!) Duhn, duhn, duhn!

We walked to Le Marche des Capucins, a large flower and fruit market. I was pleasantly happy as I was able to buy a 2euro umbrella!

Bordeaux -a quaint little city

Leslie and I then completed the morning walking up and down the quay taking pictures and visiting the City Hall. At the house, we said goodbye to the CSurfing hosts and I finally got to meet the final roommate: the chef!

No worries, home is close by!

Leslie took off to Charles de Gaulle and I headed back home to Jouy-en-Josas. Good times!

Saturday 15 November 2008

Are We On the Travel Channel? Wine Tasting Time!

We were excited as today would be our wine tasting adventure! After a late morning wake up, we ran to the train station just in time; however, our train was not listed on the screen! Just as luck would have it, there was a strike! We were provided with another option to get to Bergerac - thus, we headed off to the station of Foy-la-Grande.

I called our wine connoisseur, Caroline Freely, and she stated that it was no problem and advised us to check the return ticket. We tried to book a return, but the attendant stated that she could not know the time from St. Gardonne to Bordeaux because of the strike. Thus, we went back in line and waited for another attendant. This one provided us with the correct information!

When we arrived at the train station, it felt like déjà vu Rive de Gier - we were stranded in the middle of nowhere! Out front, I recognized Caroline's picture from her wine website, We jumped in her car and it immediately felt like we were in a television show!

As we drove, she explained the various vineyards that we passed along the way. We were in Bergerac, just outside of Bordeaux, yet the region still made Bordeaux-style wines. Her home was adorable as cute chickens and children ran all around!

Caroline Freely's winery

The wine workshop began with a bit of Bergerac's history and then into the 400+ appellations of wine. Soon, the wine tasting began!

We started off with two white wines: Semillon 2007 and Semillon, AC Bergerac Sec, 2006. I actually preferred the 2006 as it was less sweet and lighter on the tongue. We then went into the red wines, where we tried Merlot and a Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot, both 2006. However, my favorite had to be the sweet dessert wine! Chateau Haut Garrigue AC Saussignac, 2006 tasted the best (perhaps coupled by the fact that it came along with dessert!)

Tasting some Merlot

For lunch, Caroline provided tomato salad, bread, and several cheeses! It was also my first experience tasting foie gras - so delicious! Foie gras is a delicacy in French cuisine and must be tried if one is abroad. The tarts for dessert tasted so delectable with the Saussignac white wine that I had to buy some!

The aftermath of our cheese and wine destruction

As we enjoyed lunch, two older individuals came by to check out Caroline's wine. When they found out we were American, the first words out of their mouths were "You have a black president now!" Ahaha.

While touring the vineyard, one easily feels like he or she is in The Travel Channel! As we walked between the vines of the 30-acre vineyard, Caroline provided us with great information..."These vines are about sixty years old. You can tell by the size of the stem. Now back in the 18th century, the St. Emelion Castle over there served as a lookout point..." Yes, Travel Channel indeed!

The beautiful wine fields of Bergerac

Prices of land for wineries:
  • 2.2 hectre in Saussignac = $15,000
  • 2.2 hectre in Bordeaux = $200,000
  • 2.2 hectre in Champagne = $1,000,000!
Caroline's gorgeous porch view...sigh...

We had a mini-photoshoot in the vineyard and then it was pretty much time to go (boo, la grave!) We jumped back in Caroline's car and headed to St. Gardonne train station. Later on, she let me know by e-mail that she actually waited at the train station in case the strike affected our train. So sweet!

Mrs. Caroline Freely herself!

Leslie and I felt so exhausted after our adventure that we both fell asleep back to Bordeaux St. Jean! After we were rested though, we soon headed off to Dibiterie for live music. It was small, but cute and fun! Leslie was even lucky enough to catch a drumstick!

Looking back, I am glad that the big wine tours in Bordeaux were sold out! Caroline Freely's private wine workshop was actually found on the third page of Google. Many vineyards in bigger regions like Medoc are run by investors with much wealth, so they pay people to work for them. However, this wine tour was provided by a private family, who spent their whole lives saving up for their dream of owning a winery! Thus, we got to experience their passion with them!

The bus bench that ended the night and speaks the truth! Fitting!