Vienna Day 2

December 1, 2017 Leave a comment

Our second day in Vienna focused on a private tour I booked with a guide Bernd. I had booked a full day tour with him as a way to quickly (within 5-7 hours) take in Vienna and to have some one with whom I could discuss and learn more about the Habsburg, Holy Roman Empire of Germany, and Austrian empire. You would be surprised how much of Vienna you can take in from the comfort of Bernd’s Mercedes S Class car. We only had one full day to wake up and go to sleep in Venice and we were able to see and get context for the key sites. In addition, Bernd is quite funny and we enjoyed his descriptions of his life as an Austrian and Viennese.

We saw the horses from the Spanish Stables being trotted out for their daily exercises. We saw the major buildings associated with the Habsburg dynasty drop Joseph I to Frank Joseph I. These included the Royal Palace, the Summer Palace, and several churches. (Sorry No Pics!)

We were graced with an exceptionally warm, calm, and clear November day that allows us to take in the grandeur of the Blue Danube, the 2nd longest river in Europe. I was surprised that the city center is not oriented along the Danube, however Bernd explained that the river was prone to flooding so historically the shore was avoided.

We were eager to get a vantage of the city and Bernd recommended that we drive up the low mountains inside the city. He was proud to share that Vienna is the only city growing grapes and producing wine. It was an excellent bit of “country” to see and on our clear day afforded an expansive view of the city.  The city view is behind us in the picture below.

A Viennese favorite wine is Grüner Veltliner.  Grüner Veltliner is a dry white wine that grows almost only in Austria. With flavors of green pepper and lime, Grüner Veltliner is an exotic alternative to Sauvignon Blanc. The name translates to “Green Wine of Veltlin”. Veltlin was part of the Austrian empire, but is now Valtellina, Italy. (this info courtesy of Wine Folly”  I ordered Grüner Veltliner every chance I got and will look for it in the U.S.

Vienna Vineyards

Vineyards within Vienna city limits

We set off on foot once Bernd concluded his tour. We went to the arts and crafts market outside Karlsplatz. Unlike Berlin, the Christmas markets had already opened in Vienna. This put us close to the Seccession building which we then toured including the frieze by Gustav Klimt.

After all my reading about the Habsburg dynasty, I wanted to take in the palace. We got to the palace about 3pm. You could tell there were seasons with a great many more visitors as they have a lengthy display of the dining sets and a special exhibition it view before you make it to the key rooms used by the last emperor Frank Joseph I and his wife. It is interesting to gain access to both the public spaces the Emperor would engage th public as well as the private spaces he would use. When I attend such sites I try to imagine and empathize what it must have been like to approach the property/room/space when it was inhabited by pour. As you go through the tour you first encounter the waiting room where you would wait for your appointment with the emperor. You then progress to the room where the emperor gave public audiences to ANY of his subjects. Then a few minutes later you enter the room where the emperor would engage only the most important guests. As an influential aristocrat you may have waited weeks, months, years for this audience. Unfathomable to anyone in the 1800s you then enter the emperors study and bedroom!

We had seen the palace and after a brief intermission we were off to Vienna’s State Opera House. The opera that night was Salome. I had purchased 13€ tickets weeks in advance which are a great and affordable way to get inside the Opera House or to hear a performance. I had incorrectly chosen a “standing room only” spot in a box close tot the stage. It is best to get the #4 spot as you only see less than half the stage from a #5 or #6 spot in one of the foremost balconies in the loge levels. There are likely other better vantage’s for the 13€, even if they are further away from stage. I purchased tickets in box 3.

We ended the night with an excellent schnitzel at a restaurant that our guide had recommended followed by a sachertort at the sacher cafe.

Here’s a complete listing of the sites you can see on a tour with Bernd.  I found Bernd through a top rated Trip Advisor guide www.wientourguide.net.

  • Ring Boulevard
  • Vienna state Opera House
  • Imperial palace
  • Museumsquartier
  • St. Augustin, guided tour
  • Museum of fine arts
  • Parliament
  • Court theatre
  • Minor brothers, guided tour
  • St. Stephans cathedral
  • Townhall
  • University
  • Votivkirche
  • Stock exchange building
  • Heroe square
  • Spanish riding school
  • Imperial burial vault
  • Prater
  • Danube
  • Old Danube
  • City park
  • Strauss monument
  • Karlsplatz
  • Musikverein
  • Charles church
  • Belvedere  palace
  • Hundertwasser house

 

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Categories: Varanasi

Berlin Day 4/Vienna Day 1

December 1, 2017 Leave a comment

Nothing of interest happened in Berlin today as we ate breakfast and then went to the airport.

We arrived in Berlin and checked into the Hotel Bristol which is across the street from from the Vienna State Opera House which we could see from our hotel room and balcony.

Vienna State Opera House

View of Vienna State Opera House (Staatsopera) from The Hotel Bristol, Vienna, Austria

Vienna State Opera House (Staatsopera) at Night

View from The Hotel Bristol of the Vienna State Opera House (Staatsopera) at Night

I had earlier decided that our trip to Vienna would not be centered on food and had not spent much time researching restaurants nor had I made any reservations. The day before departing for Vienna I had learned that the Viennese restaurant Steirereck has been recognized as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world. I was fortunate enough that our hotel was able to put us on the waitlist and that my status on the waitlist was converted to an 8:30pm reservation.

We arrived in the afternoon around 2:00 pm and had no plans.

Therefore we set out on foot to see what we could see while we navigated between four famous coffee houses of Vienna.

Cafe Sacher was right around the corner behind the opera house. As your guide book has told you it is one of two key places serving Sachertorte claiming to be the original. The interior is Smart with white and black marble floors and red damask wall coverings.

We then walked to Cafe Hawelika. Much more casual and cozy atmosphere. Looks like the place to settle in and think.

We walked to Demel the second claimant to the sachertorte recipe. We peeled in and incorrectly thought that Deml consisted solely of a shop and counter but later learned it has tables in the back as well as a beautiful seating upstairs where you can grab a seat.

However we waited until we arrived at Cafe Central before sitting down. Here we ordered a Maria Therese, an Apple streusel, and pancakes with apricot jelly. We were quite pleased with our first Vienna coffee house experience.

Interior of Cafe Central

Interior of Cafe Central with elaborate gingerbread house

 

After enjoying our first Vienna coffee house experience we stepped into Franz Joseph’s Library, once called the Royal Library, and now called the State Hall or Prunksaal.  This was the most baroque library I have entered.  Close your eyes and imagine what a library would like like in a cartoon palace.  Now open them and look at the picture below.  It’s a match right?

Interior of State Hall

Interior of State Hall, Royal Library, Vienna, Austria

State Hall, Royal Library

State Hall, Royal Library from entering hall

Throughout this walk we had seen ornate historical buildings/sites, auction houses and fine art galleries, and multinational luxury brand store fronts.

We thought to check out the Albertina art museum with its collection of the great draftsman Düre. This requires climbing some 60 steps. However the ascent allowed us to chance upon a beautiful view of the Hofsburg imperial palace at twilight.  The photos didn’t turn out very well.  (Sorry, no pic!)

We decided to make our way down to the canal to see what was going on at the waterfront… not much!  Didn’t really need to do that walk.

Our favorite coffee house in our drive-by survey of Vienna coffee houses was Cafe Hawelka, so we returned there for postcard writing, relaxing, and coffee.  Here’s me toasting with my second Maria Teresa of the day.

Coffee at Cafe Hawelka

Coffee at Cafe Hawelka

Our big dinner at Steirereck still awaited us.  Our Uber driver was fairly certain he couldn’t enter the park to get us to the restaurant so we walked our way in, but we saw that if he had driven a further down he would have encountered the driveway into the park up to the restaurant.  We were pretty confident that most people would not want to tromp through the park to make their way to a 2 Michelin star restaurant, you can be more confident than we are and urge your driver to drop you off at the front door of the restaurant.

I’ll write a separate post for the foodies that gives a blow by blow account of our dinner.  It was excellent.  Here is a picture of us with the 7 piece amuse bouche placed in front of us (the meal had not yet begun).

Table at Steirereck

Table at Steirereck

 

 

 

Categories: Vienna

Berlin Day 3

November 23, 2017 Leave a comment
We got a late start on our third day in Berlin. My body is still adjusting to a new time zone and I didn’t get to sleep until late and consequently we didn’t leave the hotel until about noon.

Our first stop was lunch at W Der Imbiss. My friend, Chef George, had referred me to his friend’s, Chef Gordon’s, Restaurant. W Der Imbiss is a vegan/vegetarian place serving an eclectic menu with a great many dishes prepared in an Indian tandoor oven. The naan is acclaimed. The theme of the decor is Tiki as you can see from the photos below. There are two locations.

W der imbiss

My friend’s friend’s restaurant in Berlin – W der Imbiss

W der Imbiss menus

W der imbiss menus

W der Imbiss Tiki Bar (inside)

W der Imbiss Tiki Bar (inside)

Our feature destination yesterday was the hipster neighborhood of Kreuzberg and our itinerary was outlined by a Luxe travel guide. The walk was a delightful mix of large 19th century squares and parks, some ornate baroque buildings, some plain old retail store fronts, and some hip retail interiors.
Our first stop was Modular an art supply store with a great inventory of pens, paints, 3-D printing and all other things art and design.
Attached to Modular is Werkhaus which has awesome board cut outs to self assemble for storage, organisation, and decoration.
IMG_6692

Van Life at Werkhaus (Kreuzberg, Berlin)

We checked out the stylish Voo clothing store which had an exhibit on the Top 10 iconic sneakers (9 of which were Nike and 1 of which was Converse Chuck Taylor’s).
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Four of the top 10 iconic sports shoes as designed by Virgil Abloh

We walked from the last stop on the shopping tour over to Friedrichshain to see the East Side Gallery which is a section of the Berlin Wall that is covered in murals/street art and has been left standing to preserve the art and history.
We then took our first train ride to head to the other side of Kreuzberg from which we started in order to enjoy a currywurst from Curry 36 which was called out in my Fodor’s travel guide. I’d been waiting to try currywurst in Berlin since I first tried it when a Berliner opened up a currywurst stand in Silverlake some years ago. It would not be overstating it to say I flew to Berlin simply to have a 2€ snack.  The currywurst at Curry 36 did not exceed the currywurst in LA. The Silverlake location of Currywurst is now closed but you can try it at LA’s Grand Central Market and save yourself the trip to Berlin.
While in this neighborhood we checked out Bio Market which appears to be the German version of Whole Foods. There are so many fewer packaged items in Germany than in U.S.  It pointed out to me how industrialized our food supply is and how much a focus there is on convenience in our country.
We also checked my Yelp bookmarks and saw that we were near two Jazz clubs the Dodo and the Yorkschlossen. We walked past both, but as the Dodo was not quite opened we entered Yorkschlossen.
It is a cozy wooden two rooms with a variety of art and Jazz paraphernalia on the walls. It was the perfect place for a post touring beer.  In addition, to my great surprise, they had an Addam’s Family pinball machine which I’d played 100 times in 1998 as a college undergrad at The Looking Glass a Bar in East Village Manhattan near my school that had this pinball machine with $2 pints of Guiness and free popcorn. I plugged in a few euros and astounded myself with how familiar the paddles were – all the reflexes were still there and I scored 40 Million points. I am now considering buying my own machine.
IMG_6779

Addam’s Family Pinball Machine

For dinner, we chose to go to the place Bernhard had recommended to us on Monday – Tiergarten Quelle. The address is S-Bahnbogen 482 10555 Berlin Germany Tiergarten. Bernhard has promised we could get a proper Berlin meal for an affordable price. It was the second perfect place after walking around in the rain. (It had started raining while we were at the East Side Gallery).
I ordered the Eisbein (pork knuckle) with  sauerkraut and roasted potatoes. We drank beer out of ceramic mugs. Bernhard has recommended these “stone” mugs and I had expected them to be sculpted from granite. Most of the others in the bar were drinking beer from glasses.
I didn’t know what a pork knuckle was when I placed my order. I assumed I was ordering pigs feet. I ordered it because my Fodor’s guidebook had said this was a quintessential Berliner dish.  I wa delighted to learn upon receipt of my plate that pork knuckle is a joint (ostensibly from a leg) and was slow roasted meat with no toes at all.
IMG_6799

Tiergartenquelle – Restaurant

Categories: Berlin, Uncategorized

Berlin Day 2

November 19, 2017 Leave a comment

I woke up and had breakfast in my hotel Das Stue in preparation for a three hour tour ranging from Brandenburg Tor, down Unter Din linden, to Museum Island, and then back to the Reichstag.  I had hired an excellent guide and long time Berlin resident, Bernard.  Bernard has a Masters in History with a focus in German History and an excellent bedside manner.  He graciously and thoughtfully answered all of my questions about the first three Prussian rulers that I had armed myself with from reading The Iron Kingdom – The Rise and Downfall of Prussia

I highly encourage you to hire Bernard if you are visiting Berlin.  His contact information is available at Wien Guide (he is a recommended guide for Berlin)

I am too pleased with this photo of myself as a hybrid crocodile man in the lobby of my hotel.

Crocodile Man Hybrid

Crocodile Man Hybrid

 

Our guide was delighted to see the recent installation of three upended buses entitled “Monument” by the artist Manaf Halbouni. He had not yet seen this art. It is outside the Brandenberg Tour.  I took a photo later in the evening as we returned home.

IMG_6674

I will come back later to write about the stories about Ferderick I “The Mercenary King”, William Frederick I “The Soldier King”, and Frederick II “The Great”.  I’m making this blog post a little more exciting with photos and don’t want to bore the reader with copy.  I also don’t want to spend a lot of time in this hotel room typing this blog post.

We ended our tour by ascending to The Cupola in the parliamentary building the Reichstag.  I highly encourage you to book tickets in advance to ascend to the top of this modern structure, learn about the goings on of the parliamentary building and get a birds eye view of Berlin.   Reserve tickets here.  Here’s a photo of us from The Cupola.

On top of Berlin

On top of Berlin with Museum Island and The Dom in the background.

We returned home after that ascent and went for a late lunch in the Mitte at Schnitzelei for the best Wiener Schnitzel I’ve ever had.

Schnitzel

 

We retired to our room for a bit to prepare for an evening excursion to the neighborhood Friedrichshain to see Little Dragon perform at Astra KulturHaus

Little Dragon Berlin

Little Dragon Berlin

 

Categories: Uncategorized

My first trip to Berlin Day 1

November 19, 2017 1 comment
Today I arrived in Berlin on a 7:00 am flight.  I had arranged for my hotel, Das Stue to send a car service to pick me up at TXL as I did not trust my ambien induced brain to successfully navigate the taxi stand.  Thus I had quite an easy entry into Berlin and was soon cozied up in my hotel bed to sleep off the last of my sleeping med.  This left me bright-eyed and bushy tailed for a morning walk from Tiergarten to Charlottenburg Schloss (Palace).  Saw two Christmas markets being set-up for the holiday season along the way. The Charlottenburg Palace and ground were much larger than I expected.  In addition, the audio tour that describes some of the history of the palace’s construction and how each room was used for different purposes was appreciatively informative.
We took a respite following our walk of the halls of the palace at Monkey Bar, a stadium seating bar with views over the Berlin zoo (including the monkey house).  Had a Munich Helles beer.
Ran into a bit of a SNAFU with our dinner plans this first night.  I had reservations at Reinstoff; but as the restaurant tried to contact me while I was in flight I did not receive their calls or emails.  Thus they canceled my reservation.  Doh!  I rescheduled for Thursday and set on figuring out where else to eat.  My next pick was Rutz Weinbar but that was also fully committed.  I then pursued Nobelhart & Schmutzig – also fully committed.  Dauntless I decided to go to Rutz Weinbar and try my luck.  I asked if I might grab a glass of wine at the standing room only bar.  This was permitted.  I then asked if we might order some food at the standing room only bar.  This was permitted.  The server chose a series of german wines that we enjoyed while ordering some starters.  We first had a fabulous blood sausage, which came with four decently sized slices of blood sausage alongside pureed potatoes.  We then opted for a tripe dish that was delicious and the least tripe like dish I’ve ever had.  This is a tripe for people who are squeamish about tripe.  I was also curious to try the cucumber, goat cheese, and kefir dressing salad.  Pairing this dish with the rich tripe was a good idea as it gave it a counterbalance of acid.  People really linger at their tables after dinner in Germany and few people came in the bar after 9pm; those that did were often turned away as they were looking for a sit down table and the bar was fully engaged.  However, by the time we ordered our mains a spot had opened up and we got to sit ourselves down.  I greatly enjoyed a health portion of duck confit breast and a perfectly dense dumpling served alongside.  Erin ordered the local fresh water fish of the day and was equally pleased.
Thus ended our first full day in Berlin.
Categories: Berlin

Preparing for my first trip to Berlin & Vienna – The books I read in preparation

November 18, 2017 Leave a comment

I enjoy preparing and planning to visit for a first time about as I much as I enjoy actually experiencing the city.
Selecting a trip destination, is a way to set an intent to learn a little bit more about the world we live in and its history.
I also enjoy planning an itinerary for the seven or ten days I typically take for vacation ahead of the trip. The itinerary is a back up plan rather than a to do list.
I am comfortable deviating from something “planned” when a better opportunity arises; but with a full list of potential activities I’m never bored or left frantically trying to figure out what to do for two hours stuck in my hotel room.

Fodor’s travel guides are my go to reference as I begin planning any trip. For this Berlin & Vienna trip I bought the following two books on Kindle

* Fodor’s Germany http://amzn.to/2B1jufm
* Fodor’s Vienna and the best of Austria http://amzn.to/2hKJPtB

In addition to learning about restaurants, sites, and activities in my destination city, I also like to immerse myself in the city’s history. Thus for my trip to Berlin, I got exposed to the history of the Kingdom of Prussia. I was vaguely aware that there was a country named Prussia and this country was somewhat of a military powerhouse in the 19th century. I believe my first exposure to Prussia came in 2006 when I read War & Peace. The second exposure was reading A Very Brief Introduction to the military theories of a Prussian General Clausewitz in 2016. http://amzn.to/2j7vqnx . I googled some lists to find “the best” histories of Prussia. And several sources pointed to Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 http://amzn.to/2zMKsK1 Unfortunately this book is not available on Kindle. While I was debating whether or not to buy a bound paper book, I first purchased a kindle book for $0.99 titled A Short History of Prussia http://amzn.to/2yWGBpW that turned out to be a great intro and overview of the country. Eventually I broke down and bought the IRL The Rise and Downfall of Prussia which turned out to be an even better account of the, well, rise and downfall of Prussia. You’ll learn that Frederick III of Brandenberg was quite a successful noble and was able to crown himself as Frederick I King of Prussia. His offspring were as interesting and accomplished as himself; the son Frederick William zigged to Frederick’s I’s zag; did a way with all pomp and focused single mindedly on expanding Prussia’s military (which was already reknown under his father); Frederick William’s son Frederick II zagged back to a more stately presence but kept the drum beating on continuing to expand Prussia’s military.

Since I’d gone to the trouble to learn about Prussia up through it’s dissolution in 1917 at the end of WWI when it was replaced by the Weimar Republic of Germany, I decided I ought to read up on Austria and the Habsburgs in equal measure. To this purpose I bought The Habsburg Empire (Kindle Edition) http://amzn.to/2zfL3Eq The book starts with Maria Teresa and then recounts the Empress or Emperor leading the Habsburg family up through the break-up of the empire at the conclusion of WWI.

After completing all these books, I wonder whether or not the expense of travel is necessary. I get as much if not more context and inspiration from sitting down and reading world history. It’s certainly a more affordable way to understand the world. I like the fact that when I select a place to travel it gives me a topic to dive into.

Categories: Berlin, Vienna

Day 12 – Trip to India – Some planning tips and Departure through Mumbai

Day 12 started a full day of travel to return to Los Angeles.  We started in Goa and were leaving through Mumbai.  We had a few hours in Mumbai and finally had a chance to explore Bandra.  We checked out a few retail stores and tried a delicious western meal at Indigo.

We booked our trip to India through Kensington Tours.  It’s an expensive way to travel.  In the past I’ve always booked my own travel.  The experience was great.  We were greeted by a guide in every city and had an arranged driver who spoke English.  In addition to the logistic guides Kesington arranged to take care of our transfers from airports and hotels, we had a professional tour guide nearly every single day to either take us through historic sites such as those in Jaipur or Agra, or show us the living city as we did in Mumbai.  I recommend booking an India tour through Sunita at Kensington Tours.

If you want to book your tour on your own then I recommend checking out the Love tour guides selection of guides for the luxury vagabond Love Travel Guides  Guides currently exist for:

  • Love Delhi
  • Love Mumbai
  • Love Jaipur
  • Love Goa
Categories: Bombay, India, Mumbai