A Travellerspoint blog

Sixth Destination: Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, a pretty city nestled in the rainy alps of Austria. May 25-27, 2006.

rain 14 °C

With a heavy heart I left my favourite city in Europe, beautiful Vienna, and took a train to Salzburg. It was hard leaving Vienna for several reasons, 2 full days in that city is not enough time to trully enjoy it, and that I didn't have the chance to meet up with my new Australian friend again. Travelling alone by train to Salzburg, I met a variety of people who came and went in my train compartment. Locals, tourists, businessmen, most were eager to chat with a Canadian.
This was my second visit to Salzburg, and like before, it was drizzling when I arrived.

Posted by Petra M 16:51 Archived in Austria Comments (0)

Fifth destination: Vienna, Austria

My favourite city during the whole trip, so little time and money to truly enjoy it! May 22-25, 2006

semi-overcast 17 °C

This was going to be my second visit to Vienna Austria, and I was so looking forward to seeing it again. The train trip from Prague to Vienna was a long and hot one - over 5 hours on a sunny day with no air conditioning. We experienced delays and rerouting because the Danube river had flooded its banks a few weeks earlier and for several passport checks at the border.
While my brother, his girlfriend, and my mom stayed at a Pension in the city centre, I decided to splurge and stay at a hotel nearby on Dorotheergasse, the Graben Hotel. It was right by the popular Graben pedestrian shopping area, and a few blocks from the Stephansdom cathedral. It was well worth it. I was in the city centre, close to the major shopping districts, close to attractions like the Vienna Opera House and Hofburg complex, and the Stephansplatz U-Bahn line. It is also in a relatively safe area of the city, with restaurants and cafes open very late into the evening.
My hotel room at the Graben Hotel was on the top floor, had my very own bathroom, and the most comfortable bed during the whole trip. The only major problem that I had, was I was running out of Euros and I had only two full days to explore Vienna. I would soon regret this oversight.
I had booked a 3 night package with my hotel, which included a few great deals thrown in. One of which was a 3 hour sightseeing tour of Vienna by Cityrama. I took that on the morning of May 23, 2006. I was picked up from my hotel after breakfast and taken by bus to the main depot to get on an English speaking tourbus. I ended up sitting beside a really nice guy from Perth Australia and we started talking. schoenbrun..earview.jpg
The tourbus brought us to the Schonbrunn Palace where we had a tour of the inside of this pretty lavish palace. We walked around the palace grounds for a bit until it was time to leave.
When we got back on the bus, he asked me to go for lunch with him even though he knew I had only a few Euros left (or perhaps because of that). We ate on the outdoor patio at the Venezia Italian restaurant on Karntner Strasse near the Stephansdom cathedral. Karntner Strasse is one of the busiest pedestrian shopping streets in Vienna, full of great shops, restaurants and cafes, street buskers, etc. Venezia's had a large varied menu, and their pasta dishes were very good, as well as their coffee. I highly recommend this place.lobmeyr_sh.._vienna.jpg
After lunch, we walked around the streets of Vienna for a while, taking pictures of buildings, statues, etc. until I realized that I only had a few hours left for shopping. I still needed to buy some chocolates, some local artwork, etc. The next day the shops would be closed due to a holiday, and I would be on my way by train to Salzburg to meet up with my family who had gone on ahead the day before. I was still embarassed and worried with the fact that I had no available Euros to spend in Vienna, just my Visa which is not widely accepted here especially in small shops and cafes, that when we parted I just shook hands and said good bye. I should have swallowed by pride and asked if he wanted to at least exchange e-mails to keep in touch. flieschmar.._vienna.jpg
Schonbrunn Palace and it's extensive grounds are a must see if you visit Vienna. You need at least 2 days to explore everything. The day before, on May 23 2006, I spent most of my day there. Walked past the massive Neptune Fountains and walked up to the Gloriette Pavilion atop the hill to get a great panoramic view of the city and palace below.
Visited the Palmhouse and the Deserthouse, the Tiergarten Zoo, and walked through the gardens and landscaped grounds. Had lunch at the Kutscher Gwolb Restaurant by the Coach Museum, which had a bright enclosed outdoor patio and some really great local cuisine. The menu was extensive and had more to offer than the buffet near the main entrance.
Another wonderful palace and its grounds to explore in Vienna is the Belvedere. This was the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy, a very wealthy military commander. It took less than two years to build the Upper Belvedere Palace alone. The palaces today house art galleries and museums. They were open when we arrived, but parts of the gardens and waterfountains were closed due to renovations.
The Stephansdom cathedral is another landmark attraction in Vienna. The first Romanesque church was built on that site in the 1100's. After many additions and renovations over the centuries, the Giant's doorway (main entrance) and the Heathen Towers (twin towers) are the oldest parts of the cathedral today. The main Gothic spire is 450 feet high. The amazingly colourful tiled roof contains about a quarter of a million glazed tiles. In the North Tower hangs the Pummerin Bell or "Boomer", the current one was cast using the remains of the old one which was destroyed during the Second World War. The inside of this church is truly awe inspiring.
The vast Hofburg complex is another main attraction that needs several days of exploring. It includes the former imperial apartments of the Hapsburg dynasty, several museums and churches, gardens, the Austrian National Library, the Winter Riding School, and the President of Austria's offices.
Over 7 centuries of development has created this sprawling complex that we see today. There are over 10 buildings ranging from Gothic architecture to late 19th century design. You can freely wander the courtyards and streets late at night after the museums, treasuries and galleries have closed. Makes for some very interesting night photos.
I would love to come back to Vienna one day, it's charms still draws my attention. The next time I visit I promise myself to stay at least 5 full days, bring plenty of Euros, and a digital camera with lots of memory.

Posted by Petra M 18:10 Archived in Austria Comments (1)

Fourth Destination: Prague, Czech Republic

Off to a new country, the Czech Republic in eastern Europe, May 20-22, 2006

semi-overcast 17 °C

We left Dresden for Prague on May 20, 2006. The weather was still unsettled, a bit of drizzle between short periods of sunshine. The three hour train trip followed the Elbe river through some very pretty countryside. There was no real noticeable change of the landscape and buildings as we entered the Czech Republic. This was my first time to this country.
Prague is a very beautiful city, with many towers and spires disappearing into the distance. Unlike the last 3 cities, Prague emerged from the Second World War relatively unscathed. There were many pretty winding cobblestoned sidestreets with houses painted in pastel colours.
We decided to take a english speaking walking tour of the city since we new nothing of the Czech language and culture. Most tourist guides meet by the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town square, and they are usually identifiable by the bright red, blue or yellow umbrellas they carry with them. These guides tend to be in their twenties and thirties, highly educated, and most able to speak three to four different languages quite fluently. We took a 6 hour tour with a university student, who on weekends loves to be a tour guide of her hometown to tourists from all around the world.
Old Town Square is a huge plaza in the oldest district of Prague. It was built in the 12th century and was originally used as a marketplace. It is surrounded by several churches like the St Nicholas Church, the astronomical clock tower, cafes and restaurants, etc.
We walked along the streets of the Old Town first, marveling at the beautiful buildings. The architecture spanned many centuries, some built in Romanesque, early Renaissance, Gothic, and Baroque style. One interesting Gothic church had two spires that were different sizes, one representing female and the other male sides of the world. The Church Of Our Lady Before Tyn can be seen as part of the Prague skyline from most areas in the city.
Part of our tour included a trip up the hill to see the Prague castle. We took a street car up the steep hill. Street cars are an excellent way of getting around the city. Inside the Prague castle you will find the famous St Vitus's cathedral. It's Gothic spires tower over the castle.
Saint Vitus took nearly six centuries to complete. Underground, it contains tombs of many bohemian kings. It also the biggest and most important church in the Czech Republic. The cathedral is both beautiful inside and outside. I took a photo of some murals on the outside wall of the church.
Prague castle complex is one of the largest castles in the world. It contains numerous buildings, courtyards and gardens. It's history stretches back to the 9th century. Today it houses museums and art galleries. It still has its own guards from May till October every year. The Castle Guards are a specific unit of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic. I walked by during the Changing of the Guards at one of the entrances.changingof..ecastle.jpg
Charles Bridge, which spans over the Vltava river, is one of the most famous bridges in the world. It connects the Old Town quarter with the Lesser Town quarter. It is protected by 3 towers, one on the Old Town side and two on the Lesser Town. It has also got to be the most touristy site in Prague. During the weekends, it is crowded with tourists, street entertainers, buskers, and artists selling their wares.
Charles bridge contains 30 mostly baroque statues of saints and patron saints. In 1965, they began to replace all the statues with replicas. You can see the orginal ones today in the National Museum. Below is a statue depicting St Augustine, a philosopher holding a burning heart in one hand, and a golden staff in the other. Under his right foot are books, and by his left is an angel puring the sea out of a sea shell.
Beside the Charles Bridge in the Lesser Town Quarter is the Kampa canal. There are many tourist shops and restaurants and cafes in this area. And because of this, things can get a little pricey. But its still a beautiful area to walk around to take in all the sites.
We had also taken a mini cruise up and down the Vltava River to take in the sites from the water. There were some beautiful buildings to be seen. We only had one full day to take in all the sites, and we were so glad we took a tour with our friendly tour guide. She was not only fun to talk to but very informative and helpful.

Posted by Petra M 22:00 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

Third Destination: Dresden, Germany

Dresden, Florence of the Elbe river, May 18-20, 2006

all seasons in one day 16 °C

We left Berlin in the early morning by train to travel to Dresden. We heard that it's also known as Florence Of The Elbe river because of its Baroque architecture, a statement first used by poet Herder. After spending time in two large metropolises, Dresden seemed like a small picturesque town. Like Berlin, Dresden was going through a lot of construction. But, since it was part of Eastern Germany, the renovations have only begun during the last 15 years, the Old Town area had been left in ruins. So they still have a lot of catching up to do if they wish to restore Dresden to her former glory. Most of its beautiful historic buildings had been damaged or demolished during the Second World War.
Dresden's pride and joy, the Frauenkirche church (Church of Our Lady) was finished only last year in October. The dark bricks scattered throughout her pretty Baroque facade, which make up about a third, are original bricks that were salvaged from her ruins. It's distinctive bell shaped dome is now part of Dresden's skyline again. The doors were open to the church so we went inside to take a look around. It is truly beautiful inside, especially the gilded altar and ceiling frescoes.
In front of the Frauenkirche, in the plaza, is Martin Luther's statue. Martin Luther, a German religious reformer, who lived from 1483 - 1546, founded the Lutheran Church. He began the Reformation when he nailed 95 theses to the Catholic Wittenberg church door. They contained info on papal abuses, the sales of indulgences, etc.
Dresden also has an amazingly beautiful palace called the Zwinger. It is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture which was first built in 1710. The palace complex consists of pavilions, courtyards, galleries, staircases, fountains, etc. all surrounding a large open esplanade.
The main function of the buildings at the Zwinger has been to house museums. Today there is the Porcelain Collection, Old Masters Gallery, the Armoury, Historical Museum, and the Zoology Museum.
I visited most of the museums and you can easily spend the entire day here. The Baroque architecture was so beautiful and ornate. I took lots of close up photos of statues, stone carvings, pillars, etc.
You can freely wander the grounds but you must pay to view the many museums to see their vast collections. You can also walk on some of the gallery roofs which allows a better view of the fine detailing in the architecture. You can walk through the arches of a tower called the Crown Gate, which was the palace's official main entrance. It's topped by a golden crown being supported by golden eagles.
There are also many waterfountains and pools on the grounds os the palace. The most elaborate is the Bath Of The Nympths. The imaginative decor includes dolphins, nymphs, tritons. The water flows through a series of cascades, spouts, pools, and statues.
Just across the road from the Zwinger Palace is another beautiful building, the Semper Opera House, built in the early Italian Renaissance style. This opera house has been destroyed twice, and was finally reconstructed in 1985. The inside decor is absolutely breathtaking with its marble pillars, gilded chandeliers, ceiling frescoes, and numerous works of art along the edges of the ceiling.
Back on the streets, there is an interesting courtyard called the Stable Courtyard or Stallhof. This courtyard was formerly used for staging jousting competitions. There are still bronze pillars containing rings that the knights would have tried to hit with their lances, and a watering trough for the horses. stable_cou..dresden.jpg
The open arcades are decorated with coats of arms, statues of hunting trophies like deer and ibex, and murals on the walls.
The Residenzschloss castle is the former royal residence of the royal Wettin dynasty. The castle is really a large complex of impressive Renaissance buildings grouped around three main courtyards. It's construction spanned many centuries, from 12th to the late 19th century. Reconstruction began in 1986, and today there are still a few buildings behind tarps and scaffolding. Today these buildings contain museums housing some very impressive jewellry collections, like he Green Vault.

Posted by Petra M 21:26 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Second Destination: Berlin, Germany

Berlin, the largest cosmopolitan city in Germany, May 15-17, 2006

semi-overcast 17 °C

We travelled from Hamburg to Berlin on May 16th, 2006. Berlin was a large sprawling city with a much more diverse population than Hamburg. It also had a higher unemployment rate, and more 'run down' neighborhoods. The main attractions were scattered all across the city rather than primarily contained downtown. One of the first famous landmarks we encountered when we got off the train was Kaiser Wilhelm's Memorial Church. It was never rebuilt to its former glory but left as a reminder of the Second World War.
Berlin also contained colourful figreglass figures in the streets and courtyards. Since Berlin's symbol has always been the European bear, the figures were of bears in a perpetual handstand. They were designed to raise money for Unicef and were known as Buddy Bears. This photo was taken of a pair in front of the Unicef's store in downtown Berlin.
One of the most popular tourist attractions and possibly one of the world's most famous landmarks is Brandenburg Gate, a triumphal arch, located in the Pariser Platz by Hotel Adlon. It is quite impressive, with its towering columns and Quadriga statue, goddess of peace on a chariot with four horses, on top. Inside the columns of the outer gates you will find greek statues and plaques.
About a block away is the Reichstag building, which houses the German parliament, called the Bundestag. They have daily tours at the Reichstag, expect a long lineup.
If you love visiting museums, the Museum Insel or Island is the place for you. It is located between the River Spree and Kupfergraben, and was declared a World Heritage site in 2000. This island contains 5 major museums - Bode, Pergamon, Old National Gallery (Alte Nationalgalerie), New Museum (Neues Museum), and Old Museum (Altes Museum).
Currently the Bode and Neues Museum are closed for renovations. In 1999, a master plan was decided in renovating all the buildings and reuniting and reorganizing collections that had been divided after the Second World War. They hope to have everything completed by 2010.
You can easily spend several days exploring all the museums. Luckily, you can buy a pass that allows you to visit all the museums. The highlight of my visit there was seeing Queen Nefertiti's bust at the Egyptian exhibit. She's so famous she gets a whole viewing room to herself.
Another great attraction is the famous street Unter den Linden (Under the Lindens) located in the heart of Berlin, right by the Brandenburg Gate which marks the western end of the street. The eastern end is at the Schlossbrucke by the Museum Island. Unter den Linden contains many beautiful historic buildings and attractions. Here is where you will find Berlin State Opera house, the Arsenal which is now the German Historical Museum, the Humbolt university campus, the Neue Wache (New Watchhouse), St Hedwig's Catholic Cathedral, and the statue of Frederick the Great.
If you love shopping, then you need to visit this enormous department store, Kaufhaus des Westens or KaDeWe for short. It is the largest in continental Europe, over 60,000 square metres of retail space, 6 floors high, and thousands of shoppers visiting it every day. It reminds me of Harrod's department store in London. It sells everything from fragrance to jewellry to clothing to food, and most of it top quality and a wide selection to choose from.
A two nights stay in Berlin only gives you a taste of what the city has to offer. I definitely would like to come back again in the near future and spend at least a week exploring Berlin.

Posted by Petra M 21:44 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

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