January 4, 2012
European Road Trip
For the first time in my career, I had off of work from Chistmas to New Years, so we decided to take advantage of the time off to do some exploring. So, in November, we called United Airlines and asked where we could go on our miles and discovered that we could fly to and from Frankfurt in Business Class, so that's where we decided to go. From there we planned an aggressive trip visiting five countries in seven days. I'm not counting Switzerland, which we had two layovers in, since we only saw the Zurich and Geneva airports and munched on some creamy Swiss chocolates.
First, we had an 8 hour stop over in Milan, so we stored our bags in lockers and took a quick train ride into the city to visit the Duomo di Milano, the fourth largest cathedral in the world and the 2nd largest in the Italy outside of The Vatican. The Gothic cathedral took nearly six centuries to complete and was where Napoleon was crowned King of Italy. We also made sure we took the opportunity to eat some Italian food and some amazing gelato. Yum!
This city was very modern, because after WWII instead of restoring the city's monuments, they decided to start anew with a clean slate. However, it still had some charming old churches and pubs in between the skyscrapers. Here we were told that we must try the Äpfelwein (wine made of apples) in the Sachsenhausen, old part of the city. I like apples and apple juice, but this cider tasted like warm piss with vinegar. Yick. I did enjoy some bread dumplings and wurst though.
Prague, Czech Republic
From Frankfurt we drove five hours to Praha (Prague) where we stayed for two nights. Here we visited the old town, taking in some jazz, more sausage dishes, visiting the Christmas markets and a private guided tour through the sights and up the old clock tower. It was also interesting being in the city a week after Havel died, their first president after communism. As a result, we saw several spots with candles and flowers collected in his honor, including the main square.
We chose to drive a route to Austria that would bring us through Slovakia's countryside and pass the city of Bratislava. However, we didn't really get to experience much of the country itself outside of the quick observances we made along the way.
Here we did a bus ride around the beautiful city, where everything looked pretty and rich, with not a building out of place. Since it's known for its classical music, we took in a concert that combined an orchestra, opera singers and ballet. It was really intimate, relaxing and beautiful. I usually don't enjoy these kind of things since I'm easily bored, but I really enjoyed it. While going to Hotel Sacher to order one of their famous Sacher Torte chocolate cakes, I spotted Julie Andrews pulling up in a private car and going into the hotel. I literally stopped short. I mean, what are the chances? She looked elegant in a sort of cape, draped outfit. We were tempted to follow her into the bar area as she waited to check in to her room, but I didn't want to bother her or cause a scene.
The city of Mauthausen has the unfortunate history of being home to the last liberated Concentration Camp during WWII. The camp used extermination through labor, killing over 100,000 Jews and political prisoners. The camp imprisoned mostly men though in order to have them work in the nearby quarry. Being a Modern European History buff in school, I had always wanted to visit one of these memorials one day, but at the same time I also feared going, knowing it wouldn't be easy. We visited the day before New Year's Eve and less than a dozen people were there total, so we pretty much had the place to ourselves, making the already eerie place even more discomforting. The worst part, we were literally alone in the crematorium. It was also 0 degrees Celsius with high winds. I was freezing despite wearing a jacket, hat and scarf and couldn't imagine being a prisoner, without food or a coat working in that weather. It was beyond solemn being there. I'm finding it hard to write the right words now to describe the visit. I encourage you to read up on the whole story of the camp on wikipedia.
Being a huge Sound of Music fan, I was really looking forward to visiting this city made famous for the birth of Mozart and the Von Trapp family, oh and the Mirabel chocolates. I really wish we had more time here and that it was spring or summer so I could frolic up on the hills like Maria and not freezing beneath a coat, scarf and hat. I still got to see the back of the mansion used for the scene where the boat tips over and the kids all fall into the lake, as well as the fountain and some of the statues that the children sang Do-re-mi in front of. We also enjoyed the cute alley ways filled with stores and restaurants.
We drank and dined at the famous Hofbräuhaus Beer Garden. More in next week's Wordless Wednesday ;)