This past week was my fall break. Since Thanksgiving isn’t really a French holiday, the fall break comes about midway through the semester like spring break would. So, about a month ago, I booked myself on a tour through some of the capitals of Central Europe – not speaking German, it wasn’t the best idea to go completely on my own.
I started out by flying into Frankfurt on a chilly Saturday morning that made me question my wardrobe choices. I’d brought sweaters, but I was not warm enough in them. Fortunately, Frankfurt has some very good currywurst – essentially a hot dog (beef or pork) topped with ketchup and either curry sauce or curry powder. I had one for lunch on both Saturday and Sunday, and both were delicious and warmed me up. While in Frankfurt, I was on my own, so I had plenty of free time to do whatever I wanted, such as spending time in the modern art museum and people-watching at the Römerberg. Sunday was even colder than Saturday, so although I hadn’t planned to buy souvenirs in Frankfurt, I ended up with a hat that kept my head much warmer. I also took a bus tour around the city – partly so I wouldn’t have to walk to see all the cool architecture but also partly to be inside. Frankfurt is an amazing city for architecture though. Most of the city was destroyed in WWII, but rather than completely rebuilding in a modern style, they kept renovated many of the medieval buildings in addition to building skyscrapers and other modern buildings – like the art museum.
On Monday morning, I joined my tour on its way to Prague. We arrived in the afternoon and got to spend some time in Wenceslas Square – the big shopping district that is much more lively at night than in the morning, which is when I visited last time. With the sun setting around five these days, it felt much later than it was, and I loved being back in this amazing city and seeing it all lit up. Of course, I didn’t really have the budget or the room to be buying Louis Vuitton, but I had a lot of fun just wandering around the square. I did pop in to H&M when I got really cold and took my time trying on clothes I had no intention of buying. For dinner, I had a cheeseburger which actually broke down to be about 25% bread, 40% cabbage, 30% meat and 5% cheese. It was still good though and only cost about two euros. Since it had recently been the Czech Independence Day (October 28), I was able to wander through an exhibit on the country’s history, although it was all in Czech and I mostly just looked at pictures. It was an amazing evening though. We spent most of the next day in Prague as well, seeing all the famous sites I’d already visited, which meant of course that I could take my time doing what I wanted and visiting my favorite spots without worrying about trying to see everything. So I enjoyed some trdelnik, browsed at an open air market, and eventually bought myself a t-shirt from what is probably my favorite city.
Wednesday was Budapest, a stunning city that I also loved, even if it wasn’t Prague. After some pictures on Gellert Hill overlooking the city, the tour went on a boat cruise up the Danube which was just amazing. Budapest also hosts some phenomenal architecture as it, like Prague, wasn’t really a target in the war. For Baroque architecture, Central Europe is an amazing destination. I spent a few hours wandering around the neighborhood near the palace and Matthias Church. It’s really just a stunning area, and I would love to spend more time there. Before long though, it was time for the fanciest dinner I had all week. Featuring traditional foods and local wines, it was an amazing meal made even better by the music and dances performed by the staff. I was a little concerned about trying some of the food, but it was all incredible, even the duck liver!
Vienna is another city where I could spend a week. As it was All Saints’ most things were closed though, and I definitely had no objection to spending three hours in Schönbrunn Palace, the summer home of the Hapsburgs. I easily spent a full hour of that just in the gardens – and only the public parts at that. I didn’t even go into the zoo or up to the pavilion. Within the palace, it was so cool to see the rooms decorated just as they have been for centuries now and to recognize all the years of history in this building. From the room where Mozart first played for the empress to the room where Kennedy met with Khrushchev, it’s full of history, and of course the legacy of its rulers, particularly Maria Theresa and Sissi. In fact, there’s a more expensive ticket that grants you access to more of the grounds including a whole museum dedicated to Sissi, probably the most beloved empress of the people even if she herself hated Vienna and preferred to travel. The more expensive ticket also suggests taking an entire day to see everything it offers, so I stuck with the ticket that fit my time limit, and I still saw more than I can even mention. Vienna has so much more than Schönbrunn though, and I think this trip really just convinced me that I need to go back and stay longer next time.
Friday took me to Salzburg, a city considerably smaller than Vienna with only about 150,000 residents. The population goes up in the summer though because this is the city of music – Mozart, the Salzburg Folk Festival, and the Sound of Music. For Austrians, who mostly aren’t familiar with the Hollywood Sound of Music, the real Von Trapp family is still a draw to this city, which is also conveniently near some ski resorts. On a sunny day, the Unterberg towers on the horizon, the first mountain of the alps. It’s a beautiful city, and I really enjoyed spending my last two days there as this was where I left the tour, especially since I got to try the Sacher Torte that had way too long a line in Vienna. The city is absolutely beautiful and thanks to a mild season this year, the autumn colors were amazing. I spent a lot of time just walking down the streets of the city, accidentally finding sites from the Sound of Music while searching for a place to have dinner. On Saturday, I took a four hour tour of the sites that aren’t in the city center, which meant a trip out of the city to where the hills are alive. The tour was also a sing-along, so that made it even better! I really loved the city, and the entire week went by way too fast. Before I knew it, I was on an incredibly long bus ride back to France, and now classes have started up again. There’s still a lot to look forward to though, so I’m not that disappointed about the break being over.
Until next time ~