Vienna Day 2: Hofburg and Nachmarkt

I woke up day 2 of the road trip in Vienna bright and early.

I started out my day with a run. I knew the Belvedere Palace was near the hotel…but I wasn’t sure where. I ran a short way down the road to an open gate and saw the park and stairs that lead up the back of the Belvedere Palace. I ran around, taking pictures feeling absolutely blessed to start my day this way.

Back of the Belvedere Palace
Back of the Belvedere Palace
Front of Belvedere Palace
Front of Belvedere Palace

After breakfast, I headed out and walked over to the main center of Vienna where the vast majority of museums are located, the State Opera, and Hofburg Palace. It’s also where you can buy tickets for the various tour buses and tickets for concerts at different locations across the city. There are a lot of museums in Vienna, and I wish I’d had more time to visit more of them. In the end, I decided to visit the Hofburg Palace.

Hofburg Palace

Hofburg Palace and the Habsburg Dynasty

I didn’t realize at the time, when I made the decision to visit the Hofburg Palace, which is the former imperial palace and current official residence and workplace of the President of Austria, how learning about the Habsburg Dynasty was going to play a crucial role throughout my road trip. The Habsburg Empire ruled over a huge part of Europe until 1918.

Hofburg Palace 2

I toured the authentically-furnished Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum and the Silver Collection. The silver collection was mind boggling. The amount of silverware, plates, the size of the center pieces, candle sticks, and other table setting items was incredible. Every castle and palace I’ve visited as fascinated me; the luxury, beauty, and magnificence of these places are an enthralling look into the lives of royalty.

Silver Collection

Center Pieces

Elisabeth of Austria, or Sisi, was the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, and thus Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary. She was an intriguing woman to learn about, and later in Budapest, I learned just how much the people of Hungary loved her. Her beauty was undeniable and her untimely death devastating. The American culture became a bit obsessed with her and produced many movies about Sissi. In one of her salons, she actually had workout “equipment” (different wooded apertures) which she used in order to stay slim and in shape.

Sisi Dress

The Naschmarkt

Once I left the Hofburg Palace, I got on the Hop-on-Hop-off bus and took a quick tour around other parts of the city, where I learned more about Vienna. Upon returning, it was past noon, and I was starting to get hungry. A different line of the Hop-on-Hop-off bus went to the Naschmarkt, followed by Schonbrunn Palace. It took a long time for that bus to arrive, and I was super hungry by then, so it made sense to stop for a late lunch at the Naschmarkt. I’m so glad I did. The food was absolutely delicious.

After my yummy meal, I walked around the market. The Naschmark is a must stop on your visit to Vienna, either for lunch or dinner to ensure you experience some culinary excellence. It’s also a market with 120 stands filled with fruit, vegetables, fish and meats and various delicacies from every country around the world. Even compared to Marrakesh, I’ve never seen a place with more spice and herb selection.

Spices Naschmarkt

I wanted to make it back to Schonbrunn Palace to take the tour I’d missed the night before, but it was getting late in the afternoon, and I didn’t feel I would make it with enough time to get the most out of it.

Instead, I visited St. Charles Church, which was built after a plague raged in Vienna from 1713 and 1714, killing over 8,000 people. Emperor Charles VI, took a solemn vow to build a church in the honor of his patron saint, the “plague saint” Charles Borromeo. Once inside the church, you can take an elevator and then stairs to the top tower.

St. Charles Church
St. Charles Church

I’d had a full day, so after getting some ice cream, I headed back to the hotel. A drive the Budapest awaited me in the morning.

How About You?

Have you ever visited Hofburg and Nachmarkt?  Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Writer and Blogger here.

 

Road Trip: Stau and Concert (Vienna)

I was excited (and so was Little Man) on Monday morning to leave home for my week long road trip.

This new adventure would take me a little over 1200 miles, through five countries, four cities and two new countries I had yet to visit. Thirty minutes into the drive, the trip took an abrupt stop because of a stau (German for traffic jam). The next four hours of sitting in traffic and being rerouted through a detour was painful. A six hour drive…turned into a 10 hour drive, and I began to worry I wouldn’t make it to Vienna on time to make my dinner and concert.

The original plan…

My original plan was to get to Vienna around 2pm, change over and head out to tour Schonbrunn Palace followed by dinner on location and a classical music concert…unfortunately, because of the traffic, I ended up getting to Vienna, making a mad dash in and out of the hotel dropping off my luggage and Little Man, jumping into a cab, and then making my way to dinner. I was about 15 minutes late, but I made it.

The traffic jam was a huge inconvenience, and I’m not proud of how quickly it soured my mood. I’ve been blessed with relatively smooth trips, ironically; only other real challenging one was also to Austria this past winter. Based on the amount of traveling I’ve been doing, there have been no real delays, cancellations, bad weather or setbacks. I’ve been spoiled – so a delay, and possibly missing a dinner/concert caused me to lose my peace and joy for the trip way too quickly. I’m grateful in the end I made it to dinner, but I realized I need to work on maintaining a positive mood, no matter what happens on my trips.

Dinner and Concert

Where, if not Vienna, do you go to to listen to classical music? So many of the great composers have lived in or played in Vienna that this is the place to enjoy their craft. As you might remember from my post on Salzburg, Mozart was born in Austria (Salzburg) and spent quite a bit of time in Vienna. Additionally, I found out Beethoven spent a good part of his life in Vienna; it’s where he composed his master pieces and befriended Haydn, another Austria born composer. Apparently, Beethoven lived in over 80 apartments while in Vienna; he was both a loud occupant and often delinquent on paying his rent.

Schonbrunn Palace with Fountain

I booked my dinner/concert package through Viator. The event is called Schonbrunn Palace: Evening Dinner and Concert. Please note: if you can’t book the tour before getting to Vienna, you can buy tickets the night of the concert. There are also tickets to multiple other concerts available for sale, throughout the city. I can’t vouch for the other concerts, but this one is definitely worth going to.

The dinner was served at Café Restaurant Residenzon on the grounds of the Palace. The food was good, the service great, but overall I felt a little disappointed. I was expecting a different atmosphere and experience.  Although, you might have to take that with a grain of salt since I arrived not exactly in the best of moods.

The concert on the other hand, did not disappoint.

It took place at the Orangerie Schonbrunn, a short walk from the cafe where dinner was served. It was an intimate setting for a concert, which I think enhanced the experience. While it’s amazing to have a full orchestra, there’s something to be said about a smaller more personal assemble. It made me think of what it might have been like to be in the queen’s court, being serenaded first hand by the great composers. (Pictures and videos were not allowed during the concert.)

Concert Hall

The first half of the concert was music by Mozart. When I sat down, I did not have a program, nor had I adequately read the Viator advertisement for the show, so I didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised when two opera singers appeared on stage, and performed a few pieces.

Additionally, a couple performed dances to some of the other pieces throughout the concert.

When the conductor returned after intermission, he was carrying a violin; he performed the remaining of the pieces while playing his violin. It wasn’t until the next day, during my Hop-on-Hop-off tour that I learned; Johann Strauss conducted all his concerts while playing his violin. The second half of the concerts was made up of selections from the Strauss family, to include the famous ‘Radetzkymarsch’ by Johann Strauss.

In the end, after leaving the concert, I decided I was quite satisfied with my evening.

My day hadn’t gone to plan, but I arrived safely, and while a little late, I got to partake in my evening plans.

How About You?

Have you ever visited Stau and Concert (Vienna)?  What was your favorite place? Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Writer and Blogger here.

Easter at KeuKenhof

Sunday morning after my run and breakfast, I headed out to Keukenhof.

The chance to visit Keukenhof was the primary reason why I chose to go to Amsterdam for Easter, instead of somewhere else.

It was a gorgeous sunny day, but unfortunately the visit was a disappointment. It was too early in the season; the flowers and trees in the park were barely in bloom. The flowers inside the buildings were beautiful and the variety like nothing I’d ever could have imagined, but it wasn’t the same.  It was not what I traveled to see. I could somewhat imagine what the park will ultimately end up looking like, but I was probably two weeks too early.

20150405_111317

The place was packed with people, so I understand why they open before everything is in bloom.  It was still a beautiful place – but I wish I’d known better, and waited.

Travel Tip:  If you end up going for a visit, go early during the day.

The traffic gets backed up and it takes awhile to park.  There are plenty of places to eat inside the park and there are a lot of activities/areas for kids to play.  It’s definitely a very family friendly place.

Half BloomKeukenhof Cyclists Row of TulipsKeukenhof Red TulipsIndoor flowers

How About You?

Did you ever have a trip not turn out like you expected?  How did you handle it? Leave a comment and tell me about it or contact Ann’s Adventure Tour Writer and Blogger here.

Review: TransAtlas Bike – Mountain Bike Tours

I found TransAtlas Bike , Mountain Bike Tours, through a Google Search.

There were not the first company I contacted, and since the first company I contacted never got back with me, I reached out to TransAtlas Bike. They promptly got back with me. I will forever be grateful they did; the mountain biking trip they offered turned out to be the best trip of my life (so far).

The initial correspondence via email for booking the trip was simple and again, the company (Steve) was very responsive. They sent a packing list a few weeks before departure, along with instructions for pick-up from the airport and the time for the initial in-brief and dinner the first evening. They also included a list of the other participants…each of whom I promptly looked up on Facebook.

From the pick-up at the airport on the first day, to the drop-off on the last day, I have no complaints whatsoever from my experiences throughout the trip.

The entire trip was exceptionally well planned, and all participants were very well taken care of.

The Mountain Biking Staff

We had two mountain biking guides that rode with us. Jos Mertens, a Dutchman, and the go-to guy for all participants to interact with if we needed anything. He spoke Dutch, English and French. He welcomed the group the first night, told us what to expect and answered our questions. He rode with us, dined with us, and provided us information about the region and the upcoming day’s ride after dinner each night. He interacted with the other guides, the drivers, lodging staff and ensured everything ran smoothly. He rode mostly at the rear of the group.

Guide Jos Mertens
Guide Jos Mertens

At the front of the group was Mustapha. I spent quite a bit of time with Mustapha. He didn’t speak English so we chatted it up in French. He was very knowledgeable about the areas we biked through, although he was not from that part of Morocco. He was a little slow on the down hills, but overall a great guide. He was always happy and ready to help and to ride.

Mustapha Riding Single Trail in Front of Me
Mustapha Riding Single Trail in Front of Me

Then there was Said. Said followed the group in his Land Rover and worked miracles to fix bikes or anything else that was broken. We all just knew we were in good hands with Said. He assisted with the cooking; he gave the bikes tune-ups each morning (with the help of Mustapha), loaded the luggage and the bikes when necessary, and along with the cook, did all the shopping and getting the things we needed.

Our Guide Said - photo by Dries Rengle
Our Guide Said – photo by Dries Rengle

The Mountain Biking

We only had half a day of single track…I would have liked to have had more.  Even without that – the mountain biking was the best I have done so far. I haven’t been mountain biking for long durations in the past.  Even though there are a lot of trails to ride in Germany; there are not mountain biking specific trails. I loved the rocky, up and down, twists and turn trails we ended up on. The hills we had to climb kicked my butt, but I loved those too. We had some awesome down hills.

downhill we go

First Day Scenery

The scenery was different every day and always incredible.

Gorgeous views, beautiful mixture of green oasis with rocky mountains…even snowy mountain tops. The landscape rolled and spanned on miles after miles – wide open space, fresh air, warm sunshine and the occasional run-in with locals, as we rode through villages or encountered the nomads and shepherds in the mountains.

On the trail Morocco

Each day offered some sort of different option for those who were either more experienced or those who wanted to cover more mileage. The different options ensured that participants of different experience and level of fitness could still get what they needed out of each day. I chose of a mixture of the options, but definitely pushed myself!

Laundry by the River
Laundry by the River

The Bikes

I was blessed to have a brand new 27.5 Black Forest mountain bike. It was a perfect fit…well, after they sawed off the seat. The seat was a male seat…which did kill my butt, but otherwise, I really liked this bike. I’m going to be comparing the specs to my own bike since I felt better riding it than I feel riding my own bike.

Mustapha Cutting Seat
Mustapha Sawing My Seat

The other riders also seemed to overall be satisfied with the quality of bike they were provided. I heard Jos mentioned that all bikes were being upgraded to 27.5 in the next few months.   One rider brought his bike, and he didn’t run into any issues taking it on the plane with him so that’s also an option. At a minimum, I do recommend bringing your own saddle. They also did offer the option of click on pedals or regular ones.

The Accommodations

I didn’t know what to expect for accommodations since the information provided only stated “staying with locals” for some of the nights and one night in a tent. The accommodations turned out to be quite cozy. Obviously not 5 star quality, but plenty adequate considering where we were. The second night, the hotel we stayed in didn’t have hot water. That was a little tough to take, and caused me to have some bad chills for awhile, but the bed had plenty of heavy and warm blankets to warm up.

Front Yard to one of the Gites
Front Yard to one of the Gites

All accommodations had showers and bathrooms…even the night we stayed in two-man tents. I had to bring a warm sleeping bag, which came in very handy for two nights. The night before the last night, we stayed in this incredibly romantic, welcoming and rustic gite in N’Kob. We found ourselves comfortably sitting on cushions by a warm fire talking in total bliss.

My sleeping map in the gite the 3rd night
My sleeping map in the gite the 3rd night
Camping site at sunset on the 4th night - photo credit Dries Rengle
Camping site at sunset on the 4th night – photo credit Dries Rengle
Gite in Nkob
Room at Gite in Nkob

All the places we stayed at were clean and well maintained. I felt comfortable/at home at each of them.

The Food

Photo Credit Ron and Simone
Photo Credit Ron and Simone

We had a cook (I unfortunately can’t remember his name) that traveled with us and he kept us well fed. We ate nutritious meals and all had plenty to eat. Sometimes we ate meals at the place where we were staying, but most of the time the cook was cooking for us. We ate a mixture of Moraccan dishes called Tajine and pasta with veggies and a protein. In the mornings, we ate a specialized type of pancakes, bread, cereal and yogurt. One of the other bikers was a vegetarian, and she had a vegetarian option ready for her, everywhere we went. Again, the staff did an excellent job taking care of our needs. We also had tea, coffee or sodas and nuts and cookies and as soon as we first arrived to the gites in the afternoons at the end of our rides.

Platter Part of the Lunch Menu - Photo by Ron and Simone
Platter Part of the Lunch Menu – Photo by Ron and Simone
Breakfast Day 4
Breakfast Day 4
Tajine Dish for Dinner - Photo Credit Ron and Simone
Tajine Dish for Dinner – Photo Credit Ron and Simone

Our last night together in Marrakesh, we all went out to eat at a restaurant, where after a week of tajines we had many other options to choose from.

Final Thoughts

Without a doubt, I recommend booking a mountain biking trip to Morocco with TransAtlas Bike. It definitely helps to have mountain biking experience, but even those who didn’t, were able to enjoy themselves. The entire tour is very well executed. It didn’t hurt that I also found myself with a fabulous group of people, which I know also made a difference. It was a pleasure to get to know all the other riders, share stories, laughs and camaraderie with them.

I was the first American to ever take part of the tour. I had an absolute blast. I will never forget this trip!

How About You?

Have you ever gone an an adventure by yourself?  Did you have a company help you with the details and travel arrangements?  Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adenture Tour Writer and Blogger here.

American Conundrum When Living in Europe

I love, love, love living in Europe because the opportunities to travel in Europe are endless, and the different type and quantity of activities are mind blowing.  The opportunity to work and live in Europe is a once in a lifetime chance to experience a plethora of cultures, view incredible historical sites, explore the great outdoors, and live a life others can only dream about. Trains, planes and automobiles can take you anywhere you want to go or see anything that tickles your fancy.

Yet how do you balance travel with your daily life and prioritize it all? It’s a nice problem to have…but it’s still a problem, and at times a true conundrum.

The options alone make it a huge challenge to figure out what to do and where. Add on top of that, long work hours and the day-to-day requirements and responsibilities from having a job, a house, and running a blog and it can easily make you feel like it’s impossible to get it all done.

Narrow Down Options Based on your Interests

To ensure you get the most out of your trips (time and money), the best thing you can do is prioritize your trips and how you plan to spend your money base on what you love to do the most. If you love wine, food and beer – plan your trips to cities, events and occasions that match those passions. Do your keyword search online based on your interests, available dates for travel, and place you would like to see.

I’m into adventures and outdoor activities, so I start with broad searches, and based on the results I try to narrow it down. I’ve discovered for cycling/mountain biking it’s insanely difficult – the options all sound so interesting and fun.

Narrow Down by Cost and Availability

Trust me, no matter what your interests are…you’ll get a lot of search results which can become overwhelming. Try further narrowing down your options by some other preference you might have and by finding out cost of transportation, tours, and lodging.

When I researched my trip to mountain bike in Morocco, my goal was to go somewhere that would be warm, while it was still cold in Germany, and I wanted to mountain bike. I sold myself on the idea…without first looking into flights. That was a big mistake. I ended up having to push the trip by a couple of weeks to find an affordable flight.

Take the Tours

Planning trips is time consuming. Planning multiple trips at once is a nightmare…at least to me. The fastest way to plan and book a trip is to join a tour. For the most part, the prices are very reasonable and everything is taken care of.

As I make my plans to visit Belguim, Munich, Venice and Amsterdam, I am looking for tours on Viator. I’ve used the site a few times before; it’s easy to use and it’s reliable. This ensures you have everything booked before you get to your destination and you can make a daily agenda.

Forgo the Clean House

My house is not a total mess…but it’s also not as clean or organized as I would like it to be.  I can spend the weekend cleaning the house, or I can spend the weekend traveling somewhere. Between the traveling adventures, I have to work (and I work a lot of 10-12 hr days), grocery shop, cook, clean, do laundry, blog, pay bills, interact on social media, and plan future trips. It can’t all be done perfectly…so the house is not as organized as it ought to be.

Hire Some Help

How do you want to spend your time? There’s only so much time in a day.  It is important to prioritize what gets done, what does not get done, and what someone else can do. I’ve hired someone to help me with SEO and my social media needs in order to make sure I get my content out to everyone; I know I can’t give it the right amount of time on my own. I should probably look into getting a cleaning lady too!

Don’t Settle in a Routine

The biggest mistake an American living in Europe can make is to forget you are living in Europe because the routine of day-to-day life gets you into a rut/comfort zone. Plan trips, pay for the trips and then make yourself get out there. There is a lot to see and do and it can be overwhelming to plan, but it’s so worth it because it will never be this easy again to have a buffet of travel experiences at your disposal.

How About You?

What steps have you taken to ensure organized travel adventures? Leave a comment and tell me about it or contact Ann Bernard Travel Writer and Blogger here.

Paris Ce N’est Pas Pour Me

My Thanksgiving trip to Paris was nice, but it reaffirmed what I already knew; city living is not for me. I arrived around 5pm on Thursday in the middle of city traffic. Thankfully, city driving doesn’t bother me, I’m an assertive driver who doesn’t mind sharing the road with other assertive driver which Paris is full of. It’s impressive how organized and functional the chaos of rush hour traffic happens to be. Watching the evening traffic the following night from the top level of the Hop On and Off bus at the Arc the Triomphe reminded of Jazz music; there was no rhyme or reason to the flow but it somehow moved in harmony.Paris at night

Thursday night, I went to see the carabet Moulin Rouge. As I walked in I received a warm welcomed by many well-dressed attendees ready to scan my ticket, take my coat and show me to my seat at the table. I didn’t realize they actually served dinner there, but I noticed those already at the table had enjoyed a meal. My ½ bottle of champagne was promptly served and I had some time to look around prior to the show kicking off as a band played entertaining the dinners and incoming show goers. The ambiance was festive. I didn’t really know what to expect from the show except for some can-can dancing. It was an interesting show and overall I enjoyed it. There’s no specific theme to the show from what I could tell, except from singing, dancing and very elaborate, colorful costumes. I was entertained and do recommend it as an evening event to your Paris gateway.

Paris Bridge

Friday, I awoke slightly distressed from having forgotten Little Man’s food, so I ventured out to find him something to eat. I followed Google Maps to a pet store almost 2 miles away, walking in the hustle and bustle of morning city madness to overpay for a bag of dog food and bowl. The weather was overcast but in the 50’s. I was hoping to stop at a café to grab breakfast for myself but was too guilt ridden. I returned to the hotel and feed LM. I headed back out and found a Brasserie where I had coffee, orange juice, and a delicious ham and cheese omelet.

Hotel Des Invalides

Next stop was the Eiffel Tower. Up close, to me, the Eiffel Tower looked smaller than I expected it to be, but in the next two days, as I wondered around the city and it came into view, I could tell it is a “towering” feature of the Paris skyline. From the Eiffel Tower, I jumped on the Hop On and Off bus to get a lay of Paris and its main attractions while sparing my feet and getting some history and information.

Ile de Paris

The Bus passed and stopped at most major attractions to include: Hotel des Invalides, Musee Rodin, Grand and Petit Palais, Arc de Triomphe, Place de La Concorde, Opera, Louvre, Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay and Avenue de Champs Elysees.

Paris is incredible. The architecture is incomparable to anywhere else I’ve visited…not even Rome can compare to Paris. I totally see how people fall in love with Paris. If I were a city girl, I would have fallen in love.

Upon returning from my bus tour, I went back to the hotel to relax a little before heading back put to further explore the Avenue des Champs Elysees and partake in the festivities of the Christmas Market being held there.

Champ Elysees

I spent the following day retracing much of the same route the bus took the day prior but all on foot. It was a gorgeous sunny day. Instead of traveling the main roads, I traveled by the river Sein and wondered around the little side streets. I found markets, nice cafes, and all kinds of shops and stores.

Lock Bridge Paris

Perhaps some folks will find it a crime, but I never went inside any of the museums, and main tourists attractions. I don’t think seeing the Mona Lisa would have had much of an impact on my life. Enjoying the city on foot on a sunny beautiful day made more sense. I could visualize how even more spectacular it would all be in the Spring and Summer with everything in bloom.

Louvre 2

Paris deserves its hype but like all traveling to major tourist cities, it’s critical to stray away from the main tourists attractions and wonder around.