Monday, December 31, 2012

Winter Vacation Leg Five: Montpellier!

Leg Five: Montpellier!

Since we couldn't get a train from Lyon from Strasbourg, we found a cheap flight to Montpellier - which also happened to be on our "go to" city list. So we'll have to go back to Lyon another time, but Montpellier did not disappoint!  When we were driving in to the city from the airport, I was a bit nervous because the city looked a little rough and unintersting. Mind you, I was just coming from four ridiculous cities so my expectations may have been high. We checked into the hotel (Newhotel de Midi) which was right in the main square, called the Place de la Comedie. We got a tourist map and off we went!

Ironically, the first thing we saw was... a Christmas market! I hate to say it, but after Strasbourg + Vienna + Budapest, I was kind of done. Plus markets in 50+ degree sunshine are not quite the same. Wow, as I write this I can't help but think how ridiculous I must sound. (Woah is me, right?)

Some of the Montpellier highlights include the Arc de Triumph...
the Place Royale du Peyrou...
the Aquaduct...
and the Chateau d'Eau.
And then... my camera battery died. Anyway, we had a nice dinner and strolled around a bit once it hit nighttime.  The next day we had the entire day, so we slept in, grabbed a delicious breakfast at a cafe, and then went to the Fabre Museum.  This little wonder of a museum had a wonderful collection, and is often referred to as a mini Louvre. It was, and we spent a good deal of our day there.
After that, we were honestly ready to come back to Barcelona. It was a wonderful trip, but we were ready to relax and not think about planning everything out.  We had a 5:30pm train ticket back to Barcelona, and off we went.

Montpellier Impressions:
1. The best part of the inner city is wandering through the alleys, which was what Joe & I spent the majority of our time doing.
2. I could live there. I need to learn some French, but I could live there.
3. General France Impression: I do much better with French food if I can point to what I want.

With that, this concludes our winter vacation of 2012!!!

Winter Vacation Leg Four: Strasbourg!!!

Leg Four: Strasbourg!

Strasbourg - or Capital of Noel - is the most magical Christmas city in the world. If there is one more magical, I'd be very surprised. (And then I would want to go there immediately.)

We came across Strasbourg after watching a House Hunters International about the city.  Then my all-things-France friend Lauren convinced us come.  Thank you, thank you, thank you Lauren. I shall begin with some pictures that can in no way capture the essence of this city and its TWELVE Christmas markets.

It's just delightful, isn't it?!  But there is even more to the city than Christmas.  It had some of the most beautiful churches that I have ever seen, including one that is Joe's new favorite.  The main cathedral is the Strasbourg Cathedral. It towers across the city. It is splendid both inside and out.  One of my favorite parts was the astronomical clock inside, and another favorite was the stained glass windows.

This is a church I could have stayed in for hours, just absorbing the details. If I ever go back to Strasbourg, I will definitely go see the clock at noon, when it does its show.

We also explored St. Pierre-Le-Jeune, which as I said is now Joe's favorite. There was something magical about this church, and the fact that we could explore so much of it made it that much more engaging.  I'd love to go back to this one too.

We ended up staying an extra day in Strasbourg because we couldn't get a train ticket to Lyon, which had been our original intention.  I was actually really happy we wound up with an extra day, because it really is just a charming place.  We were able to walk through the whole interior city, finding random bits of fun - like these statues inside a bridge- along the way.

The only bad part was that my French is, well, not. And therefore ordering from a menu in a restaurant where the waiter does not speak English is a problem. I think the picture is worth more than my words. This was probably five minutes after the plate arrived, and my face is still crimson.
 As you can tell, we adored this city. I highly recommend it. Thanks again, Lauren!

Winter Vacation Leg Three: Munich!

Third leg: Munich!

Although it was sad to leave Vienna, we were excited about going to Munich. Joe because of the immense amount of history and his previous love of Germany, and me... well, supposedly the German Christmas markets were some of the best. Since we'd purchased our train ticket to Munich when we arrived in Vienna, there wasn't much issue getting to Munich. We took a cab to our hotel (Admiral Hotel - another gem) and took it easy, since the markets had already closed. Can you guess where we went first?
Haha, of course we went to the Hoffbrau House first. But we decided on a different place to dine called Restaurant Opatija based on peering in on our way past.  It did not disappoint - I had turkey schnitzel and it was probably the best meal of the trip.
So delicious. And then we headed to the Hoffbrau house for liters (!!!) of beer. The place was pretty touristy, but fun anyway. I got to practice my coaster skills... I'm pretty impressive, you know.

Anyway, the Hoffbrau house kept up out late, so the next day we took it pretty easy and wandered around the main part of the city. The Christmas markets were cool, but not AS cool as I had expected.  Plus, they closed at 2pm because it was Christmas Eve... so things were really hectic and people seemed to be packing up. 

Next we wandered through St. Peter's church and climbed to the top for a beautiful view of the city. (Well, after we caught our breath that is... and managed to work our way through all of the people up top as there was about 3 feet to move around the entire tower.)

Here is the view down to the Marienplatz, which is a truly impressive town square, complete with a Glockenspiel! (How much fun is that to say?! Try it!) And obviously so much history... but I'll get to that later.
One of the traditions is to put a lock on the railings to symbolize your relationship. I loved this one.

After fighting the crowds, we were ready for some space. So we stopped at this square which contained a giant cauldron inside, and had... wait for it... mulled wine! (I wasn't done with it afterall!)
As I said earlier, because it was Christmas Eve, everything was shutting down. So Joe & I just started wandering around, and we found ourselves in a nice park along the river.  It was relatively empty, so we just took it easy and enjoyed the sun. And some interesting graffiti.  

That evening, we did more wandering. The town was empty, which was eerie and reminded Joe of that Arby's commercial, "Where is Everybody?!" I made a new friend, again. 
And due to the lack of crowds, finally got to enjoy one of all-time favorite store windows full of theatrical stuffed animals.  Seriously, teddy bears playing trumpets!? Monkeys doing laundry!? So cute!!
Luckily our restaurant from the prior night was open, so we returned there for dinner.  We got there right in time because the place was full from then on out.  Lesson learned: you should probably get reservations for Christmas Eve dinner.  It all worked out though.


We were first worried about what we would do in Munich on Christmas day. All the material we read said everything is closed, and therefore we planned on going to a park and reading for the day. however, Joe realized that we could go to Dachau and see the concentration camp.  Obviously we couldn't say no that opportunity, especially because I had been telling him earlier how regretful I was that I didn't go on BBYO's "March of the Living" in high school. 

I'm not really sure that I can put the experience into words. So I won't for now, with the exception that I don't think it's possible not to leave a place like that without experiencing a deep change within.


To lighten our mood, and because it was one of the only places open, we had Christmas dinner at the Hoffbrau House. It was a fitting way to end our time in Munich.

Munich Impressions:
1. At first, I wasn't impressed with the city. In fact, I was somewhat let down because everything seemed plain and commercialized. However, the more I think about it, the more I would like to go back and experience the attractions that were closed, and take some day trips around Bovaria.
2. In much the same way I felt about wanting to learn everything possible about Pearl Harbor after visiting, I want to learn more about WWII. I think revisiting the city with a renewed knowledge base would be very interesting.
3. I don't think I could ever learn German.
4. Munich needs to step up their Christmas Markets! Vienna and Budapest had it beat!

And with that.... we were off to France!

Winter Vacation Leg Two: Vienna!

Moving on to the next leg: From Budapest, via train... to Vienna!

I was so excited to go to Vienna. As in, no matter what we HAVE to go to Vienna. I have honestly wanted to go to this city FOREVER and it did not disappoint. It did take us a while to figure out exactly where our hotel (Hotel Mailberger Hof) was, but once we did and dropped off our stuff, can you guess the first place we headed? Of course you can!!!

A Christmas market! This one was in front of Karlskirche, and had such a different vibe than the one in Budapest. It was much larger and had much more of a party feel to it.
And it had *the best carousel ever.* Do you see that kid sitting in a birdcage? I mean, come on!!! How awesome is this thing!?

From there we went to a recommended restaurant which was just okay, then we went to this darling cafe called "Cafe Museum" and indulged in the following: Sacher Torte and Apple Strudel. I couldn't believe it but Joe liked the chocolate torte better! Random Fact: Joe did not like bacon and liked chocolate in Vienna. This city was crazy-town.  Anyway, at this point we were exhausted so we called it a night.

The next day we walked all around the inner city and just admired the architecture.  We also wandered through the Nacht Market, which reminded us both of Barcelona's La Boqueria and Seattle's Pike's Market.  Is it strange that we both love the smell of fresh fish at these markets? I digress... after the market we headed to Stadtpark, where I not only got to pose with Johann Strauss, but I got to RUN-ACROSS-THE-PARP! Wheeeee!!!!
This is generally what I looked like this entire trip - bundled up, map in hand.
Next we found ourselves at St. Stephen's Church, which was incredibly impressive both inside and out. We took an elevator up the tower to see the bell and a view of the city. Check out the roof!

For the record, neither of us where scared up here. Nope, not one of us. Not a person.

After the church, we went to  Mozart's apartment for a tour, then took a lunch break at Cafe Coffee Day, and then went to the Imperial Crypts. This was one of Joe's "must do" items, and I'm so glad we did it. Not only where the crypts eerily impressive, but I made a new friend!
Luckily we still had plenty of time left to visit the Leopold Museum, of which I was in giddy modern art heaven. Klimt! Shiele! An exhibit of naked men! (Eh, okay, that last part was a bit odd... but whatever, it's art!)
And then low and behold, another Christmas market! No mulled wine for me though... I think it may actually have started to run its course at this point. Gasp. It is so much fun to explore the markets - I tried not to miss a single booth because everything is so interesting.  If only I could have tried everything... sigh.
We went to a lovely Italian dinner at a restaurant called Italic, and then called it a night. We had to get up early for our tour of the Vienna Opera House the next morning.  I wish we had been able to see an opera here, but now we have a reason to come back!

At this point, in addition to being freezing cold, it was also pouring down rain. So Joe and I spent our remaining time in Vienna back at Cafe Museum. Once again, perfect.
Vienna Impressions:
1. I expected greatness from this city, and it delivered far more than I expected.
2. I want to go back in the spring/summer. Or to live. Either one would be just fine with me.