Note: this isn't really an official Zulkey.com post. I haven't spell-checked it (not that I'm so great at that anyway) or particularly written it with any intention of entertainment (sometimes that is arguable with my regular updates too, I know). It's also seriously long. This is the journal I kept while I was out of the country the last week and a half, for any interested readers, friends or family who dig travel stories or fun food or want to hear the stupidest way to fall down (you'll have to read the second-to-last entry for that one). All my photos are here although I annotated the entries where I could with specific images.
Feb 19 2010: Bonjour from Brussels!
I'm really trying to not be online too much while I'm in Europe, but I was raised to keep travel journals and it's just easier to do it electronically these days, so this is what it is, but if you comment or anything I probably won't get to it until I return. I don't expect anyone to read all this mess or find it particularly fascinating but it's easier to write this out here and share it with my parents and few friends who might care rather than writing repeating emails.
We had a fine flight out from O'Hare to Brussels--a little bumpy but nothing major. I took a few of Steve's pills and was pretty much passed out except I made a point of being awake for the food. I like airplane food, so what? When was the last time you got fed real food anyway on a plane? The movies sucked though, a Night at the Museum one and the new "Fame." Not worth watching even out of boredom's sake. I read an InStyle and Real Simple and attempted a Sudoku.
We landed and made it thru customs and everything just fine and getting our car thru Europcar was I daresay easier than dealing w/Hertz or whatever in the US. We got the GPS set up (thanks, M&D) and got ourselves to the Four Points Sheridan, only screwing up once on one roundabout thanks to construction. We have a cute view from our room, which is small but fine--the hotel is a tiny bit worn at some of the edges but I have no complaints. It has a gym which I'm interested in checking out because the weather here is not ideal. It's Chicagoesque.
Oh well, still better than being home, working, same old ish. We're staying in Upper Town and we're right near the tram. We're not sure exactly how it works since we've been ready to pay both times we rode it but it wasn't clear when or where you buy your tickets or where they're collected. Oh well.
We got in and settled around 12:30 and we hit the town, taking the tram nearish to the museums. First we popped into the Cathedrale St Michel et Gudule which has been around in some form another since the 10th century--I love me some Gothic cathedrals, man.
We tried to have lunch at a place my Eyewitness recommended but we didn't have a reservation so we couldn't get in, which was weird, so we went instead to Brasserie Horta, which was named after the famed Art Nouveau architect so it was a really neat building that happened to house a comic strip museum which Steve and I decided not to check out--I never read a Tintin in my life. We drank a small Meale (?) beers each. I had a lovely quiche and salad and Steve went with Carbonnades flamandes, IE beef stew which came with fries and salad, and he was very happy. Then a nice coffee with a tiny biscuit.
We walked through the Galeries St-Hubert and I wish I had taken some pictures of the windows of the chocolate shops there because they were so beautifully laid out. We walked through the charming but obviously tourist-trappy (nice restaurants don't send their managers outside to beg you to come inside) Rue des Bouchers. This let us out to the Grand Place, which, if you've been to Krakow or Warsaw would remind you of the big old town squares there with the beautiful architecture and gorgeous laid-back atmosphere but unfortunately this is when the weather turned pretty gross. So, we killed some time in the Maison du Roi, most known I think for housing the 650 outfits worn by the Mannkene Pis. Who is the Mannekin Pis? A tiny fountain statue of a little boy peeing. I read the history of this statue which I think is at least 75% bullshit but it is still a charming little attraction. We found the mannekin in real life after I bought some chocolates for my peeps but what was most noteworthy about this leg of the trip was that Steve and I got waffles. His had chocolate sauce, mine Nutella and bananas. Tasty but I think I can go at least another year without eating another waffle.
We were jetlagged and crabby (our flight left at 6 PM and got into Brussels at 8 AM which meant whatever sleep we got on the plane was our sleep for the night) so we got into a terribly cliched squabble trying to find the Musee Royeaux des Beaux-Arts, since he wanted to consult the map and I just wanted to ask someone since my bag was heavy b/c I bought those stupid chocolates way too early. We found it but it was closing in a few minutes. Oh well, to be honest, Flemish art has never really turned my crank.
We took a little stroll through the Parc de Bruxelles (I think) and then took the tram back to the hotel. Before we fell asleep we went to dinner in the neighborhood, at the concierge's recommendation, to Le Chou de Bruxelles, where they gave us free apertifs for mentioning our hotel. Steve had pork on the bone (I don't know the cut--the menu called it "ham" but clearly it wasn't ham) with a mustard sauce and it was DELICIOUS. I tried mussels since I know that's what they do here but I'm sorry, I just don't love shellfish like that but I had a nice salad and fries too oh and Duvel and we got gummy versions of Mannekin Pis with our check and so that made me very happy.
Tomorrow we hit Bruges and Antwerp/Ghent and who knows what else. We'll probably be up at 4 AM since it's 8:30 right now and Steve is fast asleep. So far been a very easy trip and it's a lovely town--modern in some parts, Medieval in others, and all good in general.
According to my pedometer we walked 15,780 steps (4.98 miles) but that was before I reset the time so I think it might have been more. You can catch all the photos from today here. I doubt I'll have Wifi each day of this trip so I'll update the best I can, when I can. xoxox
Feb. 20th, 2010 Travel Journal Day 2: Belgium=Done
Greetings from the road, literally. I’m writing this as we’re navigating our way back from Belgium’s second city, Antwerp, with the help of the GPS lady who we should name. I’m thinking something like Hildy, Steve suggests Hulst but that sucks.
Been a busy day. We both slept like the dead although Steve woke up at 3 AM (that’s what happens when you go to bed at 8 PM) and I managed to get myself to the fitness center for some elliptical machine and back in the room I used the handy resistance band as I heard about Tiger Woods’ apology. Seems so sincere, and so timely! We had a 5 Euro credit since we declined maid service for the room so we had breakfast at the hotel. I love European breakfast—bread and cured meats and cheeses and a million kinds of cereal and individual servings of hazelnut spread and fruit and yogurt and fancy espresso drinks if you want. I enjoyed some of these things although my new food goal is a nice fresh croissant from one of the many patisseries we’ve been by, in addition to fancy chocolates for moi.
After breakfast we walked around a neighborhood near our hotel a bit because Steve heard that a shop nearby carried Field Notes (little notebooks Coudal makes/sells). We found the shop which had the notebooks in the window but the place was closed so we explored the area a little bit—I got the impression that it was sort of a Wicker/Lincoln park part of town, lots of neat boutiques selling housewares and kids’ clothes and whatnot, tons of cute restaurants. The store selling Field Notes never opened but it was nice to walk around and the sun was actually out which was wonderful.
We got in the car to head out to the other towns—Steve was freaking out at first that we were going to be killed but I told him just to take it slow and f anyone who got mad at him—he did a fine job and on the way out of town we passed by the gigantic Basilique Nationale du Sacre-Coeur, plus I felt smug passing through the more downtowney part of the city that our hotel is in a superior location, even though one person on TripAdvisor declared our hotel in the “ghetto.”
First we stopped in Ghent and we contemplated just driving through it but when we started really seeing it I said we had to get out and take pictures—we somehow found a parking garage which was a very misleading easy solution for parking, and walked around a bit. It’s a beautiful little Medieval town with great little medieval buildings and a nice big square that had a market going on, plus a very pretty river walk. We explored the Het Huis van Alijn, a folk museum in an old set of homes, and headed onwards to Bruges. In the longer stretches of the trip we are listening to Game Change, which I have to review for Emusic. Good road trip book so far although my favorite that we’ve listened to on a road trip still to date was Team of Rivals.
We got to Bruges and spent a long time trying to find parking—the GPS took us to some lots but they were full and we saw some spots but we weren’t sure if they had regulations or not. “There’s a sign that…says something,” was helpful advice I gave a few times. It was frustrating but we got a spot and just hoped the car would still be there when we returned.
If you’ve seen “In Bruges” you know how beautiful it is but it was crazy crowded. It reminds me of Georgetown—charming, wealthy, old, and horrible to get around on foot if you’re in a hurry. The cobblestone streets are very narrow and traffic is kind of erratic and I got the impression that a lot of Belgians go there on the weekends so it felt touristey but not fake or anything—just a rich old town. We found a place to have lunch and I got crabby because I thought I ordered a glass of wine but I was brought a bottle and the waitress was sort of le bitch about it when I said it was a misunderstanding (she hadn’t opened it or anything). She “explained” that because of this mistake we’d have to pay cash so I went and found an ATM which was probably good since I was now le bitch and needed to blow off some steam. Lunch was nice though: I had a tomato veggie soup and Croque Monsieur and Steve had his stew again. I need to take more pictures of food.
We wandered through town to Café Vlissinghe, which I read dates back to 1515 and it was small, bustling, old-timey and convivial. We joined another table of patrons and I heard “Chicago” being thrown around and it turned out the lady of the couple was from Gurnee so we chatted as we drank Bruges Tripel. She (Marie) is a cheerleading coach in London and her British husband (Rob) is a producer for children’s programming for the BBC so they were fun to talk to.
The car was fortunately there when we got back and we decided to take a little detour up to the Netherlands, just to say we got there. We took a few wrong turns at first which was kind of tiring just because it’s not so much fun to get lost in the dark but we drove down this interesting boulevard lined by trees and flanked by water. I wish I knew what it looked like during the day! We ended up in Hulst, which looked very adorable—we almost had dinner there but thanks to our late lunch we weren’t hungry yet. We stopped for some sugar and caffeine though on the way to Antwerp. How come European gas stations are so great? I have to say I’m equally tempted by cheapo Euro sweets as I am by the fancy shops. I need to have a Lion bar before I go home but this time I had a Coca Cola Light and Kit Kat Chunky.
We found our way to Antwerp and spent a little time finding parking but it wasn’t as annoying as it was in Bruges. We made our way to the Grote Markt, another beautiful old medieval square, although I definitely get the impression that Antwerp is more of a real city that people live and work in—we saw lots of cool-looking restaurants that were packed with people who looked local. We ended up at a place called Ultimatum for dinner, just because we wanted to stop somewhere—I read about a café called Den Engle but they didn’t seem to have much for sustenance other than beer and cigarettes. Out of laziness I opted for the Ultimatum Burger but it was actually pretty great—it was dressed with a salad, essentially, and some nice cheese and porky treat and in general it was a lot nicer than just some crappy burger. I also had a Leffe (beer).
I can’t wait to crash tonight although I have a few postcards to write before we leave. Tomorrow we drive to Munich and take a little detour to Luxembourg but it’ll be nice to just stop in a city for a few days without jetlag or a packed timeline! 16+K steps today, not bad for a day with a lot of driving.
Feb. 21st, 2010 Day 3: Brussels to Munich
Hello from Munich, our kinda dated but what seems to be pleasant hotel Top Hotel Carmen. We got in around 8 PM so we can’t really tell what our neighborhood is like but we got sent to a restaurant right around the corner and we were happy with what we got, namely a few big beers each (I forgot what kind, it begins with an H and the H doesn’t stand for Hefeweizen or Hofbrauhaus), and Steve had a steak and potato and I had pork in a creamy buttery stew with spaetzle which I always love. We both stink like smoke—Belgium was relatively smoke-free like most of the US by now so it’s weird to smell smoke on your clothes.
We got up this morning and I did a little workout on the treadmill, we packed and had breakfast and hit the road for the long trek to Munich. We stopped in Luxembourg for a light lunch at a cafeteria but didn’t see the town. The drive into Germany was pretty with little hamlets in the snow. Game Change is a great car trip audiobook—we’re reliving all the dramz of 2008 that I think we kinda miss. The Autobahn was no joke, a few times cars whizzed by us at a pace that was scary and we were going 130 KPH ourselves, whatever that means. I could tell Steve was starting to stress about it when the sun went down since there was also a lot of construction to maneuver around but he did a good job. I was just happy because I had a lion bar and mini choco-biscuits. Tomorrow we hit Munich for real, probably just time to hit the main part of town and of course the Hofbrauhaus, and sometime while we’re here hopefully seeing the house where Steve’s mom spent the first part of her life.
Feb. 22nd, 2010 Munich!
According to my pedometer I walked 9.98 miles today (31,644 steps) and that doesn’t include the little 25 minute jog I took this morning so yes, my feet are tired. We got a lot out of Munich especially for not having a big plan going into it.
We slept OK (our “king bed” is actually two twin mattresses on a king frame) and had breakfast at the hotel (for me: 2 slices of brie, raspberry curds (yogurt, I guess), some dried and canned fruit, granola, a wasselbread or whatever and Nutella) and then bought a train pass from the hotel and went to Marientplatz where we wandered aimlessly for a little bit (we missed the Glockenspiel—I think our guide is outdated—obviously, since it lists prices in Deutschemarks—so we missed what times it actually goes) and saw the Frauenkirche (like most churches in Munich mostly-destroyed after the war and meticulously and beautiful built back up), Asamkirche and Peterkirche (apparently there is a crazy skeletal relic in there but there was a Mass going on so we couldn’t see). We hiked up to the Alte Pinakothek and realized our mistake—we were sightseeing on a Monday—so it was closed. We walked back down through the Odeonsplatz, going by the Residenz and looking inside the Theatinerkirche (I loved the whiteness of it—it smelled like wet clay) and finally stopped for lunch at the Spatenhaus, which my mom had starred in the guide. We got one of the dining nooks and enjoyed two glasses of the Spaten-Franziskaner-Bier. Steve had beef braised in raisin sauce which came with some dumplings and cinnamony hot beets; I had wiener schnitzel which came with a little tart, cucumber salad and some awesome potatoes, like what you always hope you get, hashbrowns-wise, at the diner, but never quite can attain—both greasy AND crispy. I also had 2 pretzels, oops. Fat and sassy we started to stroll to the train station and saw a sign for my dad’s firm, Baker & McKenzie, and for some reason Steve convinced me it would be a fun idea to go inside and introduce myself. Fortunately the lady inside, Claudia, recognized my dad’s name so I didn’t look COMPLETELY insane, but still kind of insane—I’m not sure what we thought they would do for us, give us a cookie?
We took the train up to Olympiapark on the advice of our concierge and checked out a park of the BMW museum but the part that was actually a museum was closed (thanks a lot, Monday) but we did still see the neat building and I gave the Grand Turismo GT my approval although I don’t like that joystick they have going on in the main console. Too distracting. We checked out the Munich Olympic park (they are shooting for winter 2018 apparently) and then took the train again and got off this time in the Schwabing area on the advice of my buddy Andy—the area is described as Munich’s Grenich Village. It was nice to see a different part of the city, and we walked towards Englischer Garden which was slushy but lovely, I’d say about 40 degrees and sunny. The beer gardens were closed but the restaurant at the Chinesischer Turn was open and the waitress there very accommodatingly brought us two beers on the patio so we kind of got to enjoy the beer garden experience. We walked back to Odeonsplatz through the garden, enjoying the dogs and babies Munich residents seem to enjoy hanging out with outside. This time we walked through the Hofgarten on the way in and kind of dicked around the area, getting a few souvenirs and stuff. We ended up, of course, at the Hofbrauhaus. We at first sat at a mere table for 4 but it felt weird so we moved to a larger table and had 2 huge steins each (and 2 smaller beers after). I had a sausage and sauerkraut and Steve had a hot pink “meatloaf” that tasted like a hot dog and came with potatoes, and the dishes came with yellow and a very sweet dark brown mustard which we both loved. Also shared a huge-ass pretzel and listened to the intermittent oom-pah band. I was sad to find out that they don’t put the year on the sweatshirts anymore so I didn't get an update on my 2000 sweatshirt but Steve got one. Took the train back and we’re back in the room. Tomorrow we drive to Budapest, stopping by Steve’s mom’s first home. We can’t wait to see our friends Christina and Jay and to completely turn ourselves over to them and have them show us around. I’ve taken a lot of great trips with Chris so I know she gets how I travel: walk a ton, eat and drink more.
Feb. 23rd, 2010 Hello from Nagytarcsa!
We're currently outside Budapest staying with our friends Christina and Jay, the latter of whom is here with a Fulbright teacher exchange so we are happy to be shown around tomorrow and see the baths and take them to a fancy dinner. Tonight we're hanging out at their huge house which kind of is in the middle of nowhere but we have a lot of wine and chicken paprikash coming our way so we're happy. And the wine here is great. Drive from Munich was uneventful--we had a wonderful lunch at what we think was like the Austrian HoJo but had the best salad bar ever--pictures up on Flickr. The language here is pretty indecipherable but fortunately we have friends who will help us or at least laugh with us about it. I am about to watch Christina make nokedli (spaetzle) so update tomorrow!
Feb. 24th, 2010 Bathing in Budapest
We had a fun easy home at night last night with Christina and Jay, knocking off steveal bottles of Hungarian wine (I think our new thing to show off to people when we get home) and eating homecooked chicken paprikash—I was especially impressed by Chris making her own spaetzle. I love a dumpling in any form. They told us what they’ve learned about life here—it’s hard to grasp in any quick way what Hungary is all about. They also said that the language is just as if not moreso confusing than it looks. But they seem to get a kick out of living here and we were excited to have them show us what they love about it.
We have the whole upstairs to ourselves which is luxurious. This morning I woke up and went for a jog—out here in Nagytarcsa I said it looked like the Middle Ages—muddy, foggy, farmville (not the Facebook game). We had some bread and pb and jam and strong coffee for breakfast and hit the road with Christina (Jay was teaching). We parked at Heroes' Square and looked at the impressive big green statues of the guys who made Hungary. We took the Metro to the Central Market which I loved—a huge Art Neaveau building filled with booths of vendors—fruits, vegetables and as Christina described, “the atrocities”, IE all the parts of the animals you don’t usually see at the Jewel. I liked the pig snouts especially. We looked around at the souvenirs and tasted some stuffed cabbage that Christina got and Steve and I enjoyed a fried donut thing with powdered sugar.
We got on the train again and went to St. Stephen’s church, seeing the patron saint’s thousand year old hand (it looked old!). Very beautiful, colorful church. Christina led us around the Jewish quarter and took us to one of Jay’s and her favorite restaurant Rumbach 7—I enjoyed 2 glasses of olaszrieszling and mangalica, which is apparently a type of wild boar (curly-haired pigs, I’m told) with some noodles and mushrooms and sour cream. We took the train to the Chain Bridge and crossed it to Buda and to the Castle and enjoyed the beautiful views of the city (we continued our unlikely trend of not looking inside any of the museums) although while Steve was using the bathroom at the National Gallery I bought an etching of two views of the Budapest skyline.
We trekked back over and then headed to my favorite part of the day: Szechenyi Baths. I had absolutely no idea what to expect from the pools and that’s fine because it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen and I LOVED IT. I loved the gorgeous Neo-Classical buildings and how the pools just went on and on, some in little domed rooms, some larger ones and three big outdoor ones. It felt great to sit out in the hot water outside and we got such a kick out of the current pool, just being spun around in this circular area. But I also loved how the baths just seemed so matter-of-fact. Everyone seemed so cool about walking around near-naked in front of everyone else, and it all just seemed to operate smoothly—I especially liked the electronic wristwatch method of opening and locking the lockers. I imagine all the various rules and regulations a place like that would have in the States. I loved taking it all in and I felt so relaxed afterwards.
After dinner we took Jay and Chris to a fancy dinner at a place my mom recommended, Gundel Etterem, established in 1894. We had a bottle of kadarkaI had a bit of goulash and enjoyed some duck breast (Christina enjoyed some goose which was probably my favorite of the stuff everyone ate—you know, that kind of melty buttery fat with a crispy skin). We had some pastry and the famous Gundel crepe and very charming service although my favorite detail I think was the traveling violinist—it took me almost all meal to realize he was being accompanied by a full band in the back of the room—I didn’t realize they were playing together.
Now we’re back in Nagytarcsa having a drink as Chris and Steve pore over a map for our route to Vienna tomorrow. I don’t know that I “get” Hungary much more than I did before—looks and feel wise it felt a bit like a cross between Poland and Russia but still harder to pin down than just that. But I’m so glad we had a reason to come and friends to show us around.
Feb. 25th, 2010 Vienna Day 1
Pictures/blogging for these last few days might be late. This stupid Courtyard by Marriott charges up the ya-ya for WiFi access. You hear me, Courtyard by Marriott? That is stupid! Anyway here are the few pics from today. We only got going in Vienna around 4 PM so didn't have a ton of time for pics.
Anyway, we got up this morning and had some bread and nutella and some espresso made by Christina and did what everybody does when they visit Hungary—go to the mall. I went to Media Market to get some portable speakers for my iPod so we don’t run out of audiobook on Saturday when we drive from Vienna to Brussels. The mall didn’t look that different from American malls despite some store names except they do have the stinkiest store in the world, Lush.
After that we headed on the road and enjoyed a relatively short drive to Vienna, about 3 hours (Steve toyed with the idea of stopping in Slovakia but we nixed that). We are located in the Schonbrunn area of Vienna, like our other hotels, not near city center but near a U-bahn stop (and the famous Schonbrunn palace and gardens and Tiergarten too of course [I am currently playing one of my favorite Rufus Wainwright songs, “Tiergarten,” for Steve]). We took the train down to the Naschtmarkt area and had a late lunch, a big beer each and some falafel for me, that typical Austrian fare. We enjoyed walking through the market—why are all my pictures on this trip of food? We got out and kind of wandered around and I got very grouchy because we didn’t really know where we were going and where we were—it’s not a town that’s super-easily-figure-outable, in my extremely humble and easily-frustrated opinion. I was also getting peevish because the last few days I’ve become convinced I need glasses, which really bugs me, so in addition to feeling lost and aimless I was certain I was going to be blind by the time I got home to Chicago. I was temporarily mollified by half a piece of Sachertorte (chocolate torte with apricot jam and thick sugary chocolate frosting). We ended up walking through the Stadtpark after sunset, which was very nice and stopped for a beer to figure out where the f we were. We mapped it out and started walking towards a few restaurants my mom had noted when she last used this guide 6 years ago. We ended up in the very lovely and quaint Stephansdom Quarter (why are all the churches on this trip named after Steve?) Lots of religious-artifact stores and dessert shops and of course cafes. I dig the cafes a lot, how they seems to be hotspots for people of all ages for a coffee or drink or treat and 5 million cigarettes. Man do they love to smoke here. I stopped for a latte during this part of the trip and was actually getting grossed out by the café I was in and I always figured I was pretty tolerant of smoke.
But I was happy to find a part of town that was identifiable and so charming to stroll around in, and we saw Stephansdom itself at night which was pretty and spooky. We made a reservation for lunch tomorrow at Figlmuller, which apparently has amazing wiener schnitzel, and had dinner at Purstner, an adorable place that looked like the inside of a little Austrian village. It was very touristey (we were sitting next to another American couple who we assiduously ignored) but we enjoyed it a lot anyway. I had a glass of Gruner Veltiner and some fried roast beef with crispy onions and potatoes that I dunked on some of Steve’s horseradish sauce. My goals tomorrow are to eat more dessert and have a frankfurter too. I need to keep up my energy!
We took U-Bahn back to the hotel and we have a game plan for tomorrow that should keep the anal, planny side of me happy. Tomorrow’s our last pure day of sightseeing so I hope I can soak it all in! Steve keeps asking why we don’t just move here and I say because home is still better despite how much fun we’ve had abroad.
Feb. 28th, 2010 Two for the Price of One
Back home in Chicago. Here's what I wrote up while I refused to pay for Internet:
Vienna Day 2:
I would be a slightly happier camper right now if I hadn’t thought it would be an amusing idea to run UP the down escalator at Karlsplatz when Steve realized we were going the wrong way when missing trains. Ouch. Now my knee looks like beef carpaccio and I’m not pleased with it. Oh well, could be worse in a number of ways.
I think we met or exceeded our walking time of Munich today: 9.88 miles (plus a workout in the gym for me, elliptical machine to CNN’s dumbass news) and over 31+ steps. We took advantage of our proximity to Schonnbrunn Palace and took a morning walk around the gardens which were gorgeous despite it obviously being the off-season. We hiked up to the Gloriette and had breakfast up there where both Steve and I realized that we don’t know what to do with soft-boiled eggs which was what we received for breakfast. I am pretty sure I didn’t do it right but at least I got it in my mouth. Steve who is not a big egg fan gave it the old college try which, if you know him, was very brave of him, but at least we had some breads and jellies too. We walked by the Tiergarten and zoo and I decided I wouldn’t have minded living at Schonbrunn, especially if I had a horse to ride around the grounds.
We took the train down to the opera house to get a look at that and Steve admired the opera toilets “mit music” in the train station. We meandered back over towards Stephansdom quarter, checking out Peterskirche and Stephansdom again in the daylight. We had lunch at Figlmuller—my piece of wiener schnitzel was larger than the plate it was served on and I could have eaten the whole thing but opted just to leave about a quarter of it behind in the name of daintiness. I also highly enjoyed the potato salad which came with sunflower seed dressing and mache which I am not afraid to say is my favorite green.
After that we made our way to the Hofburg Quarter and that was when the weather got icky, colder and rainy. It took us a while but we figured out how to get to the winter riding school, which I would have loved to see a show at but alas wasn’t the right time—maybe next time. Then we tried to see the state treasuries but wouldn’t you know it they were closed for cleaning until exactly tomorrow. So we went to the state apartments which I was strangely in the mood for—rooms and rooms of royal silverware and plates and serveware and then we learned about Empress Elisabeth who I personally think was clinically depressed despite what sounded like a fairly progressive husband and keen brain. I would like to have a.) a good definitive biography of her and b.) 27 diamond stars to wear in my hair.
After that we walked through the museum and townhall quarter towards the Neubaugasse area to find two stores that carry Field Notes for Steve/Coudal (the first one did, the second one no longer did). Neat part of town, definitely younger and more modern. We were pretty wiped at that point so we stopped for Einspanner (coffee with whipped cream on top) and Mohr im Hemd (chocolate pudding) for me, and Toblerone pudding for Steve. We tried to make it up to the Belvedere gardens for a bit before they closed but we didn’t make it in time which was sort of a drag since it took us 2 trains to get there and a hike up a walled street but oh well. We headed back down to Karlsplatz so I could buy some souvenirs and a hot dog that I had been eying since yesterday. It was huge—I really liked how it came encased in a hollowed-out baguette. Steve helped me eat it and we each had a Stiegl tallboy to match.
Then we wandered around a bit and had a drink and wrote postcards and got a little into the Schottenring/Aslergrund area for dinner at a cellar restaurant called Melker Stiftskeller, the cellars of which apparently go back to 1629 or earlier. I had 2 glasses of Gruner Veltliner and a spantakopita and salad—I was a little over-meated at that point.
Tomorrow: back to Brussels which is going to be like a 10 hour drive but I am kinda looking forward to it. Steve keeps noting how long the drive will be and I offer to help and he still declines which is fine with me. We’re in a sort of fancy hotel tomorrow night so I hope we have a bit of time to enjoy it.
I'm writing this from the Brussels airport. I haven't been online since our first day in Vienna since every place we've been since then has been a huge ripoff for internet time.
Our drive to Brussels was by and large uneventful except for some annoying traffic which seemed to be caused exclusively by people from the Netherlands (what do you call them? Netherlanders?) Each car had a turtle shell on top and was crammed full of crap. We tried three times to stop for lunch but the first two were thwarted due to swarms of these Netherlandese swarming into the joints. Finally I followed up my morning gas-station jam-pastry with a very healthy salami and cheese sandwich (and some car candy) and asked a lady in line what it was all about--apparently the whole country goes on a skiing holiday during this time.
On the ride we finished up Game Change and started listening to the Happiness Project--you'll have to read my reviews online to get the full report but we both liked Game Change more as car listening--especially since Happiness Project quotes a lot of blog comments which doesn't translate well to audio.
Finally got to our hotel, Le Plaza, around 8 or so. It's the grandest place we've stayed, and the most centrally located but could use a little updating in a few spots unless you like your closets sort of old and wooden and a few paint chips. Sucked that our last night we had the old "two twin beds makes one king" situation. Also while we were relatively close to the Grand Place (we were too tired to walk all the way down there) and the St. Catherine's area, the spot around our hotel (Upper Town, apparently) felt the most urban of the places we've stayed--it was the first time on this trip that I smelled pee.
St. Catherine's platz is a major seafood restaurant area but I typically don't enjoy fish that much so we spent like a half hour trying to find a menu that wasn't totally fish-oriented and then of course at the restaurant we chose I ended up ordering bream just because I realized I really wanted some salad and something light. Of course the fish came whole, which I've never had before. I tried asking the waitress on the down-low if I was supposed to eat the skin (I don't know these things! And Steve doesn't either) and she ended up basically showing me, using the fork and knife herself, how to maneuver a whole fish. Apparently the crabby British girl next to me was giving me looks the entire time (Steve told me later which is probably good because I might have said something to her like "EXCUUUUSE ME!!!"). Anyway, it was very good fish (my gauge for good fish=it doesn't taste too "fishy"), grilled with rosemary and served with garlic butter. I had 2 little buns with it. I still think I need a tutorial on fish-eating though--I'm not sure what you do with the little tiny bones other than pull them out of your mouth and pile them on your plate.
And that's about it! This morning I was stressed as we got the car out of a weird garage Steve parked in that he THOUGHT we could get the car from this morning, got gas, returned the rental, went through a very inefficient (which seems typical to me based on each time I've flown out of Europe) check-in process and security (which was exciting because a guy in front of me apparently had something weird going on with his shoes which made a kerfuffle which made me glad to see they were vigilant). We just shared a croissant and chocolate croissant and now I'm sitting across from Duty Free and a guy is talking French across from me.
It feels like forever since we left. We had a great time and we travel well together--I think this is the most time Steve and I have ever spent together in one shot--yes, I think our honeymoon was shorter, and we are both still good buddies so that's a happy sign. Renting the car (and gas and parking) was more expensive (we think) than training around but we both really enjoyed it. I liked the sense of control it gave us, and that that meant there were less "steps" for each leg of the trip, IE get to the train station, find the ticket agent, get the ticket, find the train, take the train, get off the train, figure out how to get to the hotel, etc etc etc. I also am happy to have checked more countries off my list: Belgium, Hungary (and if you like, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) are new although I had been in Germany and Austria before. Steve seems like he wants to do this again like next week--I think I can convince him now to go come with me to Italy, which is the country I've spent the most time in, although we were also making noise about going back to Peter Island next winter but for now I'm just happy to go home. Also, once again I feel really refreshed after a break from TV and Facebook and nonstop email and am making a pledge to do a better job of not letting myself be chained to my computer, which I'm sure will last until, oh, Wednesday.
PS I am really looking forward to seeing my parents especially who made this trip so much easier by lending us their GPS (the Garmin Nuvi was amazing), guides and dogsitting services.