There and Back: Vienna

After our short stay in Bad Reichenhall, we moved on to Vienna, Austria, a drive of about 3/3.5 hours. While Austria is beautiful, the drive didn’t hold too many highlights in terms of landscape. There was the Mondsee we drove past, and it seems to be a beautiful area, but when we left the alps behind us, Austria became very similar to Germany, so i was used to the look.

Two things stood out nonetheless- first, the best pull-in i’ve seen for years. It was a Landzeit and had more of a country-restaurant and laid-back style that i’ve found very inviting. Spending an hour there was easy and pleasant, whereas the most pull-ins we stop at in Germany invite only to get going again as quickly as possible. The second one was when we approached Vienna and saw nothing but woods. It must have been the Vienna Woods and on the road, there had been a couple of times when no house or field was in sight- only wood.

Entering Vienna, i immediately made a connection to Munich in my mind. No high skyscrapers in sight, the buildings are actually quite flat there. From a driver’s perspective, for a big city it was also quite relaxing to drive in. We reached our hotel without difficulty, taking in sights like the Schönbrunn Palace on our way. Arriving at the hotel, though, i couldn’t find the garage where we could park our car for the week. A helpful concierge had to show it to us and another couple that arrived roughly at the same time.

balcony_view2

The hotel is nice, but expensive- but so are almost all of the hotels in Vienna and i think this falls into the affordable category. We chose it because it was close to the hotel my wife had her business meetings in while not being the same. Both were just across the street from the Stadtpark, a very nice location to stay in, especially if you’re traveling with kids and/or plan eating outside. Now, we booked a room with a balcony, but we chose the “budget version”, so i expected the balcony to be of the smaller kind shown in pictures around the web. Nobody told us, but i think we were upgraded, because our room was on the top floor and nothing prepared us for the the view in the direction of the Stadtpark, which was absolutely stunning.

We had a nice view from our room
We had a nice view from our room

Of course, Vienna is culturally rich city- after all, it was the seat of one of the most important kingdoms in…well, some time before 1933 (i wasn’t really a good student and most of what i remember from history concerns the years 1933-1945). There are so many places to visit that i guess even if you took a week you wouldn’t see it all. In this, Vienna is actually more similar to Paris, where i could confidently state that you’d need two weeks to see the important stuff (after all, you can take two days just for the Louvre).

The first thing we did after appreciating the view from our room was to go and see the St. Stephens cathedral as it was in walking distance from our hotel. Our son was very happy to see the carriages there and wanted to take a ride. We thought it would be a nice treat for him after he did so well on our road trip so far- we are lucky that he doesn’t really mind to drive for 3 or 4 hours, although we took breaks every 2-3 hours, of course. The only time he gave us trouble was on our way back home from Vienna, but that took 12 hours so it was to be expected. It also gave us the opportunity to see parts of Vienna in a comfortable way. Needless to say, our son loved it and smiled all the way.

vienna_carriages

In the evening, we went to see the Prater. We were visiting the amusement park, which is kind of like a funfair with a couple of fun rides for children of all ages as well as adults. The Prater is actually quite a big area the size of 6km² (2.3 square miles), but after the long drive we wanted to give our son some action- he loved it, wanted to take a ride wherever it was something he could ride on.  I was surprised at how big the amusement park part was- in my hometown, we have an annual funfair that’s the event of town where everyone who lives and lived there returns for in addition to “tourists” from the region. Although more crowded, that thing is dwarfed by what the Prater offers on a daily basis- the Prater’s bigger and more fun.

We also had our first barbecue plate for dinner. We weren’t very hungry, but the plate appealed to us. Needless to say, we couldn’t eat it all- our son was getting tired and we weren’t very hungry to begin with. Wiener Schnitzel, by the way, i found to be good but not so special- i’ve eaten it in a similar quality in germany. We were actually looking for something i rememberred from travelling through Austria in the 80’s: Backhendl (sorry, no english entry), but all we saw was a salad variant.

Anyway, we had to take a lot of food back with us into the hotel. Just when we turned a corner to our hotel, i saw two homeless men squatting in a house entrance. Almost entering our hotel, a thought came to my mind and i asked my wife whether we actually had any need for the food we took with us- i mean, Wiener Schnitzel don’t make for a great breakfast and we wanted to go out and continue exploring anyway. She thought about it and said: “probably not, why?” – “we could give it to the homeless people over there” – “hm, yes. But won’t they be offended?” – “Good point, i don’t know. But my guess is they’re past that”. In the end, i went there and cautiously offered the meat- they took it. I’m writing this here because it was one of my personal highlights of being in Vienna. I know, it’s not much and it won’t save the world, but it felt good. In my opinion, if you’re well off, it suits you to remember that you are. And make no mistake, all of us here playing MMOs, reading or  writing about them are in a happy place. Sure, we have our problems as well, but if you’ve got money and time to spend on games, you’re one of the lucky people.

Schönbrunn Castle
Schönbrunn Castle

Our second day took us to the Naschmarkt first and Schönbrunn Palace for the rest of the day. The Naschmarkt is a row of market stalls selling foods of all kinds. It’s an interesting place, for sure, but i have to say that the “food streets” in China are more interesting to me- of course, their food is both more exotic and more varied. Still, it is an interesting place to go and eat out.

As for Schönbrunn Palace, if you’d like to see it all, reserve a whole day- or maybe don’t, if you don’t have kids. Unfortunately queues to get tickets were quite long and while you could theoretically buy tickets online and on vending machines, both didn’t work when we were there. Aside from seeing the interiors of the palace, there is a huge garden attached to the castle as well as a zoo and a couple of mazes to explore. We were able to buy tickets, take a walk through the garden, visit the playground and go through one of the mazes before taking our tour through the palace.

In the next couple of days my wife had her business stuff going on and my son and i could plan the days in a more relaxing manner- we basically went to the playgrounds in the Stadtpark, but we also took a trip to an aqua zoo to see sharks and other sea-creatures. We also went into a chinese restaurant where they served authentic chinese dishes- that became the most expensive meal i had with my son because i couldn’t resist some of the food that was on offer.

In the end, i think Vienna is one of the more beautiful “big cities” i visited- it’s clean and relatively quiet, although there are lots of tourists, of course. Us being close to the Stadtgarten made our stay quite relaxing because playgrounds and a place where we could move freely with our son were near. The food you can eat in Vienna is very good and varied, although i’d suggest to do some research before visiting any place- it would be a pity if you were to choose a mediocre restaurant of some kind, not knowing that the best in town is just around the corner.

So yes, i’d go to Vienna again.

There and back: Berchtesgadener Land

Last week, we were on vacation. To be more accurate, our son and i were on vacation. My wife had some business to do in Vienna, Austria. We chose to take this opportunity to transform the trip into our summer vacation- as we’re going to move in the end of june/early july, this was the best opportunity to do so. So we appended a couple of days before and after the business stuff to spend some quality time in Vienna.

When the long weekend began on thursday, may, 28th, we decided to add another two days before the stay in Vienna to take a bit of a detour and see the mountains/german alps in the south of germany. It also had the advantage of giving us extra time for the 800 km/500 miles long road trip by splitting it in two drives with one being around 600 km / 370 miles and the second one coming in at 320 km / 200 miles. As we would see on our way back, this was a very good idea indeed, as making an 8 hour drive with a three-year-old is kind of stressful for the child.

After looking for hotels, we found something in Bad Reichenhall, in the district of “Berchtesgadener Land“. Somehow, just like the names of the surrounding towns (Berchtesgaden, Bischofswiesen), i knew the name but couldn’t put my finger on why that was. When we arrived in town and saw the sculpture of a big salt shaker, it dawned on me- we always buy table salt from that town.

salzsortiment

But we weren’t there for salt- we were there for great views, clean air, a bit of calm and the Königssee. It turned out that we chose just the right place for that- and not simply because of the area, but also because of the bed&breakfast we stayed in. I found it to be so enjoyable that i’m going to drop a name- we stayed at the Leitnerhof in Bad Reichenhall. Not only is it quite affordable for this area, coming in at about 35€ per person and night, but it’s also a family business, and it shows. Frau Leitner, who’s running the show there, is a very kind person, always friendly and she prepares a breakfast that is quite something. Nowadays, if you take breakfast, you’ll usually be treated to a buffet- not so here. The host prepares everything- when you enter the room, you’ll have a table set for you, with a few buns, bread and stuff to put on it. When she knows what you drink, there’ll also be coffee/tea and possibly boiled eggs. When i saw the table, my first thought was if it was possible to ask for more bread (there were two buns and a slice of bread for each person, but i can be quite hungry in the morning if the breakfast is good), but little did i know. With our coffee, there came the fruit salad and the boiled eggs. After a while, there came cake. In the end, i asked the host if it was possible to take the rest with us for the day (after all, she would have had to throw it away, which is a waste).

The other guests were mainly regulars. They knew the host and were conversing with her in a very personal manner. Atmosphere-wise, going into the breakfast room was actually like coming down into the family kitchen- everybody was friendly, talking to our son, sometimes keeping him busy when we still weren’t finished with our breakfast while he was already running around. The atmosphere became even more familiar when i saw that the host’s family was indeed breaking their fast in the kitchen next to the guest’s room. You could simply go in, wish a good morning and talk a bit. All this is so, so very rare in these day and age where everyone is out to maximize his or her own gain that just thinking about it now is just…heartwarming. So, i can recommend the Leitnerhof in Bad Reichenhall.

Leitnerhof in Bad Reichenhall
Leitnerhof in Bad Reichenhall

One thing that’s really nice when visiting the country-side is that you don’t have to pay as much attention for your toddler- cars are there, of course, but they aren’t frequent. And at our B&B, everybody was driving very carefully, so we didn’t have to follow our son in 3-5m distance all the time, which is very relaxing. If it was for me, i would have simply stayed there for the two days, taking a walk here and there and enjoying the view from our balcony or the garden below. But it isn’t, and my wife sure loves her schedule. Since we only had one complete day, we chose to go and see the Königssee, judging by photos a very beautiful lake in the area. Also, it is quite famous, especially with the chinese/asian tourists. I can tell you the last time i heard people speaking so much chinese was in China. The Königssee was beautiful, but crowded.

This is actually the Obersee. Also, no-one shows the crowds on photos.
This is actually the Obersee. Also, no-one shows the crowds on photos.

In the end, we spent about one-and-a-half days in the area and while it was full of tourists, the area around our B&B was very calm- it was only when we went to see the Königssee, driving through the more famous towns that we saw some crowds. As for the landscape- i’d call it breathtaking- by the way, none of the photos are edited in any way. I always loved the mountains…at least looking at them and i do love the food and beer of southern germany as well as the people there. So these two days were very nice indeed. I didn’t want to leave, but we had to go to Vienna, after all.

RL Travel Log: Hangzhou, China – arrival and impressions

Hangzhou is probably the biggest city you’ve never heard of. Wikipedia lists the population in the urban area at 7 million, but it’s dwarfed by the close Shanghai with its 24 million. Whenever i’m asked where my wife is from, i’ll say she’s coming from the Shanghai area. As you might imagine, the people living there don’t like that very much- Hangzhou is very different to Shanghai, much more “chinese”, i’d say. That title picture is breakfast, by the way.

When i go out with our son, there’s a difference between these two cities: in Hangzhou, many people will stop and take a look at him because he’s the child of a foreigner and a chinese woman- they want to look at him, get a sense in regards to his resembling more like his father or his mother. In Hangzhou, when i go into a supermarket and spit out some of my hard-learned-and-yet-so-basic chinese, they’ll commend me on my good chinese. With those few sentences i have, they’ll even sometimes assume i can really speak mandarin chinese and talk normally to me.

In Shanghai, no one cares.

So nobody knows about Hangzhou, despite Marco Polo calling it paradise on earth when he visited and it actually being quite big and, for its size, quite beautiful. This might change, however, come september, when the G-20 summit takes place there. The G-20 summit cast its shadow on our visit to the city, as well.

I've found a good coffee shop, again
I’ve found a good coffee shop, again

Construction sites. Or, to be more accurate, Hangzhou was simply one big construction site while we were there. Now, it’s China, there’s always some suburb as big as big german cities simply growing out of the soil, to accomodate all these people coming into town. While i have to wonder how a “normal” chinese person can afford housing prices ranging from 13000 to 33000 Yuan (2000 to 5000$) per square meter (or 186 to 465$ per square foot), there’s always some “little place” built- or tens of them, in fact.

But this year, construction topped all of that- whenever we went outside, there were buildings under construction / renovation by the street. Sometimes there would be scaffoldings as far as you could see along a road and many roads themselves were being re-constructed. From hearsay, i was told Hangzhou is spending 7 billion Yuan (~1.1billion $) to beautify the city for the G-20. I’m totally convinced that, when we go there next year, the whole city will look different than this year.

There are downsides, however. See, there’s this really nice apartement hotel very close to the homes of my wife’s grandparents. We stayed there in 2014, i think, and it was all good- to reach both of these families, we’d have to walk for either 5 or 10 minutes. Unfortunately, when we arrived there, the receptionist told us we couldn’t stay- and this after a 45-minute-drive, 12 hour flight and 5 hour transit from the plane to that apartement hotel. Why? Because foreigners weren’t allowed to stay there. We didn’t know why and we didn’t find out exactly why, but we guessed that probably, there have been some “standards” set for hotels who want to take in foreigners in the wake of the G-20 summit. It is something i can believe, as the housing standard varies a lot in that city. But the last time we were there, i couldn’t find anything wrong with the apartement. And of course, i was upset. At least we aren’t real tourists, so we could have found a place to sleep, but it was still annoying to find another apartement after 24 hours of travel with a three-year-old kid. In the end, we found something in a different area.

*cough* yeah, that's the one person of our family i'm willing to show here.
*cough* yeah, that’s the one person in our family i’m willing to show here.

The new apartement hotel was situated in a nice area with lots of different restaurants- from the small ones that serve great breakfast up to multiple japanese restaurants, a market right in front of the door, bus stops close by and actually not that very far at least from one couple of great-grandparents, it was suboptimal, mainly because i couldn’t figure out directions from there (i know the area of that first apartement hotel very well) and there was this huge elevated road/street between us and them. It would also take 15-20 minutes to walk to them and about 25-40 to the other great-grandparent, so we often took the bus or a cab to visit either.

I was able to find a good coffee shop, once again. Coffee, free wi-fi, loneliness (they’re usually not well-visited as they’re also expensive- a cup of coffee coming in at around 8$). Actually, this year i noticed that cheaper coffee shows itself on the street- i was able to get a normal cup of coffee for about 1.50$ – it’s getting easier to have some coffee from year to year- in my first visit, i had to drink iced coffee from bottles, this year, there was never a coffee shortage, because those shops sprout up everywhere.

This year also marked something noteworthy: it was the first time i didn’t feel like a visitor, at all- i felt as if i were “coming home”- well, a second home, but still- it felt like home. Slowly, i know the city, i know how things look in China, i know what to look for when i’m searching something (a recharge cable, for instance). While i still can’t read chinese letters and am still far away from talking, it’s getting better year-over-year, as well.

There’s a lot more , as we visited some nice places in the city, but that tale will have to wait for another time. I’m sorry to say i didn’t make it to Jingci temple this year- but i hadn’t had the drive after seeing it was under construction, as well.