Jamie’s Working Vacation in Vienna

Here we are, on our new Air Canada Dreamliner service from Vienna to Toronto, having just completed our 4 nights in Vienna, following the 2 nights we spent in Budapest.

We took the train for almost 3 hours from Budapest to Vienna and arriving in Vienna was almost like arriving in an entirely different land. It surprised me that Budapest and Vienna were so very different, given their close geography and sometimes intertwined history. Where Budapest has the twin cities of Buda and Pest, both centered around the Danube, Vienna is not intersected by the river. Where Budapest is still showing signs of the communist era and there is a drastic mix of beautifully restored buildings and buildings that haven’t been touched and are still riddled in bullet holes, Vienna is pristine with every building restored and perfect – not a paint colour out of place and not a single piece of cobblestone broken. I was very glad we had the chance to experience both beautiful and diverse cities and I was even more thankful that where Budapest rained for us, Vienna brought out the sunshine.

We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel in Vienna and it is outside Stadpark on the edge of the downtown, historic core area of Vienna. It was a very nice hotel with a beautiful hotel lobby bar and very comfortable rooms. It was a great location to have for a home base. We attended a conference for a couple of days and their conference facilities also seemed in good order – a good choice of conference rooms, food and beverage, audio visual and friendly staff.

When we had some free time in Vienna, we made the most of this beautiful city:

Top attraction highlights:

*Kursalon Concert Hall
Located right across the street from our hotel in Stadpark the Kursalon Concert Hall has a concert every night featuring Strauss, Mozart, Ballet and Opera. The performance was just under 2 hours.  We paid 69EUR for good seats and found it quite entertaining for casual music lovers like us. I would have loved to have seen an opera at the Vienna Opera, but there was not one playing when we had a free evening.

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*Lipizzaner Stallions
Lipizzaner Stallions perform at the Spanish Riding School. You can either purchase seats that are “seated” or “standing”. Our seated tickets start around 100EUR each. The performance is just over an hour and the horses and riders go through the different skills the horses learn over many years. It was impressive.

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*Hofburg Palace
Adjacent to the Spanish Riding School, the Hofburg Palace has a tour of the Silver Collection, the SISI Museum and the Imperial Apartments for 15EUR per person. The self-guided audio tour took about 1 1/2 hours.

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*St. Stephens Cathedral
This is an amazing Gothic structure in the middle of the main square in Vienna. You can go in and view the main cathedral, plus there are options to go up the tower for 5EUR for views over all of Vienna, or for 7EUR you can go down into the Catacombs beneath St. Stephens. Mark climbed the tower while I was at the conference, so together we chose to go beneath St. Stephens to the Catacombs. The Cardinals and Arch Bishops are buried there – It is still used today, so there are some new graves as well as some that are over 400 years old. The Hapsburgs and Imperial family had their internal organs buried there and the main chambers were full of all the ordinary people, including one chamber that was filled with those who didn’t survive the last bubonic plague…a little creepy, but interesting.

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*Stadpark
This is a beautiful green space with walking paths, food vendors, outdoor restaurants and a nice place to unwind, relax and rest your weary feet. You can anything from a hot dog, to fine dining and Biergartens.

Restaurant Recommendations:

We ate at many good restaurants from small local coffee shops to upper scale Italian and Austrian restaurants. One highlight was Lugeck – located in a historic building, just off the main square. It serves local Austrian food with a bit of flair. The service was great, as was the food and for four of us, with wine, beer and dinner, the bill was 150EUR, which seemed very reasonable. The Wiener Schnitzel was particularly good and with two huge pieces, big enough for two to share!

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One afternoon we happened into a Keller – a Viennese tradition of historical underground vaults used for bars/restaurants. This particular Keller had been used for almost 1000 years – called the Zwolf Apostelkeller. It had several rooms, vaults, traditional Viennese dining (think upgraded pub food), Austrian wines and beer and local entertainment. It is a very unique and Viennese experience not to be missed when you are in Vienna. The location is right around the corner from the Lugeck restaurant.

There is an outdoor restaurant; just inside the Stadpark entrance, across from the Intercontinental called the Kleinod Stadtgarten meets Cafe Francais. They had the most amazing “tarts”, which to us North Americans is a very thin crust pizza with toppings like bacon and spring onions, apples and Brie, etc. It was the most enjoyable lunch, outside in the sunshine and green space of the park with wonderful food and a nice Rose Garden.

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I look forward to returning to Austria one day to see more outside of Vienna, but for the short time period we had, Vienna did not disappoint.

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Jamie’s 48 Hours in Budapest

We arrived in Budapest just over 48 hours ago.  It feels like much longer!  As I write this blog, we are on the train, already leaving Budapest and heading for Vienna.  We really enjoyed our quick and jam-packed time in Budapest.

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View of river and Castle Hill from the room

When we arrived in Budapest, we hopped into the private car we had pre-arranged for 40 EUR to take us to the Intercontinental Hotel.  It was about a 40 minute drive, so I think the 40EUR was quite reasonable.

The Intercontinental Hotel is right beside the Chain Bridge in the heart of downtown Budapest.  The location could not be better and we were lucky to get a River View room with a view of the Castle Hill.  It was amazing all lit up at night and being able to watch all the River Cruises sail by.

 

Our first afternoon in Budapest was spent wandering around the Castle Hill District and taking a 1 hour tour of the Hospital in the Rock Museum.  For $18 CAD, it was pretty reasonable and worthwhile if you have extra time.  The tours run every hour.  The underground hospital was used in WWII and during the Civil uprising in 1956.  They have some exhibitions set up to show you what the conditions would have been like at the time and also some exhibitions set up for later, when it was used as a bomb shelter during the Cold War.  The museum is found on the far side of Castle Hill, about a 20 -30 minute walk from the Intercontinental Hotel.

Hospital in the rock

Our one full day in Budapest we managed fit in two walking tours, 30,000 steps that covered the majority of the main sites of central Budapest.  Our first walking tour was a “Hidden Gems” Tour with a private guide.  We started by taking the oldest metro in mainland Europe from near our hotel to Hero’s Square.  We had a quick walk to the Szechenyi baths (very near Hero’s Square) for a quick look around.  I wish we had an extra day, the baths looked wonderful.  There is a combo of indoor and outdoor baths, you get massages and VIP tours.  That would have been VERY nice after a long day of walking.  They open early in the morning and that is the quiet time to go.  It gets busier later in the day.  After that, we went through Hero’s square with our guide, Gabor, talking about how Hungary was settled by Pagan Nomadic Tribes and later “civilized” and “Christianized” by St. Stephan. The Hero’s square pays tribute to them all.

 

We continued walking past the Opera House, with a quick look inside at the amazing opulent interior.  We walked through the Jewish Quarter with a Secret stop in a hidden courtyard to view the last remaining piece of the Jewish Ghetto Wall from World War II.  It still had some of the barbed wire on top and at one time 70,000 Jewish people were imprisoned inside those walls.  It was quite moving.  We had a stop for Kosher Cake and Coffee in a Jewish Bakery and continued on to the Holocaust Memorial, past the Terror Museum (which used to house the Secret Police) and back to the Riverfront.  This completed our “pest” side of the tour.

 

We walked across the Chain Bridge and up to the top of Castle Hill.  There is also the option to take the Funicular Train to the top, if you prefer not to walk.  There were some amazing lookout points from the Castle, across the Danube to Parliament.  We wandered past some of the artifacts in the castle and past the Presidents offices.  We viewed some more of Castle Hill’s “must sees”, some churches, lookouts and an 800 year old Church Tower.  The Church survived the Turkish invasion, but only the tower survived the bombing of WWII.

 

That concluded our first walking tour.  We had a couple of hours to rest our weary feet and change into dry shoes and clothes (it was quite a rainy day!), before we headed out on our second walking tour.  The second tour was arranged with Secret Food Tours and included many stops for authentic food and drinks.  This was also a private tour and we

Folodni cake

Flodni Cake

met up with our tour guide first for coffee and traditional Flodni Cake, then walked through Liberty Square, past some of the Embassy’s to the Downtown Market for an amazing arrangement of local sausages, meats, cheese, pickles, baguette and chutneys.  This was my favorite stop.  The Rosemary and Pear Chutney was so good, I had to buy a couple of jars!  We also received a traditional favorite chocolate treat of Hungarians.  It was a cottage cheese/lemon filling covered in dark chocolate.  It was surprisingly good and tasted like chocolate covered cheese cake.

We rolled ourselves to a food truck for Langos (fried bread covered with garlic, sour cream and cheese SO good!) and on past St. Stephens Cathedral to another food truck for cinnamon covered funnel cake.  By then we are so full we can hardly move, but we aren’t done yet.  The Hungarians take their food seriously.  We went to Cupakos in the Jewish district for Goulash Soup and toasted bread with Chicken Pate topped with warm Apple Chutney (their Secret Dish).

 

Finally, we moved on to the best part of the evening, the wine tasting at a local wine bar, which only serves Hungarian wines.  We sampled three, our tour ended there and we decided to stay on for another bottle of wine.  It was a nice little spot with live entertainment.

wine time

Finally, we called our very full day in Budapest to an end with a quick walk back to the hotel for a well-deserved good night sleep.  The main train station is under construction for a couple of weeks, so we took a taxi (17 EUR) to the Kelenfold Train station.   It was quite old and dilapidated but it did the trick and our train was pretty easy to find.  First class train tickets Budapest to Vienna were about $100 CDN per person.  Sandwiches on the train, which were surprisingly good were only $3.50 EUR each and there is free WIFI.  The three hours is passing quite quickly with some nice countryside and green rolling hills and villages to look at on our way.  We are looking forward to our few days in Vienna!

on the train

Annette & Joanne’s Avalon River Cruise – Part 3

We had 2 days of sleeping in and enjoyed all the activities on board the ship as we sailed along the river admiring the beautiful scenery.  We even took part in the power walking class on the sky deck.    Our next stop was a visit to the Kröller-Müller Museum with its fabulous collection of paintings by Van Gogh, Monet and Picasso to bring a little culture to our trip.

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Then on to our next stop and the highlight of our trip the Keukenhof gardens, also known as the Garden of Europe.  There are more than 7 million tulips, daffodils and hyacinths that fill over 32 hectares with colour and fragrance. These gardens are only open for a total of 8 weeks during the year.

We ended our trip with a canal cruise in the wonderful city of Amsterdam.  Our experience with Avalon Waterways was amazing and we would definitely recommend it to everybody wanting to see Europe.  Can’t wait to cruise again!

If you are interested in a river cruise of your own or have any questions about the experience, you can reach Joanne by calling 306-934-3400 or emailing joanne@uniglobevacation.com.

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Annette & Joanne’s Avalon River Cruise – Part 2

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We boarded our Avalon river cruise which was docked just 5 minutes from the Mövenpick hotel. We sailed on the Avalon Tranquility which can accommodate 130 passengers.  We walked into our panoramic suite and were amazed by the floor to ceiling, wall to wall French balcony.  What a great way to watch the scenery go by.  After a leisurely lunch we took an optional excursion to Zaanse Schans where we saw windmills, cheese making and watched a wooden clog making demonstration.  Then back to the ship for dinner and evening entertainment.

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Amazing food onboard the Avalon Tranquility

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Clog Making

Our highlight the next day was our tour to the bulb farm where we saw tulips growing inside and outside.  We learnt all about the lifecycle of the tulip and just what it takes to grow the world’s most beautiful flowers in land reclaimed from the sea.  We also saw an amazing hyacinths field in full bloom.

We loved experiencing the Dutch culture as we wandered around the towns on guided walking tours which were included in our cruise.  It was such a beautiful day in Kampen that we decided to take in the true dutch culture in the local square by sitting on a patio people watching and having a few beverages.

Windmill

Stay tuned for more from our sailing onboard the Avalon Tranquility.

Check out our Instagram for more photos from Annette & Joanne’s trip as well as pictures from all of our team’s travels.

Annette & Joanne’s Avalon River Cruise – Part 1

We flew with Westjet from Saskatoon to Calgary then KLM to Amsterdam.  Both flights were uneventful which is something we all want when we fly.  It was our first time on KLM and it is a very good airline.  The direct flight was nice.

Appies from club lounge at movenpick Amsterdam hotel

Perks of the Executive lounge at Mövenpick Hotel

Upon arrival in Amsterdam we decided to take a cab from the airport to the Mövenpick hotel.   The cab ride was $80.00 Euro.  That was a very interesting experience! They drive very fast and in and out of traffic but we made it to the hotel in one piece.  The Movenpick hotel was a very nice hotel and it included breakfast.   It was very handy as it was right next to the cruise ship terminal.   We walked from the Movenpick hotel to the city centre it was about a 20 minute walk.

We spent our first day in Amsterdam wondering around the streets on our own taking in the Dutch lifestyle.  We stopped  at a local pub and had a local cider,  then wondered around  the different shops and stumbled upon the red light district.  We stopped for supper at a place that had a hot dog in a pizza bun and a waffle coated in chocolate.  All was very interesting.  Thankfully we brought our heavier coats as it is chilly as you walk around especially at night.

Tomorrow we’re on to our next adventure the Avalon cruise – Tulips of Northern Holland.

 

 

 

ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 3

October 11, 2018 – Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka, Russia

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Petropavlovsk is a fairly architecturally uninteresting place with streets lined with grim, Soviet inspired apartment blocks.  However, it does have a magnificent setting on Avacha bay and is overlooked by two giant volcanoes and surrounded by a long line of snow-capped mountains.

A visa is required by Russia for Canadians visiting the country.  The easiest way for us to accomplish this was by booking one of the ship’s tours which then included the visa.  Frankly, I was not expecting much from this remote Russian town that can only be accessed by plane or by ship.  Being quite isolated, I expected that we would see a bunch of worn out, rusty old Lada automobiles driving around gravel streets.  On the contrary, there are a lot of Hondas, Toyotas and Nissans.  The reason we were told, was that they were a lot more reliable and easier to get than Russian made autos.  The funny thing was that while they drive on the right side of the road, the majority of vehicles also have the steering wheel on the right side of the cars.

Our first stop was Trinity Cathedral, Petropavlovsk’s largest and most impressive church. Despite looking ancient, the church was built in the early 21st century.  From here there are great views of the bay.

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From the church we proceeded to the Crimean War Memorial.  This memorial and small chapel commemorates the lives lost in the Battle of Petropavlovsk, a little-remembered clash between the British, French and Russian forces during the Crimean War.

The drive up to Mishennaya Hill was an easy ascent and provided excellent views of town and Avacha Bay.

On to the Museum of the USSR.  We had been warned not to expect much from this museum where most everything has been donated by the local population.  As such, we were not disappointed.  Lot’s of old stuff but still interesting to see things we grew up with, but Russian made or dare I say, copied.

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Our final stop was at their town market.  Was I ever surprised!  Again, I expected an outdoor market with a few things but this was a very modern indoor market with many shops selling every kind of ware.  Since Petropavlovsk is essentially a fishing town (although the Russians have a nuclear submarine base there which we were not privy to see), I was interested to see the fish market.  An unbelievable assortment of fish but a huge amount of salmon, their main catch.  There were containers and containers of salmon roe (caviar) from several salmon species.  The picture below was only a very, very small sampling of the local caviar offerings.

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Back on the ship, I just had to take a picture of the Customs Officers checking everyone’s documentation leaving and returning to the ship.

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That’s it for this blog…next stop Japan after a couple more days at sea.  Thanks for reading along.

Colleen’s Strolling Through Spain – Part 8

So our tour of Spain has come to an end and we have had an incredible trip. Spain is quite inexpensive compared to other European countries. Where else can you get a beer for 1.60EUR and Sangria for 3.20EUR. Our suppers were running around 20-25EUR depending on the menu and tipping one or two euros was met with smiles and gracias.

Here are a few tips for your trip to Spain:

  • In the larger cities, always take the Metro. It is inexpensive and a quick and way to cover a lot of ground. If you are not sure how to use the Metro just stop by the office and I can give you a quick lesson.
  • Always buy your tours in advance. The lineup for tickets to the Royal Palace was 1 hour long in 37 degree heat so having your tickets and skipping that line is a no brainer.
  • Arrive in your destination the day before your first tour so you can get the lay of the land and find your tour office or pickup location before the tour.
  • Learn a few words in Spanish as they really appreciate the effort and English is not Blog 8 - travel essentialscommon in the smaller towns.
  • Use the local transportation. In Spain the bus is very efficient and very affordable. We took a bus ride from Lugo to Sarria which is 30 minutes for 2.10EUR. Trains and busses will get you where you want to go and take you to the heart of the city.
  • In the smaller communities credit card is not always accepted so you will need cash. ATMs can be found in the smallest of cities.
  • Stop and spend time at the many outdoor cafes. They are happy to have you even if you are only having drinks
  • last but not least; our two best purchases were a small shampoo bar from the Lush store which was easy to carry and no worries it will spill and a charger for the phones for Spain. We stopped in at the Ale-Hop which is like a Knick knack store and bought on for 5.00EUR so we could charge 2 phones at one time. No converter needed.

If Spain is not on your bucket list it should be. The history along with so many different regions make this destination a must to visit. City to sea it is all there waiting for you in Spain.

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