“You’ve seen Vienna and the Berlin Wall…”

Passenger’s music continuously inspires me to travel and keeps me company when I am alone or out in the cold. Check out their song The Long Road!

I had the privilege of taking on my first trip as a solo traveler in Austria a few weeks ago. After a tearful hug goodbye to my mom and dad I headed to Vienna. I immediately met a guy at the bus stop, also on his way there who was from Texas. Coincidently we were staying at the same hostel and were able to navigate our way through the city to the hostel together. Upon arrival at the hostel we were each given a ticket for a free drink at the bar. After dropping our bags we grabbed a beer and were soon joined by a brother and sister from Australia, and soon another American who now lives in Thailand, and soon two people from my hostel room, and soon some Canadians as well, who ironically had all just been in Prague recently as well, it seems to be a popular route. I was no longer a solo traveler. We decided to head over to a local pub around the corner to get some traditional Austrian food, which was again, meat and potatoes, but I was able to grab a veggie sandwich and some more beer. After dinner we headed back to the hostel bar to catch a comedy show that was being put on and we all shared many laughs before heading to bed and agreeing to meet up again in the morning to take a walking tour of the city.

I woke up early that morning because I wanted to go to a cafe to get some Wifi to do some homework. Luckily across the street from the hostel was Vienna’s Naschmarkt which is a market located where the Wien River used to flow, and the name directly translates to “nibble market” because the stands all give out sample and they joke that you could walk the entire length of it and have an entire lunch. Along Naschmarkt is a newer Opera House where Beethoven actually lived for a few short months. He liked to move around the city and in fact moved around the city 70 times in the 35 years he spent there. Also in Vienna is an art academy which Hitler tried to get into but was rejected, this caused him to hate Vienna and pledge to do something different with his life. Vienna is a beautiful city and still set up in the order it was back in medieval times. Because of this, parts of the city wall are still standing outside the Albertina Museum and adorned with beautiful statues, our tour guide said that back in medieval times the trench outside the wall was 8 meters below where the road runs now. The Parliament building in Vienna seems never ending and it just courtyard after courtyard, including one building that is where the Spanish horses live, it has been compared to a 5 star resort, complete with a gym for their morning workouts. After the tour around the lavish city with beautiful statues in every square and on every building, I decided to head out of the city and see if I could find any open wineries on the outskirts of the city. The only directions I got from the hostel about how to get there was to take the subway to the last stop and then get on the bus and take it to the last stop. Finally by about 3 pm I made it to the top of the hill that looks out across Vienna, the rolling vineyards, and the Alps. The Alps of course had snow at their peaks which was a beautiful contrast with the setting peach sun. From the top of the hill I walked down through the vineyards, the leaves of the grapevines were beginning to turn yellow which only made the rolling hills more beautiful. After walking around for a little I caught the bus back down the hill a few stops to a winery’s restaurant that had a terrace overlooking the city under the sunset. I sat here for the last few hours of sunlight sipping white wine and taking in the views. It was relaxing and refreshing, exactly what I was looking to get out of my trip. After catching one of the last buses into the city I headed back to Naschmarkt for some dinner and drinks. I really liked the local vibe there and grabbed a seat under a heat lamp and read some poetry while I tried some local lavender flavored drinks. The next day was National Day which meant that there were parades across the city, military demonstrations on the lawn outside the parliament building, and even the opportunity to shake the president’s hand! I hung out here for a good part of the day in the sun with my new friends from my hostel before sadly saying goodbye to catch my next train to Salzburg.

I arrived to Salzburg just before sunset after a short train ride. Eager for the nightly showing of The Sound of Music at the hostel, I quickly went to grab a veggie burger and briefly scouted out the tiny, quiet town. Excitedly I hurried back to the hostel to catch The Sound of Music in the common room with a bunch of other travellers. After reminiscing about my childhood I slept soundly. Unfortunately the next day it was raining, but I was not going to let that stand in my way so I headed out into the completely walkable city. The city was still quite sleepy and I was really struggling to find anywhere to get breakfast in the old part of the city. After asking a woman running a chocolate shop, I was pointed in the direction of the oldest running bakery in the city down a super tiny street. The ordering of my breakfast pastry and coffee consisted of a lot of pointing and nodding which was all worth it once I took a bite of the delicious “Danish,” which we learned in Denmark is called “Vienna Bread.” So I found it fitting to at least get one “Danish” or “Vienna Bread” or whatever you want to call it while in Austria. After a filling breakfast I walked through the square to the “Funicular” which is a high-speed, mountain-side tram up to the Salzburg Fortress. The Castle there is about as medieval as it gets, the fortress was made to assert power, and be a look-out against invasions. There was no extravagant decorations, just strong walls to protect those inside. The views of the city and mountains from the top were amazing even with the clouds in the sky. After descending in the funicular it started to downpour. I figured I could brave it for a little and see more of the city but I was soon soaked and sought dryness and warmth in the cafe in Mozart’s Residence. Once caffeinated again and only slightly dried off, I headed next door to the bookstore that had a tiny English section to grab a book for the rest of my travels since I had finished the poetry book on my way to Salzburg.

I had scheduled a Sound of Music tour for that afternoon to see all the filming locations in the area but was in desperate need of dry socks which I was surprisingly able to find in a little grocery market. After putting on dry socks I felt much better about the rest of my day and boarded the sightseeing bus. Our tour guide was great and super enthusiastic leading the entire bus in song as we went around the city and eventually out into the countryside to see the mountains and the tiny Church in Mondsee where the wedding scene takes place. Along the way we were able to see the glass gazebo and were let in on the secret that they used two different houses in the movie, one as the front yard and one as the back yard, but they are only just down the street from each other. The guide ended the tour by telling us that the real Von Trapp family escaped the Nazis by making their way to Vermont and settling in Stowe, hopefully I can make my way up there this winter. After the tour I was still a little damp and couldn’t imagine spending any more time out in the rain so I headed back to the hostel and grabbed dinner with two of the girls in my room. The next day I caught a 10 hour train back to Amsterdam that went through Germany which was nice to see during the day. I can say my solo adventure to Austria was successful and relaxing and I am grateful for all the people I met along the way!

This past weekend I returned to Germany, this time to Berlin. My neighbor Gia and I headed out Thursday evening and were quickly in Berlin after and hour long flight. We truly spent more time walking through the airport and driving on the runway than we did actually in the air. After we arrived at our hostel and ate dinner we went to a bar just down the street that was really intimate with a little DJ and a young, local crowd. After a glass of wine we were ready for bed after an evening of travel.

Friday morning, we grabbed breakfast OUTSIDE! The sun was shining down directly on the benches outside a cafe where we enjoyed bagels and coffee under the Berlin Fernsehturm which is a TV Tower in the middle of the city standing at 368 meters high, so you can pretty much see it from anywhere in the city. After breakfast we joined a free group walking tour of the city. Our tour guide was a current masters student in World Heritage, he brought us to many interesting places and taught us about the history of the city. Some facts and places we went on the tour:

  • Hotel Adlon located by the Brandenburg Gate is where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony back in 2002,
  • When Napoleon conquered Berlin he took the statue of a goddess and put her in the Louvre, after Napoleon’s defeat the statue was returned and slightly altered to now keep a watchful eye out over the French Embassy across the square,
  • Berlin is quite a modern city due to 70% of the being destroyed during bombings in WWII,
  • After WWII Berlin was divided in two, West side capitalistic and East side socialist, people were not supposed to go from East Berlin to West Berlin but many people went to great lengths to escape, including tunneling under the wall and jumping out of windows. The Berlin wall was up for 28 years, many people got used to it’s existence and some never knew any different,
  • Berlin is considered the Street Art Capital of Europe, all over the city are beautiful murals and graffiti.

The stop that was the most gripping for me was the Book Burning Memorial. Here, the Nazis burned 20,000 books written by those they persecuted. The memorial is an empty underground library accompanied by a plaque with a quote from 1820 on it, it doesn’t directly translate from German but it is something along the lines of:

“That was but a prelude;
where they burn books,
they will ultimately burn people as well.”
Heinrich Heine 1820


It is quite thought provoking and really speaks to the essence of history repeating itself. The city of Berlin admits that it is hard to speak about the horrible history there but sees utter importance in sharing the story to prevent similar horrors from happening again in the future.

After our tour we grabbed lunch with some of the people we had met on our tour before heading back to the hostel to warm up after spending the day out in the freezing cold. Once warm up and rested we biked over to a cocktail bar a few blocks away from us called “Wohnzimmer” which means livingroom in German. The tiny corner lounge is decorated with vintage furniture from the 1950s. They had an extensive cocktail list which we enjoyed sampling while feeling at home in a living room. Later in the evening we biked over to another bar which had old arcade games to play while enjoying your drinks. That night we both slept soundly and woke up ready for another day of exploring. We started our morning by grabbing breakfast alongside the Spree river and East Side Gallery. The East Side Gallery is a mile-long stretch of the Berlin Wall that has been preserved and painted with giant murals with peaceful and thought provoking messages and images.

My favorite quote along the wall was:

“I painted over the wall of shame so freedom is ashamed no more. Inferno ruled too many years until the people chose the light. I put my faith in you Berlin, and give to you my colours bright! Fulvio Pinna

In the center of Berlin is an abandoned airport which has been converted into the city’s largest park. Here you can ride bikes, skateboard, windsurf, rollerblade, you name it, up and down the runway strips and explore the former airport building. Gia and I enjoyed biking around despite the nipping cold and went inside to see some vintage photographs of the airport. Seeing a rainstorm in the approaching, we biked over to a really nice brewhouse called BRLO which is in recycled shipping containers (seems to be a trend in Europe for food and drink places). However, BRLO was built in these shipping containers so that in a couple years the whole brewhouse can move to another location in Germany. We sampled the Red Light Ale, Helles, and a limited edition beer they had in collaboration with another local brewery. After waiting out a decent part of the storm we biked back to the hostel to rest up for another night out. After a much needed 3 hour nap we woke up and headed into the cold  to another cocktail bar across the street, again decked out with vintage furniture. Gia and I were both pleased with how relaxing the environments of the bars were and how good the drinks were. Sunday we decided to check out a cafe around the corner which advertised coffee from all around the world, including Columbia, indicating to us that this coffee would most likely really have caffeine in it, unlike the rest of the coffees we have had recently. The cafe was bright and sunny and got put us in a good mood before we braved the cold and rain to venture over the the flea market at Mauerpark. Here there are all sorts of stands, but mainly traditional German Food stands and vintage clothing. Gia and I were already both freezing so we purchased some sweaters and immediately put them on. Further down the street is the Berlin Wall Visitor Center which explains the entire history of the wall’s construction and allows you to listen to people’s stories of their attempts to escape East Berlin to West Berlin. From the top floor of the center you can look down into a remaining section of the wall and “No Man’s Land” in between. I am glad I was able to learn more about the history of the city while I was there and also take time to reflect on current events and what can be learned from this era.

Though, after learning about history during the course of our trip we were craving some alternative sight seeing. Over our lunch of huge delicious salads we were scrounging the web were able to find few sights we wanted to check out. Including an abandoned Amusement Park, however it was on the opposite side of the city and our sunlight hours were dwindling so we decided to search out “The World’s Largest Freestanding Aquarium” which is in the lobby of a fancy hotel. Pretending to be guests at the hotel we were able to get into the lobby and quickly see the massive tank before slipping back out. After we set out for a courtyard alley known for its street art. After passing through an old cinema entrance, it opens up into a courtyard covered in beautiful paintings, including one of Anne Frank. The courtyard winds for quite some time with new art to discover around every turn. Sadly the sun was beginning to set so we headed back to the hostel to figure out our plans for the night. After meeting some people in the hostel and winning a round of pool, Gia and I set out for dinner at a cozy Vietnamese place that we noticed because of the delicious smells while biking by the day before. The restaurant did not disappoint and we enjoyed our rice out of the cutest woven bowls. After hanging out there for a little we headed up the street to a Belgian Beer bar. We both decided we had had enough German beer at Oktoberfest back in September so we wanted to switch it up. The bartender let us sample a few beers including one that had been recommended to be called La Choeffe which comes in a glass with a Christmas gnome on it, which did in fact ending up being my favorite. We chatted with the bartender and learned that him and the owner of the bar were both from the same tiny town in Belgium but had only just met in Berlin. It was such a plus that our hostel was so close to so many bars that were off the beaten path and places locals hangout. Berlin amazed me with its history, architecture, street art, and drinks, and of course how bikeable it was, just like home 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s