Thursday, September 07, 2017

Central Europe: Day 6 (Vienna)

Started day 6 off with another run, this time not in the streets and neighborhoods (which was a little frustrating on day 4, because of the traffic lights) but in a city park right down the road from our hotel. The park had ponds, statues, and fancy buildings to look at. 


I snagged this photo of the generous lanes for biking and walking alongside the big street! The Viennese love their bikes; they have not one but two competing bike rental companies in the city.

First stop was a delicious breakfast at Café Central, a grande dame of a Viennese coffee shop that evokes art nouveau and intellectualism. Hitler and Trotsky were regulars here, as well as Sigmund Freud, Tito, and many other great European minds. (We just came here for breakfast though.)

We enjoyed a roll, croissant, tea, coffee, and apple strudel right in front of huge portraits of Franz Joseph and Sisi. Of course.

Next stop was the Upper and Lower Belvedere museums, which house a wide variety of European art, including a spectacular collection of one of Vienna's favorite sons, Gustav Klimt. The last time I was here, the "Lady in Gold," Adele Bloch-Bauer, was still here. Awkward!

Everyone's favorite Klimt, made into a selfie station

The museums themselves are gorgeous architectural specimens. This is the great hall of the Upper Belvedere at left.

I also thought that the Upper Belvedere had a fascinating modern art installation, specifically a few pieces that played at the interior of the museum well.

The Lower Belvedere had an exhibit on Klimt's incorporation of Egyptian antiquities into his artwork, specifically his friezes, which I had never really thought about before but totally made sense when you see them next to each other.

Here's us in a fancy gilded room at the Lower Belvedere:


After the Belvedere, we took a street tram to a highly recommended gastropub, Amerlingbeisl, where I had a falafel wrap with fries and beer and Dave had spinach spätzle, also with beer. We tried a few of the local Viennese macrobrews and heartily enjoyed a red Zwickl.




After we finished lunch, we were ready for more artwork at the Kunsthistorisches Museum ("Art History Museum"), another Habsburg gift to the city of Vienna. I would compare it to the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Even though it was partially closed for renovations, we spent three hours wandering the hallways looking at antiquities, sculptures, and artwork.


The museum is known for its large collection of works by Bruegel and Rubens. The Egyptian antiquities were fascinating, too. The museum itself also contains some Klimt friezes, I think for the Vienna world's fair. They were hard to see, but we found them in the main staircase area.


For dinner, we visited Wiebels Wirsthaus for Austrian wine and classic fare. I was kind of getting tired of schnitzel and sausages, so I got salmon and rice with a Hollandaise sauce, and Dave got lamb and potatoes gratin.

After dinner, we headed to the Deutschordenshaus with tickets to a tiny concert in the tiny Sala Terrena:


Mozart practiced here when he was a boy, and the room has been restored for public concerts. A quartet of musicians dressed in period costume played Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven for a crowd of only fifty. Not a bad seat in the house, and a captivating experience. Get your tickets before you go!!

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Central Europe: Day 5 (Vienna)

Today was a day of palaces and feelin' fancy, but also trying to save money by eating food from a grocery store. Win win!

We had breakfast of belegtes Brot, which I loosely translate as "bread with stuff on it." Germanic peoples love breakfast of bread, butter, and cold cuts, and it's something I love, as well.

Our first visit was to Schloss Schönbrunn, the Austrian equivalent of the Palace of Versailles. It's a little outside of town, just like Versailles, and it, too, started out as a little hunting lodge and exploded into a sprawling palace with gorgeously maintained grounds.


The Habsburgs lived here until the death of Franz Joseph, who was born there, lived there, and died there. The palace is beautiful, of course, and the grounds are sprawling and impressive.


I brought my knitting, of course, and we were happy to sit for a while watching all the tourists, joggers, etc. We brought our Billa lunch of sandwiches, apples, and cookies.


I have to say, I was more impressed this time than last. Maybe the weather was better and I enjoyed the gardens more, or maybe I wasn't expecting it to actually BE Versailles this time. 

We got back into town and visited the other Habsburg residence, the Hofburg. A sprawling city palace, it contains the library, the former royal apartments, and the royal china & silver collection.

Of course, our first stop was the library (Hofbibliothek). I remembered it being a soaring Baroque masterpiece, and of course, it did not disappoint. I'm a little surprised it wasn't free, but whatever, I'm happy to support any library, anywhere!


Next was the Sisi Museum, where we learned all about Empress Elisabeth of Austria. I don't remember there being such a branding push about Sisi the last time I was in Vienna, and it seemed to me that she has been overly romanticized. She was the love of Franz Joseph, but seemed like she was lukewarm-ish about the emperor and actively hated being empress. If she hadn't been assassinated, I think she'd be remembered as a Scarlett O'Hara-type figure.

We also got to drool over the imperial china, glassware, and silver. Here's a sample place setting with the official napkin fold of the monarchy:


Dave was a little grumpy about that museum because he's not that into the pretty stuff, and he also had turned his ankle on the stairs at the Hofbibliothek. So I enjoyed the flatware by myself, then we headed back to the hotel to relax a bit.

We weren't terribly hungry for dinner, so we just had another ice cream cone at Zanoni & Zanoni (this became a daily requirement) and snacked a bit at the hotel with a sour beer we bought at Lichtenthaler the night before.

Now comes the only touristy thing I did in Vienna that I regret, which is the Sachertorte at Hotel Sacher. A Sachertorte is an incredibly dense chocolate cake with apricot filling (questionable) and a hard chocolate shell. I was not terribly impressed with that or the apple strudel we tried, so I wish we hadn't done that and had gone for beers at another brewery instead. Oh well, you live and you learn.

We had tickets to Vienna State Opera to see the Barber of Seville, a very enjoyable and humorous opera compared to others I've seen, which tend toward the tragic. I had seen La Traviata at the Vienna State Opera when I was a student, but we had the ten euro tickets that make you stand at the back of the theater. This time, we had actual seats, so you can see how I've come up in the world.

Outside the opera house was a pink bunny satirizing the Albrecht Dürer original drawing in the Albertina Museum (which I visited a few days later). He is cute!


The opera was great, and I didn't even fall asleep this time. After the show, we had the luxury of walking home through a beautiful Vienna night to our hotel.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Central Europe: Day 4 (Vienna)

Our first full day in Vienna included a lot of touristy stuff, but we saw a lot of the city center!

First, I took a two-mile run near our hotel in the morning - this was a Tuesday morning, so there were a lot of commuters (Vienna loves bikes!) and kids going to school. I love taking runs while on vacation because you can really see the heart of the city in the morning!

We wanted to go to breakfast at Kleines Cafe, but it was closed, so we went to Diglas for a traditional Viennese breakfast.

Then it was the second St. Stephen's Cathedral in as many days:




We climbed this one, too, of course, and got to see the amazing tile work up close and personal:



We took a walk down the super commercial street (I forget the name) off of the Stephansdom platz. We checked out my beloved Swatch boutique, and Dave almost bought a watch. Then we hit up Altmann & Kühne for some delicious chocolates. It was such a cute shop!

Speaking of shopping, I really wanted to find this cute yarn shop, Wolle Wien, which brought us up the Schönlaterngasse, one of the prettiest streets in the world. I wish we had gone closer to midday so we could have gotten a sunnier picture, but oh well. Still very pretty. We enjoyed some Zanoni and Zanoni dark chocolate gelato while we strolled.

Wolle Wien was everything I hoped for and more. I bought some beautiful hand-dyed Austrian yarn that I'm still deciding what to do with. It's this intense pink-orange combination; I might do a shawl or poncho, maybe something to wrap up with in my chilly office. Another great souvenir!

Right next to the yarn shop was another place on my list - Griechenbeisl - the oldest restaurant in Vienna. It has a cute beer garden, and we enjoyed a bit of food while taking a rest. We looked around inside for a bit, too, and one of the staff members gave us a tour!



We stopped by the Billa near our hotel to buy some groceries for lunch on the palace grounds the next day; I love shopping in grocery stores abroad, and the Billa has a special place in my heart because that's where we'd shop when I lived in Salzburg during my study abroad. We got some stuff for sandwiches and snacks and went back out for more sight-seeing.

Heading back out again, we stopped by the Haus der Musik, a museum of musical history and sound, including famous Viennese composers, the Vienna Philharmonic, the opera, and even the way humans hear sound. The museum is interactive and super interesting; I enjoyed it more than I expected, and we spent more time there than I thought we would. I definitely recommend it, especially to music lovers.

Also, this visit informed me about something I am very embarrassed not to have known about previously, which is the annual New Year's concert by the Vienna Philharmonic. We bought a CD of the 2017 concert and plan to watch on PBS in the future! (Still so embarrassed.)

For dinner, we walked over to the other restaurant claiming to be the oldest restaurant in Vienna, Gösser Bierklinik, dating from 1683. (Maybe this is the oldest one still under original ownership, whereas Griechenbeisl is the oldest restaurant site, although it has undergone changes in ownership? Who knows.)



We had a lovely meat-centric meal and got to try some of their beers; the Stiftsbräu Dark and Zwickel were particularly good. The room we were in reminded me of the classic German beer hall, which felt right for drinking lagers and eating meat.

For our last stop of the day, we visited Lichtenthaler Bräu, one of the best rated craft beer breweries in Vienna. It was a little out of the way, but boy was it worth it. They had beers we hadn't seen on a menu since leaving the US, like a dark IPA, a sour, and more. We had beers in the porch area and enjoyed hanging with the locals. It seemed like kind of a university area.

Well, that's a wrap on day 4!

Monday, September 04, 2017

Central Europe: Day 3 (Budapest / Vienna)

Last day in Budapest! I was so sad to leave, because it was such a great start to the trip. Budapest was way more beautiful, accessible, and tasty than I remember. (Having a job, money, and more refined tastes helps.)

I started off the day with a two-mile run around the city wall. It was my first run in Europe, and I was thrilled. I took it easy and looked at the sights, and I got to see locals on their morning dog walks. Running in a foreign city really makes you feel like you belong! I'll have to make a habit of it.

Then it was another breakfast at the hotel, this time I got the ridiculously huge croque madame and really felt like I earned it.

One of my favorite buildings in Europe is the Hungarian Parliament building. We didn't get a tour, but we did take some photos around the exterior. It was a beautiful morning for photos, especially after the gloomy day previous.


We stopped by Liberty Square, home to the last standing Soviet monument in Budapest, as well as a quizzical statue of Ronald Reagan. I took a photo giving a thumbs down to one of my least favorite presidents. We walked up the street to Szamos Marcipán to enjoy a chocolate tarte and ogle the beautiful marzipan and baked goods.

Down the street in the central Pest area, we visited St. Stephen's Basilica and, of course, climbed the tower...


The building is utterly vast, and we enjoyed walking around and seeing the relics.


Nearby, there was a post office, so we decided to mail some postcards home from each city. (As I write this post, it is mid-October and my grandma still hasn't received one of them - I need to ask her which one!)

The rest of the morning was fairly indulgent. We stopped at Café Gerbeaud, an indulgent cafe in downtown Pest. 


Look at those macarons! We shared an Esterházy Kehely, a decadent confection made of layers of candied walnut / linzer cake / ice cream, and I also had one of the best hot chocolates I've ever enjoyed in my life.

As if that wasn't enough, we walked to the premium chocolatier Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé for some truffles to take on the road. So good!

Down the street from the chocolatier was a university neighborhood that boasted Lumen Kávézó, a bar with a reputation for craft beer. We had our favorite beers in all of Budapest, including a tasty little cherry sour called Meggysör by the brewery Stari Sör (sör being the word for beer in Hungarian - pronounced almost like "sure").


Lumen was also a great outdoor venue, again mostly locals. I really felt like our guide book, Pocket Budapest by Lonely Planet, helped us get off the beaten path, with some tourist stuff thrown in, too.

With that, it was time to leave beloved Budapest and catch our train to Vienna...


I was excited to be going to Vienna because it was the town on our trip where I had spent the longest amount of time and was most familiar, but also I actually speak the language somewhat (as opposed to Hungarian, which is impossible). 

After a nice long train ride spent knitting, we arrived and got to our hotel, Aparthotel Adagio, which is similar to a Residence Inn and offers a more apartment-like feel and amenities. For instance, we'd be able to do laundry before we left Vienna - important because of how lightly we'd packed. But it was still centrally located.

First up was a dinner reservation at Zum Schwarzen Kameel, Vienna's oldest restaurant (founded in 1618). It had a fabulous art deco interior and still seemed to be popular with locals. I love to visit restaurants and breweries with a long history when I'm visiting Europe - we rarely have anything like it in the United States, especially not in Chicago.


We got the Viennese tasting menu, which included ham shank, dumpling soup, goulash, Wiener schnitzel, potato salad, and an apricot crêpe with mascarpone for dessert. Great start to Vienna for us, and another early night to bed!

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Central Europe: Day 2 (Budapest)

For our full day in Budapest, we slept in and actually felt pretty good - the jet lag wasn't too bad. The hotel served breakfast, and Dave got a ridiculously large Croque Madame. It looked delicious.

We walked through the Castle Hill area, including a palace and church area with beautiful views of the river. We walked around on the castle wall and saw the restored Vienna Gate.

Our first stop was the Hungarian National Gallery, which is situated in Buda Castle. It's an ornate castle built by the Hapsburgs but hardly used by them.


Most of the artists represented were Hungarian, as you might imagine, and there were many we had never heard of before. The Impressionist movement really didn't make its way over to Hungary, although one or two artists visited Paris during that time and painted a few pieces representative of the style.

There was also modern art, and let me tell you, Hungarian modern art is pretty bleak and dark. (Like most modern art, probably, and especially most modern art in former Soviet bloc countries.)


We climbed the dome, of course, and were treated to some wonderful views:



After the gallery, we visited Gellert Baths, a luxurious and relaxing spot just south of Castle Hill. I was reluctant to bring along my swimsuit, flip flops, and swim cap just for this visit, but the photos online looked worth it. It also seemed like a real Hungarian experience.


Look at this place! Don't you want to spend a few hours there?? We swam in this pool, which was a fairly chilly temperature, at least compared to the thermal pools. The thermal pools went from 32 degrees Celsius to 40 degrees Celsius and we tried them all. It was a totally new experience for me, but I'm so glad I did it.

We skipped lunch because we were so full from breakfast, and we decided to push up our visit to the Great Synagogue because we were in the area. Much of the focus of the synagogue was in the history of Hungarian Jewish life, the Holocaust, and what life is like for Jews in Budapest today.

There is a really tortured past there. Hungarians gave up the Jews of the countryside to the Nazis during the occupation, but apparently most of the ones in the city were allowed to remain. However, they were ushered into the ghetto, where many died during the harsh wartime winters. The courtyard of the synagogue is full of mass graves, and there is a memorial outside the synagogue to the murdered Jews of Hungary.

The visit also included a visit to the Hungarian Jewish Museum, which included religious books and items from families in the area.

While we were in the Jewish quarter, we visited a highly recommended café - Frőhlich Kóser Cukrászda - for a break with some coffee, tea, and sweet cakes.  We got a nut cake, an apple pie, and a wonderful cherry strudel.

In the area is the most famous "ruin bar" in Budapest, Szimpla Kert, so we stopped in for a beer.

There are a few ruin bars in Budapest, basically bombed out or destroyed buildings where you can get a drink under the sky. Szimpla Kert was an eclectic mash-up of rooms decorated with all kinds of stuff. 


We earned our Untappd beer badges for Hungarian beers here! I have to say, Hungarian beer is mostly pretty bland pilsners and lagers; I'd stick with the wine, since Czech and German beers both tend to be higher quality. We also had a Slovak beer that was not bad!

We had dinner at a Michelin star restaurant near our hotel named Arany Kaviár ("Golden Caviar"), which is managed by a Russo-Hungarian chef. The meal was delicious, definitely the best we had had and much more affordable than Michelin-starred restaurants in the United States.

We enjoyed some Hungarian sparkling wine, bread with popcorn butter, chicken liver p
âté, a concoction with caviar, sturgeon, and cucumber, wild boar pelmeni (one of my favorite food items of the whole trip), pigeon breast (Dave), sturgeon with gnocchi (Val), poppyseed cake, desserts, and dessert wine. Oof!

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Central Europe: Day 1 (Budapest)

Get ready for another set of travel photos! Dave and I took a trip to Budapest, Vienna, Prague, and Berlin in September. As usual, I'm back-dating them and posting from home so that I've had more time to chew on the experience.

On Friday, September 1, we flew from Chicago to Berlin overnight, then from Berlin to Budapest the next morning. We flew on Air Berlin (more on that later) and were very happy with the experience. We got free toothbrushes and other stuff with the flight, and the movies and food were good.

We stayed at the Baltazár Budapest, an adorable little hotel in the Castle District. The menu looked pretty good, so we decided to have lunch there. They had some traditional Hungarian dishes; I had chicken paprikash with a cucumber salad, and Dave had a duck leg.

I wanted to stop by a yarn shop, but it was closed. Apparently a lot of shops are closed in Budapest on the weekends. Oh well! That was our only taxi ride of the whole trip, though. From then on, all public transportation and our own legs carrying us.

Our first stop was Heroes' Square, which, per Wikipedia, was constructed "to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin," as well as the founding of the Hungarian state in 1896. It's a UNESCO heritage site! We didn't linger long because the weather looked ominous, but it was a beautiful, expansive square.

The next stop was the Hall of Art, which was actually mostly closed for renovations and the installation of some new exhibits. They did have a cute exhibit on coffee / tea serving sets throughout the 20th century, including some fabulous art deco pieces like this:



We meandered over to the city park, and there happened to be a Hungarian culture festival going on! I hadn't been sure how we would fill our afternoon until dinner, but ohhh did we.

Here are some piles of the most delicious marzipan I have ever tasted:

My favorite was the cinnamon-quince one, but Dave was into the Nutella variety.



Down a ways from the food vendors was a stage with showing Hungarian music and dances. There was a group of the cutest old ladies ever, in traditional Hungarian folk outfits.


We also saw a dance, sort of a square dance. At that point, we decided to walk around the park some more, where we could see beer vendors, other music venues setting up, and kids playing sports. The park is obviously very well loved and used.

We headed back to the festival area just in time to catch an absolutely AMAZING modern folk band called Góbé zenekar. We were absolutely blown away, and I'm still fairly obsessed with them. 


Each dude plays like three different instruments, and the music is just catchy and beautiful. It was one of the best live bands I've ever seen. The group has such energy and loves what they do.

It started raining on us just as Góbé was finishing, so we decided to arrive a bit early for our dinner reservation at Robinson, a beautiful glassy restaurant in the park on a pond. I had perch with sausage and butternut squash, and Dave had cod with potatoes. Both of us had Hungarian wines, which are delicious.

We were getting SUPER tired at that point, so we decided to call it a night rather than go to the drinks reservation I had made. We took the subway down to the river, then walked over the bridge and back to the hotel.


Sorry for the blurry photo of the lovely Chain Bridge, but I guess this was as good as it got for my phone. It was a beautiful night - we headed to bed very very early so that we could sleep off our jet lag the next day.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Northwestern Athletics "N"

I work at Northwestern University, where purple pride rules! I've been wanting to do the "Athletics N" for a while, and I had the perfect opportunity recently at a staff gathering where we showed off our artwork. (Mine was all yarn-related!)

Here's my chart:




As usual with my chart patterns, each square represents a single stitch in crochet or a knitted stitch in knitting. Here's the finished product! It would look great as part of a scarf or varsity sweater.

I've been invited to my first NU football game this fall, so maybe I can knit while I'm there if I wear one of these...

I'm going on a trip to Europe soon, so I'll have photos when I get back. I plan on stopping at a yarn shop in each city, so watch my Instagram for the journey!