WILDTHG TRAVEL

The Hills are Alive – Enchanted Moments in Salzburg, Austria

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Dec 26, 2016

Alexander von Humboldt is quoted as once saying: “I consider the areas of Salzburg, Naples and Constantinople the most beautiful on earth.” After my first visit to Salzburg on a crisp, but clear and sunny October weekend, I must say I agree with his statement (at least as far as Salzburg is concerned).

 

Salzburg is an enchanting place indeed, combining classic architecture, history, music, culture and style. Edges of a refined urban city meet the gentle touch of ruggedly beautiful terrain, striking a unique balance between urban and natural space.

 

Granted, I decided to take this trip to Salzburg about one hour before leaving, so planning did not exactly happen. This resulted in my choice to stay rather far from the Old City (historic center, where everything is happening and where most everything is that is worth seeing) … but it was hardly a negative, as it only forced me to get a little extra exercise- in fact, it turned out that my hotel was right at the base of Kapuzinerberg, a small mountain, which, if you’re up for a short hike, provides an excellent view of the city! One must not necessarily be outdoors, nor athletically-inclined to do this hike, but to my nature-deprived self, it was an amazing way to start the day and weekend, get some fresh air, and see the beautiful Austrian terrain in all its glory. Towards the top of Kapuzinerberg, there is a small church as well as restaurant, should you wish to stay longer.

Walking down the other side of Kapuzinerberg brought me close to Mozart’s house, which has since been converted into a full museum. Being on this side of the river, I took the opportunity to stroll around this area, passing the Mozarteum (Mozart-inspired academy of music) as well as up through Mirabellgarten to Schloss Mirabell. It is in these very gardens that you can find the steps from the “Do-Re-Mi” scene in The Sound of Music!

  

In order to properly acquaint myself with Salzburg, I figured I would try to see it from as many different angles as possible, and so decided to take a river boat tour; the tour began with a cruise up the Salzach, passing many of Salzburg’s beautiful buildings and views. It then continued with a short bus-ride to Hellbrunn Palace, which itself a destination. Built in the 1600s by Marcus Sittikus, Hellbrunn Palace stretches over a vast expanse of land and combines beautiful nature with the art and imaginings of a man with a truly eccentric sense of style, and of humor. Hellbrunn translates closely to “clear water”- the name aptly comes from the fact that within the designated ground of Hellbrunn are at least 7 freshwater spring sources. Water itself plays a hugely important role at the palace, especially in the Wasserspiele, or Trick Fountains. One of the Archbishop’s apparent favorite pastimes involved not only designing and constructing various works of entertainment and decoration that harnessed the power of gravity and water (a remarkable feat of physics for his time,) he also enjoyed playing tricks upon unsuspecting guests during their visits to his grounds. This you really must experience for yourself, though I’ll just say it involves a LOT of hidden water jets- hidden in plain sight as a matter of fact, and right where you’ll be walking. A word to the wise, move quickly, or perhaps aim for a visit during the summertime.

After completing my exploration of Hellbrunn, inside and out, and learning a bit more about the history of Archbiship Sittikus and Salzburg, I made my way back into the heart of the Altstadt (Old City). My evening took me in and out of cute little shops, down cobblestoned streets, past Mozart’s birthplace, and all around this charming area. The Old City really is the place to be, playing host to all manner of restaurants and cafés, shops, and of course, sights. Here you will find some of Salzburg’s most iconic structures: Mozartplatz (Mozart Statue in outdoor plaza), Residenzplatz (another impressive statue) and open square), the Salzburg Museum, Dom zu Salzburg (domed Cathedral as well as museum) and Stiftskirche Sankt Peter (St. Peter’s Church).

   

I would highly recommend seeing a musical performance while in Salzburg, as you are in fact in the city of music!! Various concerts of classics by Mozart and much more are regularly put on in various locations throughout the city- many of these can be found in conjunction with a river cruise, dinner, or a combination thereof. I chose to attend a piano concert of Mozart music, performed in the “Roman Hall” of St. Peter’s Church. Even if classical music isn’t your thing, there is still nothing quite like the feeling of experiencing the music of Mozart in his city.

 

Once I had taken care of the whirlwind adventure exploring on my first day, I had an entire Sunday to explore more thoroughly, at my leisure. If you’ve spent much time in Europe, you will sympathize when I say be careful making too many plans on Sundays generally, because there is a European spectrum of Sunday activity (or lack thereof), from slightly-less-busy, to “I hope you went to the grocery store because we might not eat today,” depending on the area of the city you are in. Salzburg isn’t that bad, but all shops, except for the occasional chocolate or souvenir shop, were closed. Take the opportunity to avoid the usual throngs of tourists and enjoy a more peaceful stroll through the center, and perhaps sit in a service at the great dome cathedral.

My last adventure before bidding farewell (for now) to Salzburg was to take the railcar up to the Festung Hohensalzburg (high fortress). Once atop the mountain, I was greeted with an amazing panoramic view of the city, land and surrounding mountains (I had the wonderful luck of visiting on a clear day, and seeing as far as the snow-capped alps!) There are several museums and exhibits throughout the rooms of the fortress, and even a restaurant, with open seating and arguably unbeatable views as far as restaurants go.

   

Full of crisp, clear Austrian air, interesting tidbits of history and (as always) plenty of chocolate, I bid adieu, adieu to Salzburg, a truly lovely place to which I hope to return very soon.

36 HOURS IN ANTWERP – 10 Things you Must see if you Only Have the Weekend

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Dec 25, 2016

So you’re headed to Antwerp! Only have one weekend? Not to fear – even though Antwerp is such a gorgeous, amazing place and there is so much to do, you can certainly get to know this lovely city in a few days… here are a few fun ideas:

 

TO VISIT

Cathedral of our Lady (Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal Antwerpen)

A Roman Catholic Cathedral built in Gothic style, this structure’s final stage of construction was completed in 1521, though it nevertheless remains considered “incomplete.” Beautiful from all angles and at all times of day, it is not only extremely photogenic, but offers a convenient central reference point to any confused tourists wandering too far astray. For a small fee, visitors may enter the cathedral and see works by notable painters such as Peter Paul Rubens, Otto Van Veen, Jacob de Backer and Marten de Vos.

 

Grote Markt (Great Market Square)

Situated at the heart of the old city quarter, Grote Markt must inevitably be any visitor’s priority (or perhaps even base) on their visit to Antwerp. Home to various shows, exhibits and demonstrations throughout the year, and even a Christmas Market and ice rink in December, Grote Markt is one of the most popular convening spots for locals and tourists alike (indeed one of the most heavily-peopled areas of the city, though still a must-see.)

 

Stadhuis van Antwerpen (Antwerp City Hall)

Standing on the western side of Grote Markt, the building incorporates both Flemish and Italian influences in its striking design. Erected between 1561 and 1565, it is listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Curious about all of the flags? I was too – I discovered that in fact, throughout most of the year, 87 flags decorate the hall’s façade. The central flags on the bottom row represent Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium, Europe and the United Nations. The other flags represent countries that are member of the European Union and nations that have a consulate in Antwerp.

 

Brabo Statue

After taking photos of the market square and admiring Brabo, I wondered what the significance of his location/posture actually is; the statue in fact represents a mythical Roman solider, Silvius Brabo, who is said to have killed a giant- as the story goes, the giant always asked money from people who wanted to pass the bridge over the river Scheldt, and cut off the hands of those who would not pay. Because of this, Brabo also cut off the hand of the giant and threw it into the river (hence the design of the statue, if you look closely!)

 

Sint Andrieskirk

St. Andrew’s Church is one to walk through, for its gorgeous large stained glass windows, depicting (as per usual) various biblical scenes… and not to be missed on your visit is a rather uniquely-clad Virgin Mary, complete with sequins, feathers (yes, feathers) – and I will let you decide for yourself about baby Jesus.

 

MAS (Museum aan de Stroom)

  

This artsy structure, composed of wiggly glass and lego-like red brick, is nestled amongst bits of land near the port, north of Schipperskwartier (area). Enjoy permanent exhibits covering topics like the importance of shipping to Antwerp’s relationship with the world, food in the city, and even an examination of life and death across several different cultures. Once you are done perusing these, enjoy a panoramic view of the city and sea from the open-air viewing deck on the 10th floor! Just across the small bridge from MAS is a glumly-industrial shipping area, turned up and coming by the presence of various hipster culinary establishments, from burger joints to espresso cafés to “The Shack,” exclusively serving designer bagels and coffee. This makes even a hung-over museum day a happy one.

 

Rubenshuis 

     

Take a stroll through Ruben’s House if you have about one hour to spare, or perhaps if the weather is not to die for, as you will spend most of your time indoors. The former home of artist Peter Paul Rubens, Rubenshuis is now a museum, still housing many works by Rubens and his contemporaries, as well as his personal collections.

 

Vlaeykensgang

A hidden (tiny) alleyway along Oude Koornmarkt, which has all manner of restaurants and bars for any occasion, food type and time of day. Escape briefly from the friendly chaos of this major street for some quiet reprieve along Vlaeykensgang while enjoying adorable flower boxes of red geraniums in whitewashed windows, or perhaps even choosing a more intimate dinner location at one of the restaurants towards the end of the path.

 

Meir Street

    

A baby version of London’s Oxford Street in Antwerp! If you walk straight into the city center from the central train station, you will walk onto this street, which is one of, if not the major shopping street of Antwerp, complemented by sophisticated cafés and eateries, and walled on both sides by tall buildings- look up, the architecture (and angels!) is beautiful.

 

Bourla Schowburg (Bourla Theater)

The theater, completed in 1834, seats 900 people. The building is designed in a neoclassical style on the site of the former Tapissierspand tapestry market, within short walking distance of several boutique shops and restaurants.

 

TO STAY

My Choice:

Antwerp City Hostel is perfect for budget travel or a quick weekend getaway for last-minute planners. Situated directly on Grote Markt, guests have immediate access to the Cathedral and market, and all restaurants, cafés, and bars surrounding this central area. One night from 30 euros.

Popular Recommendations:

Aplace Antwerp (Vrijdagmarkt 1; aplace.be) has four lovely, recently renovated rooms — two suites, two apartments — on a quiet square in the city center. The friendly innkeeper, Karin, gives guests insider tips about the city (and sometimes brings by cupcakes, too). Suites from 125 euros.

The Hotel O Kathedral (Handschoenmarkt 3; hotelhotelo.com) is as central as it gets — right across the square from the cathedral. Under the hotel’s white stepped-gable roof, there are 23 minimalist rooms, some with peek-a-boo showers, as well as a downstairs bar and bookshop. Doubles from 99 euros.

 

TO EAT

Waffle Factory: You need this in your life, that is all I will say. Unless you think you can handle ice cream as well, then get it too.

Elfde Gebod: (11th commandment) – enjoy a delicious cauldron full of steamed mussels in either garlic, belgian beer or other flavors (this is a must-eat when in Belgium of course) at an outdoor patio along a cobblestone street with a view of the Cathedral- at night, everything lights up for extra charm.

The Shack: Bagels & coffee (across the river, past the MAS) – again, there are many attractive eateries and cafés out in this area, you won’t want to miss grabbing a snack before or after your trip to MAS!

Grote Markt is a good starting point for restaurants, as there are many places to eat around the main square. Oude Koornmarkt street is also a great place for restaurants, and you won’t have far to look- this street is more lively and fun.

 

Go on – enjoy this amazing city and comment below about your own adventures!!! 🙂

FRENCH FAIRYTALES – TOWNS IN FRANCE YOU MAY NOT HAVE EVEN HEARD OF… BUT NEED TO VISIT RIGHT NOW

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Dec 25, 2016

While a trip to Paris is (understandably) on everyone’s travel and/or life bucket list, there are so many places in France to be explored that are far off the beaten path. Some of these are along the border between France and Germany, resulting in an interesting pattern of signage and nomenclature, for one thing, and a bit of confusion as to what language we should be speaking, on the part of local and tourist alike.

 

STRASBOURG

        

The capital of the Alsace region, Strasbourg is a must-see for all those traveling along the French-German border. Strasbourg retains an air of quaintness, while not being too small. You can explore this lovely city by foot (my preference,) by bike or even by river boat! There are many beautiful sights to see and/or photograph while exploring Strasbourg, so prepare to be inspired by its beauty. Plenty of shops are scattered throughout the city center, but the best area to explore if you only have a bit of time is La Petite France. Something you must see, but will also likely not miss, is Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg; this enormous 15th century cathedral towers above the central square, and offers an impressive view to those lucky enough to dine outside in the sunshine. A brief walk will take you to the Barrage Vauban, which is a dam built in the 17th century as a defensive work to protect the city, but now provides a perfectly-situated bridge, from which to enjoy a fantastic view of the city.

 

To stay: Mercure Hotel, La Petite France- situated in between the central train station and central Strasbourg, the hotel is convenient, easily reachable and a short walk from all the fun things J Breakfast is yummy as well, so if you wake up hungry and don’t feel like wandering yet, it is worth getting there, before (or after) your complementary welcome drink; I recommend trying the house made wine from the Alsace region.

 

To eat: Hotel Rohan – one of many lovely locales next to the cathedral, this boutique hotel fulfills most expectation of the term, with quirky décor and a similarly eclectic menu, of course combining French and German influences; one thing you will see repeatedly on most menus in the Alsace region is the Tarte Flambeé, an Alsacian/South German specialty that traditionally involves thinly-rolled dough, crème fraiche or fromage blanc and various toppings- to my confused American et. al friends, think along the lines of thin-crust pizza, or even flatbread, with 10X the deliciousness. I tried the warm goat cheese Tarte (with bacon and honey, if I remember correctly- amazing).

Jeff de Bruges- yes, it is Belgian. Yes, the chocolate is to die for. Stop by Jeff’s to create your own sample baggie from a delectable selection of gorgeously-handcrafted chocolates, or purchase a colorful, delicious souvenir for a loved one!

Le Kuhn- Playfully mixing French and German (already in its name!), this restaurant is nice for dinner, and again, conveniently close by. Here you will find the opportunity to sample from a variety of traditional Alsatian specialties, from meat, sauerkraut and potatoes, to Schnitzels, salads, and of course the beloved Tarte Flambeé.

 

COLMAR

   

I would have to say this is a place inevitably defined by an air of romance- Colmar feels small and can easily be explored by foot. While walking hand in hand with a loved one along the colorful, picturesque streets or even taking a boat ride along the river seems indeed quite popular, this is not to discourage the solo traveler! Grab an ice cream and your camera, and simply enjoy the feel of this cozy little town, which is indeed a welcome reprieve from some of the busier stops along your European travels. Tourist shops featuring trinkets from the Alsace region conceal themselves modestly amongst snack shops in bright yellow, pink and blue buildings, which I indeed unapologetically claimed as a photoshoot background- how could you not. If you only see ONE thing in Colmar, please make sure it is Rue de Poissonnerie in La Petite Venise- this is the insanely colorful and cute street, straight out of every fairytale that matters. If you can tear yourself away from this cuteness, go see Église Saint-Martin (St. Martin’s Church), a remarkable Gothic monument in the center of town. Everyone was very friendly in Colmar, but kept to themselves; many of course were tourists as well, but most coming only from as far away as Germany. I loved the vibe of Colmar, and while there is not an extensive amount of activities available, it is a perfect place to go for a few days to just relax and enjoy its effortless beauty and charm.

 

To stay: Romantik Hotel Le Maréchal – On Lauch river in the Petite Venise neighborhood of Colmar, this elegant hotel built in 1565 is only a 12 minute walk from Gare de Colmar train station. Again, perhaps this seems like a romantic snuggle haven for couples, and while it indeed does serve this purpose, it can also be an excellent getaway for the solo traveler looking to experience the antique side of Colmar. I would highly recommend the breakfast at this hotel; while it is not one of the cheapest, it serves a delightful variety of local favorites, specialties, along with coffees and champagnes to keep even the least of morning people happy.

 

To eat: Walk into the city center towards St. Martin’s Church and sit down at any of the cozy brasseries and restaurants, all offering delicious Alsatian favorites; I tried the Roesti dish at a Brasserie in central Colmar- this is a delicious dish with mixed meats, cheeses, onions and other things mixed and baked together and served in a hot iron skillet. After dinner, enjoy an espresso and dessert at one of the cafés near the river as the sun sets, or on your way back for the evening.

 

EGUISHEIM

    

This place is straight out of snow-white, I swear. Cobblestone streets, colorful houses (almost every single house), flowers on flowers on flowers, birds singing, and hardly anyone to be seen, let alone annoying tourists (am I an annoying tourist?… awkward.) Eguisheim is one of many small villages dotting the region of Alsace, near to Colmar; it just happens to be one of the best, however- certainly the prettiest, and if I haven’t yet convinced you of its charm, it is also one of the most famous places for winemaking in this region. 😉 Eguisheim is easily reachable from Colmar by car/taxi (about 10 min drive), and you can visit it for the perfect day trip; I was only there for a matter of hours, and even though I would have loved to stay longer, I already felt like I got to know a bit of this village’s lovely personality.

 

Favorite Wine-Tasting Venue: Joseph-Freudenreich – A bit smaller than some of the hyped-up wineries in Eguisheim, this venue is incredibly quaint and personal. Bring out your inner connoisseur to taste from a varied menu of locally made specialties, then sit in the sunshine surrounded by flowers and sip your carefully-selected Gewürztraminer or Pinot, even take some bottles home for an almost ridiculously-reasonable price.

To eat: Pop into any place along the narrow streets, they are all terribly precious and the food will be delicious, featuring local specialties! I chose a small restaurant with private terrace and (once again) had a warm goat cheese Tarte Flambeé, though with slightly different ingredients than some others I had tried.

 

I could have easily spent at least a week or two exploring many of the villages around Colmar, though don’t worry if you are a bit strapped for time- I visited all three of these destinations within a long weekend, and did not feel rushed. I cannot wait to go back!!

How to Travel by Train in Germany (The Struggles of Deutsche Bahn)

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Dec 24, 2016

Sure, Detusche Bahn is fantastic – (read: Deutsche Bahn is fantastic when your train shows up on time, leaves the station on time, does not stop intermittently during your journey for no apparent reason, and indeed arrives at your intended destination, also relatively on time). Beyond this, WIFI functionality is a blessing, not a given (sorry business commuters) and a seat? Good luck finding vacancy on that 4pm train from Munich to Frankfurt, and even if you do, better not put in your earphones yet, for you will most likely soon hear an indignant “das ist doch mein Platz”- classic German bluntness (aka you’re in my seat- aka get out). Hey, not blaming anyone here, but hopefully shedding a small light on the occasional struggles of DB will help all you would be Germany-explorers avoid a 6-hour train trip as a permanent hallway-floor fixture, being stepped over (on) by all who pass.

 

DB has become a (fond?) joke of our time and regular commutes in Germany, indeed not to sound completely disenchanted with the system- generally, the trains are indeed quite nice, comfy, and get you around pretty much anywhere and everywhere you would need to get to in the country (and sometimes beyond); DB easily and regularly connects to train providers of other countries (think France, Belgium, Switzerland, etc.) for weekend trips-galore. DB also offers perks and privileges (we’ll ignore cost for now), such as the Bahn-100 card, which allows unlimited travel throughout the country on any DB regional train or city underground. 1st class, while (annoyingly) exclusively for 1st class ticket holders (ok, fine), provides a somewhat calmer and more spacious surrounding, and perhaps the extra leg room is even worth the splurge- we’ll leave that up to you to decide. Cross your fingers for a smooth train… otherwise we advise you to hang on to your Starbucks, and trips to the bathroom? Don’t even think about it.

 

A few of our favorite hacks for essential DB survival:

  • Bring all the chargers, for all the electronics (there are usually plugs at every seat- this is a plus, and if your phone is as hopelessly outdated as mine, your battery will also constantly be dead).
  • Reading/writing material- whether you have under your arm the FT and economist (our top picks for morning commutes!), VOGUE, Playboy, your diary, 1247-page book manuscript, or even that stack of postcards you’ve been meaning to send to grandma, such things are great ways to pass time (generally of course, but especially if you counted on definitely having either 1.WIFI, 2. Charged electronics, or both.
  • Headphones- not just because you want to keep your J-Biebs addiction secret (we forgive you), there will be babies. And high schoolers. And loudspeaker announcements… you get the idea.
  • Chocolate – ok, I guess this is a personal problem.

 

So, with that said, we genuinely hope you enjoy your adventures in Germany! We would kindly nudge you to practice logical and smart train-station navigation, beginning with arriving early (at least 10 min before your departure time if a seasoned DB-goer, or up to 30+ min if you are 1. A newbie, 2. A baby sloth 3. Hopelessly confused (also forgiven) – you will need this extra time to wait in line at the Reisebüro for guidance or 4. Simply enjoy wandering aimlessly around (at times, the amusing) establishments that are German train stations (note: avoid heroin dealers). Look to the giant board for your train departure info (sometimes platforms change last minute or there may be delays), and if still confused, we urge you to find someone in DB uniform (usually blue or red) rather than scurrying around asking any and every one on your platform, who, to be honest, are probably either 1. Tourists, who are just as confused as you 2. May not speak the language you are trying to communicate in well enough to fully assist you 3. May give you false information, even with the best of intentions – this way, you will certainly save some time and headache.

 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we hope you enjoyed your trip and thank you again for choosing Deutsche Bahn” – did we really have a choice?? Oh, the irony.