Time seems to keep flying by. Before we knew it our time in Croatia had already run out.
It's strange when we reflect on our travels. It wasn't too long ago that we were anticipating our visit to Europe to meet our parents. In fact, once the trip details were firmed up it seemed like such a long time before we'd see them.
Now, not only has the time come… it has also gone. Before we know it we'll be back at home sitting in our apartment and this year long adventure will become an outstanding memory.
Our time in Split was quite relaxing and peaceful. It was nice to be around familiar faces and spend quality time together. But we were on a road trip and that meant it was time to move on to our next destination, it's amazing how quickly four days just disappear.
We piled into the blue Ford station wagon and set our eyes on Vienna, Austria. The Croatian motorways are exceptional so we knew that we could cover a lot of ground if we had an early start in the morning.
The drive through Croatian countryside was quite stunning. The rugged grey mountains were steep and dominant. The drive had us passing through tunnels that were 6 km's deep at certain points. It was incredible! Think about it for a moment… 6 kilometers into the belly of a rocky mountain. Could you imagine if your vehicle broke down 3 km's into the tunnel? They were without a doubt the biggest tunnels we've ever driven through.
The day was long but eventually we covered the 600+ kilometers and arrived in Vienna. We were all tired but still in need of hotel accommodations. We didn't have a city map so we tried to wing it. Did I mention that it was now rush hour in the city of two million?
After about an hour of circling the city limits we finally found a nice hotel that wasn't 300 Euros per night (who knew a Holiday Inn could be over US$ 500 per night!). In fact, the rooms were so big that we all shared one and saved on the cost, which was great because we intended to stay for two nights. It was similar to a one bedroom apartment with twin beds and a couch in the sitting area and a double bed in an attached private room (and for only 90 Euros). A great find in such an expensive city!
It was much cooler in Vienna. It was the first time that jeans and sweaters made an appearance since New Zealand six months earlier. Being in Austria in autumn was really nice as the leaves were changing color and falling on the sidewalks. We were reminded of autumn in Vancouver.
The plan was to get up early and take the local train into the city centre. We had intended to stay an additional three nights so our first task for the day was to find a cheap hostel in a centrally located area. We stopped in the Westbahnhof neighborhood, a popular part of town known for its shopping, dining and budget accommodations as well as the central train station.
We found a great Pension in the most unexpected place and made a reservation for the upcoming three nights. Then it was time to start exploring the historical city.
We started our walking tour in Stephansplatz, a huge square with an overwhelmingly large gothic church in its centre. After strolling through the charming city we ended up at the Danube River where we hoped on a sightseeing train, the "Vienna Ring Tram".
The tram travels around the city centre along a boulevard that used to be the wall of the old city. The 30 minute tour gave us a good feel for the area and revealed the city's incredible architecture and beauty. It's hard to believe that much of the city was destroyed during WWII.
We spent another two hours sightseeing on foot and ended up at what appeared to be an outdoor festival with a circus. It was conveniently located in front of an amazing building that looked to be an old church. We indulged in large mugs of local draft beer and Bratwurst sausages with hot mustard and a slice of rye bread… what else would one eat while in Austria? It was a brilliant find!
Sadly, our time with family had ended. The following morning we said our emotional goodbyes and threw on the backpacks again. Fortunately we were already familiar with the city and the metro system, so we found our pension quite easily.
We spent our final three days in Vienna doing much of the same. We explored the attractive city by day and enjoyed Weiner schnitzel and draft beer at night (okay, Nicole skipped the schnitzel).
One evening we found a traditional Austrian pub with a twist. It had a strange name like 'XXL Bier House' or something like that, but we didn't realize this until after we had sat down and looked at the menu. It was so expensive… large draft beer was 13 Euros!
Then we realized it was because a large beer was actually 2 litres! The restaurant's specialty was making everything at least triple the normal size. The hamburgers were a full loaf of bread with the meat equivalent of at least eight hamburgers… seriously! You'd need an army to finish it all. It would be the perfect pub for Hockey Night in Canada.
We had been walking around all day and felt we had earned a cold draft beer so we agreed on one 2-Litre beer that we would share, assuming it would come in a beer tower similar to the one we sampled in Mumbai (there was a picture of the beer tower beside the drink promotions).
You know what they say when you 'assume' something…
The beer came in a 2 litre glass mug! You have to look at the photo album to see how big this beer was. It was undoubtedly the biggest single beer we've ever consumed. That said, we probably drank the equivalent two times over throughout the evening as we bounced from pub to pub.
We both really enjoyed Vienna. It's a very cool place that is modern yet still hangs on to its tradition and heritage. It's an interesting crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe. We hope to return again someday.
We organized ourselves and stuffed our cold climate clothes back into the bottom of our backpacks. Our three weeks visiting family in Europe was over and it was time to get back onto our original itinerary, which had us traveling through the Middle East.
We left for the airport early in the morning and boarded our Austrian Air flight back to Cairo, Egypt. We were very happy to have shared our travels with family but also eager to get back to a hotter climate… little did we know just how hot it is in the Egyptian desert!
October 12th, 2009