Sunday, July 15, 2018

Vienna: My favorite type of sausage in a can

The last leg of our April European adventure landed us in Vienna. When Micah and I were planning our trip, I threw around the idea of ending in Budapest but Micah wasn't enamored with that idea so we settled on Vienna, since it was a mere 4-hour train ride from Prague.


When we got into town, we took the subway to our hotel, which was the Hilton Vienna Plaza. It was perfectly situated along the Ringstrasse — a road that encircles the historic center.

Beautiful arrangements at the Hilton Vienna Plaza
Our friends Kat and Will were staying at a different hotel so we would coordinate meetups at various places for the rest of our trip.

The Basics 
Time there: 3 nights
Where we stayed: Hilton Vienna Plaza

Day 1

After putting up on things, Micah and I went to grab some dinner at Beaver Brewing Company at the recommendation of some people we at a beer store in Prague.


It was a brewpub that served burgers and had very American-centric beers on tap. Burger was really good but the beers were nothing special for us.


That evening, we walked around the area and saw Votivkirche, a neo-Gothic church across the street from Sigmund Freud park.



We ended the night at a brewpub called 1515 Brewing. What's odd about Vienna is that it still allows bars to have separate smoking rooms. YUCK! At one bar we walked into, you had to walk through the smoke-filled room to get to the non-smoking section — but we all know smoke permeates everything so even that section will leave you walking out of there smelling like an ashtray. Get into the 21st Century, Vienna!

Day 2

On our first full day in Vienna, we decided to start it off with a proper Viennese (not Vietnamese, but close!) breakfast. We walked to Cafe Landtmann and had a beautiful breakfast with proper cafes. 



I had the salmon eggs benedict and Micah had an omelet. 

In a city full of museums, it's hard to pick one or two to visit, but I ended up making Micah go to the Kunts Historisches Museum with me. 



If you love art history, this place is for you. Most of the collection dates back to the House of Hasburg and their private collection. 


When you walk in and look up, you'll see murals done by Gustav Klimt, which are gorgeous. 

My favorite piece in the museum.
After making Micah suffer at the museum for several hours, it was time to get some traditional Vienna beers. A travel pamphlet mentioned 7 Stern Brau as a place that brewed traditional Austrian beers, so we made a beeline there.   


We enjoyed most of their beers but I did have to send one back because it was infected, however, they didn't give me a refund. Apparently, the Viennese do not believe in refunding bad beer.


I also had their goulash here and it was delicious. It had the quality of a Vietnamese beef stew, which I really enjoyed.

Kat and Will met us up at the brewpub and Kat had her 20th goulash (I jest, I think it was her fifth).

After 7 Stern Brau, we went to a brand new beer bar called Ammutson.




The bar owner, a lovely Egyptian with a head of curly hair, had opened the bar just that week and it was already seeing a decent crowd. He doesn't believe in big beer and all the beers he has on tap are made by small businesses he supports. Some of the best beer we found was at this bar.

Day 3

Since we had nice breakfast the morning before, we settled on McDonald's for Day 3 breakfast. Unfortunately, McD's in Austria do not carry my fave: sausage McMuffin with egg. T'was a sad morning.




It was a beautiful spring day, so we just spent the time wandering around the center and made a stop at St. Stephens Cathedral. We didn't do the catacombs, but our friends did and they said it was worth it!

And because I couldn't leave Vienna without trying their famous desserts, we had a mid-day snack at the famous Cafe Demel.




I ordered the apple strudel (which reminded me of that scene in Inglorious Bastards) and a tea sandwich with salmon on it. Both were divine.







After taking a nap, we took a stroll along the graffiti-laden bank of the Danube River. I love graffiti art and they sure do it right in Vienna.

Micah had one other brewpub he wanted to try called CraftMuhle, but before we got there, we walked around a vibrant open-air food market called Naschmarkt.




It had everything from spices to Mediterranean foods. Numerous vendors trying to sell you dried figs and other goods.

Menu at CraftMuhle
Inside Beer Street


Once we made it to CraftMuhle, we had a few beers (Kat and I switched to Aperol Spritz) and then made our way to a place called Beer Street, which has tons of beers on tap. Be forewarned though, they ONLY accept cash.

For our last meal in Vienna and our trip, we ate at this adorable place called Brezelgwolb Cafe, tucked away in a busy area of the city.



To start off the meal, you get a fluffy, salty pretzel. One of the best pretzels I've ever had.

I ended up getting a pork dish and Kat went for her last goulash of the trip.

We ended up going back to the hotel for one last nightcap before calling it a night for our early morning flight out of Vienna.

That Saturday morning, we missed the bus we were supposed to take to the airport. Frustrated that we might miss our flight, a lovely young man tried to help but we ended up getting an Uber and we made with plenty of time to spare. Crisis averted, even though Micah and I almost killed each other that morning.



When people ask me about Vienna, I have to reply that it was unremarkable for me. The city is clean, pretty and has tons of great museums, but it lacked a certain quality that I'm looking for in a European city. I know the city was heavily damaged during WWII bombings, so much of the city is "new." But for me, it wasn't Prague. It wasn't Paris. It wasn't Brussels. It wasn't Munich. It just wasn't special. I'll skip it next time and go to Salzburg instead.

I also realized I never ate ANY sausage in Vienna. I fail at life.



Saturday, June 2, 2018

Prague: Land of cheap beer and red clay rooftops

After trying to stay warm in Sweden, we landed in Prague on a Saturday and it was beautiful spring weather! We shed our jackets and made a beeline for beer -- yes, give us all the cheap beer! We chose Prague (or Praha) because it was another new place we've never visited and we know we love pilsners.

Prague is special because it was pretty much spared from the bombings during WWII. The red, clay roofs are still intact and its historic buildings are still standing.

Did you know there's a decent Czech population in Texas? Read my Painted Churches blog to find out!


While Micah and I were on our own in Sweden, our friends Will and Kat from San Antonio met us in Prague and would stay on our adventure through Vienna as well.

The Basics
Time there: 4 nights
Where we stayed: AirBnb just north of the main square in an area of Dlouhaa- Chose it because it was well priced, within walking distance to everything and was in a great spot for eating/drinking.


Day 1 

Our vacation rental was right across the street from Lokal, one of the most popular beer bars in town—loved by locals and tourists. That was our first stop once we dropped off our bags.



We ordered the fried cheese (yes, it was gooey and delicious). On the menu, it says it's aged six weeks, fried and served with a tartar-type sauce. Best friend cheese, EVAR!



I had the beef cheek goulash (look at that beautiful brown gravy!), Micah had marjoram chicken and of course, we both had plenty of beer. The goulash was unctuous and hit the spot. I mean, you can't go wrong with meat and potatoes.



They really only serve two types of beer here: Pilsner Urquell and Kozel black. What's funny is that you can get your beer with normal head or you can ask for beer that's pretty much all foam—but why would anyone just want foam? In America, you'd send a beer back for that! Czechs are weird. On average, beers around $2USD for almost 1/2 liter.



After lunch, we tried to go to a home Sparta game, but it was a big match so it was sold out when we got to the ticket stand. We decided to go to Dejvicka Sokolovna, a nearby bar, and watch the game there to get the real experience.


After that, we talked to Pivovar Bubenec, a small brewery Micah found. I think it was one of his favorite beers while we were Prague.

When you walk around Prague, you realize there are a lot of Vietnamese restaurants around town and apparently a decent Viet population. Who knew my peoples were making themselves a home here?!


For dinner, we gave a banh mi place a try. It was OK, not great, but perfectly adequate.




This is the Powder Tower. It was the entrance where Czech kings would go through to get to Old Town during coronation processions. It was built in 1475 and it's very indicative of the Gothic era.


Tyn Church -- apparently the Sleeping Beauty castle is modeled after this?
We spent the rest of the night exploring the Old Town, which is extremely busy with tourists and hustlers. Because there are so many tourists in Prague, there are always going to be people who want to get you a "great deal." Just keep on walking and you'll be fine.

The Astronomical Clock is currently undergoing renovation so I was never able to get a good picture of it.

Day 2

We started off our Sunday morning getting breakfast at La Bottega Bistroteka. An adorable place with fresh oj and bread baked on site. 





I had cannellini beans in a tomato sauce topped with sausage and eggs. It was a great way to start our full day in Prague before Will and Kat would join us mid-day.



Since we had a fridge at the rental, Micah and I went walking around to hit up a grocery store. We stumbled across small little festivals that were happening throughout the town during the weekend.




We then made our way to the old Jewish quarters. Unfortunately, if you want to see something you have to pay for it. Cemetery? That'll cost you. So we just looked at the area from afar. 


St. Charles Bridge


Life is Art!
We then meandered our way around Old Town and stopped off at Medvidku, one of the oldest breweries in town. It also makes one of the strongest beers in the world, but we chose not to get it because it looked like it would be like barley wine but 100 times sweeter. Nope. Their regular beers weren't great either. We left our beers half full when we left.



By that time, Will and Kat had made it into town from their stint in Berlin. Of course, we immediately took them to Lokal for a beer and then we headed over to Lod Pivovar, a brewery on a boat, to meet with some Austin friends who were staying in Prague for a whole month. I want your life Stuart and Sandy! The beers on the boat were actually fairly good. 


That evening, we ventured out to find the Anonymous Bar. When we walked into the cocktail bar, we were greeted with tons of paintings and drawings of the "Anonymous" mask. 


The cocktail menu is eclectic and the drinks have great names. Kat's drink was dispensed from a blood bag. And depending on what you order, everyone gets a mask and "say cheese!"




The drinks were a bit on the pricey side for Prague but perfectly mixed! The experience was definitely a fun one!

We ended the night at U Zajíce - Pivovar Kynšperk. The bar was in a cave so the smell was dank and funky. The beers were not good. Do not go there.

Day 3

This was field trip day! We started off by getting breakfast and then made our way to Pilsen, home of Pilsner Urquell. If you're drinking a pilsner made by another brewery, that type of beer was started here. We got tickets for the tour and after an 1.5 hour train ride, we were there. 



While we don't normally drink Urquell at home, it's delicious when it's fresh and hasn't been shipped in green bottles across the ocean. The facility is huge and makes several other beers for other companies as well. Apparently, they were bought out by a Japanese brand awhile back.







The best part of the 90-minute tour was getting to go in the caves where they used to store the beer and drinking fresh, unfiltered Pilsner Urquell from the tap. The beer was phenomenal. Why can't we get this beer here?! 

The tour could be made better if they gave you the filtered beer at the beginning and then ended it with the unfiltered so you can taste the difference while you're there. Also, one beer for 90 minutes is lame, even if it is a really good beer.

We ended up having lunch at the brewery's restaurant Na Spilce, which is apparently the largest restaurant in Czech.

I love me some head cheese.
Initially, service was weird and abrasive but we finally got our food and were happy campers.


It's like a hard funnel cake with ice cream stuffed inside!



When we got back into Prague that evening, we wandered around and made our way to the Kafka moving head. Will and Kat are more cultured than us so we followed their lead on these things and it was a unique installation. As each section moves, the face gets distorted but then all lines back up again intermittently. 

Day 4

On this beautiful spring day, we finally got up the courage to fight the tourists and walk across the St. Charles Bridge. This bridge is full of pedestrians trying to snag the best selfie.



It's honestly exhausting walking through that crowd to get to the other side. I think Kat went on a run at 7 a.m. and she said it was already getting busy on the bridge at that time!

After we crossed the bridge, we got a workout by walking uphill to the Strahov Monastery, where there happens to be a brewery. Funny how that works out.



Once you make it up, the view is breathtaking—and not just because that was a long ass walk uphill. You can really see Prague in all its glory. The river, the rooftops. Just beautiful.





We had a lovely lunch at the monastery and met a lovely British couple who were also craft beer lovers. They were hitting up a lot of pivovars (breweries) that we were!

Will and Kat met us for lunch but broke away for a tour they booked where you take photos on an old-school camera.




Micah and I then made our way to the Prague Castle. Inside the castle are intricate and colorful stained glass windows. Pro Tip: You don't have to pay to go into the castle!

While it's no Painted Churches of Schulenburg (ha!), the castle was gorgeous.

That afternoon, we met up with Stuart and Sandy and we proceeded to have several beers and several locations.





We had a great time checking out the southeast side of Prague with these crazy kids!


For our last dinner in Prague, we ate another meal at Lokal and once again, it was delicious. While in Europe, Kat also started her love affair with all things goulash. I think she had it at least six times. 




To end our trip in Prague, we got a nightcap at Banker's Bar next to our rental.

The next morning we would say goodbye to this romantic city and take a nearly 4-hour train ride to Vienna. I must say that Prague was probably my favorite city that we visited on this European tour.