Colorado: Day Two

Views while walking Trail Ridge Road

Rocky Mountains National Park! You know what … I thought this was a much bigger park but it doesn’t seem to be one of the more popular national parks. Also, the area we were in seemed to go by Estes Park more than Rocky Mountains National Park. I’m still a bit confused by this, but I managed to plan out a full day without knowing much nomenclature, thanks to two visitors centers.

We started the day with our Hampton Inn breakfast, OF COURSE! I had intended to start the day off very early, but we didn’t, and it ended up being exhausting anyway, and fairly well paced out. I originally planned to do this park on Monday, but it looked like it’d rain and snow in this area, so I moved some plans around (and it all worked out well!) There is a farmers market on Saturdays in Boulder, and it seemed to be very popular, so I wanted to stop by Pearl St for it. It also happened to be an Easter festivities day, so there were egg hunts for kids set up in the park. The farmers market ended up being much smaller than I was expecting – my favorite farmers market is still Ballard! This turned out well for us, because then we didn’t spend toooo much time here. We did end up getting pastries at this bakery stand and they were SO GOOD. We got an almond croissant, one of the best I’ve ever had, and a peach kouign amann. It seemed like the bakery lady could tell we were new buyers, and she turned around and cut a kouign amann in half and gave us each a third of it. It was quite a sizeable sample, and when the entire bill came out to $8 for two pastries, my mom was like “we got a $2 value!”

Then off we went to Estes Park, only an hour away. The visitors center was right across a pretty commercial center, with a Safeway and several fast food restaurants. I decided we’d get two Subway footlongs to go, which I’m REALLY glad that we did. For some reason I thought we’d probably only spend an hour or two hours driving in the park before returning out to hike. NOT SO. We were in the park for like six hours, and those sandwiches were a genius idea.

My parents’ favorite place to eat

At the visitors center, I basically learned that the trail I wanted to do – Emerald Lake Trail – was under 45 inches of snow, so we wouldn’t be able to hike it. But, the lady at the desk gave me a very useful map showing me the main viewpoints to drive to. She told me to head to Alluvial Fan then Many Parks Curve Lookout. Per Google, alluvian fans “are usually created as flowing water interacts with mountains, hills, or the steep walls of canyons.” This alone took quite a long bit of our day, and I wasn’t expecting a short hike at the stop, but you do walk a bit to get to a giant rocky area with a waterfall.

The Alluvial Fan

Then we drove along and had a few occasional pullovers before reaching Many Parks Curve Lookout. We luckily snagged a spot – it was one of the most crowded parking areas. Oh, did I mention this weekend was free national parks day?!?! I was concerned about crowds but my mom was like “a busy day in Colorado is nothing like a normal day in California” which is totally true. She was basing this off the Easter Egg Hunt crowds earlier in the morning, which were not crowded at all. My mom was like “imagine this Easter Egg Hunt in Arcadia – the whole park would be packed!” Anyway, before we got out of our cars to lookout, we ate the Subway sandwiches in the car, which was a GREAT idea.

The lookout was cool but I’m sure there’s even better views once you are able to get out and actually hike. Then, I actually took a wrong turn and ended up continuing the drive down Trail Ridge Road – I thought it would dead end but it went much farther than I was expecting. This turned out to be a great accident though because when we eventually reached the end point of the road – they close it during the winter – I was able to snag a spot on the side of the road and walk on Trail Ridge Road where it’s closed off to vehicles. We went pretty far, and I wanted to walk more than my parents did, but I eventually did turn back. Major bummer that we couldn’t complete the drive to Alpine Visitors Center – another reason I have to come back!!!

Trail Ridge Road

From here, we drove back toward the entrances and I headed to Beaver Meadows Visitors Center. I don’t think I was expecting to spend much more time in the park, but I decided to ask the ranger there if it was worthwhile to drive down to the trailhead of Emerald Lake, even if we couldn’t hike the trail. She was like “YES absolutely!” and she recommended walking around Bear Lake and Sprague Lake. These turned out to be really worthwhile stops, considering we were about to leave without seeing them, and the walks really filled out the day! First, my mom spent a LONG time in the gift shop, taking forever to choose 6 magnets to purchase (they only had 8 designs to choose from so I have no idea what took her so long). Then we watched a 20 minute video to rest. Then we drove to Bear Lake, and there were a TON of people. Also, it’s possibly the largest parking lot that we saw in the entire park, so it is clearly a very popular destination in the summer months.

Look how high the snow is!

The walk to Bear Lake was only a couple hundred feet but it took us FOREVER because the trail was covered in snow and ice. Luckily no one took a tumble. Bear Lake was completely frozen over, which was NOT what I was expecting. There were several people who were brave enough to walk onto the ice – something I would NOT be doing. Somehow in the last ten minutes that we were there, the wind VERY suddenly picked up and it started raining, so everyone dispersed and we ended up being one of ~six people there.

Bear Lake frozen over

From here, we drove back toward the visitors center before I made a last minute decision to go to Sprague Lake. This had not come up in any of my searches for top trails in the Rocky Mountains, but it was much more scenic than I would have expected. We decided to walk around the lake, it says it’s 0.8 miles but it really did feel longer than that… about half way through, it started to rain more heavily and my dad headed back to the car while my mom and I decided to finish the entire trail. Another excellent decision! It luckily never rained THAT hard and I’m glad we got to see the whole thing.

Sprague Lake

By then it felt freezing and it was raining so we headed out of the park. I stopped back at the Estes Park Visitors Center, with the idea of wanting to do the Lake Estes Trail. Surprisingly, both my parents were game for this … until we stepped out of the car and I was the first to say “UH it is REALLY cold!” The sun was also starting to set, so I decided we’d just drive back to Boulder, since I didn’t really want to drive in the dark. Also an excellent decision!

More of Sprague Lake – you can see how quickly the weather turned

None of us were very hungry, even though I kept suggesting that we either go to Safeway or a fast food restaurant for dinner. For some reason, my mom was convinced that we had to go to Carls Jr, which was not something I really wanted to do, and we kept debating back and forth what we should eat (this is so much harder to do when no one is actually hungry). She thought my dad would enjoy Carls Jr, and after I laid out the options of 1) Safeway, 2) Carls Jr, 3) a new fast food restaurant we’d never been to, my dad commented “I never wanted Carls Jr – I don’t want to eat that while we’re not at home!” And my mom and I were both like, WTF why didn’t you say that EARLIER!?

Oh well – it ended up FINE because I found Good Times Burger is Boulder, and by the time we drove to the place and ordered, everyone was sufficiently hungry. I was not expecting this, but the place did not have any indoor seating and it was freezing outside, so I decided we’d take the food back to the hotel and eat in the dining area. My family’s never really done this, but the staff was SO nice about it. Turns out, eating in the hotel dining area is PERFECT because no one is ever there, but you have actual dining tables and chairs, and there’s usually hot water and tea available right there. Plus, all you have to do is dump the trash and then head up to your room! It ended up being my parents favorite meal of the trip, both for food and ambiance. I can tell this is going to be the new standard when traveling with my parents – buying take out and taking it back to the hotel.

Best meal of the trip
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Colorado: Day One

Current music: EVERYTHING BLACKPINK

It’s 12:13am right now in Colorado (it really throws me off that Colorado is not in the same time zone as California – we’re so close to one another!) and I am pretty exhausted right now but I also feel like I so rarely bring my computer with me now on vacations, so it seems like the perfect opportunity to blog! It’s pretty clear to me now why I never have the energy to blog while on vacation – once I get back to my place of lodging, the most important thing to do is check instagram, then twitter, then youtube, then maybe tumblr (depending on if I have an obsession of the moment) and then curate a photo for IG and then of course shower and then lie around in bed. When traveling with my mom, there’s an added “go to the gym and soak in the hot tub.” So blogging is … NOT HIGH on the list.

I flew out of SFO on Friday morning … a 8:10am flight which meant waking up at 5:45am. I decided to take an Uber Pool to get to SFO and it honestly probably only added 10-15 minutes to my overall trip (compared to if I had taken a private car) but in the moment it probably felt like additional 30 excruciating minutes. I don’t remember how early I got to the airport, but I had some time to spare. My parents left from LAX, and it turns out they both woke up earlier than me and left for the airport around the same time … except THEIR flight departed a full three hours AFTER mine. Clearly we run on different schedules.

This whole trip was a result of a cancelled 2018 vacation, originally to visit Glacier National Park. A wildfire had broken out about a week before we were supposed to go, and since the airlines allowed us to change our flight without any change fees, I decided to cancel everything. I’m glad I did, because it turns out the fire had made visibility nil, and I wouldn’t have wanted to breathe that air anyway. I was also partially relieved because in hindsight, all the hikes I really wanted to do at GNP seem way too strenuous for my dad. I’ll have to go again, solo! I wanted to try to go again this year on my own but I already have too much booked up – I feel like there is a VERY narrow window when one can visit GNP without risk of snow or fire. Maybe next year – I will have to keep an eye out on GNP weather conditions this year for data collection purposes~

My parents had never been to Colorado before, so I decided to go here (the main factor was finding a place to go that wouldn’t cost much more than the original flights to Kalispell which were actually VERY cheap). I’d been to Boulder before with friends and enjoyed it. So here we are!

I was able to score a nice window seat on the flight here – but the window was not directly next to me, it was a little off center. But I was so tired from waking up so early (I’d gone to bed around 2:30am the night before, so only had about 3 hours of sleep) so I slept through most of the flight. Everyone else had their window shades down, so I felt obligated to do the same, even though I am the type of person who wants the window shade up AT ALL HOURS. I wish I’d been awake to take photos though – occasionally I’d stir awake and realize we were passing snow capped mountains and it was BEAUTIFUL! No photos though 😦

I arrived in Denver about three hours before my parents. I hadn’t eaten breakfast and I was THRILLED to see someone walking around with a chick fil a take out bag. DELIGHTFUL! I only wish I had remembered to ask for pepperjack cheese instead of the default American. I always remember when I order in Sunnyvale, but the airport line felt TOO stressful and I forgot in the rush – the line took so long, I think because they’d hand over your order before you left the register. Their fries were a bit undercooked here, but OH WELL. The important thing is the chick fil a sauce anyway.

I scarfed down my sandwich, with just enough time to walk around the terminal before hopping on the airport tram to get to my parents’ gate. It’s fun to be able to greet people right at the gate when they exit! My mom said she was really relieved that I was able to find them, because she didn’t think she would have realized that she needed to get on a tram and would have probably just wandered around in circles until asking someone.

From the airport, we picked up our rental car (a Nissan Sentra which does NOT have a powerful engine AT ALL) and headed to our Hampton Inn in Boulder. I LOVE Hampton Inns, particularly when traveling with my parents. I normally would not want a free breakfast in America, but with parents, it’s a huge relief to not have to find breakfast spots every day – plus my parents LOVE a buffet and truly hate eating at restaurants that aren’t majority-Asian. I also have to admit, I’m not a brunch fan anymore, and even when traveling, finding a restaurant for brunch kind of just delays the day and overstuffs everyone’s stomachs. The hotel felt really empty here, almost a little like The Shining – the only time I ever see any other guests is at night when it seems like everyone wants a turn at the tiny little hot tub (this only happened Friday and Saturday, by Sunday and Monday, we never saw a single person using the hot tub OR the gym).

We ended up arriving at the hotel around like 3:30 or 4:00 after driving from Denver airport, so by then, we couldn’t really go on a major hike. I had on my first day itinerary to: 1) walk around Pearl St, 2) grab dinner, 3) go for a post dinner walk along Boulder Creek Path, 4) walk Tenderfoot Trail (1.5mi) if additional exercise was needed.

We got up to #1 and #2 and by the time we finished, it was already 8:30pm so NO post dinner walk! Walking around Pearl St took WAY longer than I was expecting, even though we didn’t buy a single thing. I think today we got in a little over 10,000 steps, even though we’d essentially been sitting in transit until 4:30pm, so that seems quite successful!

Pearl St with little easter eggs

For dinner, I stupidly decided we’d eat at this Italian place I had yelped – the one place I really want to eat at in Boulder is a burger place I’ve been to called Mountain Sun. But selfishly, I was very not hungry because of the 1pm Chick Fil A. Even from Yelp I could tell the Italian place was mediocre, but I thought it was the best option on Pearl St that suited my parents, because everything else was a brewery. I realized that night that Boulder is a very young town and everyone seems to be a resident so it really doesn’t seem like a  popular vacation spot, especially for older people. I also realized … I don’t think the food in Boulder is that good.

As I feared, my parents really didn’t like the Italian place. They’d probably be happy eating at Subway and fast food burger places if they could. They hated the wood fire cooked pizzas because it charred the crust a bit, which they did not approve of. Though I can’t quite blame them – even I thought the pizza wasn’t great, on top of the service being VERY slow and having to sit outside. I’ve learned my lesson (I’d like to think this, but I probably haven’t). Post dinner, my parents were both very cold since we had been seated outside, and my dad seemed very crabby, so we headed straight to the car and drove back to the hotel. My dad went straight to bed and didn’t want to go in the hot tub because there were people in it, while my mom and I went to the gym then hot tub.

(By the time I finished this blog post, it’s already Sunday night and I’m EXHAUSTED. I’d intended to write Day One and Day Two on Night Three, but I’ve basically spent all my energy writing about this day that is THE MOST BORING DAY OF THE TRIP!)

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If we had come to Colorado just a few weeks later, it’d probably be super green and in bloom

Day Nine/Ten: Oslo

I’m not sure if I’ve ever really attempted to blog about a vacation entirely after it’s concluded. My memory’s not great but I tried to take notes every day on what to write about! The hard part will be trying to motivate myself to blog while also sorting through pictures and making sure to post pictures to my blog all by Saturday, which is when I’ll drive back up to the Bay Area. THEN once I’m back in the Bay Area, who KNOWS when I”ll be free again to blog?! And then my memory will be gone within a week~~~

Maybe I’ll start with the last day then…

We woke up in Prague and had our hotel’s breakfast before taking an Uber (our ONLY one!!!) to the Prague Airport. The hotel breakfast was pretty good but since we’d gotten up relatively early, I wasn’t particularly hungry so couldn’t quite stuff my belly full of bread and cheese and salami. The hotel even had hot dishes like scrambled eggs! And yogurt w/ toppings (which I never get at hotels because I’m terrified of eating other country’s non-sugar-filled yogurt). And TONS of cut fruit which I ate a ton of. I’m almost certain we were the first hotel guests to arrive at breakfast, even though it had started at 6am. I ate a normal amount of food and then we went back to our room to finish up packing. Then, off we went!

I fell asleep in the Uber for most of the way, so I’ll never know what the roads looked like on the way to the airport. I have a very vague memory of the Prague airport, as I now only really remember the Oslo airport. Oh ok, it’s slowly coming back to me as I concentrate … it’s relatively small, closer to the size of Burbank than LAX. I spent quite a bit of time just going back and forth from the bathroom to the duty free shops, where I’d smear as much moisturizer as I could from free sample bottles onto my extremely dry, flaking face. The flight to Oslo was only two hours and we arrived around 2pm. There’s an airport express light rail that took us straight into central Oslo. I’m certain there is another, cheaper light rail route that is not the express line, but it would actually require effort to look for it, so we just hopped on the airport express (which cost $20 one way!!!).

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Riding that light rail honestly felt like I was living in the future. It was quiet, the ride was smooth, the seats were clean, there was a huge flat panel tv in the center displaying news and airport departure times and the weather in a calming color palette. The passing scenery was snowy, at first with a few spread out houses, then a long tunnel, then Oslo itself with tall, glass modern looking buildings. The walk from the train station to our hotel was about ten minutes and not bad at all. Thankfully it wasn’t snowing and the sidewalks weren’t super icy.

The hotel felt like a super nice hostel, it reminded me a lot of the KEX hotel in Reykjavik in that it felt like it’s catered towards young travelers. The Comfort Xpress stressed environmental and social good, and hip design. It’s the kind of place that has a wall of vinyls and a vinyl player in the lobby, doesn’t provide plastic or paper cups in the bathroom but does stock small glass cups in the lobby, has a brown paper bag hanging by the mirror in case you want to donate any unwanted clothing/shoes… and calls their reception desk the “barception” because it also doubles as the bar counter. I wanted to take tons of pictures of the small design touches but honestly the lighting in there was SO dim, it was a little difficult.

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hotel lobby!

We unpacked in our tiny, tiny room (this was probably the smallest room yet but it had a nice design and comfortable beds). Then we walked around Oslo for a few hours. We had arrived at our hotel around 3:30pm and the sun set at 3:21pm that day. I think we started walking around 4:30pm and were done with dinner by 6:15pm. So really, not that much to see! We basically walked through the main shopping area, where all the stores were closed because it was New Year’s Eve. We had unfortunately missed the Christmas Market here too, BY ONE DAY!!! (they had closed on the 30th). And lots of restaurants were closed, though Kim and I agreed that the restaurant we DID end up choosing was likely what we would have gone with, even if everything had been opened.

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pretty representative of the NYE crowds in oslo

And that’s because the place we chose was a fast food burger joint called Max Burger! The meal is still relatively expensive for what it was, but probably our cheapest option in the entire city excluding McDonalds. Most menus we saw would’ve been $20+ for a single entree. Max Burger is essentially an equally delicious, less greasy Jack in the Box. I opted for something called the MaxBurger which is basically a cheeseburger with special sauce (a lot like in the In N Out sauce minus the relish). AND these DELICIOUS chili cheese poppers that were easily the best poppers I’ve ever had – a great cheese to breading ratio. It took me a long time to decide what to get, I ended up going with beef which is what I was craving at the moment, I’m bummed I’m not more of a glutinous monster and couldn’t sample their chicken, salmon or this “halloumi” burger as well. They also had shakes but since I’m sick, it seemed like a dumb idea to drink milkshakes in 30 degree weather.

 

Overall, it was the perfect choice for Oslo – we got to try a foreign fast food establishment AND it was only a $15 meal. I try not to think about the idea of spending $15 at a fast food joint for a hamburger and a side that would’ve cost $5 in the US.

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the recycling station in this Norwegian fast food establishment was INTENSE

Other memories of walking around Oslo were: 1) a street musician playing the clarinet EXTREMELY well – he looked like he was doing it purely for fun and not for money, and 2) a street guy who was blasting music from his radio and at one point, played a VERY cool remix of Despacito which I am really sad I didn’t capture on video because now I’ll NEVER FIND IT~~~

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We got back to the hotel by 8:30pm and after lying around in bed, I decided I’d shower. Which basically is throwing in the towel and saying, I’m not leaving the hotel after this! We checked with front desk and they said their rooftop would be open for a great view of Oslo’s New Year’s fireworks. Then Kim and I basically fell asleep at 9pm! VERY COOL FOR NEW YEARS!!! She must have set an alarm because she woke up at 11:50pm because it rang, and then we got up, put on more layers over our very comfy clothes, and went up to the 9th floor to get to the rooftop deck.

I was surprised to find people on the deck AND that everyone one of them was dressed up!!! Hello, we are Americans and we are SLOBS! The fireworks show was ok, there wasn’t a main display to really focus on but there were tons going off simultaneously. We were probably up there till 12:15, and even though there were still some fireworks going off, we headed back to our room and went to bed.

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Our next day flight was at 12:25pm and we left around 8:30am. We were through security and sitting at the gates by 9:30am! Once again, I spent most of my time walking between the duty free shops and the restroom – this time’s duty free choice was a very nice Lancome moisturizer. On an impulse buy, I ended up spending about $40 in Norwegian chocolate (is this a famously excellent region for chocolate? I don’t think so) mainly because of this website that told me what to get: https://sweets.seriouseats.com/2011/07/a-guide-to-norwegian-and-some-swedish-candy-slideshow.html

Note from the future: the Norwegian chocolate was SOOOO GOOD!!! I’m a little bummed I didn’t buy more. Well, this was airport prices, so I guess I’m most bummed that I couldn’t hit up an Oslo Costco of some sort and stocked up on their chocolate. They have a brand called Walters Mandler which was REALLY good. Then I bought this thing called Smash! for Robyn and that was SO delicious and unique – kind of reminded me of chocolate bugles. I also got her chocolate covered marshmallows in the size of gummy bears but I didn’t sample it.

We spent a long time in the Oslo airport, and hunkered down near this food court area that was designed to look like a food truck park, which was very cute! I just kept walking to the same places, and then when our boarding time opened, Kim was like “I’m going to go over there first” and I said “ok I’ll come with you then come back out and fill up my water and everything.” EXCEPT it turned out that when we arrived at our gate, it was SO crowded and they were already checking passports and herding people into the smallest waiting pen ever. Somehow we ended up getting checked through and before I knew it, I was trapped in this waiting pen with no water fountain and a water bottle only HALF FULL before an INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT!!! I freaked out, managed to resist filling my bottle with bathroom sink water, and in the end, I conserved my water so much that I survived. But definitely this is NOT the way I like to travel.

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the airport terminal! there’s an upstairs bar area too

Kim and I had bought our tickets separately and we couldn’t even check in until we were in the airport. Honestly, I’d read such terrible things about Norwegian, I was concerned the entire time that they’d kick us off the flight because they’d overbooked. Luckily everything was fine – and I ended up in my NEW FAVORITE INTERNATIONAL SEAT EVER – the VERY last row, aisle seat in the middle section. Ok maybe it was my favorite because no one sat in the middle seat, so there was even more room to space out. But here’s why it’s great – usually I prefer a window seat so I can have as little human contact as possible. In my experience with aisle seats, people often knock into you as they’re walking past the aisle. But in the LAST row, the right of me was the bathroom wall, not a row of seats, and most people just lean toward the wall. Then, I get to stand up as often as I like, and hang out in front of the bathroom whenever I want. And now the absolute best part – I absolutely can’t stand when my chair gets knocked in any way by the person behind me, so the last row was PERFECT!

And if there were any smells coming from the bathroom, I’m currently so plugged up from being sick, it worked out in my favor.

I wasn’t expecting any food because I know I didn’t pay for it, but a flight attendant said I was on the list! Let me tell you, unexpected free airline food, IS THE BEST!

For the flight, I watched an episode of Bob’s Burgers, some short documentary on Prague (I wanted to see if the city was more interesting than I found it to be in person – it was not), Keanu (it truly is only delightful as a cute cat movie), Crazy Stupid Love (this movie is PROBLEMATIC!), and fast forwarded to my favorite bits of The Devil Wears Prada.

Then LAX! Said goodbye to Kim – what happened to the customs area of the exit? – my parents picked me up at LAX around 3pm and I’ve basically been sleeping ever since!!!

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leaving oslo

Day Eight: Prague by day

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Woke up in Prague with a full day to explore the Christmas Markets. This was one of the top Christmas markets in the world on our itinerary, along with Strasbourg and Vienna, which made it the ONLY top Christmas market that we were able to fully experience. My overall review – MEH. It wasn’t my favorite Christmas market, nor was Prague my favorite city. Prague is so hyped up! Only after I posted an instagram story where I said it was a bit trashy,  did a few friends come out of the woodwork and say they thought the same. ANYWAY, our day!

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Our Prague hotel included breakfast, which was awesome. Lots of bread and cheese in the morning! And fruit, at last!!! Then we headed to the Old Town Square where the main Christmas Market is held. There’s tons of small shops along the way as well, and we passed the famous astronomical clock right before we got to the center of the action.

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First impressions: there was a TON of people on the streets as part of large guided tours. And not just Asian tourists, it was a real mix of European and Asian tour groups. It seemed impossible to ever get a good picture of the clock without any other person in front of it. Clock was cool, but seemed like the type of thing that one should watch a short documentary on to really get the full significance of it.

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All these people are looking at the astronomical clock!

Prague’s Christmas markets often had little setups depicting the manger scene, which was unique. Also, we saw several little “petting zoos” where there’d be like, a sheep, a goat, a donkey, a little horse… animals that were surprisingly very docile and no one was watching over them.

 

Walking around, the only thing we partook in was an apple cider (for my throat) and a trdelnik which was basically a cylindrical pastry that tasted like a stale Mexican novia. Not great – and we even paid more for Nutella spread inside, and the person was SO stingy about the Nutella spread. We then walked around some of the shops – I bought a bunch of wooden toys from a store called Manufaktura and it turns out that they were cheaper and better crafted than a lot of the toys being sold in the stalls. Overall, I thought the souvenirs I found in Prague were the best of all the cities.

 

We then ended up at another market called the Havelske Trzieste – at first we thought this might be another Christmas Market but there wasn’t that much holiday to it. I just looked it up and apparently it’s the only preserved market place in Old Town Prague and dates back to 1232. WHAT! Haha, obviously the stalls are different now – and there wasn’t much fruits and vegetables, there were much more touristy souvenirs (from which I got a magnet!). It seems like the top touristy item to get in Prague are wooden paraphernalia.

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Then we walked to Wenceslas Square – the site of another Prague Christmas Market. It was much smaller and had many of the same stalls, but we ended up sharing a herb sausage here. Sausage was tasty, bread was dry and basically like a baguette you’d make into a Vietnamese sandwich. I’m convinced that the actual residents of the cities with Christmas Markets know not to buy food here whereas all the tourists are like “WOOWWW SAUSAGES!!! MULLED WINE!!!!”

 

I had read of a third Christmas market which we walked even further south toward but once we got to the supposed site, a church, there was nothing there. WOMP WOMP. We ended up just walking back towards the Charles Bridge, a 3.1 mile walk away. We started out much further west than we’d ever been so it actually gave us a nice opportunity to walk toward the bridge with the sun setting behind us. We made it onto the bridge right in time for sunset, and there were A TON of people similarly walking across. I remember a pretty good band playing – they were selling CDs entitled Bridge Band – tempting! I don’t know why, but a lot of people were touching the statues that lined the bridge. We tried taking various selfies and there’s one particularly spot where we took SO MANY photos and kept waiting for the people near us to leave so we could get a completely people-less shot – and weirdly any time there wasn’t anyone near us, my camera wouldn’t focus! So all the “best” shots I have are blurry.

 

With that, we crossed into the Mala Strana area. I got a little cup of pear cider for $2.50, which honestly might be one of the best drinks I had the entire trip. We walked around, looking for restaurants to eat dinner, and found a souvenir shop that sold cool postcards and cups and a ton of other cutely designed things. I feel like in every city, there’s always ONE store that sells unique postcards that aren’t just photographs of touristy sites on cheap paper. This was that store! I bought a ton of stuff here, and then we continued on in the search for dinner. There were a couple of pubs that looked cool but neither of us drank.

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views from the Charles Bridge

We ended up walking into a random restaurant that had a decent looking menu. I ordered duck, Kim ordered a pork thing. Turns out the duck entree was basically an ENTIRE duck sans head, filled with stuffing. It was … a lot. But we finished it all! It was a good meal, marred slightly by the fact that they did have a little underhanded payment process where they charged 10% gratuity when we charged our credit cards and didn’t inform us. So we ended up tipping them twice, once unknowingly through the credit card, and the second time by leaving cash on the table (and the cash we left was actually already MORE than we needed to!). I was kind of peeved about it, even though when I do the math on it, we were really only overpaying tip by $5. LOL. Honestly, I’d prefer that all establishments just charged us the tip, because Cafe Savoy didn’t charge us the 10% when we paid in credit card, but there wasn’t a line for me to add tip and we had to come up with cash just to tip.

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This picture doesn’t do the duck justice

After this, we walked back to Cafe Savoy for dessert. They’re famous for vetrnik, but the only flavor they had was caramel, so we instead got the venecek. Hopefully they’re not wildly different in taste – what we got tasted essentially like an eclair. It seems in both cases, they’re filled with a vanilla cream, which is the main flavor you notice. The venecek we got has a glaze, whereas the vertnik has fondant. I also ordered a latte which was DELISH but again, not the best idea at 8pm. I didn’t sleep well this night.

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delicious cafe savoy

Then we just walked back to our hotel for a relatively earlier end to the night. Overall, I think Prague was better to explore in the day, but it is extremely crowded. I later looked into why there were so many Korean tourists, and apparently Prague is a favorite Korean drama filming location, so more people have come to see the city.

 

Day Seven: Prague at night

We left Vienna to catch a 2pm train to Prague – the ride was about 4 hours. Since we had so much time to kill in the morning, we started the day by walking to this sandwich shop around the corner from our hotel. We walked by this place every time we left or returned to the hotel and each time we were like OOO we should go here! Honestly, this might be one of THE BEST meals I had on this entire trip – and it was ITALIAN SANDWICHES! We arrived around 9am, and each ordered a sandwich – I got the Scala sandwich which had roasted belly, mushroom cream sauce, grilled veggies and salad, and a cappuccino. The cappuccino was AMAZINGGGG. After this I kept ordering cappuccinos in an effort to recreate the experience. The sandwich was INSANEEEE – amazing foccacia, the most thinly sliced cured meat ever, slathered in olive oil, there were VEGETABLES (probably the only true vegetable I had on this trip). Man. Also, the only people who came into the cafe only ordered coffees and always had dogs with them. It seemed like a true local spot. I could’ve stayed in Vienna longer just to eat there again. Part of me does wonder if we had just gone to the equivalent of a Subway though.

 

From there, we decided to walk back to the hotel and check out, put our luggage in the hotel storage, and then walk back out for a quick dessert at a cafe known for its views of the Opera house (also across from our hotel). Unfortunately, the cafe ended up being super crowded with no available window seats, so we were like MERH let’s just skip this. I’m excluding a lot of time wasted walking around the same two blocks of Vienna where we got lost trying to look for this cafe and a small Christmas Market which ended up being rather disappointing. In the end we were like, let’s just go to the train station SUPER early!

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So off we went to the central Vienna station. It was less intriguing than I had expected – when we first arrived here it seemed very grand. At least there was wifi! We had a 3 minute stop where we had to switch trains which was alarming but the next train was just across the platform. On the first train, we opted to sit in the dining car after being a bit traumatized from the last train ride where we kept getting bumped out of our seats by people who had actually reserved seats. So we thought the dining car would be a safe bet. Turns out we had to order something, so we each ordered a coffee. I got … A CAPPUCCINO. It ended up wrecking havoc on my belly and I think I got acid reflux from it. But in the moment it was DELISH!

We switched trains in this small station and the second leg was much busier. After traversing the entire train, we picked out two seemingly unreserved seats and luckily no one ever came to claim them from us. Unluckily, a couple later boarded the train and for three hours, talked pretty loudly to one another and at times, played music off their phones very loudly. SUPER ANNOYING. Whenever I come back from vacations I’m always eager to go somewhere in my car and feel the luxury of private transit.

We eventually pulled into Prague at 6pm. It was a bit of a craze trying to figure out the right tram to take to our hotel, getting the ticket for it, and then eventually getting off the stop and having to drag our luggage through 0.5 miles of crowded, cobbled streets. We got to the hotel and I’d never felt more tired on the trip, probably because by this point I was also pretty sick.

After settling a bit into our hotel room, we went out to see Prague at night and have dinner. We decided to walk over to Cafe Savoy, which had been recommended to us by Frances L. It was really good! It was our first sit down meal … I hesitate to call it our “fancy” meal because the entrees were only like … $15-18. I ordered the long awaited schnitzel – and I’m really glad I got it here. Kim ordered a trout that was REALLY good and sat on a saucy bed of cabbage. I was feeling real good about the place, so even though I was stuffed, I ordered a dessert – potato dumplings w poppyseed ice cream. BLECH! But I’m glad I tried it because it was truly unique.

 

From here, we walked across the Charles Bridge – I found it kind of trashy because there was a ton of literal trash on the bridge. A lot of the people walking past seemed to be other tourists ready to go home, or European partiers ready to start the night. We walked up to the Prague Castle in the Mala Strana neighborhood and it was pretty empty of people. Mostly we seemed to constantly stumble upon five star hotels tucked away into little corners of the castle grounds. Eventually we made our way back to our hotel, and even though the weather forecasted snow, there was only very light drizzle before we got back.

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Because of the coffee I’d had for dinner, I think I was basically up till 2am, and then woke up at 4am and 6am. Not a great sleep. Plus it turns out our hotel was right in the night life area so you’d hear people talking till pretty late. But we were living in the center of Prague!

Day Six: Vienna (Schonbrunn Palace)

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For our full day in Vienna, we started off around 8am by walking around central Vienna with the intent of trying to get into Cafe Central, the most popular coffeehouse in Vienna, and if the line was too long, we’d try some other famous cafe called K&K Hofzuckerbacker. Well, Cafe Central had a line even longer than what we’d seen last night, and K&K ended up being WAY too expensive. So our third option was to wander into a random cafe, unyelped, called Cafe Klimt. The place seemed reasonably priced and there were tons of empty seats. I may have gotten a cappuccino here (I lean towards cappuccinos in Europe vs. my usual lattes in the US), along with a slice of the famous sachercake of Vienna. This essentially means a very light chocolate cake with a layer of apricot jam. It was fine, but not AMAZING.

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Michaelerplatz by day

The cafe itself was also fine, a happy surprise considering we were too cheap/not in the mood for the other higher rated places. When we eventually had wifi, I checked yelp and I was like OMG KIM, CAFE KLIMT IS A 2 STAR ESTABLISHMENT!!! Which is well below anything I’d usually go to. Luckily once I read through the reviews, they were all negative due to service and long waits for tables, and all said the food was either good or decent. Since we didn’t have to wait for a table, not an issue!

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one of my favorite meals of the trip

Then we walked around the shopping area again, and we ended up trying this sandwich shop I’d yelped and really wanted to try called Trzesniewski. It was one of my favorite places on the trip – they served TINY open faced sandwiches with really well made spreads. I got a chicken liver, a cucumber (I think this essentially meant relish?), and a fish one (like tuna but I suspect it was some other type of fish). All the customers looked like they were regulars who spoke Austrian and all the employees did not look like they were in the mood for tourists so I didn’t want to ask for a full menu run down. We actually ended up getting served by the single Asian employee and he was very nice and spoke good English so I started to point at a bunch of sandwiches and ask “what’s that? and that? what about that?” I kind of wish I could’ve eaten here several more times. In all, I only ate three, and these are the size of a half slice of bread in America, but it hit the spot and I didn’t want to overdo it.

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this is actually the side of the house, not even the front but the SIDE!

From here, we walked to the metro to go to Schonbrunn Palace with the intent of seeing the Christmas Market here. There’s TONS to do here and we ended up spending pretty much the rest of the day here. Upon exiting the metro, we first walked onto the grounds, took a few pictures at the front of the palace, looked at some Christmas market booths, then meandered into the gardens which then led us to the botanical palace. We didn’t pay the admission fee though. Then we walked toward the zoo, apparently the oldest zoo in Europe, but we also had no intention to go in. We took a ridiculous number of photos in the very plain gift shop with every one of their giant stuffed animals. Finally we came back out, wandered through another side of the gardens (it’s huge!). THEN we walked to the back of the palace and discovered another major sight seeing spot here which was some sort of huge fountain with mermen statues, and then further in the distance up a hill, some sort of other fancy wall and building that had been repurposed as a cafe. Honestly I have no idea what this place is about but it seemed like a little Versailles.

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I have no idea what this is about but there’s now a cafe in there
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View of Vienna

All this took several hours of exploration and we eventually made it back down to the front of the palace to fully explore the Christmas Markets. I’m certain it was on this night that I got SICK because I was freezing and wearing regular shoes instead of my snow boots. We started walking around the market just before sunset but when we left it was dark. In search of food, we ended up deciding to share a single potato dumpling stuffed with beef (DELICIOUS but once again when I think about it, we paid like $8 for a single giant dumpling) and for dessert, this DELICIOUS “pancake with Nutella” though it was really more like bread pudding pan-fried with butter and nutella and topped with powdered sugar. It was… AMAZING!!! I also bought a few more souvenirs here, my favorite being a wooden ornament for my dad.

 

There were live singers here, which reminded me a lot of Pentatonix. My favorite song was when they did a cover of Havana and I was once again CRUSHED that I didn’t rush out to record them because it was THEIR BEST SONG and covered so well!

Once we walked past every single booth, we walked back to the metro station along with a huge crowd of people and headed back to our hotel. We bought metro tickets every time, but especially in Vienna, it seemed like NO ONE bought tickets at all. I know residents can have monthly or annual passes so they reasonably don’t need to, but it seems extremely unlikely that everyone going to this SUPER touristy destination would happen to hold Vienna metro passes. I even looked it up online, and basically it’s an honor system and you could be asked to show evidence of payment at any point but the lack of payment seemed even more egregious than on the SF muni! Who knows.

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This was part of the palace gardens

Ok after this, we headed back to the our hotel, and it was only 5:30pm when we got back. I imagine we took a quick nap and then eventually headed out for dinner. I’d seen a place on yelp that I really wanted to try called Schactelwirt. It had the vibe of a food truck turned into a small restaurant. The food was so good that I’ve taken the time to google translate an article I found on it: https://derstandard.at/2000045126619/Schachtelwirt-Hausmannskost-im-Karton

The article pretty much says the name “Schactelwirt” suggests that everything is served in paper boxes – it was! They blasted loud Euro dance music which I actually liked and it looks like the menu changes weekly, but the roasted pork is a staple. The only problem is that it’s impossible to take a good picture here, because everything looks like you’re peering through a little tunnel of paper. I’ve decided not to post anything because my one picture of this delicious meal literally looks like a picture of a toilet drain.

We sped walked like crazy to get to this restaurant, which was a twenty minute walk away, and the restaurant was closing in 40 minutes. When we arrived, the employee was like “sorry we only have one thing left” and Kim and I looked at each other and went “well … what is it?” and she said it was the pork dish. Then we looked at each other again and went “we’ll take it!” She looked apologetic and continued “there’s only one serving though” and we were like “yes, we want to split it!” and it ended up being PERFECT to split (though of course I would have taken a second, different dish if they had any). We got roasted pork with potato dumplings and sauerkraut – it was REAL GOOD though super salty. What a treat! It also did feel kind of like something young locals would eat.

Following that, we just walked around again and then looked for a cafe to get a small dessert at. We tried a different K&K location but I think it was closed. Then we happened upon Cafe Diglas and I was like “I had that written down as something to try!” I still have no idea where I got the name of that cafe from. We walked in and it was a SUPER cute cafe, with live piano music, and the service was super friendly. We ended up getting a pretty nicely located booth and we ordered coffees (cappuccino for me!) and Kim got … maybe an apple pie? And I got a half apple pie half poppyseed pie which was pretty much EXACTLY what I wanted without knowing it when I walked in. This was ANOTHER one of our top food experiences, plus we hadn’t been looking for it at all, which was another point in its favor.

 

By the time we were done, it was pretty much 10:30pm and we walked back to our hotel to call it ANOTHER NIGHT! All in all, a really excellent food day.

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Day Five: Vienna (Belvedere Palace)

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I vaguely remember that we didn’t book a ticket for Salzburg to Vienna in advance and decided to buy it at the station because it wasn’t much more expensive. One of my BIGGEST regrets of this trip is that I had already picked out all the cities but I DIDN’T buy all the train tickets, thinking maybe it’s better to keep things open and have more flexibility in case we wanted to spend more time in a city. I’ve learned now that’s a false choice because the Europe trains are on a system where they get MUCH more expensive if you wait to purchase, and when you are forced to choose the absolute cheapest ticket you can find, that’s not flexibility at all. I obsessively did the math one night in Paris and I basically lost like 100 euro by not booking when I could have. WAHHH. Ok anyway…

We planned to buy tickets from Salzburg to Vienna, presumably a 1pm train since it looks like we were in the train station around 11:30am. Our Salzburg hotel served breakfast, where I had toast with cheese and meat and an entire pitcher of coffee. I remember the train company we used was really nice, called Westbahn, and at first we couldn’t find their ticket counter so we lined up for OBB, the state run line, and they were like “sorry can’t help you” and refused to tell us where the Westbahn counter was! And this was a relatively small train station. I feel like in America if you went up to a car rental company and they were like “sorry, we’re actually company B,” they’d at least point you in the direction of company A. NOT HERE I guess. Anyway, our experience on the privately run Westbahn was FAR better than any time we had to sit on OBB. Yes to market competition!!!

The train felt really modernized – there was even a digital counter on the outside doors that counted down when the train was departing. We plopped ourselves right in front of the luggage rack because we are both VERY paranoid about potential luggage thieves. The luggage rack actually had locks that you could pull out after depositing 1 euro – only one person paid for this and it wasn’t either of us – but it’s very ingenious! The train ride was only like 2 hours and off we went! Probably the most relaxing train ride yet (because I didn’t have thoughts of “this train ride could’ve been FAR CHEAPER you idiot!” dancing in my head).

Upon arriving in Vienna, we took the metro two stops to our hotel (the metro here is VERY clean, and they even have magazines hanging on the side). I LOVED this hotel – it’s a chain called Motel One and apparently is very common in Germany, but they have other locations throughout Europe. This location felt like a HUGE boutique hotel. Fancy! And beds were very comfy.

 

 

After unpacking a bit, we headed out to Belvedere Palace on foot. I thought there was a Christmas Market here, but turns out there wasn’t and it had just ended the day before – but it was still a nice site to walk around. The Belvedere Palace was once a huge estate turned into a museum. We just walked through the grounds and didn’t pay museum entry (of course) but even that was pretty fun.

 

Even walking to the Palace, we could immediately see that Vienna was probably the wealthiest of cities in our itinerary – there were significantly fancier cars that we passed including Mercedes Benz taxis. The buildings were much grander too, and I have no real clue what Vienna’s main lines of commerce are, but there seemed to be a lot of international business going on.

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Just your average Viennese street!

The sun set while we were at the Palace, and then we decided to walk straight to Naschtmarket to look for food to eat. This was a “food market” that turned out to have more groceries / bulk foods than I was expecting. They had a TON of stuff like veggies/seafood in vinegar and oil or cheese wrapped in olives. There was a surprising amount of seafood here, considering that Austria is landlocked. We ended up getting probably one of the greatest value meals yet, a 4.80 euro chicken schwarma wrap. It was REAL GOOD, with a sauce I couldn’t place that went really well with the meat, and it was stuffed so full that I ended up not even finishing the whole thing, as hard as I tried. We had also picked up a pre-dinner dessert, an apple pie flavored thing for Kim and a poppyseed thing for me – SO GOOD. I love poppyseed anything.

 

At some point I also decided to “splurge” on a fountain soda. I saw that they had elderflower drink and I was like YUMMM. It was a refillable drink, so I was like, I’ll just get tea and lemonade when I finish the elderflower drink. Turns out the elderflower drink was carbonated, BLECH!!! BUT my biggest downfall was when I thought I could refill my giant water bottle with the center liquid, which I glanced at and saw SODA or STILL and thought – of course, still water or sparking water. I pressed the button and it ran a little brown but I thought “must’ve been the previous drink” and then stuck my bottle under it – but it KEPT running brown and then I looked again and saw the sign said APFEL SODA or APFEL STILL. APPLE SODA OR APPLE JUICE?!?!?! Who puts that in the CENTER CONSOLE???? Anyway, I completely wrecked my giant bottle of water and had to dump it out. So sad! And then I spent the rest of the night carrying a fountain soda in my hand which I NEVER see anyone do in Europe, so I felt very fat. The cool thing about the fountain soda dispenser was that my receipt came with a Q Code, and you had to scan the receipt in order to be able to use the dispenser. Very high tech!

From here we walked to the site of what WOULD have been the main Vienna Christmas market except it had ended LAST NIGHT!!! *cries* But we walked here anyway, Rathplatz, which is the Vienna city hall. The lights were still up and so was the ice rink which was fun to watch – rather than a typical oval rink, they ingeniously created an ice rink route where people can choose different loops to skate around. It looked SO FUN! But we didn’t pay to do it. I don’t understand why we don’t see this more often though, it seems so much more interesting than a boring oval rink.

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Sadly we could see all the empty, dark Christmas market booths which were fenced off. Even though that whole section was closed, it was VERY crowded by the ice rink, so I can’t imagine what the markets would have been like when open. I realized in Vienna that if Strasbourg had been open when we went, it might not have been the nice, calm winter experience that we had.

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From here we ended up walking back to central Vienna and just exploring at night. Tons of people were still out and walking around, even though all the clothing shops were closed. There were also still souvenir shops and cafes open. There was a tiny Christmas Market in an area called Michaelerplatz that we stopped in – I nearly bought a little white tealight candle holder but they were closing up and the next day I decided against it (so glad! not worth it!) Then we stumbled upon a famous cafe called Cafe Central, but the line was SO long to get in. It has a beautiful, high ceiling interior, but other than that, there’s no way the dessert or coffee would have been worth the wait.

 

We ended up walking past and going into St Stephens Church. I found out this night that Kim LOVES taking photos of horses, of which there were MANY offering carriage rides. I also learned that these carriage horses have buckets attached to them to catch their poop which I NEVER KNEW!!! How amazing and inventive. We wandered a lot, and ended up in front of a coffeehouse we’d seen on top lists, Kaffee Alt Wien. Here, I had a mocha (blech, it was actually two espressos with a TON of whipped cream – technically this was exactly what the menu stated but I had chosen to ignore the description) and we shared an apfelstrudel which is a popular dessert in Vienna. It was nice to sit in what seemed like a local spot, but the thing I hated was the entire restaurant was SO SMOKY because all the windows were closed, and the automatic door separating the smoking and non smoking section kept opening. I can’t handle it!

 

By the time we got back, it was close to 11pm – we hung up our smoky clothes to air out, and then went to bed! Would have been a great sleep, EXCEPT FOR THAT LATE NIGHT MOCHA!

Day Four: Salzburg

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We left Strasbourg pretty early in the morning for a 8:30am train – so unfortunately we wouldn’t be able to see the Christmas Markets here open. We had already bought our train tickets to Salzburg (it was one of the more expensive tickets and the longest train ride of all) so we couldn’t really change our plans. The early morning walk to the train station felt much shorter, now that we generally knew where we were going (though we did take a different route than the one we came from). The sun hadn’t even risen it seemed, when we arrived at the train station about fifteen minutes later. We wandered around one of the magazine shops within the train station, and this is where I finally ate this huge asian rice krispy I’d brought from home and had been carrying around for days. It was literally the size of a brick (though it weighed very little) and I loved having a snack from home.

Then onto the train! We had decided not to pay extra for reserved seats which in hindsight, was kind of dumb, considering how long our train ride was. But now I know – if I were to do this trip with my mom, GET THE RESERVED SEATS! Because the train was packed and it seemed almost everyone had reserved seats. Well, there were definitely people who didn’t, and I have no idea where they went because they just took their luggage and went in search of other seats. I wonder if there are certain cars that everyone knows has unreserved seats, and we were the dummies hanging around.

Anyway, Eric had once told me that the route that leads to Vienna is one of the most crime ridden train routes! Lots of luggage pickpocketing. I tried looking this up online but found no sources for this information. Nevertheless, I was SUPER PARANOID, though I’m not sure if I really needed to be. Since I didn’t have a seat, I just plugged in my podcasts and kept an eye on my luggage the entire time. The train ride was probably a total of six hours long, of which I spent over half standing. For a few, maybe two, blessed hours I was able to get a seat and I promptly fell asleep. But it was a very unfulfilling sleep because I kept waking up to confirm my luggage was still there.

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waiting in the freezing Strasbourg morning for our train

I’ll skip the boring train ride and say we arrived in Salzburg around 2pm. From here, our hotel was very close to the train station, one of the easier navigations ever. It was an older hotel, the kind with an actual door key that we’d leave with the front desk when we went out. We headed out around 4pm toward the Salzburg Fortress/Cathedral, where there’d be a Christmas Market. It was a little over a mile from our hotel, and on the way we passed Mirabelle Palace which is a huge house with gardens and rooms to listen to opera. We walked through the free parts, but the main theater room was locked, and the gardens were pretty bare since it was winter.

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Mirabelle Palace

On the way to the market, we passed by the main shopping area, which is interesting because you enter the main shopping drag through these narrow passageways that really gave the city a medieval feel. Of course once you start walking the street, everything’s modernized.

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The narrow passageways of Salzburg

The Christmas Market was the first one we went to that was open AND one of the top Christmas markets in Europe. It was VERY crowded. We started not even going to look at every single booth because there were so many people. The food stalls were more extensive than what we saw in Paris – there was more variety but I think generally, very little of the Christmas markets food interested us. The best one here was a HUGE pretzel stand where they sold a huge variety of salty AND SWEET pretzels. We ended up getting two different kinds of cheesy pretzels. Yum but expensive considering we were just eating pretzels!

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It definitely seemed much more touristy here, because obviously most people didn’t live in Salzburg. There was even a huge food stall that seemed to serve much more Americanized foods like fried chicken. It then got EXTREMELY cold here – I feel like it was one of the coldest nights the entire trip, so we ended up walking around in search of an indoor restaurant. After a brief stop in Starbucks for Kim to get a drink and get a little warm, we ended up deciding to head to this “food hall” that we’d both seen on yelp that was across the river from our hotel.

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So up we walked … and ended up heading into what felt like a very residential area. The map told us that we were right on top of this food hall but there was absolutely no sign of any commercial business. We ended up finding a door, that honestly looked like the backdoor of someone’s house, and went through it … and it took us into what felt like a huge community center. We went down the steps and there was NO sounds but I do remember it smelled like delicious food. Once we got down the steps, it turned out this “food hall” was more like an indoor cafeteria where you could choose from about 10 different vendors and then take your food and sit in one of two giant dining halls. It was all huge communal tables … exactly what I’d picture for a wintery European town. We ended up just getting a single sausage to share which was the exact amount of food that I needed. Then we walked back to the hotel and got back around 11pm … and I honestly had THE BEST SLEEP of the entire vacation. I’m convinced it was because I didn’t have any coffee that day and because it wasn’t too hot in the room. The conditions were perfect! Next day, Vienna!

 

(I started to wonder, did I seriously drink coffee every day except this day? It’s TRUE!)

Paris: coffee on the plane and then the Dunkin Donuts-esque coffee
Strasbourg: coffee to go with cake in the gastropub
Salzburg: NO COFFEE!!!
Vienna: coffee to go with apfelstrudel at Kaffee Alt Wien and then a coffee at Cafe Diglas to go with my poppyseed/apple pie
Prague: tea and coffee at Cafe Savoy
Oslo: no coffee! But I was amped up from New Years Eve

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Day Three: Strasbourg

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Paris to Strasbourg was the most upsetting train ride of all because it only took two hours, it is generally in the 25 euro range if you purchase tickets ahead of time, but because I didn’t buy it early, the train ticket went up to 82 euro!!!!!! *erase from memory*

Anyway, we checked out of our Paris hotel – very sad because I never got to use the hotel’s pool or spa which was a VERY RARE amenity in Europe. I really liked our Paris Hotel – Hotel Lyric – and would totally stay there again if I were ever in Paris. What I liked was that it was near SO many ramen restaurants. What I’ve discovered is, French food isn’t that interesting to me anyway!

So we took the metro to the Gare De l’Est train station. I had frantically spent the night checking the ticket prices over and over, and then some time between 3 and 5am, I ended up deciding to buy online rather than wait any longer. I don’t even remember boarding the train anymore! I have no pictures of it, probably because I just knocked out and fell asleep on the train after obsessing about train prices all night long.

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Strasbourg and a nearby town were inspirations for the Beauty and the Beast town

Well we arrived in Strasbourg and walked to our hotel. It was Christmas Day so the streets were EXTREMELY empty. Our hotel felt a lot more like a motel – a huge budget motel near the train station (although there was one EVEN CLOSER like across the street from the train station, but it must have been slightly more expensive). This place didn’t even provide hand soap! Which is something I’ve never experienced. They provided just one big bottle of liquid soap, and then a smaller bottle of the same liquid soap hanging closer to the sink. Supposedly good for face, body AND hair!

We unpacked and then headed out. On the way out, I stopped to ask the front desk if the Christmas Markets were open – NOPE! Not on Christmas Day!!! This was a major disappointment because I could have sworn I saw a website that said Strasbourg markets were still open. I’ve dwelled on this TOO LONG though, so I shall not speak any more of the terrible scheduling that I planned for this trip!

It’s not like we would have just sat around in our room anyway, so we continued on. The first few streets were very desolate, as if a zombie attack had happened. But a few more streets in, there were more people milling around. I stopped in a movie theater to ask what, if any, movies were showing in English. A couple followed us in and the girl was like “haha this was our question too.” It turns out the only viable movie was AQUAMAN. I did consider it, but at some point, Kim flat out said “I have absolutely no desire to watch Aquaman” and I’m not disappointed in any way.

It was a little past lunch hour so we started looking for restaurants to eat at. Many looked closed, but there were actually a few open, considering it was Christmas Day. It felt like way more restaurants had been closed in Paris on Christmas Eve. We walked into three and the first three all said the kitchen was closed. By the second one, I kind of wondered if they were just being racist and didn’t want to serve us, since there were clearly people sitting in the restaurant, and we were walking in at off times like 2:20 and I was like, who closes the kitchen at these random times. I was getting a little frustrated, but all ended well because the fourth place we walked into was VERY CUTE, had very nice ambiance, smelled fantastic, served great burgers and had a very unique menu! And when we walked in and were tentatively like “… can we sit here for lunch…” the owner looked up with kind of a “no shit, look at us, we’re open! sit where ever you want” look, which I truly appreciated.

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the bar at our favorite Strasbourg restaurant

The menu was 100% in French and the service was so slow that we never bothered asking for an English menu. In the end, we could tell that there were hamburgers, and we wanted hamburgers. I ended up going for a foie gras burger which was pretty good, though I really didn’t need to have the foie gras. I kind of wish I had the ability to drink because the alcohol menu looked really cool – but I settled for a coffee.

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they love clocks here

After eating, we walked around, starting with “The Great Christmas Tree” of Strasbourg. Which was truly the best tree that we saw! There were tons of candlelight vigils because of the fairly recent terrorist attack. There were a few policemen walking around with assault rifles – which Kim said made her feel a little more at ease. I’m still on the fence as to whether I preferred seeing police armed with rifles or not. We just walked through practically every street in the main area – my takeaway is that almost all of central Strasbourg is CLOTHING STORES. It’s very surprising how little mix there is in the downtown area – there really wasn’t that many restaurants to choose from, from what I could tell.

 

There were a few gift shops open, and near the Cathedral, nearly every store was open, so that was very nice. I remember it being pretty foggy at night, so the Cathedral looked really cool, shrouded in fog. At some point, Kim dipped into an Amorino to get a 5 euro cup of hot chocolate, since it was so cold. There was a number of people doing the same, and I wish I could have had one but I was fighting off canker sores.

There are a ton of small markets spread across Strasbourg, and we really did hit up every one. We also crossed the bridge into Petite France, but honestly, I’m not too clear on what was the difference between the two areas. I really liked Strasbourg because it felt pretty clean and it was one of the quieter cities … but honestly that’s probably because the markets weren’t open so I wonder if I would have ended up being very meh about Strasbourg if we’d gone another day.

I think we finished walking around 7:30pm or so, but we didn’t want to head back to our hotel room just to sit around, so we ended up going back to that same restaurant, Caupona, and ordered a dessert. We decided on a chocolate lava cake. The dessert was pretty meh but I still love the restaurant for basically being a place to sit and hang around for a lot longer. We eventually got back to the quiet hotel around 9pm and I just remember taking very hot showers and then going to bed! Every time I reread my blog posts, I think about how delightful it was to take a hot shower and lay in the hotel bed at the end of the day, and it fills me with warm feelings.

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Strasbourg tree by day
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Strasbourg tree at night

Day Two: Paris

I will say, staying two nights in Paris completely upended the Christmas Markets schedule!!! One thing I had not anticipated was that so many markets would close right after Christmas Eve/Christmas. Since we flew out on 12/22, this became a slight issue. But if we had only been in Paris for ONE day, we actually would have been able to see EVERY market, and potentially another city! Oh well – in hindsight, I still have warm feelings of the vacation and my takeaway is that these Christmas markets were VERY crowded and many of my favorite memories were not market related.

Ok, second day – this might have been our most steps day at 28,000. Our lowest step day was like 19,000. We started the day by taking the metro to the Montmatre (after a failed first exit from the hotel where we promptly turned back around to add a layer of clothing since it was FREEZING). It probably would have been really nice to see Montmatre at night because it’s already a cute neighborhood, then add twinkly lights, but it wouldn’t have worked out well with our plans. The first place we went was to a bakery, which might be one of the more popular local establishments. It was also maybe the only place we went to where we really had to wait for food. I ended up getting an almond croissant (YUM), a small little roll of bread, and a pistachio madeleine (which I didn’t eat until the next day on the train to Strasbourg, so it didn’t taste like anything special).

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this is an award winning croissant in PARIS

I’d been here with my mom before – actually I’d been to nearly every Paris site with my mom before – but with my mom, I kept having us walk in from a metro station one stop away, so we could see other local parts before arriving at the main attraction. It is a very different experience to take the metro straight to the main thing in the winter, versus walking 1+ mile in the Paris summer. I later told my mom “I think I need to redo Paris for you, I put you through a lot.”

We went to the Sacre Couer, which Kim expressed next to zero interest in, HAHA. We had arrived so early in the morning, the Montmartre Christmas market was pretty much half closed, bummer! At least I got this nice shot of the city. I probably have the exact same shot, but with full summer sun.

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From here, I picked up my first coffee, a tiny little latte from what looked like the equivalent of a Parisian Dunkin Donuts. When I ordered my coffee, the guy asked me to point at the size cup I wanted, and I pointed at the second smallest and prepared exact change for that size. When he took the change and handed me my cup, I realized he’d actually filled up a slightly larger cup, but presumably he didn’t want to bother asking me for the additional money. I feel weirdly like I cheated him though!

Anyway, from here, we took the metro to the La Defense Christmas Market, the largest in Paris. We spent a pretty long time here, because we kept going in circles, and going past the same booths accidentally. It was nice, though the booth decor was not as nice as other cities would be. The main food in Paris’ Christmas markets are raclettes – baguettes with salami-like meats and giant cheese wheels that sit under heat lamps. And after you order one, they scrape off melted cheese onto the baguette. DELICIOUS but at 8 euro each, it is a pretty expensive sandwich for not very much.

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another satisfied cheese & meat sandwich customer

La Defense seems to be a major shopping area and maybe live events center – my favorite thing ever was that we could walk back into the huge mall and use the FREE bathrooms, AND there was a drinking fountain right outside the bathrooms, which I so rarely ever find in Europe. This was my most well hydrated day, because that water was SO GOOD and CONVENIENT!

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La Defense christmas market

We ended up ordering another raclette – the one from our first day was better – and then took the metro to the St Germain Christmas Market. Maybe this was a mistake, because we ended up not being able to get to the Eiffel Tower Christmas Market in time. St Germain is on the south side of the Seine River, and I hadn’t really explored here with my mom. It was cute, but a lot of things were closing because it was Christmas Eve and it was nearing dinner time. We kept trying to find a restaurant to eat in, but everyone declined us. I ended up eating the little seed bread I’d bought in the morning, and Kim ended up buying a sandwich from a little shop, where all the employees looked ready to just close up.

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St Germain Christmas Market from across the street

From here, we took the metro to Eiffel Tower, but the market was CLOSED! Major bummer. Then I tried to find the Trocodero gardens that overlook the Eiffel Tower, but I got confused from Google Maps and also completely forgot the name of it, so I ended up leading us in the opposite direction to a different garden. So that didn’t pan out either. We ended up just sticking around to get pics of the Eiffel Tower when it lighted up on the hour, and then we took a metro home. I’m not even going to bother posting a picture of the Eiffel tower, YOU KNOW what it looks like!

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Probably made in China

By now, I was like, I’M READY TO EAT! But SO MUCH was closed. The only restaurant we saw open between the metro and our hotel was a Korean restaurant – and it ended up being AMAZING! The service was super nice, especially considering I took about 15 minutes to decide what to order. The food was surprisingly really good, and Kim says authentic, and it was a LOT of food for a relatively low price. I got three side dishes, a HUGE heaping portion of mackerel, rice, and a yuzu cake roll for dessert! Honestly, one of my favorite meals this trip.

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By now, it was either really late, or it just felt really late because there was no one out on the streets. So we just hung around the hotel, which felt nice, and then eventually went to bed. I’m almost certain I spent the entire night freaking out about train ticket prices and eventually drifted off to sleep after going on a crazed ticket buying frenzy.

 

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DELICIOUS NOUGAT!!!
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this was a common sight in Paris, along with giant cheese wheels