Thursday, 12 September 2019

Solo Trip To Vienna. Part 2

cycling tour across vienna and castle schoenbrunn

After two awesome days, my solo trip in Vienna continued with another two jam-packed days.

Day: 3 Watching Life Go By

My first stop of the day was the Hundertwasser House in the northeast of the city. I spend a great amount of time here, mainly admiring the architecture from the outside and wandering through the several themed cafes and souvenir shops. The shops were all different and competitive in pricing, but I found the best one to be inside the Hundertwasser Village where I got a few postcards and a replica print.

The Hundertwasser House itself is a residential building so you won’t be able to go inside and have a look around. I've completely forgotten that there’s an actual museum just down the road. Bummer! But I guess that one will be on the list for another time. After that, I walked back into town to see the Astronomical Clock at Hoher Markt which is a bit unnoticeable at first and you could easily miss it. It reminded me of the clock in Prague and there’s another one in Bern which is similar.

Hundertwasser Haus in Vienna
Astrological clock Hoher Markt Vienna

Next on my sightseeing list was a a visit to the Prunksaal at the National Library, one of the most inspiring and elaborate librarys in the world. It is located next to the Spanish Riding School, so I was also able to pick up my ticket for tomorrow’s performance. Luckily it was early in the day and I nearly had the Prunksaal all to myself. There’s something magical about a room full of books and the marbled floor was insane!

After my visit, I was mysteriously drawn into a bookshop and bought myself a book and a fashion magazine. With both under my arm, I spend the rest of the sunny afternoon at Café Hofburg, which is located past the Spanish Riding School. I must have sat there for like 2h, enjoying the sun, a nice slice of classic German strawberry cake and a hot chocolate topped with cream and pistachio sauce. I would flick through my magazine, but to be honest, I had a prime spot for people watching and I just couldn’t resist observing the tourists. In the late afternoon I strolled over to the Volksgarten, took more pictures and got back to the hotel. It was one of those early warm summer evenings with no care in the world and I spend a bit of time at the hotel to relax and charge my phone.

Prunksaal National Library Vienna
cake and hot chocolate served at cafe hofburg in vienna
opera house and volksgarten vienna
solo trip to vienna prunksaal

Later that evening, I was back on the road towards the Prater and I let out my inner child and passion for playgrounds. I had the best time ever, because I haven’t felt that happy in a very long time and I felt all the stress and worries from London were suddenly lifted off my shoulders. I ate candy floss and marshmallow waffles, went on the chain merry-go-around twice until I got sick, I found a Langos stand hidden away inbetween the car dodgems and watched other people enjoying the rides whilst it got slowly dark. All in all a perfect end to a wonderful day.

Day 4: Freestyle Cycling Tour

I can’t stress enough how uber cool my hotel in Vienna was. It was not only a converted office house with hammocks and walk-in showers, its own bakery and a laidback hipster atmosphere, it also offered hotel guests the opportunity to rent either a vespa or a bike to explore the city. How cool is that?

Unfortunately, it had cooled down a lot that day, so taking a vespa was out of the question. Nevertheless, I wanted to get some exercise done anyway after eating all the apple strudel the previous day, so reception gave me the keys for one of their cream bikes. It was easy to maneuver and it had a small basket at the front to hold my bag. Excellent!

I started the day as early as possible as I wanted to make the most out of it. My first stop was the Spanish Riding School as I had prebooked tickets for the 11am performance. My seat was very high up on the second ranks, so to see the performance I had to stand up and lean over the balustrade.The performance itself was on for one hour and, to be honest, it was slightly underwhelming. I didn’t expect much, but at least to see a few riding techniques. It’s weird because I’m aware it’s not a circus. It’s Austrian tradition but then I kept questioning the whole procedure, as well as costs involved for breeding the horses and their “education” and what greater good it is meant to serve. It didn’t make much sense to me to dressage horses like that with war jumps and training them those unnatural movements. They do stress over and over again it’s not done for show or for profit but I’m sure they do all of this purely for the entertainment of tourists as the performances are pricey. I spend too much time overthinking all of this and the more I saw, the more bizarre I found it.

Spanish Riding School performance hall vienna
spanish riding school vienna stables horse equipment
vienna spanish riding school stable

After the performance, I went on a guided tour around The Stables which was equally disappointing. The tour guide spoke rudimental English, barely provided any useful information and it felt like a big show off. Would I recommend it? It is certainly part of Austrian tradition and advertised as THE top attraction to see and do whilst you’re in Vienna but personally, I felt it was a huge tourist trap and time can certainly be spend better in the city.

Anyway, it was time for the obligatory cake. The ideal place for today turned out to be Café Mozart opposite the Albertina. The traditional Austrian coffee house served mushroom risotto for lunch and nice cakes. NOW, I uncovered a little cake scandal here. Nearly all cafes in Vienna are served by the same cake provider. The menu is exactly the same in style in layout, as are the cakes. Café Hofburg, Café Mozart the Café at Schönbrunn all serve cake from Landtmann Pattiserie. The only place that offered their own cakes during my time in Vienna, seemed to be Café Central.

To digest this little scandal I roamed the souvenir shops by the National Library and wasted a good amount of time looking at cheap Klimt replicas and porcelaine Lippizaner sculptures. I then had the idea to freestyle cycle around and just see where my intuition would lead me. The Mariahilfer Strasse looked intriguing so I cycled it up with its leafy pedestrian, shops and very nice restaurants. The street is pretty long and I made a note to myself to check it out properly on my way back. I further ended up cycling past the West Station, some dodgy residential area and the technical school for applied science and just like that ended up at Castle Schönbrunn.

vienna city of horses

When I got there, it was already late afternoon so I was aware I wouldn’t be able to do a full tour and see the entire castle. I got myself a ticket for the Imperial Tour which covered half of the place and to be honest, it was enough. The rooms were very bland and underwhelming and my digital tour guide died a few times so it made no difference walking around from one room to another as they all looked the same. Bleak rooms with boring wallpaper and little furniture, there wasn’t much to see and there were hoards of tourists. The castle closed around 6pm, so I spend the rest of my time wandering around the huge garden area and walked up the hill to the Orangerie Gloria. From there you have fantastic views over the castle and Greater Vienna.

As planned, on my way back into town, I stopped at a super nice Burger place on Mariahilfer Strasse. I loved that street as it was a very long shopping street with interesting architecture, leafy trees along the way and an easy to cycle smooth road (mostly pedestrian). The burger place called Le Burger is a small chain with two restaurants across Vienna. The inside was an Instagrammer's dream full of swings and green lush plants. The burgers itself were delicious and the menu offered a wide range of flavour combinations. One quirky highlight was certainly their sauce bar which offered unusual flavours such as blueberry ketchup. It was a very laidback and interesting place and the barman even started a conversation with me and insisted to make me a bespoke mocktail.

le burger in vienna
le burger restaurant in vienna
le burger sauces stand in vienna

After dinner I decided to end the day as I had ended the others: at the Prater. As on my first evening I got a bit carried away so I found a path along the Danube river and really got the cycling bug. I must have ridden a good while when I lost sight of the fairground towers from the Prater and I was actually miles away from it. Once I arrived at its station I went a few rounds on the chain carrousel before the fairground closed for the day.

At 11pm, I cycled back through the warm summer night. Could have taken the route around the centre but decided to go straight through it and past all the attractions and sights and familiar streets for one last time. To end the day I enjoyed a homemade coconut and lavender lemonade at the hotel.

coconut lemonade served at hotel daniel in vienna

My first solo trip to Vienna was incredible and I would have never imagined I would have such a great time by myself. I had no restrictions and was completely free in doing whatever I wanted without anyone moaning or complaining. I was not tied to a schedule and found a great balance of relaxing and sightseeing. My personal highlights of my Vienna city break are:
  • Traditional Apple Strudel at Café Central
  • Fairground Prater
  • Art Collections, such as Castle Belvedere or Albertina
  • Central Vienna with its stunning buildings and architecture
  • Discovering the city by bike 
  • Prunksaal at the National Library
  • My meal at Le Burger
  • My stay at Hotel Daniel & its lovely staff
  • Enjoying seeing so many horses in one place

apple strudel served at cafe central in vienna

There you go, this was pretty much everything I got up to on my little trip to Vienna from last summer. Vienna has deeply impressed me with its laidback charm, sophisticated cultural flair and delicious cakes. Looking forward to returing one day and exploring more sides of this diverse city.

Thanks so much for reading,

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Exodus London

jonathan-chng-7_WyzplsaSE-London skyline from millennium bridge

Long-time, no post. I haven‘t been much active on here for a while, cause life got pretty much in the way and I had to sort out a few things. The major news though is the same:

I have left London. Four years of city life and six in total in the UK are officially over.

How do I feel about it? I don‘t see it as a permanent Good Bye... more like a break really.

An indefinite break for now, cause I have no idea what will happen in the future.

The last time I lived in London was in 2006 and it took me 10 years to move back for a second round. In those ten years, I was occupied with my academic career and never wasted a thought about moving back to London. Hell no, I had everything I wanted back in Germany. My career was on track, I had my own two-bedroom flat, owned a car and in general, I felt pretty happy and fulfilled with my life. London was never on my radar, ever.

Though there was always the feeling of wanting more - but I couldn't really point my finger to it what exactly "more" was. It happened in 2013, that I packed my stuff and moved to the UK. First to Bristol, then followed London in 2015.

And I was naive and overconfident enough to think, that I could easily walk into London with all my "amazing" achievements, the world would instantly love me and I could take off like a shooting star. Spoiler alert, none of it happened.

Professionally, I didn‘t get as far as I wanted to go. I don‘t want to share too many details here but an innocent incident at work defined the rest of my London time. London turned me into a version of myself, which I never knew existed and I could ever become. I was suddenly miserable, unhappy and listless. Dreams felt shattered and I lived from month to month without actually enjoying my life anymore. There were countless times I wanted to end my London life and throw in the towel, but then I pulled myself together and "got on with it".

However, just when I thought I was back on track, another WTF moment came along and I had to start all over again. One step forward, three steps backwards.

tom-parsons-the london underground

It was a very stressful time and no matter how hard I worked or tried to make it work, it was never good enough. I was never good enough.

It broke me, it broke my relationship and at the start of 2018 I was alone. I could have easily packed up my stuff and returned to Germany, but my competitive side didn‘t want to give up just yet. I wanted to prove something to myself. That I can make it work on my own. That I didn‘t need anyone in my life to be happy and I am very much capable of looking after myself.

Two years went by. Every day I found the energy to keep going, "make it work and never give up" kept me motivated - but in reality I ran against a wall over and over again without noticing. At some point I did notice....when I started to get a headache from it and severe panic attacks on the tube. Add in the catastrophic political situation, the low-quality jobs and the prospect of never progressing personally. It was a circle that I no longer wanted to be a part of anymore.

Earlier this year, I decided life needed to change. I applied for jobs in Germany and handed in my notice for my flat. None of my applications were successful but it just meant that Germany was not just yet the place to return to and settle in permanently. Other options needed to be explored of which there are plenty out there in the world!

I‘ve been reading a lot of self-improvement books and have been working on myself as a person. I realised, I can‘t continue my life in London as it was and I desperately needed a break from it. A break to regain focus, a break to recharge batteries, a break to tune in with me and get guidance again. In the end, I need to go where my energies are reciprocated and where I will find a job in my chosen field – experiential marketing.

The defining incident at work involved someone, I may have fallen for. Or fallen for a daydream fantasy, cause I don‘t know him that well. All I know is that I wanted to be in his life somehow the moment I met him. He left work in 2017 and I was too cautious to reach out because of the drama stirred at work. He was gone and there was nothing I could do about it. So I got on with my life, went on solo trips, met up with friends, spend hours at the gallery, applied for new jobs, worked out, went out to nice restaurants, took a few classes to get certificates, worked on myself, read lots of books, even tried to forget about him with another guy…. But all of that only gave temporary distraction. He was always on my mind, sooner or later. It took me two and a half years to build up enough courage to finally contact him. We even met up, which was probably one of the best lunch breaks I have ever had in my life – only to run into a dead-end again and hit another wall.

david-marcu-summer evening in london soho

My final days in London were pretty emotional, not gonna lie here. Accepting the rejection and dissapointments of the past and admitting I had failed were a hard pill to swallow. Leaving close friends behind because life in London came to an end was also not easy to cope with. I felt overwhelmed, unstable and cried most of the time. I wanted my expat life in London so badly to work out for me and it was tough leaving something behind which I had built up for six years.

I organised my move to Germany, dismissed my flat, visited a few places which I really wanted to see before leaving, met up with my friends for a final time (for now) and spend the evenings crying together. I'm not a huge fuss maker and refused a proper leaving party, cause ideally, this is just a break and not the end. My intentions are to return to London one day once the political situation is more relaxed and I have explored other options in life. There is so much more out there, things to learn, cultures to explore and lifestyles to adopt that I'm ready for something else.

I met up with only a few people, the few gems which I truly care about and which have made my life in London a great experience and journey together. And I was angry with myself that I messed it up with him...

Long story short, I didn‘t get the job, I didn‘t get the guy and now it‘s reset button time. The only thing London did give me though, were true friends and friendships which will last for a lifetime. No matter what will happen, I know there are people who care about me and would love to have me back in London - which is a nice, reassuring feeling that I didn't fail at one thing during my time there.

For now, I‘ve moved home to my parents for a bit to regain focus and get grounded again. I‘m slowly starting to feel better and „myself“ again. Taking the time out to focus and work on myself is something which I need and it will do me good to explore other options in life than the London grind. Next week, I'm going to Spain to do the final 100km of the Pilgrimage camino - an experience I've been wanting to do for a while. I'm also looking at continuning my expat life but this time on a bigger scale. Also my Australia plans from 2017 are long overdue so I'm looking at the moment how to best organise the trip. Ideally I can get a permanent job but if it is not happening for the New Year I can always have the option of travelling for a bit.

I know my potential and what I'm capable of and London just wasn‘t the right place for me. Just because London didn't work out doesn't mean somewhere else won't. The life lessons I‘ve learned are invaluable and who knows maybe the experience in London prepared me for something even bigger and better?!?

Monday, 22 July 2019

Manolo Blahnik's An Enquiring Mind

Manolo Blahnik an enquiring mind exhibition london


Manolo Blahnik, iconic designer of contemporary luxury shoes will soon celebrate his label’s 50th anniversary. Therefore, he’s exhibiting his collection for the very first time at the Wallace Collection in Marylebone under the title “An Enquiring Mind”.


“An Enquiring Mind” showcases over 160 exquisite designs from Blahnik’s personal archive alongside 12 sketches. The designer who is mostly influenced and inspired by 18th-century French couture and Fragonard presents his shoe designs in juxtaposition to the art galleries treasures. You’ll see kitten-heeled mules, killer heeled ankle boots and some extravagant boots curated under glass vitrines amongst the many art treasures of the museum. However, all designs are magnificently delicate and elaborately embellished to underline the creativity of their master. Highlights include an intricate yellow pair of extraordinary heels in the Large Drawing Room to resemble the longings for classical, noble ideals of the Antiquity as well as black laced ankle boots to reflect the drama and excitement of the baroque era. More exhibits commemorate Marie Antoinette and celebrate the shoe as a delicate fashion item with subtle florals, sparkling gemstones or cute bow elements.


The fashion exhibition runs all summer until 1st September.

18th century inspired mule designed by manolo blahnik
Manolo Blahnik black lace up boot exhibition


The Wallace Collection in Manchester Square, Marylebone. The townhouse turned museum is home to fine furniture and historic art collected by Sir Richard Wallace and has kindly been made a permanently accessible collection for the general public. The house is full of Dutch, Flemish and Italian baroque treasures including paintings, furniture and boasts with a lot of history to represent the high status and wealth of its original owner. “An Enquiring Mind” can be found on the first floor. The nearest tube station is Bond Street, and then it’s an 8-minute walk northbound.


Blahnik has always been an admirer of the Wallace Collection and since his design studio is around the corner, the opportunity arose to have some of his designs showcased at the museum. The Wallace Collection is still a hidden gem to London so this collaboration will not only put some focus onto the Hertford House but also highlight the relationship of his admirer Blahnik and his love for elaborate baroque art.

manolo blahnik luxury shoes on display
Manolo Blahnik exhibition at Wallace Collection London


The Wallace Collection itself is quite a stunning place stuffed from floor to ceiling with exceptional paintings, baroque furniture, and fine art. The Blahnik exhibits are curated in juxtaposition to each room and its story, however, if you're not familiar with the townhouse itself the connection between Blahnik and its exhibits can get lost. The shoes are displayed in glass cabinets and do not have any other labels with further information. Therefore, I would say if you want to learn more about the pieces, pick up a free leaflet right by the entrance which contains more information on each room and shoe. Other than that, the shoes are well crafted and as I'm into the baroque style, I was fine appreciating the sheer delicacy and craftsmanship that went into making those. The overall experience will last maybe an hour, so this is a nice little lunch break adventure or afternoon filler when you're in the area.

Thanks so much for checking out today's fashion exhibition in London. Till next time, Carolin

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Solo Trip to Vienna. Part 1

jacek-dylag- vienna city view

Last year I took the plunge and went solo traveling for the first time. Whilst some might find this odd or confusing, I really wanted to go away from London for a few days. None of my friends were available and I didn't want to let this be an excuse or more something to hold me back and me ending up not seeing the world. Obviously going somewhere foreign by yourself sounds a bit scary at first that's why I chose to visit Vienna, as the Austrian culture is very convenient for me plus the capital is a well-known treasure trove for art. Very spontaneously, I checked mid-week flights and accommodation and booked a four-day trip a week in advance. Here's what I got up to in mid-June on my holidays in Vienna:

Day 1: Arrival in Austria's Capital

I took an early flight from London and arrived in Vienna during midday. When you fly into the airport, you'll get a lovely view of the city and its surrounding nature with rivers and green fields, which felt awesome. This was exactly what I needed. A moderately small (in comparison to London) city with natural spaces and lots to see and to relax. To get to my hotel, I had researched the easiest was to hop on a bus, which would take approximately 25mins. The airport is moderately big and very well signposted so I had no issues in finding the bus stop. The bus journey was super easy and took me straight to Vienna's South Station, as my hotel was close by. The bus went actually past it, so I knew where to go after I got dropped off. 

My hotel, Hotel Daniel in Vienna, was only a short walk from the South Station and located next door to Palace Belvedere. I'll share a review about the hotel in more detail in another blog post as it was incredible and I had a really great time staying there. It was one of the best hotels I've stayed in with its quirky style and very welcoming staff. Anyway, once I got to my room and dropped everything off, I changed into lighter summer clothes as it was 30 degrees - very hot and humid. First stop, Palace Belvedere which has beautiful gardens and allowed me to stroll right through its park into town. The walk from my hotel into central Vienna took around 20 minutes and I walked past water fountains, old build houses with lovely facades and numerous walk-in supermarkets. In fact, there's a walk-in shop every two metres and having missed German food for a while, I made a little food shopping trip.

palace belvedere in vienna

Once arrived in central, I made a round through the centre. The High Street is typical for any other European capital seamed with the usual franchised fashion retailers and tacky souvenir shops. There were some tourist groups around and after passing the Albertina, an art gallery, I found a bench in the nearby garden Volksgarten to enjoy the early evening hours. The Volksgarten was in full bloom with neat and tidy flower arrangements, little water fountains and a sea of roses. For food, I found an Italian restaurant back in central called Fratelli, which was busy (always a good sign) but the staff treated the service as a conveyor belt, so it was a bit impersonal and overall an average dining experience. 

After dinner, I was curious to walk to the Prater, Vienna's permanent amusement park in the North of the city. From afar, I could see the Ferris Wheel and towers which made it look very close. Fast forward an hour or so and I was still looking for the park's entrance and got a bit lost in a residential area. It was still light and a very warm European summer evening so I didn't really worry too much. Eventually, I got into a huge park which turned out to be the furthest end of the fairground. I made it!

I arrived at the Ferris Wheel shortly before the golden hour and thought it'll be a great opportunity for me to see the sunset from the top. I bought a ticket for 10 EUR and then waited for a few carriages as I wanted to avoid a group of young families with their noisy kids. Next to me were two ladies, maybe a few years younger than me who had exactly the same thought, so once we were happy to board an empty capsule, we started chatting. They were from London too, explored Slovenia and spend now their last days in Vienna before heading back to the big smoke. One of the ladies used to work in SEO and mentioned casually "oh well, it didn't work out" - I couldn't have loved this lady anymore I FEEL YOU! So we then bonded over cursing our previous SEO jobs and agreed it was for the better that we've ended our SEO career. We just made it in time to the top before the sun was completely gone and saw the final sunlight of the day, whilst on the other side in the North a huge storm brew together and send regular some impressive lightning over the city. This would have been a great view to enjoy if the carriages wouldn't have been so rocky. I'm spoilt with the London Eye and its solid capsules, but the Vienna Ferris Wheel is over 100 years old and mainly constructed of wood. It was rocking a lot which made me feel uncomfortable and a bit unsafe. I think this was the longest I've ever been held on top of a Ferris Wheel as everyone sat very quietly in the middle trying to not make a move as it was rocking already pretty hard from the storm. The views were incredible though with colorful flashing lights of the rides below and the dramatic bolts of lightning.

Storm in Vienna shot from the ferris wheel
the city vienna view from the ferris wheel
the ferris wheel in vienna
vienna prater at night
prater shot from the ferris wheel

Once back on the ground, the heavens opened up and it poured buckets. I've never seen so many people rush straight to the nearby station, including me. Vienna's centre is mostly old town so there's not much of public transport centrally, but there's like a ring tram system circulating around its historic centre. It only took three stops for me to be back at Belvedere Palace and the hotel. I fell into my soft duvet and pillow but tossed quite a lot as it took me ages to fall asleep. I don't know what it is but I barely sleep in hotels. Usually, they are too noisy, too unfamiliar or simply the bed is not soft enough anyway, I usually have a hard time to fully switch off sleeping in a hotel. In this case, the air conditioning was faulty which kept me awake for a good while before I got up, dressed and asked the reception guy for some earplugs. Reception luckily had a spare pair and also checked on the air conditioner in my room and said he'll get a technician in the morning to have it fixed. So I went back to bed for round two to fall asleep.  

Day 2: Exploring Vienna's Historic Centre

My first proper day in Vienna started with a surprise. The Hotel Manager waited for me at reception and gave me a very generous room upgrade to make up for the faulty air con. I moved into a double room with a hammock and on top, I was invited to breakfast. Yes, please! The breakfast room of the hotel was pretty cool. An open planned space with plants everywhere gave laid back vibes. The hotel also had its own bakery, so I had this lovely lady baking fresh waffles for me and a cold-pressed machine gave me freshly pressed orange juice. I felt completely spoilt and pampered. And OMG roles. Proper German roles. THE DREAM.

fresh waffles served at Hotel Daniel in Vienna

Well fed I was ready to take on the day. My first stop was Palace Belvedere next door. The Palace hosts first and foremost one of Vienna's many art galleries in a stunning baroque building. Treasures of Viennese artists as well as Klimt and Hundertwasser artwork can be admired and there are some incredible architecture and gardens outside, too. The Palace is built on top of a hill whereas the gardens lead downhill to an Orangery which is surrounded by real orange trees (I have a soft spot for orange trees). Inside the Palace, I spend a good amount of time to take in the historic art and to admire Klimt's famous The Kiss - a couple indulged in a very intimate kissing scene which is gold plated and certainly one of the most valuable artworks of our time. It's a stunning painting and an absolute must to see when in Vienna. 

Orangery in vienna

From the Orangery, I knew the way into central so I strolled down the main road and took my time wandering around town and taking it all in. I went into some of the shops, got some inspiration and the current stage German fashion has finally come to, checked out an interesting souvenir shop and made myself familiar with the location of the Austrian National Library and Spanish Riding School which are close together. Not far from the Riding School, I found a lovely authentic Viennese coffee house called Café Central which happened to be one of Vienna's oldest and most traditional cafés. It was mid-afternoon and certainly time for tea and cake, so I found a seat outside in the sun and enjoyed life passing by. From the menu, I ordered freshly pressed orange juice, hot chocolate and the Austrian classic Apple Strudel with hot vanilla custard. All for the moderate price of 15 EUR. Sitting in the sun enjoying the treats was a nice reminder of our traditional coffee and cake time that we celebrate in Germany with familiar cakes and flavours and I can't deny, I do miss German culture and speaking my language.....but I don't miss Germany if that makes sense.  

applestrudle served at cafe central vienna
cafe central in vienna

After tea time, I felt well rested for some more sightseeing so I ended up at the Albertina museum for the next two hours, which hosts over 65,000 artworks including paintings, drawings and old master prints. You'll find everything from Monet to Hundertwasser via German expressionists from the Blue Rider Circle and at the time of my visit, I got to see a free Keith Haring exhibition celebrating the artists' lifework. The collection spans over four floors so I would recommend bringing some time to fully appreciate the artwork on display.

The visit to the Albertina museum definitely left me feeling inspired and hungry to see more art over the coming days. I strolled slowly back towards the hotel but took a few detours and routes in the town centre which I hadn't explored yet. I spend some time in a book shop browsing some of the German magazines and admired the historic architecture and buildings. At some point, I ended up in a small side street away from the busy main road and stumbled upon a hidden restaurant called Figlmüller. There was a small queue and a quick look at the door which was plastered with tonnes of awards and newspaper articles convinced me to check out this place. It was certainly very busy inside and popular with many celebrities who had visited Vienna in the past as I learned from the magazine articles that the restaurant was THE place for Austrian Schnitzel and Cordon Bleu with a traditional wood paneling dining room. I wasn't particularly hungry as I was still full from the apple strudel and it was only early evening, however, I thought the place must be pretty hard to get into later on, so I could maybe squeeze in a cheeky cordon bleu and then not worry for dinner.

I queued up for about 30 minutes and got seated downstairs. The restaurant itself had a lovely charm. It was a very traditional and rustic place with different wood-paneled dining chambers, indirect light and I felt I was in for a real treat plus I haven't had Schnitzel in about 20 years. The excitement, however, clouded quickly as once I sat down a rather moody and taciturn waiter took my order. Apparently, the meal would only come by its own, meaning meat only, which in my cultural understanding is wrong but the tourists would love it. Well, maybe but as a true German, I needed some potatoes and some sort of garnish with it. Just eating meat felt a bit odd.

john-tuesday-fueglmueller schnitzel restaurant in vienna

The waiter couldn't really recommend me anything so I went with potatoes and parsley garnish (it was literally that). Well, at least no faffing about with German precision, you get what you order. The meal took a while so I watched the constant coming and going in the restaurant. It was petty touristy and the Schnitzels were as big as the plates which is in my understanding wrong. The whole place felt like a huge conveyor belt and staff were not very attentive. My food came at some point and it was literally just the Cordon Bleu, no extra potatoes, no veg or any gravy. Speechless. I finished my Cordon Bleu as quickly as possible (it was ok), paid and left. was certainly an experience but I doubt I'll go there again if I make it to Vienna a second time.

The evening was still light and warm so I decided to call it an early night and returned to the hotel. On the way, I picked up a few snacks as my dessert from the supermarket and got all excited as there were a few of my favourite German foods. Back in my room, I took a long shower and watched telly on my fluffy new bed. And you may think Oh, you can do this every day at home in London, but I truly enjoyed having an evening filled with German telly for once able to switch off my brain and just let my native language babble in the background. Eventually, I fell asleep in this huge soft bed with its cosy fresh sheets looking forward to two more days in beautiful Vienna.

To be continued......

Thanks so much for reading and till next time when I share Part 2 of my solo travel diary of Vienna.


Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Florence In May

Florence skyline shot from uffizi gallery

On his many trips to Italy, German poet Goethe once said, “We’re all pilgrims who seek Italy”. And I mean who can blame the man, he is certainly right. Italy, the land of pizza, pasta, calzone, dolcetti, gelato, iconic art, and exquisite culture, used to be a dream destination for many as traveling in the pre-German Romantic period was expensive and obviously a privilege reserved for the rich….but uh well, how time has changed and thanks to today’s low budget airline era, jetting off to sunny Italy has never been easier. And what’s good for Goethe is good for the travel-hungry millennial after all, right?

Off to Florence it was and it wasn’t by accident either. Have you ever watched Dan Brown's Hollywood adaptation Inferno? I LOVED that film and it was mainly because of the incredible locations the movie has been shot in. For those who haven’t seen the film, the main protagonist Professor Dr. Langdon (Tom Hanks) wakes up in hospital with severe amnesia. He can’t remember where he is, how he got there or what has happened to him until further events evolve and it is revealed he’s been stationary in Florence. There’s also Felicity Jones, whose character helps Langdon to escape and in true Dan Brown fashion there is a conspiracy and epic hunt across iconic historical and religious sites in Florence and Venice, but mainly Florence. It is literally a 2h advertisement showing off all the beauty this city has to offer.

Anyway, the film captured the charm of the city magnificently and I really wanted to go after seeing the movie. At the very latest when the chase ended up in the Boboli Gardens which are located in the stunning hills surrounding the ancient town of Florence.  The chance for a visit came around last year during the Spring Bank Holiday when I stayed for four days. I'd say four days is a good amount of time if you visit Florence for the first time and to get a taste for the city. However, the atmosphere is incredible and there's a lot to do and to see. I've left out a few sights which give me a good reason to come back to Florence one day. 

The Best Time For Visiting Florence

Having been to Rome in late October/early November once, wearing light T-shirts and summer dresses in 25 degrees, I was aware that Italy in the high season of summer might be a suicide. Hence why the perfect timing was shortly before summer kicked in and the Spring Bank holiday seemed an ideal date to go sightseeing in Florence. The temperatures were perfect at around 26 degrees to stroll around town in the day, sit outside in the warm summer evenings and watch a clear night sky perfect for stargazing. 

How To Get There

As Florence is part of the UNESCO world heritage and boasts with historical buildings, the city aims to preserve its charm and heritage. Air traffic is a huge source of noise and pollution. Therefore the city has restricted most of it and controlled heavily through a small airport outside the city. Flights directly to Florence are also a bit more expensive and at odd times, so the alternative would be to book a flight to Pisa which is around 1h away by bus. Low-budget airlines fly daily and regularly to Pisa from London with a flight time of approximately 2h.

Pisa airport is very small and slightly chaotic so it would be best to head straight to the exit and hop on a bus to Florence. There are different operators who go to Florence and the return tickets for the ride will cost around 12 EUR. To be honest, the bus journey is very straight forward and you’ll get to see a bit of the Tuscan countryside, too. Once you arrive in Florence, it is actually one of the key experiences to enjoy a city without any constant flight traffic. It allows the city to preserve an untouched charm and it would spoil the atmosphere of the city completely if there were tonnes of flights circulating over the city every other minute. In fact, Florence has been voted as one of the best cities to visit in Italy and I personally can see why. Here are my top tips for a first-time visit to Florence:

heidi-kaden-lopyreva-side streets of Florence
matteo-lezzi-Uffizi Gallery Court
david-tapia-san-martin-Florence Duomo

What To See & Do

Oh, where to start! There’s so much to do and see in Florence, you certainly won’t be bored at all. I stayed for four days and left out a few sights for a hopefully soon-to-come second visit. The biggest sight is the city and its incredible atmosphere. Yet one of the most visited cities in Italy, it has certain corners which are still very unspoiled and left authentic so you will have a good time wandering around exploring. Having been drawn to Florence through the Inferno film, I wanted to check out all the sights which served as a film location but on top, I got to enjoy some amazing experiences which are part of the Florentine lifestyle. Those included:

  • Palazzo Vecchio - inside is the Hall of 500 an impressive hall with magnificent frescos and elaborate ceiling work which will leave you speechless. In the Inferno film, this is the location of the iconic scene where the assassin gets killed and falls through the ceiling).
  • Boboli Gardens - the garden is huge and in some parts left very natural so it’s a joy to wander around in its maze-like hedges and get lost in it. The garden has three main parts which spread over the surrounding hills, including a rose garden and Parco Bardini.
  • Uffizi Gallery - this is a MUST for any art lover. It’s like the MOMA in New York or the Louvre in Paris. You can’t come to Florence and not indulge in some fine Italian art. You’ll see Botticelli's Venus, Spring and other Italian treasures in this highly curated art museum.
  • Right by the Uffizi Gallery is a small tourist information which sells combi tickets. The tickets are 38 EUR and include entrance to the Boboli Gardens, Uffizi Gallery and Palazzo Pitti and are valid for three consecutive days. Enough time to cover all of your sightseeing.
  • Please note, some sights in Italy are closed either on the first or last Monday of the month.
  • Florence Duomo - Undoubtedly Florence's major landmark didn't make it on y visiting list this time but I'm keeping it for a second visit. As the Duomo is THE tourist attraction, booking tickets in advance is advisable. 
  • Indulge in Florence’ diverse culinary scene. There are tonnes of lovely restaurants, cafes, and gelateria, so you can literally spend an entire day just going from one place to another and eat your weight in delicious Italian cuisine. La Dolce Vita at its best!
  • The little narrow streets around Mercato Centrale Florence/ Mercato di San Lorenzo are full of street sellers. Furs, fine leather and souvenirs are mostly sold by locals and the atmosphere is similar to bazaars in Marrakech. It is a great hustle and bustle, as there's lots to see, smell and of course to eat. Inside the market hall, is a huge food market which sells local produce, street and finger food which make it ideal for a quick lunch/afternoon snack. 
  • As the capital of Tuscany, Florence is also known as one of the most romantic spots in the world. It's no surprise, that a daily evening activity is to watch the sunset from any of the many bridges in Florence. Hundreds of people - tourists and locals alike - gather to watch the spectacle. They sit down with their ice cream or beer and simply enjoy the calming sight of the warm sun setting in the West. It’s a huge part of the Florence lifestyle and a wonderful tradition to finish another day in this beautiful city.
  • The absolute perfect spot for watching the sunset must be Plazza Michelangelo as it is up in the hills with an unspoiled panoramic view over the city. Stargazing from up there must be insane!
  • The surrounding hills of Florence offer some fantastic scenic routes, especially as the gardens are all linked and there are some lovely villas to spot. Here is an example of a tour:

Tour: Exploring the Hills of Florence

  • Start at the Ponte Vecchio and cross over from the North to the South. You’ll end up on the Via de Bardi. Follow the road East for a good while until it becomes slightly narrow and residential. Eventually, you’ll reach a huge wooden door on the right which is the entrance to the Parco Bardini. It is almost unassuming so you can easily walk past it. If the park is closed, turn right and walk a few meters back. To your left should be a small street going uphill called Costa Scarpuccia. Be warned it is very steep.
  • At the end of Costa Scarpuccia, turn left into Costa S. Giorgio which will lead you to the main entrance of the park, but in this case you want to walk further up.
  • Costa S. Giorgio will split into Via del Forte di S. Giorgio which is a small, narrow street with a lovely romantic cottage which will lead you to the entrance of the Boboli Gardens.
  • If you stay on the Costa S. Giorgio, follow it to its end and then turn left onto the Via di Belvedere. This is a wonderful country road with olive trees and wild vegetation. It goes downhill and can be a little steep. Follow it for around 20 mins and then it will lead you to Via Bastioni.
  • Turn right to Via del Monte alle Croci which is again, a bit steep as it has lots of stairs to climb up another hill. On the left is a rose garden for a little break, however, continue to walk up the hill and you will end up in Plazza Michelangelo which is THE spot for breath-taking views over Florence and a superb spot to watch the sunset and do some stargazing. 

ponte vecchio in beautiful florence
river arno in florence
small narrow streets in florence
boboli gardens with rose gardens in florence
florentine villas in the surrounding hills of florence

Where To Eat

Wherever you go in Florence, you won’t starve! The city has a rich food and dining scene and I’ve not eaten badly during my stay at all. Some of the best places in town can be found here:

  • Breakfast: Paszkowski located on the Piazza della Republica in the city centre serves a lovely continental breakfast including pancakes. There’s of course eggs, beans and ham for the British and freshly pressed orange juice at affordable prices. I came here twice.
  • Another breakfast spot can be found down the road. Caffe La Posta on Via Pellicceria offers European breakfast for 10 EUR. This includes coffee, orange juice and the choice between pancakes or eggs, bacon and a croissant. It’s a great deal for a quick and uncomplicated breakfast.
  • Via S. Miniato in the area close to the rose garden has some lovely little restaurants seamed closely next to another.
  • Sesto on Arno Rooftop Bar & Restaurant at the Westin Excelsior Hotel boasts with stunning views over the river and the dome. It’s pricey but lunch is definitely doable at around 30 EUR per person. It's a high-end restaurant so dress appropriately and be aware that they do charge a compulsory 22 EUR per person in the evening, regardless if you only want to go for one drink or make use of their buffet.
  • Florence is popular for its succulent Florentine steak which can be ordered at Trattoria 13 Gobbi in Via del Porcellana. The award-winning restaurant is THE place in town for the traditional Florentine dish. The steak is huge and usually comes on its own.
  • Plazza Santo Spirito on the Southside of the river is another area for fine al fresco dining. In the evening the square transforms into a hustling and bustling chaos of mostly young people going for drinks and meals out. Ristoranti Ricci was my choice one evening for a much-needed pineapple pizza.
  • Il Borro Tuscan Bistrot on the Northside of the river is a fine dining bistro that has a daily changing menu with some lovely Florentine creations. The place is very stylish and elegant serving quality, fresh food. I tried a risotto with goats’ cheese foam and pine nuts which was exquisite.
  • TOP TIP: there’s another lovely rooftop bar called La Terrazza Continentale on top of the Continentale Hotel located at Lungarno degli Acciaiuoli. The entrance is a bit hidden and you have to specifically request to go up to the roof bar. I guess as space up there is pretty small, the roof bar has still been kept as an insider tip. It’s tiny but has great views over the river, Plazza Michelangelo and the Ponte Vecchio.
  • Gelato: get your ice cream fix from Venchi, which is one of the cheapest Italian ice cream chains I’ve known, or if you want to support the locals I can recommend Gelateria La Carraia, Gelato Artigianale and Cantina del Gelato.

pizza time in florence
rooftopbar la terrazza continentale
palazzo vecchio during a summer evening
summer evening in florence
Ponte Vecchio in florence shot from the rooftop terrace of continentale hotel
view over florence from Sesto de Arno restaurant
tord-sollie-bridge life in florence during the summer

There you go, these are all my tips for a first-time visit to Florence. Even if you prefer to explore for yourself, I'm pretty sure you will create long lasting memories in this unforgettable city. 

Thanks so much for reading,
Till next time,
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