Thursday, 7 November 2019

Day 1 On The Camino: Sarria To Portomarin

sarria welcome sign on the camino

Travel To Sarria


My first day on the Camino starts early: after a quick shower and little faffing about, I'm ready to leave the hotel at around 7am in the morning. I'm glad I've ordered a taxi for the ride to the bus station as it is pitch black outside and it would have been quite a walk - and I'll be doing lots of walking later.

I've pre-booked my bus ticket with Eurolines for the 8am service from Santiago to Lugo. There's a good chance I will miss the connection bus to Sarria which will leave when I will arrive in Lugo. In that case, I'm planning to spend the 3h gap for the next service for some exploring in Lugo, but we'll see.

The bus station has a huge underground terminal with several platforms. I do worry that I'm lost but eventually one of the bus drivers tells me to wait at platform 20, right at the end of the terminal. I check the ticket again and again but slowly, other pilgrims join me so I'm feeling less lost. I guess they are pilgrims as they wear big backpacks and are dressed in professional hiking gear. Surely, they will travel to Sarria today too and begin their pilgrimage.

By 7:50am, the bus arrives and we're on the way to Lugo. It is super modern and comfy with aircon, blacked-out windows, free WiFi and a screen for watching movies. Whilst I put Pitch Perfect 3 on I do doze off a few times. I notice the lush landscape that the bus is passing. Cities that lie in the morning fog are starting to wake up. If you wouldn't know you're in Spain, you wouldn't expect it, as none of the scenery outside looks typical Spanish. The sunlight only breaks through shortly then disappears behind a thick carpet of clouds. It gets cold, dark and rainy and I'm putting on my rain jacket to keep warm. The prospect of hanging around for 3h in Lugo doesn't look too appealing to me.

Into The Wild


Luck is on my side though, as my bus pulls in 2 minutes ahead of schedule and I catch the connection to Sarria. It's a very quick in-and-out situation but 30 minutes later I arrive in Sarria. Now I need to find my way to the Camino so from the bus station I head North to the Monastery of Magdalena. 

I walk uphill for a while until I reach a small alley which is seamed with Albergues - the typical pilgrim accommodation. I can feel I'm heading in the right way and tadah! there's the first Camino sign showing the way forward. I'm excited and buzzing. The Monastery comes into sight and for the first time, I draw my Pilgrimage Passport and get my first sello (stamp). My adventure on the Camino has officially begun!

sarria welcome sign on the camino
sarria welcome sign on the camino
sarria welcome sign on the camino
sarria welcome sign on the camino

The weather has cleared up now and I'm about to head into the wild and unknown. For the next five days, I'll be following the Camino sign - a yellow scallop on a blue background for 120km to Santiago De Compostela. I'm excited and disappear into the forest. It is peaceful and I'm listening to the sound of nature. The forest stretches uphill and I can't stop thinking I'm on a quest...like in the Fellowship of the Ring. The trees are old and mysterious. There are lush greenery and small streams and it slowly starts to heat up. The hill is pretty steep so I'm taking my first break. Two Australian ladies from Sydney who have been on the Camino for 7 weeks join me and we have a little chat before they start walking again. They are trained so within 10 minutes they are miles ahead of me.

Leaving sarria into the wild
mysterious tree on the camino
Forest on the camino in the area of sarria

Connecting With Locals Part 1


It is shortly after midday and suddenly very hot. My backpack starts to get heavy and I've finished all of my water - but I can do this. Although I pass through many villages, they are dead and I haven't seen a single soul for hours. Eventually, I'm forced to take another break and I end up at A Casa De Carmen. Sweaty and hot, I enter the beautiful yellow Albergue with its neat courtyard and tonnes of plants everywhere. The door is open. I knock and go inside on the lookout for some civilisation. It looks welcoming and warm inside so I end up in the kitchen where there's a lovely lady, probably in her mid-50's prepping lunch over one of these really old school cooking ranges. Beef stew and boiled potatoes as far as I can tell. 

She sees me half dead and the next thing I know I'm showered in a waterfall of Spanish. With hands and feet as well as Google Translate I try to communicate with her, but she has gone into full Mum Mode. She has me sat down, my water bottle already refilled to the brim and a glass of Aloe Vera Squash in my hands. The sugar in the drink feels so good. We're joined by one of the housekeepers who speaks broken English but she helps with the communication. My rescuer is Carmen herself and she proudly shows me her guestbook which is filled with tonnes of pictures of thankful pilgrims and heartwarming Thank You notes. I ask her how long she's been running the Albergue and Carmen's eyes light up. She points at a couple of framed pictures of herself visiting some of her former guests then touches her heart and fondly talks about that having the Albergue, meeting lots of different and interesting people has been the best thing in her life. I'm touched on how passionately she talks about her business and love, how fulfilled she is by being part of the Camino.

a casa de carmen on the camino de frances

I'm having a lovely time and she really wants me to stay. She would even share some lunch with me but I have to politely decline. I tell her I've got accommodation booked in Portomarin, so I have to be back on the road soon. Carmen and her housekeeper look at each other and then make big eyes when I mention Portomarin. It is still ages away! Carmen refills my sweet Aloe Vera drink, then shows me the bathroom and gives me a big hug when I'm about to leave. There's even more Spanish, kisses and more Spanish. I can't help it so I give her a 5 EUR note as a Thank You and promise to email her once I'm back home. Refreshed and happy I'm back on the road.

The Afternoon On The Camino


The rest of the day is rather unspectacular. The rural landscape reminds me a lot of The Shire in the Lord of The Rings. Lots of wheat fields, veg patches, scarecrows, small villages and in between the stoney winding path of the Camino. It is rarely flat, mostly uphill and if it is flat the path is seamed with big stones. It is incredibly hot, pestering flies are all over me and the smell of cow poo is intrusive. I can tell it is early fall as acorns and spikey chestnuts fall on my head throughout the day. The rare medieval village churches on my way are unfortunately closed so there's no chance for me to collect a sello. I'm alone for most of the day and only get passed by cyclists now and again. For most parts of the Camino, there's a fence of stone plates running along the path, so there's plenty of opportunities to take breaks and rest. Although I'm in the middle of the Spanish countryside, I have a great reception to check my progress. It is frustrating. I've only made 4km in the past hour! I do worry that at this rate I may make it to Portomarin after dark and it is only Day 1.

steep and stoney path on the camino de frances
Camino pillar on the camino de frances

At 5pm I arrive at a small converted barn which sells ice cream, souvenirs and other snacks. It is very popular with other pilgrims and I get to meet Gary and his gang. Gary is a rustic American who travels with a German and another American. They've been on Day 30+ so at the next village, they will find an Albergue and call it a day. We have a nice casual chat and they want to know my motivation for the Camino. I out myself having only just started today and say that I left London after 6 years of working. I'm seeking "more" in life than the 9 to 5 grind. We have an interesting and deep conversation whilst I nibble on my ice cream. Gary's American friend tells me he used to have a flat in London but has sold it a few years ago. Now he's regretting this decision as the flat would be worth millions today. Their German friend is probably a bit younger than me. She is amazed that I had time to put make up on for the hike and is also highly interested in my backpack. She can't believe how much stuff I've managed to pack in there so I share some of my organisation secrets with her. In hindsight, I shouldn't have done that cause Gary would mock me for the next couple of days about my outfits.

The Final Kilometres To Portomarin


Anyway, it's time to keep going. I've got another 2h or so ahead of me and I'd like to arrive before dark. The few scattered settlements I walk through are deserted and there's no living soul for the rest of my hike. It is very quiet on the Camino and I must look odd from afar, trekking alone on the empty road. I have heavily underestimated the distance so for tomorrow the plan is to start hiking as soon as the sun is up. 

The evening is here and I can see Portomarin in the distance. I will just have to go downhill and then I'm there. Well, the Camino has it's own will and the road is long and winding. It is so steep that I slide in my shoes and keep hurting my toes. Not sure what is worse, up or downhill. So it goes on for 30 minutes. I do make it to Portomarin. Shortly after 7pm, I cross the iconic bridge over the river Minho. The village thrones on a little hill whilst the river is misty and dark running slowly under my feet. The bridge is, in fact, a bit scary. It is not very wide, so the space for walking is tight. I have to keep my eyes fixed to not trip over my feet, which are hurting a lot. Only a few more metres and then I'm at the guesthouse.  I'm not fed up (yet) but I would like to be there now and end the day.

Crossing the river minho to get to Portomarin
Portomarin in Galicia Spain

On the other side of the bridge at the entrance of the village is a medieval and very steep set of stairs and I secretly hope that this is not the way to go to the guesthouse. I quickly check on Google Maps for its location and see that it is a further 1km away from the village. Ok, I can do this. So I'm moving past the village to a small peninsula by the river. It is the most remote guesthouse I've ever been to. In the surrounding grounds, some ponies roam freely around and come over to say hello. Then I pass through an autumnal apple and pear orchard and see the traditional Galician stone house. I'm finally at tonight's checkpoint!

apple orchard in portomarin
casa santa marina in portomarin

The place is huge with a main house, a lovely guestroom for dinner, terrace and a couple of bungalows scattered around the huge orchard. The lady at "reception" gives me a room in the house instead of the bungalows, so I feel less cut off from the world and a bit more included if that makes sense. The room is basic but nice and cosy. I even have a little terrace so I can watch the eerie fog ascending over the river and take off my hiking boots. I'm grateful I brought my flip flops along because my toes are slightly battered and can now enjoy being freed of the tight hiking boots. It is bedtime because the darkness crept in way too fast and I only managed some pages of my Strelecky book to wind down from the day.           

I keep thinking back to this morning in Lugo. If I had missed the connection and killed 3h, I would still be out on the Camino. Instead, I'm tugged up in bed and can have a 10h rest now.

Two things are absolutely clear for tomorrow: it will start early and it will be tough.

Thanks so much for reading,
Till next time,

Carolin
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Wednesday, 6 November 2019

The World Is Calling Me Again

jason-blackeye-out into the world

One afternoon in late August it just happened: I decided to go on an adventure.

My mission: fly out to Spain, become a Pilgrim and complete the final 100km of the Camino de Compostela to acquire the Compostela certificate.

A typical Carolin Let's Do This impulse, but that was the plan. To be honest, I secretly wanted to do this for a while... but you know... it was one of those flighty ideas that had been in and out of my mind on some days more present than others. Around Easter though, I ventured out for a short day tour to Canterbury and the trip had given me the final push to actually do the pilgrimage to Spain. The question was: when to do it?

Fortunately, the opportunity for the execution of my plan came around a few months later, when I decided to leave London and spend some of my new found freedom on traveling.  

My Motivation


In my culture, the pilgrimage way to Santiago De Compostela in Spain is very popular. I can't say why that is, it just happens that most Germans - even the nonreligious ones - have heard of it or done it. It has a noble reputation and is seen as one of those things that "you should have done in your life".

The Camino De Compostela is, in fact, a wide-ranging network of hiking trails in Spain, France, and Portugal. The longest at 800km and most famous one is, Camino de Frances, followed by Camino de Portugues which can either be started in Lisbon or Porto. Shorter ones include Camino de Norte in Spain and Camino de Ingles which are less known and traveled. If you complete the final 100km of the Camino you’re entitled to receive the Compostela, a certificate issued by the Catholic church to acknowledge your pilgrimage. It is a beautiful certificate with medieval embellishments issued in Latin that also dismisses you of all your sins. 

I’m not religious at all nor do I believe in God, however, I am spiritual. I read that spirituality is one of the five pillars that make up your personality. Next to love, work, money and health, which all need to be in tune for a happy life. All of my five pillars have been shaken up in the past years and are imbalanced. Now I'm working on them to improve myself and rebuilt my life. I can't also shake off the feeling that there's something else out there and refuse to accept that the 9 to 5 grind is IT. I'm a firm believer that everyone in life has a POE (purpose of existence) or your life goal sort to say and by venturing out and getting to know oneself you become a more well-rounded you which gets you closer to your POE, leading you to a meaningful and satisfying life.

I was hoping the Camino would give me some clarity and guidance, which I'm seeking. The solitude of the journey would help to reconnect me with my inner self (hope that makes sense). Plus the Camino runs parallel to the Milky Way, so the Universe, which brings me back to the spirituality aspect. It was just an obvious sign that I was meant to do it and for the first time in a while, my intuition felt that "this experience would actually do me some good".

casey-horner-the milky way and palm trees at night

Planning & Organising


In preparation, I read a couple of different sources to be well informed, but this Camino blog post was by far the best orientation where to start the Camino and how to get there. It was clear to me that I would travel on the Camino Frances route and the starting point of the final 100km is in Sarria. Therefore, I had to travel to Santiago first, which has a small airport, and then take two busses to get to Sarria. The first one from Santiago to Lugo can be booked in advance through Eurolines. The second one from Lugo to Sarria is a local one and can't be booked prior.

I would also need a Pilgrims Passport (Credential Peregrino) to collect stamps (sello) along the way to prove I had actually walked the Camino. Some churches and monasteries issue them but I wanted to be on the safe side and planned to collect mine from the official Pilgrim's Office in Santiago.  

The next planning steps were to determine the daily stages, how many kilometers I wanted to cover and sort out accommodation. Pilgrims usually stay in huge dorms in Albergues and Monasteries, but there are also small guest houses and private pensions on the way. Several tour operators offer tours and prebook everything for you. However, a quick Expedia research revealed that the costs for an individually booked trip would be lower. I even managed to squeeze in a quick stopover in Madrid on my way home into my budget. With a spreadsheet documenting every detail of the next 9 days, I mapped out my time as followed:

My Itinerary


Day 1: Fly Out and Arrival in Santiago De Compostela
Day 2: Day 1 on the Camino. Sarria to Portomarin
Day 3: Day 2 on the Camino. Portomarin to Palas de Rei
Day 4: Day 3 on the Camino. Palas de Rei to Arzua
Day 5: Day 4 on the Camino. Arzua to Amenal
Day 6: Day 5 on the Camino. Amenal to Santiago De Compostela
Day 7: Homebound. Fly Out to Madrid
Day 8: A Perfect Day in Madrid (24h city break)
Day 9: Homebound. Fly Out Home
trip organisation spreadsheet for hiking camino de compostela
lucija-ros-herschel backpack on a hike

I’m not a hiker, nor do I work out regularly. I do some running and ice skating but I am not physically trained for proper hikes. Nearly every source I consulted stated the Camino would be flat terrain, so to me, this sounded like a walk - an ordinary walk in the Spanish countryside. The fact I could survive a 10km race in about 80 minutes arrogantly encouraged me to think I could easily make a daily win of 30km. Well, that was just one of my many misconceptions about the Camino.

The entire trip was booked three weeks in advance at the end of August and I used the in-between time to "train" for the hike. I bought new hiking boots that needed to be broken in so I walked 4km daily and ran to build up stamina. My printed copy of my spreadsheet contained all information from flights and booking numbers, to daily stages and targets as well as milage and addresses of accommodation. 

In terms of packing, I brought my Herschel backpack along, which in hindsight was rather small but I wanted to pack efficiently and only bring along the absolute necessity. I packed my comfy running leggings with five tops to change on the hike, reusable water bottle, rain trousers and jacket, torch, first aid kit, some food, two outfits for traveling and one for my day sightseeing in Madrid. Plus undies, socks, charger(s), passport, money and phone but those were a given. I even had room for my straighteners and a very light book - The Why Cafe by John Strelecky - which I can highly recommend. 

With everything booked, packed, trained and documented I was ready to travel to Santiago De Compostela.  

Thank you so much for reading,
Till next time,
Carolin
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Tuesday, 17 September 2019

First Time in Athens

evan-wise-view over athens from the acropolois

When I left London, I couldn't head home right away. It would have felt too final...like This Is Actually It. Therefore I decided to do a little detour via Greece, took my mind off from everything that had just happened in the final days and explored Athens instead.

The trip itself didn't start too well. My Easyjet flight stayed grounded for 4h so when I got to Athens it was already Tuesday morning. Tuesday itself was a proper Vampire Day. I wallowed in self-pity, cried lots and only made it to the pool, my eyes covered with a pair of sunglasses to hide my red eyes and dark circles. It took me a while to get out of my head and into the adventure - and once I ventured out, life got slowly better.

So here's how I enjoyed life in Greece for the next four days:

kylie-docherty-athens city impressions

The Best Time For Visiting Athens


This is not gonna be an affordable city break as Athens, or better Greece in general, is pricey the majority of the year. Flights with Easyjet from Gatwick between April to early October range pretty much around the £ 300 mark return.

OUCH, I KNOW!

But, let‘s keep positive, it means the city has a sunshine and incredible weather guarantee. I went in mid-August and the average temperature per day was approximately 35 degrees, meaning most of my active time was during the night as it was too scorching in the day. The only way to survive the heat in this scenario is a pool at the hotel of which there aren‘t that many in Athens. However, if you‘re going in August, the city annually celebrates the pinnacle of summer during the full moon circle. It‘s a very special night with lots of celebrations, free concerts and museums to visit. Everyone will be out and about on the streets all night long transforming Athens into a buzzing place.

Where To Stay?


For the third time lucky in a row, I booked an incredible hotel (usually I‘m shit at choosing hotels) and stayed at COCO-MAT Athens BC. It had my name written all over it mainly because the place had everything I could have asked for and more:

  • Rooftop Bar & generous (instagrammable) Pool Terrace
  • Impeccable 360 degree views over the city including the Acropolis
  • Stargazing game was very strong
  • Targeted at us childless Millennials
  • Lots of interesting, young and dynamic people
  • Uber stylish, spacious rooms with queen size beds, super comfy, quiet AND a silent air con
  • Location, literally right in the centre and 5 mins away from all the main attractions and actions
  • Extremely friendly and personal staff
  • Relaxed atmosphere
  • Bike rental; ever since my solo trip to Vienna I prefer hotels with their own bikes
  • Bathroom Slippers
  • The rooftop bar offers relaxed al fresco dining at night with some sexy beach house tunes (not Vanilla Radio, but equally as good) 

coco mat bc athens hotel views pool and acropolis
Coco Mat Athens BC view rooftop bar

Part of the trip being so enjoyable was all down to COCO MAT BC. I felt in really good hands and knowing this place exists would be reason for me enough to go back to Athens in a heartbeat.

What To See & Do


Uh, well you don‘t go on holidays to hang out at the hotel all the time, however in comparison to my Rome sightseeing, I found Athens had not that much history left and most of the archeological sites are a bit repetitive. During my 4-day stay I managed to visit the following sights:

  • Acropolis Museum. This one was on my hotel‘s doorsteps and I managed to visit it for free during the Full Moon event. The museum boasts with the history of the Acropolis and numerous archeological finds from old vases to sculptures and fresco. The museum is well designed with open planned exhibition space but I felt less engaged and spend overall a good 90 mins. 

museum of acropolis in athens

  • Acropolis and Surrounding Slopes. This is the highlight of Athens, right? Ascending is very steep and most of the stones are very slippery and polished. I would never attempt ascending during the daytime as it is way too hot to cope with the level of steepness. The best time I would say is during the early evening at around 5pm which gives you approximately 3h before closing time to ascend the hill, check out the ruins and enjoy the view over the city. Apart from that there‘s not much to do up there, so once you descend you can also take pictures of the Dionysus Amphitheater in the South Slope and explore more archeological treasures such as the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus south slope acropolis athens
view from the acropolis over athens
view from the acropolis over athens

  • Less history but more fun is the Museum of Illusions. Similar to the Camera Obscura in Edinburgh, the museum plays with optical illusions and makes for some great picture opportunities. It‘s a fun and playful way to engage with different perspectives, experiment with colours and lights and mess around with mirrors.

museum of illusions in athens

  • Archeological sites on the North Slope. Similar to the Alhambra in Granada, the Acropolis thrones majestically over the city and is undoubtedly the hotspot for attracting tourists. Nearly all of the touristic happenings are centered around the Acropolis making it a bit like the Kaaba in Mecca as you‘ll find yourself circulating the Acropolis all day long. There‘s a mix of restaurants, tacky souvenir shops and of course more archeological sites to explore such as The Ancient Agora of Athens, Temple of Hephaestus or Hadrian‘s Library.
  • Around the Acropolis is the Centre of Tourism with restaurants, cafes, ice cream shops and tonnes of souvenir and jewellery retailers. In that respect, Greece hasn‘t changed in over 20 years, those shops still sell sponges, fridge magnets, spices and everything is cliche coloured in blue and white. Shop owners are a bit intense as they will watch every of your move and you can‘t browse in peace as they suspect you of stealing at any moment. In the restaurants, however, Greeks are super nice and friendly – a whole different level in comparison to Rome.

beautiful streets in athens
museum of illusions in athens
museum of illusions in athens

  • In fact, I met lots of nice Greek people. My taxi driver on arrival was a quirky old lady who didn't stop talking about Athens, the up-coming Full Moon event and where to go and where to avoid. The hotel staff were super lovely when I arrived completely messed up and freezing cold from staying on an air plane for more than 7h and they insisted I should see the rooftop at 1:30am in the morning. A few days later I met a lady who took care of the many stray dogs in the pedestrian and we fed them together AND there's my taxi driver on the final day who philosophised with me over the meaning of life and our internal compass will guide us to the right place. LOVED IT!
  • Monastiraki in the North of the Acropolis is quite the place with a lively square and some quirky shops and establishments around. 
  • Getting lost on a Bike Tour. I ended up not finding the Museum of Illusions and stumbled across a few hidden side streets in Monastiraki which were super pretty. The street Agias Theklas behind the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is seamed with umbrellas and quirky cake and dessert shops. 

bike tour through athens
street with umbrellas in athens
sightseeing tour on a bike in athens

  • Greeks love and know their desserts. There were lots of incredible sweet shops lined up to make sure you'll get your sugar shock. There's one called Kayak early on at the pedestrian zone. Waffles, Pancakes, Bubble Waffles, Chimney Cake and tonnes of Ice Cream. There's more by the Hard Rock Cafe called Hans & Gretel. A huge candy store which serves bubble waffles, chimney cakes and ice cream but all on the sickly over sugar coated level. Right next to it is gelateria Da Vinci and a five minute walk by the ministry of foreign affairs is cake shop Little Kook. It's a paradise!

Hans and gretel bubble waffle desert candy store athens

  • I would have never thought that Stargazing in the City would be possible, but from the rooftop terrace of my hotel, I had stellar views every night. There was no light pollution and a clear summer night sky was visible all night long. Especially during the Full Moon night on Thursday, the views were magnificent. 

full moon summer event in athens greece
Prime spot coco mat athens bc hotel rooftop bar

  • I found a random sticker advertising a local taxi company glued to the gates of The Temple of Olympian Zeus and it turned out to be the best ride I've ever had. Happy Transfer is cheaper than the local taxi services and they do all of their marketing through word of mouth. My driver was super friendly, personal and we've been talking about the deep meaning of life, and how we should always listen to our inner compass as it will guide us to the right places. It was just one of those nice moments that confirmed that there's more to life and something bigger and better waiting for us out there. 

happy transfer sticker taxi airport transfer greece athens
acropolis north slope archeological sites and ruins
ancient greek church north slope acropolis athens

Quite the spiritual trip, right? At the end of the week I felt ready to go home but with a mission. For the next couple of months I'm planning to spend some of my housing deposit on travelling as I'd like to explore and experience as much as life has to offer. I still keep my eyes open for the perfect job as I mentioned in my London post, I will need to go where my energies are reciprocated.

I've been also reading this super interesting book about Life Design and Prototyping Experiences (I'll post something about this life changing book later this month) and this is exactly what I'd like to try out in the coming months.

I'm going to hike the final 100km of the Camino De Compostela in Spain - an adventure which will start tomorrow.

Wish me luck and Thanks so much for reading.

Till next time,
Carolin
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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,
Carolin
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