Vienna, Austria – “Mostly Harmless; Mostly Mozart”

Vienna may not be the most happening place on the planet, but unlike it’s degenerate brother Salzburg, its train station looks like it was constructed in the last 350 years.

That being said, the older architecture present in the city is pleasant, and it’s a pretty big cultural powerhouse, more in terms of art and classical music.

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I glanced through the gallery of the Albertina, a museum that used to serve as apartments to the Hapsburgs. For those of you not familiar with European lineage, the Hapsburgs were a…family….from…history. (Look it up, losers. You’re on the Internet anyway.)

The museum part was filled with paintings from Monet and Picasso, along with other artists bridging the two. I had no idea who these other guys were, so I don’t know why you should, either.

The Hapsburg apartment section of the museum was kinda nuts. If you found Obama had the kind of fancy pants stuff they had, occupying Wall Street would be the least of your concerns.

Of course, pictures weren’t permitted in the museum, but i did manage to snap some photos of the entrance to the apartments.

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Those are some fancy looking steps.

I also toured Mozart’s apartment. Yes, the very same Mozart made famous by Falco’s hit 1980s anthem “Der Kommissar”. Again, pictures weren’t allowed, so I can’t show you anything. The most interesting is Mozart’s “Death Mask”. Mozart’s piano was not in attendance because it had been moved to his home in, you guessed it, Salzburg.

Given Vienna’s history of classical music, I also decided to take in an orchestra show by the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverein. I can only assume that that translates to “Wherein, Music”, which makes sense.

It was a beautiful big orchestra hall.

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I, of course, was relegated to the back with all the other “standing room” chattel.

I thought the show was pretty good, despite my knowledge of classical music being limited to Bugs Bunny cartoons and that old ad for the Starz Channel. (“Movies, movies, only movies, movies, movies, mooohoovies”, you know the one I’m talking about)

The thing that struck me most about Vienna, though, was that no one in my hostel, aside from the front desk staff spoke a word of English. It was all German.

I felt like I was drowning in a see of umlauts and diphthongs.

No, I don’t actually know what a diphthong is, and I don’t need you to tell me.

The one exception to the German rule was my roommate Sebastian, who spoke only French. This brought my extreme lack of skill in the French language into sharp relief. Our conversations consisted of:

“Ca va, Sebastian?”
“Oui, ca va. Et toi?”
“Oui, ca va bien.”

…for three days.

Paris is going to be a nightmare.

Next: Prague!

Mostly Mediocre,
Ganesh


FINAL VERDICT: Pizza

Let’s keep this short and sweet.

Italian Pizza: Smaller, more expensive, has a lot of interesting toppings, mostly raw-ish pork, prone to having things fall off.

Better than New York pizza? Not a goddamn chance.


Venice, Italy – “The Man, No Plans, A Lot of Canals”

Whereas, Rome’s age, mustiness and general dirt factor feel fairly oppressive, Venice’s age shines through and actually adds to it’s beauty and charm.

Unfortunately, with all that style comes relatively little substance. Let’s watch.

I roll into Venice at around 2 in the afternoon. On my train is an Australian bloke named Michael who’s also doing the whole Eurotrip thing, but more haphazardly. He has no place to stay, so I tell him to come to my hostel and see if they have room for them, because I’m a nice guy. Luckily, they do. We drop our stuff off and proceed deeper into the city.

Venice is a city to get lost in.sure, you can have a map, but eventually you kind of give up on that. It’s twisting labyrinthine maze of canals and narrow streets make you wonder if that damn Minotaur is going to actually show up. Despite the confusing nature of the streets, Venice is a very small city, and if you don’t eventually end up where you began, you’ll hit one of it’s few landmarks, Piazza San Marco or the Rialto Bridge, and you can usually find your way back from there.

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It doesn’t matter, though, because the old style buildings and not to mention the canals will keep your attention. Hopefully not long enough for you to walk into them. I didn’t do that. Trust me.

Venice is largely a tourist destination, and is filled mainly with food and kitschy cool shops with neat little souvenirs and trinkets that are fun to look at.

They also have these things.

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Celebriducks.

What.

No seriously, what.

This is astounding.

Who thought, “People like celebrities, people like rubber ducks. This freaky shit practically invents itself!”

Here’s the whole collection, including the rare, coveted Jesus Celebriduck.

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Moving on…

Michael and I basically just wander for the whole day, taking in the city, the shops and a lot of gelato. Seriously, I think had at least six scoops a day. Get the hazelnut or nutella ones. They’re great.

We returned to the hostel to meet up with two Americans, Kris and Jamie, to sample Venice’s nonexistent nightlife. There are no real bars, just what I like to call “beer holes”, bars set up inside a small, enclosed space that have you order and drink somewhere outside. We went to the one with a disco ball, because that seemed legit. I ordered a traditional Venetian apertif, which means after tif, called a spritz, which is basically Campari and soda water for €2.50. Why the woman put an olive in it is beyond me. I specifically asked for no olive.

We returned to the hostel and Michael rushed off in search of a wine stand we had seen earlier, which had been selling liters of wine for €1.70. He returned with a €5 bottle of terrible wine, and his spirits broken. The guy who sold him the wine told him no such place existed. Clearly, it was a mutual mirage.

We all stayed up til about 2am drinking this awful swill wine and talking about god knows what.

The next days were more about what nice low key things I could do in Venice, such as read a book canal-side or getting lost some more. I’d really exhausted all the other things to do. I also ate more gelato.

It’s also worth noting that the waiters who served me lunch and dinner bore an uncanny resemblance to music auteur and self-proclaimed booty enthusiast Pitbull. What this says about the Italian people as a whole is for you to decide.

My last night, me, a couple of German girls, and a Canadian girl named Sarah, who inexplicably has a travel itinerary very similar to mine, went out for pizza…in the Jewish Ghetto portion of Venice, for some reason unbeknownst to me. The Germans were commenting on how very few Jewish people lived in their city, Bonne. To my credit, as a representative of the United States of America, I did not make a smartass comment.

Next: A Vienna Sausagefest

Grazie,
Ganesh


Rome, Italy – “The City That Was Built In A Day”

The streets of Rome can range from dirty and gritty, to open and beautiful, lined with monuments and ruins. Unfortunately, the former is more prevalent.

I arrived in Rome around 8 in the morning, dressed for Zurich weather in a sweater and a jacket. It was blazingly hot. My hostel’s check in time was 3pm. Thus, I dropped my heaviest bag off and wandered around in a sweater and jacket like an idiot.

If you recall, back in London, I did a piece about the poor driving qualities of the English. I take that back. The Italians have upped then ante.

There are no lanes.

No lanes!

And they just zip around like crazy doing whatever the hell they want to do. Add to this the lack of crossing signals, and the only thing separating you from death is an Italian’s desire not to get sued.

My first stop was the Spanish Steps, which didn’t know were an actual sight until about halfway up.

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At the top of the Steps lay a church. One of many.

If the Germans are still feel guilty, and try to make amends for World War II, Rome takes that to the next level. For the guys who killed Jesus, Romans sure are trying to make up for it. There are literally infinity churches around the city. After a while, they all just blend together.

Wandering throughout Rome gives you a chance to stroll through some lovely old style plazas and streets.

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However, as I’ve mentioned before, Rome can be very dirty and gritty, reminiscent, at times of a third world country.

Then again, there are times when it opens up into something like this.

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This is Il Vittoriano, a gigantic marble goliath of a building situated a few blocks away from the Colosseum. Not ancient by any means, Il Vittoriano was built in the late 1800s to celebrate the unification of Italy under one king, Victor Emanuel.

Italians hate this place. Probably because it seems so jarringly out of place with the rest of the city, being composed of clean, white marble. Regardless, for idiot tourists who don’t know what it is, it’s worth a look.

I finally made my way towards Rome’s premier claim to fame, the Colosseum. They’ve gated off a lot of the big arches, so it looks a little less epic than it’s supposed to.

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It costs about 12 euros to go in, which is a bit of a steep price. The inside is a little less exhilarating than I would have liked.

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Most of the former arena has been torn away to expose the under workings of the venue. A bit is left, though.

Unfortunately, I was not allowed to jump into what remained of the ring, proclaim myself “Spartacus: God of the Arena” and fight other tourists to a grisly death.

That’s only allowed on Thursdays.

It was about then that I read that the Pope holds an audience every Wednesday at 11am. That sealed my fate for the following day.

I never actually got really up close and personal with the Pope, as he was situated at the top of the steps to St. Peter’s Basilica, and I was on the opposite end of the plaza. That’s okay, he probably couldn’t handle my in-your-face attitude, anyway.

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Also, if the Pope says “God Bless You” after you sneeze, will you never sneeze again? Something to think about.

After an hour long, multi-lingual service and mass blessing, the Pope rode away in his Pope mobile and I was left to check out St. Peter’s Basilica, which is an amazing feat of architecture and sculpture.

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I was just surprised that I could actually cross the threshold of a church.

Next up was the nearby Vatican Museum, which houses several impressive rooms full of art, including the Sistine chapel. No photography there, but I can assure you it’s much better than looking at it in a book. Although, I do prefer the version with this guy:

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There were a few paintings we could take pictures of, including perennial favorite Raphael’s The School Of Athens:

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And this one:

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Which I particularly enjoy, because this dude in the corner seems to be all about the rainbow:

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The greatest thing about the Vatican Museum is that they constructed it so that it is the most perfect fire hazard ever known to man. It is one long circuitous hallway with old, flammable paintings and tapestries lining the walls, and no other exits save for the last one. It takes about an hour to walk through quickly and about two if there are a lot of people, which there always are.

A bit of an aside:

“Prego” in Italian means “You’re Welcome”.

This presented an interesting interpretation, to me, at least, of the following events. In the bowels of an Italian Subway Station (I say bowels because they’re not very clean, and there’s spray paint everywhere, even on the trains), I give up my seat to a woman who is obviously with child (because I’m a goddamn gentleman and I’m classy as shit). The exchange is as follows.

Pregnant Woman: “Grazie”
Ganesh: “No problem, Prego.”

The way I said it, not on purpose, would’ve gotten me a beating in America. But in Italy, I’m saved by a technicality.

End scene.

The next day was taken up completely by a trip to Pompeii. The train ride there and back took about six or seven hours. Unfortunately, there were no preserved human remains to be seen, just the ruins of the city.

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And that bastard Vesuvius sitting smugly off in the distance.

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I hope you’re proud of yourself, jackass.

My last day was a bit low key. I visited the Roman Pantheon:

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And the famous Trevi Fountain, from the hit Kristin Bell film “When In Rome”

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Both very beautiful, interesting sights, but that pretty much maxed out my trip through Rome. Next up is Venice.

Prego,
Ganesh


Milan Til Midnight: Yet Another Interlude

My train from Zurich ended in Milano, a city I was only familiar with through their delicious Pepperidge Farm cookies.

I had about 5 hours until my sleeper car to Rome at midnight, so I walked. I turned my back to the station and I walked. Here are my impressions.

Scooters are big in Italy. Like ridiculous. They clog the streets at every turn. If you don’t own a scooter, you’re nobody here.

Milan’s main streets through town are reminiscent of downtown New York, a little gritty, but eventually they open up to beautiful architecture like this, hidden in plain sight.

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When I finally turned around and decided to head back to the station, I was determined to find a gelato place, because if I didn’t have gelato, it would be blasphemous. I finally found a nice place and began to order in broken Italian. The lady at the counter immediately cut me off in English and told me exactly what I wanted, as if to say “Don’t dirty my language with your feeble tongue, you philistine.”

The gelato was good, though. Molto bene.


Interlaken, Switzerland – “If I’m Going To Have To Pay $30 For Hash Browns, They Better Make Me Crap Gold.”

Switzerland.

Switzerland is expensive.

Switerzerland is SO GODDAMN EXPENSIVE.

Upon reaching Interlaken, an extreme sports capital, we sat down for a quiet lunch at a local eatery and ordered Switzerland’s most characteristic dish: Rosti. These were glorified hash browns with bits in them. Still, good, though.

They set us back $27 dollars each. (The Swiss franc is worth slightly more than the dollar, but for all intents and purposes I’ve set them equal. The actually conversion value is a bit worse!)

What. The. Shit.

$27 for something you could get at Denny’s.

Leaving that unpleasantness behind us, we resolved to buy all our food from grocery stores from now on, which we did, after a Lake Cruise.

Switzerland.

Switzerland is beautiful.

Switzerland is SO GODDAMN BEAUTIFUL.

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Our Lake Cruise, which was really a commuter boat took us around the heart of Lake Thun for two hours and provided us with views of the most beautiful Swiss landscape we’d ever seen…

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…until our trip to Jungfraujoch.

You’re not familiar with Jungfraujoch, you say?

Well, it’s the tallest train station in Europe, locally known as “the top of the world”. It is located almost 12,000 feet above sea level, and is drilled through a mountain.

That is most batshit insane thing I’ve ever heard.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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Sunday was another treat for the eyes as we went up to Lautebrunnen to see some killer waterfalls and hiked our way back into town. Again, pictures are better than words. (I believe 1000:1 is the conversion rate.)

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After the hike, we hit up Zurich for Rohan and Ryan’s last night in Europe. Not as big of a bust as Salzburg, we managed to get a pizza pie (for another $30), and drank a bit in the hotel bar. A decent send off. More so than carousing outside a Burger King.

The morning came, and I was on my own, off to Italy.

Molto Bene,
Ganesh


One Romantic Night In Salzburg: Another Interlude

Our trip from Germany to Switzerland included a 5 hour stop over in Salzburg, Austria, a city Rohan’s research had concluded would provide a fun time.

Our train dumps us in what looks like an abandoned rail yard, with industrial tanker train cars just hanging around. The station was not much more promising.

It was made of wood. Not like classy wood, that you’d find on a particularly nice door, or armoire. More like wood you could buy at the Home Depot for $24.50.

It looked like the city architects in Salzburg had bought a used IKEA train station set, lost the alan wrench, put it together anyway and still had a few pieces left.

Just so you know I’m not joking:

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To avoid this monument to human despair, we hopped a bus to the old town. Everything was closed, and there was a verbally abusive drunk on the bus. He was the most entertainment we had in Salzburg.

We quickly hopped a bus back, since there was either nothing we could do or we had already missed the party. We ended up sitting outside a Burger King for hours joking about how easy it would be to burn the train station down to the ground.

We got the hell out of there.