Vienna: The Imperial City

So the fifth and final place I went to for my trip to Europe over the summer was Vienna. Now normally when I do titles for my posts I like to make up a random subtitle for them. But I saw “The Imperial City” on a banner somewhere in Vienna and really thought it matched so I’m going to use that.

Austria is really one of those countries where I didn’t know too much about. To me, it’s always been “like Germany, but not really” because they speak German and are pretty close by. I heard from a lot of people that Vienna is really nice though, so I was curious to see just how nice it was and to figure out the differences and similarities with Germany.

Just from comparing capitals though, it’s impossible to compare. Berlin and Vienna are such completely different cities that it immediately dispelled any thought that the two were remotely similar.

St. Stephens Cathedral, right in the heart of Vienna.

Vienna is such a classy place. The entire downtown core just oozes class and fanciness.

Right at the core of the city is St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which is a giant church that has one of the coolest roof tiling I have ever seen. It has like, a zig-zaggy pattern with a pretty neat colour, and just looks super interesting. It’s also free to enter which is always appreciated.

Walking around the city center from there is just a pretty cool experience. The buildings are all pretty European looking and there’s a lot of nice looking cafes and patio restaurants, which makes the entire area feel really comfy. Coupled with the fact that there’s some sort of cool looking building or monument at every corner, and it makes it a little adventure in and of itself.

Some cool statues at Hofburg Palace.

The reason why I like why it’s called the “Imperial City” is because Vienna is filled with historical palaces. Right in the middle of the downtown area is the Hofburg Palace which has some pretty impressive courtyards and statues. But that pales in comparison to Schönbrunn Palace, which is just a short train ride away from the downtown core.

At this point in the trip, we’ve already seen a lot of cool churches and palaces. I was worried I was gonna be burned out of seeing this kinda stuff over and over again. Seeing Schönbrunn Palace for the first time, it didn’t seem that special. Just some big building. But man, it really was something special.

After turning the corner and seeing the palace grounds right behind it, my mind changed immediately. You had this incredibly large and open garden that was super well kept. In the distance there’s this giant fountain at the base of this hill, with another awesome looking structure on top of the hill.

Behind the fountain at Schönbrunn Palace.

That sight there was really nice. Just walking through the garden was a really awesome experience. You could walk behind the fountain to where the water drops down, climb up the hill, and even get to the top of Gloriette to get this amazing panoramic view of the garden and city in the distance.

That garden was probably the highlight of the trip to Vienna. I probably could have spent a lot more time in that garden, but we had tickets to visit the museum as well so we couldn’t stay that long. The museum itself was alright. There were a lot of ornate and beautiful rooms in there and you were provided with an audio guide to explain to you the history, which was really nice.

A weird Sphinx thing at Belvedere Palace.

A third palace that we went to was Belvedere Palace. We went there before going to the airport and so we didn’t check out the actual buildings but just looked around outside and in the garden. The garden there was also really nice, but really couldn’t be compared to what we saw in Schönbrunn.

Actually, now that I think about it, we went to a lot of gardens in Vienna. In addition to the palace ones, we went to the Stadtpark and the Volksgarten as well. Both of those are also really nice parks and would be a great place to just chill.

Aside from parks and palaces, Vienna has a lot more to offer too. Prater is a free-entry amusement park that is kind of interesting to walk around. They have the famous Ferris wheel there which we did ride, but it wasn’t that exciting. It was neat though because there’s apparently a dinner service where you get a car to yourselves and just enjoy a fancy meal. Must be cool.

The Ferris Wheel in Prater at night.

They also have a roller coaster restaurant in Prater which is pretty cool. Food sucks but the atmosphere is pretty unique. Food and drinks slide down these rails to your table and there’s a bunch of fancy lights and stuff. Totally worth checking out for a drink or something, but definitely not a meal.

Vienna also has a tower that’s a bit of a ways outside of the city, the Danube Tower. It’s a pretty standard looking tower but the view was pretty nice. When we went thought it was really windy so it was kinda painful to be outside on the observatory, but hey, now I can say I’ve been.

And lastly, before I wrap things up. We also stumbled across another Soviet memorial while walking through Vienna. Kinda neat because we started the trip in Russia and all throughout Germany, Czechia, and Austria we could see the mark it made on these places. Pretty interesting stuff from a historical point of view.

The Soviet Memorial in Vienna.

Overall, Vienna is really nice. It has a lot of cool stuff to check out and definitely more than I thought there was. It’s a bit on the expensive side though, as it was definitely the most pricey place we went to on the trip. Granted, we did mostly just stick to the touristy areas, but I think it was money well spent. Lots of stuff to see in Vienna and we covered a lot in the couple of days that we were there.

And that wraps up my write-ups for my trip to Europe! Took a while to finish, but I’m done. I don’t know when I’ll be doing my next trip, but I’ll probably get around to writing about some other stuff until then (sometime).

Prague: The City of Spikes

The fourth, and second-last, city that I went to on my Europe trip was to Prague. One of my Dutch friends claimed that Prague was the “most beautiful city in Europe” and so I really had to go check it out. I was skeptical of course, I mean, Europe has so many beautiful cities.

Getting off the train from Berlin, my very first impression of Prague, well, wasn’t so great. Our accommodation was a few stations north of the city center and honestly it wasn’t the greatest area. It looked kinda run down and honestly felt like your stereotypical Slavic residential area.

A monument by Hlávka’s Bridge.

After figuring out the transportation and currency (fun fact I’ve been to more European countries that don’t use the Euro than do) we took the subway down into the Old Town.

And before I start writing other stuff, the subway was actually pretty interesting. Now, I’m not really sure who actually built the Prague metro, but the style of it is almost a copy of the ones in Russia. The similarities are very clear, from the escalators going down to the type of trains and even to the timer that shows you when the last train left. Either way, what I guess I’m trying to say was that you could really feel the Soviet influence.

We meet again, long escalator.

Anyways, back to the actual city. Like I mentioned before, my initial impression wasn’t very great. But once I actually got into the city center and the Old Town, everything changed.

Prague honestly is a really beautiful city.

Like many other cities in Europe, they limited the building heights in the city center so that you don’t have a lot of towering buildings obscuring the view of older historical elements. One thing that stuck out to me is the amount of orange they have. So many of the buildings have orange roofs so when you look out over the city you just see a sea of uniform colour which is quite pleasing to the eyes.

Buildings by the river.

Towering above the buildings are a bunch of spikes. The churches in Prague are all built with spires that tower over the other buildings and they just look so pointy. Everywhere you go you can see some sort of point sticking out in some cluster of building. It’s definitely a different style of building than what I’ve seen before and it honestly looks pretty cool.

My favourite area in Prague by far is just walking along the Vltava river. Especially during sunset when the sun is just above the mountains and illuminates the entire city in a golden glow. That view is just wonderful. You have the river, the sea of orange buildings, the spiky churches, and to top it all off you have the Prague Castle in the background. Just an amazing view. On our last day we actually ate dinner at a restaurant by the river just for the view.

Some random octopus in the river.

Prague really does feel like a place where you can just walk around and enjoy the city atmosphere. There’s so many quaint little shops and restaurants and everything just feels so nice.

However, that said, there is something pretty terrible about Prague. The backpackers.

I’m honestly not a big fan of backpackers. I’m all for travelling on a budget and whatever, but it really ruins the atmosphere of the place when you’re walking down a really nice area and there’s just like a ton of backpackers with their giant backpacks clogging the street. I guess Prague is really popular with backpackers just due to it’s location and so there’s just so many of them.

And of course, you have all your regular tourists too. So the end result is that Prague is beautiful, but also kinda feels like a giant tourist trap where a lot of the sightseeing areas are just pandering to tourists and foreigners. It doesn’t really feel that culturally authentic. For example, I was really looking forward to seeing Charles Bridge, the famous bridge with all the statues. But you get there and all you see are people with selfie sticks and cameras. Makes it hard to appreciate the actual place.

So many people.

It does get a bit better once you leave the main tourist areas, but of course, as a tourist with limited time, I do want to check out the main sights.

Speaking of main sights, there’s actually quite a lot to see in Prague. One of the most famous ones is the Old Town Square. The square is quite nice, a bunch of cafes and shops with a pretty cool looking church overlooking the place. When we went there was a dude with some bubbles and a bunch of horses walking around which just added to the atmosphere.

Near the square there’s also the the Astronomical Clock, and there were a ton of people there. It turned out that everyone was waiting for the clock to ring so I expected it to be some really cool spectacle but.. it really wasn’t. Some stuff was moving around and the bell chimes, but honestly it didn’t seem that impressive.

Bubbles entertaining people in the Old Town Square.

Another famous landmark, and maybe the most famous, is Prague Castle. It’s a complex situated on top of a small mountain and so it’s quite visible from around the city. The most striking thing about the complex is the church, which is huge. The inside of the church is also incredibly beautiful and definitely worth checking out.

The rest of the castle complex wasn’t quite as exciting, but there are areas where you can get an awesome view of the city. Seeing Prague from above is honestly such an experience. Like I said, Prague is incredibly beautiful and so any panoramic view is just wonderful. We ended up getting a beer and just sitting somewhere just looking out over the city. That was really nice.

Cheers to you Prague.

It was especially made nicer due to beer too. Czech beer is wonderful. There was a pub called the Prague Beer Museum that we went to which just served a ton of craft beers. That was awesome. It wasn’t very expensive and tasted so good. That’s definitely one thing I miss about the place and I find myself on the lookout for Czech beers now when I go to the store.

And just to add a tiny bit more before wrapping up this post, there is a small town east of Prague called Kutna Hora which I also visited. They have the Sedlec Ossuary there which is very unique. It’s essentially a small church filled with the bones of like 40,000 people. Very cool place and totally worth visiting if you ever go to Prague.

A chandelier made out of human bones. Spooky.

In conclusion, I really liked Prague. I enjoyed the time I spent there and kinda wish I could go back even like right now. The city is absolutely beautiful and there’s a lot to see, eat, and drink. I don’t know if I can call it the most beautiful city in Europe considering I haven’t been to all the European cities yet (someday!) but it definitely is up there. The next time I go though, I want to explore the non-touristy areas a bit more. Just to get away from the backpackers and inflated prices.

Berlin: The Tattooed City

The third place I went to for my Europe trip was to Berlin, the capital of Germany. I was really looking forward to the trip because I spent a summer in Berlin four years ago for an exchange and absolutely loved it. I made a bunch of friends then and so I really wanted to catch up with them too.

Going back to Berlin after four years was quite nice. I’ve experienced and seen so much in the four years since I was last there and so I essentially see things through a different lens now. It was definitely interesting to check out all the things that changed and seeing the different sides to the stuff that hasn’t changed.

To me, Toronto is still the city I want to live, retire, and die in. I’ve challenged myself to find a city that’s better than Toronto and in all my travels Berlin is probably the city that comes the closest. Not only is it full of history and culture, but the people are awesome and the lifestyle fits my style quite a bit.

Relaxing by the Spree river.

Probably my favourite thing about Berlin is the character of the city. Every single city you go to has distinct characteristics that really define the atmosphere and feel of the city. It’s kind of the ambiance that wraps up your entire experience. Either it’s good and it makes everything you do better, or it’s not very good and things just don’t feel right. To me, the “dirtiness” of Berlin is one of the most defining traits.

And I say that in a positive light actually. I thought places like Malacca are kinda dirty, and even many parts of Korea aren’t very clean either. But Berlin somehow managed to make itself into a “dirty-in-a-cool-way” city. I don’t really know how to explain it.

But walking around the city, it’s really obvious as to what I mean. There’s countless amounts of graffiti everywhere. On buildings, cars, even on the remaining portions of the Berlin Wall. There’s millions of cigarette butts just strewn on the ground and on the train tracks. Beer bottles and other garbage are also very common in the city.

And yet, it just all works.

Some colourful graffiti on the East-Side Gallery.

Parts of Berlin just feels very edgy and cool. Like you took the most stereotypical tattooed gangster and turned them into a city. This is reflected in a lot of the young population too. Self expression and individuality is pretty strong amongst the young people and so you see lots of people with piercings, tattoos, and dyed hair.

This just fits perfectly with the city, and is honestly one of the reasons why I like Berlin so much. But of course, that’s not all of the city. Due to the Cold War and the Berlin Wall, there’s still a difference between the Eastern and Western parts of the city. The Eastern side has more of what I described above, and it just so happens that I stayed there during my exchange and during my trip, so it worked out well.

The Western side and the city center are a bit different, but they’re all sums of the same whole really. You have some more residential areas that really feel like a city suburb even though you’re still in the city with all of the conveniences. The city center is fairly modern and interspersed with historical buildings and other points of interest. That entire stretch between Tiergarten and Museum Island pretty much covers most of the standard sightseeing areas in Berlin. It’s perfectly walkable and doable within a day too.

The Brandenburg Gate.

I have to admit that one of the weaknesses of Berlin as a city is that it’s not very exciting to sightsee for a couple of days. You hit up the major sites within a day or two and then.. you’re done? There’s a lot of museums to check out as well, but for your traditional tourist, there really isn’t that much to do.

But I think that’s fine. After spending a summer in Berlin, I realized that the best part of Berlin is actually just finding your own niche and sub-culture. The people there are so multicultural and open minded that you can find a lot of underground things there and honestly there’s something for everyone.

For me that’s definitely video games. The gaming scene in Berlin is pretty huge and they even have their own Meltdown bar where you can drink, play video games, and even watch people play video games. I made most of my friends through that bar and it was definitely one of the highlights of my exchange. On the last trip back I made sure to go back and meet some of my friends too.

Meltdown Berlin, still my favourite bar.

And of course you can’t talk about Germany without talking about the beer. Berlin, like the rest of Germany, has pretty good beer. It’s also really cheap. In fact, a lot of the food in supermarkets are ridiculously cheap. It feels so good to just shop for food in Berlin.

But going back to beer, it’s cheap, accessible, and tastes good. What more can you ask for? Not only can you get a half liter bottle of good beer for like a dollar, but you can drink it anywhere. Outside on the sidewalk? Sure. On the trains? Yup. Even in one of the many parks they have in the city? Definitely.

People hanging out around the Soviet War Memorial.

Berlin just feels so stressfree and refreshing. And it’s not only because the alcohol laws are less restrictive, but because there’s just so many places to just relax. The city is filled with parks and other recreational areas so there’s always a place you can sit outside and just hang out and enjoy the weather. The city itself is also incredibly green for being such a large city and so it really does feel nice to be outside.

So yea, I really like Berlin. I would recommend it to everywhere to go check it out, at least for the historical significance of the city if anything. But the city really shines when you spend actual time there I think. Just have to go there and just enjoy.