Sunday, 22 November 2015

Grouse Mountain

"Have you done the Grind yet?"

"The Grouse Grind, have you been up? How long did you take?"

"You haven't been up Grouse yet? You've gotta do it!" (followed by maniacal laughter).

New arrivals to Vancouver will invariably be asked some version of this question many times during their first few weeks in this beautiful city. The collective obsession with leading a healthy active lifestyle here is second only to the obsession with talking about one's healthy active lifestyle. The Grind question goes hand in hand with the equally common (though less ominous) quiz on Stanley Park and the Capilano Suspension Bridge, and will probably be followed up with a recommendation that you go stand-up paddle boarding in English Bay (a yoga paddle boarding option is also available).

Grouse Mountain is a 1,200m peak that belongs to the North Shore Mountains, located just a half-hour's drive from downtown Vancouver. The Grouse Grind is the popular name for the gruelling 2.9km hike up the mountain. Three kilometres doesn’t sound so bad, until you learn that the trail climbs 853m in that short distance, with an average grade of 17° that increases to 30° in certain is-this-what-dying-feels-like? sections. I would hesitate to call it a hike at all; really it is the world's most devilish, unending flight of stairs. Every single step requires the pronounced lifting of a knee and the hoisting of your body to move farther vertically than horizontally. At no point are you ever just walking; the Grind is an unrelenting fight with gravity. The trail has gained the nickname "Mother Nature's Stairmaster", but I think that is misleading; Mother Nature had nothing to do with it. The Grouse Grind was clearly designed by Satan.

I managed to crawl my way to the top in one hour and eleven minutes. The Grouse Mountain official website says the average time is 90 minutes, though certain exceptional human beings can make it in less than half an hour. The current record holder is Sebastian Salas, who clocked in at 23 minutes and 48 seconds. Oliver Bibby holds the record for most ascents in a 24-hour period, having made the climb 16 times within 20 hours. Personally, I don't mind if I never do it again in this lifetime.

When I did finally make it to the top of the Grind I found a quiet spot in the sunshine, texted Stephen to let him know I was alive, and then sat still for a good 15 minutes. I was very tired. It is tempting to head straight to the Skyride and its promise of more natural altitudes as soon as your jelly legs will allow, but I strongly urge you to resist the impulse. You will have all day to enjoy the olfactory experience that is 40 sweaty strangers packed into a floating perspex box, whimpering quietly in disbelief as the mental and physical sacrifices you all made to get to the top of the mountain slip away mockingly beneath you.

I ended up spending a good three hours up the mountain, despite missing both the Lumberjack Show and the Birds in Motion Demonstration. Grinder and Coola, the mountain's resident grizzlies, were on fine form, and the views from the Eye of the Wind and chairlift area are worth the extra effort. You really can see all of Vancouver from up there, with a clear line of sight stretching south past Richmond and the airport all the way to Delta.

By two o'clock I was ready to begin the land, sea and (thanks to the gondola) air travel necessary to get back to downtown Vancouver. I’m not sure whether I would count the Grind as a positive experience, but it is definitely An Experience, and one I’m glad to have suffered.

Monday, 31 August 2015

San Francisco

In the hour between our midnight arrival and reaching our hotel room we were already taken by San Francisco's charm. From the retro neon Coca-Cola signs to the charismatic clerk and the antique elevator, it was like we had stepped inside a movie.

In the light of the next morning the city only grew in character. Each building had its own idiosyncrasies, each storefront had a hand-painted sign, each busy person was going in their own direction. Nothing blurs together in San Francisco, it is a landscape of distinct edges, densely packed and thriving on diversity.

We had breakfast in Union Square and watched the tour bus operators hustle to make a living. After haggling down the price we joined the circuit with a bold and hilarious guide. The fog had cleared by the time our bus reached the Golden Gate Bridge, but that didn't save us from being blasted by a strong cold wind as we passed through the magnificent structure. We were warned about staying on the exposed top deck, but it was more than worth it for the view.

At Pier 39 we hopped off for lunch and a walk along the waterfront. This bustling and vibrant sidewalk must be destination number one for tourists, judging by all the pedicabs, hotdog stands and buskers. The weather was really heating up as we got in line for the ferry over to Alcatraz Island.

It's a short ride across the bay to the famous abandoned prison. From there you get a wonderful view of the city from a different perspective, and the freedom to explore the grounds inside and out. The audio tour begins just past the communal showers and is absolutely worth listening to. It guides you through the concrete citadel step by step as testimonies from both guards and inmates echo around you. The bloody and chilling history is told with a flair for the dramatic, and really instils an oppressive, eerie atmosphere.

With a few hours left in the afternoon we headed to the curious and photogenic Haight-Ashbury district. Famous for being the birthplace of the hippie subculture, it seems not much has changed since the 1960s, except perhaps the cost of living there. The area is filled with flamboyant artwork and eccentric shops, as well as rows of beautiful Victorian houses. From there we walked to Japantown and had sushi at a tiny restaurant with a comically rude, elderly waitress. Never mind her though, everyone else we met was exceedingly friendly and happy to talk to strangers in a way we have not experienced anywhere else.

At 6am the next day we were picked up and began the three-and-a-half-hour journey across California to Yosemite National Park. The first three hours are little more than rolling yellow fields of wind turbines and almond trees. Once we hit the mountain range the ascent began and the scenery quickly turned green and blue. This must be where they get the water from to grow all those almonds. Our first stop gave us the opportunity to visit a few giant sequoia trees. Their size and colour are stunning up close, and the trail through the forest was a pleasant shaded walk in the hot weather.

It turns out the redwoods were just an appetizer. As we wound further into the park we occasionally caught glimpses of the peaks that make this glacial valley so well known. And then we reached Tunnel View, and it all made sense. It is an awe-inspiring panorama, with El Capitan imposing on the left and Half Dome nestled away in the distance. Photographs do not do justice to the scope of this outlook. We spent the rest of the afternoon surrounded by incredible views as we explored the Yosemite Falls area. If we squinted just right we could even make out two climbers halfway up the face of El Capitan, looking no bigger than ants.

As we left the park a forest fire could be seen developing in the distance. Not an unusual occurrence, especially not in the last few years of constant drought. It was dark by the time we reached Oakland, but there was still one last stop to make, at the man-made Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay. Here we took in a beautiful, albeit very windy, view of the city at dusk, with its lights beginning to sparkle. That must be a romantic spot to park up on a date.

With one day left there was a lot we still wanted to see. We rode the metro up to Golden Gate Park, and after an hour of walking through the grounds we reached the small herd of bison sleeping way back in their enclosure. We probably should have brought some binoculars. On a bus back downtown we came to appreciate just how steep the hills are. It is no surprise the city has multiple transit companies operating in parallel. Our bus driver was no nonsense when it came to keeping the riffraff on the street as we passed through the aptly named Tenderloin neighbourhood.

San Francisco's Chinatown is almost a caricature. Every inch is packed with red lanterns, jade statues, flea markets and tiled roofs with upturned eaves. It makes for a crowded but entertaining walk up Grant Avenue. We came out the other end in Little Italy and stopped for lunch near the eye-catching Saints Peter and Paul Church. Unfortunately we missed the restaurant with garlic ice cream on the menu. Next time.

Our final hours were spent walking the piers and relaxing near the Bay Bridge where we admired Cupid's Span, a giant sculpture of a bow and arrow shooting into the ground. A fitting location from which to say goodbye. As our plane headed north we once again saw smoke clouds billowing into the sky. Maybe the rain will finally return next year.

Please click here to view our biggest photo album ever!

Thursday, 30 July 2015

It’s Always Sunny in Vancouver

Before we moved to Vancouver we were warned that it would be nothing but cloud and rain. True enough, on the day of our arrival back in March it was raining. Today it is also raining. However, in the intervening months we have been lucky enough to experience an almost endless supply of sun and heat, including the hottest June on record. On a clear day the views around the city are incredible, especially when walking along the seawall to one of the many popular beaches. Even in the centre of downtown, the stunning North Shore Mountains can be seen peeking up in the distance from every intersection.

From day one, Vancouver felt familiar. The people are friendly and relaxed and have a real love of getting outdoors. Not just to explore the abundant and accessible nature, but also to partake in organised street events such as parades, marathons, and food truck conventions. The downtown area is made up of a number of distinct neighbourhoods, and the way these flow together produces some interesting contrasts. Being the warmest major city in Canada, there is a noticeable homeless population, and by crossing a single street you can move from one of the most expensive blocks in the city to one of the poorest area codes in the entire country. There are some unique individuals to be found on those four corners.

Living in Vancouver is a breeze. The public transport is cheap and convenient, and for the most part we get around just fine on foot. We are always discovering great new restaurants; the quality of the seafood is particularly high. There is plenty to see and do, and it's a perfect launchpad to the Rocky Mountains and America. Plus it seems like every second person has a dog.

Please click here to view our photos from around Vancouver.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015


It has been a long time since either of us has supported the local tourism industry, so we decided to spend five days in Queenstown, New Zealand's adventure capital.

We arrived on a chilly, overcast Friday morning. After warming up with a big breakfast in front of the open fire at Old Man Rock we headed for the TSS Earnslaw, a 1912 Edwardian vintage twin screw steamer that travels up and down Lake Wakatipu, stopping at the picturesque Walter Peak High Country Farm. That evening we tackled the Taste of the South degustation menu at The Bunker, a cozy restaurant in Cow Lane. The six-course food marathon (plus wine match) showcased the best of the region's produce and was an excellent way to spend our first night in town.

The next day we quietly explored the historic gold mining town of Arrowtown. Our visit coincided with the end of the Motatapu off-road events, so we spent much of our time dodging muddy mountain bikers as well as other tourists and the odd shower. The Lakes District Museum and Gallery is an interesting mix of interactive displays and general historical exhibits detailing what life was like for the European and Chinese settlers during the gold rush. We finished our lazy day with a relaxing spa at the Onsen Hot Pools at Arthurs Point. Unfortunately it was too cloudy to see the stars from our open-air private room, but we enjoyed the view of the mountains nonetheless.

Sunday was our first and only day experiencing the outdoors adventure industry that draws so many people to Queenstown. The adrenaline was pumping right off the bat with a 45-minute drive along New Zealand's most dangerous road. Togged up in our wetsuits and teetering over the edge of a mountain pass that had been constructed by gold miners in the 1880s, this ended up being more nerve-wracking than the white-water rafting we had actually signed up for. The trip down the Shotover River was an exhilarating and at times violent one, but we managed to hold on and stay out of the cold water.

That afternoon we decided to take it a bit easier, catching the Skyline Gondola up Bob's Peak for a remarkable view of the town, the lake, and the surrounding mountain ranges. The weather was perfect, as attested to by the number of paragliders and bungee jumpers we saw throwing caution to wind both literally and figuratively. We capped it off with the culinary delights of the two largest burgers on the menu at Fergburger, Queenstown's famous fast-food restaurant, where the wait was only 30 minutes.

It was still dark when the bus picked us up at 6.40am for a full-day excursion to Milford Sound in the Fiordland National Park. Few sights are worth a ten-hour round-trip bus ride (complete with hungover American tourists in the seats in front), but this is one of them. The raw natural beauty of the fiord with its dolphins, seals, waterfalls and towering rock faces kept us out on the foredeck despite the wind and cold. Riding the waves coming in from the Tasman Sea is an epic experience that is hard to beat.

With a little time to kill on our last day we headed up to Caddyshack City, Queenstown's indoor mini golf course. The level of care and detail on display in the 18 elaborate holes was truly impressive, with sets including a working golf ball ski lift and other animated elements. The sun was shining as we emerged from the course and headed back down to catch a taxi to the airport, ending our holiday in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Please view the full photo album here.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

A Delicious Slice of Deutschland

FIFA World Cup fever was very much underway in Germany when we hit Munich on July fourth. We arrived in the Bavarian capital just after 6am, having spent a rocky night on the train from Vienna. Tired and in desperate need of a shower, we wandered around the city and took a bus tour to kill the time until we could check in to our hotel after lunch. Once rested and washed up we headed off for the quintessential Munich experience – a tasty beverage at the Augustiner-Keller Biergarten – only to be disappointed. That place was packed! Clearly the top spot in the city from which to watch the France vs. Germany quarter final. A futile ten-minute search for a table established that there really was no room at the inn, so we retreated and found a restaurant around the corner serving traditional food (roast pork and potato, sausage and cabbage) and a new favourite with which to wash it all down; König Ludwig Dunkel. Prost!

The next morning dawned drizzly and grey – perfect museum weather. We walked around the city for a bit, taking in Karlstor, Saint Michael's Church, the Frauenkirche, some kind of festival in Marienplatz and the Neues Rathaus, before heading up to the Alte Pinakothek. This museum is one of the oldest art galleries in the world and houses the most comprehensive collection of German Old Masters anywhere. Our favourites included Adam Elsheimer's The Flight into Egypt and anything by Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens.

After lunch we hit up the Neue Pinakothek – the flasher younger brother of our previous stop. We are both unapologetic Goya fans, whether it's Saturn caught in filicide or a simple plucked turkey. Of special note were also Van Gogh's Sunflowers (1988) and a painting by Manet of Monet painting in a boat. We see your meta and we appreciate it.

Munich is known by many as a one-visit-is-enough kind of city. To tourists it appears clean, orderly, very nice, certainly, but not super exciting. So if, like us, you plan on going there once but probably never again, we recommend you make time for a stop at the BallaBeni ice cream shop on Theresienstraße. It's conveniently just around the corner from the Alte Pinakothek, and you won't be disappointed (if they have the chocolate and ginger flavour available, take all of it).

To understand anything about this part of Germany you need to know a little bit about the Bavarian kings, King Ludwig II in particular. King Ludwig, also known as the Swan King or the Fairy King, held the throne from the age of 18 in 1864 until his death in 1886. During his reign, Bavaria was subjugated by Prussia and subsequently absorbed into the German Empire, but Ludwig mostly stayed away from Munich and state politics. He was a loner, a dreamer, and preferred to spend his time and money on building beautiful fairytale castles in which he could hide from the world and indulge his love of theatre, architecture, and Wagner. We were fortunate enough to visit two of these castles, Neuschwanstein (the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle) and Linderhof, a mini Versailles and tribute to the Sun King, Louis XIV of France. Our trip was hosted by a very friendly and knowledgeable local woman named Ana who clearly had a soft spot for poor, misunderstood Ludwig. Burdened with responsibility he didn't want, forced to hide his true nature and accept a royal marriage to please others, he was eventually reduced by crippling social anxiety to eating alone at a table rigged to be drawn up to his dining room from the kitchens below so that he could avoid all contact with his staff. Finally, Ludwig was declared insane by psychiatrists who had never met him, deposed by his cabinet ministers and then carried off in the middle of the night to a secluded manor where the next evening he was found dead in the water. Ludwig's death was declared a suicide by drowning, despite a lack of water in his lungs and the presence, sitting up in the water next to him, of the body of the chief of Munich Asylum, who had also died under suspicious circumstances. Perhaps it is fitting that the ending to this day dreamer's story is one of tragedy and mystery.

Our second encounter with the night trains of Germany was at once more comfortable and less German that our previous experience. It was more comfortable in that we were this time in a first class cabin that contained much nicer bunks, more space, and its own toilet and shower unit. It was less German however in that the power and water weren't working and we spent a lot of time just sitting, sweating in the dark. Where's the Ordnungsamt when you need it, eh? This all doesn't seem very efficient! That said, the guard did her best to explain the situation to us and we got to feel proud for understanding what she meant when she pointed at the ceiling and said "dunkel" (all that 'study' of German beer types paid off!)

The next morning we arrived, yet again grubby and barely rested, in Berlin. To our rescue was the SANA Berlin Hotel and its accommodating stance on check in times. We dumped our bags and took a quick shower before heading off for a full day of sightseeing around the city. Stops included the Victory Column (and possible nudist sighting in the nearby park), a walk through the Großer Tiergarten to see the Hyundai Fan Park setting up at Brandenburger Tor, the Berliner Dom, the outside of the Pergamon Museum, the Fernsehturm, and a tour through east Berlin with a guide who kept turning back and winking at us (why?).

Tuesday was plagued by the sudden summer thunderstorms that we came to associate with our time in Berlin. Between showers we caught the U-Bahn to Museum Island, grabbed breakfast and a Berliner at a cafe, then walked over to the DDR Museum, a privately-owned, interactive look into daily life in Socialist East Germany. Packed with displays covering topics from school, home and work life to Stasi bugs and Socialist propaganda, this really was an interesting way to spend a morning and well worth the €7 admission fee. For lunch we treated ourselves to currywurst and chips at the Augustiner München restaurant and then headed over to Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous Berlin Wall crossing point during the Cold War. The checkpoint remains an important landmark in Berlin and attracts a constant stream of tourists who line up to take pictures with actors dressed as soldiers stationed outside the replica guardhouse.

We were fairly knackered by the time evening rolled around and given the crazy football crowds at the Augustiner-Keller Biergarten in Munich we decided to save our energy and watch the Germany vs. Brazil semi final from the comfort of our air-conditioned hotel. As the match got underway it soon became clear that we were witnessing a historic moment in German football, and when the first half closed with a 5–0 score to our gracious hosts we knew we had to throw on some sneakers and race down to the Hyundai Fan Park to experience the rest of the game with the locals. We arrived at Brandenburger Tor just as the second half was picking up, and watched the next three goals on the massive outdoor screens, surrounded by happy but really quite restrained German fans. The Tiergarten was quiet as we walked through it on our way back to the hotel, surprised by the complete lack of drunken hooliganism one would expect at such a big sporting achievement. When we got to the main road however we were pleased to confirm that Germans do actually have feelings, they just choose to express them with constant, hearty car-horn honking.

The next day we set off on a much anticipated guided tour of Dresden. Being huge fans of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five we knew we couldn't come all the way to Germany without visiting the site of the controversial 1945 fire-bombing, and the commentary provided by our guide, Alex from Perth, was both in-depth and hilarious (when appropriate). The trip started with a two-and-a-half-hour bus ride through the pine forests of Brandenburg down to the Saxony capital. Alex told us about the history of the area, her love of opera, and the wonders to be found in a traditional German bakery. By the time we reached Dresden we were primed to get the most out of our walking tour of the old city, while also keenly anticipating the cultural experience that is Baumkuchen and Eierschecke at Alex's favourite cake shop.

Dresden is a beautiful city to walk around, with attractions such as the Dresdner Residenzschloss, Augustus' greeting palace, the Semperoper, a wall decorated with a procession of Augustus' family depicted in Meissen porcelain, and the terrace along the Elbe, nicknamed "the balcony of Europe" by Goethe. Much of Dresden's historical architecture was constructed with a locally sourced sandstone that turns black as it ages, giving the impression that the buildings are covered in soot and creating a sort of melancholy feel around the city. This darkening of the stone has created an interesting effect on the Frauenkirche, a Lutheran church featuring one of the largest domes in Europe, which was destroyed during the bombing. For a long time the East German authorities determined that the rubble be left as a war memorial, so reconstruction of the church only began in 1990 with the reunification of Germany. The building was finally completed and reconsecrated in 2005. As much as possible, original materials and plans were used to reconstruct the Frauenkirche. Each stone was carried out from the rubble, measured, catalogued, and where feasible fitted back in its original place in the structure. The old stone, blackened with age and fire damage, now stands out against the light tan colour of the newer sandstone, giving the church its distinctive dappled appearance.

Our final day in Germany was spent at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienberg, 35km north of Berlin. The camp opened in 1936 and was used primarily to house political prisoners through to the end of the Third Reich in 1945. It was also a key training facility for Schutzstaffel (SS) officers who would then go on to oversee other camps. Sachsenhausen was designed by architect Bernhard Kuiper in the distinctive triangle shape, with barracks arranged in an arc to ensure clear lines of sight and thus maximum efficiency for the machine gun post in Guard Tower A. This theme of deliberate planning and concern for total order and control is evident all around the camp, and you are constantly reminded that it was designed and built with a very specific, and disgusting, purpose in mind. One of the most chilling parts of the camp was the preserved foundations of Station Z, the site of the gas chamber, crematorium, and execution room. Prior to its construction in 1939, prisoners sentenced to be executed at Sachsenhausen were taken to an outdoor trench where they were lined up and shot or hanged. According to our guide, the emotional distress caused by organising and then murdering their prisoners face to face became too much for many of the Nazi guards, who began suffering psychological trauma. The solution was an elaborate maze of rooms inside Station Z, where prisoners were brought in through a garage, sat in a waiting room, then individually brought in for what they believed was a medical exam. As the prisoner stood with his back against a measuring stick on the wall, a small window would open behind his neck, allowing a soldier in a hidden room to kill him, instantly and anonymously. Loud music would be playing on a gramophone to hide the sound of the gunshot from the others in the waiting room. A secret door allowed the corpse to be dragged out to the ovens, operated by prisoners forced to participate in the same death ritual they knew they would soon also be subjected to.

The visit to Sachsenhausen, while immensely disturbing, was a valuable experience. It is one thing to read about the horrors performed by the Nazis in WWII, and it is another to walk through the main gates with Arbeit Macht Frei sculpted in iron, to see the roll call area where prisoners were humiliated and made to stand for hours on end, and the marching strip where they were forced to test boots on a variety of surfaces, covering up to 40km a day until they collapsed. Along with the administration offices at Guard Tower A, Sachsenhausen also still contains a museum in the prisoner kitchen, the infirmary barracks, the pathology building and mortuary, and other features of the camp. Most of the barracks have been destroyed, but the Jewish barracks, 38 and 39, have been reconstructed and serve as museums. The fact that they still bear the scars of an arson attack perpetrated by neo-Nazis as recently as 1992 only further strengthens the importance of places such as Sachsenhausen as memorials and education sites, now and into the future.

You can find our full Germany photo album right here.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

No Kangaroos in Austria

As far as first impressions go it is hard to top the baggage claim at the Vienna International Airport, where, upon our arrival, giant posters advertised Monet and Klimt exhibitions across the city. That is how we will remember Vienna, as a city of art and culture. After checking into our hotel we took an evening stroll around the neighbourhood. Even in this little area, far from the city centre and under a dark angry sky, it felt like we were in a painting. The colourful, uniform buildings, the perfectly clean and empty streets, the hum of conversation in each restaurant we passed by. It was hard to believe real people lived their lives in such a laid-back state.

It was still raining the next morning so we carefully planned a route to the subway, aiming to minimise our time spent exposed to the elements without an umbrella. Luckily there is a rather extravagant hat and umbrella shop in the underground mall at Karlsplatz. We purchased their cheapest offering and hopped back above ground for a delicious breakfast, confirming that Vienna has not only great architecture but also great food.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum was the first of many art museums we would visit, and is easily one of the most stunning, lavish buildings we have ever seen, both inside and outside. It is a shrine filled with works by the most famous names in art history, and yet it was neither crowded nor noisy. We purchased a teddy bear reproduction of Bruegel's The Hunters in the Snow to remember our visit, not that we were worried about ever forgetting such an impressive collection.

In search of the most Viennese café experience available we cautiously entered Café Sperl and sat down without being seated. Our waitress was, as promised, a little grumpy. The sachertorte, sausage and coffee were, also as promised, delectable. For the afternoon we sedately explored the historical Belvedere palaces, with their interesting mix of modern and classical exhibitions. Continuing the local cuisine trend we visited restaurant Figlmüller for dinner, a commonly recommended destination for foreigners looking to get a plate of schnitzel. And what a massive plate it was. We probably did not need to order the big salad accompaniment.

Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia, lies only an hour east of Vienna, making it a very convenient day trip. We journeyed on an early bus and were at St. Martin's Cathedral, the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Bratislava, by mid-morning. We walked around the entire of the quirky Old Town area of the city, lead by a very friendly local tour guide. The atmosphere was tranquil, with little more than foot traffic shuffling between the various courtyards and squares. In the afternoon we spent a few hours alone exploring more of this beautiful place, and enjoying the cheapest beer we have yet to find on this planet. We returned to Vienna by catamaran along the Danube, which let us see the many fishing shacks that line the river.

Our penultimate day in Vienna was spent marching a large loop around the central city, hitting many landmarks along the way, including the Austrian Parliament Building, the Hofburg Palace, and the Volksgarten that sits in between them. These sights were all radiant and inspiring in the perfect sunny weather. After lunch we took in a huge Egon Schiele collection at the Leopold Museum, located in the incredible public space that is the Museumsquartier. There was even a little bit of Klimt on display to top it all off.

After checking out of our hotel the next day we caught the subway to a stop near Schönbrunn Palace, a former imperial residence that boasts 1,441 rooms. We were only able to view a fraction of the inside, but it was exactly as opulent as you would imagine. There was plenty to do and see around the grounds, including a zoo and a charming strudel show. At the top of the hill we rested by the Gloriette structure, which offers a brilliant view of the palace with the city stretched out behind it.

In our final evening we were drawn back to the Museumsquartier, this time not for art but for relaxation. Live chamber music filled the air as we laid back and watched the clouds drift by. We departed Austria that night by train, eager to meet our next destination but already missing the contented ambience of life in Vienna.

Please check out our Vienna photos here, and our Bratislava photos here.