I don’t know what to tell you about Rome. I didn’t do the things you’re supposed to do. Shannon and I agreed we would definitely skip the Vatican because we’ve both been before, and while we might pop by and wave hi to some of the famous monuments from the outside, there was no way we were waiting in line to go in.
Hi! I’m in Italy! I’ve been eating my way through Rome, Florence, and Bologna and I’m exhausted! I haven’t spent much time in Italy in the last ten years (with the except of a January weekend getaway to Turin) and it’s been so much fun to be here. I love having a morning espresso standing up at the counter and trying to speak Italian.
Each city had its own distinct vibe – I couldn’t tell you which was my favorite. I fell in love with the Monti neighborhood in Rome but was overwhelmed by the tourist hordes elsewhere in the city. Florence had its own tourist crowd but it was easier to escape the city center, so it didn’t feel as suffocating. I loved finding little spots for cheap eats, and visiting a few major attractions (they lived up to the hype).
Bologna was the perfect antidote after a week in cities occupied by tourists – it’s a city of locals, gritty, delicious, Italian. I had the best pasta of my life and people actually gave me the chance to speak the little Italian I know. In Florence, everyone in the city center spoke English right off the bat without bothering to find out if you spoke Italian or not, which I found incredibly irritating. We’re in Italy, at least let me try to practice what Duolingo and Bellini taught me!
I’ve been keeping some notes along the way in hopes of writing a more thorough blogging account once I’m back in Lyon. Sometimes I get overwhelmed with everything I have to say, or just with life in general, and I don’t get around to blogging about everything I’d like to. Let’s see if I can catch up this summer, shall we?
I hope your summer is off to a good start, wherever you are!
I didn’t fall in love with Seville, but I also kind of did.
I mean, when I first arrived, Seville didn’t live up to the hype, and I kind of hated the cramped touristy city center, Barrio de Santa Cruz. But once I explored a bit more and got some churros in me, I felt differently.
You know those cities that you love so much that you imagine going back over and over again, or even renting an apartment and staying awhile? I didn’t feel that way about Seville. But I loved a lot of individual things about the city, which all smushed together add up to an awesome week in Seville.
The good thing about #slowblogging is that the buzz of the trip has died down in my mind, and the highlights stand out against the blur of my memory. I don’t remember why I wasn’t excited about visiting San Sebastian when I planned my trip to Spanish Basque Country, but I am glad that I decided to stay two nights instead of making it a lightning-quick trip from Bilbao.
I went to the market yesterday morning. Marché Saint Antoine, down by the Saône river. Some young men were handing out pamplets. I took one automatically. It was propaganda against Islamic immigration. I threw it out. It took me a minute to process. Had I misunderstood? Was this seriously racist propaganda in the middle of the Sunday market?
I turned around and studied the group handing out the fliers. They were all white young men, not a terribly attractive bunch (not that it matters). I sat and watched them for awhile. Most people refused their pamplets, or trashed them when they realized what they were. An older woman wearing a hijab passed by. They didn’t offer her a pamplet, and she didn’t look at them.
I couldn’t believe that no one was saying anything to these bigots, telling them they should be ashamed, but on the other hand, it’s pretty common to distribute fliers about all sorts of things, and you had to actually take one and read it to get a whiff of what these dudes were all about. They weren’t chanting “White power” or anything. One man said to them, “I don’t agree with you, I support immigration,” as he refused their pamplets. Everyone else just ignored them. At least no one seemed to be on their side. People seemed disgusted, but didn’t call them out.
I snapped their picture from afar. Why shouldn’t I? They had a racism stand right in the middle of the market. One of them saw me and got very nervous. He went around to his cohorts, whispering and pointing at me. I ignored them and remained seated outside the market – I hadn’t done anything wrong.
After awhile, one of them walked toward me without making eye contact. He shoved his phone in my face, took my picture, and then walked away quickly. It happened so fast that I wasn’t even sure which of these pimply white dudes had taken my photo. Who does that?! (Immature racist losers, I guess?) I know I had taken a photo first, but from quite a distance – I didn’t shove my phone in anyone’s face! If they had a problem, the appropriate reaction would have been to say, “We’d prefer not to be photographed, would you mind deleting your photo?” not to sneak attack me with a close-up! Super creepy.
I walked over to their ringleader.
“Hello, are you the guy who just took my photo?” I asked him.
He acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about. “Was it you?” I asked the man-child with the camera around his neck standing a few feet away. He ignored me.
I probably should have stayed calm, but instead I said what I had been wanting to say to these jackasses.
“Aren’t you ashamed?” I asked the first man. “Aren’t you ashamed of being so racist?”
“No, I’m not ashamed,” he said, a little defensively. “Immigrants are ruining France and must be stopped.”
“I’m a foreigner,” I said. “Are you against me too, or am I okay because I’m white?”
“No, it’s the Muslims. You know that most of them are in prison, don’t you? They are criminals.”
“How can you say that an entire population of millions of people are all criminals? You should be ashamed.”
“Don’t you care about the women in Cologne? Hundreds of women were attacked by Arab immigrants. That’s what happens when you let in refugees. Multicultural society doesn’t work, you have to admit it. If we don’t do something, we’ll end up like Lebanon.”
I was in such a rage that I was shaking. I could yell at this man all I wanted, but it wouldn’t rattle his bigotry.
“Aren’t you listening to me? Listen to what I’m saying,” he insisted, condescendingly. His teeth were crooked and discolored. Maybe he had eschewed braces and taken up chain smoking in high school in an attempt to be cool, but grew up to be human scum with hideous teeth.
“You can’t- ah! gah!” I choked on my frustration. “You can’t blame all Muslims for the crimes of a few people! What about French-born Muslims? You know that they’re as much French as you are, don’t you?”
He continued to insist that multicultural society is dangerous. These xenophobic assholes were openly calling for a pure white France. What. The. Fuck.
I couldn’t take it anymore. “You are a disgrace and you should all be ashamed,” I said before walking off.
“Bonne journée!!” the slimeballs called after me. Infuriating.
It would have been better to stay calm, but I couldn’t. I’m still glad I told them what I thought, even though they were apparently unfazed. I wish I had kept one of their pamplets of bigotry so I could show you the awful things they were purporting. It really got to me – the whole scene circled round and round my mind, and I obsessed on everything I wished I had said for the rest of the day. I wanted to get the last word against these smug bastards, for them to suffer somehow, and it more than irked me to know that they would carry on, unpunished and self-satisfied.
But you know what made me feel a little better? A delicious falafal lunch at the Lebanese restaurant Les Delices du Liban.
Did I ever tell you that Hugo lived in England for most of last year? He got offered a job in Oxford, and the French economy being what it is, we both agreed that he should take it. I’m so glad that he moved back to France this year, but it did give me an excuse to make a couple visits to Oxford and London.
I visited Oxford for the first time almost exactly a year ago. I know because it was the Toussaint vacation, which was right after my birthday. It was the same temperature as it was in Lyon, but it felt colder. Chillier.
We spent the weekend galavanting in the crisp fall air, visiting really old colleges covered in ivy and crunching golden leaves underfoot.
The colleges are beautiful and charming and imposing all at once… but I couldn’t for the life of me tell you which one is which. Tall stone walls, enchanting courtyards, impressive towers, smarty-pants students coming and going… they all started to look the same after awhile.
The town isn’t too big, but it isn’t too small either. Bikes are clearly the preferred method of transportation.
Hugo lived a bus ride away from the city center, a fifteen-minute bus ride down Cowley Road, if you know the place. The buses confused me horribly. They’re run by a few different companies, but seem to cost about the same, and you have to buy a ticket every time you get on (unless you’ve got a return ticket) and the price depends on where you’re going. It didn’t seem like you could buy a week pass or a monthly pass or anything like that. And really, it was quite expensive – all those £3 tickets add up fast. Everyone seemed to say “cheers” to the driver when they got off the bus, but it sounded weird in my American accent.
No one gave me a particularly hard time about being American, but my accent felt clumsy next to all those Brits, and broader, but in a warm way. England feels just as foreign to me as France. I marvel at some things (cocktails in a can? Pear cider at the supermarket? All the cookies! – I mean, biscuits) and puzzle over others (what is a bap? Why are there beans and mushrooms with my breakfast? How early is too early to have a drink at the pub?) I thought we would be able to have private conversations in French, but it turns out that French is not a secret language and there are tons of French people in Oxford.
Two of my favorite English things are both terribly cozy – pubs and cream tea. I freaking love cream tea. I thought it was just tea with cream in it, but NO, it’s tea with scones with jam and clotted cream. I do not know what clotted cream is exactly, but it’s better than butter and I piled it on my scones on a near-daily basis. It’s a good thing that it’s not readily available in France or I might not live to see 30.
During the week, Hugo had to go to work, so I divided my time between grading translation exams (yay vacation) and wandering the city. I even stopped getting lost after awhile.
Family friends told me again and again to eat at The Trout, which they held very fond in their Oxford memories, but I forgot to go. If you try it, let me know how it is!
Oxford has more than a few cool cafes, but instead of racking up £3 for the bus plus a cafe bill every day, I worked chez Hugo and wandered in my free time. I find that I like the idea of hipster coffee shops more than I actually enjoy cramping myself in a noisy wooden cafe and suffering from heart palpatations because I’m not hardcore enough to properly appreciate “good coffee.” If you’re cooler than me (and let’s be real, it’s not hard to be) hotspots seemed to be The Missing Bean, Quarter Horse Coffee,Zappi’s Bike Cafe,The Jericho Cafe, and The Jam Factory. (Did I get it right, Oxford-dwellers?)
I’ve thought a little about why I decided to write about Oxford, so long after visiting. (#slowblogging). It’s mostly because I love these autumn photos and I wanted an excuse to share them in season. I’m no Oxford expert, and there’s no crazy story here. Just us, wandering this historic English town, crunching the yellow leaves.
Have you been to Oxford? Are you having a golden autumn this year?
Let me start by disclaiming that I am by no means an expert on Vienna. But have you ever noticed that it can be hard to think like a tourist in your own city? A Viennese local I am definitely not, but I feel like for five days, I rocked at being a tourist in Vienna.
You absolutely must take the metro down to Schönbrunn and frolic in the gardens. They are huge and magnificent and [drumroll] free! There’s a restaurant at the top of the hill (the Gloriette) but it was just okay, so I would pack a picnic instead.
You can also visit a zoo and other attractions on the ground for a small fee. My mom and I wandered around the labyrinths and played on the weird garden toys for the low low price of three euros.
Go if: the weather is nice and you have at least an hour or two to stroll around.
The Albertina wasn’t even on the list of things to visit, but we squeezed it in on the last day and it was one of my favorite things in Vienna. It’s a gorgeous estate that now houses many famous works of art. You can tour the rooms and, if you’re me, lie down on the floor in each room to get a shot of the chandeliers from below (they are like snowflakes! Each one is different.)
Then, you can view works by artists like Monet, Picasso, Rodin, Munch, Chagall, Miro, Magritte, and many more in their Batliner collection, and then say hi to Warhol, Lichtenstein, and their contemporaries across the hall.
I was most surprised by the photography exhibit dedicated to Lee Miller. She began as a surrealist while dating Man Ray, and later went on to document stuff like Hitler’s living quarters, and Germany and Austria after World War II. She worked as a photographer for Vogue and was the only authorized female photographer from the press during the war. Then she spent four years in Egypt photographing deserts and the like. Badass lady, am I right?
They have a nice restaurant on location, although the cover charge is something like 3 euros per person.
Go if: you love art and beautiful historical homes with chairs you can’t sit on.
The Hofburg Treasury is a collection of jewels and crowns and capes in illuminated cases within a dimly lit maze of exhibition rooms. You can see things like swords bejeweled with diamonds, an emerald the size of my fist (which is small for a fist but big for an emerald), a narwal tusk, and dazzling crowns that look like they would be uncomfortable to wear. This kind of museum isn’t my favorite, but it does have a large collection of shiny artifacts, if that’s your thing.
Go if: you loooove jewels and seeing pieces of royal history up close
Chateaux are cool, but after awhile they all start to look the same (gold doors, velvet chairs, blah blah blah. Wow, I’m such a snob) so I love that Belevedere is also a museum! Like the Albertina, it’s a chateau and an art museum in one. Efficient. Nice.
The Belevedere is most famous for The Kiss by Klimt, but it has a large collection of works in a variety of styles. I liked these funny heads:
It also has a garden, which is free to visit. The gardens are nowhere as spectacular as Schönbrunn’s, but they do have this selfie mirror which lets you take your photo in front of the chateau!
If you like quirky, this colorful, shiny building is for you. Hundertwasser was an architect who believed in recycling objects and wasting nothing, and he was an interesting multitalented dude. He even designed the public toilets across the street, and I heard a tour guide saying, “You can’t pee on a Rembrandt, but you can pee on a Hundertwasser!”
It’s free to visit, but you can’t go inside because people actually live here.
Go if: You like weird, free stuff and don’t mind going a bit out of the city center (it’s a 20 minute walk, or you can take public transport.)
Skip it if: The idea of looking at the outside of a building with bits of mirror glued on doesn’t sound like fun to you.
Mariahilfe neighborhood / Neubaugasse
When I go to a new city, I like to spend time wandering around cool neighborhoods where people actually live. The Mariahilfe neighborhood is centered around Mariahilfestrase, a long shopping street, and although most of the shops on the main drag are chains you could find anywhere, I discovered cute cafes and boutiques on side streets like Neubaugasse.
Go if: You want to escape the tourist center
Skip it if: You hate shopping and hipster cafes, or don’t have a lot of time to spend in Vienna.
The Vienna opera house is grand. The chandeliers are crystal and the ceilings are gold. Bust out your pearls and your cufflinks. You can choose between seeing an opera or a ballet. It’s right in the city center, so there’s no excuse not to go!
Even if you don’t normally go to the opera, Vienna is the place to try it out. It’s hard for me not to sound biased when I say that because I like, majored in opera (sounds like a joke, but it’s the truth, so the joke’s on me) but really, the opera is worldclass. We saw Placido Domingo in one of the last performances of his career (Nabucco) and a lovely ballet, La Sylphide (gorgeous dancing, idiotic storyline.)
Go if: You like music and/or dance and/or golden ceilings.
The place to see operetta, musical theater, and select operas. If you’re an opera beginner, you might find the Volksoper more accessible than the Staatsoper, but you’ll miss out on the golden ceiling. It’s not in the city center, but there is a tram stop across the street, and a cab is about 10 euros.
We saw Die Fledermaus – the quintessential Vienna operetta by Johann Strauss. Subtitles were in English, but most of the German dialogue was untranslated. Judging by the reaction of the German speaking audience, it was hilarious. But it would have been nice to be in on the joke!
I loooove food, and I loooove to go to local markets. I had a good time walking through Naschmarkt. It was filled with trendy cafes and little shops, and I got a kebab as big as my head for three euros. The pushy falafel dudes annoyed me (can’t a girl stroll the market in peace?!) but their falafel did look damn good.
Go if: You like food.
Skip it if: Outdoor markets make you claustrophobic.
Demel is a Vienna institution. It has so much cake. Cake so famous, it was even featured on Buzzfeed (which we all know is the height of fame). It is to Vienna what Ladurée is to Paris, only with tortes instead of macarons. Buzzfeed called it “one of the 25 bakeries you have to see before you die” and while I don’t know if I would go that far, it’s worth checking out if you’re in Vienna. It’s right next to the Hofburg Palace in the city center.
It has a little shop where you can get gifts and souvenirs, a cake museum (check for opening times), and of course, lots of cake. The enormous kitchen is separated from the cafe by a glass wall, so you can watch cake-makers like fish in an aquarium.
I am most definitely a dessert person, but I honestly didn’t care for their chocolate-liqueur Annatorte. There were so many options that I just went with their specialty, but it was too sweet and cloying alcoholic. Their rhubarb apple strudel was the best dessert I had in Vienna, though. (Thanks for sharing with me, Mom!)
I can’t see myself ever coming here if I lived in Vienna, but it was fun to see it once.
Go if: You love dessert.
Skip it if: You’re “not a dessert person” or you’re on a tight budget.
What? Sofitel? Why is this a Vienna attraction? It’s not, exactly, but it has an amazing view over the city from the restaurant on the top floor. You can pop up and check out the view even if you’re not dining, as long as it’s not peak meal time and you don’t disrupt people who are actually buying something.
Go if: You’re in the area and you like a good view.
Skip it if: You get frustrated trying to take photos behind glass because of the reflections (DAMN YOU REFLECTIONS!)
You may have heard of the Sacher-torte. It’s a chocolate torte with apricot jam filling and it’s a big deal in Vienna. There was a whole lawsuit war over who invented the original Sacher-torte, and the Sachers won. They are very, very proud of their torte. And hey, it is good. My gourmet-cook dad said it was very good. So if you like famous cake, sure, come wait in line and give it a try.
But if I can offer my opinion, don’t bother getting a meal. The food is so overpriced and it’s nothing special.
Go if: You enjoy eating famous food in an elegant setting.
Skip it if: You are willing to eat equally good but less famous cake elsewhere.
I would love to see the modern art museum mumok, go up to the Danube and the Vienna Prater, and try more local food. Maybe brunch with cocktails at one of the Naschmarkt cafes! What do you recommend?
Vienna is an epicenter of culture. World class opera, ballet, symphonies, art, museums, castles, gardens – it’s got them all. Its history – both artistic and regular – is rich. Mozart was here. Johann Strauss (dude who wrote all those waltzes and Die Fledermaus) was here, Freud was here, Klimt was here – the list goes on and on. If they had all graffiteid their names on a who’s who wall of Vienna… that would have been cool. (But they have stars of fame on the sidewalk instead.)
At first, I had only planned to come for a couple days, but I’m glad I decided to stay longer. Five days still wasn’t enough time. I was blown away by everything there is to see in Vienna.
Notice I said see. The food… it wasn’t bad. Goulash and boiled beef reminded us that Vienna is geographically in Eastern Europe, but the prices were closer to Western Europe (and I mean France, not Portugal). Many nicer restaurants had a cover charge of 2-3 euros per person – not the end of the world, but a little annoying.
Tapelspitz, goulash, and Wiener schnitzel are traditional meat dishes typical of Vienna. I had always vaguely imagined that Wiener schnitzel was a kind of sausage for some reason, but it’s actually breaded and fried veal garnished with lemon wedges. Surprise!
“Schnitzel” is more fun to say (I ❤ funny words) than it is to actually eat. I was underwhelmed by the food I tried in Vienna, on the whole.
Even the desserts. Vienna is known for its cakes and pastries. The French word for pastries is “viennoiserie” for crying out loud. But in my opinion, France effortlessly surpasses the city that inspired their croissants and pain au chocolat in terms of dessert.
Anyway, disappointing desserts couldn’t ruin Vienna. I loved the Schönbrunn palace gardens, the art collection at the Albertina, the quirky and colorful Hundertwasserhaus, and above all, the opera.
Even so, I couldn’t quite fall in love with Vienna. It was like an eligible bachelor/ette who’s sweet and smart and successful and suave and your head tells you that they’re perfect and you should marry them, but the crazy love drug that makes you want to be with them all the time is missing, so you leave them for your friend that everyone else knew was right for you all along. (That’s how it seems to go down on sitcoms, anyway.)
But friend-zoning aside, I really did have a nice time in Vienna.