Monday, 14 November 2016


Beautiful fall colours in Vienna.
Vienna was our "basecamp" for this trip. With direct flights to and from Toronto, it was a great place to leave luggage and change over gear requirements from visiting my cousin in Prague; meeting up with our paragliding group in Salzburg; and then meeting up with Andrew's sisters and also doing a backpacking trip in Corsica. We stayed near the main train station which was very convenient for getting around Vienna, taking the train to other cities or to the airport.

During one of our first one-day layovers, we had time to head to central Vienna and wander around the Stephansplatz square and see the Stephansdom Cathedral, one of the tallest churches in the world. It really is overwhelming to look up at it from the street level. It can be clearly seen from various points around the city.

The very tall Stephansdom Cathedral
One of the unique things we've noticed about Vienna is that there are small grocery stores everywhere, including almost every mall-type building. Not surprising, I guess, since the transit system is amazing (maximum 5 minutes between subway trains) and it seems like almost everyone uses it.

We had three days at the end of the trip to see some of the sites of Vienna. The first day was quite cold with mixed rain and snow so we chose an indoor venture, the Natural History Museum. While it did have some good exhibits (extensive exhibits!) I was more enthralled with the architecture of the building. Simply stunning.

Outside the Natural History Museum
The paintings, facades and ceilings interested me more than the natural history exhibits.

Ceiling dome
Atrium area between the 2nd and 3rd floors.
The next day we went to the Aqua-Terra Zoo. It was very busy due to it being the weekend and a cool day with everyone seeking an inside activity. The zoo/aquarium part of it was very good. The building is small in circumference and several stories high and, again, the history behind the building caught my attention. It was originally the Esterhazypark Flak tower or control tower.

"Between 1940 and 1945, 16 Flak towers were built in Hamburg, Berlin and Vienna by forced labour and prisoners of war. The Viennese Flak towers are positioned in a triangle around the city centre. They were used for defence against Allied air raids . . . If an attack occurred, up to 40,000 people could find shelter in the towers. . . The 1st-3rd floors were used for air raid shelters. A maximum of 3,000 civilians could fit in them . . . The main staircase and lift lead to the 9th floor and outer terrace. . . After the war there were a lot of plans for the Flak tower. A blasting could not be done without damaging the nearly buildings. Some plans included turning the tower into flats, a student home, at hotel or offices. But in 1957 the "Haus des Meeres" moved in a nd thru the towner into an aquarium . . . welcomes over half a million visitors a year and needs to subsidies. At least one of the towers has a meaningful and peaceful use today." (Summarized from an information board in the building.)

A turtle peeking its head out of the water.

The city views from the rooftop cafeteria and viewing platform were fantastic.

Vienna is famous for its Christmas Markets and I was happy that at least one of them was starting just as we arrived back in the city and before we had to head home. The one in front of City Hall is supposed to be one of the best and had 100+ booths. Unfortunately, I was sadly disappointed in it. There was a lot of food and booths selling hot punch (expected) but the rest was basically junk. I was expecting more locally made and unique items but it was your typical mass produced, made-in-China (or glass jewelry made in Italy) "stuff." On the positive side, the winterberry punch was very good and warmed us up and we kept the Santa boot mugs it came in. 

Hot winterberry punch - yummy!
Large present at the Christmas Market in front of City Hall.
It was slightly warmer on our final day so we headed to the Schonbrunn Zoo which was very good. Luckily there were quite a few indoor exhibits so we weren't outside the entire day. It would be great to see in the spring/summer time with the animals outdoors and the grounds in bloom. It would definitely be worth a repeat visit. 

The Schonbrunn Palm House - built in 1882.
Fresh water rays
Red Panda
Spectacled Bear
And now . . . we head home! I'm looking forward to seeing family and friends and getting back into routine after a great holiday!! 

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Monaco and Nice

After finishing our hike, we thought we might spend some more time in Calvi. But further into the off season, the town pretty much shuts down. It was a very deserted place so we headed back to Nice for a couple extra days there. 

The first full day, we took the train to Monaco to go to the aquarium and added another new place to our list of countries visited. The aquarium (or more formally -- The Oceanographic Museumis housed in a huge elaborate building built right on the cliffside of the ocean. The basement houses the aquarium, the main floor is conference/meeting areas and gift shop, and the upper levels are actual museum. A rooftop restaurant provides some great views. We thought for sure it must have originally built for some other purpose but apparently it wasn't, thanks to Prince Albert I who was fascinated by ocean creatures. Andrew got some really great photographs.

After the aquarium, we wandered around the rest of the Rock of Monaco area (the "old town") which also includes the Prince's palace and the cathedral.  

The Oceanographic Museum and aquarium situated on the cliff's edge of the Rock of Monaco.
One of the museum floors.
The Cathedral
Monaco harbour
At the palace.
Police scooters
The Rock of Monaco
In Nice we went to the Parc Phoenix, CastleHill, wandered the waterfront and back streets and, for lack of anything better to do, went to the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. While I liked the funky dinosaur statue outside the Museum, I'm afraid neither Andrew or I are connoisseurs of modern art. We both thought most of it was downright strange.   
At Parc Phoenix

Posing for the camera.
At the bottom of Castle Hill
View from Castle Hill
Nice harbour, from Castle Hill
There was a lot of artwork like this throughout the city.
Rooftops - view from Castle Hill
The quiet back streets.

Funky dinosaur statue in front of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
I'm a great proponent of supporting local businesses but I have to admit that I'm also a Starbucks fan and do love a good strong chai tea. Starbucks delivers! Spicy chai with half hot water and half steamed milk is my comfort food. I make it at home all the time. After almost a month in Corsica without, I'm happy to be back in Starbucks land and relax with my tea!