Margareten Vienna

Exploring Vienna, Austria

Last year at the Fearless Conference in Europe, I met a number of wonderful people who I shared many meals and glasses of wine over while sharing travel stories, inspiration and laughter.  One of them, Christian Cardona, convinced me that I absolutely had to go to Colombia, because it was the “gem of South America.”  It is.  The others, Marie and Michael, convinced me that I had to come to Vienna, because it was charming and one of the most enjoyable cities in Europe.  I wasted no time adding both recommendations to my list and crossing them both off within a year.  When Fearless Photographers announced that their annual European conference was to be held in Budapest, it only made sense to tack on Vienna for a few extra days of exploration.  It’s an easy, comfortable, and inexpensive train ride from Budapest and the my friends and I would have some built in tour guides in Marie and Michael.

Vienna itself is a beautiful, albeit strange mix, of Gothic, Baroque, and Neo-Classical architecture.  Some of the buildings are grand, palatial and sweeping, while others are squeezed into smaller spaces and tight turning pedestrian only streets.  After World War II, Vienna spent a significant amount of money and funds restoring their buildings to their pre-war grandeur.  The result is something that feels drastically and dramatically different than the rest of Europe: a strange mix of new modern that feels like it has one foot in the past and one far in the future.

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STAY: We stayed in Margareten, otherwise known as the Fifth District, which offers typical Viennese architecture and a bohemian vibe.  We also considered Mariahilf, but after wandering for a brief moment down the busy tourist uninspiring high street of Mariahilfastrasse, I have to say that I was quite happy with our choice and would make the same one again.

EAT: 

  • It isn’t a trip to Vienna without consuming wiener schnitzel, a very thin, breaded and pan fried cutlet made from veal.  Known as one of the national dishes of Austria, it’s incredibly delicious.  After wandering around Vienna and viewing St. Stephen’s Cathedral, take a break in the famous rooms of Figlmüller, which has been helmed by the Figlmüller family for four generations now.  The schnitzel is crispy and surprising: although one is enough to share between two people, you can be assured that it will get devoured in no time!
  • The Vienna Naschmarkt is perfect for exploring, dining and drinking.  The bustling mile long market offers food stalls and small outdoor cafes to explore and while away the afternoon in.
  • Start one of your days off with a traditional brunch at Burg.Ring 1 before heading off to explore.  The interior is an eclectic mix of bric-a-brac and vintage furniture and you can elect to add quite the buffet spread of fruits, yogurts, vegetables, cheese and a gorgeous selection of Viennese pastries, treats, and breads to any weekend breakfast entree.
  • We spent hours over tapas and wine at Lola, a Spanish Tapas bar where you can get your menu in German, English or Spanish.  The staff also spoke all three languages.
  • The coffee house culture of Vienna is so integral to the city’s social fabric that it was declared an “Intangible Cultural Heritage” by UNESCO.  After wandering the city center, relax and enjoy live music, a “sweet treat” from their in house patisserie, coffee and conversation at the infamous Cafe Central.  The cafe claims to be Vienna’s most famous cafe, but can truthfully and honestly boast that it served the likes of Trotsky, Freud, and writers and poets on a daily basis.

DRINK:

  • Motto in Margareten was a hidden gem of jazz and darkness.  Don’t skip a visit to the bathrooms, which are uniquely and perhaps confusingly different than the restaurant and bar space themselves.  The cocktail and wine list is outstanding.
  • I totally goofed and didn’t plan ahead, but if I’d been on it, I would have booked us on the Vienna Wine Walk, a guided walking wine tour with a master sommelier who takes you on a tour that introduces you to both the wines of Austria and to some of their favorite neighborhood drinking holes.

EXPLORE

  • Take a walking tour of historic Vienna on the Ringstrasse: after having a traditional Viennese brunch at Burg.Ring 1, walk down to start your exploration in the Museum Quarter, where you’ll find the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) and the Imperial Treasury (Schatzkammer), both overlooking the Maria-Theresien-Platz.   Alternatively, hop on the RingTram, which departs on a lap of the Ringstrasse every 30 minutes from the Schwedenplatz.  The interior of the historic city center, surrounded by the Ringstrasse,
  • Go to the opera!  Vienna was Mozart’s hometown and the opera is an important part of their culture.  While some performances sell out in advance (we secured tickets to Faust ahead of time), you can also sometimes purchase tickets from the Mozart-costumed representatives on the street outside Vienna’s famous and ornate State Opera House.
  • Take the metro and head a bit outside the city center to explore the Schönbrunn Palace and the accompanying gardens and grounds.  The Palace, originally commissioned to be a hunting lodge, eventually grew into a palatial imperial residence over the course of the eighteenth century.
  • Seek out street art: Vienna has a thriving street art culture, though discovering it isn’t quite as easy as in Paris or Bogota.  Start on the Donaukanal, a former arm of the river Danube, but now a regulated water channel through the city.  The walls and banks of the Donaukanal are filled with all types of graffiti and art on one massive long urban ever changing canvas.  Wandering the streets though the Mariahilf neighborhood to the Naschmarkt will offer produce some excellent art if you know where to look.  I missed the permanent Invader installation in the Museum Quarter, but you won’t thanks to this guy’s handy dandy map.
Alfama Buildings

Three Days in Lisbon

It wouldn’t be a trip to Portugal without a stop in this large, sophisticated city with pockets of old world European charm. Spend three days in Lisbon and you’ll have plenty of time to discover all the pockets of wonderful things this area has to offer.

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Lisbon, while charming and mysterious, wasn’t quite as thrilling for me after spending so many days in Porto. It’s a much larger city and it feels that way.  That being said, it’s a worthwhile stop for two to three days while you are exploring the country.  Although I won’t return for a second visit, I am overwhelmingly happy that I visited and it wouldn’t be a trip to Portugal without a visit to Lisbon.

STAY: You want to stay in the Alfama district: it’s tight magical winding streets are even smaller than those that have a similar feel in Porto.  There are tiny restaurants and cafes tucked into every corner with traditional food and Fado music, the melancholy but traditional music of the country.  There are charming and vintage private rooms to be had on Airbnb in the area for $20-40 a night in the area and entire flats for $35-$70.

EAT:  I had a harder time finding cuisine that I was over the moon for in Lisbon, simply due to the grander larger nature of the city.  Small intimate recommendations were harder to come by here: Lisbons’ seem to pride themselves on being a cosmopolitan city and most of the places that were suggested were fancier and more American than we were looking for.  That being said, I had some solid meals in the city, the most memorable of which came on my last night in a small restaraunt with three tables run by one older woman who spoke no english.  She fed me the traditional dish of Portugal: salted cod with shredded fried potatoes and it was clearly the nation’s comfort food.

  • Queijaria for afternoon snacks or lunch: this place was quaint, unassuming and filled with amazing cheese.  It’s a great place to stop and refill mid day while you are out exploring – you can quench your thirst with a glass of wine and eat cheese and antipasto to your heart’s content.
  • Garrafeira Alfaia is dark, unassuming and comfortable.  Dine on traditional black pudding rice with cumin, sausage with scrambled eggs or the secret black pork Lagareiro.  If you aren’t that hungry, order more wine and cheese.  I may have consisted on pure wine and cheese this entire trip.
  • Frangasqueira Nacional for lunch.  This small grilled meat shop offers nowhere to sit, but quite possibly the best blood sausage and roasted chicken in the city.  Order up a mixed meat platter and head down the road to the Principe Real Garden to enjoy it.  After that, head down the road to the Botanical Garden to walk off your massive food coma.

DRINK:

  • Solar do Vinho do Porto is a warm cozy place to curl up on the couch with a book on an overcast day.  It’s dark and wonderful in there and the selection of ports will astound you.
  • Listen to Fado at anywhere that draws you in at night in Alfama.  You can wander the streets until you hear something that intrigues you or make dinner reservations

EXPLORE:

  • Get lost in the streets of Almalfa.   The view is particularly gorgeous from Miradouro de Santa Luzia.  Wander all the way up to the mediaeval Castle of São Jorge, the royal residence until the early 16th century.
  • The Museu Colecção Berardo has an impressive collection of modern art and no entrance fee.  It had more Warhols than I’ve ever seen in one collection!
  • Still not museumed out?  Head up to the Museu da Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian which has an incredibly impressive collection of ancient world, religious and Impressionist and European art.
Porto Portugal

A Week in Portugal: Porto Travel Guide

This past March I took advantage of a great excuse to explore Europe: Fearless Photographers offers a yearly photography conference in different European cities and this year’s conference was in Porto, Portugal.  I was excited to attend what turned out to be an incredibly inspiring and enriching experience.  I met some incredibly loving and adventurous people who I look forward to a future adventures with, drank on the streets until 4 AM with them one night, wandered the iconic city for hours on end every day taking photos of vibrantly colored buildings and it’s beautiful traditional azulejo, the ceramic blue tiles that adorn many of it’s historical buildings, discovered a love of expensive port and ate like a king.  Porto’s people are unvaryingly calm and collected: they have soothing voices with evenly paced pronunciation that makes you feel incredibly tranquil in their presence.

Here’s a few of my favorite images from my trip, interspersed with images taken of my friend and kick ass travel companion Shaunte, of Shaunte Dittmar Photography, and myself by Momento Cativo for Flytographer.

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Porto won me over in every way from head to toe.  It is everything I want in a vacation destination: unbelievably charming, affordable, and engaging.  I could easily spend weeks in this city and never tire of wandering it’s streets.  Here’s a mini Porto travel guide of navigating this beautiful city.

STAY: You want to stay in the Ribeira district: it’s charming historical winding streets and churches around every corner give it the old world European feel.  There are tiny amazing restaurants tucked into every corner with incredible food.  The riverside offers unbeatable vantage points of Porto, especially if you cross over the bridge into Gaia for an evening.  There are beautiful studio apartments that you get all to yourself on Airbnb for $40-70 a night in the area.  We really enjoyed our stay at Hugo’s TocToc Studio.  It was a perfect and incredibly convenient location to explore from.

EAT:  The most memorable places we discovered in Porto were tiny and intimate.  Most had five tables or less.  Most had three people working, or less.  Restaurants in Porto open late (expect to eat after 8 PM every night) and reservations are usually needed.  We were there during Easter week, which is a big holiday for most of Europe, and in some cases it was hard to get reservations for places.  At dinner most nights, we started just asking them to bring us whatever they wanted to serve us or whatever they thought they did best, and the results were always inspiring.  Of all the places I’ve traveled, Porto will remain in my heart as one of the greatest culinary experiences I’ve ever had.

  • A Sandeira for lunch: score a bowl of homemade soup and a sandwich for 5 euros.  Like most wonderful Porto restaurants, this place is incredibly intimate and has very few tables so go early if you don’t want to hang outside waiting for a spot to open up.  It’s worth the wait!
  • Our meal at La Piada was one of the most memorable of our trip.  The staff is incredibly gracious.  The restaurant itself is wide open, with tall ceilings, a tree in the middle of one of the tables and local art on the walls.  The couple who owns the restaurant is Italian and Portuguese and they offer piadinas: a small italian flatbread filled with Portuguese staples.
  • One of my other favorite meals was at Porta4.  There were three tables in the entire restaurant and two brothers taking turns cooking and serving us.
  • Amarelo Torrada for breakfast: if you are dying for something bigger than an espresso, this gal never minded serving me up a large americano.  I was craving eggs and actual breakfast for most of my trip, but these guys had some wonderful breakfast like toasted bread combos like cream cheese and lox that were a good stand in.

DRINK:

  • I found Livraria da Baixa on my first day and I returned every day thereafter.  The staff is warm, welcoming, and remembered me and my drink.  They mix a great cocktail and if it’s a nice day, you can sit out on the patio and people watch.  If it’s a rainy day, you can while away the evening in the incredibly cozy upstairs lounge.  Just push the bell on the bookshelf when you are ready to order another round!
  • Graham’s is one of the oldest and most renown of the Port makers in the area.  Tour their famous lodge overlooking Gaia and Porto and then partake in a tasting in the tasting room.  Be forewarned: the vintage tawny tasting is worth the expense but may ruin you in regards to port forever.  I have come to the new self realization that it is not that I don’t like port – it’s that I don’t like cheap port.

EXPLORE:

  • Take a boat trip on the Duoro River.  This is one of the few things that I wasn’t able to do and wish I had.  You can view the architecture of Porto from a new vantage point, or take a boat all the way up the river into the wine growing region and go wine tasting.
  • Go on a church tour: Igreja dos Carmelitas has an incredibly picturesque traditional tile wall on the outside.  Clerigos Church offers a 75 meter tall tower that offers unprecedented views of the city from the top of it.  Expect a wait to climb the 240 stairs if you are there at a busy time.  The Church of Sao Francisco is filled with gilded Baroque decor.
  • Get your tourist on: Lello & Irmão Bookstore is apparently the third most famous library in the world, most likely because it supposedly inspired many aspects of Harry Potter for JK Rowling.  The architecture inside is supposedly incredibly stunning.  I didn’t have the patience to stand in line for four hours to go inside, so I’ll have to go back.  If you really want to see the inside, you might go first thing in the morning before it opens to avoid the crowds, or right at closing.  Cafe Majestic opened in 1921 and used to be the meeting point for the area’s elite and creatives.  I was told it’s incredibly beautiful but has “tourist pricing.”  JK Rowling also apparently spent many a day in this cafe on the first book in the series.
  • Hire your own personal photographer: Flytographer’s photographers for Porto are Ivo and Vanessa.  This dynamic duo of a photographic team are married and totally in love with their home.  They were incredibly fun to wander the city with for an afternoon, exploring the tight winding streets for the best kind of souvenir: photos of ourselves playing in a city we came to love.
  • Visit the Oporto Craft Market: it’s filled with small stalls of homemade art, foodstuffs, and other creations by local artisans.

Flytographer in Porto Portugal

Help me win a trip to Berlin

Ugh.

Remember when I wrote about how I was trying to win a trip to Berlin? It’s one of those annoying who-isn’t-afraid-to-bother-their-facebook-friends-more-than-the-other-person-contests.

I refuse to harass my friends that much. I’m cool with harassing them a bit, but getting on facebook once a day and asking your friends to repeatedly vote so that you can win a goddamn trip to Europe when there are still people without power in our own country is a bit pretentious.

So, the low down is, you can go here and vote up to once a day between now and December 16th. Every time you vote, you also get entered to win a trip to Berlin.

Also, they moved all my wording around. It looks not anything like that gorgeous post I wrote on what I would really do if I went to Berlin. Also, there’s no chance in hell I’d stay in that monstrosity of a hotel – I would stay in this amazing flat.

Make it Happen: Berlin

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Expedia.com is giving away a trip to Berlin for one lucky blogger. I decided to enter the competition, which had some tight restrictions. I wrote this beautiful long informative post on all the things I would dream of doing with a week in Berlin, only to discover it was about 1,000 words too long. My imaginary trip to Berlin takes far more than 200 words to describe.

Make It Happen: BERLIN (the long version)

I fell in love with Europe after visiting Munich in 2011 and now I have a strong desire to not only explore more of Europe, but Germany in particular. With only two days there, I clearly wasn’t able to give the country the time it’s history and culture deserves! Berlin in particular has much to offer for the traveler due to it’s diverse art scene, complex history and 153 different museums!  Here’s what I would do with a few days in the capital city.

STAY

  • Reserve a room in the Swissotel Berlin where your luxury room comes stocked with an espresso maker to get you up and out the door in the morning and you can rent bikes on site.
swissotel berlin

The Swissotel Berlin, photo via Expedia.co.uk

EAT

  • Taste the locavore menu of Ibero-Pacific cuisine at Pantry.
  • Housed in what seems to be an old church, Katz Orange offers changing seasonal menus and inventive twists on classic cocktails like their “Mexican Garden,” a sweet and spicy take on a margarita.
  • At Frarosa drink wine, choose from two set menus and pay a suggested donation price (or what you think the meal was worth!).

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NIGHTLIFE

  • Head to Clarchens Ballhaus where they offer nightly lessons in tango, salsa or swing and then spend the rest of the night getting showed up on the dance floor by grandmas.
  • Berlin is world renown for it’s nightlife and I wouldn’t be able to go without spending at least one night out listening to some EDM.  Panorama Bar is your best bet for international talent: it was named the “Best Club in the World” in 2011.
  • Farbfernseher is Berlin’s smallest house venue. What it lacks for in size, however, it makes up for in spirit.
  • Cookies: the club for those of you who want to party on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Only.

VISIT

  • Start your first day off with the Discover Berlin Walking Tour which will take you around to the major historical sites.  If you have the time, delve deeper with the Third Reich Walking Tour and see what is left of the “1000 year Reich.”  Later on, return on your own to the Berlin Wall via the Nordbahnhof Station, which houses a museum that details the ancient history of the underground transportation system and the stories of those who used it to escape.  Walk the 1.3km-long section of the wall known as the Eastside Gallery.

Original Berlin Walks Logo

  • The Brandenburg Gate, a neoclassical triumph arch, is the capital city’s most iconic landmark as it is the only remaining gate that used to be the only way to enter the city.
  • Berlin might be best known for it’s vibrant street art and graffiti scene.   The city, which once fought the wall murals, has opened it’s arms to street artists.  Well known murals are found in Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, but it’s hard to find a street without art in the city.  Learn about the artists and their tags at the online magazine Berlin Graffiti.
  • Explore 800 years of history at the interactive museum The Story of Berlin.  Exhibits include a still functioning nuclear bomb shelter.
  • The DDR Musuem lets guests explore what life was like under the socialist regime in East Berlin.
  • The Pergamom Museum is the most visited museum in Germany and holds the Pergamon Altar, so large it takes up an entire room and was originally constructed as an alter to Zeus.

 OFF THE BEATEN PATH

  • On Sunday afternoons, join the masses and check out Bearpit Karaoke at the amphitheater in Mauerpark!