Christmas Market Hopping in Vienna

Hello. It’s been a while, due in part to laziness. I promised a post on Christmas market hopping in Vienna, so we’re going to go back to Vienna.

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Vienna is one of the big Christmas cities and it’s hard not to see why. Christmas is everywhere. There are markets throughout the city, each with their own personality and style. Somehow in my short stay, I managed to get to seven of them. To be fair, quite a few of them are very close to each other and I accidentally stumbled upon a number of the other ones.

The hotel I was staying at for the weekend gave out one pager guides to the Vienna Christmas markets with a list of the major markets with hashtags (I know) to give a feel of what each of the markets were like. They were marked on the other side of the paper to give us a sense of where to find the markets. It was a surprisingly good guide to the Viennese Christmas celebrations and ended up being a valuable resoruce for the weekend.

The first of the markets was the Christmas market at Stephanplatz, right outside of the cathedral. It actually wasn’t on the list of the ones I wanted to see based on the aforementioned guide, but I ended up there because my walking tour ended near the cathedral. It was lunch time, so there were crowds around the few food stands at the market. I did a walk around it, but didn’t spend too much time there.

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The next stop was the market at Michaelerplatz. This was another one that I didn’t intentionally set out to visit, but just happened upon. This market is a relatively small one right outside of the palace. There are some small shops and a few food stands, but still pretty small. It wasn’t too crowded, though, and I ended up grabbing mulled wine to wait for my tour at the Spanish Riding School to start.

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The main market is the one outside of town hall. I actually was going to intentionally skip this one all together as multiple people had said that it was over-crowded and touristy. I wanted to see town hall, though, and it was near some of the markets that I did want to see, so I went anyway. This market is quite the experience and while it was probably the most crowded of the markets I visited this year, it was quite a sight to see. I don’t have a picture of it, but the skating course was especially cool.

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The stalls sold your typical Christmas market goods, but there were so many of them. The crowds were overwhelming in the main parts of the market, but there were less crowded off-shoots, where you could actually take a break from the craziness of the rest of the market and catch your breath. Or, in my case, you can take photos of cool things and get some absolutely delicious mulled mead.

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By this time, I had also made the decision that going to Budapest again without Chris would somehow be depressing and nixed the Budapest market plans. This meant that I could finally get the langos that I had been holding out for. In my case, I had a langos hot dog. It was delicious.

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The next stop on the itinerary was nearby at Maria-Theresien Platz. While it was still bustling, this one was not quite as crowded as the one I had just come from. I didn’t get and food or drink there having just had both at the previous one, but I did end up making some purchases at some of the stalls. This one was actually one of my favorites of the ones I visited, having a good variety of food, drinks, and shopping but not overwhelming like the one in front of town hall.

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Christmas @MQ (Museum Quarter) was another market that I happened upon on my way from Maria-Theresien Platz to Spittelberg. I only walked through this one to get from point A to B, but it was a very interesting change of scene from the traditional market at Maria-Theresien Platz to the very hip and modern scene at MQ.

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The market at Spittelberg was on my list as it was described as a #hiddengem and my tour guide had recommended it earlier in the day. It was a pain to find. I guess, let me rephrase that. The map was pretty clear about where it was, but I could not find it for the life of me after circling around that neighborhood for far too long. I eventually found it and was happy I didn’t give up. I was sad that I was pretty full by then, because the food selection was great. There were arepas, frites, burgers and some fried thing that I couldn’t identify but still looked kind of good. Instead, I grabbed a schaumbecher and walked through the market, where there were also a number of craft booths and boutiques. Had I not gone to the brewery for lunch that Sunday, I probably would have gone back to this market for lunch.

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Finally, I ended the Christmas tour of Vienna at the Advent market of Karlsplatz, which was both very children friendly (there were animals!) and what I would imagine an Etsy-sponsored market would look like. I was worried about time before my flight, so I didn’t stick around too long, but did browse the many many crafts, some of which were way too big for me to even consider bringing back to Switzerland with me.

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So, there we have it. Two days and seven of Vienna’s markets. The crazy thing is that there are a quite a few additional ones that I was unable to get to. I’ll survive, though. I think I got my fill of Christmas that weekend.

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Amsterdam Revisited

I am writing to you from my hotel room in Vienna. I am up earlier than expected because I had one of those classic travel moments where you wake up in a hotel room and don’t remember where you are (#relatable). It’s also snowing outside so I may have once again not packed appropriately for the weather. Anyway, while this could have typically been a good excuse for an early start, I’m not inclined to go out in the snow quite yet.

But, we’re back to Amsterdam. It was a quick weekend trip planned because the troop was leaving from Amsterdam that Sunday.

In typical Garbagnati fashion, our day in Amsterdam involved a pretty decent amount of eating and some level of retracing steps from Chris and my trip there the month before.

We stayed at an airport hotel because of their early morning Sunday departure, which meant that getting to town took a while.

We learned that a replica IAMSTERDAM sign exists at the Schipol Airport and decided that we’d rather just go to the practically empty one than fight people to take photos at the one in the city. Okay, so that was some laziness involved too. James also took this as a good opportunity to get a waffle.

Chris didn’t eat until late morning, though, which meant that we had to contend with my hangry husband as we wound the canals of Amsterdam.

Our first actual stop was back to the frites stand we went to last time. With a larger group, we were able to sample more of their sauce options but the classic may have still been my favorite. The bar across the street lets people eat the frites inside if you buy a drink, something we took advantage of given how cold it was in Amsterdam.

We backtracked a little after that to go through the university to get Mia to a yarn shop on some boutiquey street. Can’t remember the name, but I lasted a full three minutes in the shop before going to a nearby print shop.

It was a lot of walking after that as we made our way through more canals towards the Albert Cuyp Market. Along the way, we had a failed stop at a bar for bathrooms, a stop to sample (and buy) some Dutch cheeses, and a short stop by Rembrandt Square so Mia could continue her dog tour of Europe.

We finally made it to the market, which Umma immediately dubbed Dutch Namdaemun and we made our way in. Now, this market was a very controlled experience when it was just Chris and me. With the five of us and everyone’s shiny things complex, the trip was absolute chaos and we spent a lot of time in the markets (no complaints here). Chris and James immediately left in search of a restroom and we somehow lost Mia.

My shiny things moment where I lost everyone came in the form of kibbelings. This could come from years of episodes of Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern’s various shows or my idol worship of Rick Steves, but if I see locals lined up for street food, I’m very often inclined to join. This hasn’t failed yet, even that time I forced everyone to line up at a small stand for small cups of alcohol in Lisbon several years back (we ended up trying ginjinha, which is amazing). Anyway, this time I saw people lined up for an assortment of fried fish. Since I knew I wasn’t going to get anyone to do the herring with me, I went for fried fish. It was delicious. Had a bit of a different flavor than the many fish and chips we had in Edinburgh. I would highly recommend it.

There was a lot more shopping in the market. James decided to buy the bulkiest Christmas sweater he could find because everyone was already stressed about space in their bags. I’m surprised they were able to pack it, honestly. Umma found jewelry and Mia and I found the largest stroopwaffel.

We were cold and exhausted by the time we made it to the other side of the market. Chris also promised Umma some famous hot dog restaurant, but we somehow ended up at a Wok to Wok to get out of the cold and sit down for a while. Also, noodles.

Chris wasn’t feeling well at that point, so we decided we should probably start making our way back to the hotel. This, of course, meant we wouldn’t make it back to the train station for a couple of hours because there was more shopping to be had. This included the flower market because Chris wanted to make some purchases there he didn’t make the previous trip and Uniqlo.

We eventually made it to the train station and thought we barely made the train that would take us back to the airport. Unfortunately, we ended up with a ten or twenty minute delay, which then led us to also miss the hotel shuttle for the hour.

With an hour to spare, we found a cafe to sit at and order drinks. We also took the opportunity to try bitterballs, something that made us almost miss the shuttle again.

We made it back to the hotel and watched them somehow manage to pack all of the day’s aquisitions, including James’s stupid sweater. After all of that, we were still somehow hungry. There was an event space next door to our hotel. There was a churrascaria restaurant that we were not hungry enough for and an Italian restaurant we looked too grungy for. This left us with an American themed bowling alley or McDonalds. So, my last dinner with the family and before they went back to the US was at a bowling alley.

Everyone left early the next morning (ūüėĘ). I initially thought my flight on Sunday was much later and had a whole day trip to the Hague planned before finding out I also left relatively early. It worked out perfectly, though, because I found out on Thursday that one of my mentors, former colleague and dear friend Alison was in Amsterdam and I got to spend my Sunday morning in an international A-Team reunion. We caught up as much as we could over breakfast and a cab ride to the airport. It was a very pleasant addition to the trip and what I thought was going to be an otherwise sad Sunday.

The trip to Amsterdam flew by and was once again full of food. Despite the fact that everyone abandoned me, it was a fun trip.

Heart of a Lyon – Day One

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Hello. I’m taking a break from the messe food for a post on Lyon. Lyon is the culinary capital of France and its food scene includes markets, foods with organ meats, Michelin starred restaurants, and traditional bouchons. It’s for this reason, that I was incredibly excited about the weekend trip. Of course, there were so many options and not enough time.

I spent quite some time trying to figure out how to split up the post about Lyon. I started trying to do it as one post and it didn’t work out as well as I thought it would. I considered doing a food versus sightseeing breakdown like I did for Amsterdam, but it didn’t quite work. So, we’re just going to take it one day at a time.

After an early morning train ride, I rolled into Lyon at 11 and was immediately overwhelmed by the fact that the city was significantly larger than I expected. Never mind that everything I read about the city told me that it was the third largest city in France. I was expecting a tiny and cute French town. It didn’t help that I had a 12 pm reservation for a restaurant called Bijouterie (which means jewelry in French). I started going towards the first thing I saw on Google Maps with that name until I realized that I was just going to a random jewelry store. This happened moments before I boarded a the metro going in the absolute opposite direction, making it very convenient that I bought the 48 hour public transportation pass and hadn’t just wasted a ticket.

All of those hi-jinks, as well as a brief interlude where I thought I might have a moment to drop off my bags at the hotel and get to the restaurant before noon, managed to take up a half hour. This meant that my immediate reaction was to panic and just take a taxi over to the restaurant. Of course, this got me there with an awkward 15 minutes before the restaurant opened. It worked okay because it gave me a chance to explore the neighborhood and get my first sight of the Saone River. I even caught one of Lyon’s more famous frescoes.

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Bijouterie doesn’t do French food per se, but a lot of people seemed to rave about this restaurant and I was able to get a lunch reservation, so I decided to go for it. For lunch, they do a prix fixe menu of pan-Asian dim sum. You choose three “jewels” for the set lunch price and can add dessert for not much more.

The dishes come out in a very quick procession and are started with a soup (that I drank like I would miso soup and not with my spoon like everyone else because I’m absolutely not civilized). I chose the siu mai, the fish, and the chicken wings and got the spicy variation of the rice. They were all delicious, but I think I’d have to say that the chicken wings were my favorite. The dessert was a fascinating combination of chestnut flavors with some ice cream. So good. Despite all the small plates, I was quite full after the meal.

Lunch was followed by a trip to the the town square, where I saw town hall and a pretty cool Bartholdi statue that where the horses look like they have smoke coming out of their noses (I learned during my tour the next day that the statue was actually intended for a different city).

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This was followed up with the Nike store and some post-lunch downtime at the hotel. I considered walking around the big park, especially since it was across the street from the hotel, but as mentioned previously, was trying to spare the pre-race mileage so as not to injure myself. A lot of good that did.

I had just enough time pre-race for a trip out to the Halles des Lyon – Paul Bocuse (named for the famous chef who would shop at the market). Have I mentioned that I have a weakness for markets? There was food everywhere and it looked delicious. I didn’t try much so as to not get sick during the aforementioned race, but did grab some food to bring back to Basel with me and had my first taste of Lyon’s signature pink pralines. I bought a couple of bags of pralines to bring home with me, but also tried one of the tarts, which was incredible.

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I wrote enough about the failed race, so we’ll pick up from where that ended. After taking the funicular back down to Vieux Lyon, I finally did get to get my taste of the old part of Lyon. It was pretty deep into the evening, so the next challenge would be trying to find dinner.

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I tried and failed to use the “there’s only one of me” excuse to sneak into some of the more famous Bouchons of Vieux Lyon, so then played a very interesting game of trying to find one to eat at. I tried to use a very scientific process of balancing the window stickers with how touristy the menu looked. I probably could have used Yelp or TripAdvisor like a normal millennial, but that’s no fun.

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I did eventually find one that I was drawn to because of the very eclectic interior. It’s very possible that they didn’t actually have for me because they seated me at this tiny table that looked like an old fashioned desk and was piled with stuff. The meal took a while, but it was all delicious. I never knew you could have foie gras in salad, but now I do. We also topped off the dinner with a pastry with more of Lyon’s pralines.

After dinner, I walked around Vieux Lyon a little more. However, between the early train, attempted race, and the heavy food, I was starting to get tired. I made a sad attempt at trying to at least see some of Lyon’s traboules from along the river before understanding that they are actually just passageways. Oh well.

I walked along the Saone until I hit the court of appeals, where I crossed a bridge over the Saone. I made it to the Place des Jacobins before trying to find the bus back to the hotel.

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Honestly, there was a lot about the day that was a hot mess, but it ended up being a fun hot mess at the end of the day.

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Exploring Amsterdam

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We had quite an epic food and soccer centric weekend in Amsterdam. When we weren’t eating or watching soccer, we were taking pictures of canals. I have SO MANY pictures of canals. It was quite of amazing. In a strange way, it was also the most Bay Area-esque time I’ve had since I left the Bay. It could be the hyper-millennial brunch of avocados, the craft brewery, boba (!!), or even barcade that made me feel like I was experiencing a bit of home. Also important-esque of note. I’m separating out all of the food stuff we did. That’s worth a post of its own.

We got into Amsterdam late Friday night/early Saturday morning. Our flight was delayed, so we ended up leaving Basel around the time we were supposed to land. Fortunately, it’s incredibly easy to get from the Amsterdam Schipol Airport to the city center, even when you do arrive at 12:30 am. We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel, which was about a 10 minute walk from the train station.

We started our Saturday with brunch, which was across town. While we didn’t get out of the hotel too early, I noticed on this trip that the city center does not wake up that early. Even at 9(ish), the streets were pretty empty. It made for a peaceful morning.

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After our brunch, we went to Albert Cuyp Market because 1) I love markets and 2) there was clearly more food that we had to eat immediately after we ate brunch. There was a little more to the market than just food. There were flowers, clothes, furniture, electronics, etc. While I could have gotten more if I tried (I was drawn to the purse stand), we only really bought Netherlands soccer scarves to add to our ever-growing collection.

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We walked back to our hotel shortly after that for a short break before our walking tour of Amsterdam. We did our tour with FreeDam Tours, who I would highly recommend should you need a good tour of Amsterdam. The tour we went on focused less on the sightseeing and more on the history and culture of the city. This meant we spent a lot of the time in the city center understanding the historical background of the Red Light District and Amsterdam’s permissiveness (not legalization, which I always forget) of marijuana. We also saw some pretty things, though.

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The rest of our Saturday involved dinner in Chinatown,  a post dinner/tour break at the hotel, and the soccer game.

We had a later start on Sunday, leaving after packing up our stuff and enjoying the hotel breakfast buffet. We had a pretty busy itinerary planned for our morning and early afternoon. We started with a walk out through the scenic Jordaan neighborhood to the Anne Frank House. We didn’t have the time to stay in the line to get into the house, but we did see the nearby statue of Anne Frank and the Homomonument (memorializing the LGBT people killed during the Holocaust).

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From there, we did a tour through the Flower Market, where Chris briefly considered buying tulip bulbs to bring home with him.

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We had about 30 minutes before the frites stand we wanted to go to opened, so we went to Rembrandt Square. Our tour guide had mentioned it the day before. What made me want to see it the most was the fact that it’s full of a statues representing his paintings and that people take goofy selfies with them. Probably not the intention of the people who designed a lovely tribute to the artist, but I was sold. For some reason, it got crowded there immediately after we arrived, so we had to do some creative angles to take our pictures.

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Chris had to drag me away from Rembrandt’s Square, but it was fine because we followed it up with the best fries I’ve had in a while.

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Another thing that our tour guide told us about was that there is a barcade in a former Red Light District spot. It was a small footnote of a larger story about how the city has been trying to clean up human trafficking, but he mentioned a barcade and we were all over it. We got ourselves Heinekens (because when in Amsterdam…) and spent the next hour and a half playing arcade games. There was a lot of pinball in particular, but we did end with a throwback to our days playing Bubble Bobble against each other at the Student Center in UCI.

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We ended our tour of Amsterdam with a long walk out of the city center to the¬†Brouwerij’t IJ. It’s a brewery next to the big windmill in the city. In what may have been a throwback to our previous weekend, we had some sausage and beer at the brewery.

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We had to rush back from the brewery because we hit it very close to the time we had for late checkout, but we did make it and had a pretty smooth trip to the airport.

When we went to Amsterdam ten years ago on our backpacking tour, I didn’t really appreciate the city that much. The beautiful canals played second fiddle to the weird feeling that the city seemed a lot more “bro-friendly” than we expected. I guess the fact that we spent the first few hours of our stay waiting in line at the train station for them to figure out how to fix the Eurail pass that Gianni accidentally washed with his pants didn’t help. It could have also been our creepy store friend. Whatever it was, we didn’t appreciate Amsterdam at the time. It truly is a beautiful and fun city.

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