Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Trip Report - Austria/Poland and EURO 2012

Our trip to visit family, enjoy some down time from everyday stress and to see the Euro 2012 opening game in Warsaw was spirited, fun and delicious. The emphasis here must be on delicious because more often than not, we ended up eating our way through places we visited. Our travels today are as much about seeing great places and enjoying excellent company as they are about experiencing local specialties. From the cakes at traditional cafes, to drinking chocolate at Wedel, obwazanki, through the ice cream and gelato, and onto unbelievable baked goods (nowhere in the US do pastries or breads like that exist), not to mention delicious, hearty meals we brought back quite a lot; in excess body weight that is.
The trip entailed flying into Vienna and spending five days there. If you are in town and have done most of the usual tourist things, do check out the Zentral Friedhof (large cemetery in a park-like setting). Also, as always get your fill of traditional cafes. We visited a number of them including the Hotel Sacher one, Café Imperial, Oberlaa and Heiner. All were good but keep in mind that Café Imperial is more of an experience than a place to enjoy a wide selection of cakes. If you are on a tour to find out who has the tastiest Sacher Torte, don’t look further than Demel. We skipped Demel this time as we wanted to try Sacher but Demel clearly wins the longstanding Sacher Torte war. We also took in an interesting opera in the Museums Quarter, more eclectic  and interesting in the stage design, less enchanting however in the actual singing part. Since we had more time on our hands we saw an exibit at the Seccession Museum and the Vienna City Museum. The exhibits at the Seccession were different, both cool and comical. The downside of the city museum is that it mainly caters to German speakers so if you are not with a guide or do not have a German speaker who can translate in your party, you might as well skip it.

 In Poland we explored the Collegium Maius (original site of Jagiellonian Univeristy established in 1364). Aside from a courtyard which you can check out fee-free, there are tours that take you inside the library, professors’ congress room, lodgings and lecture rooms that served from the 14th through the 19th centuries.  Outside Krakow we went to Pieskowa Skala, a castle and fortress in the low hills. Both proved to be engaging. The English tour we got at the Collegium really provided a nice snapshot of what life was like at universities in times past. 

Visiting Poland during the beginning of the Euro Cup was not in the least unpleasant. The game we attended was exceptionally well organized, from the parking, to public transport etc. Many soccer fan tourists were visiting Poland and Ukraine but there was little to complain about in terms of everyday crowds. The take away from all of this, if you have only been to Austria so far, do venture more east. Poland has a really great place to explore, from its historical gems, to natural beauty, great food (stay away from touristy places and go with local recommendations) and a culture that loves guests.