Hello! I am back on the blog, I know it’s been a while since I last posted. Things have been quite hectic the past few months with some big changes. I have moved back to Denver and left my job in investment banking in Salt Lake City to pursue new opportunities this city has to offer! Before starting a new job, I wanted to make the most of summertime by exploring more of Europe. I would describe this trip as one of city exploration – cities with changing landscapes.
The trip started off in Salzburg, Austria where the hills are literally alive with the sound of music. Acapella groups, opera singers, and string quartets echo from almost every corner of this quaint city. Mozart chamber concerts at the top of a fortress, winding cobblestone paths, crisp beers overlooking Austrian sunsets, summer florals, mountain backdrops, and walking every square inch of the city.
Gosau // Hallstatt
From Salzburg, my boyfriend and I headed to Gosau, a mountain resort village in the Austrian Alps. Through Airbnb, we booked a traditional Austrian farmhouse with white and brown wooden structures, overlaid with vibrant flowers. We easily visited nearby towns by bus, which gave us plenty to explore in the area. The intent of staying in Gosau was to be close to Hallstatt, Austria’s oldest village known for its historic charm, lakeside views, and salt mining, while also being able to have a remote and idyllic experience in the spacious land that Gosau offers. Gosau is truly a living fairytale.
From Dachstein, you can purchase a ticket for two scenic lifts that include an ice cave tour (first scenic lift) and access to the Five Finger Lookout (second scenic lift). The ice cave tours are extremely cold (definitely wear a coat and long pants!) and feature ice formations that date almost 600 years old. The Five Finger Lookout gives you incredible views of glaciers and endless mountains and lakes.
We made a day trip to Lake Gosausee not really knowing what to expect, yet we ended up arriving to the most stunning, close-up look of the Dachstein mountains. We spent the day taking a stroll around the lake, cliff jumping, and sun bathing on a small beach front. A relaxing day with jaw dropping views.
Hallstatt epitomizes traditional Austria with with its wooden houses stacked at varying angles, colorful flowers dressing the streets and windows, and lakes and mountains visible from its entire parameter. Hot chocolate rum, apple strudels, sausages and hot dogs, and beef goulash make up some of the Austrian delicacies common in these mountainous towns.
Vienna – a vibrant, detailed, and bright city. Beautiful, white sculptures are commonly sighted at all corners. So much art and so much history. While exploring downtown Vienna, my boyfriend and I started with a tour of the Schonbrunn Palace and garden. The garden is abundant in flowers during the summertime with a paved horse carriage path that leads to a large fountain and the summer palace. After palace romping, we visited Vienna’s largest food market, Naschmarkt, to only end up continuing our gyro diet. Gyros, after all, are cheap and tasty. Anyways, I digress. After eating gyros, of course it was only fitting to go to the Prater (Austria’s largest amusement park) to ride the Black Mamba – a 360 degree rotating ride that gives you an incredible view of Vienna. At the Prater, you pay by each ride, which lets you be in control of how much you want to do. For us, one ride was plenty before feeling sick.
Next stop: Stephansplatz, renowned as Vienna’s busiest square and shopping area. Here you can see St. Stephen’s Gothic Church and eat cake like a royal at Demel’s (a bakery known for its history of cake baking for royal families). Almost all large sites in Vienna are easily accessible by metro. Just a few stops away, we went to the Leopold Art Museum, which featured exquisite artwork by Klimt and Schiele, as well as your abstract, and well, let’s just say, very interesting modern art displays.
Just a one hour train ride from Vienna exists a completely different landscape. One day is more than plenty to explore, as there are not many sites to see. It is more about feeling the change in atmosphere, language, and customs in such a short distance. Bratislava definitely exudes Eastern European vibes in contrast to Vienna’s Western flare. This short day trip was meant for exploring a new place by foot, not knowing what to expect, and simply experiencing a new region.
Berlin definitely exceeded my expectations for its incredible art scene, depth of history, and sheer variety of sites to explore. Not to mention, it’s one of the most affordable cities to travel in Western Europe. My cousin and I spent a total of five days here, while four days would probably have been more fitting. What surprised me the most was the cultural diversity of Berlin. With several Syrian and Turkish refugees coming in to Germany, as well as immigrants from all over the world, you can feel its eclectic culture in its food, residential neighborhoods, art, and general ambience. In fact, Berlin is known for its currywurst (a hot dog dusted in curry powder with ketchup or mustard) and doner kebabs. They are literally everywhere.
The Holocaust Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe was probably my favorite visit while in Berlin. The exhibit was uniquely and creatively constructed with a sea of uneven, concrete blocks that grow taller as you walk deeper within the maze. As you walk throughout, the floors ebb up and down, a metaphor for a time of instability, disillusionment, and confusion. Besides the exhibit’s incredible maze of blocks, the memorial also features several, detailed stories of Jewish families from all over Europe during the Holocaust. These stories delve deep into individuals’ journal entries, personal letters, and day-to-day lives that truly allow you to feel the heaviness and sadness of this time.
Dusseldorf // Cologne
While in the area, I made a weekend visit to Dusseldorf to reunite with my other cousin who is currently studying medicine here. She and her friends kindly showed me the best of Dusseldorf and Cologne, despite how ‘boring’ or ‘ugly’ they claim it to be. Overall, it was a great weekend spent reminiscing with cousins and making new friends and memories.
We all made a day trip to Cologne, only a short thirty minute train ride away, known for its great shopping, cafes, and colorful houses such as these.
Amsterdam is a quirky city of charming, narrow houses, pretty tulips, canals and boats, more bikes than people, cannabis readily abundant in all forms, and a controversial red light district where prostitution is legal, attracting large groups of tourists every day. Spent about two days here exploring the flower market, taking a boat ride through the canals, trying different cafes, and visiting the Vincent Van Gogh art museum, which features the artist’s incredible collection across his entire career in different periods.
I made a visit to the red light district during the evening and all I could wonder was, does the legalization of prostitution actually just encourage it further? Is it a good or bad thing? Large groups of mainly male tourists walk the streets, and it saddened me that the vulgarity of the shows were being praised, paid for, and receiving so much attention. Prostitutes stand in the windows glowing with red light in lingerie, while casually looking at their phones, waiting for their next customer. They are human, people, individuals, and yet on display as objects at public disposal.
So grateful and glad I made a visit to Portugal during this trip. Lisbon is absolutely beautiful with colorful buildings lined with ceramic tiles of all kinds of patterns. Smooth cobblestones pave the sidewalks of endless hills throughout the city. The coast is just a short walk away from the city center where you can see a red bridge – similar to the Golden Gate Bridge – and a large statue of Jesus Christ – similar to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Sao Paulo. Lisbon feels reminiscent of San Francisco with its bridge, hills, and trams, Brazil with its Christ statue, and Spain for its history, monuments, and food.
Porto itself is smaller than Lisbon, and for that reason, I may just like it a tad more. Known for its port wine, cork crafts, eiffel tower inspired bridges, and excellent seafood, it easily kept me in awe. I began the solo travel part of my journey near the end of Lisbon and while in Porto, my last destination before heading home. Staying in a hostel dorm room with eight other girls was a great way to meet new people from all walks of life. I was at first a bit nervous to travel a new city on my own for the first time, but I am so glad I did it. I learned more about myself, and it forced me to make new friends from all over the world I would otherwise have not made. Who knew I would be having dinner till 1 am with a girl who works for the European Parliament at the Reichstag I visited just weeks prior? Who knew I would spend my day walking the city by foot, wine tasting, and cafe lounging with a girl from Innsbruck, Austria, a small mountain city just near where I had began my trip? Who knew I would be sampling pastries, sipping coffee, and shopping with a girl from Taipei, Taiwan, where my family comes from? I’ve learned life really is about the journey, not the destination.
I wasn’t aware of this bookstore until I arrived, but the Livraria Lello & Irmao is one of the oldest bookstores in Portugal and ranked third most beautiful bookstore in the world! It is said that J.K. Rowling was inspired by this bookstore, while writing Harry Potter. She lived in Porto for about 10 years, which would explain how many of her ideas for Harry Potter were likely influenced by this magical city.
Overall, this was truly a fulfilling trip across changing landscapes. In one month, I was constantly learning new things: new norms, foods, languages, laws, history, art, and ways of life. The world got so big, and I became so small. I drank lots of coffee, snapped lots of pictures, wrote several entries, rode many trains, took many cat naps, read many maps, and walked more kilometers than I ever have in my life. Happy to have added more stories to my book. Now, what’s next!?
We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us – unknown
Fill your life with adventures, not things. Have stories to tell, not stuff to show. – unknown
Jobs fill your pocket, adventures fill your soul. – Jaime Lyn Beatty
Better to see something once than to hear about it a thousand times. – Asian Proverb