Vienna

Austria is a German-speaking country with a charm of its own. Vienna is tucked away in the northeastern section and has all the old world charm. The capital city of Austria was home to famous residents such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Sigmund Freud. The museums Quarters District has a lot going on within a short walking distance. If you need a break there are shops, bars, and restaurants around every turn. Enjoy a local beer and watch the people wander through the square. Vienna is a beautiful destination for solo travelers, families, and lovers.

  • Transportation

Coming into Vienna by plane or train you will most likely start your journey in the city center. Public transportation is clean and well organized with local trains, subways, trams and buses running in a timely manner. Tickets are cheap and are on an honor system. There are no booths to check tickets. if you get asked by an agent to see proof and you do not have any, there are strict fines. Believe me, the officials have heard every excuse. I was on a train and thought my ticket could go on to the next city, but it turned out the first time I saw an agent, my ticket wasn’t good. The only reason I was let go with a warning is that I had just added money to my travel card. Let that be a lesson to anyone who is thinking about skipping buying a ticket and taking their chances. There is a large fee for not having a ticket plus the cost of the ticket you didn’t buy. There are also Vienna city cards for 24, 48, or 72 hours pass for public transportation and hop on hop off bus service which is available at the airport and transit centers.

  • When to visit

Summer is the busiest month with beautiful mild weather and all the bells and whistles for visitors. Followed very closely by the holiday seasons at the end of the year. Everything in the region is decorated to perfection in old world charm.

Offseason is Spring and Fall months where you will find discounted flights and dinners to the most popular tourist locations.

  • Weather

Vienna is a four-season city. In the winter months of December, January, and some of February it can be dry cold and snowing. As long as you know how to dress for the weather and make stops to catch a break from harsh weather conditions then Vienna is still a wonderful and walkable city year-round Summers are usually in the 70s but occasionally can get up to the 90s.

  • What to see

The main city draw to this cultured city is the museum district and the many palaces. The most popular is Schonbrunn Palace which is an easy fifteen minutes away on public transportation. All around the city, there are open-air markets filled with fresh flowers, bread, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. There are multiple restaurants to sit and dine on local favorites. There are many parks with perfect lawns and fountains taking up blocks to get lost in or have a peaceful lunch.

Vienna is a great and walkable city. The locals are friendly and often English speaking for those not willing to test their German. I felt safe walking the busy areas around the city and quiet backstreets where I stayed. Like any good traveler, you should be aware of your surroundings and be careful after dark.

By Heidi Vastag

Manly Island

Going to manly Island on the Ferry is a slow peaceful way to some other parts of Sydney and great photo ops on the way of the iconic Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. There are sailboats scattered all along the waterways and speedboats zipping by.

Getting off the ferry I was surrounded by small tourist shops selling food and beachwear. The boardwalk leads right out from the shops to the long stretch of golden sand beaches. Manly Island is a great Sydney surf spot and on a sunny day, there is competition for the good sets of waves. When I walked down the path along the beach there were two beach volleyball courts set up with bleaches on the beach for events. At the end of the path are an ocean pool and a health center with an amazing view.

The pink dolphins of Hong Kong

Away in an old fishing village, there are regular tours of something I have never heard of before, pink dolphins. More commonly called the Chinese White Dolphin but affectionately called pink dolphins for this unusual pink and white-colored dots making themselves stand out against the dark water. I found this tour in Tai O village, a once-thriving fishing community, now being overshadowed by a giant bridge connecting the Hong Kong cities of Zhuhai and Macau. It is the longest sea-crossing bridge spanning the Pearl River Delta. Tai O has been an attraction to see the local fishing culture and to catch a glimpse of the pink dolphins, but now the village has an added feature on the boat tour, to see the new record-breaking bridge. The bridge construction has been a threat to the rare pink creatures. Marine experts say the dolphins feeding and communication activities of these very social animals have been distributed. Hopefully, now that the construction is about over and the bridge is waiting for its grand opening the sea life will be left alone.

The Dolphins start their lives as dark calves until they grow into the famous pink spots. The pink spots are from blood vessels beneath the skin of the dolphins. There isn’t a great deal known about these pink dolphins of Hong Kong but the numbers don’t lie. The animals in the Pearl River Delta areas have seen numbers drop by eighty percent over the past decade.

Try as you may, but you will not find any pink dolphins in my photos. Like many others on the boat, I was never ready when these creatures would jump up to say hello. After many missed shots, I simply sat back in the first of the boat and watched pointed pink heads pop up and splash away just as quick. It was a calm end to a busy Hong Kong day.

Oktoberfest!

Welcome to the beer fest of all beer fests!

Oktoberfest in Munich Germany puts on a grand show every year for almost 7 million people starting at the end of September. But before you can drink a pint of beer there is much planning, prep, and building that must go on with a team of highly skilled teams create a new vision each year. There are 700 vendors ready to set up for the weeks of madness ahead. The area of the event is already a construction site by July and doesn’t stop for ten weeks. The first thing that comes to mind is the giant beer tents. There are 14 major tents and 15 minor tents. In the biggest tents, there can be upward of 8,000 festival-goers. The tents are made of all wood grounded to concrete that is poured every year. For the management, this is a full-time job planning and pulling off this annual party. Several thousand people come together to wrap up the project in the few weeks of construction. Tear down is about half the time of set up running around five weeks. Most parts are stored in storage containers and delivered to the storehouses in Munich

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I planned my visit for the opening day. It was a calm morning when I arrived with my mother and took a stroll down the main road of beer tents standing tall. By the time we doubled back, the roads were filling with beer drinkers waiting for the day to get started. We picked the Hippodrome tent and sat and had a bite to eat and noticed that most tables were reserved. We quickly learned that there is an opening parade and each owner comes into their tent and taps the first barrel and the beer drinking does not stop for a few weeks after. From the beautiful windows, I watched the parade roll by with barrels of beer and horse-drawn carriage and everyone was dressed for the occasion. There is such a buzz for the town for the opening day, Like the city of Munich has been waiting to unwrap its gift for months, watching the structures go up for months in town.

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My favorite photo of my mother joining me October Fest in 2013

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Yes, this is a blurry picture but they move so fast with all that beer! This was the best I could get an even more beer was rushing by, being gripped tightly by fingertips.

My advice is to get here early to get a seat or wait for the short lines of smaller tents. I definitely would recommend going to multiple tents for different environments in each one. If you have a larger group it pays to plan ahead of time and reserve a table in a tent of your choice. All of Munich books up for this beer event, so planning ahead helps get more of what you are looking for before it’s booked up. My last bit of wisdom is if you drink a few too many pints, there is a nice grassy hill to rest your eyes until the next round. It’s all a very happy party and the locals are waiting to welcome you in. Do your country proud, don’t make a drunken fool of yourself. We have all seen this too many times. Safe travels and smart drinking!

Be local

Go local! We have heard it said, but what does that mean to you right now. If you are sitting at a desk not doing work you should be or sitting by a pool on a far away island you can find what is off the beaten tourist path of chain stores and malls if you look around.

Being a local in your current city, home town when you visit family, or find something local in a far away place. It’s always worth it to go local and see how people are going about daily life. If the locals love a great restaurant, it’s safe to say the food will be worth the trouble.

If you need to be pulled out of your fast food comfort food zone then listen to these reason why going local, anywhere, is important everyday.

  • Big box stores dont need anymore of your money.

Which do you think gives better service and quality, the multiple billion dollar corporation paying minimum wage workers who have trouble answering questions or the small locally owned businesses ran by a family and is tied into the community. I would rather put my money into the hands of a small business owner even if its cost a little more.

  • Google doesn’t always know everything.

There are places in this world (believe it or not) that are not connected to a Facebook page or Google maps. When you are in the far corners of the Earth you may not be able to understand what information is on the internet. If you happen to pass a place where the tables are full and there is a line, there must be a good reason and its usually worth the wait. “Greasy spoons” and “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants have some of the best homemade cooking in every city.

  • Locals know what’s happening

As you are strolling by a busy lunch spot for the afternoon rush of the blue collar area and decide to see what the fuss is all about then you have made it past the first step. The next part is tricky (not really) and involves speaking to others. Ask your server or eat at the bar and talk to a person near you. See what is going on around you. Even if you are asking about what is going on in your own area you still can learn about amazing places from word of mouth. When you are in a place with a language barrier there are always still ways to ask about great things to do. Draw a picture, translate a question, or hand and body language talking. It seems like a lot of trouble but the rewards can be amazing, even if it’s just the tale of getting lost on the way.

Supporting the little guys doesn’t just benefit the small business owner. It is good for you the consumer! Usually going small means it’s not a touristy spot and the prices are cheaper. In the cases that you pay for for an item chances are the quality is much higher then the cheaper box store version. I would rather purchase a homemade gift to a gift anyone could buy on Amazon.

This is a photo of a woman I meet selling woven elephants on the sidewalk outside a market. I gladly paid for this fine craftsmanship and a very unique souvenir from my time in Thailand. Go out and get lost, or meet your neighborhood Baker and make a new friend. It may be the most fun thing you do all week.

Melbourne, Australia Chinatown vibes

The Chinatown in Melbourne Australia in the central business district and is home to places of business, worships, and restaurants for the home of the longest continuous Chinese settlement. The Chinese originally came for the Australian gold rush and stayed for a new life. This small section of Melbourne is home to the Chinese’s New Year festival which lasts for a few weeks every year with fireworks and the waking of the dragon.

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Many people just pass by  Little Bourke Street on their hustle of the madness of the downtown. I can not say enough how amazing getting away from the droves of people can be. The hidden discovers to be found. Chinatown is missed often because there is so much to do in Melbourne. You can walk down the gate that is the start of Chinatown and see many different Asian restaurants and shops.  Chinatown has grown from one block with a gate on each end to now have grown to multiple blocks over the past few years. I learned that in American Chinatowns, there are mostly Cantonese settled there. In Melbourne, there is a much more diverse Chinatown represented. Why is that good for you? Many more types of food to try and more mixing of cultures.

When you make it to the busy area of CBD of Melbourne make sure you take time out to walk the few blocks of Chinatown. Even if it is just to see the beautiful buildings and for the free smells.

A first look at Melbourne Australia

Reichstag 

Walking up to this large front lawn of the Reichstag on a nice day makes me want to sit and have an afternoon lunch. There is no time for this in Berlin there is just too much amazing things to see. The Reichstag building is a parliament building and has strict guidelines to get in the door. Registration is free to enter but you must register before you enter. Be sure you bring your passport. I never tell anyone to go wandering around the city with their passport on then, but every rule has its exception. The dome and the roof terrace have different times for the terrace and dome. The Reichstag is also closed for maintenance and holidays throughout the year, so be sure to check opening times and dates when planning your visit. I did not pre-register before going to the Reichstag. I did wait in a long that moved pretty quickly, bringing in a small group of people in to check passports with faces before we were allowed up to the elevators to the dome and terrace.

Walking into the beautiful glass and mirror dome that spirals up to the observation deck overlooking Berlin. The dome is 23 meters high and 40 meters wide and designed by Sir Norman Foster. Foster originally planned an air cushion-like flat roof and only under political pressure planned a dome. There are guided tours available and a wealth of knowledge and fascinating facts that are hidden in the Reichstag. One such fact not largely known is that there are still Cyrillic graffiti left by Soviet soldiers after the siege in 1945. It has been carefully preserved and can still be seen by visitors today. There is also a bullet hole from the Second World War.

The Brandenburg Gate is a short walk away. The city is very well laid out from The Reichstag building. The Holocaust memorial isn’t too much further than the Brandenburg Gate and Museum Island is further past that. I don’t recommend trying to push yourself and see it all in one day. There is so much to see in this city, so plan for full days of exploring no matter how long you are in Berlin.

Reichstag is a must if it is the first of the fiftieth time you are coming here. Just the walk up to the top is a piece of living art to the view of this unique city. I can’t get enough Berlin.

There is a restaurant on the terrace serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Reservations are required for dining here and the menu is on the pricey side, but the views are free. The hardest part about visiting Reichstag is deciding whether to visit in the daytime or at night.

Budapest

An old world feel from the moment you get off at Keleti Train Station. There is much history under the layers of dirt from time and neglect. Please don’t let my negative comments sway you from seeing this great and old city. After you make your way out of the sketchy train station and wander around you will see a beautiful city with many secrets.

This man was waiting to greet me at the corner with his belly wore from rubs. I feel like I could outrun him.

On one of my stops from the subway, I walked up steps to a festival in full swing with dancing, fresh food cooking, and music. I spent a few hours deciding on what I wanted for lunch and watched the street performers.

Wandering around I found local treats and homemade crafts that I recognized from my Hungarian grandmother’s house. The same red pattern of tablecloths and napkins brought back great memories of family dinners of the same food I was seeking in the city. This is a big reason I travel, its to reconnect with your past if only by a pattern or a smell.

 

There are so many grand stone building with complex curly ends and detailed columns, don’t forget to look up.

Hello Berlin

Berlin may bring up mixed thoughts and feelings upon hearing the name, but the city has grown to be a cultural and artistic hotspot.

The Holocaust Memorial is a maze of different sized columns numbering 2711 in all. The artist meant for the memorial to be confusing and disorienting. It is not taken kindly if you climb on the memorial, so please be respectful.

The great Brandenburg Gate always seems to be filled with life. This gate marks the former city gate where the beginning of the road from Berlin to the town of Brandenburg an der Havel.

While walking around there was a “checkpoint” where I received an old school passport stamp for Checkpoint Charlie at the east and west side of the Berlin checkpoint.

The water world of Venice

When I finally got away from the crowds of tourists I found hidden alleys and secret cafes with very strong coffee.

I came over the bridge to the multiple islands of Venice by train and stepping into a madhouse. I checked my backpack at the Santa Lucia rail station for the day and made it out into the mobs of people.

Only having one day for this beautiful city on the Adriatic Sea was definitely not enough. I started off with the steady flow of people slowly walking over bridges and down wide paths lined with shops of all kinds on either side. Taking in the sights I came to see from my guidebooks, and taking a few photos of the dressed up gondolas ready for the next tourist ride; I decided to get off the very beaten path. The random turns I made took me further into the real city of narrow alleys and no flashy tourist signs. Needless to say, I was very lost for a bit but I had the rest of the day to make my way back to the train station. I finally had to ask for directions and stayed closer to the station and ate sweets and drank coffee until my night train arrived. I swear I was buzzed off caffeine and sugar by the time I stepped on the train.