Last week of Orientation and Cultural (OK) Program! It’s sad to think this program is over now, but I’ve definitely made some good friends and there’s no doubt we’ll keep in contact over the semester and beyond. In this post are also trip highlights from Salzburg and Oktoberfest.
- Vienna Rathaus (City Hall): a gothic-style building for more Austrian politics-related information. Highlights: a really cool revolving elevator and a giant chandelier.
- After Rathaus, we went to Café Hawelka, a famous coffee house in Vienna. There is no menu or any of their items on display. I found this place through the USE-IT brochure we received at the beginning of exchange – it’s a “free map for young travellers made by locals” and it has over 65 recommended destinations, from coffee houses to attractions to clubs and bars. Definitely going to try to visit ALL the places over the next few months! The description for Café Hawelka reads:
- CAFÉ HAWELKA was the hotspot of the avantgarde in the 60s and is one of the most famous cafés in Vienna. It was the meeting point for writers and critics of this time. The interior and nikotin coloured walls are still reminders of that time. Today the artists have given way to tourists.
- Vienna Zoo with Karl and Florence. Supposedly the oldest zoo in Europe. I’m a bit conflicted about zoos because generally they’re bad. Animals shouldn’t be kept in cages and confined spaces, and even in “good” living conditions it seems like many of the animals go insane. We witnessed a lot of pacing back and forth – noticeably with the polar bear and big cats – what I understand to be a sign of insanity. Apparently many zoo animals develop “neurotic and self-harming behavior”. This statement came from a PETA article, so of course it’s biased, but I think we can all agree that zoos are “inherently unnatural environments”. I really started to think about all of this after watching Blackfish, a documentary about captive orcas and the consequences of life inside a metal container. I’ve also heard about the case of Arturo, a miserable polar bear in Argentina. I’m not an extreme animal rights activist, but could you imagine yourself under such constricted circumstances? It certainly wouldn’t be pleasant. Now I just feel guilty for taking photos at the zoo that day.. and for that reason I won’t post any of them. I’d rather not validate the concept of using animals for entertainment. From now on I’ll refrain from visiting zoos… and you should too!
- “Impromptu” hiking trip at the Kahlenberg: I call it impromptu because it was originally planned with the OK program, but after finishing up at the Vienna zoo and having lunch, we arrived at the meeting place about 30-40 minutes late… oops. The group had left on their hike by then, so we improvised and did our own trek! Even after looking at a map of the area, we had no idea where to go, so we just started walking uphill. In hindsight, we were probably trespassing on some vineyards…… The view was beautiful, though!
- Photo Scavenger Hunt: We had to get into groups of 5 or 6 and run around the city completing a series of tasks and finding famous monuments and landmarks, all while taking photos along the way. It was pretty fun.
- We began our much anticipated multi-day trip with Salzburg, the fourth largest city in Austria. It took about 2.5 hours from Vienna by train, and we left early in the morning.
- You may know that The Sound of Music (1965) was filmed in Salzburg. But what you may not know is that apparently some Austrians don’t know even what The Sound of Music is! A few weeks ago in a lecture about Austria’s culture and politics, we were informed that although the film is celebrated worldwide, it is not very popular in Austria itself. We also learned that much of the entertainment material back then (can you believe it’s almost been 50 years?!) portrayed an exaggerated “post-war glee”, a social and artistic effort to lift people’s spirits after WW2.
- When we learned of the Fräulein Maria Sound of Music Bike Tour, we obviously had to do it! The tour took us around to the many areas in Salzburg where filming took place. It was so cool to see. Despite the rainy & overcast weather being not-so-ideal, everyone in the group was so washed over with nostalgia. [When we got back to Vienna a few days later, we started watching the movie again, and it was glorious.]
- Hohensalzburg Fortress: Our tour guide from the Sound of Music bike tour told us about a “secret lift”, where we could punch in a code to be taken up to the fortress for free. We took forever trying to find this “secret lift”, but had no success. We also didn’t feel like paying €4 (we blamed the student budget….) to take a cable car to the top, so we got some exercise and climbed several flights of steps to the fortress. Win-win! We couldn’t see many of the rooms inside the fortress because it was closed for the day, but we could still walk around the exterior.
- Briefly visited Mozartplatz & the Mozart Monument, which was erected in 1842 to honour the famous composer. Didn’t stay long because it was pouring rain!
- Dinner at Zwettler’s Stiftskeller, some delicious Austrian food!
- The highlight of Zwettler’s must have been the Salzburger Nockerl, a Salzburg traditional dessert of sweet soufflé over raspberry jam. It was light and fluffy, and just the right amount of sweetness. Amanda thought it tasted like uncooked Beard Papa’s cream puffs, which I agreed with, but I still couldn’t resist the dessert. It was pricey at €13, but split between three of us it was somewhat reasonable. We also felt we should try it because it’s native to Salzburg. At least, that’s how we justified it to ourselves.
- Note on accommodation: We stayed the night in Salzburg at Gerold’s apartment via Airbnb. The place was extremely clean and had luxurious amenities that we’d been lacking since arriving on exchange, such as a TV, a couch and fluffy pillows. We wished we could stay in Salzburg for longer just to be in this apartment. Beyond worth the €25 that we paid to stay there for the night – definitely recommend this place!
Friday – Sunday: OKTOBERFEST!!!
The highlight of the week definitely had to be Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. History: the festival began in 1810 to celebrate the marriage of King Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, and included horse races and other festivities. Today, although the horse races have ceased, the 3-week long event now includes a huge amusement park, countless food stands and many beer tents.
When we arrived at the train station in Munich, all I could think was “Everything is bigger in Deutschland”. It reminded me of the way Canada is the USA’s “little brother”, I believe the comparison is similar between Austria and Germany (although the Austrians won’t admit it).
We spent the afternoon walking around Marienplatz, a central square in Munich. The place was buzzing with energy and people! Everyone walks around in dirndl and lederhosen (the traditional Oktoberfest attire). I dropped €50 for my dirndl back in Vienna – yes, I realize maybe I didn’t really need it, but it was part of the cultural experience for me and I do love to dress up. Its probable next use will be as a Halloween costume.
We had dinner at Hofbräuhaus, a former royal brewery operated by the Bavarian state government. It was our first beer hall experience, and cool to say the least.
Back in Vancouver, we planned to meet up with some other friends who were on exchange in Manchester, France and Sweden. It was so surreal being with friends from UBC, but on the other side of the world. An epic reunion!
The following day we began our Oktoberfest festivities. The main celebration is held at the fair grounds, called Theresienwiese. Locally, Oktoberfest is actually called Wiesn.
We got to the festival at 10am (already considered late) and first stopped by the Ochsenbraterei tent. The beer tents are usually family- or brewery-owned, and each is known for something – the Ochsenbraterei tent is known for its ox dish. We miraculously managed to get a seat in the 5,900 capacity space, but only for an hour and a half before the next reservation arrived.
Most of the beer in each tent was only served in 1L portions, so you really had no choice! As expected, one 1L glass cost about €10. The chanting in German and festive atmosphere inside the tents made up for it.
Overall, we had an unforgettable weekend and I’d definitely recommend going to Oktoberfest at least once in your life. There were people of all ages, from babies to seniors. Although the festival mainly revolves around beer and a big party, the energy is undeniably electric and the communal “we’re all in this together” atmosphere is unlike any other I’ve experienced. Prost to that!