Wien + Toscana: Week 11

After our trip to visit family in Büdingen, Germany, my mom and I flew back to Vienna, where it was my turn to play tourguide.

In the last few weeks, I’d taken quite a few flights with Lufthansa (to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, as well as connecting flights through Munich) and it made me think of how seemingly more organized Lufthansa is versus Air Canada. Air Canada doesn’t have the greatest reputation due to labour strikes, not-so-friendly staff and bad food… I think they could easily be overtaken by other airlines like WestJet and Porter Airlines if they don’t do something about it soon.

What interests me about the airline industry is that it’s pretty difficult to differentiate yourself from the competition. Airlines are basically bus services that transport people from Point A to Point B. Sure, you can focus on friendly customer service or price leadership, but it’s really fierce competition out there (Michael Porter says it, so it must be true.. right?). In marketing we learn about appealing to people’s emotions in order to develop brand equity, and this definitely happens in the Canadian airline industry, notably between WestJet and Air Canada. Last year, WestJet delivered a grand slam in marketing with their “WestJet Christmas Miracle: real-time giving” activation. This year, Air Canada answered by launching the #ACgiftofhome campaign. Personally, I think the WestJet activation will remain more successful, but it just goes to show the huge budgets that companies will spend in order to appeal to consumers.

As unmatched as it may seem, I really enjoy being both a finance and marketing student because both subjects give me different ways of looking at business situations: both quantitatively and qualitatively. In one of my courses at WU, International Marketing & Management, we did a lot of work on real business cases. It was a bit similar to a course I took at UBC, COMM363, where we worked in groups to analyze and “solve” business cases. I’d really like to do more case competitions in the upcoming year because I find it super interesting, educational, and incredibly rewarding. As I progress through my degree, I’m loving business more and more. It’s so multi-dimensional, dynamic, and is applicable to any industry. Exciting stuff! Okay, I’m done nerding it out now. 🙂

When we arrived back in Vienna, I showed my mom around city centre and we went to none other than Café Central, a traditional Viennese café serving the typical fare. Notable items included the “Sacher würstel mit semmel” and the Kaiserschmarnn dessert.

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Würstel! We thought this looked kind of hilarious for some reason.

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Kaiserschmarnn – pieces of sweet bread w/ raisins & plum jam

My residence wasn’t quite suitable for guests, but it worked out because my mom wanted to stay in a hotel. So what did I do? I stayed with her, of course! I was essentially staying in a hotel in my “own” city… how often does that happen back at home?? Since the 4* hotel (Hotel Am Konzerthaus) was very close to city centre, it was quite the treat.

A good portion of our time together was spent eating. Yeah. Normally, I try to cook in my residence, but since my mom was here, we ate out pretty much every meal! She of course had to try all the traditional foods such as Wiener schnitzel, würstel and semmel, and even street foods like kebap (a shawarma/gyros equivalent) and käsekrainer (cheese-stuffed sausage in a hot dog bun).

Kebap (left) and Käsekrainer (right)

Kebap (left) and Käsekrainer (right)

We also had to hit up some more Viennese cafés and get that full “sit in a café for hours” experience. One place I’d definitely recommend in Vienna is Joseph Genuss, a modern take on the clasic Viennese coffeehouse with a creamy Wiener melange and delicious, organic food. It’s a bit pricey, but you certainly get what you pay for. My friend Jason and I are crazy about this place.

My club sandwich from Joseph

My club sandwich from Joseph

A memorable sightseeing activity was a horse and carriage ride, or a “Fiakerfahrt”. I’d seen it so many times in city centre, but I never thought of doing it because it seemed like the most ridiculous touristy thing to do, plus it was quite expensive (€55 for 20 mins, €80 for 40 mins). I was actually surprised when my mom suggested it, but it was one of those “when in Vienna” moments. We rode around the Stephansplatz area, but I wished the driver could have given a better explanation of the sights. I will admit, it was still kind of cool nonetheless.

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This week I had five days of freedom (without any classes), so we planned our trip. We contemplated going to so many different places, but in the end we decided on the Tuscany region.

Back in grade 8 my family and I had taken a 3-week trip to Europe, where we hit up the major tourist cities in Spain, France and Italy. This time around, I vouched for places in Tuscany because I wanted to experience the “authentic Italian countryside” (vs. the hustle and bustle of a touristy city). We chose San Gimignano, a little town in the province of Siena. We chose it because it sounded cool as a “small walled medieval town”, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So, we booked it that evening in order to leave the following day! #Europe 🙂

Our first leg was a flight to Florence, where we stayed one night. We’d previously been to Florence before, but this time we stayed in a different part of the city. Since we were only in Florence for about 16 hours before having to catch a bus to San Gimignano, we only really had time to have dinner, roam around the streets a little bit, and go to sleep.

Dinner in Florence at Tiberio

Dinner in Florence at Tiberio

A Vespa - could it get more Italian?

A Vespa – could it get more Italian?

The next day, we took a network of busses to San Gimignano. It took us a bit of figuring out, but eventually we arrived. We’d booked a few nights’ stay at Podere Bellavista, sort of like a B&B. However, they defined it more as “agritourism”, a common concept where visitors are often brought to a farm or ranch. Except this time we were brought to an Italian vineyard!

San Gimignano’s city centre was a quaint little village that probably would have taken about 20-30 minutes to walk from one end to the other. It was quite touristy, but it also had cute little artisan shops selling handmade items and lots of food products from the region. The areas surrounding city centre were full of vineyards, olive trees, and little B&Bs like ours. Even though it was getting a bit colder, the view was still stunning with rolling hills of grapevines and olive trees all across the countryside.

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Unbelievable Tuscan countryside

Naked vines from the coming of autumn in Tuscany

Naked vines from the coming of autumn in Tuscany

Taking a walk around the walls of the Old Town

Taking a walk around the walls of the Old Town of San Gimignano

San Gimignano, being a medieval city, has lots of towers. But these towers were built as a result of two rival families’ feud in the 12th century: in total, over 70 towers were built, but today, only 14 remain.

Towers of San Gimignano

Towers of San Gimignano

Main square

Main square

Main "shopping street" in San Gimignano

Main “shopping street” in San Gimignano

My mom and I climbed up to the top of the highest tower – the view was amazing!

Peering over the edge

Peering over the edge

Mom looking out at the view over San Gimignano

Mom looking out at the view over San Gimignano

Panoramic view over the Tuscan countryside

We booked a wine tasting at our B&B, which featured a variety of red & white wines from the region, as well as olives marinated on-site. It was suuuuper delicious and really something you need to go to Tuscany to experience. The whole setup was lovely, around dusk and next to the warm fire. We were lucky that it was low season, and that

Wine tasting at Podere Bellavista

Wine tasting at Podere Bellavista

Some other food we had in Italy:

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After our rather relaxing vacation in the Tuscan countryside, we returned to Vienna and I brought her to two Christmas markets: Stephansplatz and Rathaus. Christmas markets are a huge tradition here in Europe, and are mostly modelled after the German Christmas markets. There are over 20 in Vienna, and each serve very similar things: Glühwein (hot mulled wine), Punsch (similar to glühwein, but with many different flavours), traditional food (potato salad, würstel, etc), delicious pastries, Christmas ornaments and toys, and more.

Stephansplatz Weihnachtsmarkt

Stephansplatz Weihnachtsmarkt

Rathaus Weihnachtsmarkt

Rathaus Weihnachtsmarkt

The time with my mom in Europe was really nice. I wasn’t expecting her to actually come visit, but I’m glad it worked out! It’s not every day you can travel with your family members, especially as you get older.

Stay tuned for the next post: Prague + Kygo concert!

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