Sunday, June 2, 2019

Vienna Diary

Vienna is popular for many reasons: it's been ranked as the world’s most liveable city several times, it’s home to the oldest zoo (Schönbrunn) and ferris wheel, plus it’s Austria’s capital.

But what really got me enthused was that it’s also known for its cafes. Coffee in Vienna definitely lived up to its reputation, and it ticked another box from my invisible list. 

The train station was five minutes on foot from Haus Wasserzeile. Our landlady had two adorable dogs, and I got to meet both, which made my stay all the more wonderful. 

A specialty of Haus Wasserzeile was that residents had their breakfast together at a large table. Chatting with fellow guests, who also happened to be from outside Austria, made mornings more animated. 

Vienna was more lively compared to Salzburg and Innsbruck, with restaurant hunting becoming a lot easier, and street performers adorning pathways. The four days we spent there went by quickly, and soon enough we were back in Riyadh.

We also had a very memorable visit to the Schönbrunn zoo. The aquarium was fascinating, and I got to see polar bears for the first time. The zoo’s history, however, is blemished with tragedy; the world wars took their toll, and its inhabitants suffered greatly.

The Schönbrunn palace on its own was huge. There were several tiny craft shops selling a wide variety of stuff, and we got an elegant owl made of wood, along with a ring and necklace for me. I liked the ring so much I took multiple photos of my hand. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Innsbruck Diary

After our Salzburg tour, it was time for our next journey,

The dazzling photos I had seen online of the picturesque little city made me eager to visit Innsbruck. Snow capped mountains were prominent in every snap, and towered above.

Our ride from Salzburg to our destination was heavenly. Views of meadows, farmhouses and towns outside the train windows made the time fly by. Soon enough, we were at our stop.

From the Innsbruck railway station, we caught our bus. Like in Salzburg, our hotel here was also away from the city. What made it more interesting was that it was located 2000 metres above sea level.

We were to get off at Kühtai, and the bus ride there gave us a glimpse of dreamy, serene Innsbruck. My feet were itching to get off and take in the riveting scenery myself, instead of how I had been doing for too long- through a computer screen.

Bus travel between Kühtai and Innsbruck had a benefit-  guests had free access to the bus pass.

The next morning, we visited a skiing resort, 2020 metres above sea level. It was a popular skiing destination, and was packed with visitors. We stood by and watched skiers fly effortlessly down the slopes enviously.

The rest of the day was spent visiting popular tourist attractions within the city like The Golden Roof and Triumphal Arch, and meandering through Maria-Theresian street. The Golden Roof was made of more than 2,000 gilded copper tiles, and shone like fire in the sunlight. 

Eventually, it was time to go back to our residence, and get ready for our trip to Vienna the next day. 

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Salzburg Diary

After a five hour train journey with a train change in Munich, we arrived in Salzburg.

We had our eyes glued to the window through the entire bus ride, taking in the sights of the quaint city and the tall, rocky Alps. Mom was especially ecstatic about the the tiny shops selling a variety of things.

Our lodging was a little far from the hubbub of Salzburg. We got off at our stop, and then it was a short walk to the Boutique-Hotel, Essigmanngut.

The view that met our eyes was incredible. It was the kind of thing I had only gotten to see in movies; large green, rolling meadows framed by the ranges, old-fashioned houses with sloping roofs, and no one around for miles. It was a windy day, and the trees were swaying with sunlight filtering through their branches. We had never seen a place so serene.

We did face one issue however- it was difficult to locate restaurants nearby. It took us a while before we finally identified a group of them, hidden away from the main street.

This problem resurfaced even when we were in the city the next day. Eateries had no sign boards outside and no distinguishing features from other buildings, which was rather puzzling.
This had never been an issue in any of our previous travels, so Google Maps was absolutely imperative here.

Having a wiener schnitzel (Austria’s national food) was high on my to-do list, so I made sure to order one. It was a toothsome dish, and it was great to eat and relax after our busy morning of visiting Mozart’s Birthplace.

Mozart’s Birthplace offered an intimate look into the life of one of the greatest music composers in history. Original handwritten letters, musical instruments and models of household objects contemporary of his time were all on display, giving us a glimpse of his era more than two hundred years ago. It was a truly informative visit.

We also saw the Hohensalzburg fortress, mounted intimidatingly on a hill. Sphaera and Petersfriedhof were in the vicinity as well, Sphaera being a sculpture representing modern art and Petersfriedhof being a cemetery where some scenes from the movie Sound of Music were shot.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Bye Bye, School

Phew! Class 12 exams are finally over, and I'm done with my schooling.

The past few months have been nothing but hectic. Now, I can release that breath I've been holding.

The day after the last exam, we arrived in Heidelberg, Germany. We had lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant we’re extremely fond of, but discovered that the previous chef had left, so the food wasn't as tasteful as it used to be.

Later, Dad left to attend an SAP event where he was to receive an award, while Mom and I went for a walk and made sure to visit the bridge monkey. We aren't the superstitious type, but that doesn't mean we're ready to take a risk.

It was a cold, windy day and we ended up shuffling back to our hotel after a while, thinking about going out later. Despite the weather, I bought a gelato because nothing was going to stop me from getting one.

The rest of the day was rainy, which left us disappointed. We watched raindrops hit the wet cobblestones mournfully from our hotel room window. The streets were mostly empty and illuminated, and the skies were grey.

Bedtime was early since we had to catch our train in Mannheim to Salzburg, Austria.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Captain Security

“Take me to my class, “ said the third grader, tugging Alaina’s arm. “I don’t feel safe here.” 

“But why?” asked Alaina, hastily pulling away and staring at her. Sauda watched the situation in amusement.

“Because you’re the Captain Security of the school,“ the little girl said impatiently, “and I’m scared to go to my class alone. I want you to come with me.” She tried to yank Alaina with her, but Alaina resisted and just stared at her, flabbergasted. “I’m not Captain Security! I’m Cultural Secretary!” She pointed at her badge, with the words ‘Cultural Sec.’ on it. “Besides, what’s there to be scared of?”

Alaina recounted the incident in class, breathless from laughter (“She really thought I was supposed to protect the school!”) with Sauda occasionally chiming in. 

Several classmates of ours are school cabinet members (like Head Girl, Prefect, House captains etc) and the encounters they had with the juniors ranged from embarrassing to downright hilarious.

“They’re calling me ‘ma’am’ now,” Nanditha said, sounding panicky “ and I don’t know why.” 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Antwerp Diary

Before heading off to Antwerp, we visited the Atomium, a huge building consisting of nine spheres made to represent the structure of an iron crystal. At the foot of the Atomium was Mini-Europe, which housed little replicas of important landmarks in Europe, like the Eiffel tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

I found Mini-Europe adorable, with the tiny toy people and boats and helicopters. Each replica had a green button in front of it. If the country the landmark was from was mentioned under the green button, pressing it would mean that the national anthem of that country would play.

There were green buttons that didn't have any description under it, and on activating them, the toys would move, which made it fascinating. Mini-Europe was definitely entertaining, and the Atomium stood tall and intimidating.

Our journey to Antwerp was by train, and we were looking forward to seeing the Antwerp Railway Station, as it is one of the most beautiful railway stations in the world. We didn't need a confirmation when we hopped off. The elegant Gothic style of architecture was stunning. There were nearly five floors, and four had trains running. 

The moment we left the railway station, the several diamond shops caught our eyes. The district was called the Diamond district for a reason.

Our long stroll took us to the Grote Markt, Meir shopping street, Church of Our Lady Antwerp and the port.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Holy Trinity Of Pissing

On the train to Brussels, I was nearly dozing off when Mom suddenly realized that she had left her precious notebook, filled with things to do and places to see in Belgium, at home in Riyadh.

Dad and I weren't surprised. It would be a lie to say that this was the first time Mom had forgotten or lost the research she had done before going on a trip. Sometimes she would lose the paper she had written on, right at home. 

Brussels was picturesque and lively. Huge gothic cathedrals and buildings framed the bustling  streets, dark clouds drifted in the sky and the wheels of our suitcases made miserable noises as we wheeled them over the cobblestones while going to our hotel.

Catalonia Grand Place was in the heart of the city. After dropping off our baggage, our next step was to begin a tour of Brussels. According to Mom, her superhuman brain had allowed her to store all the information about tourist attractions she had written down earlier, so even if memory had failed her in bringing the aforementioned notebook, she could still guide us.

First things first- we were starving. The answer was one among the assortment of restaurants around the corner.

There were several Thai and Vietnamese, and a  handful of Indian restaurants. We decided on an appealing Vietnamese one, and the food was great.

We strolled through the city, gawking at the stone structures and fountains and beautiful parks. Every building had a history behind it. But a renowned attraction in Belgium was a statue of a boy peeing, called the Manneken Pis. Google maps guided us to a small figurine/fountain of a little boy, who seemed happy for urinating to infinity. Wikipedia later informed me that he peed beer or wine on special occasions. He was the most famous one of the trilogy.

Then there was the Jeanneke Pis which was a young girl relieving herself. The third statue, which completed the Holy Trinity Of Pissing (as I liked to call it), was a dog (Het Zinneke), which we visited on our last day in Brussels. 

Our walk in the city led us to stumble upon the Palace of Charles of Lorraine. It was a beautiful, huge building, and we were making our way back when Mom's sharp eyes caught a golden clock with 12 idols around it. She was exhilarated to point out to us that we were now looking at the meeting centre clock, which was another important attraction in Brussels. 

Obviously, the amount of research I had done before we embarked on our European journey was all regarding the food in Belgium. I was determined to try out the Belgian waffles and chocolates and frites, come what may.

Hours later, we ordered waffles with whipped cream and ice cream and chocolate sauce as toppings. It was a fabulous combination.