free online dating websites
dating websites free
free dating websites
dating website
dating sites
«    »

Ode To Europe

Posted on February 25th, 2008

We (I went with my ski/snowboard buddy, Keith) left on Saturday, January 26th at 10pm. Even at the airport, I was exhausted, and the thought of a trans-Atlantic flight was no comfort to my weary head. The flight itself was seven hours, but we were set to arrive at 11am local, so I think you can imagine what sort of havoc the jetlag would create for my body! Nevertheless, I was confident that I could sleep on the plane and things would magically be better when I woke up the next morning.

Not so. I managed a paltry hour of sleep over the next seven. But I did manage to keep myself entertained with the combination of my iPod and the in-flight entertainment system; I caught 3:10 to Yuma (a mediocre film) and an episode and a half of the BBC’s Planet Earth documentary (which was absolutely spendid). I don’t think Keith got a minute of sleep. 🙁

We touched down in Frankfurt on time and made our way to the connecting flight to Munich. Then we had to take a train from Munich to Landeck, Austria. This was all well and good except for the fact that the train out of Munich was delayed by an hour! The day, of course, jeopardized the chances of hitting the connecting train which we needed for the second half of the journey. Thankfully, that second train was delayed too and, with the help of some sympathetic local who recognized my panic and helped us figure out when to get off the train, we made it on time. (Keith didn’t panic about anything since he was content with listening to his iPod and looking around.)

The journey didn’t end there, though. We were still a good half an hour away from our final destination, Ischgl, and the buses had stopped running; it was nearly 10pm by this time. So we had little choice but to take a taxi. I was warned in advance that a taxi would be an expensive endeavour, and I cringed when the driver quoted 50€ for the trip. But our hands were tied so we had to do it. We sped along in his Honda Accord (weren’t they supposed to be driving Porsches and BMWs and Mercedes there?) which he kept far too warm while he tried to figure out where the hotel was. While talking to his boss, though, he decides to inform us that the trip was going to cost 70€ instead! Apparently, where we were staying was a few minutes outside of Ischgl and that warranted a 20€ hike! What a jerk! I’m not sure if this was some sort of tourist abuse but I’d be happy if this was the first and last time. At long last, after what felt like an eternity of traveling, the taxi pulls up to the hotel and I was fast sleep shortly thereafter.

I awoke to the smell of breakfast (a very delightful way to wake up, I might add); the hotel offered half-board, which included buffet breakfast and dinner. I wandered my way down at around 9 and helped myself to eggs, yogurt, cereal, cheese, prosciutto, and OJ. It was unbelievably nice to eat after that long day of travel. By about 10, we finally made it to Ischgl to tear up the hills.

At first the ski area did not look all that impressive. There was one gondola from the main area and that just went in between two mountains with trees. But then the gondola went over the crest. Before me was a huge range of snow-covered mountains and a sight that I will never forget (partially due to the fact that I have so many pictures available). The Alps.

The snowboarding itself was good. It wasn’t great because no new snow fell, and there was a distinct lack of glade runs. Being above the tree line does that, I suppose. But the weather was amazing (with temperatures slightly below zero and plenty of sun) and it wasn’t too crowded. The fun, however, was not reserved for the slopes; part of the reason I selected Ischgl was because of the famous apres-ski that happens there. After a day of runs, skiers and snowboarders hang out in the village at the bottom (and some stops on the mountain) to drink, dance, and be merry! Beer was cheap (at around 3.50€ for half a litre) and the food was delicious. (With Italy and France and so many other countries nearby, the culinary influences were very apparent. I had the best pizza that I have ever had in Austria!) And I should mention here that Europe has some of the most beautiful girls in the world 🙂

Another reason why Ischgl was chosen was because it was one of the few places where I could ski from Austria into Switzerland (and back). We made sure to bring our passports as we expected some sort of border control but, to our surprise and mild disappointment, there was nothing of the sort! People freely traveled to and fro without any interruption. I guess it would have been a logistical nightmare to stop the thousands of people who crossed the border there!

Coming back to the hotel was great every evening as well. It turned out that the included dinner was a five-course meal with table service (from a very helpful chap named Manuel and a lovely young lady named Isabel). Here’s a sample of some of the mains:

  • Roasted salmon
  • Veal stew
  • Prosciutto-stuffed pork
  • Roasted lamb

They prepared a new menu each day and they tried to translate it for us (and the results were often humourous). Here are two of the more interesting translations on the menu: Vitamin salads of buffet, and liquerparfait on fruitsaucedialog!

And on the Wednesday, they held a Gala Dinner. What does that mean? Even better food! Indeed it was one of the best meals that I have ever eaten. The main was duck breast, wonderfully prepared and coupled with a most delectable sauce. It was scrumptious! I was disgusted, however, at the sight of the neighbouring table leaving plates of this luxury food behind! Those jerks! (We proceeded to channel our hate towards them for the remainder of the stay in Ischgl.)

Thursday sucked. In the afternoon, after stopping off at the top of the resort for a beer and food, we decided to take a long route down to the very bottom. It was a very pleasant route until we ran into the snow-makers. With the reduced visibility, I figured that I should get through it quickly so I carved less and proceeded to speed up. It did not occur to me, however, that the snow-makers would be on to cover ice. Inevitably, either I caught an edge or got into a patch of ice (or both… I don’t remember) and I took a pretty big tumble. Goggles, off. Toque, off. Glasses, off. Snow, everywhere.

After I stopped, I was gasping for air and was feeling dizzy. I couldn’t see very well and I was in a bit of a daze. Thankfully, Keith was behind me so he managed to collect my goggles and toque. I then noticed that my glasses were missing but he found those quickly (which is great since they would have been obliterated if another person rode over them.) My heart sank when I got them back, though… there were a nice big crack along the right lens that would impair some of my vision. I figure that they came off because my goggles fell off my head, and the bottom part of my goggles came underneath the lens and exerted a lot of pressure there, causing a crack. Dang it! Well, it was no good sitting on the slopes; I had to get to the bottom. I switched up my glasses for my sunglasses and started to get going.

Then, pain. In my left ankle. What? My ankle? The one that was in a snowboard boot? Isn’t that supposed to keep me firmly planted and offer very little motion? Yeah, that one. I don’t know how, but I managed to sprain my left ankle while snowboarding. What the heck. I mulled over a visit to the sports clinic and, after confirming that my travel insurance would cover it, I decided to go. Better to be safe than sorry, right? They bandaged me up and gave me a topical gel and a cold compress. My snowboarding was over.

That wasn’t all bad. The next day, I was able to hobble my way into Ischgl and set myself up at an Internet cafe. I managed to get some money back from the ski resort since I had a doctor’s note showing that I couldn’t use the last two days on my ski pass (yay to Ischgl!), but a lot of that went towards the 10€/hour of Internet fee! Bloodsuckers! Oh well. It felt nice to be connected to the rest of the world for a little bit. Too bad I couldn’t really talk to anyone since I was six hours ahead and people back home were either sleeping or at work!

Saturday was more of the same and it also marked the last evening in Ischgl. In a blink of an eye, the snowboarding trip was over! 🙁 On Sunday morning, we made our way out of Ischgl and back towards Landeck, where we would catch our train to Zürich. The train ride was actually really nice since there were some amazing views of the Swiss countryside. That’s about all I can really say for Switzerland, though. Zürich itself was not very impressive; there weren’t too many things to do (it’s not a big tourist city), the city was quite small (which was nice, I guess, since we could walk around it fairly easily), and it was bloody expensive. One thing that was interesting about the stay in Zürich, though was that the agent booked us in a hotel that was pretty openly gay-friendly. I mean, the place had rainbow flags out front and a gay club/bar in the first floor. Keith wasn’t bothered though: “This is my first time staying at a gay hotel… I am so excited!” Be careful, Cristina!

Anyways, I was happy to get out of Zürich, especially since I was way over budget. We took an overnight train to Prague, which meant that we were in store for a nice 13-hour ride. The train cabin had 6 beds cramped into a tiny space, so we were pretty lucky to be the only two in the cabin. Otherwise, saying that we would have been tight for space would have been quite a huge understatement. Somehow, I managed to sleep on the ride and awoke to see the Czech countryside. It wasn’t exactly eye candy, but it was reassuring to know that we were close to our destination.

The first impression of Prague was terrible. The train station was pretty run down, and the people seemed a little shady. Then some jerk tried to sell us a ride to the hotel for 900 crowns. Remember that guy who ripped us off in Ischgl? Yeah, he wasn’t alone. Keith almost went for it but I knew in my gut that it was a ripoff. The guy came back with another offer of 600 (which proved my initial theory). Keith almost bit again, but I declined. Eventually, some other dude came and offered to take us for 300 crowns (which is about $20). We found out from the hotel that it should have only cost 150 crowns. Sigh. So, a word of caution for anyone planning on visiting Prague: don’t get into a taxi that doesn’t have a “taxi” sign on top (and even still, take a more reputable company like AAA Taxi)!

We took a guided tour of the city and it allowed us to get an idea of what we wanted to do the second day that we had there. The guide took us to a few of the big tourist attractions: Prague Castle (which is stunning), Wenceslas Square, Old Town Square, and the ritzy shopping district. I definitely wanted to wander around the Castle and around the old town more the next day! In the evening, we made our way to a restaurant that the guide recommended, and we were stuffed into this tiny room that was so densely filled with smoke that breathing was very difficult.

This is where I am going to rant a little bit. In Ontario, smoking inside of restaurants is not allowed. I can’t remember the last time that I was in a restaurant here that permitted smoking in the open; the last thing I do remember is some restaurants having some smoking sections. So, it has been at least a decade since smoking was allowed in public indoor spaces. Now, Europe is supposed to be this enlightened and modern continent, yet here they are allowing people to poison everyone else (and each other). Don’t they know that smoking (and second-hand smoking) kills people? Surely, they must! There’s this garbage about them not wanting to have their freedoms infringed and not being told what they can and can’t do, but come on… that works if that doesn’t hurt anybody else. Needless to say, indoor smoking is one thing that I detested about Europe and it will be a big blemish on an otherwise beautiful place to be.

So anyways, I think I got sick from that place; my sinuses were going nuts and I just felt like crap. That put a bit of a damper on the next day, but we soldiered on nonetheless. We made our way back to where we wanted to go, and visited Petrin Park and the Charles Bridge. I convinced Keith to go back to the park at night so that I could get some night shots of the city and that was totally worth it! Something else that is totally worth it is the beer there! If you can find the right places, you can pick up a nice half litre of beer for 25 crowns, which works out to around $2. Sweet deal!

We left the hotel on Thursday morning and made our way back to the main train station to catch our early afternoon ride to Vienna, our final destination. We arrived early enough so that our train wasn’t shown on the big overhead display, but concerns grew as trains scheduled after ours started to show up and the one we wanted never made it up there. It turned out that we wanted to catch that train from another train station! What the heck! We realized this with around 20 minutes to spare, so we rushed there in a huge panic. I will admit that we didn’t pay for the public transportation ride to the other train station (it runs on an honour system but both of us didn’t have enough change to purchase fares!), so I do apologize to the city for ripping them off of some 10 crowns. I’ll make it up to you the next time I go there, I hope! 😛

So we make it with literally two minutes to spare. Thank God! The ride was mostly uneventful except for a really pretty sunset that I wish that I had captured on camera. Shucks! We rolled into Vienna at around 6pm and, this time, a bunch of taxis (some of them were Mercedes!) greeted us outside the train station. Not willing to make the same mistake that was made in Prague, we made sure to get a reasonable rate to get to the hotel. I think it worked out to around $25 for a 20-minute ride. Not too bad.

Speaking of hotel, and speaking of not too bad, the hotel was the K+K Hotel Maria Theresia, a four-star hotel right near the centre of Vienna. It was spectacular! There was Internet in the room, a nice flat-screen TV, a beautiful washroom (although it had a low-functional shower door), and a sweet foyer. We, of course, were famished when we first got in so we didn’t spend too much time poking around the hotel. Instead, we ventured off to a place called Naschmarkt, a large outdoor market with produce, seafood, and restaurants galore!

In the late evening, we went to the Stiegl brewery’s Ambulanz, a nice little hangout on the University of Vienna campus. There, the beers were cheap, and they were excellent! In fact, I was able to get an unfiltered brew that is only available there and at the actual brewery! I should probably note that I liked their normal brew a little better, but it was cool to have had the opportunity to try it. The ambiance was great there, too — university students and comfy couches with no blaring, loud music. We stayed until closing and I waddled my way back to the hotel. (I was really full!)

For some reason, I couldn’t fall asleep so I poked around the TV for a while. Like all of the other places that we have stayed, there seemed to have been only one English channel – CNN International. I must have watched more CNN during this trip than I have my entire life before it! And despite the fact that it is “CNN International”, they still covered mostly US topics (thanks to the elections) and they still managed to have their American spin on everything. But, it was good enough to put me to sleep!

The next day was insane. It started off with a four-star breakfast at the hotel. I’m talking about smoked salmon, fine cheeses, fresh pastries, and sparkling wine for breakfast. Heck yes! During the day, we went around the centre of the city, soaking up the elegance and magnificence that it had to offer. Vienna is, without question, the most beautiful city that I have ever seen (in person). We visited the imperial palaces, a huge cathedral, Mozart’s last surviving residence, and so much more! I had trouble keeping my camera stowed away so I managed to drain the battery and fill up the memory card twice during the day! It was great 🙂

At night, our last in Europe, we decided to go back to Ambulanz. It just felt good there and, rather than take the risk of going to some bar/lounge/club that would have been too smoky or noisy, we opted to err on the side of caution. It was a good way to end the trip.

Except that it wasn’t how we ended the trip! There was still another four-star breakfast to be had, and boy was it good! With my stomach happily full, we went off to the airport in Vienna and flew Austrian Air to Frankfurt. On the way, they were kind enough to give us a snack of warm bread, smoked salmon, and salad. Warm bread and smoked salmon on a plane?! Score one for the good guys! Yet another reason I love Austria!

The final leg of the journey was the trans-Atlantic flight back home. I managed to sleep a little bit more this time around, but I still had to rely on the in-flight entertainment and on my iPod during the trip. “In the Shadow of the Moon” was not a great movie. I’m glad I didn’t have to pay to see it haha. We touched down at Pearson on time (which was 8pm local, but my body felt like it was 2am). I was toast. I promptly fell asleep and gleefully woke up at 11am (local) the next morning. It felt like it was all a great, long dream. But my ankle still hurt. So it certainly wasn’t a dream, but arguably the best two weeks of my life.

2 Responses to “Ode To Europe”

  1. Tony Says:

    That was quite an adventure. Thanks for telling us the story, although it’s too bad you couldn’t ski as much as planned. Still, the food sounds awesome 🙂

  2. cat Says:

    awww – I know you already told me the story before, but it was nice to read it over again. have a great weekend buddio~

Leave a Reply