BrandonoBrien.com

Brandon O'Brien

Travel and Adventure Journal

I wanted a place to journal all my travels and adventures around the world. I always enjoy going back and reflecting on my past travels and getting to relive them through my words and photos.

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A Nice Day Exploring Vienna

A Nice Day Exploring Vienna

Tuesday, October 1, 2013 @ 6:24 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 97

The hostel doesn't have free breakfast so I went out and got some kind of stuffed pastry around the corner. I wasn't sure what was in it but it ended up being some kind of tasty cream. After that I set off to go find the tourist office to pick up a Use-It guide that I've come to appreciate when they're available.

The office was closed but they had a bunch of the guides available outside so I grabbed one and set off on the walk the guide suggests. They called it the "Too much history" walk and it takes you by a lot of the main sights to see on the Ringstrasse.

Since I started pretty early in the morning, the sun was rather harsh and made for some bad photos. It was really beautiful walking around though, even if I wasn't able to capture it. The buildings are massive and they're usually surrounded by big gardens to relax in. Even though they were built to look old, pretty much all the main sights at the beginning of the walk were built in the late 19th century.

I went into some of the famous coffee houses where people like Sigmund Freud hung out. I didn't end up getting any coffee though since spending what I normally spend on an entire day's worth of food for one cup of coffee didn't seem like a great idea.

I also walked by Sigmund Freud's house on the way to the Danube Canal. The canal walk is known for and was filled with graffiti. I continued past the Ruprechtskirche (the oldest church in Vienna, built in 740) and then headed into a busy cafe/restaurant/shopping area. The guide mentioned an extremely hidden hole in the wall microbrewery that makes killer wood fired stuffed pitas. It sounded delicious so I spent about 20 minutes hunting it down. The streets are like a maze and after making a few loops through the general area I thought it was, I found it.

The place is called Kolar and it really is on a random street that is hidden really well. I went in and there were only two people there waiting to pick up some food. The ambiance of the place was great. It was too dark inside to take photos but imagine an old dark cellar with low domed/arced ceilings, firewood stacked along an entire wall and a blazing wood fired oven in the corner next to the bar filled with their own beers and you're starting to get the idea.

At first I just ordered their Dunkel (dark) beer and then looked at the menu. The entire thing was in German and I really had no idea what was what but I was able to figure out they have a daily special each day. In my rough translations I was able to figure out it was prosciutto, spinach, tomato, parmesan and "cream". I ordered one and a few minutes later it came out. It was delicious and completely filling.

As I was drinking my beer and eating my food, more and more people flooded in. By the time I left there were at least a dozen people in the tiny area ordering food and drinks. If you ever find yourself in Vienna, definitely check out Kolar.

There wasn't too much left on the walking route but it did bring me through some really ritzy shopping areas and finally ended at the Stephansdom church. It's hard to capture these massive buildings in one shot since all the buildings are so close together. The church dates back to 1170 and has some really neat architecture.

I wandered around a little bit more then came back to the hostel. They have washers and dryers downstairs so I wanted to take advantage of those before they were all used. I showered then went down and threw everything in the washing machine. Unfortunately the dryer malfunctioned or something when I was upstairs waiting and everything came out still pretty wet. All my clothes are currently drying upstairs in the room, lol. I'm hoping my jeans are dry by the morning since I don't have any dry long pants to wear now.

I cooked up some dinner (mixed veggies and italian grilled cheese). I love how easy and good some simple meals can be.

I have another full day to spend here in Vienna tomorrow and I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet. I might try to find a free walking tour or just go explore some of the markets. One of the largest and oldest markets in Vienna is literally outside the hostel. I also need to hunt down some schnitzel before I leave.

Teaser photos:

Kolar - Microbrewery and wood fired pitas
Kolar - Microbrewery and wood fired pitas
Stephansdom - built in the 1100's
Stephansdom - built in the 1100's

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Tags: daily journal, vienna, austria

Posted from: Austria

Goodbye Prague, Hello Vienna

Monday, September 30, 2013 @ 9:00 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 96

Today I left Prague and boarded a train to Vienna. I slept in pretty late today (9 is actually considered sleeping in for me on this trip, lol). After breakfast I downloaded and watched the series finale of Breaking Bad. It did a really good job of wrapping everything up and was immensely better than the Dexter series finale. I hung out at the hostel until a little after 11 when I left for the train station. I had some time to kill so I ate lunch and hung out there.

The train was delayed a little bit and I ended up talking to a guy from the area who was interested in how to build a website. He was pretty interesting and I found out he spoke 6 different languages and was fascinated with English.

On the train I made the rookie mistake of sitting on the sunny side and was blinded by the sun for 3/4 of the trip before it hid behind trees and clouds. I spent most of the ride reading or looking out the window.

Once in Vienna, I got a 72 hour bahn card and jumped on the metro to the hostel. The hostel is actually one of those giant ones that houses a ton of people. I didn't get into the hostel until around 7 and by the time I went out searching for food most of the groceries were closed down. I found one that stayed open until 7:30 and picked up some bread, cheese and deli meat for dinner and breakfast tomorrow.

I found out that croissants are actually an Austrian creation so I'm going to make sure I eat one here. I also can't leave Vienna without having some schnitzel (basically what breaded/fried pork tenderloin is based on).

Tags: daily journal, austria, vienna

Posted from: Austria

Quite the Walk!

Quite the Walk!

Sunday, September 29, 2013 @ 5:51 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 95

I mentioned it last night but the Use-It map for Prague has 3 different walking routes outlined on it. I did one yesterday and today I wanted to do the other two. These two routes took me on quite the adventure today. Here's the route all said and done: 11+ miles in Prague.

The end of one of the walks started pretty close to the hostel. Rather than hike to the official start I ended up just doing the walk backwards. It took me up Vitkov hill to a decent view of the city and the Zizkov Television Tower. The TV tower was the next big sight. It's a very interesting building. Some people hate it but it is what it is. In 2000, an artist put some giant crawling babies on the side of the tower which made it even more strange. From there I zig zagged through the city back to the Wencleslas Square where I started the next walk.

I headed north and ate a sandwich and had some mulled wine (hot spiced wine) before continuing across the river into Letna park. I hiked up and gained some elevation until I was behind the big castle. The route had me follow through a really old neighborhood called Novy Svet which has some really cool old windy streets and buildings dating back to the 14th century.

There's an old monastery in the area that has been brewing beer for a long time. I stopped in and had a beer then went over to Petrin's tower. It's modeled after the Eiffel Tower and you can climb to the top for some good views. It was pretty crowded and I didn't feel like dealing with more crowds and lines so I kept on going.

The park around the tower is extremely confusing to navigate. There are paved paths that double back on each other, split into 3 different directions, merge, change direction, etc. All of this while surrounded by big trees and steep elevations so you can't actually tell where you're going. Eventually I made it down into the city and made my way back across the overly crowded Charles Bridge.

The crowds here in Prague have been pretty bad. I'm not sure if I've just been lucky earlier in the trip, but it seems like the crowds here are far beyond what I've run into elsewhere. Rather than continue walking around I just went to the grocery to get some food for dinner and came back to the hostel. I had a full enough day and it felt good to get back and shower and take my shoes off.

Tomorrow afternoon I get on a train to Vienna where I'll spend a few nights before heading into Italy.

Teaser photos:

Prague
Prague
Zizkov Television Tower
Zizkov Television Tower
Novy Svet - A section of the city dating to the 14th century
Novy Svet - A section of the city dating to the 14th century
Got to have some beer brewed in a monastery
Got to have some beer brewed in a monastery

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Tags: daily journal, czech republic, prague

Posted from: Czech Republic

Exploring Prague

Exploring Prague

Saturday, September 28, 2013 @ 4:47 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 94

After checking into the hostel last night I started talking with an Australian guy in my room. We went out to the lobby and the lady working at the hostel counter had just ordered some Vietnamese food from across the street. It smelled good so we went out and had dinner there. When I get sick in Albuquerque I pretty much solely consume green chile stew or Vietnamese Pho to help fight the cold. I jumped at the chance to get some Pho which I happily spiced up with chile sauce.

After that, I watched Breaking Bad, took some cold meds then went to bed. This morning after breakfast I set out to walk around the town and explore Prague. I started out by walking to the famous Charles Bridge. By the time I got there it was already pretty crowded. The bridge goes to the other side of town where the castle, cathedral and basilica are on top of the hill.

I walked up there for some good views of the city. Unfortunately I got there in the early afternoon so the sun made it a little difficult to photograph and see the city. After that I walked down the hill and started on a walk outlined on a guide map that I was given at the hostel. The walk took me along the river through some parks and scenic parts of town.

Along the way I made a stop to try a trdelnik. It's actually a hungarian treat but they make them here as well. It's basically a cinnamon roll that's made by wrapping the bread around a rod and heating it up rotisserie style. Mine wasn't quite as warm as I was hoping for but it still tasted good.

The movie Mission Impossible (1996) was filmed partially in Prague so I ate the trdelnik by the river overlooking the Charles Bridge where they filmed several scenes in the movie. There was some kind of rowing race going on. It was funny to watch because each boat had someone yelling "row" but no one was doing it at the same time and it just looked like no one could follow directions. I'm sure whichever team got their act together and actually rowed on pace would have destroyed everyone else.

I started to follow another walk outlined on the map guide but decided to cut it a little early. I made it back to the old square / astronomical clock area where I was distracted by all the food stands set up. I read that while in Prague I really needed to try one of the sausages. Eventually I found a stand that was selling them and ordered one. Instead of being served on a normal bun like an american hot dog, they're served in a cut open baguette.

On the way back to the hostel I stopped at a grocery store and picked up some apples, oranges, a couple beers and some food for dinner. By the time I got back to the hostel it was getting close to 4 so I'll probably just stay here the rest of the night. My cold is still present so I'll take some more meds and hope that another full night of sleep helps.

Tomorrow I'll take another walk on the guide map which will take me through some parts of town I haven't visited yet. Some of the cities I've visited so far have maps by a company called Use-It. Each city map is created by locals for tourists. It's all free and they're usually really informative and don't have any kinds of ads or anything on them. That's what I've been using here in Prague.

Teaser photos:

Old Square
Old Square
Trdelnik - a hollow cinnamon roll
Trdelnik - a hollow cinnamon roll
Charles Bridge
Charles Bridge
John Lennon Wall
John Lennon Wall

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Tags: daily journal, czech republic, prague

Posted from: Czech Republic

Late Arrival in Prague

Late Arrival in Prague

Friday, September 27, 2013 @ 7:23 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 93

Today was pretty much entirely a travel day. I left Berlin around 12:45 this afternoon on a train for Prague. When we were in Dresden something went wrong with the engine and we had to wait around 45 minutes while they got us another engine car.

South of Dresden we started following a river and there were some really nice views along the way. The towns and villages we passed were very "old fashioned" looking and there seemed to be a pretty active mindset with people hiking and biking around.

I finally made it to Prague and checked into my hostel. I'll probably head out and get some food then call it an early night so I can help fight this cold.

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Tags: daily journal, czech republic, prague

Posted from: Czech Republic

It's all catching up with me

Thursday, September 26, 2013 @ 6:52 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 92

All of the cold wet weather, living in hostels, crappy sleep, and eating pasta several times a week finally caught up with me. Yesterday I started to feel a little out of it and by the time last night rolled around I could tell I was getting sick.

I went to bed really early last night in hopes of fighting the cold but I was tossing and turning all night, plus some of the people in my room started having a conversation at 3:30am again. I got up around 9, ate and then pretty much stayed at the hostel the rest of the day.

I ran out a couple times though... one to get some of Germany's Nyquil equivalent, another to get some fresh air by walking around the Alexanderplatz and a third to go get dinner. I cut my second outing short since it was pretty chilly and I figured that wasn't really doing me any good.

I was going to meet with Katja and Joerg tonight (friends of Scott and Stephanie) but because I'm feeling like crap and didn't want to get them sick we decided to call it off. Over the course of the day I booked the rest of my lodging in Italy which means I have everything taken care of between now and Paris. The only real thing left is to buy train tickets but all the ones left are simply regional trains that don't need reservations. I was looking at the weather for Italy and it looks like it's going to be much warmer and sunny which is going to be very welcome after two and a half weeks of wet and cold.

Tomorrow I get on a train to Prague where I'll spend 3 nights. I've heard great things about the city and I'm really hoping this cold doesn't keep me from seeing and doing everything I want to there.

Tags: daily journal, germany, berlin

Posted from: Germany

The Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 @ 4:37 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 91

The rain stayed away today so I spent the first half of the day out exploring. There's a huge section of the Berlin Wall not too far from the hostel called the East Side Gallery. I walked over there and walked along the stretch of wall. Most of the artwork on the wall was done in 2009 and only some of the stuff was original.

From there, I jumped on the S-Bahn and went to Alexanderplatz where I walked the Unter der Linden to the Brandenburg Gate. The walk is supposed to be a really scenic street but literally the entire road for about a mile was under construction. I'm not sure what the deal was but instead of being a peaceful stroll it was a frustrating mess of construction, people and diversions.

The Brandenburg Gate area was slammed pack full of people taking photos. I'm glad I was able to get some when I first arrived before people showed up. I didn't even bother trying to take any today because it was so crowded.

The Holocaust Memorial isn't too far from the Brandenburg Gate so I walked to it. It's a pretty cool grid of various sized rectangle concrete blocks over an uneven floor which makes walking through it pretty neat. I wanted to go back to the Victory Column but for some reason they had all the routes blocked off. I'm not sure what's getting ready to happen but it I couldn't head over there. Instead, I walked back to the Berlin Hauptbahnhof and got the connections back to the hostel.

Since getting back I've been working more on getting my travel and lodging booked between now and Paris. I was stumped how I was going to get from Vienna to Italy since all of the trains ran at funny times and I wasn't really too pumped about another overnight train experience. Instead, I simply booked an hour long flight from Vienna to Florence, Italy. From Florence I'll get a regional train to Lucca where I'll spend a couple days.

Tomorrow I'm going to head to Charlottenburg Palace which is supposed to be modeled after Versailles, including the expansive gardens.

Teaser photos:

Holocaust Memorial
Holocaust Memorial
Reichstag
Reichstag

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Tags: daily journal, berlin, germany

Posted from: Germany

Raaaaiiiinnnnn

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 @ 6:48 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 90

Some people in my room came in drunk at 4:45 this morning and proceeded to discuss food, religion, drinking and drug habits for an hour before finally going to bed. Needless to say I was pretty pissed off from being woken up that early and didn't really get good sleep after that.

It was raining when I woke up and hasn't stopped all day. I went to the Turkish Market that's pretty close to the hostel and got soaked. It would have been a fun time if it wasn't for the rain. There were tons of food, vegetable, fruit, bread, cloth, and misc vendors set up along a big street. Even in the rain it was still pretty busy.

Rather than deal with low 60's and constant rain I came back to the hostel to read and work. If the weather is nice tomorrow I'll head out and do some more exploring. If it's cold and raining again I'll probably just make it another working day. I'm passed the point in my travels where I feel the need to go out and get soaked all for a few photos. I saw the majority of what I wanted to see during the first two days when it was better weather.

Tags: daily journal, germany, berlin

Posted from: Germany

Checkpoint Charlie and Gypsy Scams

Checkpoint Charlie and Gypsy Scams

Monday, September 23, 2013 @ 9:19 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 89

I slept really well last night after the sleeper train the night before and hiking around with my backpack all day. This morning I got up, had a cup of coffee and then went out to get some food. Since all the markets were closed yesterday I didn't have a chance to pick up any breakfast food.

I went to Lidl and got an apple pastry for breakfast, lunch stuff (bread, strawberry preserves and fake Nutella) and some pasta for dinner. Back at the hostel I ate my breakfast and had some more coffee then set off for Checkpoint Charlie. Even though I have an unlimited train card, I wanted to get some fresh air and the walk was pretty nice.

Checkpoint Charlie is in the middle of a busy street surrounded by all kinds of restaurants, shops, street food vendors (Checkpoint Curry anyone?) and souvenir stands. There was also an outdoor museum with a lot of information about Checkpoint Charlie, the wall and the history surrounding it all.

From there I headed north and then got diverted over to Museum Island due to road construction. I saw the Berlin Cathedral and walked around some of the museums. I didn't go in any of them due to the entry costs being so high. Maybe later in the week I'll venture into one though.

One thing to note... for some reason there are a lot of... for a lack of a better word... gypsies, out around Berlin. I'm not sure what the scam is but I walked around enough today to pick up a sense for something not being right. Basically what happens is a young boy or girl will come up to you asking if you speak english. They have some kind of leaflets in their hand as well. All of this takes place in busy areas and their parents/cohorts aren't usually too far away.

I never acknowledged them so I'm not sure how the scam plays out, but I'm assuming they find out you speak English and either try to sell you some kind of leaflet or use it to distract you while someone else conveniently "bumps" into you and makes off with your valuables. I've read about those scams enough online to think that's probably what's going on.

Anyway, after museum island I went back to Alexanderplatz where I ate lunch and walked through a huge electronics store called Saturn. I was hoping I could get an actual European plug for my laptop so I didn't have to keep using my adapter. Unfortunately they didn't sell just the cord I needed.

I came back to the hostel and worked for several hours before making dinner. I overheard some people at the hostel today talking about how every Tuesday and Friday there's a huge Turkish outdoor market. It's within easy walking distance from my hostel so I'm going to head over there tomorrow and check it out.

Teaser photos:

Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie
Berlin Cathedral
Berlin Cathedral

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Tags: daily journal, germany, berlin

Posted from: Germany

I made it to Berlin!

I made it to Berlin!

Sunday, September 22, 2013 @ 4:41 PM in 2013 Europe

Day 88

The train ride last night went pretty well. I watched the countryside go by until it got dark, read for a bit and then went to sleep. I got up around 6 to get ready for the arrival into the Berlin HBF. The first thing I did when I got to the train station was buy a 7 day unlimited card for use on the S bahn and U bahn (underground and above ground trains).

I had a chai tea latte and a muffin for breakfast then started walking around the area near the train station. I saw the Reichstag (German Parliament building), the Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column. All in all it was about 4 miles of walking first thing in the morning.

I got on the train to Alexanderplatz and walked around there for a bit. I saw the Berliner Fernsehturm (a giant tower in the middle of town). I ended up having some beer and tried some currywurst. I've been trying to try some of the local food wherever I go and currywurst was recommended for Berlin. It's basically a bratwurst cut up and covered in a curry/ketchup sauce and served with a roll. It was pretty good.

I got on the train to the area near my hostel which ended up being a really lively area full of Turkish restaurants, cafes, bars, markets and people everywhere. I eventually found the hostel and got checked in.

I walked over to a Lidl to get some food for the next few nights but unfortunately I forgot that most groceries are closed on Sunday. I'm getting pretty hungry but I'm not sure what I'm going to do yet for food. I'll probably have to give one of the turkish places a try since another food that was recommended to try in Berlin is a Doner (basically a Turkish version of the gyro).

I'm already feeling tired as well so I don't think tonight will be a late one. Tomorrow I'll set out to do some more exploring around the city.

Teaser photos:

Brandenburg Gate - Berlin
Brandenburg Gate - Berlin
Top of the Victory Column
Top of the Victory Column
TV Tower and the Alexanderplatz
TV Tower and the Alexanderplatz

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Tags: daily journal, berlin, germany

Posted from: Germany

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