Vienna, Austria for Backpackers

Vienna. What comes to mind when you think of Vienna? Classical music concerts, Beethoven, The Vienna Opera House… Some of the staples of Vienna. Right? Those things are great about this city and well worth getting immersed in….but Vienna actually is a pretty cool place apart from the classical music scene. Is it a party city? No. It’s not Berlin. But, it’s certainly worth a visit. I’ve spent a good amount of time exploring Vienna over the years and will provide some tips & hints for discovering Vienna. It’s not the cheapest city, but it’s certainly do-able if you’re budget minded. First up…..Schnitzel.

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Being part Austrian, no schnitzel will ever be like Grandma’s schnitzel, but Vienna’s got some KICK ASS choices. I’ve eaten 5 dollar schnitzels in Vienna and even a 50 dollar one (which wasn’t very good). Here are my top two picks. If you’re on a budget, check out Schnitzelwirt. The meal will set you back $10-$15 bucks….and it’s gigantic. You can basically eat the meal as lunch and dinner and you’ll still have some to take home. It tastes great. The restaurant is nice and you’ll be surrounded by Austrian locals. Overall it’s a fun time. Next…and my favorite is Zum Figlmuller. There’s really only one thing you can order on the menu and that is the Figlmuller-Schnitzel. It’s so amazing! It’s huge! It tastes so good! The meat is pounded so thin that the schnitzel will flop over your plate. And you’ve gotta get it with the mixed salad or potato salad. This meal will probably set you back about $20-$25 bucks but it’s well worth it. And you’ll either have leftovers or you’ll be full for the next 24 hours. I recommend going to the Wollzeile location. Make reservations here!…and unless it’s a touristy season the wait is just 10-15 minutes long. Oh yeah…no beer is served. Only wine. Lots of people online give Figlmuller crap and say the schnitzel isn’t good…..but sorry man. THE SCHNITZEL IS AMAAAZZZING!!!!

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If you’re on a really tight budget, go to one of the many Kebab stands in the city. They’re all over the place and they ROCK THE SOCKS. I think I’ve eaten at about 75% of them in the entire city. One visit I was obsessed. That’s all I ate. There’s a really good one in the Naschmarkt, which is another place you’ve gotta visit. It’s a big flea market/food market. Take a 30 minute stroll there and check out the sites and smells of Vienna. It can be reached easily because the U-bahn system in Vienna is really simple to use. Just go to a kiosk and select a 24-hr, 48-hr or 72-hr unlimited travel card (well worth it). After that you’ve gotta check out Stadtpark, Vienna’s central park, and spend about an hour or so just walking around and hanging out. During the night it’s just as pretty, but I’d go during the day because it’s nicer. And not that it’s dangerous, but on occasion you can get the random drunken lout wandering around at night. Next stop….Schonbrunn Palace. It’s a 20 minute U-bahn ride on the U4 green line and about a 45 minute walk to get from the subway platform to the Gloriette at the top. If you’re into the history, take the tour inside the palace, but I’ve always just walked around the immense palace grounds and gardens. Give yourself a few hours for this. The view is amazing. It’s free. Bring a picnic. Take a nap. Meditate. It’s awesome. Also, during the winter they have a Christkindlemarkt there, which is doubly as awesome. Hot punch. Friendly people. Great snacks. Crisp air. Christmas lights. What more could you want? Now if you’ve got the time…go to the Tiergarten Schonnbrun. It’s the oldest zoo in the world and is right next to Schonnbrun Palace. I wouldn’t recommend going there if you only had a couple of days in Vienna. But if you’re there anywhere from 4-7 days. Check it out.

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A lesser talked about destination in Vienna is the Hundertwasserhaus. It’s an architectural and artistic masterpiece. A trip there will change your life and calm your soul. Well worth it and something that you wouldn’t expect in Vienna. Some other fun stuff to do? It’s a big city and I’d advise a little bit of wandering, especially if you have the unlimited U-bahn ticket. Hop on an above ground tram, cruise the main ring (Ringstrasse), and/or just take the U-bahn and ride around. Some good places to see are the Prater (Praterstern U-bahn stop), the Rathaus (Rathaus U-bahn stop), the Karlsplatz U-bahn station used to be filled with bums, but now it’s cleaned up, and there’s the Opera Toilet (you HAVE to see it) and of course Stephansdom (Stephansplatz U-bahn stop). Even if you’re not religious….when you have a chance to see an 850-year old church…..go see it! It’s remarkable. You’ll get hounded outside by 20 guys dressed as Beethoven selling tickets to cheesy concerts, but just ignore them. Once and a while they have nighttime concerts inside the church (well worth paying if available-they sell those at the ticket booth located outside of the church). Up for some ice cream or gelato? Go anywhere that has the EIS sign. They’re scattered throughout the city. My favorite one is near the Reumannplatz subway stop, but that’s just me.

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The Vienna Concert Cafes are really cool. Time your visit right and you can sit and enjoy a classical concert for the price of a cup of coffee. And if you’re smart….you’ll shell out the extra Euros and order the Kaiserschmarren (Austria’s staple dessert). If you’re adventurous you can head over to Bratislava for the day. It’s a good place to see. The commuter train is only an hour long and it’s about a $20 dollar round trip ticket. The exchange rate was awesome and I did some shopping on the cheap there, but that was in 2007 (In 2009 they adopted the Euro). Back in Vienna proper, if you’re a horse enthusiast, seeing The Spanish Riding School will definitely be a highlight, but if you’re not, it’ll be a waste of time and money for you so just take the nice, romantic horse drawn carriage through the cobblestone streets if you’re with your spouse/partner/lover. That way you can see the city from a different vantage point.

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If you’re looking to go out and get some drinks….hang at some of the bars in the Bermuda Triangle (just a grouping of bars in a triangular area of streets). It makes for some easy bar hopping and late night kebab eating. Crossfield’s Australian Pub (near the Opera) is also worth the visit. Beers. Trivia games. A comfortable atmosphere….and you can eat grasshoppers if you want! That’s right. Grasshoppers! They’re crunchy!… Down for Karaoke? Hit up Mai Kai and belt out some tunes. It’s a chill spot. Where to sleep you ask? Well…. Hotel Furstenhof ain’t the cheapest place ($60-$75/night) for a bohemian half-hotel, half-hostel) but it’s certainly got some charm. There’s always Wombats Hostel ($20-$30/night) or you can take a quick look on Hostelworld.com. There’s plenty of em’ to choose from. As for regular hotels…they can be a bit pricey in this town….but look nonetheless. They run some deals and specials from time to time. Hotel Karntnerhof is a good one to try. It’s not too close to the action but not too far away.

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Museums? Yes to them all. If you’ve got the time of course. If you’re gonna pick just one….I’d say that you’d have to see Albertina. Also, take one of the Danube River tours (Stift Melk is a good one [uber awesome if you’re a librarian] and check out Durnstein and Krems while you’re there) or a take walk in the Wienerwald (it’s really special. Autumn is the best time for this). If you’ve hired a car or have the money for a taxi, head out of the city to a traditional Heuriger restaurant. It’s no German beer hall, with the singing and dancing, but it’s just as awesome in it’s own way. Grab a nice lunch and try the new Austrian wines or some ‘Sturm’ if it’s in season. Another very fun ‘free’ thing to do is go to Stephansdom and walk in the direction of Karlsplatz. As you walk, just watch the street performers. There’s a dance group that shows up (almost everyday) near the church and draws a big crowd. Sometimes there are classical music groups or guitar players that are good to watch. You can tip them or just waltz on by.

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There’s plenty to do in Vienna and I’ll say again that it’s really worth a visit. The best time of year to go is probably in mid to late September or early October. Autumn in Vienna is perfect. Not that other seasons in Vienna are bad. The spring is amazing when the flowers are in bloom, the summer is great (but a bit hot because of all the recent heat waves) and the winter, though a bit dreary in parts of the city, it’s beautiful because the Christmas markets are out and a fresh snowfall in Vienna is pretty stunning. Anytime that you go, you’ll have a good time. I’ve given you a large amount of stuff to check out but don’t limit yourself. Check out the tourist maps (available at most shops and hostels) and see what they suggest. Also, do some of the classical music concerts if that’s your sole reason for visiting. And again, wander around….wander, wander, wander. It’s fun. You might just stumble into this place ‘Burg Kino’, which is perfect if you’re an Orson Welles fan. And if you’re flying in or out, be sure to use the CAT train shuttle (about $15 bucks). The airport is a ways away from the center city and you’ll end up paying 40-50 Euros for a cab ride.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. and my tips for Vienna, Austria. If you’d like further assistance in planning your trip, feel free to contact me on twitter @odiemcconnell or via e-mail at mcconnellfavors@gmail.com.  As always. Do your best. Treat others with respect… people, animals and plants alike. And follow The Golden Rule. Have a great day!

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Back in 2011, I was lucky enough to attend the screening of the documentary film, ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ at the Berlin Film Festival, and it’s a film that I highly recommend. The documentary, directed by David Gelb, is the story of Jiro Ono, an elderly sushi master who owns the restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, and is supposedly one of the best sushi chefs in the world. I’ve never eaten there….but after seeing the film and hearing the director speak during a Q&A session after the movie, I tend to agree. One of the things I remember him saying was that it’s very difficult for him to eat sushi now…..because Jiro’s sushi was by far the best he’s ever had. And at $300 for a starting course (plus a trip to Tokyo and lodging)….that’s a tough problem to have for a sushi lover.

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There are plenty of other good blogs about the film and Jiro’s ideology… and I have no intention of going into details and spoiling it for viewers, so I’m going to keep this one short and sweet. It’s a well made and entertaining film that highlights a living legend in the sushi trade. It’s a film that has many layers and speaks volumes of truth on different levels because of Jiro himself. It’s a pleasant slice of Japanese culture. And it makes you want to eat sushi. The best sushi.

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I will probably never make it to Sukiyabashi Jiro while Jiro is still alive and running the restaurant. Unless maybe he lives to be 100 and is still working, which is entirely possible after seeing the guys work ethic. So, if you’re a traveler and have the money to do so, I’d say go for it. Check out Jiro’s restaurant and then write to me and tell me how awesome it is. I mean….even Obama went there and ate his sushi. But, if you’re not gonna fly around the world to grab the best sushi meal on the planet….pick up some nice sushi from your local Japanese place, rent ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’ on netflix or DVD….and enjoy yourself. Oh yeah….UMAMI.

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Look at that face! Who doesn’t want some Jiro in their life? I really, really hope you check out the film and learn about Jiro and support independent documentaries. It’ll be well worth your time. As always. Be good to yourself. Be good to others. And follow The Golden Rule.

Native Americans

It is hard for me to think of America, the country that I live in, without recalling all that I’ve learned over the years about the Native American people and what we as “Americans” have done to them. Sure, in elementary and high school we are given a broad overview, which doesn’t necessarily highlight the heinous crimes committed, just as young little Germans are given a broad overview of who Hitler was. (To support that last sentence, while spending time in Germany in an adult education course, my instructor, as we discussed WW2, was playing down the atrocities and then told me that ‘Hitler was an Austrian you know’. So, that shows you how instructors are taught to kind of….’brush over’ that little smudge on their countries reputation.) In fact, Adolf Hitler is known to have studied what the United States did to the Native Americans when planning his own genocide. He used it as inspiration. Hmmm….curious. And we’re the good guys. You sure?

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How many Native Americans did our government actually murder, whether directly or indirectly? There’s a wide gap in the estimates that you will find. Some scholars say around 10 million and some people even say upwards of 100 million. I’m apt the believe that the official number is somewhere in the middle of those two. Why? Well because if you have any common sense, you’ll know that history is written by the conquerors. OF COURSE the US Government would play down the official death toll for its beloved citizens. “Oh hunny….we only killed 1 million people. That’s not THAT many. Let’s buy this 500 acre plot of land for .50 cents and open a farm! Yay!’. Either way….we killed tens of millions of native inhabitants just so we could have a home. That’s defined as theft right? And yes, disease, smallpox and plague played into lots of the deaths as well, but those are diseases that Europeans brought with them.

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It’s a difficult topic to research and find solid information on because so much of that information has been buried. Also, Native Americans have an oral tradition so it’s very possible that a lot of the history and knowledge from many past elders has faded with time. Of course, you can do a quick google search on this topic… but there are some very good Native American authors that I’d urge you to read, including Joseph Marshall III and David E. Stannard (though he’s not Native American). Why am I writing about this and why do I even care, being that I’m not Native American? Well….I live in this country. As a citizen I’d like to know the history of the place I call my home. I find the Native American culture fascinating and I believe that their wisdom and teachings are tantamount to succeeding as a person and as a country. I hope to see a day where the U.S. Government and the U.S. President will actually openly apologize to the Native Americans, rather than giving them a cheap and underhanded whiff. Ya know? A real apology…with fanfare, tv specials, ceremonies, charities and large reparations, with suitable and sustainable parcels of their homeland given back to them, with reasonable subsidies given to their families so they can thrive, revive their culture, religion and way of life and not become poverty stricken alcoholics. Our American ancestors were thieves and murderers. We killed their culture, raped and murdered their people, displaced them and destroyed their way of life….for HUNDREDS OF YEARS. We could at least acknowledge it, properly educate ourselves about it and give the remaining Native Americans a large slice of the pie that we’ve been eating for the past 400 years. After all….we stole that pie from them. You might say, ‘Hey…but they’ve got their casino land and are wealthy now….so we’re even’. Come on now hypothetical guy who said that….don’t be foolish.

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I wasn’t there during the colonization of America. I wasn’t involved in the killing of the natives. I didn’t rape and scalp Indians and then murder thousands of buffalos just so the Native Americans would starve. I’m sorry for it. But I wasn’t there. And now….. I enjoy the life that I’ve been raised in and have become accustomed to as an ‘American’. I’m not saying we should demolish all our houses and revert back to the ways that the Native Americans lived (though some of the things that existed in their former lifestyles are very attractive). For one, those of us who come from other countries, however far back the genealogy goes, are not ‘natives’ in America. And two…..once you put milk in the coffee….it’s kind of hard to get it out. So, we can’t just go backwards and change history, however horrible it may be, and live in a world of ‘what if’s’. But what is essential… is to remember what our ancestors did…..understand it, accept it, formulate a better and more respectful way to live…..and move on. Otherwise, we’re doomed to continue dealing with corrupt politicians, a pure profit driven society, oppression, war, famine, a highly stressed out populace and an under educated, short attention spanned, reality-show obsessed culture. Maybe if we had some Native American leaders in political office….things would get better. Philosophies could change. Who knows? It’s worth a shot because as many pro’s as ‘America’ has….the list of con’s has been steadily growing.

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Why do I say we as a people and a country would be doomed? Well….look at it this way. When two people in a marriage have a problem, it gets better and/or goes away once it’s brought out into the open, discussed, and then resolved. When the problem is ignored….or the other persons opinion is rejected or passed over….the problem gets worse, and worse and worse….until there’s a HUGE FIGHT. We’re connected to the Native Americans, whether we think we are or not. And if ‘we’ (the US government….and it’s citizens) don’t fix the problem that ‘we’ created…..it’s going to continue to be a problem. It will be this underlying, spiteful, festering anger…(no matter if another 500 years pass’s before anything proper is done). Call it a Native American curse, call it karma, call it whatever you want….but ya know….fixing the problem….that’s called LOGIC. Maybe our country and even our world is a such a disaster, filled with hatred and injustice, because we can’t mend our root problems? Maybe…just maybe?

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Hey….I’m just a regular white guy with a blog…..but I hope that I’ve struck a chord in some way and have encouraged you to learn more about the Native American people (through books or films or museum visits), to join their cause and/or to amend your attitude about them. They’re a great people with a rich history, in each and every one of their tribes, and they deserve the utmost respect.

Thanks for reading this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. As always….do your best. Be as kind as you can. Follow the Golden Rule. And have a great night.

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