I know I’ve been MIA (missing in action) for most of the festive season, but to everyone who missed my random ramblings – a very Merry Christmas and a fantastic start to the New Year.
As you know from the last post, we have had Mrs FOMOist’s twin and her little cousin over the festive period, who sadly left on Sunday, leaving Mrs FOMOist feeling a little Sad Panda-esque. However, while they were here, we made sure we made the most of our time with them. So in true FOMOist style, we had a jam-packed schedule for them to explore London:
- Among a number of things, we checked out the Hawker House at Canada Water on it’s last day of December. I have to say, in terms of pop-ups, this has to be one of my favourite one. First of all, these were covered street food markets, with warmly regulated temperatures so you can take off your scarf, jacket and even the jumper! Then there was the plentiful seating so one doesn’t have to gawk at others like hungry vultures and prying on an empty inch on a bench full of strangers. Then finally throw in excellent selection of bars and food stalls that are well staffed to minimise queues, you have an excellently thought out and well managed pop-up! Hawker House Canada Water reopens on 29 January and it is definitely worth a visit.
- To keep the visitors impressed, we then took them to Pop Brixton. So far I had heard mixed reviews about this Boxpark doppleganger, but in my humble opinion, Pop Brixton is way better. It felt like a more dapper gentleman version of Boxpark with stalls selling interesting knicknacks, food stalls selling a range of international foods and the craft beer stalls selling freshly brewed hoppy goodness.
- Another pop-up visited during the festive season was called Midnight Apothecary at the Brunel Museum. The pop-up had promised open-air bar with firepits, toasted marshmellows and winterwarming cocktails. One thing it didn’t mention was the lack of seating and that there will only be one little firepit, which would be hogged by people who got there first and the mortals like us will just gape at the fire with wanting eyes before giving up and heading back.
- The last of the London stops worth a mention was Moscow State Circus at Winterville – hailed to be the alternative London Winter Wonderland. The circus itself was entertaining without being ground-breaking. However, Winterville in my humble opinion was just a unhappy little sibling of Winter Wonderland with hardly anyone around. A side-note for TFL – can you please develop an easier way to get to Winterville from SE London? It was a bitch!
After a good dose of showing off our Londonlife, we headed for the city litered with theatres, palaces and residents of artistic and intellectual legends including Mozart, Beethoven and Sigmund Freud. We arrived at our hotel (Mercure Wien Zentrum) around 5.30pm on Christmas day and wasted no time heading for the only Christmas markets open on the day – Christmas village on Maria-Theresien-Platz.
The fog was hanging low over our heads while we briskly made our way to the markets. Most of the places we have visited so far are under refurbishment. Vienna on the other hand looked like an extremely well-restored city of ornate architecture no matter where you turned. We walked through the Hofburg, with Rathaus on one side and the National Library on the other, both of which looked suspended mid air due to the thick fog. The Rathaus looked breathtaking! As the little cousin put it – it almost looked like a Disney Castle! Once at the markets, we wasted no time getting tucked into some gluhwein and goulash served in hollowed out bread. We had planned to visit Salzburg the next day so after leaving the markets, we grabbed some dinner at the Hofbräu zum Rathaus and stayed there far too long drinking beer and eating pretzels (after dinner and dessert) than we should have.
On Boxing Day, we got up early and headed for our daytrip to Salzburg. Rather than taking the train, we opted to get on a tour bus so we could gawk out the windows at the beautiful scenery. When we had booked this trip, we were really hoping for a white Christmas, however as much of us found out, majority of places remained snow-deprived and Salzburg was no exception. On the way, the tour guide on the bus advised that Salzburg is a destination of choice for winter sports for locals in Vienna. Startng out the window, it was pretty sad noticing the empty/closed winter sports shops and outlets. Once in Salzburg, we were given a quick tour of the city which focused more on the sites featured in The Sound of Music rather than being the birthplace of Mozart. Surely Mozart
is should be a bigger deal than a movie, or is it just me? Salzburg was a nice little town with Christmas markets, Jardin Mirabelle and the castle, however if you’re in Vienna only for a short period of time, stay in Vienna rather than coming here, unless of course you’re a big The Sound of Music Mozart fan.
As I’ve mentioned before, we like doing free walking tours everywhere we go. While planning for Vienna, I couldn’t find any free walking tours, but found this website called Vienna Greeters. So the concept is the same – you email, someone from the organisation emails you back. The difference? It’s a personal tour. When I emailed a few weeks prior to our arrival, a guy called Herbert replied back and told me he would love to show us around. Herbert is a 70+ retired stage manager of a renowned theatre in Vienna. I was delighted and accepted his offer and thought I’ll just tip him at the end as per the free walking tours etiquette. But the experience with Herbert was different.
He picked us up from the hotel lobby punctually at the agreed time. While taking us around, I casually mentioned that I’d love his recommendation on where to find a good strudel. Without hesitation, Herbert told me that he would like to invite me to a café (Cafe Griensteidl) where we all got coffees and apple strudel. The girls at this point were very apprehensive and suspicious as they weren’t sure whether they could decline the offer and who will be footing up the bill. After our little coffee break, Herbert insisted on paying and succeeded.
Then he suggested that we check out the old part of the National Library. This old part is for exhibition only, which means you cannot get books out, but the ornate architecture makes it a sought-after tourist attraction, charging €5pp entry. Again, Herbert insisted that since it was his idea, he will pay. At this point, I had to ask Herbert how this thing is supposed to work and his answer left me a bit stunned. He said he did it because he loves his city. He really wants to show it to people who visit. He didn’t do it for the money, but in the hope that when he goes overseas (which he did a lot), people would be kind enough to return the favour. After a very informative walk through Herbert’s city, he bid farewell and head his way. This seriously left all four of us in awe. Even now I cannot believe that people like Herbert exist in this world. If or when I reach Herbert’s age, I really hope I can do the same for whichever country or city I end up calling home.
There is so much to see in Vienna and I am sure if you’re planning on going, you’ve already done your research. So rather than listing out all the main tourist attractions, here are a few highlights from our trip:
- Vienna has a number of beautiful palaces, however, if you only want to visit one, I would highly recommend the Schonbrunn Palace. Former imperial summer residence is set in the middle of a beautiful landscape of green grass and I could only imagine what it will look with all the the flowers in bloom. I would highlighly recommend a tour of the inside of the palace if you’re visiting. Also, rather than doing the Imperial tour, pay a little extra and do the Grand tour, it’s worth it.
- Even if you’re in Vienna for a short time, I would highly recommend a stroll around Naschmarkt. This 16th-century open-air food and produce market is a landmark of Vienna history donning best delis, food and flea market. One such gem is a restaurant called Gasthaus “Zur Eisernen Zeit”, the oldest in Naschmarkt. If you want to eat there, avoid the busy lunch period or make a booking. Order the lamb goulash accompanied with the small Murauer Bier. Finish the meal off with hazel schnapps and say hi to Nicholas, the extremely attentive and nice waiter.
After Vienna, this year we were determined to welcome the New Year in London. Initially we had planned to join the masses for the infamous London fireworks, but as the possibility drew closer, we took the offer of the Mayor to get a full refund and decided to welcome the New Year in the company of our close friends, and very nice and friendly bunch of strangers at a tiny underground bar called Vinyl Bar. The Rude Movements at the Vinyl Bar was the perfect way to welcome 2016 followed by a lazy New Year’s Day in bed.
For now, the twin and the cousin have departed, Mrs FOMOist and I are getting used to not having an air mattress to climb over in our living room while planning our next trip.