Christmas Journey to Spain, Part IV

Now that it is the dead of summer, I am finally finishing my story about my crazy journey from England to Portugal to Spain for Christmas. Since this story, I have been to Ireland, Spain (twice), Sweden, and Greece. Always on the go….

Continued:

The plus side: I had gotten a seat on my final flight to Porto. The bad side: It was several hours delayed, now to arrive at 2am (3am Spanish time). Once I even arrived to Porto, it was still an hour and twenty minute drive to my in-laws’ house. My husband had been waiting up at home until we took off from Lisbon. Usually I don’t travel with checked bags on intra-European flights, but this time I had to because I was bringing gifts and couldn’t fit them all in my carry-on.

Less than an hour after leaving behind the chaos at Lisbon airport, we were arriving to Porto. We disembarked and waited in baggage claim for our suitcases to arrive. My husband was in the arrival gate waiting for me to collect my suitcase. I sent him a text saying that I should be out soon.

I was fully expecting my bag to be missing. With the short connection time between my two flights, I knew it would have taken a miracle for my bag to have been put on the plane. The lucky bags that did arrive took an eternity to get delivered. Turns out not so many baggage handlers are working December 23rd at 2am in Porto. Once it was obvious my bag was not among them, I followed the other passengers to the Tap Portugal customer service office. Due to all the delays in Lisbon, many passengers were left without luggage. There was nowhere to sit outside the office, so we all formed a line on the floor. Only once did a Tap Portugal representative come out of the office to explain what was happening. Unfortunately for me, she only did so in Portuguese. She was taking people in one by one into the customer service office and closing the door behind her. Each person spent at least half an hour in the office before emerging out. I was at a total loss as what could be taking so long behind that door. How long does it take to give them your forwarding address?

I was using the free wifi to message back and forth to my husband, who was dying of boredom outside. He told me I could file my missing bag on the company website. He was probably right, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I was worried if I didn’t have my bag return form guaranteed from Tap Portugal, I might never see it again. By now it was about 4/4:30 in the morning. While waiting in line, I had the chance to catch up on all the world news. I read the papers from the US, UK, and Spain. I stumbled across a video of a man in Russia who drove his car through an airport “for love”. I sent it to my husband and he said he was about at the point to do the same thing.

When it was finally my turn. I was shown a catalog with pictures of suitcases. I had to identify which one looked the most like mine and describe its appearance. I wrote out my in-laws’ address for them to send me the bag. They handed me an overnight kit with a t-shirt and toiletries and I was out of there. It only took me about 10 minutes with the representatives. What was everyone else doing?

I walked through the exit doors and gave my poor husband a big hug. What a night. I only had my purse and a few gifts I had bought in the Manchester Airport for my brother-in-law: Christmas boxers and a singing chicken hat that British people like to wear for holidays.

We drove the final leg of the journey from Porto to Galicia. I think I passed out along the way and woke up as we were approaching his family’s house. I looked at the watch. It was 7am Spanish time (6am in Portugal and England). I borrowed clothes from my sister-in-law for a few days until my bag arrived. We didn’t have much to give out on Christmas day itself, but thankfully we had the Christmas underwear and chicken hat to entertain my little nieces!

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6AM in Porto with only Christmas underwear and a chicken hat.

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Christmas Journey to Spain, Part III

What a mess. It was obvious from the size of the crowd that there had been lots of flight disruptions in Lisbon that day. I could hear the gate agents calling out names and was worried that they might have already given up my seat assuming that I wasn’t coming. I pushed my way to the front of the group and showed my ticket. “Your flight is leaving from Gate 7, at 12:50am,” the agent informed me. I was slightly puzzled; had they put me on a later flight because I arrived late? Had they opened a new flight to accommodate all the stranded passengers in Lisbon? Had my 11:00pm flight been delayed until 12:50am?

I recognized a girl next to me that had been on my flight from Manchester. I remember her speaking in Portuguese with the poor Brazilian traveler that probably missed her connection to São Paulo. “Crazy, isn’t it?” I mentioned, turning to her. “Do you know what’s going on with this flight?” “People are mad because they are selecting certain passengers to board the empty seats on this flight. They seem to be choosing based off of company priority and many people have been waiting for hours because of cancellations,” she answered.

One particular Spanish customer was not happy with this priority policy. She was upset that she and her young children had been waiting in the airport all day after their flight was cancelled and they still hadn’t been put on any later flight. It just wasn’t “justo” (fair) she was repeating. (That is often a rallying cry of political activists in Spain). Outraged, she even went as far as to announce that TAP Portugal was worse than the infamously low cost carrier, Ryanair. That was below the belt. Another man started yelling what I can only imagine was a long string of expletives in Portuguese. My travel companion started filming it on her phone, probably to upload to social media later. She was from Porto and lives in Manchester where she works. We decided to go to Gate 7 before things got ugly.

Things were much smoother at Gate 7 where a few of us were waiting for the last flight out for the night. I chatted with my Portuguese traveler, glad for someone to share this madness with. At some point, we could hear the sound of footsteps and rolling bags as the passengers who were unsuccessful in boarding the previous Porto flight made their way over. To be safe, we jumped in line behind the desk. By the time our 12:50am flight was ready to board, there was quite a crowd. At our turn, we each approached one of the agents to scan our boarding passes. My ticket beeped negative on the machine and the agent told me there was a problem and they would get their supervisor. They rattled on in Portuguese and I glanced over and saw my new friend also having trouble with the ticket scanner.

I don’t know what happened, but the agent printed me another ticket with a new seat and told me to pass. I paused for a moment in front of the walkway to see what was going on with my friend. “Is everything okay?” I offered. “They say I can’t board the plane. I don’t know. You just go,” she replied. I was frozen for a second. Should I show my solidarity and wait for her, or just run unto the plane before they change their mind and take my seat away. Survival instinct took over and I yelled back, “Good luck!” before entering the jet bridge.

From my seat, I watched as the rest of the passengers boarded. My friend never got on. I will never know for sure, but I have a feeling I somehow got the last seat on the plane. I was only one short hour away from Porto. I was getting closer to completing my multi-journey trip to Galicia.

Christmas Journey to Spain, Part II

In continuation from my previous post about my eventful journey from Manchester to Galicia, Spain for Christmas…

“You have to try this,” my seat passenger told me, holding up the famous pasteis de belem custard tart from Lisbon. “I know. I’ve had these before in Lisbon. They’re delicious,” I replied.

This was our first conversation since departing Manchester. The guy in the seat next to me wore skinny jeans and a dark hoodie. He had long hair and a beard and gave off a rocker-punk attitude. He had been sleeping most of the trip with the hood pulled up over his head. He had woken up to eat the in-flight snack. Much to my surprise, we struck up a conversation after he told me he was from Lisbon. I told him about my previous trip to Lisbon some years ago and how the city really impressed me. He was a music artist/DJ living in Manchester who performed at bars and was going home to see family in Portugal. We connected over being foreigners in England coming from much warmer home climates. He was excited to learn that I was from Atlanta, saying it was a place he’s always wanted to go given the thriving music industry there. He said he hoped to get a chance to work on some projects in Atlanta, or Detroit. I campaigned for Atlanta. Hopefully he’ll make the right choice.

“Look, we’re approaching the city. Don’t be nervous, but in about two minutes, the plane is going to take a sharp left hand turn before descending. We will fly past the city and then loop back to land. They always do that.” My fellow passenger knew the route very well. He had told me that when he first moved to Manchester, he returned back home at least once a month. “Once we make that sharp turn, you will have great views of the coastline. It’s too bad it’s too dark to see it. But in the daytime, it’s amazing.” He obviously had great pride in his hometown. Sure enough, the plane took a swift rotation to the left, which might indeed have made me nervous had he not warned me. “The flights always do this? Fly past the city and then turn back around?” I asked. “Always. I think it’s a tourist promotion- let everyone have a good view of Lisbon by air.” It seemed a plausible explanation. We were flying with TAP Portugal, the national airlines.

On the ground, I quickly gathered all my belongings to make a speedy exit for my connecting flight to Porto. My seatmate knew I had to dash to catch another flight and wished me a happy stay in Spain or wherever I ended up that night. In the plane, I could already see the other connecting flight passengers from earlier. We all nodded to each other as if to say, “Good luck.” We burst out of the front plane doors… only to find a shuttle waiting to take us all to the gate. So much for getting off the plane quickly. Those of us with second flights stood near the doors of the shuttle and jumped out as soon as the doors opened. Racing up the stairs, we came to border control. Arriving from England to continental Europe requires passing through security.

Passport stamped, I darted across to the nearest departure monitor. Gate 23 showed Porto. The gates went in numerical order and I was next to number 1, 2, and 3. Sigh. Of course it would be the furthest gate in all the airport. Running through the Lisbon airport, I thought of all my previous airport races across Europe. Over the past 4+ years of living abroad, the airport racing is a constant. I have publicly disgraced myself in many a European airport. But when time is of the essence, one does not care so much about appearance. I may look silly, but who cares as long as I board the plane?

Completely out of breath, I arrived to Gate 23. Masses of people where gathering around the desk yelling in Spanish and Portuguese. I had a bad feeling about this…

Christmas journey to Spain, Part I

It’s hard to believe February is coming to close, but I wanted to share this story of my journey to stay with my in-laws this Christmas… Part I.

Every year, we rotate between spending Christmas with my family in Georgia and with my husband’s family in Spain. Last year, we were in Georgia so this year was our turn to go to Spain. Christmas abroad is never the same as being at home, but still magical.

My journey from England to Spain, however, was anything but magical. Our last day in the office was Friday, December 23rd. I had my flights purchased to leave that night. My husband had already left for Spain as his sister had been visiting us the weekend before and they returned together. (Plus, he’s a university professor so when classes are out, he’s free to start the holidays.)

As midday arrived that Friday, I headed home from the office to pick up my suitcase en route to the train station. I was already hesitant about my journey ahead as it consisted of the following: 2 train rides, one bus ride, two flights, and then a 1 hour drive from the airport to my in-laws’ house. Let it be known that typically there is a direct, 50 minute train from our town to the airport, but for some inexplicable reason, the rail company decided that Christmas season was the optimum time to tear up all the lines. My flights were sending me through Portugal as there were no convenient routes from England to where my Spanish family lives in the northwest of Spain.

To start off my journey, there were heavy winds and rains delaying all the trains. My train was delayed an hour. Luckily, I was able to hop on the previous train that had also been delayed to my original train’s departure time. I caught my second train and then took the provided bus to the airport. 3 legs of my 6 leg Christmas journey complete.

At Manchester International Airport, I breezed through airport security thinking my travel troubles were behind me. That was until I noticed my first flight to Portugal was, you guessed it, delayed. I had plenty of time to make my connection in Lisbon. As time passed, the expected departure time got pushed back and back. When the gate agents announced that the plane had yet to arrive, I started to worry about getting my connection. Now scheduled to depart over two hours late, there was a group of distressed travelers hovering around the gate desk. The majority were Portuguese travelers with tight connections from Lisbon. They were all speaking together. Listening for any clues that sounded like Spanish, I could make out a bit of what was going on.

They were wanting to know from the gate agent, also Portuguese, if the airline was going to hold our connecting flights for us. One girl was particularly distraught. She had a connecting flight to São Paulo, Brazil. I couldn’t imagine the stress of trying to catch a flight to South America on December 23rd with flight delays. The girl was weighing out her options. As her chances to catch her connecting flight were dwindling, she was contemplating staying in Manchester to try to take another flight to Brazil the next day as there weren’t as many options out of Portugal. The ground traffic coordinator was putting a lot of pressure on the girl to make a decision as the team was needing to get the approval to load all the bags under the plane. Everyone was watching.

I couldn’t help but sympathize with the girl. She must be living or working in the UK and going home to spend Christmas with her family. Travelling is stressful enough on its own, but even more so when you live far away and you just want to be home warm and cozy with your family over the holidays. I was also impressed by the way the girl seamlessly altered between Portuguese and English with the different gate agents. In the end, the girl decided to take the flight to Lisbon. She was convinced by a fellow traveler to Brazil, who informed her that the airline would be responsible for putting her up in Lisbon if she missed her second flight. If she willingly stayed behind in Manchester, the airline wouldn’t offer any refunds and she would have to buy a new flight to Brazil herself.

Finally, we boarded the plane and sat there on the tarmac another 45 minutes at least. I had checked online that my second flight had been delayed as well, so there may be hope that I could still make it to Spain that night. The only concern I had was the time I would lose passing through security a second time; the UK isn’t a member of the Schengen Zone and therefore, passport control is in place to mainland Europe.

The atmosphere on the plane was tense. It was obvious many travelers were worried about getting to their final destinations. The flight attendants were trying to reassure some passengers that the airline would do their best to accommodate the delays. As I strapped my seatbelt, I considered the possibility that I could have to stay the night in Lisbon. I didn’t really mind about that, I had been to Lisbon a few years ago. What I was more nervous about was the airline not being able to put me on another flight to Porto the next day- there are rarely open seats on flights the week of Christmas. I was already picturing myself spending Christmas alone in Lisbon. The pilot directed the plane to the runway. I pulled out the in-flight magazine to try to distract myself from worrying about my delay, although I had no idea at the time that the travel complications were far from over. To be continued…

 

One Day in Slovakia

Before going to Austria, I had stumbled across an article about day trips from Vienna. One particular city caught my eye… Bratislava. I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to visit a new country, so I decided to make a day trip to Slovakia.

For 13 Euros you can buy a roundtrip train ticket between Austria’s and Slovakia’s capital cities. The ride is only about an hour.

On the train ride over, I heard a variety of languages. It was obvious my train was full of day-trippers, who like me, couldn’t resist the chance to tick off another country from their global visit list. I picked up a few tips by listening to the Spanish couple behind me chatting about what they were going to see.

We arrived at a particularly unimpressive train station with a bright overhead sign welcoming you to Slovakia. Comprised of a few cafes and vending machines, this station in no way resembles its counterparts in other European cities. But who cares, no one comes to cities to see train stations anyway.

Bratislava main train station, everything but tracks pictured.

I followed the somewhat bewildered mass of tourists from the train platform to the bus stop right outside. As if all on cue, we entered the same bus into town, occupying all the available space. Residents must hate this.

The tour guides had said that there are two options of stops for the city center. I decided to wait until the majority of my fellow tourists disembarked. Travel 101: follow the masses, at least someone will know where we’re going.

Bratislava sure does give tourists a run for their money. After leaving the bus, we found ourselves by a busy highway, with no signs to point the way to the city center. We foreigners huddled together to devise a strategy. If you must get lost in a new city, it might as well be with 20 other strangers.

Someone had a feeling that the city center could be reached by crossing the busy highway on the overpass. Like sheep, we mindlessly followed and lo and behold, he was right! We walked together until we reached the main street in the old town and then nodded to each other before breaking off into our individual units.

Entering Bratislava’s old town.

I had done my preparation on the city, as I always do, but found myself a little turned around without a map. All the articles I read about Bratislava basically said there were a few key items to see and the rest was enjoying a leisurely stroll around the compact center.

I spent the first hour or so wandering around aimlessly. Whenever I encountered what appeared to be modern buildings, I knew I had reached the perimeter and turned back inside the old part of town.

I went into a beautiful little church that I didn’t know the name of and found relics from a Catholic martyr, including a mummified finger. I hadn’t seen one of those since visiting the cathedral in Avila where Santa Teresa worked and lived.

This beautiful Church that I still don’t know what is…

I asked some passerbys to take my picture in front of a pastel pink building, again not knowing the name. I was taking mental notes to research everything when I got back to the hotel in Vienna.

Primate’s Palace, previous home to Emperors, not monkeys.

I then entered the main city square and saw the statue of Napoleon’s soldier that I had read about. This statue is a hotspot for tourist photos. Cafes and coffee shops lined the plaza and the weather was nice. The day was turning out just as pleasant as all the guides predicted.

For the win tourist pic.

I ate lunch in a restaurant with outside seating Solvakian dishes. I ordered some kind of meatball dumpling dish that was really tasting and (thankfully) less hearty than Austrian cuisine. (Sidenote: when traveling in Germany or Austria, just prepare yourself of the feeling of continual fullness.)

Meat dumplings and sauerkraut.

Stolling around the Opera House.

To finish the day, I crossed the highway again to hike up the hill to the Bratislava Castle. I didn’t have time to go inside, but the views from the hilltop were impressive. You could see the Danube, plus all of the old city juxtaposed against the modern part.

Bratislava: the mix of old and new.
Bratislava Castle.

I walked back to the bus stop, got on with all the other tourists, and rode back to the train station. Bratislava may not be the biggest capital city, but it’s certainly worth seeing. Plus, when might you ever get another chance to go to Slovakia?

Vienna: Art and Chocolate Cake

With a long history of royal families, Vienna has several palaces worth seeing. The last time I visited Vienna, I went to the Schönbrunn Palace, the sprawling former Habsburg summer home. You can tour some of the 1,000+ room residence and the massive gardens to get a glimpse of imperial life. 

This time, I planned to go to the Belvedere Palace and Museum. The Belvedere Palace is also the former stomping ground of the Habsburg family. This royal residence is closer to the city center. The grounds are broken up into two palaces (the Upper and the Lower Belvedere), the gardens, the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. Now all of these parts can be seen individually or purchased together on a group ticket. 
Most of the permanent exhibits are housed in the Upper Belvedere. They have a large collection of Austrian art. I don’t always enter art museums when I travel, but I had extra time so I went for it. The star of the gallery is Gustav Klimt. His “The Kiss” is probably the most recognizable piece in the museum. It’s so popular that they put a replica in the lobby of the museum with a sign promoting selfies. (No flash photography is allowed of the real painting.)  
From there I walked by Karlskirche and the Royal Opera to my next destination, one that I was really looking forward to: Hotel Sacher for a piece of the original Sachertorte. The Sachertorte chocolate cake is a well established institution in Vienna. History has it that the Sachertorte was created in the 1800s as a special treat for Austria’s Emperor. The cake is chocolate sponge with apricot jam and chocolate icing. The cake became a big hit, and still is. Fun Fact: December 5th is dedicated National Sachertorte Day. Needless to say, when I arrived to the Hotel Cafe, there was a line out the door. 
When I finally got in, I ordered the orginal Sachertorte and an espresso with milk. (PS- there are loads of delicious looking desserts if you’re feeling adventurous.) The interior of the hotel cafe is elegant and proper. While you are waiting for your cake, you can even read all about the history of the hotel and the secretly guarded recipe. Then the cake arrived. It was moist and sweet, but not overkill. A leisurely afternoon having a coffee and cake is just what you need in Vienna to replenish you from all the museums you’ve been visiting. 
To conclude my final afternoon in Vienna, I passed by the University of Vienna. Unlike the business university I had been to the day before, this campus was much more traditional. There was a terrace/courtyard in the middle of the rectangular-shaped building where students were reading and socializing outside. I wandered down some halls, trying to imagine what it would be like to be a student here. I studied in universities in the U.S. and Spain, so I always like to compare other campuses. I think I would like it. 🙂
Belvedere Palace grounds
Upper Belvedere
View of Lower Belvedere and the city center
“The Kiss” Selfie Point
Karlskirche
Royal Opera House
Sacher Cafe
Deliciousness

University of Vienna
University of Vienna courtyard

Vienna: One Big Museum

When you’re a person who loves to explore, you feel the complusive need to force your companions to see every sight there is when traveling. I usually spend time pouring through TripAdvisor and city tour sights before departing to get a feel for what I “must see and do”. I love studying maps and routing potential sight itineraries for each day.

In the afternoon following the release of the academics from their finance conference, I met up with my husband and a few friends from the university to drag them around Vienna. I navigated us through the metro to St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and from there, took us along the main tourist route to the Hofburg Imperial Palace. I had made this same route before during my previous visit to Vienna some three years earlier. It’s amazing how one time in a city and you will still recognize your way around the next time you visit.

In front of the Hofburg Palace, we stopped to have a coffee because I said that was a Viennese thing to do (and also the professors needed a pick-me-up).

We continued our jouney past the Palace, the Sissy Museum, the famed Spanish Riding School, and the National Library to the Maria-Theresien-Platz. The Maria-Theresien-Platz is flanked on either side by two almost identical looking buildings, The Museum of National History and the Fine Arts Museum.

Walking south from the Maria-Theresien-Platz, you’ll cross the Museumplatz to discover…. even more museums! Museumquartier is a cool grouping of various museums, along with bars, restaurants, and open outdoor space for nights out. We saw a Tiki foodcart selling mojitos, which we figured we needed.

To end our tour of Vienna sights, we headed to the Rathaus (Town Hall). Exactly the same as my trip before, they were playing outdoor movies on a screen placed over the Town Hall building. There were plenty of people about, enjoying the movie showings the city puts on each summer.

When we got back to our hotel, I felt quite accomplished by what we had covered. It would really have been a shame for these colleagues to have missed all these sights!

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Cool street art
Hofburg Palace
Making the museum route, outside the National Library.
The Natural History Museum… or the Museum of Fine Arts. They look so similar! 
Professors on the town.
Summer Movie Festival!

Vienna’s Tech City

Most people come to Vienna to see the museums and the Opera (amongst other things).

One thing you might not expect to see in Vienna is a modern technology village. While J was in his first conference session, I went exploring as I always do. Instead of heading straight to the city center, I decided to walk north to UN city. There is a large UN office and technology hub in Vienna Donau City. Young business professionals with company badges breeze in and out of high rises. There are gyms, restaurants, trendy coffee shops, and lots of technies. This little city is very modern looking and quite a contrast from the traditional Vienna landscape across the Danube.

To get to Donau City, you need to walk across the bridge over the Danube River. There is a pedestrian walkway under the bridge for non-motor vehicle travellers (like myself). Upon beginning my walk across the bridge, I was a little nervous that maybe I’d gone the wrong way. There was a lot of graffiti on the pedestrian walkway and I didn’t see anyone else walking around me. Later, I passed a group of tourists with bulky cameras around their necks and I knew I was okay.

Once I reached the Donau City, it sort of reminded me of Washington, D.C.’s outskirt cities like Rosslyn in Northern Virginia. There is even a metro stop in D.C. called Vienna. Donau City must be the new up-and-coming place to work in Vienna. I certainly saw a lot of well dressed yuppies.

Because I like to really get to know a place when I travel, I spent some time wondering around Donau City. I took the pedestrian walkway on the other side of the bridge and this time passed many more people walking to work. There is a well connected Metro stop right at the center of Donau City, but I choose to walk whenever possible.

My next stop was the equally modern looking Vienna University of Economics and Business where the finance conference was being held. The campus is composed of bright, futuristic buildings. The Vienna University of Economics and Business could not look more different than my southern U.S. university.

Passing the St. Francis of Assisi Church walking the bridge to the Donau City.

Life as a yuppie techie in Donau City.

Leaving the Donau City back to Vienna center.
Graffiti galore along the bridge.
I would hate to be his ex-girlfriend, or current girlfriend.
The Vienna University of Economics and Business.

More to come on the museums of Vienna and Sacher chocolate cake!

Prater Park, Vienna

At the end of August, we travelled to Vienna, Austria for the European Finance Association annual conference. My husband and several of his colleagues were attending the conference from the university. I always like going on conference trips because I can sightsee while my husband is in his meetings.

I’d been to Vienna before, three years ago while I was finishing my first year in Spain. My American rommmate and I were taking a train trek through Europe on an InterRail Pass. The two of us arrived in Vienna from Munich. I remember thinking Vienna was a very regal city. Very ‘old European’ style.

This visit I was staying slightly further out of the city center, close to the university that was hosting the conference. Our hotel was conveniently right next to Prater Park, one of the oldest amusement parks in the world! We had great views from our window. At night you could even hear people screaming from some of the scarier rides. We had to walk through the park to get to the Metro, so we got to know it pretty well by the end of the trip . It’s really an interesting mix of attractions: roller coasters, waterslides, merry-go-round, freefalls, horror houses, spinning teacups… you name it, they’ve got it. In summary, it’s one part cheesy county fair, one part legit thrill rides.

View from our window of the Vienna Prater.
A few old-school roller coasters.
Spinning sombreros.
Carnival games.

J and one of his colleagues even felt bold enough to try the scariest ride in the park: The Turbo Boost! The description for this ride guarantees a ‘zero-gravity’ thrill. (http://www.praterwien.com/en/attractions/details/a/turbo-boost/#.Vexp3PlViko).

I volunteered to take pictures.

Smiles and thumbs-up at the beginning…
About to be slung upwards at incredible speeds.
The ride makes multiple 360 rotations, occasionally pausing mid-rotation, leaving riders sitting for several minutes suspended at the top. No thank you.
Upon doing further research of the park, I discovered that the Vienna Prater has the world’s tallest chair swing! Every night when we passed through the park, I felt the pressure. I had to ride it. I mean, how often would I have this chance? Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t ride thrill rides. Traditionally, chair swings aren’t per se ‘thrill rides’, however one that rotates 383 feet above the air, I’d classify as scary. (To put that in real life terms, that 29 stories up!) 
On our final night in Vienna, I knew it was now or never. Against J’s disbelief, I strapped myself in next to him on the highest swing of our lives. The combination of the chairs rotating and ascending is slightly unnerving. I thought I could handle it because I enjoyed the chair swing in Six Flags Over Georgia. Child’s play.
From the top, you could see the lights from the city. The views were beautiful. But realistically, you’re too busy trying to mentally distract yourself from the knowledge of just high up you are to really take it all in. Once we had reached the top and were making our rotations, I realized that I had barely breathed the whole way up. J also noted the tight death squeeze I had on his hand. Once I relaxed a little to breathe, I could momentarily enjoy the ride. I could make out a few of the iconic buildings we had visited earlier in the day. It was certainly an experience. I’m glad I can say I’ve been on the world’s tallest chair swing! It’s not something you get to do everyday! 
The Praterturm, all 29 stories!
Those tiny white dots are the chairs. Yikes.
Check off another experience off the bucket list!
Would you dare to do this swing?

Prater Park is also known for it’s famous ferris wheel, an icon of the city built 1896/7. It’s a slow moving rotation and you can even eat in the restaurant inside some of the cars. Check out more info about Vienna’s favorite amusement park here: http://www.wien.info/en/sightseeing/prater

We go to Vigo!

After our late arrival to Madrid, we spent two more days in the city. We both still have friends living there so we use our visits to meet up with them. It’s always nice to have friends in places where you used to live. You can laugh about shared memories and all the new places that have popped up since you moved away. Spain was at the end of the hottest summer on record, with temperatures well into the high 90s and low 100s. The days we were there were very warm, but thankfully not as bad as earlier that month. Nothing that can’t be cured by a Tinto de Verano (red wine and fanta mix) in Retiro Park. The name in English means “Summer Wine” and is enjoyed over ice.

We took the train to Galicia to J’s hometown. We had a week-long visit to catch up with his family and friends. August is the vacation month in Spain and the atmosphere was pretty relaxed. We had open-air barbeques and days at the beach.

Every time we visit Galicia, we usually take a day or two to see some new city or sight in his region. We’ve been to Santiago de Compostela, the city famous for the St. James Cathedral and pilgrimage trail, ‘El Camino de Santiago’. We’ve visited the furthest western point of Europe at Cape Finisterre, soaked in thermal baths, participated in a medivial festival, and stopped in a number of other cities along the coast. The closest major city to where my husband’s family lives is Vigo. There’s an airport there, with regional connections and a few international destinations. Too bad no flights from Manchester or Atlanta. There are also reknowned beaches in Vigo. The beaches in Vigo are always packed; finding a place to park is a real art.

Also, Vigo is a pretty cool town, as I just discovered. Besides flying into the airport and visiting the beaches, we’d never gone together into the city center. I guess it’s like growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, you don’t go into the city every day. We normally hang out in my husband’s town, but I enjoyed seeing the busier Vigo. It had a mix of modern metropolitican avenues with an old, historic part of town.

The old town connects to the city’s port and has lots of fresh seafood. There’s a famous street for eating oysters that were just caught from the sea. The day we went to Vigo, there was a large BMX competition going on near the port. From Vigo, you can also visit the Las Islas Cies, a protected Nature Reserve with National Park status. There is a limit to how many people can visit the island each day and the only way to overnight is camping; there are no hotels. I’m voting for this to be the sight we see on our next visit!

(Shameless plug for my husband’s home region.) For more information about seeing Vigo, visit their website at: http://www.turismodevigo.org/en

Upcoming travel tales: Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest