First off—our trip was pretty stellar. All the flights and trains were on schedule, all our luggage came along with us, and even though our schedule was packed from front to back, it was actually a pretty relaxing vacation as such things go.
We left on February 13th, the day before Quinn’s birthday. Our flights were booked on Icelandair, so we had a stop and plane change in Keflavik, Iceland both on the way to Europe and back from there. I have no complaints about the Viking long-planes or their crews. Food was optional, but reasonably priced, and the kids got lunch & dinner boxes for free (or rather, included in the fare). The Viking long-planes had personal touch-screen entertainment centers in the headrests from which one can stream any of the 50+ movies in the on-board catalog at any time. They also had a ton of kid flicks and TV shows, which did a lot to keep the sprogs occupied for the duration of the flights. (It was 4h 45m from Boston to Keflavik, and another 2h 30m from KEF to Amsterdam, which is the closest big airport to my brother’s place.)
A Viking long-plane, the scourge of the European skies.
We were hosted by my brother and sister-in-law for the duration of the trip. Having a home base for recharging and keeping our stuff made this trip a lot more relaxing than the last one seven years ago, where we had kind of a wandering circus thing going on. In 2005, we stayed with various relatives and basically had to pack and unpack our stuff pretty much every other day to set up somewhere else. My brother has three kids, we brought our two, and their place isn’t all that big, so it was pretty….lively.
Five cousins demolishing Quinn’s birthday cake. He turned eight on the day of our arrival.
We got in on Thursday, did the family thing Thursday and Friday, and then headed down to Vienna, Austria on the first weekend of our stay. Robin had wanted to check the item “Spanish Riding School” off her bucket list, and there was one performance scheduled in the time span of our stay, so off we went. Rather than driving a car for 600 miles in German winter weather, we opted to take the train, and it turned out to be a wise decision. We left Westphalia for Hannover on Saturday morning, got onto the ICE high-speed train to Vienna around lunchtime, and stepped off the train in Vienna’s Westbahnhof at dinnertime. Those things will move.
A nap at 150MPH.
Zippy train is zippy.
Vienna was all-around spectacular. Beautiful city, shiny new hotel (with the best breakfast buffet I’ve ever had in any hotel anywhere), agreeable weather, and easy getting around via subway. Alas, we were there mostly on Sunday, which means that we couldn’t do much shopping. We missed out on being able to buy fashionable shoes like these:
So we limited our spending to Austrian restaurant food and the gift shop at the Spanish Riding School.
Ah, yes, the Spanish Riding School. One of the highlights of our trip. It’s located in a purpose-built baroque building that has housed the school in the center of Vienna for over three hundred years now. And it is flippin’ gorgeous, sitting as it does on Michaelerplatz, surrounded by all that old architecture.
The Spanish Riding School on the Michaelerplatz (St. Michael’s Square).
If you’re a horse nut, you’ll know why the performances of the Spanish Riding School are so special. They represent the apex of horsemanship, and the venue in which they perform is known as the most beautiful riding hall in the world. Even for someone like me who knows roughly as much about horses as horses do about configuring WiFi network security, it’s a pretty impressive event.
Before the show. Photography during the show is not allowed because the flashes irritate the horses.
Lovely wife in the lovely Imperial Box, where we had our seats. Shitty iPhone photo because Genius Husband forgot the DSLR in Germany.
The Imperial Box from a distance. Taken during the tour we booked afterward, which was well worth the money.
And this is where the horses dance.
After the Hofreitschule performance, we did the touristy thing and took a Fiaker carriage ride through the Old City.
After the ride, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Vienna and finding a local restaurant to have dinner. That too went really well except for the lapful of hot chocolate my daughter bestowed upon me, but even that couldn’t make a dent in my day.
After dinner, we went back to the hotel for a glass of wine or two at the excellent hotel bar before we made our way back to the nearby Westbahnhof for the train ride back to Germany.
(Just in case you’re ever in Vienna and in need of affordable high-quality accomodations, I can wholeheartedly recommend Fleming’s at the Westbahnhof. Brand new interior, friendly and helpful staff, a killer breakfast buffet, and a lovely bar with a great wine selection.)
For the ride on the night train back to Germany, we reserved a sleeper car compartment. The kids got the top bunks, we got the bottom ones, and everybody was able to sleep through the eight-hour ride back to Hannover.
That was the main tourist-y part of the trip. The rest of the week we spent with the family and on various outings in the area around Muenster. I got to squeeze in some research for a YA novel I’m writing, and my mother got to spend a bit of time with her grandkids while we went off to buy gifts to bring back to the U.S.
(Part Two to follow…)