Monday, October 16, 2017

Innsbruck, Austria

We arrived into Innsbruck around 10am. We quickly made our way through the TINY airport, got our rental car and we headed straight to Old Town to eat the famous sachertorte at Cafe Sacher. We also got some drinks, because vacation, right? (and a spritz for me, riesling for Jason) We wandered around the cute little streets for a while and eventually had lunch at a little biergarten.

Because of the location, Innsbruck is this weird little melting pot of Austria, Germany and Italy. People mostly speak German, but then they pop the random "prego" or "ciao" in there as well! From what we heard, they very much identify with being in Tyrol more than Austria.

We were actually staying in Seefeld which was about 15 minutes away, so we went to check into our hotel, Princess Bergfrieden. I can't speak highly enough of this place! There was a pool, sauna, steam room, fitness center and the BEST breakfast we'd had on this trip (and that's saying something!). Everyone was so friendly. We wandered around Seefeld and then relaxed on our balcony with a bottle of wine.

The next morning, we drove up to Neuschwanstein Castle. This place had been on my wishlist for a very long time, so I knew we couldn't leave without seeing it this trip! This was actually a frustrating morning, but it ended up being one of our favorite days! We arrived in time for an early lunch at Alpenrose Am See restaurant in Hohenschwangau (the town below the castle). The views of the lake were pretty incredible and the food was very yummy. 

We saw some people rowing on the lake, so after lunch, we walked over and rented a rowboat for a few hours. It was SO relaxing and the perfect distraction from an annoying morning. Jason did the vast majority of the work, but I also had to try my hand at it as well.

After we returned our boat, we decided to walk up to the castle (instead of taking the bus) and it took about 20 minutes to reach Marienbrucke. We didn't really have an interest in touring inside, so we were perfectly content with this iconic view.

On the way back to Austria, we stopped in a Leutasch Gorge for this incredible walk (aka Geisterklamm). I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but it was AMAZING. Definitely not for those afraid of heights. The hike wasn't particularly challenging and can really be completed in an hour.

Our next day was super action-packed! We got picked up by Mountain Fly for our paragliding tour. We got driven to the most optimal mountain in the area and rode the gondola up to the top. We didn't have to do much work beyond walking down the mountain and the wind picked us right up! 

We got to fly for around 25 minutes and it was beyond peaceful - except during the 2 barrel rolls we did. Wow, the G forces were almost too much for me! This was Jason's favorite thing that we did our entire trip. 

We were dropped back in Innsbruck and we grabbed some gelato, pizza and an aperol spritz (wait, were we in Austria or Italy?) and then took it easy for the rest of the day, hanging out in the saunas and grabbing a fast dinner from a little bratwurst stand.

Our last day had the activity I was most anxious about - canyoning! We only got one picture (thanks to some amazing German guys we met), but it was a blast. If you've never heard of it before, you start at the top of the gorge and just make your way down. You do this by scrambling, climbing, sliding, rappelling and jumping. The most insane jump we did was 35 feet - WOW was this fun! It was terrifying, but also exhilarating. 

We had SO many bruises and our muscles were about to give out there at the end, but this was my favorite thing we did. That evening, we ate at our hotel and enjoyed a final glass of wine in front of the fireplace. I would love to come back in the winter - it would be SO cozy!

The next morning, we woke up early for our flight and discovered that Austrian gas stations don't open before 6am. Whoops! We had a brief layover in Frankfurt and then we boarded our flight home. A fun little extra is that we flew on the top deck of the A380! 

We had an amazing trip - the longest that we'd ever had. It was nice to really disconnect from real life and relax into traveling. We didn't do too much on this trip and we really took our time exploring each and every place that we visited. This is definitely our preferred method of traveling instead of bouncing from place to place.

As a wrap up, I thought I'd include some of the freebies we scored during our trip thanks to credit cards/status in case anyone else is interested in playing the credit card game! 

Business class airfare (and corresponding lounge access in IAH, LHR): 87,500 points each (plus taxes) - courtesy of Chase Sapphire Reserve's 100,000 bonus points each
London Marriott room upgrade/breakfast/snacks/drinks: Marriott Gold Status
$300 Travel Credit for each ($600 Total) - Chase Sapphire Reserve Card 2016 Bonus

Next Up: A recap of our trip to the Russian River Valley (right before the tragic fires!)

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

London & Harry Potter Studios {England Trip Part 4}

As promised, I'm jumping back in time to cover our first stop in London - the Harry Potter Studio Tour! After a quick shower at the lounge, we left straight from the airport to drive to Leavesden. We had pre-purchased tickets to the tour - and make sure you do. These sell out MONTHS in advance!

The Great Hall was definitely the highlight. They were doing a special costume exhibit while we were there as well, so more costumes than normal were on display. We also loved the backlot sets. If you are at all interested in the screenplay, model creation or filming aspects of movies, I feel like this would be spectacular! They had the model they used for filming Hogwarts on display and it was amazing the amount of detail it had.

We loved walking around the sets and props, as well as drinking some delicious butterbeer. While it was SO fun to do this, I have to say, we both preferred the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios. It was just more interactive!

NOW! Back to our journey from Cornwall to London. It was a long drive that we broke up with a stop at a service station. These things are insane. They even had a rockwall inside of this one! We arrived at our hotel, the St. Pancras Renaissance, a little after noon and we greeted with a glass of sparkling wine! 

Quickly dropping off our bags, we walked to our FAVORITE place, Dishoom. We get the same thing every time we come here - vegetable samosas, black daal, chicken ruby, rice and tons of garlic naan. Seriously mouth-watering!

We visited two museums - the Natural History Museum (my favorite part was the gem rooms!) and the V&A Museum. Both were free, so we enjoyed wandering around without necessarily feeling like we HAD to see everything to get our money's worth.

We made it back in time for complementary snacks and cocktails at the bar inside our hotel - the Booking Office. We grabbed a quick meal of sushi and randomness from the M&S inside St. Pancras Station and went to bed exhausted.

The next morning, we had time to workout in the gym and grab a tiny breakfast since had a Eating Europe Food Tour in the East End booked! If you remember, we actually did another London food tour with them last November in Soho and one in Trastevere, Rome a few years back.

We started at Spitalfields Market and wandered around the Brick Lane and Shoreditch neighborhoods.  We had some amazing bacon sandwiches at St. John's Bread and Wine, bread and butter pudding at the English Restaurant, freaking delicious Bengali curry on Brick Lane, salted caramel tart, beigel bake, etc. Our favorite was the curry stop!

As usual, the tour was amazing! Our tour guide, Priya, was very bubbly and informative. These tours are perfect because you can try tons of things and get smaller portions than you could normally get if you just walked up and ordered. There is also a fair amount of history sprinkled in between the stops too.

After the gigantic meal, we made our way to the Tower of London. I had pre-booked tickets, so we walked right in. We ended up REALLY loving the Tower. We started with a Yeoman warder tour (our guy was the ravenmaster!) and got some of the history. 

We then got to explore the crown jewels, armory, towers, etc. on our own. We absolutely recommend doing this and make sure you plan plenty of time! We were there for almost 4 hours and they had to kick us out when they closed at 5. We grabbed a glimpse of Tower Bridge and then made our way back to our hotel for more snacks and cocktails that evening. 

We had to be up at 2:30am (!!!) to drive to LHR, return our car and catch our flight to Innsbruck at 6:45, so we made it an early evening. Thanks to United's Excursionist Perk, we were still flying business class, so we had access to the Lufthansa Lounge at Heathrow. We grabbed breakfast there and jumped on our flight to Vienna and then to Innsbruck!

Up Next: Our last blog from our trip - Austria (and a bit of Germany)!