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When I thought that no city in Europe could surprise me anymore, Vienna appeared. Elegant. Majestic. Monumental. Imperial. Streets rich in medieval, renaissance, and progressive memories; and with corners immortalizing his son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his adopted son Ludwig van Beethoven.

Graben Av. is one of the busiest streets in Vienna

Thirty thousand steps in less than 24 hours (according to my iPhone) was  necessary  to enter into the time machine and live the essence of the capital of Austria: Have a classic coffee and eat chocolates in cafeterias where artists, philosophers, politicians and revolutionaries enjoyed  their  talks; eat the traditional Wiener Schnitzel (veal meat), and enter the opera for a ballet performance.

At the same time, I got carried away by its modernity, crossing the bridge over the dazzling yet choppy Danube River in a scooter, which has become so popular in Europe.

How did I get to Vienna?

During my stay in Germany, I opened one of my flight apps (Hopper). Just 37 USD (one way) on Wizzair. I could never say no to that tempting offer! It was February, the cheapest month of the year; not just in air tickets, but in hotels and theaters as well.

It was 8am when my plane landed in Vienna. I took the airport bus (line VAL2) and in 20 minutes I was in the city center. Unsurprisingly, the hotel could not check me in, but they seamlessly agreed to store my bag.

Later, I started my journey. I opened my map and without hesitation, my first stop would be for breakfast in one of the most traditional cafes in the country for decades, if not for centuries: Café Central.

Café Central

The waiting time is up to an hour

The charm of Vienna’s most famous cafeteria makes your visit a sweet experience. Its history, gastronomy, and architecture are a magnet for the dozens of tourists who line up daily for up to an hour to access a table.

Inside it looks like a baroque church, but with paintings by the Austrian Emperor Francis Joseph and Empress Elizabeth, known as Sissi. The service is quick and its atmosphere, welcoming. In my case I ordered the “Mohr im Hemd”, which was a hot chocolate cake and Viennese-style vanilla ice cream. It was spectacular! But, the most famous cake is the Sacher cake (I found out later).

Café Central is one of Vienna’s most iconic sites because since 1860 it brought intellectuals, politicians, and artists to its premises. So, it is inevitable to think that at the next table Freud, Hitler, or Stalin might have sat down and tasted the same coffee in your hand.

The Hofburg Palace

It was almost noon, so I was against the clock. When I left the cafeteria and without looking for it, I came across the great Hofburg palace.  The horse-drawn carriages trotting around this splendid site brought you back to imperial Vienna 600 years ago.

Since the sixteenth century, this architectural ensemble was the residence of the Habsburgs, one of the most influential royal families in Europe. Inside the citadel, you can see the ancient chambers of the emperors, the museums, the church, the winter school of Horseback Riding and the office of the President of Austria.

Graben and Kohlmarkt Avenue

As I kept walking, I found my favorite streets: Graben and Kohlmarkt. They are the luxury avenues in Vienna, surrounded by the shops Gucci, Hermes, Fendi, Burberry, Tiffany, Dior… and cafes with gardens that decorate the city.

St. Peter’s Catholic Church near to Graben Ave.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral or ‘Stephansdom’

Walking along Graben Avenue, I reached the heart of the Austrian capital:  Stephansplatz and the Gothic Cathedral of St. Stephen, which rose above the ruins of an ancient church. At first glance, the pointed needle-shaped tower that has more than 100 meters protrudes. Visitors can go to the tower viewpoint and have one of the best postcards in Vienna, specially at the sunset.

The entrance is free but you’ll need to pay to get close to the altar, climb a tower or view the catacombs.

The City Council or ‘Rathaus’

The town hall with neo-Gothic style was builder between 1872 and 1883.

The soul of Vienna is its buildings. One more imposing than the one you saw two minutes ago.  My favorite and the one I saw in geography books and travel magazines: the town hall or ‘Rathaus’. In the winter months they open a huge ice-skating rink and surround it with food stands.  “What a good vibe!!”, was what I expressed when I saw the place full of tourists enjoying the sunny day.

The Hundertwasser House

It was 4:00pm and it was time to meet the other side of Vienna. Its colorful, modern, and surreal part. After getting lost, I arrived at the 3rd district, the Hundertwasserhaus residential complex.

Defining it, it was not built by any emperor in the past centuries. Nor is it resembling gothic architecture. Rather, it was created in 1983 by an artist who is considered the Gaudí of Austria, Friedensreich Hundertwasser.

Construction is like a puzzle. There are no straight floors only fancy shapes, bright colors and in some windows, you see branches.

A gallery called Hundertwasser Village is a former mechanical workshop converted into a gallery and café.

The Danube River

As it was winter, the sun was saying goodbye earlier and I had to hurry to get acquainted with one of the most important European rivers in the world: The Danube. Being a little far from the historical circuit, I had no choice but to get on the scooter. I memorized the map and the direction I was supposed to take and took off.

The experience was fantastic. There is a lane only for bikes and skateboards. I also passed by one of the best-known parks, the Prater, but I did not stop. It was dark and I relished the experience of crossing the bridge over the river. A good opportunity to put on my headphones and listen to the famous melody: The Blue Danube.

The Vienna Opera House

It is inevitable to link the image of Vienna with the music. That is why the jewel of the Austrian capital is its opera, one of the best known in the world. Due to the low season I got my online ticket  for $49 USD. When I went to claim my ticket I had a pleasant surprise: I was upgraded to one of the first rows.

Entering the theater, which was destroyed in World War II, is an almost mythical experience. It was to enter a Renaissance film or travel back in time and feel that behind the curtains would be Mozart getting ready for his performance.

Another stroke of luck was the play. It was a British ballet of choreographers Kenneth MacMillan, Wayne McGregor, and Frederich Ashton who each represented, with their dancers, the evolution of this art.

Arriving at midnight, my last steps were to the hotel. On my way through some dark alleys, I found Mozart’s house. Everything was closed and quiet.  That made me realize that 24 hours were not enough to discover this sublime city and a future return is needed. In the meanwhile, my next destination was Prague (Czech Republic).




Asian and European; Catholic, Muslim and Jewish; Byzantine, Roman and Ottoman; Chaotic, dense and calm; Ancient and cosmopolitan… This is Istanbul, a city with more history, culture, personality, and contrast than most of the world.

Istanbul’s streets are fragrant with the smell of corn and chestnuts. The city displays a mosaic of colors in its mosques, women’s veils, and beautiful lamps. From the stores and restaurants, one can hear sensual music, and its favorite flavors are the pistachio for the famous baklava, and apple for its tea.

I stopped first in this city before my trip to Cappadocia. Honestly, I thought two days would be enough. What a huge mistake! I had not realized how enormous Istanbul was, full of mosques, temples, museum, markets, towers… and with population of 15 million people!

But wait! When one first arrives, the overpopulation, the noise, the chaos, the language, and the 95-degree heat is the worst welcoming combination. At least it was for me.  After traveling on a bus for 90 minutes, and being scammed by a taxi driver who charged me a looot more money for the ride, I would say I kind of freaked out. OMG! Where did I arrive? Will I be safe? These were the questions that I kept repeating in my mind while waiting for my room.

“Don’t be afraid,” the receptionist told me, as he opened the big city map. After enlightening me of the landmarks and places to go, he emphasized that I would be safe and wouldn’t regret coming.

So I followed his advice, and started my short adventure to ancient Constantinople. And seriously, I had to hurry up! At that time, I only had day and a half.

One more time, it’s true! Don’t believe in first impressions. Once I was out of my hotel, I began to realize how beautiful the neighborhood, Sultanahmet, was. It was full of colors, with little streets, restaurants, cats, dogs… and the view of the two most important landmarks: Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia church.

Hagia Sofia or Ayasofya

Two medallions in Arabic, dedicated to Ala and the prophet Muhammad, made me bristle. They were right next to Jesus Christ in the arms of the Virgin Mary. Was this the church where the first fusion of cultures and creeds was observed?

In the 3rd Century, it was first a Byzantine Orthodox Cathedral, then it became Catholic. In 1453, with the Ottoman conquest, it became a mosque, and only in 1935 did it finally become a museum.

Hagia Sofia is an architectural jewel, composed of an altar and magnificent chandeliers. It holds marble pillars from the Ottoman era, eight huge medallions with Arabic calligraphy, tiles, Byzantine mosaics, imposing columns, a huge dome and stained glass windows. All together they caused a visual ecstasy.

Its entrance is 60 lira, equivalent to 10 US dollars. And you can completely explore it in two hours.

Bosphorus by ferry

The sunset was approaching. I had read that the best view was from the Bosphorus, the strait where Asia and Europe shake hands. There was only a short time to choose a cruise. The simplest option was a ferry to cross to the other continent: the Asian district of Uskudar.

Ferries departed every 20 minutes and the ticket was less than 1 US dollar. They were spacious and comfortable. On the trip, the seagulls escorted us. It was the best place for a panoramic photo of the city, where the illuminated mosques, the lighthouses, the bridge, and the Galata Tower were framed.

Once back, it would have been unforgivable not to dine on one of the terraces along the Bosphorus and under the Galata bridge. Dozens of Turks would use their skills to convince us to stay in their restaurant.

The Blue Mosque

8 a.m.! I had few hours left to finish this journey. I went quickly to the Blue Mosque, the symbol of Muslim beauty and an icon of Turkey.

Also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the outside had an ascending staircase of domes and semi-domes that ended with a larger one. Inside, it was covered by 20 thousand handmade blue colored tiles.

The light entered through its 200 windows, and was decorated with verses of the Koran.  The floor was covered with well-preserved carpets, of course you must enter without shoes and your head must be covered. Only Muslims have access to the prayer area, so the route can be short. The entrance was free.

The Topkapi Palace

The history and treasures of the Otoman Empire, which lasted about 500 years, were in the Topkapi Palace. It was giant, and its rooms portrayed the richness and extravagance of the sultans. There were rooms for their harems, their libraries, and their artillery. The imperial dagger was wielded with gold and emeralds. The palace also holds the fourth largest diamond in the world.

The Grand Bazaar

My favorite moment of the trip had arrived: shopping. How does one not to go crazy among the near 4,000 stores that encompass the Grand Bazaar? It’s impossible not to get lost among lamps, chandeliers, carpets, cushions, plates, cups, scarves, wallets, bags, jewelry…

It’s a mixture of the traditional, like amulets with eyes, and the modern, like the replicas of shoes, purses, and clothing, such as Chanel, Gucci, Versace and Louis Vuitton.

I wanted everything! And, with every step I took, the vendors didn’t make it easy for me. They tried to get my attention by inviting me for an apple tea, and trying to convince me to buy what I didn’t need.

In the Grand Bazaar, the bargaining culture was a priority. I squeezed that skill until I bought a bag, in which I was asked for 1,500 lire and finally paid only 500.

Galata Tower

The night came to Istanbul. Too late to go up to the viewpoint of the highest tower in Istanbul: the Galata, located in the European district Beyoglu. But, it was early enough to tour the immediate area.

Its streets were narrow and, being a hill, you had to climb stairs. Upon arrival, the imposing medieval tower welcomed me with illuminated blue and orange colors.

Around it, music, art and traditional dishes merged. Inevitably, I delighted in the traditional sweet baklava and my last Turkish tea in this city. All the while contemplating the magnitude of the tower.

To return to the hotel in Sultanahmet, the fastest way was with the tram. It is safe, convenient and the ticket was worth less than 1 USD. Of course, I would be lying if I said that I understood how the ‘Istanbulkart’ worked. The directions were in Turkish, but I was lucky that there was always someone willing to help me.

This was how, and almost without feeling in my feet, I squeezed out my two days in this monumental city. I failed to reach the Egyptian Bazaar, the Asian neighborhoods, the history museum, or the other mosques. They will be the reminder that I must return someday. With more time and with more bags to take all the lamps with me.

Hagia Sofia


Estambul: El tesoro de Turquía

IMG_2978 (Edited)

Asiática y europea; Católica, Musulmana y Judía; Bizantina, Romana y Otomano; caótica, densa y serena; antigua y cosmopolita… Así es Estambul, una de las ciudades con más historia, personalidad y contraste del mundo.

Estambul tiene olor a castañas y maíz; con el colorido de sus mezquitas, de los velos de las mujeres y las lámparas; y en sus calles se escucha la música sensual del cantante Tarkan. Posee un sabor a pistacho por su ‘baklava’ y a manzana por su famoso té turco.

Esta ciudad fue mi sitio estratégico en Turquía antes de Capadocia. Para ser honesta solo planifiqué mi estadía por dos días. ¡Qué gran error! No contemplé que la ciudad era gigantesca, colmada de palacios, mezquitas, museos, torres y mercados, y con una población de 15 millones.

Al salir del aeropuerto, su sobrepoblación, el desconocimiento del  idioma y los casi 40 grados de temperatura podrían ser la peor combinación para una bienvenida. Al menos lo fue para mí. Luego una hora y media en bus hasta llegar a la ciudad y de haber sido estafada por un taxista estaba un poco alarmada. ¿Dónde me fui a meter? Era una pregunta que se repetía en mi cabeza, mientras esperaba por mi habitación.

“No te asustes”, dijo el recepcionista mientras abría el inmenso mapa de Estambul. Luego explicarme los sitios para visitar, me recalcó que la ciudad es segura y no me defraudará. 

Seguí sus consejos y comencé esta “breve” aventura por la antigua Constantinopla. ¡Cortísima!  A esa hora solo me quedaba día y medio para recorrerla.

Nunca creas en la primera impresión. Sé que suena a lugar común, pero en este caso es totalmente cierto. Mi hotel quedaba en Sultanahmet, el barrio más antiguo de Estambul. Super colorido, con calles empedradas y con decenas de restaurantes. A tres cuadras estaba frente a dos de los más hermosos, impresionantes y emblemáticos sitios del mundo: Santa Sofía y la Mezquita Azul.

Santa Sofía, Hagia Sofia o Ayasofya

Dos medallones con caligrafía árabe dedicados a Alá y Mahoma junto a la imagen de Jesucristo en los brazos de la Virgen María me hicieron erizar. Es que en Santa Sofía o iglesia de la Santa Sabiduría  se observa la primera fusión de culturas y credos de la ciudad.

En el siglo III fue la primera catedral ortodoxa bizantina, luego católica. En 1453 con la conquista Otomana paso a ser una mezquita y recién en el año 1935 se convirtió en un museo.

Santa Sofía es  una joya arquitectónica compuesta de un altar y sus magníficos candelabros; sus pilares de mármol de la época otomana, los ocho enormes medallones con caligrafía árabe, los azulejos, los mosaicos bizantinos, las imponentes columnas, su enorme cúpula y los vitrales. Todo junto te provocan un éxtasis visual.

Su entrada es de 60 liras, equivalente a 10 USD. Y perfectamente puedes recorrerla en dos horas.

El Bósforo en bote

La hora de la caída del sol se acercaba. Había leído que la mejor vista era desde el Bósforo, el estrecho donde Asia y Europa se dan la mano. El tiempo era corto para elegir un crucero. La opción más sencilla fue un ferry para cruzar al otro continente: el barrio asiático Uskudar.

Los ferry parten cada 20 minutos y el ticket menos de 1 USD. Son amplios y cómodos. En el viaje las gaviotas nos escoltaban y era el mejor sitio para una foto panorámica de la ciudad, donde la enmarcan las mezquitas iluminadas, los faros, el puente y la Torre Gálata.

Ya de vuelta es imperdonable no cenar una de las terrazas a lo largo del Bósforo y debajo del puente Gálata. Decenas de turcos usarán sus habilidades para convencerte de que te quedes en  su restaurante.

La Mezquita Azul

¡8 am! Me quedaban pocas horas para terminar esta travesía. Rápidamente fui a la Mezquita Azul, el símbolo de la belleza musulmana e ícono de Turquía.

Por fuera, la también conocida Mezquita de Sultán Ahmed, tiene una escalera ascendentes de cúpulas y semicúpulas que terminan con una más grande y por dentro está recubierto por 20 mil azulejos hechos a mano donde el color azul prima.

La luz entra a través de 200 ventanas, su decoración tiene versos del Corán y el suelo está cubierto de alfombras bien conservadas, claro debes entrar sin zapatos y cubierta. Solo los musulmanes tiene acceso al área de oración, por lo que el recorrido puede ser corto. Su entrada es gratis.

El Palacio de Topkapi  

La historia y los tesoros del Imperio Otomán -que duró alrededor de 500 años- se encuentran en el Palacio Topkapi. Es gigante pero que mejor que enriquecerse al ver las habitaciones de los sultanes, quienes tenían su harén; sus bibliotecas, su artillería y sus joyas como la daga imperial empuñada  con oro y esmeraldas; y el cuarto diamante más grande del mundo.  La entrada vale 12 USD

El Gran Bazar

Llego el momento favorito del viaje: el del ‘shopping’. Cómo no volverse loca entre las casi 4 mil  tiendas que conforman el Gran Bazar. Imposible no perderse entre lámparas, candelabros, alfombras, cojines, platos, tazas, pañuelos, carteras, joyas…

Es una mezcla de lo tradicional como amuletos con ojos y lo moderno como las réplicas de zapatos, carteras y ropa Chanel, Gucci, Versace o Louis Vuitton.

¡Lo quería  todo! Y, en cada paso que das, los vendedores no me lo hacían fácil y  trataban de llamar mi atención, brindarme té de manzana  y  convencerme (en español) de comprar hasta lo que no necesitaba.

En el Gran Bazar la cultura del regateo debe ser prioridad. Esa habilidad la exprimí hasta salir corriendo de comprar una cartera en la que me pedían 1,500 liras y finalmente pagué solo 500.

La Torre Gálata

Llegó la noche en Estambul. Muy tarde para subir al mirador de la torre más alta de Estambul: el Gálata, ubicado en el barrio europeo Beyoglu . Pero, temprano para recorrer la zona.

Sus calles son estrechas y al ser una colina hay que subir escalinatas. Al llegar, la imponente torre medieval te recibe iluminada con colores azules y naranjas.

A su alrededor se fusionaba la música, el arte y los platos tradicionales. Inevitable  no deleitarse con el tradicional dulce, baklava, y mi último té turco en esta ciudad, mientras contemplo la magnitud de la torre.

Para regresar al hotel en Sultanahmet, el camino más rápido fue con el tranvía. Es seguro, cómodo y la tarjeta vale menos de 1 USD. Eso sí, mentiría si digo que entendí como funcionaban las  ‘Istanbulkart’. Las indicaciones estaban en turco, pero tuve la suerte que siempre había alguien dispuesto a ayudarme.

De este manera y casi sin sentir mis pies le saqué el jugo a mis dos días en esta monumental ciudad.  No logré llegar al Bazar Egipcio, ni a los barrios asiáticos, ni al museo de historia o las otras mezquitas. Ese será el recordatorio de que debo volver. Con más tiempo y con más maletas para llevarme todas las lámparas.

Santa Sofia