Euroadventure 2014: Baths in Budapest

Once upon a time, Budapest was the Roman settlement of Aquincum, a military camp turned general settlement. Even in those early days, thermal spas were part of the culture as the area sits on over a hundred natural springs. Today the baths attract locals and tourists alike. After the many, many days of walking and being on the go, Dave and I were ready for a soak.

In the morning we went to the Great Market Hall, just a couple blocks from our hotel. The largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest, vendors on the first level sell produce, meats, baked goods, liquor and spices like paprika. The second floor has a wide variety of souvenirs, while the basement level has fish, butcher stalls and various pickled items. I loved walking from stall to stall, comparing the different goods and seeing the more “exotic” items like a pile of pigs feet!

After exploring the market, we took the oldest metro line #1, which was completed in 1896 and is designated as a World Heritage Site. It was much different than the newest line we took the day before from the main train station to our hotel! Soon enough we were at our stop for the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath. Continue reading

Euroadventure 2014: An Alpine #RoadTrip and Last Day in Austria

We woke up in Salzburg feeling a little “under the weather” after bar hopping the night before, but did our best to rally and forge ahead. After checking out of the hotel, we walked around town searching souvenir shops, browsing the open markets and touring Mozart’s birthplace. The museum covered much of his early life and the progression of his talent over three floors of exhibits, but unfortunately photos were not allowed.

Leaving Salzburg, we drove back toward Vienna through the Lake District and continued toward the picturesque Hallstatt, known for salt production. The UNESCO World Heritage site is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited town in Europe, dating back to BC. Unfortunately for us, it was raining, but the village was still adorable and worth the added drive time back to Vienna. We walked around, ate lunch and did a bit of souvenir shopping.

^^Lake District drive^^

After we made it back to Vienna and returned the car, we found an Italian restaurant to have dinner – something that did not involve sausage or potatoes! From dinner we walked to Stephansplatz for dessert. I had my heart set on tasting some of the regional favorites, so we picked a sidewalk cafe that had the two I most wanted to try, Apfelstrudel and Kaiserschmarrn. The first is as it sounds, apple strudel, and the second is basically pancake bites with a jam or fruit sauce. Even though I am quite positive these were not the best in town, they did the trick!

The next morning we packed up our bags, checked out of our room and then left the luggage with the front desk so we could see a couple more sights before catching a train to Budapest. We walked through the Hofburg Imperial Apartments, Silver Collection and Sisi Museum, but again, we were not allowed to take pictures. The silver collection was extensive and seemed never ending. The apartments were set as they were when Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth lived in them with separate bedrooms, many various salons and the Empress’ dressing and exercise room. A museum to Elisabeth (Sisi) was part of the tour and the exhibits displayed her belongings from gloves to dresses, poetry and many other items. She was well-loved yet very troubled throughout her adult life. The tour was lengthy and toward the end I was just quickly moving through the rooms without fully listening to the audio-guide. I highly recommend going if you are in Vienna, but be prepared for information overload.

We had a little bit of time left and Dave wanted to see the Imperial Crypt, which houses generation after generation of Habsburg coffins. I almost didn’t go in just because I felt indifferent about it, but then the crypt keeper decided he had a crush on me (and a couple other young women in line) and let me in for free. Wandering around the tombs underground was a slightly eerie feeling, but it was interesting to see the coffin designs range from very plain and simple to extravagant and very ornate. On the way out, as my new friend hugged me tightly, I thought he might never let me go and hoped he would at least make sure I had a nice tomb!

Finally we went to Cafe Sacher for the famous sacher torte, a chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam, thick chocolate ice cream and whipped cream. Some people find it to be dry, but I thought it was quite good!

We were in and out pretty quickly so that we could pick up our bags and head to the train station. Trains to Budapest run about every two hours, and we arrived just about the time one was supposed to leave. Luckily it was delayed, so we were able to purchase tickets for that train instead of waiting two hours for the next. We even had time to grab a schnitzel sandwich and eat it on the platform!

Euroadventure 2014: Treasure Hunt in Vienna

After three nonstop days in Prague , including a ghost tour, beer festival and torture chamber (I’m realizing Prague in a nutshell sounds a little extreme), it was time for us to make our way to Vienna. I’ve dreamed of going to Austria since I was a child, even before I fell in love with France. The Sound of Music was on repeat, along with Dirty Dancing and West Side Story. What can I say? I have a penchant for song and dance!

Our hotel arranged for a cab to take us to the train station. It looked quite different in the daylight! On the platform I overheard two girls talking about Chilifest and felt fairly confident that they must be Aggies. I know other places have chilifests, but nothing compares to THE Chilifest held just outside College Station in Snook, TX each spring. Just as I saw their Aggie rings, everyone ran to catch the train so I didn’t get to say “Howdy!” but I was still happy to come across fellow Ags halfway across the world!

We were on a morning train that arrived in Vienna around lunchtime. Lucky again, we were able to check in to the Hotel de France early and drop our bags in the room before heading back out to explore. De France has beautiful chandeliers and dark wooded hallways thoughout, giving it a very grand feel. The rooms were a bit dated, but we had a very friendly welcome message on the TV screen!

Our hotel was right along the Ringstrasse, which is the loop around the inner city, making it a very convenient location. We found a restaurant known more for ambiance than food. Nestled back in a narrow alleyway, Brezl Gwölb had picnic tables and friendly waitstaff. Our waitress was a translator for the Army and may even end up in DC next year! I selected spinach fritters with a blue cheese sauce and Dave opted for pork, sauerkraut and more dumplings. From there we made a plan based on our priority sites and their hours of operation.

The first stop was the Imperial Treasury, which housed an endless display of valuable artifacts from over a thousand years, including those of the Habsburgs. The 21 rooms contained jewels, crowns, religious relics and even items claimed to be from the time of Christ, including John the Baptist’s tooth! From the Treasury, we walked through the palace garden Burggarten, famous for its statue of Mozart.

Even though we had been on the train all morning, our feet were tired and we thought that Rick Steves’ Ringstrasse tram tour would be a good way to rest while orienting ourselves with the city. It starts at the Opera House and then works counter clockwise around the city center. Our tickets allowed us to hop on and off within a certain period of time, so we stopped to stroll through Stadtpark, the “City Park” full of musicians, couples, families and windy paths, before hopping back on. The second time we stopped because we had to switch trams, and I took the opportunity to taste the world famous gelato from Eissalon am Schwedenplatz.

We finished the tour and then walked toward St. Stephen’s Cathedral. After spending a decent amount of time walking the perimeter and following along with Rick, we went inside – just in time for my camera battery to die! I got one photo, but it didn’t turn out too well. We walked throughout the city center looking in shop windows and stopping to watch the street artists. One in particular was quite impressive – she had a full piano in the middle of a square!

Finished with sightseeing for the day, we hunted for a place to have dinner and came across a tapas restaurant in another alley. It wasn’t the best Spanish food I’ve had, but it was a change from dumplings, and for that I was thankful. Back at the hotel we had a nightcap and called it a day!