Euroadventure 2014: Last Stop, Budapest

My original goal was to finish all the Euroadventure posts by Fourth of July. Then it became the end of August. Earlier this week I said I would finish “by the end of this weekend.” Well, here I am, still writing! Dave and I just covered so much ground and the trip was different from our others, like Curaçao or Mexico where we had a lot of beach time. Not to mention, there are a million lot of pictures to choose from and our internet is so slow that it seems to take days to actually upload them.

So yesterday I loaded the last set of pictures and I have only two or three more posts to go after this one. I truly believe I can finish in the next week! I know that one day I will be happy to look back and have our entire trip documented, but for now I am ready to get back to writing about the house, food and other adventures we’ve had this year. Thanks for bearing with me …

The last city on our Euroadventure playlist was Budapest. As with Prague, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It wasn’t a place I loved and studied for years, like France. I didn’t have any family ties as I did with Italy. It was an unknown.

Because we spent much of the day in Vienna, taking an afternoon train to Budapest, we did not have a lot of time for sightseeing once we got there. Honestly neither of us had a really specific must-see Budapest, which meant we just got to wander and explore more than the other places. Upon arrival at the train station, we got on the newest metro line, green #4, which took us really close to our hotel, the Zara Boutique Hotel Budapest. We checked in and dropped our bags off in the very nice but tiny room. The front desk called a restaurant Dave wanted to try for dinner and made a reservation, then we set off to walk the river just in time for sunset.

Number one on my must-see list was the Shoes on the Danube memorial, which honors the victims shot by Arrow Cross militiamen during World War II. They were forced to remove their shoes and stand facing the river so that when shot their bodies would fall into the water. This place evoked so many emotions and was probably the most moving Holocaust memorials I’ve visited.

Continuing up the river, we walked around the Hungarian Parliament Building and decided to start the Rick Steves’ Leopold Town Walk. Several of the spots were either listed incorrectly or no longer exist … but we did see the monuments to Imre Nagy and Ronald Reagan. Nagy was a Hungarian politician who led the Soviet rebellion even though he was a communist. The Soviet’s executed and buried Nagy in an unmarked grave. In 1989 his body was exhumed and he was reburied properly. His monument stands facing Parliament, as though he is always keeping a watchful eye on the government. Reagan’s monument was erected in 2011 to honor his role in the Cold War, but apparently he is not well-loved by the Hungarians. The lights meant to brighten his statue by night coincidentally weren’t working!

By this time it was dark and almost time for our dinner reservation at Hungarikum Bistro, a restaurant Dave selected for their TripAdvisor rating and traditional Hungarian fare. We scrapped the rest of Steves’ self-guided walk and headed to dinner, getting lost a few times along the way. We ordered a bottle of wine (SO GOOD! Finding Hungarian wines in DC has become my new obsession.) and a traditional Hungarian dish to share as an appetizer. Hortobágyi palacsinta is a meat filled crêpe covered in paprika sauce. (Hungarians use a lot of paprika in their cooking.) For dinner I had “Grandma’s gnocchi in onion stew” and Dave had some sort of braided pork loin with cabbage and (more) paprika sauce. Full and tired, we walked to our hotel and called it a day! Before we left, our very sweet server brought over a shot of traditional Hungarian fruit-flavored brandy called pálinka meant to aid in digestion, but it burned the whole way down! (Honestly thinking about it right now is giving me heart burn.)

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: The Hills are Alive

If you know me, you know I love The Sound of Music. As a child, I would watch it on repeat (along with Dirty Dancing and West Side Story). So you probably know what’s coming. Even if you don’t know me and you just read the title of this post (or my Liebster Award post), you can likely guess what’s coming. Before I make you wade through all the details, I will tell you that yes, we DID go on a Sound of Music tour. (!!!)

It was day #2 in Austria, and we were in Vienna. While planning the trip, neither of us were jumping up and down with excitement about Vienna’s sights, and we usually like to take time on our trips to get out of the “city,” wherever that might be. Unfortunately by the time we realized this, we could not cancel our hotel in Vienna, so we decided to use it as “storage” for one night and head west. We packed an overnight bag, rented a car and headed for the hills. Literally.

Making our way westward, we passed small towns and large abbeys. Soon the mountains were in sight and we eventually made it to Salzburg. I was a wreck the entire morning. It wasn’t until we checked into our hotel that I finally calmed down a bit. You see, we had a 2 p.m. tour and I was worried we wouldn’t make it.

After checking in we hurried over to the meeting point for the tour and luckily, since we had not eaten lunch, found a “hot dog” cart. Now these are not like New York dogs, which are great in their own way. No, these are delicious, curry-spiced little wursts wrapped in something like a flatbread. We shared a brew to wash them down and went on our way to the bus. It was honestly one of my favorite meals!

Feeling much more relaxed, I started to get excited for the tour. Other participants were dressed in costume, singing songs or talking about their favorite scenes. We loaded the bus and went on our merry way! The first stop was the pond where the kids come in on the row boats and end up falling in (apparently they had to film that scene a couple of times and the water was freezing). The pond is at the front of a home that was actually used as the back terrace. (Ironically the back of another house was used as the front of the von Trapp house in the movie.) The gazebo, which was built for the film, was originally on this property but some crazies kept disturbing its residents with loud singing (hmmm …), so it was moved and now sits on the grounds of the Schloss Hellbrunn palace. This gazebo was used mostly for scenes filmed outside of it, while another in Hollywood was used for the inside filming, like 16 going on 17.

We were experiencing a bit of a torrential downpour, so we ended up driving past some of the sights, including the abbey where Maria was studying to be a nun. Even though we had already been in a car most of the day, I was happy to continue riding along after all the walking we were doing in days prior. We drove through the breathtaking lake district, which is where the opening scene was filmed. They used a helicopter to get aerial shots, and Julie Andrews kept falling down because of the propeller’s winds! Along the drive the entire bus (except Dave and maybe one or two others) sang along to the soundtrack. Yes, there was champagne.

Our last major stop was in a town called Mondsee. The church there was used for the wedding scene as the interior of the abbey due to the small size of the abbey’s actual interior. We had a little time to shop and picked up a few souvenirs as well as pastries!

The tour concluded at the very beginning, in front of the very structured, lush Mirabell Gardens. This was also a popular filming location for the movie, particularly for the scenes of Do-Re-Mi around the fountain, on the stairs and through the trellis.

 

Dave was so patient and accommodating throughout the tour, I thought he earned a visit to nearby monastery turned brewery, Augustiner. Obviously he didn’t need to twist my arm; I was happy to oblige. Inside the beer hall it smelled a little sour, but the tree-filled outside seating area was a perfect place to sit and enjoy a couple steins. The process to acquire beer is an interesting almost self-serve system. Thanks to Rick Steves we knew what to do! (Grab a mug from the shelf, rinse it out at the watering station, hand to the “bartender” who pulls a draft and gives you a receipt, then take the receipt to the cashier and pay.) We sat and enjoyed the atmosphere while both recapping the trip to that point and thinking about our next stops.

The evening took us along the river, past Mozart’s residence and to Steingasse, a narrow, cobbled alley-like road with various interesting stops. First we noted #9, the birthplace of the man who wrote Silent Night. Next we made note of the wall just before the street narrows – it is gouged out in one spot where an American GI tried to drive a tank through. Steves says it was likely that he was trying to get to the brothel at #24! Even though our goal was to reach the Stein Terrasse for a drink and city vista, we were drawn in by a tiny Italian restaurant. Built into the side of a cave, Koechelverzeichnis, could seat about 20 people and the drink and food menus are written daily on chalkboards.  If I were to be a restaurant, this would be it. We drank wine, snacked and continued to explore, stopping at one other place on Steingasse to have a glass. After a couple failed attempts to order food (admittedly we had waited a little long to dine), we ended up at the restaurant next to our hotel for dinner and more drinks … when eventually we felt compelled to say goodnight!