An Austro-Hungarian Adventure

So I’ve been sitting here for awhile now trying to come up with a great opening line and it is just not coming so I’ll cut right to the chase!

Day 0/1
I had been complaining that I would miss out on Thanksgiving dinner, even though I’m normally gone for Thanksgiving. The difference this time being since I was leaving the day before Thanksgiving I wouldn’t get a plate of leftovers. Fortunately one of the choices for dinner was turkey & mashed potatoes! It wasn’t too bad for airline food. The flight was extremely turbulent! I looked out the window as we got closer to Heathrow and saw the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Big Ben & Parliament, and Buckingham Palace – it was just like the Peter Pan ride! Jana & I met up and then boarded the flight for Vienna. After dropping our bags off at the hotel, we wandered around in search of dinner. We ended up at an Italian restaurant (big surprise there, right?), but it wasn’t very good. We walked back to the hotel and arrived a bit frozen as it was cold. The cold actually wasn’t too bad – it was the biting wind! Our beds turned out to be heat-sucking beds and it wasn’t long before we were both toasty warm. Heat-sucking beds are fantastic when it is super cold!
Day 2
Today should have been called Hapsburgs Day as we explored the Hofburg Palace complex. We started off in the Imperial Apartments which had an exhibit on Empress Elizabeth. At first I was very interested in Empress Elizabeth (or Sisi as she is called) until I learned more. She wasn’t the nicest person but she did live an interesting life. From there it was the treasury and the chapel before stopping for lunch. We ate at a restaurant in the cellar of the palace. It was canteen style, which reminded me of my time in Bonn.
We continued exploring the Hofburg complex, with the National Library and Augustinian Church before taking a break to tour the Opera House. We fell behind the tour group at one point and were joking if we couldn’t catch up we would be lost within the Opera and could become Phantomesses of the Opera!!! It was then back to the Hofburg complex as we visited the Papyrus Museum and the New Palace whose museum included an armory, musical instruments and ancient statues. I really enjoyed this museum because it was in an old palace and it was really fun to walk through. We finished up the day at City Hall where there was a Christmas market. Wow, there were a lot of people there, it was a bit overwhelming!
Dinner time! We started walking and decided to go one way and ended up making a huge circle and basically ended up back where we started. We ended up at, what else, but an Italian restaurant and they had the best tiramisu! However the restaurant was super smoky. If Italy can go smoke free, I would think the Austrians could as well.
The biting wind made me extremely happy for heat-sucking beds!
Day 3
As it turned out, the heat-sucking beds worked a little too well and we had a restless night. Our first stop of the day was at the Kaisergruft, the crypt where the Hapsburgs are buried. We continued on to St. Stephen’s Cathedral where mass was starting so we were only able to take a quick look. Next it was the Globe Museum and the Esperanto Museum. What exactly is Esperanto? Yeah, I didn’t know either until I went to the museum! It’s a universal language, which I’m thinking is losing the battle to English.

After lunch we took a tram to Belvedere Palace where there was another Christmas market. We finished up the day at the Albertina Museum, which used to be the residence of Maria Christina. Maria Christina was the favorite daughter of Maria Theresa and the only one who was allowed to marry for love rather than political positioning. Our experience at the Albertina was hampered by the lack of line management, considering all the people. They could learn from Disney! The sign at the entrance said wait times were going to be anywhere from 15 minutes to 90 minutes. We ended up standing in line for about 30 minutes or so, which isn’t bad, except when you are standing in the cold and the wind. The draw? There was a special Van Gogh exhibition.

Finally emerging from the throng of people at the Albertina, we had dinner at the Cafe Sacher, the home of the famous Sacher Torte, a special recipe used for 175 years. It was good. Apparently the hotel has received letters addressed to the Hotel Chocolate Cake.

Day 4
We decided to venture out of Vienna and took the train to Bratislava, Slovakia. We decided to walk into town from the train station instead of trying to figure out the bus. We walked by the Slovakian “White House” before arriving at St. Michael’s Gate which had the kilometer zero plaque, the point from which all distances in Slovakia are measured. Lunch was at a “traditional” Slovakian restaurant. We had potato dumplings with mystery meat. It was pretty good!

Rick had told us about a couple places where cannon balls from the Napoleonic wars were still lodged in the buildings and that these cannon balls were all over the place so we kept our eyes open to find them. We ended up only finding the ones Rick specifically pointed out. There was a Christmas market in the Main Square. It was extremely crowded! We visited Primate’s House which boasted of a Mirror Hall which would not be mistaken for the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles except in similarity of names. We continued down to the river to look at the bridge, a leftover from the Soviet days. We visited St. Martin’s Cathedral before starting up the hill to visit Bratislava Castle where we wandered around and eventually found the deep well and threw a coin in. This was Maria Theresa’s castle for awhile until it burned down. She shows up everywhere!

Day 5
This was the first day we ventured into the metro to visit Schonbrunn Palace. And what was out front of Schonbrunn? Why, a Christmas market! Inside the palace we learned more about Maria Theresa and Sisi and a few other Hapsburgs. If Jana & I were Hapsburgs, she would have been Maria Jana and I would have been Maria Amalia. We walked through the hibernating until spring gardens and up the hill to the Gloriette, where there was a restaurant so we decided to have lunch. The maze was also hibernating which was too bad, as I enjoy mazes! As this Christmas market wasn’t too crowded we did a bit of shopping.

Back in town, we visited Charles Church where we were able to take a elevator up to the base of dome and then walk up the remaining stairs. The church is currently being restored. It was neat to see the dome up close.

Dinner was at Cafe Sacher where we amused the waiter and he gave us each a Cafe Sacher pen. Since I had the Sacher Torte last time, tonight I had the Cheese Strudel for dessert – it was yummy!

Day 6
We spent the morning at the history museum where there were a ton of kids! We had lunch at Cafe Sacher before heading to the train station to catch a train to Budapest. Jana’s finger got smashed when we were lifting her suitcase up. She was very brave – I would been bawling! We knew the Budapest station was coming up and so when everyone started gathering their belongings to leave we acted like lemmings and did the same. Only to realize, as our train was leaving, this was the wrong train station. Yikes! Another train was coming so we got on as our stop was going to be the next one. The train conductor looked at our tickets and tried to tell us something but our lack of Hungarian made it impossible to communicate effectively. He eventually gave up on us and continued down the train.
We arrived at the train station and thanks to Rick we were able to negotiate a decent price (at least we thought is was) for a taxi to our hotel. Our hotel is new-ish and the elevator is not yet operational and so up we went 59 stairs. The hotel clerk carried both our bags, at the same time, up the stairs. Wow! The hotel was beautiful! Maybe not as functional as we would have liked, but definitely beautiful! There was a bathtub, no shower and no shower curtain. Hm, this would be interesting in the morning. The hotel had a restaurant which was pretty good! And quite convenient!
Day 7
I survived the bathtub, or I should say the bathroom floor survived me taking a shower! We walked along the river to the Hungarian Parliament where we arrived just in time for the tour. Inside the Parliament are the Hungarian crown jewels. Myth has it, the crown is the original that King (later Saint) Istvan was crowned with in the year 1000, or something to that effect, I may not have remembered the details correctly. After WW2, the crown jewels were kept in Fort Knox until 1978.
We went to the Museum of Ethnography and tried to buy a Budapest Card, except apparently they didn’t have any more and they tried to direct us to the metro station where we could buy the card. We finally found the station but they only had one card but station attendant called and found a station that had more so we hopped the metro to get our Budapest card. After all that it was time for lunch! We found, what else, but Italian! After that we went back to the Museum of Ethnography, which is a tiny little museum in a huge building! We walked back along the river, and across the Chain Bridge to look back at the Parliament at night. We stopped by St. Istvan’s Basilica before heading back to our hotel for dinner.
Day 8
We started off the day at St. Istvan’s, this time in the daylight, before heading over to the Buda side. I was really excited because we were going to take a funicular up the hill, and I just love funiculars. Unfortunately it was closed so we trekked up hill as it started raining. There were two museums in the old castle. In the basement of the Budapest History Museum were the foundations of the old castle. When we emerged from the museums it was really raining. Since we were already at the top of the hill we walked over to Matthias Church and the Fishermen’s Bastion. Inside the Matthias Church is a statue of Mary & Jesus that reportedly scared the Ottomans but due to the renovation the statue was blocked off. We had dinner at our hotel but were seated in the corner and had absolutely horrible service. It took forever!!
Day 9
Our first stop of the morning was at the Great Synagogue, the second largest in the world. Behind the synagogue is the Tree of Life memorial which was built over the site of a mass grave of those killed by the Nazis. Next we visited the Hungarian National Museum. The 1848 Revolution against the Hapsburgs was declared from this building. It was really interesting visiting Vienna and learning about the Hapsburgs and how they viewed Hungary as part of their empire and then visiting Budapest where they viewed the Hapsburgs as oppressors. We got in a tiny metro and went out to Heroes’ Square – no Hapsburgs left at Heroes’ Square. Near there was a replica Transylvania Castle. We walked around before heading to the Postal Museum. I’m still not sure how we found the museum – there were no signs but somehow we did find it. The museum itself was meh but it was located in a grand old apartment which was beautiful. We then went to the Museum of Trade & Tourism which wasn’t much at all. We decided not to eat at the hotel, but instead ate at Mamma’s, an Italian restaurant that we had passed several times near St. Istvan’s.
Day 10
We spent the morning shopping at the Great Market Hall. After dropping off our packages we headed to Mamma’s for lunch. We walked to the Opera and stepped inside to look at the grand entrance hall but decided against going on the tour and continued down to the House of Terror, the former headquarters of the Nazi Gestapo and then the communist Secret Police. It walked us through the terror of the two regimes, it was an excellent but sobering museum.

We decided to have our last dinner at the hotel. Sometime after dinner but before dessert a man walked into the restaurant. I remarked to Jana he looked a lot like Jason Isaacs. I didn’t think much of it until 10 or 15 minutes later when another man walked into the restaurant that looked and sounded like Viggo Mortensen!! Both Jana & I reached the same conclusion – it was Viggo Mortensen! Which meant the first man must have really been Jason Isaacs! We were both star struck and very giggly. After a little research (aren’t Blackberries wonderful? And props to Ben for helping) we discovered that Viggo & Jason had made a film in Budapest and were in town for the premiere. We lingered at dinner for as long as we could but finally decided to leave as we still had to pack. And for those of you wanting pictures – well, I don’t have any. It seemed to us they really didn’t want to be recognized. And I’m sorry to say there just wasn’t a good angle for us to get a picture surreptitiously So our only other choice was to be obnoxious and intrusive which neither of us wanted to do. We settled for gazing at their backs.

Day 11
The next morning came fairly early as our flight to London was at 8:30 a.m. The flight to London was uneventful and we did some shopping before saying goodbye – me to Seattle and Jana to Houston.

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