Monday, March 31, 2014

Mondays are Easy when Spent in Vienna

We started the day by meeting our family friend, Rosie, in front of St. Stephen's Cathedral. Rosie is the daughter of our BFF, Liz, and I've known her since she was two.  She is a Viennese through and through, in her speech and mannerisms, although her Iowa loyalty and fondness came through. We walked to a nearby cafe, where Rosie met her spouse as an undergrad, and I did my best to act nonchalant as I ordered my melange and strudel (Apple, cold).

After hugs and auf wiedersehens, we quickly changed (grabbing yogurts from our free hotel breakfast for later), and ran the Ringtrasse.  That was exhilarating - my first outdoor run (4.5 miles!) because of you know what, and we are in Vienna - on a Monday morning, weaving in and out of pedestrians, and not exactly sure of the hour or our location (i.e., freedom)!

In the afternoon, we toured the Hofburg - seeing the vast array of silver and porcelain collections of the Habsburg monarchs and the Imperial Apartments tour.  I kept thinking about my mom, and how much she would enjoy seeing this stuff!  We also toured the Sisi Museum. I liked learning about Franz Joseph I, who ruled from 1848-1916 - he seemed like a cool guy.  Bit his wife!  Oh my - Empress Elisabeth, aka Sisi, I grew tired of her - she was high maintenance and didn't think much of being a mother, much less an empress.  I was actually disappointed we didn't learn more about Maria-Theresa: she was the only woman to rule during the Habsburg's 640 year reign.  She was the mother to 16 - and was either pregnant or had a newborn during most of her reign.  If that doesn't do enough to make her interesting, and I would argue it does - she ended the feudal system and started social reform. All in all, a great way to spend a few hours in Vienna.

After all those history lessons, we worked up quite a thirst.  We found some refuge at Trzesniewski's - a quaint little place that is known for their assortment of small sandwiches.  And after eating, we found refuge a few more times...oh - and when the temps drop as the day winds down and you have no jacket?  "It's no problem" - they say!  That's why there are blankets on the chairs!

On our third try at the wurstelstand, Shawn got the kasekrainer just how he likes it!  Vienna, we love ya!



Sunday, March 30, 2014

Vienna, so vunderful!

It's official - I love Vienna!  It's elegant, pleasant, pedestrian-friendly, even if a little pricey.

We took the rail from Budapest to Wien Westbahnoff and then navigated the very elegant subway (nothing dingy or smelly about it) to the center of Old Town, getting NOT LOST AT ALL!  It's great to travel with a partner who made his living reading maps and guessing traffic patterns.  Add to that, he carries my suitcase on the steps we encounter and our adventures are easy and happy, even when we don't exactly know where we are, or even where we are headed.

When we arrived in the middle of Old Town, we had a few blocks to walk and got a little twisted around.  This sweet student from Germany (studying Economics at the University of Vienna) helped us, walking and talking, he delivered us to our hotel.

We put our bags down, found our walking shoes, and walked the Ringstrasse, seeing all the tops sites of Old Town, including the Opera House, Parliament, remnants of the wall that protected Vienna for centuries (and Beethoven's home above the wall - see pic below) and St. Stephen's, of course.

We stopped at a wurstelstand and tried two different sausages (with bier, natch).  The gelato tonight was Croccolino (just a becher)...amazing hazelnut coupled with French vanilla (let's just say you can't get this at Hy-Vee)!

Wien!

We are on the train this Sunday morning, traveling from Budapest to Vienna.

I hope to be a temporary local - I am thinking about the wurst and a possible waltz, maybe near Stephansplatz, with my travel buddy.  The Viennese caf├ęs are, apparently, almost a cultural institution and I'm looking forward to lingering there, too, and contemplating all the great musicians that lived and composed here like Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, Brahms and Beethoven.

One of the treats about traveling in this area is that everyone pronounes our last name correctly - they get it!  German words always ignore the first of two complementary vowels - think Heidi or Budweiser, and of course Schteil!

Another recurring travel treat is to notice our commonalities and differences.  Fathers seem very involved with their children's care in Hungary.  Public restrooms - water closets - almost always cost a token or two (about a dollar) to use.  You must say "no gas" when ordering water, if indeed you want to avoid the carbonation.  

We are loving our RailEurope experience! They brought us complimentary cookies and magazines!  Seeing the countryside in such a relaxing environment is a real treat, too!  Hugs!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Buda + Pest

Budapest - cosmopolitan and elegant - the architecture and landscape, NOT necessarily the people.

The citizens seem not to fuss with much, while kind, but a bit weary, as if persevering, but maybe that's what happens after a long history of being conquered and losing wars (e.g., in more recent history to the Ottoman Turks, then the Germans, then the Russians).  This country escaped the grips of communism just recently - May 1990 - the same time Austin was born.

We walked the town today - over 30,000 steps.  First to the Holocaust Monument - 50 pairs of bronze shoes near the Danube.   Men, women, and children's shoes.  It was overwhelming to think what it represented:  the Nazis in 1944, massacred some Jews right at this spot - tying them together to save on bullets, shooting some and then the line of them would fall in the river.

We knew, in advance that 100,000 demonstrators were gathering near Parliament today (thanks for the email notification, US State Department!) at 13:00, so we toured the Pest side in the morning.  The Pest side is sprawling, with interesting shops and squares.  We are staying on the Pest side, near the Chain Bridge.   During the demonstration today (election-based local politics), we safely walked to the Buda side of town.  We saw fabulous architecture:  ancient ruins, Baroque, Classical, Gothic, and modern structures.  On the Pest side, we walked past the first McDonald's in the then-Soviet occupied Eastern Europe - legend says the lines for a taste of the Western world were wrapping around the block at all times.  We came close to bathing in a hot spring, as Budapest is known as the City of Baths, with an array of public baths and Turkish pools, some nude apparently, due to all the natural springs - but as the day ran by, we decided the experience might not rival our backyard hot tub, although if we had another day...

We loved St. Stephen's (Istvan) Basilica, with its 300 foot dome.  I lit a candle for you.

There are so many outdoor shops and of course the Great Market Hall, all 3 floors, where we noticed lots of paprika-infused delicacies - they've really got a thing for paprika.  You know how we buy deli meat at the store's counter?  Many places sold recently-executed chickens - yes I thought of you squirming at this notion, Kate - with heads attached!  Just business as usual!

In the afternoon, we traveled to the Buda side, visiting the Royal Palace and the sumptuously-gilded Matthias Church.  We feasted on Hungarian Goulash ( Shawn's childhood memory of goulash was macaroni noodles with tomato sauce, vegetables and roast - mine was of egg noodles, hamburger and cream of mushroom soup - right mom?).  Their version did not match either one of ours:  vegetable soup, basically, with some kinda meat.  It was okay, but the fresh bread and Hungarian drinks compensated nicely.

Everything is fairly inexpensive - big beers are about $2.50 as is a glass of wine - and food and clothing is cheap, too.  Our very clean and spacious (3 rooms!) hotel is centrally located and $78 night.  Although Budapest joined the European Union in 2004, they continue to maintain their own currency - the Forinth.   There's about 200 HUF to one USD.  We sharpened our math skills here.  Lots of beautiful statues (they're crazy for their statues) and green space.  They have mild temps, yield to pedestrians, rarely honk their horns, and everyone seems intent on a "live and let live" environment.  Our kind of town! 

The best part of this beautiful day was a chance to FaceTime with Matt - we caught up with him while at the Anna Cafe on the Vaci Utca (free WiFi!) - I just loved seeing his face and showing him around!