Vienna!

Our start in Vienna was not so ideal. We forgot to load a map on the phone before we left wifi in Prague, so even though we had the street address and an assumption about a vague area, we didn’t know exactly where we were going. At the train station, we exited on one end and the information desk was closed. We couldn’t find an ATM and didn’t have any Euros, so we couldn’t take a cab. We weren’t able to buy UBahn tickets with a debit card in the machine we found either. So we wandered around a bit to figure out what to do.

Finally we went back to the platform the other direction and ended up in the correct end of the station, with shops/food, an open ticket office, and ATMs. The ticket office folks got us hooked up with a map and how to get to our hotel, we got some cash, and were on our way. Phew!

We made it to the hotel pretty easily after that, and after dropping off our stuff, went back into town. There’s a museum called Haus der Musik that’s open til 10pm, so that was our first destination (after being wowed walking past the Opera House!). There were several floors and we were the only ones there, so we went as fast or slow as we pleased, which is a pretty ideal museum experience, if you ask me.

There were lots of exhibits about music in general, and the Viennese Orchestra, and individual composers. Many areas included hands-on experiences. The first one was a minuet waltz that you ‘composed’ by tossing dice. Another floor is all about perception and sound itself. In this room, you can hear all kinds of different sounds in this phones (cars honking, someone yawning, wind blowing, etc).

 There were individual rooms/exhibits for a handful of famous composers: Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, Mahler. There’s an actual gazebo to waltz under in the Strauss room. In the Mozart room, you enter your name on a computer, and it creates your song. Mozart played with assigned notes/values for different letters as fun ways to compose. Then there’s a small room where you can actually conduct the Viennese Philharmonic. You hold the special baton and it controls the speed at which they play the song you’ve chosen. If you do it too slowly, too quickly, or too oddly, they will stop and admonish you! Great fun. 🙂

For a late dinner/snack, Andy was excited to find a schnitzel stand he’d found in the guidebook. We went back a few times while we were there and he loved it! The Viennese are really into their street meats!

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Day two was a long one, in energy if not geography. We spent the entire afternoon at Schloss Schonbrunn. There are many “attractions” to see, so you buy a ticket with whichever combination of “attractions” you want to visit. I put “attractions” in quotation marks because I found it kind of a ripoff. The gardens, for example, aren’t really interesting enough to be a separate cost. But the “normal” bundle is like five attractions, which is a good variety of things to see. I suppose it’s most beneficial for someone who only wants to see the museum part and can therefore spend less money.

Front:

 Anyway, the castle was large and pretty. Very similar in feel to Versailles, except smaller of course, and less gilt. We toured through the rooms, most of which focused on either Maria-Theresa or Franz-Joseph and Elizabeth (Sissy). After the inside, we explored a bit outside.

  I twirled,

and of course we also jumped (this is the back of the castle, from up on the hill where there’s a big Panorama Terrace). It was really hot out there, and I was glad I’d brought my umbrella to shade myself. I moved nice and slow. (Except for the jumping.)

Finally, the most unusual (and tastiest) attraction was the Apple Strudel Show, a demo of how to make the classic Austrian apple strudel! The dough was so thin you could literally read through it!

We went to the Naschmarkt for dinner. It’s a bunch of fresh produce/meat stalls and some restaurants. I ate a small carton of strawberries and then had the most delicious chocolate ice cream of my life.

We also rode the Ringstrasse on the tram and marveled at the city. It’s a beautiful place, and totally different than Prague.

Day Three was crappy, weather-wise.We started by saying hello to the Stephensdom, the big church right in the center of town.

Then we walked over to the Albertina, one of several large museums in Vienna. There was an exhibit on the Impressionists, and another on Klimt. Due to my ‘delicate’ condition I wasn’t feeling too strong, so we walked through most of the galleries without stopping for too long, except for some bench sitting. (Sitting is one of my favorite activities when I travel anyway.)

 After some lunch (the most amazing McDonald’s meal of all time [I know; please don’t judge too hard]), we decided to hit up the Treasury in the big palace right in the middle of town. It was an extensive collection of not just jewels, but also clothing/costumes and other historical…things. Here’s the famous crown studded with all kinds of precious stones. There were a few other jaw-dropping items to see there as well.

We had a bit of time in the morning before our train back to Budapest, so we walked to the nearby Prater park for the Riesenrad, the giant ferris wheel.  It’s kind of like the London Eye (except older)–you get in a little cabin and take in the scenery as the wheel slowly revolves, for 15 minutes or so. It gets pretty high up there!

We made it back to Budapest and went to a free choir concert at St Stephens. It was beautiful, the way the notes echoed and lingered. No more fitting place for choral music than a cathedral/basilica!

We had an early morning flight out — we were at the airport so early that none of the check-in desks were even open yet!

Prague!

Oh, Prague. I was so excited but also nervous to return. My time there in 2006 was wonderful and I totally fell in love with it. Part of me was nervous that going back would be meh, that I wouldn’t like it as much. I was very excited for Andy to see it–I hoped he would love it.

I needn’t have worried. We got a cab to our hotel/apartment, and even though it was nighttime and I couldn’t see much, I was glued to the window, thrilled.

After we dropped off our bags, I dragged him out to walk to the Charles Bridge so he could start seeing Prague right away. I was all a-twitter and excited, and I even remembered how to get there! It was just as magical as I remembered. Oh my.

Our first stop our first morning was of course Old Town Square. I remembered how to get there too, and it made me just as happy as it had six years before. I mean really, how could it not?

We read about the Charles Bridge Tower, and I vaguely remembered reading about it on my last trip and not finding it. Well, there’s only the one tower (you can see it in the nighttime photo above), and there was a guy in an olden-tyme uniform standing near a doorway. No sign or arrow or name or anything. I asked if this was the tower exhibit and sure enough it was! We went up a couple sets of spiral stairs and came to an exhibit room. There was a big map of the EU on the floor, and two sets of mannequins representing different kinds of people in the old kingdom, and two suits of armor ready for photographing!

The best part, though, was the views! Looking back toward the city was this enchanting sea of red tile rooftops:

And on the other side, you can see the swarm of tourists on the bridge and the part of town across the river as well as the Castle. There’s another set of stairs and you end up on the roof, looking out open viewpoints with information about the bridge and other parts of Prague history. Gorgeous.

St Vitus Cathedral (inside Prague Castle). The Castle complex was the only “museum” that we did in Prague.

Subway walls

We took the train out of downtown to Vysehrad, the 11th century fortress. As you can see, the fortifications are still evident! No invaders here.

 

View of Prague Castle from one of the Vysehrad lookouts

Doors of Sts. Peter and Paul church at Vysehrad

If you’re wearing a fedora, you can play the piano from Big.

Train that we caught with five minutes to spare to Vienna

In short, Prague is gorgeous. We both loved it. You must go.

Budapest

Our journey to Europe started out as a chaotic one. Our plane left late, we had to go through a second baggage screening at Heathrow before running for our Budapest flight which was about to close. We made it all fine and dandy, and got a car service into town to our very fancy hotel (Le Meridien Budapest!). The sun was shining, it was warm, and we went for a walk and had dinner. Fell asleep in a big squishy bed by 7pm.

Budapest wasn’t so much a destination for us as the cheapest place to fly into/out of. We didn’t have a ton of time on this trip (we arrived on a Sunday and flew out the following Monday), so we only scheduled one night in Budapest on each end. We figured we’d explore as much as we could while we were there but not stress about it. As it turned out, we saw even less than we’d thought. Partly because we were tired and didn’t want to deal with figuring out what to see and how to get there, but also because it was kind of a disappointing place. You can just see that it’s been neglected–there are lovely buildings all over the place, but most of them are crumbling or abandoned. It still feels like the Soviet era is still hanging over the place. I just looked it up–and it was only in 1990 that Communism ended there, so no wonder!

Holding a goose

 

 St Stephen’s Basilica

Looking up at the dome inside St Stephen’s

 The second morning, it was rainy, but we still wanted to go, so we climbed 302 steps to get to the top of the basilica. Here’s part of the view looking out over Budapest!

Fun art

Pretty but decrepit building

Parliament buildings

Antique public transportation

Our first meal, I had raspberry cream soup and salad, while Mister Melancholy had some goulash. For dessert, of course we had strudel! In Europe strudel is almost all fruit and a little pastry wrapping, whereas in American bakeries it’s a lot more pastry.

 

Train Station

 

So overall, we were not sad to move on to Prague after our day in Budapest!