As a native Texan, it’s always amusing to me that I can go a short distance from Budapest and be in a completely different country. The drive from my house in Dallas to my parents’ house in Katy took over four hours, depending on traffic… in that same amount of time here, I can reach Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Austria, Romania, Serbia, or Croatia. It makes a day trip sound so much more exotic! The past few weeks have been full of such mini-trips.
While Budapest has a fair number of malls and shopping centers, Vienna is just a little step up. My friend Julie and I decided to make a quick day trip to acquire some of the cosmetics and clothes that aren’t sold here. The Budapest to Vienna route is great – the RailJets, which are Austrian trains run by OBB, are new, nice and clean, and affordable. A four-day pass that lets you take any train between Budapest and Vienna is only €25, and the RailJets run every two hours from 7 am til 7 pm.
Unfortunately, the flooding in western Hungary caused some damage to the railroad tracks… we think. The explanation was a bit unclear. But what normally is a painless 3-hour train ride turned into a 45 minute train ride + 1 hour and 15 minutes bus ride + 2 hour train trip. It was fine for us – Julie was given an explanation in English when she bought the tickets, and the conductor on the train also told us again in English – but a lot of other random people on the train didn’t seem to realize they had to get off because the train wasn’t going any further!
Julie and I had a fabulous day. The weather was about 5-6℉ less in Vienna than it was in Budapest that day, which doesn’t sound like much, but it is in the middle of a heat wave! And I was incredibly lucky in my shopping as well. Over a year ago, I took a quick day trip to Vienna with some ladies I met through NAWA. We stopped at this store called India, which had gorgeous fabrics and really interesting dresses, pillow covers, and shirts. At the time, I found a shirtdress that I loved but wasn’t sure I could afford (my mind was not very good at converting currency at that point, and we had a limited idea of our budget). I put it back, but every time I thought about the trip, I mentally kicked myself for not buying the dress. Well, Julie and I stopped by the store and I found several dresses to try on… including the very dress I had been thinking about for more than a year! In my size! On the sale rack! THE LAST ONE! It was fate. And one of the reasons it hadn’t sold was because the fabric belt was missing – and all I did was ask “Is there supposed to be a belt with this?” and the cashier gave me a free leather belt in replacement! I’m aware that this has been far too many exclamation points, but seriously, I was pumped.
Julie was equally successful, and we both returned to Budapest tired, sweaty and happy. The last portion of our return trip was on a really old MAV train instead of the RailJet, complete with fancy custom-made MAV curtains and a bathroom straight out of the communist days.
One thing I’m loving in Europe right now is the custom Coke bottles. I’m not sure if these are in the USA right now, but this summer in each country, the Coke bottles are personalized with names and fun phrases in the local language. In Austria, we managed to find our names – or close enough, anyway. Julie found Julia, but the closest I could come to mine was “Stefan” 🙂 Julie has since found a Stefanie in Belgium, though.
That weekend, Richie and I rented a car to go to Prague for a Jimmy Eat World concert. J.E.W. was a band we bonded over in college, and when we learned they’d be in driving distance we snapped up tickets. Since we went to Prague for tourism purposes last fall with my parents, we just booked a hotel close to the venue and made it an overnight trip.
The concert was FABULOUS. It was a tiny venue (probably the smallest I’ve actually been in) which made the concert really intimate and fun. The band members were making eye contact with everyone and kept saying, “This is so much fun!” We decided to sit at the balcony so we’d stay out of the “crowd”, which was awesome because we were still really close to the stage and got to sit the entire time. Yes, I’m old.
The other fabulous thing was that the band went onstage at a little after 8, so they were done around 10 even though they played a full set. Afterwards, Richie and I went to a little wine bar down the street from our hotel and enjoyed a little wine, cheese, and political discussion. Yep, that’s how we roll post-concert.
This week, our friend Aaron came to Budapest for the second time, and mentioned that he’d wanted to go to Vienna for awhile. Richie and I looked at each other and said, well, wanna go tomorrow? Richie, of course, had to work 🙂 But Aaron and I popped over to the train station, bought round-trip tickets, and five minutes later were sitting on a train to Vienna. It’s pretty fabulous how a trip like that can just happen with no prior planning.
Since I’d only been to Vienna twice to go shopping, and hadn’t done any sightseeing while there (I know, I know) we stuck to the basics. We started off with the St. Stephen’s Cathedral:
Then we wandered around the corner to St. Peter’s:
And spent the majority of our afternoon at the Hofburg Palace:
We toured the silver and china collection of the Hapsburgs, which filled something like 20 rooms, each of which contained more than 1,000 kilos of dinnerware. There was even a person whose title was something like Master of Silverware. Crazy. We also toured the Sisi exhibit, which covers the life and death of Queen Elisabeth/Erzsebet. The Austrian exhibit showcased a totally different part of her life than the Hungarian exhibits I’ve seen – this one focused on her depression after the death of two of her children and her very emotional poetry. We also toured the imperial apartments, where Sisi and Franz Joseph lived during their reign. Sadly, no photos were allowed (you don’t mess with Austrian museum guards… or at least I don’t) but it was all gorgeous, opulent, and incredibly sad. You could tell exactly how obsessed Sisi was with her appearance by the amount of exercise equipment, diary notations of diets, and photos of herself on the walls.
Our last stop of the day was the crypts, where there were the tombs of Maria Theresa and her husband:
And of Sisi, her husband, and her son (whose death in a murder-suicide pact led to Sisi’s complete downward spiral).
The crypts were fascinating – there were tombs of many of the royals throughout the ages, and you could tell how revered they were by the prominence of the tomb and the decorations on it.
We finished touring just in time to stop in a cute little nativity shop (and be lectured by the shopkeeper for the actions of the NSA, as though we personally were agents of the US government) and catch the last train outta town.
Our last daytrip was to Sopron for the Volt festival, but this post is long enough… so I’ll save that for next time.
If you want to see more photos of our adventures, here’s the link to the Facebook album where I’ve been posting most of them – no FB account required!