We're working on the next steps of our little kitchen upgrades and can't wait to share some of the progress with you. But until then, we wanted to share the next leg of our vacation with you.
Last week we filled you in on the highlights of the Budapest leg of our 10th anniversary vacation. We also gave you a glimpse of the city as we saw it through many of our favorite photos. Though we had nearly exhausted ourselves by walking all over the city for nearly three days straight, we were by no means ready to relax and take it easy -- we had more of Europe to see.
With our trusty Rick Steves' book in hand, we bid Budapest adieu and we headed of to the train station, our next stop being Vienna, Austria, or Wien, as it's spelled in German. This is why the people of Wien are known as Wieners, honest, that's how they're known.
Whenever we're in Europe we like to take the train to travel between destinations. It's a relaxing means of travel, often very affordable, they're almost always right on time, and you can usually purchase a last minute ticket just prior to the train's scheduled departure. We also usually like to pay the extra 20 Euro or so to upgrade to a first class cabin. You get more room, more comfortable seats, decent meals, complimentary drink service, power outlets at your seat, and sometimes wifi (great for writing blog posts from the trip). As stress free as train travel usually is compared to flying, we sure did make it interesting for ourselves on this leg of the trip.
After speaking with many friends who had gone on similar trips, they all explained some sort of drama from their train travel. Additionally, several people told us to just buy our ticket in person at the station. This seemed fine to us, but we still expected some drama. We headed to the station about 40 minutes before our train was scheduled to depart, What we didn't know about was just how long we'd have to wait in line at the ticket window just to purchase our tickets. To say we cut it close is an understatement. Less than five minutes before the train left we didn't even have our tickets and were anxiously waiting for the large digital sign on the wall to call our number. When our number finally popped up we dashed to the counter, purchased our ticket to Vienna, and ran around the platform to board the train. Our cabin was at the very front, and we cut it so close that we had to board the train on the middle car and walk up to the front car, carrying our luggage with us. It was not easy, and we were sweaty and uncouth Americans by the time we sat down, but we had made it. The next train wasn't for another two hours, so we didn't want to miss the one we were on.
With that drama behind us, we hoped we had checked the "drama" box on our travels and we settled in for the remainder of our journey. Though our tickets, announcements, and signage on the train was all in Hungarian, we were able to decipher the name of a train station on our ticket and assumed that station was our final destination. About two hours into the trip the station name we recognized came up on the display, and Wendy and I grabbed our bags to depart from the train.
As we were exiting the train we got our first look around. I'm not really sure why we didn't pay better attention by looking out the train's windows, but the surrounding area definitely wasn't the bustling city of Vienna we expected. Actually, it was more farmland and windmills than pavement and buildings. A little confused, but struggling with two 50 pound bags, we soldiered on. As we left the train and landed on the platform, the odd surroundings, lack of people, and discomfort with the situation caused me to retrieve my phone and see if the lagging GPS had updated. It had, and that's when I realized we were standing on the Austria/Hungary border, still about 50 miles from our ultimate destination. This is more or less what we were staring at.
Shocked, I blurted out to Wendy "We're in the wrong place, get back on the train!" She didn't pause, not even for a second to double check my assessment of the situation. Instead, she spun around and attempted to hoist her monstrous bag back onto the train before the train began to pull away, potentially leaving me stranded in a foreign land.
I stood helplessly on the platform watching Wendy struggle with the first bag, unable to assist because of how she and the luggage were positioned. As visions raced through my head of the train pulling away leaving me on the platform as Wendy and her bag rode off into the sunset, she was finally able to wrestle her suitcase back up the stairs.
I hurriedly pulled my piece of luggage up the stairs and back onto the train no sooner that the train began to leave the station. I probably made it by about 10-15 seconds, lucky to not be left standing in the middle of nowhere.
Once we sat back down in our seats we began to realize where we went wrong. The ticket clearly stated the name of the erroneous station, but it appears it was stating our destination of Vienna by-way-of the border location where we had exited. Ah-ha! We had almost seriously fouled up the first day in Vienna and we were still far from the city.
After all of our drama, we arrived in Vienna on schedule and ready for adventure...or maybe a bit of a nap. Hey, at least this view from the train station was a little bit more expected than departing in the middle of the country.
The good weather we had experienced in Budapest had given way to rain and cooler air. We liked the temperature, but the rain that began shortly after our arrival didn't let up until the next morning.
In spite of the rain we decided we should head out and see some of the closer sights. We were staying in a very nice hotel Wendy had found called The Square. It was about a half block from the world famous Vienna Opera House, right near the subway, and just off of the main walking thoroughfare. In other words, centrally located and convenient to just about everything. Just check out the view from our window.
We wandered from our hotel to St. Stephen's cathedral, a massive gothic structure built in 1174 that seems to rise up to towering heights in the midst of an otherwise urban metropolis. As impressive as the outside is, the interior was equally if not more magnificent.
Due to the rain outside, it was quite crowded in the nave as people ducked in to escape the weather. In spite of the crowd and noise, the interior was quiet and tranquil.
Though it was pouring, we didn't want to miss out on any time of our vacation, so we started to look into places to eat for dinner our first night. We wanted to venture off of the beaten path and experience something truly local, so we jumped on the Internet and started looking at the website and iPhone app "Spotted by Locals." We found a good looking place called Kolar and made the trek through the water logged streets of Vienna to our destination. We had various dining options, including little rainy hot dog and "happy noodle" stands, but all I have to say is, "boy are we glad we trudged through the rain to Kolar."
This may sound a little crazy, but this simple meal was possibly one of the best meal experiences we had on our trip. It was more or less a local bar/eatery with some good beer and great food.
Kolar is known for "fladen and bier," or in English, "round flat cake and beer." Kolar makes their flatbread/pitas in their oven and then stuff them full of everything from cheese to the most elaborate schnitzel. I stuck to the veggie fladens, while Wendy branched out a bit. It was one of these meals where, even though we were sitting there in soaked pants from the walk in the rain, we just had a wonderful and enjoyable time on our vacation.
By our second day, the rain let up enough for us to really venture out and explore the city. I have to say, Vienna is a beautiful city. As usual, I was simply enamored by the architecture. From the Opera House...
...to the palace, everything is just so grand.
Vienna, as a city, feels so amazingly western compared to what we experienced in Budapest. Though the city is situated on the Danube, the same river as Budapest, the city's history took a far different path. The culture, music, food, and overall environment is far more refined. It's all very obvious from a simple walk around town, but it doesn't necessarily make the city more or less appealing than Budapest, just different.
Above all else, Vienna celebrates their rich history and deep investment in the arts. It is more or less what they're most known for, and there are references throughout the city to the area's rich heritage.
We made a stop in the world famous Kunsthistorisches Museum to take in some of the most spectacular works of art from the western world. The museum is absolutely full of paintings that I quickly recognized from my college art history books. The majority of the museum celebrates the Hapsburgs' extensive collections. In addition to the items on display we saw quite a few amazing artists working on reproductions of the other famous works of art.
In addition to the impressive works of art done by everyone from Raphael to Rubens, we also stopped by the Egyptian exhibit where we saw a 4000 year old hippo that Wendy wanted to take home with us.
What do you think, wouldn't it look good in our living room? It's small enough to fit in your hands. Totally reasonable I'd say.
Nearby the museum, we also took a tour of the Hofburg Palace. Photography wasn't allowed trough the majority of the palace, but the opulence and extent at which the Austrian royal families have lived was apparent. If ever in Austria, this is absolutely worth the price of admission. I took a quick photo of one of the staircase's chandeliers that should give you an idea of how grand the palace is.
Yes, that's a marble ceiling medallion that is larger that any of the rooms in our house.
After viewing the various famous sights of Vienna, we figured it was a good time to take in some of the food Vienna is quite well known for. We found a traditional (and rather touristy) restaurant called Figlmüller that offered beer and schnitzel (do you see a beer trend in our dining yet?). Traditional Austrian fare is what they're known for, and that's what Wendy opted for. Let me tell you, the single order of schnitzel was spilling over the edges of the plate. Wendy reported it was rather delicious.
In addition to the music, food, and culture of Vienna, the Wieners (yep, that's seriously what you call the people in Vienna) are known for their cafe culture. From sachertortes to cappuccinos, the pace of life in Vienna seems to revolve around enjoying a relaxing time with your partner or friends over a pastry and some coffee.
Okay, okay, I'm just joking with the McCafe thing, but they were everywhere. We actually went to a small cafe on our last morning that was outfitted as it was the day it opened in 1889. Though we were a bit rushed, I made sure to enjoy my apple strudel.
It was actually quite nice to just sit and sip, and it's something I could definitely see bringing back from vacation. On our walk back to the hotel after our cafe excursion we stumbled on an outdoor market that was full of just about anything you could imagine.
From produce to cheese and prepared food to souvenires, they seemed to have just about everything. Wendy may have even found a little inspiration for fall decor.
Did I mention they had a fair amount of seafood too? :-)
In all, our trip to Vienna was an enjoyable one, though it started out a bit bumpy and soggy. We weren't sure what to expect going into the city, but we both found the overall experience to be a very nice one. We were pretty tired from our days in Budapest, and the weather didn't really lend itself to taking in the full benefits the city had to offer. I could easily see spending three sunny days without being exhausted, and that would have given us a bit more time to take in things like the opera.
I'd rate our overall vacation quite excellent as we passed the midway point. Our next stop after Vienna was Prague in the Czech Republic, but we'll fill you in on that part of our trip hopefully later this week. Until then, let us know what you think. Have you ever been to Vienna? If not, do you have any desire to take a trip after seeing some of our photos?