Tuesday: Strasbourg

We explored Strasbourg today, checking out the Christmas markets, Petite France – the historic part of the city, the huge Cathedral, some ice skating, and the shops. Strasbourg is such a lively place, and the River Ill adds some beautiful ambiance to the city.

The decorations in the cities we have visited are all unbelievably extravagant and unlike anything I have ever seen. Strasbourg is no exception. It calls itself the “capital of Christmas,” and the lights and displays are on every street.

There is a huge police presence throughout the city and most of the officers are cradling their cocked weapons as they walk or stand, and they are constantly looking all around. It is unsettling to observe, but if prevents a repeat of last year’s December terrorist attack here, it is necessary.


photos: the Ill river, running through the city; ice skaters. The rink seems to be a very large piece of plywood and somehow a thin layer of snow is spread on top. Skaters rent orange plastic skates they strap to their shoes – regular ice skates wouldn’t work; the decorations on one street in the city

Monday: Strasbourg

Today was a driving day: Salzburg, Austria to Strasbourg, France. The distance is about 5 1/2 hours but with snow coming down when we left this morning then a complete nightmare of the center of the city being closed off for security reasons, it took us closer to seven hours.

Last year at this time, the Strasbourg Christmas Market was the scene of a terrorist attack, with people killed and injured. This year there is no entry to the city at all by car, so we parked at a garage and walked to where we are staying. We got to a checkpoint and were stopped by police to open our luggage. We didn’t understand it all at first, but remembered the whole awful tragedy once we arrived at our lodging and talked with people there.

Strasbourg is a bigger city than I realized, so we will enjoy checking it out tomorrow. We had dinner at one of the few restaurants open on Monday, and by the time we were finished the market was closed for the day and the streets were quiet.


photos: snow in Salzburg this morning; decorations we walked by in Strasbourg this evening; a building in the city

Sunday: Salzburg

December first! The year is almost over.

There were probably half as many people at the Christmas market today as last night so we were able to walk around, check out the booths, and have some hot punch in a Salzburg festival mug.

It seems that most everything at this city’s market is a holiday decoration or Christmas-related. Other markets we have visited have more random handmade gifts that are not necessarily Christmas- themed.

We had lunch at a busy pub where we were cautioned “One hour!” before I guess we would be asked to leave. That was fine since everything was served quickly and my goulash was very good.

We walked along by the river until the late afternoon. We go to Strausbourg tomorrow.

photos: Mulled wine mug from Salzburg’s holiday market; the river today; a street performer seeming to defy gravity.

Tuesday: Vienna

We headed from Krakow to Vienna this morning. It was a gray day and snow is expected in Krakow in a few days, so it was probably a good time to go. I enjoyed our stay in Krakow and would love to return.

The Czech Republic and Austria both require a sticker to drive on the main toll roads, so of course that was an important concern as we drove. The booth to get a “winiety” was behind a convenience store. The woman working there was very friendly and had stickers available for both countries, so that was out of the way without further searching.

We got to our lodging in Vienna in the late afternoon, but we realized right away that we are too far from the center of the city to walk there – or walk anywhere really. Luckily the bus and subway systems are very good but we should have researched a bit better. Still, it is nice to be on the Danube River.

We had weiner schnitzel and then enjoyed the Christmas lights, some hot mulled wine, and the holiday market. There are four of them here so we will check out more tomorrow. It is a beautiful city, full of people.


photos: some of Vienna’s holiday lights; chocolate tools for sale at a booth at the Christmas market; the small (just one person can fit in it, plus the woman woring there) hard-to-find booth to buy a sticker to drive on the roads in the Czech Republic and Austria.

Wednesday: Budapest

Yesterday our food tour guide mentioned the New York Cafe, a hotel and restaurant originally built in the late 1800s by the New York Life Insurance Company. The cafe is often mentioned as the most beautiful in the world, and it was once a place where influential newspaper writers and editors would meet. We decided to have breakfast there.

It is easy to see what draws people to the cafe. It is sensational, with beautiful Italian Renaissance-style architecture that is perfectly restored. Breakfast was good, but I was more interested in checking out the hotel lobby and taking in the elegant building.

After breakfast, we walked to the House of Parliament, about a half-hour away on the banks of the Danube River, and took a tour. Aside from checking out a courtroom and seeing the heavily guarded Holy Crown (no photos permitted) we learned of the importance of the number 96 to Hungary. No building can be built to be over 96 meters, so it is not higher than St. Stephen’s Basilica and the Parliament building – important to church and state. Additionally, the main staircase in to Parliament has 96 steps, and the number figures importantly in other ways too numerous to mention.

We had lunch and it was pouring rain when we left the restaurant. It was still raining this evening, and about half of the Christmas market vendors were not there as we walked by. Music at the market were two talented guys covering the Rolling Stones.

photos: Where members of Parliament put their cigars when they went into the courtroom. These numbered spots are still there because they are part of the wood; the New York Cafe – usually packed with people; the main entrance to the Parliament building, from inside

Monday: Budapest

We left Pecs and drove to Budapest today – about 2 1/2 hours. The big city is beautiful, all decorated for Christmas and at about 55 degrees it is perfect weather to stroll around and get in the holiday state of mind. We parked our car and we don’t plan to use it at all for the time we are here.

We had lunch and checked out our part of the city, right on the Danube River. There wasn’t much boat traffic this afternoon and I wondered how busy the river got here.

I was surprised that Budapest has a giant(er) ferris wheel than Gyor so after the sun went down we took a ride to get a view of the city. They seem much more serious about their wheel, with two technicians in a booth operating the controls rather than a college girl pushing a lever. On the other hand, we were not offered blankets as we were in Gyor. It was lots of fun in both places and a good way to see the city lights.

We strolled around and walked right into a giant Christmas market, with lots of food, live music, and interesting gifts for sale. Wow, it was fantastic. We will have lunch there this week, but for now we got a few Christmas cookies.


photos: The city in holiday lights; music at the market; so much food at the holiday market, just one booth of a dozen.