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.

Thursday: Budapest

Today is our last day in Budapest so as content as we are here on this side of the Danube, we thought we should go across the river to the Buda side. So we walked over the bridge late this morning.

The view of the Danube River is beautiful, and today was a clear and warm day so it was perfect for a stroll.

We spent most of our time at the Buda Castle and its surrounding complex. The castle/palace was built in the 1760s and has undergone renovations and restoration through the years and it continues today, since numerous wars and lack of funding took their toll on the ancient buildings. The whole area is sensational to see and I’m glad we got a nice day today to do it.

We walked back across the bridge in the early afternoon and had lunch at Terv Presszo, an old family-run Hungarian pub-like restaurant. We had chicken paprikash, a dish I remembered from when Mrs. Toth, a Hungarian family friend who survived the Holocaust, would come to our house and make it for our family. We also sampled the Hungarian national aperitif, Unicum. We learned that the original formula is not available in the U.S. so we had to try it. Wow, it was strong, bitter stuff with a hint of the plum that it is fermented in.

We took in the holiday windows and decorations, and saw another holiday market being set up. There are at least four of them in the center of the city.

We shared a slice of chocolate cake before calling it a day. We will miss this beautiful city.

photos: Unicum, Hungary’s national apertif; a statue on the Buda castle grounds; the bridge entry from the Buda side

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.