Posts Tagged ‘Vienna’

Zürich to Bratislava was a fairly long journey: three local trains got me to Bregenz in western Austria then I took a seven or eight hour train ride to Vienna and finally another hour on to Bratislava Petržalka, the western, communist-era part of the city across the Danube from the castle and the old town. Botond was there to pick me up and we headed over to his estranged wife So-young’s place; she’d just left for a couple of weeks in Korea.

I didn’t do much sightseeing in Bratislava while I was there. I went into the centre a couple of times and had coffee and lunch at Shtoor, the café Habiba and I had been to when we had been in the city a few weeks earlier. My inclination to sightsee was pretty minimal – I was looking forward to having no responsibilities or schedule. I spent a lot of time on the internet.

On maybe the second or third day there, I managed to drop the shower door on my foot. The injury didn’t seem too bad at first and there was no sign that I’d broken a bone. My foot swelled up a bit and there was a fairly hard lump on my instep close to my middle toes. Afterwards, it developed a purple bruise that spread in a ring across my toes and down the side of my foot over a period of several days. I went out one day, walking to the centre, and when I came back, it was very sore. Bo and I talked about me going to a doctor, but I semi-deliberately prevaricated over it and eventually it showed signs of getting better.

On the first weekend, Botond’s brother, Zsombor (in Hungarian, ‘zs’ represents the ‘s’ sound in ‘measure’), joined us and we (ie, Bo) drove to Austria for a camping/swimming/hiking weekend. With my foot, I wasn’t up for too much hiking, but we found an ‘experience trail’ – a trail leading through a narrow gorge and up a stream with games and activities for children. It wasn’t too long, so I didn’t suffer too much.

We stayed near Erlaufsee, a lake nestled between forested mountains that reminded me a lot of the Lake District. There were probably hundreds of people sunbathing and swimming along its grassy shores. The weather was hot and sunny until early evening when it suddenly turned stormy. I’m not a keen swimmer, but I went for a dip in my borrowed shorts; the water was chilly compared to the air, but not bad once you got used to it. In the evenings, a few fireflies floated around like burning motes from a fire. I’ve never seen fireflies in the flesh before.

On the Saturday evening, we visited Mariazell to have a look at the church and have dinner before returning to our borrowed and partially erected tent. The following day, we visited Lunzer See, another pretty but less touristy lake, had a look at some ski lifts and stopped at Melk to see the palatial monastery on the way back to Slovakia.

The next weekend, Botond took me to Lake Balaton, a large lake in Hungary, where we stayed at a holiday home – actually two homes consisting of a pair of semi-detached houses – along with a group of Bo’s old friends, their girlfriends and a couple of their newer friends. The lake had no actual beach – its shore was ringed by reeds and a concrete wall from communist times – but there were grassy areas nearby for people to set up their towels and whatnot.

I went swimming with the men. Well, only Bo was interested in swimming in earnest; everyone else was content to wade out – the lake bed went down at a very shallow angle, so you could walk out a long way without getting a drop of water above the waist – and throw a frisbee and ball around (in some sort of ball-frisbee combo game that was either just improvised play or I didn’t get at all).

Everyone seemed to speak English pretty well, but I suppose when it became apparent I was quiet, they mostly chatted in Hungarian. Still, it wasn’t a bad experience, just seeing the area and getting some reading done (I was enjoying Lord Jim).

On the second day, Botond and I went for a short bike ride together. Then, after lunch and icecream, everyone went their separate ways. Bo had lent me a Teach Yourself Hungarian book – which I didn’t make too much use of – but I learnt that the Hungarian name for the double-kiss greeting performed by Hungarian friends regardless of gender is a called puszi (sounds like ‘pussy’). I shook hands with the men when we said goodbye (one of whom said ‘Hello’, which functions like ‘ciao’) and puszied the women.

For the rest of the day, Botond took me to some nearby sights – the town of Keszthely and its palace and lakeside area, Szigliget Castle perched on one of several volcanic hills and the mill pond in a town called Tapolca.

Before I left Bratislava I was determined to do some sightseeing on my own and one day took the train back to Vienna to go to Schloss Schönbrunn. Getting to Vienna was easy enough – a return ticket from Bratislava’s main station was about €10. Navigating Vienna wasn’t quite so easy. I thought I’d take the subway but it turns out line 1 is closed, so I had to figure out which tram to take and from where.

I got there eventually, though, and queued up for a ‘classic’ ticket, which grants entry to all visitor areas of the palace and most of the grounds. The audioguide tour was pretty good and it wasn’t too crowded, so it was possible to linger comfortably and get a good look at the Imperial apartments of the Hapsburgs. A couple of my favourite rooms were one completely panelled with black and gold oriental lacquer work and another lined with dozens of frames painted blue to simulate porcelain, the frames filled with oriental-style drawings made by members of the imperial family.

I wandered around the grounds afterwards – much of which is free to access, but my ticket got me into the orangerie immediately behind the palace, the Gloriette up on the hill and the maze and labyrinth (which are mainly for children).

After that, I walked towards the city centre, had a look in the Schottenkirche, passed the film festival going on at the Rathaus and dropped by the Votive Church. Then I got a tram back to the station and the train back to Bratislava. Due to a misunderstanding, I got a bus home while Botond was waiting for me at the station.

It was great to spend time with Botond and to stay in So-young’s very nice apartment. Bo showed me how to make lecso (‘lecho’), a simple Hungarian dish of bell pepper, tomato, paprika and smoked sausage (or egg); we made and ate quite a lot of it. And, although I didn’t spend much time in the historic centre, Bratislava is a very pleasant place to hang out in. For the next stage of my travels, Bo took me to a town in the middle of Slovakia on his way home to Gödöllő near Budapest.

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At the railway station in Budapest, I made sure to get a 5 and a 50 forint coin to fill out my collection of Hungarian coins (which had been depleted when I first showed some to Habiba and she decided to keep half of them).

Once in Vienna, we went to the ticket office and reserved a seats for most of our journeys for the next month. This cost us about €170 – mostly for first class seats, as per our Eurail passes. This brings the total cost of our rail travel (not including Zagreb to Bratislava) to about €600 each – which has bought us 10 days of travel in a two-month period. Most of our trips will be international, except that we’ve now decided not to go to Spain after France, but straight to Italy and there visit Venice, Rome and Naples.

We took the underground from Wien Westbahnhof to Landstrasse and walked to the City Airport Train check-in area, where our Couchsurfing host had asked us to meet her. The Austrian Airlines check-in staff didn’t know what we were on about, but the woman working on the ticket desk right next to the check-in counter did and called her. Karin came to pick us up about 15 minutes later.

After dropping our stuff at her nice, large apartment near the city centre she picked up a friend and took us to Naschmarkt – a trendy market and restaurant area that had a Camden Lock feel to it, event though it was completely different – for a pleasant, if late lunch. Then they left us, as they’d both had late nights and little sleep.

We walked around and took photos of the Karlsplatz and Karlskirche, Stadtpark and the Danube and various statues we passed on the way, like Brahms, Beethoven, Johann Strauss the Elder (or was it the Younger?) and the Johann Strauss the Younger (or was it the Elder?).

We took a free tram ride home as, as with most of the places we’ve visited, public transport works on kind of honour system where it’s up to you to buy a ticket and validate it in a little machine when you get on board. There were no ticket machines around the tram stop and it was late enough that it was unlikely that a ticket inspector would be around.

The following day, we did much the same thing. We didn’t visit Austria’s Versailles, Schönbrunn Palace, but we did walk around the Belvedere Palace gardens (and had a picnic lunch there).

Then we walked up through Schwartzenbergplatz, where, our host had explained the day before, the monument built by the Russians at the end of WWII had been deliberately obscured by a big fountain (because the demolishing the monument would have been too disrespectful). In the same square, there’s a wonderful fractal sculpture that kids (of, as they say, all ages) climb up.

Then it was on to Stephansplatz to look at the Gothic splendour of St Stephen’s Cathedral.

Heading roughly back towards our accommodation, we stopped for a rest in the Burggarten, walked around Heldenplatz, through the Volksgarten and to the highly impressive Rathaus, the city hall.

Then back past the slightly incongruous classical Parliament building, through Maria-Theresienplatz, which is flanked by two grand museums, past the MuseumsQuartier and back to Naschmarkt, where we bought a load of olives, humus and similar delicacies. The curry humus lasted us several days.

In the morning, we said goodbye to Karin and headed back the Westbahnhof railway station and on to Salzburg.

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