After our rainy evening it was wonderful to wake again to sunny skies in Budapest. Even though the actual distance to Vienna is only around 200 miles, our tour planned a leisurely day of travel to get there. Leaving at 8am, our scheduled arrival in Vienna was after 4pm. Instead of taking the fast highway directly between the big cities, we had the chance to travel the picturesque side roads along the Danube. Even with the rest stops, it was a very long day and with my cold giving me all sorts of grief I was completely and absolutely wiped our when we finally got to Vienna.
But early in the day things were still beautiful, and even before we completely left the north part of Budapest, called Obuda, we passed the Roman Ruins of Aquincum. It was one of the things on Melody’s list that we didn’t manage to get to in our short stay, so all we have to show for it is a blurry photo as the bus passed by. In retrospect, I am glad we got to see all three of these cities, but I do know that there is so very much we missed by only have a couple of real days in each one. I think maybe two weeks in Budapest just might, only might, be enough to wander around that city and see it in a different way. I would go back to Budapest in a heartbeat. And Jeanne….who I know is actually reading this blog….yes! You do have to get to Budapest. It is a Jeanne kind of city. The Turkish influence makes it seem more like Istanbul, still my most favorite city in the world.
In less than an hour we were at the lovely village of Szentendre, just 13 miles north of Budapest. The town is an extremely popular tourist destination, with most tours choosing to pour into the streets for a few hours of exploring. Called the “Wolf Castle” by the Romans, and influenced by a large Serbian community for a few centuries, Szentendre has been an artist’s colony since the early 1900’s, and still is home to more than 100 working artists. Much like Santa Fe, they proclaim about the “magical light” of this sweet little village on a rise overlooking the Danube.
We wandered up the cobblestone streets, and I didn’t see sign one of a pharmacy, big on my list for the day. I was getting sicker and sicker, and of course, since I don’t get colds, hadn’t brought anything with me for that sort of thing. While the rest of the group went off to look at ‘stuff’, Lorena helped me find a pharmacy in an obscure part of town and helped translate with the pharmacist. It was one of those moments when I really appreciated being on a tour. Lorena left me there to negotiate and I emerged from the shop armed with throat lozenges, a liquid something like Nyquil called “Wicks”, and some other sort of thing for my cold. The “Wicks” provided endless entertainment for Melody and I for the next several days. I would get goofy, and she would say, “Drink some more Wicks, Mom”. As with most inside jokes, we laughed hysterically at something that probably isn’t all that funny, but I know we both treasure that memory.
I managed to get up the narrow stairs to the church courtyard with my knee brace and hiking poles, but I have to say that I was getting dang tired of dragging those things around. I think most folks around me were also getting tired of me whapping them in the leg now and then. It’s funny, but sometimes two sticks, a camera, and whatever else I wanted to do required more than the two hands I had available. I had to rely on my other two hands, Melody’s, which were often in use as well. It was tiresome for sure, but at least I got around and did most of what I wanted to do in spite of it all. I surely did make me appreciate what folks with real disabilities have to deal with. Whew!
After an hour or so in the village, where Melody found presents for her family, we continued our idyllic drive along the countryside. The landscape reminded both of us so much of the Willamette Valley in Oregon, with everything beautifully green, and lots of open countryside and vegetable farms on the rich river terrace soils. Occasionally we would pass though a tiny village, then a small town until we we reached the Austrian border crossing, now closed.
It was interesting to see the architecture change as we traveled into Austria. Even at a distance, the villages of Hungary had a certain “look” and Austrian villages had their own “look” as well. The shapes of the church steeples in Austria were more rectangular and had less ornamentation than those in Hungary.
We knew that lunch was to be somewhere along the road in a “nice place to eat” according to Lorena. I have to say we were somewhat appalled when we pulled into a freeway rest stop that could have easily been an ugly, generic toll road parkway station in Florida. Once inside, however, we were pleasantly surprised to find a rather decent cafeteria style eatery with a lot of options for some really good food and a reasonable price. We were finished with Hungarian florints and now had to adjust to Euros.
Getting your head wrapped around the exchange rate can be a bit of a pain. We were still thinking in thousands and of course Euros are on the other side of our US dollar. We were around 1.30 dollars per Euro when we were in Austria, but half the time when trying to convert mentally to figure out what we were paying we would get the equation mixed up and go the wrong way. There are great exchange rate apps on iPhone, but of course I had my iPhone either off or in airplane mode because I wanted to be judicious about using up my 100 meg purchased for Europe at a hefty 25 bucks. You know just how fast 100 meg can fly by?? It was surprising to me how many of my apps required internet access to operate, something I hadn’t thought of.
After our mid afternoon lunch, it was only another 90 minutes or so to our hotel in Vienna. As we approached the city, the landscape started to look more and more like any big city in the world, except Istanbul of course, with big freeways and overpasses and road signs and traffic. There was air pollution as well and with my cold and the sleepiness induced by the "Wicks” I was never so glad to get to a hotel in my life.
The HN Danube City was all glitz and slick with a black and white and chrome interior and snotty personnel at the desk. We were assigned to our lovely room on the 7th floor with big windows that actually opened and had a gorgeous view to the south over the east side suburbs of Vienna near the Vienna International Center. Sadly, when I booked this tour, the hotel choice was actually in Vienna proper, but over the intervening months, GoAhead decided to use a cheaper hotel that was out of town. The good thing was that the very efficient and simple to use Metro station was just a block down the street from us so we were able to get back and forth to the city without too much effort.
We were supposed to have free internet in our room, but of course we couldn’t get it to work at all. There was no way to know that we had to pick up a number from the desk. Melody went down to the lobby and finally found someone who would speak to her about it, but it took some doing. We had to get a slip of paper from the desk that would allow us to sign onto something called SwissCom with a password that would expire randomly. In addition, it was extremely slow at most times of the day when we were there. It made me miss the old lobby in Budapest! At least I could actually do something even if I had to leave my room to do it. Do I sound grumpy? Maybe I was, and maybe being as sick as I was colored my view of Vienna, but Melody felt the same way and she wasn’t sick at all.
We had an included dinner for the evening there at the hotel with our group which was quite nice. Can I write “nice” in quotes? After the round lushness of Budapest, everything here seemed to stiff and sterile and perfectly pretentious. Our server was a lovely young woman who would say gently in perfect English, “Am I allowed to take this plate?” The Wiener schnitzel was excellent with some simple side dish, an eeny but nice salad, and an included glass of wine. Of course we had to have schnitzel in Vienna, named for the city itself. Vienna is actually Wien in German, and the “er” is the suffix that makes whatever follows belong to the noun. So it is saying that the schnitzel if from Wien, or Vienna. It seemed to be a specialty of the city, found everywhere, much like goulash in Hungary. Melody secretly told me later, “How is that any different than chicken fried steak without the gravy?”
After our meal, we fell exhausted into our quite comfy beds with the usual puffy soft cotton duvet covered down comforters. Gotta love that European bed-making style of a fresh duvet on a down comforter with no top sheet. I do that in our motorhome and it works just great. Just shake that think like a sleeping bag and you have a great bed.
If you want to see more photos of this travel day there a a few online here (not nearly as many as the previous days!)