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Trip Report Trip Report: Venice, Munich, Vienna, & Budapest

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Here's the deal: I put together some basic information for anyone else visiting these cities on a budget, and wrote up bits from the Venice and Munich parts of my journal. Holy God, how long is this going to be??? But it would be way more difficult and time-consuming to condense and reorganize. So I'm posting the facts, and the Venice part, and I'll post the rest if I get the time ... and think anyone has the patience.

BACKGROUND
This is a very amateur recounting, somewhat organized, of 21 days in Europe during July, 2009. Before you decide whether or not to skim this, you’ll need to know – literally and figuratively – where I’m coming from.
I’m a Canadian woman past 50, traveling alone, who’s been to Europe only twice before. and enjoys reading guidebooks, making lists, & studying maps. My plans began on my one day in Venice when visiting Italy two years ago, since I knew then that I had to return there. But I couldn’t spend $1500 Cdn on airfare and just visit one place. I teach 20th c. history, and Vienna and Budapest were high on my wish list. Munich was in a “convenient” location which would let me visit Neuschwanstein and Dachau. Once I had these four cities chosen, I decided to fly into Venice (after reading a dozen posts about the difficulty of catching early flights out), and divided the three weeks I could afford: 6 nights Venice, 4 Munich, 6 Vienna, 5 Budapest. In retrospect, I wish I had seen more rural areas, but I LIVE in a rural village, so on holidays I crave contrast. I enjoy medieval/Renaissance art and architecture, gardens, and history in general. So…if you want to read about adventure tourism, nightclubs, or 5-star accommodation…please, move on.
I left with a spreadsheet for each city, listing things I wanted to see, organized by district, and including opening hours. Every night I would look at this and decide on where to spend the next day. Of course, I didn’t see everything on the sheet (it wasn’t a schedule, with the exception of two bookings: the Secret Itineraries in Venice and the Parliament Building in Budapest)
If I mention the heat too frequently—please remember that the daily high in July averages 21◦C where I live. Venice had stratospheric humidity, and Budapest reached 35◦C, so I was exhausted and dripping with sweat by noon every day. And before you tell me not to travel in July… I’m a teacher. And it was worth it. But if my pace seems slow, you can take it as a given that I had a “siesta” every day – if I could reach my hotel, I had a midday cold shower and rested for an hour until a few shadows had reappeared.
Finally, thanks for all the good advice I read here, especially the detailed descriptions of museums, which helped me decide what to pick out of a plethora of choices.

HOTELS
My budget goal was $100 Cdn per night (single room). I wanted access to public transportation, reasonably central and non-seedy location, private bathroom, and A/C at least in Venice & Budapest. My final figure averaged $105/night
Venice: Locanda Al Leon, near St. Mark’s. Small hotel, no restaurant or elevator, but comfortable rooms, good breakfast included, A/C, quiet side street
Munich: Leonardo Hotel & Residenz, (Heimgartenstrasse), Hotwire deal Unappealing location (boring & lacking stores/restaurants), but near metro, clean, modern * This used to be “Apart Hotels Muenchen Giesing”, and Hotwire thinks it still is.
Vienna: Lindner Am Belvedere (Rennwig, beside the Belvedere) Expedia deal; decent location, very comfortable modern hotel
Budapest: Danubius Astoria, (at Astoria metro stop) c.1900 grand dame, somewhat refurbished (but not my room!), A/C, restaurant, elevator, but significant issues with room quality & service.

TRAVELLING AROUND
I went by train from city to city (with a stopover in Salzburg between Munich and Vienna). I considered that avoiding the lines and the airplane seats was a benefit, and I wanted to see the Alps between Venice and Munich (the others were obviously quicker by train anyway). I booked the first and last journeys online, enabling me to save over half the fare (yes, Trenitalia’s site is annoying, but it will work with Canadian credit cards). Pointers: if you book online, you need the machines marked “quick ticket” in Italy to retrieve your ticket. Be prepared that your seatmate may have a garlic-laced salami sandwich for lunch! And remain relaxed: after a helpful English-speaking German lady convinced the elderly man in my reserved seat from Munich to move, an even-more-elderly man sat there before I could drag my bags from their temporary drop! This one acted deaf to our pleas in either language—but I just sat in another seat, and no conductor said anything.

In cities, I used public transportation. Every place had a multi-day pass that was a good deal. In Venice, I had a 3-day pass for €33—and took more than a dozen trips, which would be €6.50 each. Note to other clueless travelers: you don’t insert the card; you “wave” it in front of the validation machines. Also—check the names of the stops posted, lest you find yourself going in the wrong direction, since the boats zig-zag across the canal. In Munich, a 1-day, 2 zone pass for €6.50 let me visit Dachau and take three metro trips. Vienna had a Mon-Su pass (a helpful Fodorite mentioned it; it’s not on the English web site, but once you know the name you can buy it from the ticket machines) called the Wochenkarte for €14, compared to €1.80 for each single ticket. There are also single and 3-day passes. Budapest had a 3-day tourist pass for Ft 3850 (Cdn$22) which worked for me since I took 14 single trips (300 Ft each) It also had ticket inspectors at every stop, and a subway line with c. 1900 cars & stations that was a tourist sight in itself.

RESTAURANTS
Foodies can skip: unless otherwise mentioned, main courses were around €10-15.
Venice:
Trattoria alla Rivetta- (a Fodorite rec- next to a bridge off the right side of Campo SS Fillipi & Giacomo ) Squid, baby octopus, and zucchini in oil. The zucchini was cold, and too oily for my taste. The fish was good.
A small restaurant in Campo S. Giustina, (between S. Francesco church and Campo San Zanpaolo—sorry, I didn’t note the name). It was the only restaurant in the tiny square, and the only place I ate in Venice where no other diners spoke English. I had very tasty penne with gorgonzola.
Bancogiro- (Time Out rec near Rialto market) my “splurge”, at €39 for a main dish, dessert, and a glass of wine. I had succulent duck breast, and a wonderful canal view from an outside table.
Frary’s- (TimeOut rec near Frari church) Greek/Arab atmosphere/food. Tasty and reasonable
Beks (Fodorite rec near the train station) This is the only cafeteria I saw in Venice; the food is cheap, but eatable, and you can sit down for lunch! Until you’ve walked for hours, and every place under €10 is a take-out, in a city nearly devoid of benches, you can’t appreciate the joy of sitting.
Vecchio Canton- (Fodorite rec -corner of Ruga Giuffa, near S. Maria Formosa) small, quiet; I had appetizing calamari and polenta.
Mille voglie I think I had gelato every day in Venice; this was the best. Near San Rocco.
Munich
Lowe Am Markt (beside the market, if that isn’t too obvious!) stereotypical dirndled (is that a word?) waitresses, but juicy roast pork at a good price
Vienna
Warning: outside of the Stephansdom tourist centre, or a hotel, most restaurants are closed on Sundays. Plan ahead—or, like me, you may walk for blocks and blocks only to find a snackbar advertising its “special”: toast mit ketchup. No, I didn’t order it, but I confidently state that I don’t recommend it!
Salm Braü (Fodor’s/Rough Guide rec, on Rennwig, near the Belvedere) convivial small beergarden with good, traditional food at very reasonable prices. Sitting next to me were Germans who were taking some of the beer home to their son—in 2L bottles! He said that “in Munich they think beer is a food”!
MAK Café: I foolishly thought lunch in a museum café would be within my budget, and ended up stuck with the special: white sausage (resembling bologna), mashed potatoes, and green peas in cream sauce, on a boiling hot day. But the service was attentive and the ambience lovely…so if you aren’t on a budget this might be pleasant.
Café Markusplatz (between Petersplatz & Hoher Markt) gazpacho for lunch—not exactly Viennese, but pleasant on a hot day
Café Central (Herrengasse, near Freyung Passage) Iced coffee and chocolate mousse--€10 of delicious decadence in elegant surroundings was my Vienna splurge. Supposedly Trotsky was an habitué, although it certainly doesn’t have a socialist ambience!
Budapest
Central Market Hall No, not a restaurant, but the booths upstairs have Hungarian –um, I’d call it fair food, as in what you’d get at the Calgary Stampede. Anyway, I tried the langos (fried dough with toppings), and munched with such enthusiasm that the English lady on the next stool asked what it was!
Ballaton Café (off Vaci U.) Cold sour cherry soup was the drawing card (I was melting), and it was very tasty—but I was surprised to find something from the appetizer section topped with whipped cream.
Karma Café (Liszt Ferenc ter) My cold watermelon soup was delicious (yes, it’s a pattern—I had cold apple soup somewhere I can’t remember—the Hungarians don’t do salad very well, but they do have good hot-weather ideas.)
Mirror Café (Astoria Hotel on Kossuth Lajos U.) Melt-in-your-mouth warm duck liver with onions and sour cherry sauce. A/C and reasonable for lunch – since hotel guests got a 20% discount!
Ruszwurm (Castle District) a traditional coffeehouse; good coffee & delicious Esterhazy torte
Buena Vista (Liszt Ferenc ter) The duck leg with cabbage, beet, and potato dumpling was very good, but this was the only place on my trip where someone tried to remove the plate while I was still eating from it.
Central Coffeehouse (near Ferenciek tere) It may be a historic replica with a beautiful décor, but it isn’t just a showplace: the continental breakfast was perfection and a late-night citrus tart was equally good, but neither was astronomically priced.
Chez Nicholas (*Szentendre, NOT in Budapest) Finally a day cool enough to try Gulyásleves and Gundel palacsinta: the goulash soup and dessert pancakes that were on most menus. A sad let-down: the soup had so little paprika that it tasted like my mother’s beef soup without the rice, and the pancakes (ground walnuts inside crepes) had so much chocolate sauce that they were drowned.

GUIDEBOOKS (hope I won't be banned as a traitor)
Fodors Central and Eastern Europe Copied sections on Vienna, Munich, & Hungary to take along. Reliable, and fairly comprehensive on “sights” considering its scope.
TimeOut Venice Excellent: detailed without being long-winded, included sights, shops, restaurants, history, and a good index Only weakness was the irritating maps, divided in sections with a ruler—thereby dividing neighbourhoods at random and forcing constant “jumping” from one page to the next
Rough Guide to Vienna Comprehensive on sights, entertainment, shopping, history, and had neighbourhood maps within the relevant chapter. The downside of the detail was that it was rather heavy to carry in a purse.
Frommers Budapest and the Best of Hungary: Too much individuality and not enough editing—lengthy discussions of favourite restaurants, but poor information about major sights (e.g. doesn’t mention the weeping willow memorial in the Dohany St. Synagogue, and lists the Matthias Church in a section headed “Sites of Jewish Interest” !)

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    Whoops--got confused in the preview and left out Venice!

    VENICE
    Day 1
    I took the Alilaguna to the hotel, both because I wanted to “float in”, and because my hotel was just a block from a stop. I didn’t arrive until late afternoon on a Wednesday, so that evening I just wandered aimlessly, getting as far as the Arsenale gates, and dreaming about the days of Venice’s marine supremacy. I also walked through St. Mark’s Square – fairly peaceful by 9 p.m. – and found the bell tower surrounded by scaffolding and a notice explaining the complex plans to stabilize it. Not exactly comforting, as it’s only been up 97 years since it fell down the last time!

    Day 2
    I decided to look at churches in Castello the first morning. I walked to S. Maria dei Miracoli, whose delicate pastel marble panels look like they’ve been washed in distilled water. Apparently cleaning marble, unlike your old car, really produces “like-new” results. The square on the other side of the canal was also a “rest-stop” for gondolieri—photo op!
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    Then I headed across to SS. Giovanni and Paolo, whose ceiling paintings are very hard to see in the limited light. The adjoining hospital complex (doesn’t look like a Canadian hospital!) has delightful “cowardly lion” carvings.
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    Nearby S. Francesco della Vigna has a more visible Veronese, a wonderful Bellini, and some quiet cloisters, where I sat and cooled off. Returning, somewhere near S. Maria Formosa, I found a ramshackle bookstore that carried English books (used), had an old gondola in the middle of the floor, and a canal entrance at the back.
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    In the afternoon I went up towards the Rialto, admired the bridge, and fled from the crowds into…a department store! It’s named Coin, is near Campo S. Bartolomeo, and I browsed their housewares department in cool comfort. Housewares and groceries are two of my favourite things to windowshop in foreign countries. Then I went over the bridge to the market (some of the produce stalls were still open), and wandered until dinner and bed.
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    Day 3
    My original plan the next day was to visit the Museo Correr when it opened --- but the people standing around the locked gates at 9 soon realized we needed other plans. The Finnish woman said that there’d been a strike yesterday, the American matron confirmed the hours from her guidebook -— and the alert 12-year-old pointed out that the hours on the sign had been altered, so they now opened at 10! So I wandered around the St. Mark’s area, window-shopping the expensive stores before they opened (and, thankfully, before the streets were blocked with visitors). I also admired Venetian deliverymen, pulling loaded handcarts over bridges. Since I was “in the neighbourhood”, I found the Scala Contarini del Bovolo.
    This beautiful spiral staircase in a tiny dead-end square is closed: the guidebook says for restoration, but the building looked abandoned. A doorway labeled “Scala Contarini” has a large sign in English “NOT THE STAIRCASE. THIS IS A HOTEL”— so there must be plenty of hopeful visitors to this out-of-the-way spot. http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Venice09/100_2580.jpg
    My wanderings fortunately led past La Fenice, since I had read Berendt’s “City of Falling Angels”, focused on the fire which destroyed it in 1996. I enjoyed this book; probably biased, but an interesting view of Venetian politics, in the broadest sense.
    I had booked the 10:45 Secret Itineraries tour at the Doge’s Palace, The “secrets” are the working rooms of the clerks inside the ducal palace, along with the torture chamber and the jail cells. The guide was a natural storyteller, so she made the most of the post boxes for secret denunciations, and Casanova’s imprisonment and escape.
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    It’s good that she was interesting, as even my enthusiasm for history was faltering in the 4th floor lead-roofed cells, sweltering in the July heat. However, it did make the rest of the palace seem cool by comparison. The state rooms (not part of the tour, you visit them afterwards at your own pace) display enough gilding to supply coinage to a small country! The main council chamber is the size and height of a stadium—if you picture a stadium with a gilded, decorated ceiling and a Tintoretto running the length of one wall. If the Doge’s Palace was designed to impress foreign visitors, it certainly succeeded with this one. However, the Bridge of Sighs (which you cross during the visit) is currently much more atmospheric inside than out, since the outside, under restoration, is entirely swathed in a sky-blue advertisement for Sisley jeans.
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    After lunch, I bought a 3-day vaporetto pass, crossed to the Redentore church, and watched the progress of the pontoon bridge. I was delighted to see, when checking for holiday closures during my trip, that Sunday would be the festival of the Redentore, a traditional Venetian celebration originating with the end of a plague in 1576. The church was built in thanksgiving, and a bridge across the Giudecca canal for the celebration is traditional—apparently it was originally done with boats. Now there was a floating crane making efficient progress.
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    After admiring the interior of the church, I jumped back on a vaporetto to S. Giorgio Maggiore, another cool, bright Palladian interior. This one has amazing carved choir stalls, which one can’t get close enough to appreciate fully :(. My main reason for coming here was the bell tower. I’d seen the line at the St. Mark’s bell tower, and I HATE standing in line. There was no line for the elevator to the tower, and the view, especially of the doge’s palace and the Salute church, is spectacular. http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Venice09/100_2621view.jpg
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    Then I took the vaporetto to Zattere, but 10 minutes told me that I was not equal to strolling in the full sun, no matter how grand the view of the canal. However, I did walk “around the block” for a look at the squero (gondola workshop) at S. Trovaso. I then escaped the sun by jumping back on a vaporetto and floating around the Grand Canal.

    Day 4
    On Saturday, I took the vaporetto from Fondamente Nove to Murano. The island was quiet at 9:45 when I arrived and walked from the Colonna stop to the Basilica. The 12th c. tiled mosaic floor, and amazing, life-sized mosaic Madonna in the apse are beautiful. I next visited the glass museum, which has amazing chandeliers and some beautiful early glass.
    Now Murano was becoming crowded, I’ve seen glass blown before, so I headed away. My plan to visit Torcello was scrapped after 45 minutes in a sweltering vaporetto stop, crammed with at least 40 others with the same plan. I gave up, and took the next boat back to Venice. I walked to the Strada Nova, window-shopping, (Italian shoes are so sexy—and so uncomfortable on me!) until I reached the traghetto landing at San Sammuele. For 50¢, I could feel worldly and Venetian, and cross the canal quickly. Now that’s a bargain!
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    Palazzo Mocenigo gives a chance to see the lifestyle of the rich and famous—18th c. style. The clothing displays proved that stilettos are not a new idea for Italians. Digging out my “list” afterwards, I went to S. Stae, filled with rows of metal cases (for a Biennale display). I was more impressed with S. Giacomo dell’ Orio. There is an awe-inspiring carved wooden roof, four different kinds of columns (a green marble one may have been stolen from Roman ruins), and beautiful paintings, including the huge hanging crucifix. Also (how else would I know all this?) it had detailed signage in Italian and English.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Venice09/100_2669.jpg

    Next I went south to S. Polo, a very large church with my favourite group of paintings of the week: a set of Stations of the Cross by Tiepolo the younger (lest I sound expert, I didn’t know there was a “younger” until that moment). They were arresting—and they were at eye level, and well-lit. Then, I walked to the Scuola di S. Rocco. How was there any money left in the rest of Venice—much lest for the charitable purposes of the Scuola—after this was built? Two floors covered—walls and ceilings—with Tintorettos, marble floors, grand staircases. It was certainly impressive, but the lighting was so dim that I could see very little of the ceiling paintings. The church next door was less massive and unified, but much brighter. Finally, I headed around the corner to the church known as the Frari. This was the home of a “mendicant order”? It’s huge, cavernous, Gothic brick, with the most gigantic monuments I have ever seen indoors. Canova’s is a triangle, about 20’ high—and it’s not the largest, or even the most eye-catching. A few are hideous, but some are fascinating: a wooden carving for a friend of St. Francis, a Donatello statue of John the Baptist, and an unimaginably beautiful Bellini triptych. I went back twice to look at it—then it was 15 minutes before closing, the resident dragon had closed the cases, and I couldn’t buy a postcard of the interior (no photos allowed). For some reason, the guardians at Italian churches seem to be either dragons (these, and St. Mark’s) or angels (Murano, and S. Stae, where I had only a €50 bill, wanted a postcard, and was given it for nothing, when she couldn’t find change (“You bought a Chorus pass—take it, here!”).
    The vaporetto back to St. Mark’s passed some of the boats heading to St. Mark’s Basin for the Redentore parties that night. There were crowds lining the Riva degli Schiavoni by 10:30 pm, but very few obnoxious drunks. Everyone aahed and oohed at the spectacular fireworks (I love fireworks—but they’re like licorice—love it or hate it).
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    Day 5
    On Sunday I took the vaporetto to S. Maria della Salute. The high dome, and the empty, roped-off centre of this octagonal church felt chilly, but I definitely enjoyed the statue on the point of land beyond the Customs House, and the weather vane.
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    From there I walked north to the Accademia Museum. The Accademia had a number of rooms closed for restoration—and honestly, I would have had sensory overload had I stayed any longer. Then I had to see the church called Angelo Raffaele because I had read “Miss Garnet’s Angel”, which is set there.
    On art overload, I headed north to the Old Ghetto, where I took a tour of three 16th c. synagogues (one still in use). They were small hidden on upper floors, but the ghetto, with its 5-6 storey buildings, must have been a busy community at one time. I was amazed to hear that Napoleon (whose army conquered Venice in 1797) was the first to lift restrictions on the Jews here, and more amazed that only about 500 Jews now live in here. Apparently very few chose to return after the deportations of WWII.
    Then I headed back towards St. Mark’s, and finally did see Museo Correr. It has some wonderful early Renaissance paintings, some interesting early globes, and lovely sculptures by Canova.

    Day 6
    Monday I went first to Campo S. Stefano—this large square has BENCHES. So I sat and people-watched for a few minutes before visiting the church. I found the church unappealing, but the sacristy had a fine collection of art, and some interesting sculptures from no-longer-extant churches. On the way back I saw the most amazing window display, in a city with many examples. This one had a group of ??mannequins??— with the heads of bearded Doges, wearing iridescent men’s jackets. I didn’t buy—but it certainly caught the eye.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Venice09/100_2737.jpg

    Then I came back to St. Mark’s Square. The church was almost the only thing I had seen in Venice on the morning I had here in 2007 (I spent the afternoon on Burano), and I had been completely underwhelmed. I remembered shuffling crowds in semi-darkness, peering at a vaguely discernable ceiling. However, someone on Fodor’s said that the lights are on at mid-day. The line is always long, but it moves quickly. When I entered—what is this brilliant and glittering wonderland? DO go when the lights are on, and do pay to climb to the upper level for a better view of the wonderful mosaics. The view of the square is also spectacular.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Venice09/100_2751.jpg
    I also thought the Pala D’Oro was worth seeing, not only for its beauty , but because this incredible wealth—gold, enamel, and jewels--was for a screen designed to be covered most of the time. Don’t miss the mosaic on the right aisle, of the Venetians stealing St. Mark’s body—they’re carrying it away like a surfboard! Just as I was leaving, the lights were turned off, and the whole place turned once again to a shadowy old building with a dense crowd herded onto uneven carpets.

    For the final afternoon, I wanted a change, so I rode over to Lido, walked on the beach, and admired Art Nouveau instead of baroque and Gothic (Hotel Ausonia on the main road from the vaporetto to the beach).
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Venice09/100_2761.jpg

    Back in Venice, I went into San Zaccaria, an elegant façade on a heavy gray Gothic church lined with paintings. I ended the day with another vaporetto ride. Coming down the Canareggio canal as darkness fell, I had a vivid illustration of Venice’s shrinking population in the number of dark, blank windows.
    Venice is insanely expensive (I also window-shop realtors’ offices), some parts are frustratingly crowded, and it’s inconvenient (a broken leg in Venice must equal compound misery), but there are so many heart-stoppingly beautiful buildings, the tiny details on even ordinary buildings, the way the sunlight reflects off the canals, and the air has that brackish quality... I felt as if it was a chocolate truffle: I shouldn’t love it, but I do.
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    Oh my, nfldbeothuk, so much good stuff here that I need to re-read this when I have more time! I was in Vienna & Budapest earlier this year, so I'm looking forward to that part. (I've also been to Venice & Munich, but that was several years ago.)

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    Hi nfldbeothuk. This is indeed a dense and wonderfully packed trip report. I'm looking forward to more.

    Sorry we won't see you at the Toronto GTG, but I recollect your posting that you would be back in the classroom by then.

    Anselm

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    nfldbeothuk - glad your Canadian credit card worked online with Trenitalia but mine sure wouldn't. Does anyone ever wonder about lifejackets on vaporetto. We had two non-swimmers and the boats always seemed close to underwater given the incredible number of passengers.

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    yk--you replied to my question about booking the Parliament tour in Budapest. I read (and enjoyed) your trip report, and relived it waiting in the line for the tour ticket!

    cold--since I got back, I was asked whether people often drown in the canals :0 , & I was curious enough to google--the Grand Canal is only 6m deep, and the small canals are usually 3m. But (living on an island) I did wonder if there were lifejackets somewhere.

    Anyway, here's the rest (all that's done yet)

    MUNICH
    Day 1-2
    I reached the city on Tuesday evening, in time to find the hotel before dark. The next day, I quickly reached the city centre by metro, and walked up into Marienplatz. The golden statue of Mary glitters, so that it’s hard to imagine it’s over 400 years old. In fact, everything in Munich seemed tidy, and organized. There are bike lanes everywhere (for God’s sake don’t absent-mindedly walk in one!), and there are people on the street who are apparently wearing lederhosen and Tyrolean hats unironically and not as part of their job. I stayed to watch the glockenspiel on a Rathaus (City Hall), entertained by an irreverent guide’s commentary behind me (“Now don’t become alarmed, there’s no danger of the dancers falling off the tower).
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    I wandered in concentric circles, admiring the Viktualienmarkt (lots of people drinking beer at 11 a.m. here!), the old and new city halls, and the Frauenkirche. Munich is apparently not a tourist-oriented city. The Frauenkirche is described in my guidebook as the “symbol of Munich”, it’s a bright, high and handsome Gothic church with shining stained glass, but it had no signage in German, much less any other language. I had to compare my pictures online to find out that the huge tomb inside commemorates a 17th c. Bavarian Holy Roman Emperor.
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    Nearby Peterskirche was closed for mass at 9, 10, & 11, then a sign was posted: “Closed for cleaning until 4:30”. At 5:45, when I returned, there was another mass in progress. Definitely don’t try to visit on Sunday, if this is the Wednesday schedule!

    With some trepidation, I set off for Dachau, via metro and bus (once you find the right metro line, you could just follow your fellow tourists, since it’s the main reason visitors go this route).There is no way of “commenting” on Dachau, other than to say that the site and the museum have well-planned exhibits about the development of the concentration camp system, and signage in both German and English. The Jewish memorial is interesting: you walk down an inclined ramp into a high, narrow, cave-like brick structure which has one ray of light coming down from a skylight at the far end.
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    I was determined to make a slideshow for my history class, but I felt creepy taking pictures of the crematorium and the torture cells. There is a housing development beside the camp; apparently immediately after the war all the barracks were removed and temporary housing was put there. I guess I’m trying to say that absolutely everything about the site can be studied, but that doesn’t mean I “understand” it. However, I don’t think anyone could claim they are interested in European history, and not visit such a site.
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    A former inmate painted this depiction of roll call at Dachau.


    When I returned, I got off the metro at Karlsplatz, and walked along the pedestrian zone until dinner. The area is a good spot for people watching, with a variety of stores, street musicians, and cafes.

    Day 3
    The next day I took the U-Bahn, then tram 17, to Schloss Nymphenburg. (There’s a Nymphenburg stop, so you know when to get off) It’s a picture of 18th-c. elegance. I especially enjoyed the bizarre “Gallery of Beauties”, in which King Ludwig I commissioned portraits of the most beautiful women he could identify, from Lola Montez to a shoemaker’s daughter. Probably the precursor to a beauty contest, although of course no bathing suits!!
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    Back in the city centre, I vainly tried to cool off in a shady spot in the large park called the English Garden, then walked across to the Bavarian National Museum. This was so empty that I began think the guards were watching me—as they probably were, since there were only about 3 visitors. I really enjoyed it, especially the 15th c. wood carvings, including a startling carving of Mary Magdalene covered in ??hair?? scales??
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    Returning to Marienplatz, I finally saw Peterskirche, which was entirely restored after WWII, explaining its surprising brightness (except, the altar housing the bejeweled skeleton of St. Munditia, for which I had to buy a postcard, since none of my friends would believe the gem-covered eye sockets without evidence.)

    Day 4
    On my final day, I joined a bus tour to Neuschwanstein, since online schedules had revealed that the train trip would be over 3 hours each way, and involve at least one change (I was told there is some construction/railwork involved). Mike’s Bike Tours provided an air-conditioned bus, and some history of the castle on the way. It also provided a welcome chance for English conversation! Unless you regularly walk up mountains, I recommend the shuttle bus when you reach the parking area below the castle. You can enjoy the walk DOWN the path. Do admire the view from Marienbrucke , the suspension bridge overlooking the gorge and the castle, even though one side of the castle is swathed in scaffolds.
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    I tried to keep some of the romance in my soul when I saw the electronic signs for lining up the time-sensitive tour group ticket-holders. Our guide spoke good English, but the tour was quite “canned”. However, I’d still recommend visiting Neuschwanstein. It’s not a “normal” castle or palace: instead of defending against invaders, glorifying a prince / dynasty, or providing a stage set for court life, King Ludwig set out to create an elaborate illustrated version (the many paintings resemble pre-Raphaelite scenes) of Wagner’s mythopoeic operas. The 19th-c version of Jackson’s Neverland, maybe, created by an equally isolated and bizarre figure.

    You may remember that this was Mike’s BIKE Tours. Well, I haven’t been on a bike in 40 years, and this didn’t seem like a good way to find out if the adage is true, so while everyone else rode to a nearby lake, I took a cable car to the top of Tegelberg, and puffed my way up one of the hiking trails. Fortunately, the fabulous alpine scenery was a good excuse for frequently stopping to catch my breath. The paragliders jumping off the mountain were also “breath-taking” to someone who distrusts step-ladders.
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    During the return trip, an Edmonton couple on the bus kindly invited me to join them at the nearby Hofbrauhaus. The Hofbrauhaus is an enormous (holds over 4000 guests) beer garden, with efficient waiters and generous helpings of traditional Bavarian food…and beer…especially beer!! There’s definitely an emphasis on beer in Munich—did I mention the beer bikes?
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    The Hofbrauhaus had a oompah band, and everyone (there were lots of Germans as well as foreign tourists) was friendly and in a party mood. A very pleasant end to my first visit to Germany.

    SALZBURG
    If you’re skimming, and confused about this city: I took an early morning train from Munich, and spent only 6 hours here before going on to Vienna.
    After a couple of American teenagers helped me figure out the luggage lockers in the Salzburg station(hey, the English directions were in 10 point font, inside the door, about 8 cm from the ground!), the tourist Infobooth provided a map and directions for the bus to the old city. After crossing the river, I got off and immediately was surrounded by pastel 18th c buildings, directly underneath the fortress that dominates the city.
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    The pedestrian streets led to a large square with the cathedral (hidden behind a giant screen, as the Salzburg Festival had just started) and a “carriage rank”, with the horses rudely showing their tails to the statue of Mozart that everyone is surely required to photograph. I rode up the funicular (which apparently dates from the 16th c!)to the great fortress on the mountain. There are numerous courtyards and levels to wander. I foolishly stood in a line to see: a) a set of models of the fortress through the years b) the “torture chamber” (a tiny room which stored manacles) c) some kind of antique barrel organ which is partially visible d) other tourists being solemnly shepherded through these rooms by guides, while listening to a lackluster and semi-informative audio-guide. Can you tell that I didn’t like this?? However… the views of Salzburg and the countryside are fabulous, and the best ones are available on the tour. Once you escape the audio-guide shackle, the state rooms in a different section of the castle, including the “Golden Hall”, and a museum with glimpses of earlier days in the fortress, are truly interesting. Just the fact of wandering around a building nearly 1000 years old, still undamaged through all the wars it has survived, is amazing.
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    Down in the town, the Dom (cathedral) is a large and beautiful building with a delightful frescoed and stuccoed ceiling.
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    I also managed to walk through the Mirabel Gardens before the rain (I had escaped an earlier shower in the Dom) began in earnest, and I dashed for a bus stop to resume my journey.

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    Quite a detailed report...we've been to your stops minus Salzburg though not in the same trip. You have given a thorough description and with picts of your journey included exact details of eateries. Now then, time for evaluation
    ...what are your strongest impressions and what did you like best? Also any warnings?

    Ozarksbill walongman@yahoo.com

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    Great descriptions!

    As a former teacher, I understand the necessity of traveling in summer and sympathize heartily! One of the joys of retirement is being able to go in less crowded times with cooler temps. May you reach it soon!

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    nfldbeothuk - I finally had time to read this and I'm enjoying this so much! I love your writing... no wonder you're a teacher.

    The photos of Venice - so beautiful with clear blue skies! However, I don't envy the sweltering hot weather, but it sure looks nice on pictures!

    The Mary Magadalene sculpture (with 6 angels) @ the Bavarian National Museum is by Tilman Riemenschneider. He's probably the most famous medieval sculptor in Germany. I think it is hair. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:M%C3%BCnnerst%C3%A4dter_Altar

    I really liked MAK, and I agree that it's not cheap, but certainly a beautiful setting! And I'm so impressed that you had langos in Budapest. I was tempted so many times but I just couldn't get myself to eat an entire piece of fried dough!

    Too bad you had so little time in Salzburg. I would have loved to attend some concerts at Salzburg festival if I ever find myself there during that time!

    Lastly, going from Venice to Munich - what a great contrast.

    Looking forward to the next installment!

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    yk, I expect you're right that Mary Magdalene must be covered with hair. And it was a very beautiful carving, but...more Lady Godiva than altarpiece. And as for langos, we eat fried dough--I was going to say all the time, but our arteries would solidify--but it is a traditional dish here. The dough is fried in small pieces, we call them toutens, and eat them with molasses.

    Anyway, here's Vienna.

    VIENNA
    Day 1-2
    I arrived on Saturday evening, and easily found the correct U-Bahn line for my hotel. Beware, however, of the construction at Landstrasse (Wien Mitte) station, which catapults the unwary into the street when trying to transfer the S-Bahn (also produced delays on S-Bahn lines, but nothing too annoying)

    The next day was a test of comfortable shoes. I walked to the nearby Belvedere, beginning my introduction to the splendour of Vienna: one 18th-c. prince had a pair of large and elegant palaces built, facing each other across a formal garden. (I still don’t understand: did he live in one and build the other to improve the view?)
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    Now, both are museums, and the Oberes (Upper) Belvedere that I visited displays early 20th c. art, chiefly emphasizing Klimt and Schiele. These are glittering and striking, but unimpressive in reproduction, so do go even if, like me, you aren’t sure if Klimt is your taste. Afterwards, I visited the adjoining botanical garden, a peaceful retreat, somewhat neglected-looking in parts, with a surprisingly (for the climate) impressive cactus display.

    I walked along Rennwig towards the city centre, and turned north to the Stadtpark, a pleasant leafy block with statues of famous musicians: the one of Johann Strauss is brightly gilt, like something on a wedding cake; the others are more subdued. http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/GermanyandAustria/100_2959.jpg

    At the far end of the park was my destination, the MAK (Museum of Applied Arts). The museum bulding is impressive, but the collection – if you like furniture, ceramics, glass, or textiles—is awesome. Really awesome—not as the kids say it! I spent over two hours looking at everything from the oldest chair in Austria (a 13th c. abbot’s) to art nouveau jewelry. Don’t miss the basement: there are further collections down there, such as a wall (literally) of chairs, from Renaissance to op art.
    After a rest in the park, I set off again, enjoying everything from the newspaper “vending machines” (plastic bags with a place to leave your money) to the Jesuitenkirche, which is Baroque-on-Baroque: twisting coloured pillars, swags, gold, carvings—my eyes feel tired just remembering.
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    Then I went looking for some contrast to that, and found the Secessionist Postparkasse building with its aluminum façade. According to my guidebook, the Secessionists rebelled against traditional 19th c. art, & some of them would have been described as Art Nouveau elsewhere. And in case that wasn’t contrast enough, I walked east to the Hundertwasserhaus, where an apartment building and shopping arcade sit (stagger?) side by side, drawing sightseers since the 1980s. Hundertwasser was an eccentric designer, who disliked straight lines, level floors, and rectangular openings. I’m not sure I’d want to live there, but it is worth seeing. It’s sufficiently distinctive that I passed another building (I found out it was an incinerator) a few days later, and was immediately certain that Hundertwasser had designed it.
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    I ended with more Art Nouveau: the Karl-Borromeus-Brunnen (a religious memorial fountain decorated with lizards and frogs--adorable), and the Portois & Fix Building (tiled in an abstract pattern, which you will completely miss from ground level until you check the address). The Rough Guide was great on addresses for noteworthy buildings.
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    Day 3
    I didn’t visit the residence in the downtown Hofburg palace, but the gardens of Schonbrunn Palace sounded appealing. I got off at the second (Hietzing) stop to see architect Otto Wagner’s Art Nouveau U-Bahn stop, (designed so the royal family could have their own stop!) but it looked so grimy and isolated that I didn’t even take a picture. The palace, however, is the most un-grimy place in a very well-scrubbed city. Parterres, topiary, a palmhouse, a triumphal arch/viewing platform (so the Hapsburgs could admire both the palace and the city)—and the inside is even more elaborate. 18th c. Empress Maria Theresia was apparently its main “begetter” , but the tour focuses on Emperor Franz Joseph’s wife Elizabeth. She was known as Sisi, and was the 19th c. Princess Di, a beauty with an unhappy marriage, and a tragic early death. She is clearly still fascinating Austrians: her picture is on the gift shop bags, and there are many books about her.
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    After the palace, I visited the zoo. It’s large and comprehensive—but I realized too late that I never have been a zoo person. So I dug out the guidebook and went architecture-hunting again: the Villa Skywa-Primavesi and an nearby apartment building are both Art Nouveau landmarks. Warning: the Villa Schopp was also listed in the guidebook, but I could see only its encircling trees.
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    Back downtown, I went to the Peterskirche, off a main shopping street called the Graben, and listened to a short organ recital. The church is interesting, with skeletons from the Roman catacombs displayed beneath some of the altars, and a large statue showing the martyrdom of St. John Nepomuk. I’d never heard of him, (thanks, Google) but apparently he was martyred by being pushed off the bridge in Prague at the order of the emperor—all vividly depicted!
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    Afterwards, more wandering: I saw the Pestsaule – isn’t that a wonderful word?—or Plague Column, the Ankerclock (an Art Nouveau glockenspiel, but the figures move just a few inches each hour!) Tired, I headed back towards the U-Bahn station at Stephansplatz, where I decided that I liked the contrast between the Gothic cathedral and the 1990 Haas haus across the square.
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    After a rest, I took the S-Bahn to the Prater, Vienna’s historic amusement park, walked, people-watched, and rode the giant ferris wheel. It has large (? 10 people) wooden gondolas, and—you can rent one for a private dinner! The car below had a couple enjoying a meal from the nearby upscale restaurant, as they admired the view!
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    On the way back I again (happened more than daily) asked for directions. Even when staring confusedly at a subway map, a lone middle-aged woman is apparently the advice-giver of everyone’s choice. I got plenty of experience saying “Sorry, I don’t speak…” Of course, some of the questioners spoke English, and once, I actually knew the answer!

    Day 4
    This morning I went to Karlsplatz, briefly admired the Art Nouveau pavilions there, and walked over to the church. Karlskirche is named after St. Charles Borromeo—and the Emperor Charles VI, who had it built after an 18th c. plague. The outside, brilliant white with two spiral columns, looks a bit as if a Baroque architect had been inspired by a mosque. Inside the main feature is the painted dome—being restored, and invisible under scaffolds.:( But then I realized that the elevator for the restoration was available to tourists, so up I went for the close-up. I think the perspective might be better from ground level; St. Charles looked a bit like a Dr. Seuss character, (yes, I’ve heard of Mannerist painting) but I did get a good look at the Counter-Reformation angel pushing Martin Luther’s Bible straight to Hell! The postcard rack down by the entry was equally un-politically-correct: a leaflet extravagantly praised the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the one the Austrians forced into exile after WWI) as a heroic worker for peace. In fairness, the Catholic church did beatify him (Google again), and maybe the translator of the pamphlet didn’t realize that “Prince of Peace” sounds faintly blasphemous to English-speaking ears.
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    From Baroque to Art Nouveau again: I walked through the Naschmarkt (pausing to gape at the variety of ready-to-serve hors d’oeuvres) to the Majolikahaus (gorgeous pink and mauve flowered design in tiles) and its neighbour (white with gold decoration), then up the street to the Secession Building, unflatteringly described, when built, as the “golden cabbage” (the gold dome represents laurel leaves).
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    My energy was flagging, so I got on a tram for a little vehicular sightseeing. **There is now a “Tourist Tram” (at extra cost) which goes around the Ringstrasse, but, contrary to many guidebooks, the regular trams 1 & 2 no longer do so. So I got off before the tram headed across the canal, and took another tram back around the Ringstrasse to the Rathaus, (City Hall) which is 19th c. secular Gothic-- on steroids. It was the centre of some kind of summer festival with a multicultural food court under awnings. Differences from Canada: every booth sold alcohol, and all used “real” plates rather than disposable. After lunch, I wandered along the Ringstrasse, admiring the Burg Theatre, the Parliament Building, and the Volksgarten ( a pleasantly quiet park), which I walked through before crossing through the Hofburg (this palace is a serious of buildings from different periods, and the roads and courtyards between are public access). The “New Wing” (early 20th c) of this palace looks across to the roofline of the Rathaus and the Burg Theatre, so I could easily imagine Hitler gloating over his prize as he spoke to cheering crowds here in 1938.
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    I stopped for coffee at the Café Central, a gorgeous recreation of the 19th c. original (anyone can afford coffee in even the fanciest coffeehouse!), and window-shopped through the Freyung Passage, a 19th c. shopping arcade in which I could barely afford to breathe the perfumed air. Wandering on, I enjoyed the contrasts: a small Baroque (I think) building which was apparently Beethoven’s house, and a gaudily painted yellow building like a circus tent (Wiener Lustspielhaus—Google says it’s a comedy theatre).
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    Then I consulted my guidebook, and found Judenplatz, with both Vienna’s Holocaust Memorial (a small concrete tomb-like structure, representing a stack of books) and a 15th c. plaque boasting of a pogrom which forced the Jews out of Vienna. (Google has since told me that the medieval synagogue which was destroyed here explains both the plaque and the location for the memorial).
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    I finally visited Vienna’s centre, Stephansdom, (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) and found that it looks even bigger inside than outside. I took an English tour, which provided access to the side chapels, and a pleasant & informative guide. I especially loved the elaborately carved pulpit with the artist hiding in a “window” at the bottom, the detailed medieval altarpiece, and the St. Katherine chapel, which has a carved head of the saint hanging upside down as a boss on the gothic roof! I took the elevator up the North Tower, which provided a terrific closeup of the elaborately tiled roof, and totally convinced me that it had been a wise decision not to attempt the higher South Tower!
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    After eating, I went north towards the canal to St. Rupert’s church. It was a fascinating contrast to most of the churches I had seen: a tiny, low, early-Gothic building said to be the oldest church in Vienna. I was there for an enjoyable early-music concert, by a trio called Ensemble Gesti Musicali—mostly Handel, since 2009 is his anniversary year.
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    My route there led me up an eerily deserted pedestrianized street with a police guard at the end, The guidebook informed me that this is the location of the only Vienna synagogue to escape Kristallnacht’s destruction. Apparently it has been a target for anti-Israeli terrorism; hence the police guard and the traffic barriers. St. Rupert’s also brought forth another point of interest. As I left via the Schwedenplatz station by the canal, I realized that a tourist could easily spend a week in Vienna and never actually see the Danube!

    Day 5
    Museum time: I started from the Volkstheatre station, and wandered through the Burggarten (statues of Goethe, Emperor Franz Joseph, and…Mozart) before walking back to the Kunshistoriches Museum, (fine art museum). This elaborate building contains a mind-boggling display of Old Masters. Fortunately, my guidebook had a clearly-explained plan of the rooms. I’m not really a Breughel lover (this is apparently the premier collection), but there was Durer, and Holbein, and Vermeer…and fortunately, a café to sustain me before I attempted the Egyptian galleries. (There are also Greek and Roman antiquities, coins, and sculpture—I was there four hours, but you can’t see everything.)
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    Needing a change from massive buildings, I consulted my guidebook, put on my sneakers, and went into the Vienna Woods. There really are woods within the range of the Vienna public transport system (although the Wienerwald probably has more villages and vineyards than forests). I took the U-Bahn to Heiligenstadt, then the 38A bus to the peak of Kohlenberg—took less than 30 minutes. I was somewhat distracted at Heiligenstadt to get off the bus facing a giant apartment complex labeled Karl-Marx-Hof! This is apparently a reconstruction of a subsidized housing development by that name put up by the left-leaning Viennese city government during the 1920s and destroyed by fascists in right vs left battles in the 1930s (look up “Red Vienna” if, like me, you hadn’t heard of this).
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    There’s a fabulous view of the city from a café terrace at Kohlenberg, and I walked from there to another hill, Leopoldsberg (20 minutes) and took the bus back down as far as Grinzing. There, I found a heuringer (wine tavern), complete with grape arbour and musicians—and enjoyed myself with a glass of local wine.
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    Day 6
    As usual for me, the last day was the most relaxed, since I’d already done the “must-sees” and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast at the Naschmarkt. Then I window-shopped up Mariahilferstrasse (department stores, etc.), and went into the Mariahilfer Church (beautiful and unusual blue and gold sculpture).
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    I was heading for, and found, one of Vienna’s Flakturme. I definitely wanted a photo of a WWII anti-aircraft tower with a rock-climbing wall outside and a reptile house inside, a children’s playground adjoining, and giant letters across the top which Babelfish translates as “Broken in pieces in the peace of the night”!
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    I abandoned that enigma for something everyone understands: gold and jewels. I went to Vienna’s Treasury, the Schatzkammer, and gaped at golden, gem-encrusted crowns (Austrian, Holy Roman Empire…) the cradle used by Napoleon’s son, the world’s largest cut emerald, and a reliquary which supposedly holds a nail from Christ’s cross. I’ve seen the Crown Jewels in London, but these are JEWELS. Jeweled gloves…coronation robes…all this and multiple palaces… no wonder that Vienna turned “red” after turfing out the last emperor.
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    After this, I wandered around the city centre, hauling out the guidebook if anything caught my eye. I went into Michaelerkirche (bilingual signs--bonus) which had some interesting tombs and remnants of Gothic painting on the pillars, looked at Maria am Gestade church (very attractive entrance, but everything beyond the porch was locked away behind a screen), then took a random tram across the canal to Friedrich Engels Platz (a dull working class neighbourhood, but the history teacher in me was curious), and the metro to Gasometer (even stranger than it sounds: this former gasworks turned mall/apartments has a some odd modern additions to the gigantic round brick originals).
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    After dinner I strolled back across the city to my hotel, finding more elegant, massive, and shining buildings to admire. Vienna absolutely gleams…have they never had acid rain? Did they pressure wash all those buildings? I don’t know, but sometimes I felt I was walking through a brand-new city. Anyway, it was a very beautiful one.
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    Wow, loved your trip report. You made good use of your time and have given me ideas for places to see the next time I visit Budapest or Vienna.

    I too visited the zoo in Vienna but actually did enjoy it as I am a zoo person. There was a relatively young Panda bear that the city was quite proud of. When I talked to locals at restaurants or markets I was usually asked if I'd seen the little Panda. Plus it's the only zoo I've ever visited that had a beer garden, which I also enjoyed.

    You're a good writer. Thank you so much for sharing good travel info in such an entertaining manner.

    Great job!
    Pat.

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    Thanks for the kind words, Pat. I certainly hope this gives someone ideas, as I certainly got a lot of ideas last spring from the posters here!

    Here's the final episode. I'm sorry some accents are missing from the Hungarian words, but neither my eyesight nor my patience is equal to checking them again when pasting something in here.

    BUDAPEST
    Day 1
    My train journey took me from mountains to red-roofed villages which became progressively more prosperous-looking as we approached Budapest.
    Keleti station set the tone for Budapest, switching mood and century at will. I rolled my suitcase into the station building to look for an ATM, and saw a large, 19th c. train station—impressive and clean, but empty. Signs for all services pointed out into high, shadowy corridors, with huge wooden doors opening into even dimmer nooks on the side, in which businesses from internet points to cafes were operating. I wandered through this bazaar-like atmosphere, fending off the ubiquitous touts for accommodation, before finding the ATM (back out at the end of the train tracks). Then I searched for the subway station, and found myself in a sleek modern 21st c. facility with ticket machines and efficient signs. This ejected me into one of the pedestrian underpasses which were the bane of my existence in Budapest. They involved two sets of stairs for every major intersection, and contained stores which always distracted me just long enough to forget which of the four—up to eight—staircases I should use. The pedestrian underpasses do provide a break from another stressor: Budapest drivers seem unequipped with mufflers, and floor the pedal at every green light. I’ve been to New York; this was louder. There weren’t the anarchic drivers I remembered in Rome, but in the construction sites downtown, the technique for dealing with pedestrian traffic was—well, we just picked our way around as best we could.

    After reaching the hotel, I headed south of my Astoria Metro location, and found myself in the middle of the construction. If there is any entrance through the paving stones to the University Church (Egyetemi Templom), I failed to find it on either of the occasions I searched. The Downtown Parish Church (Belvárosi Plébánia templom) remained equally inaccessible. On this day, the main entrance had an arrow pointing to the side door, which opened to an empty desk, and meters of heavy plastic stretching to the ceiling in all directions. A second try on Monday found a sign “Closed until 17:00”.

    I escaped the construction zone into the pedestrian shopping street, Vaci U., and my mood improved so drastically without the traffic that I followed it to its end, at the Central Market Hall at the end of the Szabadság Bridge. The Market provided a fast-food lunch (Hungarian style) and an opportunity to wander through stalls of produce, meat, (this is not just a tourist shopping area), and crafts (upstairs). I learned that Tokay comes in dry as well as sweet (I’m no connoisseur) and paprika is the word for the raw peppers as well as the spice. I enjoy markets, and there are also some interesting nearby stores (I didn't buy a helmet).
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3416.jpg

    Then I wandered north along the river to the Chain Bridge, and the square with a statue of its creator, István Széchenyi. The nearby Art Nouveau hotel (Gresham Palace) was so gorgeous that I believed the guidebook’s assertion that the staff are used to photos in the lobby.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3255.jpg

    On the way back to the hotel I passed a variety of handsome buildings: heavy 19th c, Art Nouveau, and modern, most begrimed or with crumbling stucco. And the traffic was not my only reminder of Rome: graffiti was everywhere here, whereas in Vienna and Venice it seemed confined to side streets. On a positive note, a lot of construction was actually restoration of these buildings.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3323.jpg
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3324.jpg

    Day 2
    The power in the hotel went off as I stepped out of the shower, so my day began with wet hair and a snack-bar breakfast. Then I bought a 3-day Metro pass from an unhelpful clerk who declared (true? seems unlikely) that no maps of the transportation system exist (other than on the walls). I took the metro to Kossoth tér and noted an important lesson about directions here: look at signs CAREFULLY. Batthyany and Beothy are different train stations, Deak Ferenc tér, Ferenc körút, and Ferenciek tere are three different metro stops.

    I had a reservation for a tour of Parliament, and was in the line for tickets by 9:15. To explain why it took 30 minutes for the 5 ticket-buyers ahead of me, read yk’s May 9th description of the ticketing system here, which is funny and accurate (and enabled me to answer the baffled questions of fellow tourists) http://tinyurl.com/lshej8
    When I bought my ticket, I was charged half the price I had seen online. The guide explained why: the electricity inside the building was off all day for “regular maintenance”! Fortunately, most parts of the building have fairly large windows. The building is huge (you only see a bit) and in very elaborate 19th c. Gothic. Since there were originally two chambers, the guide informed us that the unused legislative chamber was “available to rent!” I enjoyed the details most: individual cigar rests in the corridor outsidethe legislature, and an 1896 air conditioning system of ice, fans, and ductwork. The main attraction is the “crown of St. Stephen” a very old golden crown (the guides say it was the king’s; historians are more skeptical) with a tilted cross on the top. No one knows why it’s tilted.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3281.jpg
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3274.jpg

    Afterwards, I found the nave of Szent Istvan (St. Stephen’s) cathedral chained off, although the sign said it was open. So I decided to walk up Andrassy U., the grand avenue of Budapest. It is tree-lined and broad, with some very expensive stores (think Gucci), but disfigured with graffiti. It leads to Heroes’ Square, (Hősök tere), unmarked and beautiful, with two elegant neoclassical museums flanking the central square. Saint/King Stephen and other Hungarian leaders are depicted in the semicircular colonnade there, and the Angel Gabriel, holding a crown, tops a tall pillar. When the Hapsburgs commissioned this monument for the 1896 Magyar Millennium, the emperor was included. After WWI the Hungarians knocked out the Hapsburgs, and replaced them with 19th c. Hungarian revolutionaries! I visited the Fine Art Museum and spent a couple of hours, but I think I had been spoiled by Venice and Vienna.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3310.jpg
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3318.jpg

    The Yellow Metro line, which I took to return from Heroes’ Square, is a time capsule: the small stations have white “lavatory” tiles and burgundy painted girders, while the tiny cars have upholstered seats along the sides, (?original?) leather straps for standees, and play a tiny “tune” to signal arrival at each stop.

    Day 3
    The Dohany St. synagogue (aka Great Synagogue), just around the corner from my hotel, is an amazing building, with a great story, and an effective guide. It’s the second-largest synagogue in the world, built in the 19th c. in a unique neo-Byzantine design. At the end of WWII the Budapest Jews were confined to this ghetto. I did some reading before I came, and if you want your imagination harrowed, look up an account of the Hungarian fascist Arrow Cross party. When they realized that the Germans were losing, and it was too late to ship more victims to Auschwitz, they lined up detainees along the Danube, shot them, and pushed them in. The guide described the pre-war Jewish community (large and prosperous) and the situation in the synagogue during the final days of the war (people dying in crowded conditions, buried in a mass grave beside the synagogue because there was no access to a cemetery). Then the Soviets arrived—and Raoul Wallenburg, the Swedish diplomat who had worked to save Hungarian Jews from the camps, was secretly kidnapped to a Soviet gulag. Behind the synagogue is a memorial to Wallenburg, and other “righteous Gentiles”, and a memorial to the Hungarian Jews, a metal weeping willow with names of the dead engraved on individual leaves. Next to the synagogue is a museum, with beautiful objects showing the wealth of the pre-war community, and newspaper clippings describing their destruction. Very moving.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3337.jpg
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3345.jpg
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3347.jpg

    Next I took the metro to the Museum of Applied Arts, (Iparművészeti Múzeum) which had some beautifully displayed objects, with Hungarian & English signs, and was itself a fantastic – or fantastical—building with a patterned tile roof, and an entrance like a display shelf for Hungarian craftsmanship, c. 1900.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3354.jpg
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3357.jpg

    After lunch I walked across the Chain Bridge and went up the funicular (you can walk, but it’s steeeep) to the Castle District. First point, which baffled me in guidebooks until I got there: the real castle is gone, basically. The castle(s)were destroyed by warfare involving everyone from the Ottoman empire to the Soviets in 1945. Parts of the medieval fortifications were reconstructed, but in the Soviet era palaces were low on the priority list! The exterior of the current "castle" resembles the Renaissance palace which once existed; the interior contains museums, with a small part of the medieval palace inside. Despite this, there are plenty of good reasons why it’s popular: The museums are attractions; the views of the Danube and the Pest side of the city are wonderful; the Fisherman’s Bastion (19th c. pseudo-fortifications) produces delightfully picturesque photos; and, the whole area is a graffiti-free “bastion” of charming Renaissance/Baroque buildings. I admired the views, skipped the museums, took photos, and walked up, down, and around.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3366a.jpg
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3381.jpg

    The Matthias Church (Mátyás Templom), at the far end from the castle, is a unique hybrid: a 14th c. Gothic church decorated inside with dark, swirling Hungarian Art Nouveau designs. I admired the church, a 15th c. tower , a Plague Column, and the curved dormer windows (there must be a name for them, but I don’t know it).
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3374.jpg
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3385.jpg

    I got back to the Pest side just in time to see the Chain Bridge and Castle District outlined in lights. It may be corny, but it certainly is breathtaking.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3389.jpg

    Day 4
    Thermal baths sound so medicinal and dull – they are WONDERFUL! I had a swimsuit with me, so I got on the metro and reached the Szechenyi Baths, behind Heroes’ Square, by 8:15. There were 10 people in line ahead of me. Having encountered Hungarian ticket systems, I expected a 20 minute wait, but it was actually 30 (no, I don’t really understand why; I was apparently the only non-Hungarian in the line). However, I could see the “promised water” through a window, so I stood patiently, and it was worth it. (2800 Ft, with a 300 Ft refund if you leave inside of 3 hours) The building is a pretty yellow and white hollow rectangle, with numerous hot tubs and pools inside, and three outside pools in the middle: two smaller (one 37◦C, one 30◦C with a “Whirlpool tub” in the centre and a kind of “whirlpool eddy/lazy river” surrounding that, and one big swimming pool at 26◦C) There were mainly seniors at this hour, and a kind lady responded to my “sign language” and showed me how the locker keys work (you get a plastic card with a hole in it, you insert it correctly inside the door, then you can remove the key and lock the door). By the time I dragged myself away, moms & toddlers were arriving. If I lived in Budapest, I would be seriously addicted to this experience. They provide hair dryers, you can book massages….
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3390.jpg

    After dumping my suit, etc., at the hotel, I tried again at the Basilica. This time the whole building was open, even the chapel which has – in a golden case – the mummified hand of St. Stephen. The church is a very elaborately decorated 1905 building described as neo-classical – I would say, emphasis on neo. I liked the ceiling frescoes; the mummified hand, not so much—but I’m not Catholic and don’t really “get” relics. I did “get” the bust of Cardinal Mindszenty, imprisoned by the fascists and exiled during the Communist regime, but now buried with honour in Hungary.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3399.jpg

    I walked – wandered, really, -- around downtown Pest towards the river. I had read that much of Budapest’s shopping takes place in enclosed courts, so I walked through a couple of the massive wooden doorways / raised metal gates.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3397.jpg

    I know I'm whining, but what is the Budapest issue with electricity? the hotel, the Parliament, and the gloomy and intimidating entrances to the courtyards. One of the entrances I entered turned out to be part of the celebrated Paris Arcade, with its stained glass and carved wooden ceiling, surely a counterpart of Vienna’s Freyung Passage. But the giant metal gate was only pushed up enough to allow a tall man to slide under, and the lighting was so dim that I reached the middle of the arcade before realizing that there WAS a carved wooden ceiling. Unsurprisingly, I was the only tourist in sight. I know customer service and publicity were not big issues during the Communist era, but…there were a couple of high-priced stores in there. Don’t they want rich tourists (not me!) to wander in?
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3329.jpg

    After an unsuccessful attempt to see the Orthodox church (open W, Th, & Sa), I decided to try shopping, and took the Metro to the large West End City Centre (adjoining Nyugati station). It’s a modern mall, with a few European chains (e.g. C&A), but mainly tiny stores, hardly bigger than kiosks. I looked at shoes (always), and noted that teenagers here looked “edgier” and more like Canadian teens than most I had seen in Vienna.

    After shopping, I took the Metro to Moszkva tér, and found the tram into the Buda hills (guidebook says #56, which doesn’t seem to exist, take #61). The ride provided “non-touristy” neighbourhoods, and pleasant views of tree-covered hillsides, but ended at a sad-looking “commercial corner” with broken concrete blocks in the ditches. There were pleasant middle class houses up the street, but the infrastructure had an “almost third world” aura. However, walking to the ends of the dead-end side lanes took me to a transmission line with hiking trails on the other side, so I had a cheerful half-hour walk before taking the tram back down, and going to Batthyany tér for dinner, with a wonderful view of the Parliament Building across the river.

    Day 5
    Out of town day! I caught the 9 a.m. boat to Szentendre from Vigado ter. **Leave plenty of time to get to the dock, because it isn’t well marked, and you may have to walk a block to find a crossing for the rail line. The trip upriver was peaceful, and I was surprised to find that most of the passengers were elderly Hungarians, with packed lunches (like a trip with my relatives!—in fact one man scolded me for leaving my fold-in-a-bag windbreaker on the seat when I went to the bathroom). It was a relaxing trip, but if you expect picturesque, that must start beyond Szentendre. The river was lined with apartments (on the outskirts of Budapest), then miles of trees and a few kayakers.

    Szentendre, however, was picturesque enough for any journey. The old village (the newer section is nearer the railway station) is 18th c. perfection, with its hilly, cobbled streets and charming little Baroque houses.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3433.jpg

    The long sloping street leading to the square is lined with shops (not all tourist tat, there’s a Herend china shop), and the square filled with a tour group. However, escaping the crowds is as easy as looking for a cultural site. There is a large (it looks tiny, but there are 3 levels) museum devoted to one-time resident ceramic artist Margit Kovács. I also visited three churches. Beside the square, the small building called the Greek church (Blagovestenska) is actually Serbian Orthodox. It’s dark (not just dim) and shabby, but it is totally dominated by a large and beautiful iconostasis. http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3441.jpg

    Then, on top of the hill, are two beauties. The Roman Catholic church has a commanding view of the town and the river, and inside is a fascinating medieval / Baroque church with an unusual pulpit decorated with large, painted statues below and small painted heads above; my best description is a kind of small-town Baroque (no photos allowed, but I bought a postcard). My final church, the Serbian Orthodox cathedral (Szentendre has apparently been a Serbian centre since 1700) has another huge iconostatis (very well cared for, and they light it when you enter), and a wonderful museum containing marvellous items from long-gone churches. There is even an official 15th c. Ottoman charter for an Orthodox monastery. http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3467.jpg
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3459.jpg
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3466.jpg
    There were only a handful of visitors, and I think both churches may only be open in the morning: I saw the R.C. ticket taker locking up later, and the ticket-seller at the museum practically pushed me across to the church before letting me in the museum—I realized later that he meant “Go while it’s open”. Unlike Budapest, English was somewhat limited here, but everyone was pleasant and helpful. In fact, it all seemed delightfully light and cheerful, and I realized how dark and looming many of the buildings felt in Budapest.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3468.jpg

    After lunch, I walked to the HEV (suburban rail) station, buying a cone at a place advertising “home cooked ice cream”! Szentendre is the end of the train line, and the old cars rattle madly, but you get great countryside views, then a chance to see the outskirts of the city, until you arrive at Batthyany ter station on the Pest side.
    It was late afternoon when I went to the Terror House on Andrassy U., and I ended up regretting the visit. It’s a fascinating premise: the building was a headquarters for the Gestapo, then for the secret police during Communism--now it’s a museum of oppression. But it’s too “reality TV”, with the lighting and audio effects, and too strangely organized for me. I think the idea is, to replicate the confusion of the original victims, but it didn’t work for me, and the annoying audio-guide (the exhibits are in Hungarian) just recited the information on the English fact sheets beside each doorway.
    http://i560.photobucket.com/albums/ss47/nfldbeothuk/Hungary/100_3306.jpg

    Anyway, I escaped, and improved my mood by walking back past streets of handsome buildings, and buying a final coffee at the elegant and serene Central Coffeehouse.

    One final point: everyone here who asks about my holiday thinks I was “brave” to go to Venice and Budapest alone. I keep repeating – hating to spoil the admiration – that this was very easy. With a little advance preparation, the transportation systems were simple, the cities were not threatening, and there were helpful English-speakers everywhere. And it was all SO beautiful.

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    nfldbeothuk - I really enjoyed the last 2 installments. I felt myself walking (or taking the metro/tram) right with you in both Vienna & Budapest. Interesting, I find I have similar sentiments as you towards Vienna & Budapest. Perhaps our "problem" was that we visited Vienna BEFORE Budapest. Budapest might not have been so dark & dirty if we didn't have Vienna to compare it with. I'm glad you thought of me while lining up for the Parliament tour! Thanks again for taking me along on this trip report - I got to relive many of the great memories from my trip!

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    Now I've had time to get through your report...and it is wonderfully detailed indeed. I am thinking you must have taken copious notes as you walked or recorded impressions into a recorder walking along the way as you were also taking photos. And walking you certainly did! At one point you said "My energy was flagging"...no wonder!

    You saw things we didn't while in our conducted tour we had certain other special experiences. Every so often you say, "Then I consulted my guide book." That did provide you with a sense of what you were seeing...and I wish more Americans did so more carefully in depth rather than just sightseeing. Interesting story about the Arrow Cross tragedy...somewhere I've seen a display on that, was it Ann Frank museum? I know I have read books about Holocaust subject matter.

    I had the feeling that by Budapest you were running out of steam (along with the no electricity) although of course Vienna seen by you before is charming. Reminded me of a trip years ago first to Egypt, then to Jordan, and finally Israel where by that time we were getting weary indeed.

    So congrats on your trip going it alone at "your age" (I'm much older). What really amazes me is the effort you spent in putting this report with photos on the Fodor's forum.

    Ozarksbill walongman@yahoo.com

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    Thanks for the kind words, people. WillTravel, I remember that your comments about the Vienna hotel reassured me that it was indeed a convenient location, and it was. Anselm, how sweet of you :).
    I think what got to me in Budapest was not so much tiredness as the temperature. I'm now back home--where there's a frost warning tonight--and one thing I don't remember fondly from my holiday is the +30 temps.
    I did keep a journal. I always do when travelling: in the evening or (when travelling alone) at restaurants. Typing I can do fast; the hard part was (yeah, laugh, I'm long-winded) shortening it to post here!

    Anyway, now I switch from retelling to planning...where to next summer???

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