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Trip Report from the "Whirlwind Trip of Europe"

Trip Report from the "Whirlwind Trip of Europe"

Old Jan 26th, 2006, 06:22 PM
  #1  
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Trip Report from the "Whirlwind Trip of Europe"

Okay, I normally don’t file trip reports from my travels because sometimes I think that no one would really care to read about all the details. But, because I am starting to see a lot of posts asking questions and advice about the cities I visited, I thought I would try to help out the best that I can.

What follows is a report of what were probably the best three weeks of traveling I have ever had or could have ever hoped to have. Sorry to disappoint those that wished for crisis, albeit funny, stories. I will share my favorite moments and what I would have loved to do if time permitted.

From October 31st to November 19th, my three travel companions and I covered the following cities:

Vienna (11/1 to 11/3)
Budapest (11/3 to 11/5)
Mitterfels (11/5 to 11/11 with day trips to: Salzburg, Nuremburg, Passau and Regensburg)
Prague (11/11 to 11/13)
Berlin (11/13 to 11/15)
Copenhagen (11/15 to 11/16)
Frankfurt (11/16 to 11/17)
Cologne (11/17)
Amsterdam (11/18 to 11/19)

All of the pictures from the trip can be found here -> http://joannaseuropetrip.shutterfly.com/action/

I must warn you that there are over 600 of them, and I apologize that not all have labels, but I hope they give a good feel for each city. Every city was beautiful in its own way. Feel free to ask me any questions along the way.

So, let’s get started shall we?

Day 1 – Travel from Atlanta to Vienna via London

My flight on British Airways departed on time at 6:40pm. Boarding was easy and we began our journey over the Atlantic. I must say that I every time I have flown BA, I have found the experience to be wonderful. I love the little “goodie bags” with a sleeper mask, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste.

The only disappointment was that the TV didn’t quite work properly. The screen kept rolling, but thinking back, it was probably a good thing because it forced me to sleep.

I should probably tell you that this trip was definitely planned with a tight budget in mind. Most of the places we stayed were either hostels or hotels for less than 100E. Each one was great, and I’ll provide more details when appropriate. I would recommend all of them to everyone.

Back to the flight – because I and my travel companions (who I was meeting in Vienna) are on a tight budget, my route to Vienna actually required a transfer from London Gatwick to London Heathrow. I had never done this before, but the price of the ticket was worth the risk. For those of you considering, it wasn’t a bad experience and National Express made the transfer simple, but the time pressure was a little too much, even with a 3 and a half hour allotment. I made my Heathrow flight with about 30 minutes to spare.

Short flight to Vienna and again landed on time. The Vienna airport gave me a chuckle because after the flight lands, a little yellow car approaches the plane with this giant, “FOLLOW ME” sign on its roof – it was too funny (wish I had a picture). The plane did as it was told and parked on the tarmac. Busses were ready to take us to the terminal.

The Vienna airport is ridiculously easy to understand and get around. I decided to take the City-Airport-Train (CAT) into the city for about 9E. The train was very modern and fast. Note to first time travelers to Vienna, please pay no attention to what you see outside the train on your way in, it’s not reflective of the city.

The CAT train ends at a Metro stop in the city. I purchased a 48 hour ride ticket and began looking for the line I needed. Again, the U system in Vienna amazed me – it was so easy to navigate. I rode until I got to the stop mentioned on my hotel’s website (most tourist stops and hotels list which U stops are closest, which is very helpful)

I got off the stop and came up above ground…all I can say is “WOW”. I was blown away by the initial impression the architecture gave off. All of the buildings are HUGE and BEAUTFUL – they’re so ornate.

I felt like I was in a dream world as I wandered around to find the Holiday Inn City (about 90E/night). Remember, I have about 12 hours of flight time hanging over my head, so it took me a little while.

I found the hotel and checked in. Reception was very nice and room was meticulously clean. It was a little small, but all I needed was a bed.

After a shower, I decided to start exploring. I checked with reception for the nearest Internet café (there isn’t any available service at the hotel) and started off. I began walking toward one of Vienna’s famous rings. The city is very easy to navigate because all the attractions are located around the ring. It was late in the day, so I just wanted to get a feel for the city.

As it began to get dark, I stopped at a restaurant and had what is usually recommended on these boards, the spaghetti. It was delicious and was great with a good Austrian beer. When the bill came, I was shocked, it was only 16E (the restaurant was called Blue Lagoon). What amazed me the most is as I was sitting there, people would walk in with their dogs, sit down and enjoy their dinner. Being a dog lover myself, I was constantly amazed how welcome dogs were in Europe.

So, now that it’s dark, I had back to the hotel to get some sleep and hopefully get my internal clock set to the proper time zone.

Tomorrow, stories about seeing the sights in Vienna, Schonbrunn Palace, Museum Quarter, Freud and Stadt (city) Park and the Opera House.

WorksforTravelMoney is offline  
Old Jan 26th, 2006, 06:58 PM
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Great report so far, can hardly wait for the next installment. Barb
BabsB is offline  
Old Jan 26th, 2006, 10:48 PM
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So glad you decided to post. I have really been enjoying the trip reports lately and maybe will get around the sharing my belated report. Looking forward to your continuation.
klondike is offline  
Old Jan 27th, 2006, 12:37 AM
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Please continue. I wait with interest as I will be visiting some of those places as well in April / May (also a budget traveller so if you have any hotel suggestions that would be appreciated!)
Great report so far!
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Old Jan 27th, 2006, 05:18 AM
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Great report. I love your style. Please, please keep going.
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Old Jan 27th, 2006, 07:14 AM
  #6  
ira
 
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Hi W,

Looking forward to the rest of your report, although I am exhausted just reading your itinerary.

Ah, to be young again.

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Old Jan 27th, 2006, 07:24 AM
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Wow. I wouldn't have dreamed of that itinerary! Waiting more more ...

Anselm
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Old Jan 27th, 2006, 08:03 AM
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Your start already has me thinking about a trip to Vienna, it got cut out of our trip last year . . .
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Old Jan 27th, 2006, 03:08 PM
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Day 2 – Exploring Vienna and Arrival of Travel Companions

After a much needed sleep, I awoke very early (around 6:00am) and started out on my exploration of Vienna with my Fodor’s guidebook and Vienna pop up map in my bag. I started counterclockwise around the outer ring heading toward Museum Quarter and the Parliament Building.

Because I had started out so early, shopkeepers were setting up their wares and sweeping the sidewalk outside their shops – definitely a good memory. Everything was so peaceful and serene. Now is probably a good time to mention clean Vienna is. You can definitely see the pride that those living there have for their city.

Continuing my walk, I pass little shops and tiny parks full of trees and green spaces. I round a corner and all of a sudden these to two mammoth buildings are to my left with this amazing garden in between them. These are the Natural History and Science Museums. They took my breath away. In the center of the garden is the huge sculpture made of marble and, I think, iron. I am at a loss to describe how amazing this square is and it’s affect on me, so I’ll need to let my picture do the work for me.

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any bigger or more grand, I look across the street at Hofburg Palace. Amazing!

Starstuck I continue to walk around the ring, and while crossing a street, realize that a tram is quickly approaching me and is not stopping. I quickly moved out of the way and received a look I deserved from the tram driver. This was the only negative given off by any of the Austrians I met (but, I know I deserved). Lessen learned – trams will not stop.

After passing Hofburg Palace, I crossed in front of the Parliament Building. There were these absolutely gorgeous sculptures decorating the building – again I’ll have to let my pictures do the talking.

In the distant I see these beautiful (I’m running out of adjectives) spires, and think, that must be St. Stephan’s Cathedral. So, I wander in that direction and come across more government buildings that are just as impressive. In the lot by the building, little shops for the Christmas festival are being set up. I’m disappointed that I didn’t time it a little better to be there while they were open (it was still too early).

I found the cathedral, and while it was very impressive, I learned that it wasn’t St. Stephen’s Cathedral. I took a few minutes to get re-orientated with my map because I was about two miles from where I thought I was.

I started back down the other side of the ring, stopping for a quick drink and snack. I pass Freud park, which was very simple and provide the area a nice green space. I then cut through the city on my way to St. Stephen’s Cathedral (now that I know where I am).

Whereas the outer ring and green spaces are very spacious and wide, Vienna’s inner streets are very narrow. In some ways they reminded me of Rome’s.

Eventually I find St. Stephen’s Cathedral, but decide not to go in because I knew my travel companions, who are arriving in late afternoon, would rather I wait for them. The sheer size of this Cathedral is amazing. It’s definitely one of the largest Gothic Cathedral I had seen. There were horse drawn carriages waiting for passengers outside the Cathedral. (I didn’t inquire about prices).

With still a lot of time on my hands (this walk took me about 3 hours). I decide to try to find the Danube. I walk up what became my favorite street in Vienna (the ring), and my favorite section is Parkring. The ring in Vienna is divided into various named section, but signs are posted on every corner to help guide travelers. Parkring became my favorite because of the large walkway in the center of the street that is lined with trees. Leaves were falling as I walked down it, and some people have compared it to similar streets in Paris.

I eventually come to water. The waterway is very narrow and I think to myself, “Wow, this is Danube? It’s pretty small for a river that’s so important. Eh, maybe it narrows in the city.” After seeing the river, it’s time to head back to the hotel to check out. I walk back through Stadt Park – which I loved. It reminded me of Central Park in New York. Very clean, lots of sculptures, fountains, ponds, bridges. It was amazing.

Back at the hotel after stopping for lunch at a little sandwich place, I collect my things (if you’re interested, I traveled this whole trip with just a backpack because mobility was so important). I checked out and decided to go check into the hostel we had booked for the night. Hopping on the U-Bahn, I got off at the stop, which was conveniently located next to the main train station, and the hostel was just a short walk away. We stayed at the Hostel Ruthensteiner for about 20E a night. The hostel was very clean and comfortable and the people were friendly. When I checked in, I was able to secure a private room for the four of us, and as you can probably guess I lied down and read for just a little bit.

I still had about four hours before I was due at the airport to meet my travel companions. So, I decided to go check out Schonbrunn Palace. Hopping on the U-Bahn, I got off at Schonbrunn station (I told you the U-Bahn was easy). Special tip – in Vienna, as well as most of Europe, the doors of trains do not open automatically, either a button has to be pressed or the door needs to be slide open. I’m glad I learned this quickly because my first time, I was just staring at the doors wondering what was going on.

Off to the Palace. Again, the sheer magnitude of the building and the grounds was amazing. Again, I didn’t enter the Palace because I knew my travel companions would want to see it. So, I walked around the back to the gardens. Mind you, because it was November, there were no flowers planted, but I could imagine what the gardens must have looked like. I felt instantly transported back in time, and I could almost see the horse drawn carriages and men and women dressed in very formal attire surrounding me.

At top of the hill (which to us who live in the southern US is a mountain), there is a café that provide stunning views of Vienna. I thought it would be perfect since I was due a snack. So I made the very long trek up the hill. There is a fountain about halfway up that you can stop and rest, which believe me, you’re going need it. There are ducks swimming in the fountain, so it’s very peaceful. I continue my climb to the top, and I can tell you it was so well worth it. You can see the whole city of Vienna on a clear day – the payoff was similar to climbing to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica (for those of you who have done this, you know what I mean). Time to find the café – turns out, it is closed for renovation. By the way, you’ll find that I have this knack for finding tourist sites that are closed for renovation. But, even without the café, the view was well worth it.

Back down the hill, I leave the castle and hop back on the U-Bahn, this time bound for the CAT stop to get back to the airport. At the U-Bahn, I have my confident, “I’m a tourist, but I know how these train doors work now” look on my face, and I’m prepared to open the doors of the next train. Train approaches, I walk to the door, pull the lever, but the door isn’t moving. I try again with no avail. I then realize that there is very loud German being spoken over a loudspeaker, and that none of the other passengers have gotten up from their seats to also board the train. Then, I realize the train is empty. Someone who spoke English took pity on me and explained that the train was being used to train a new driver and wasn’t in service.

Dejected, I sit back down and when the next train arrives, I let someone else do the honors.

After meeting my travel companions at the airport, we catch the CAT again and head back to the hostel. After freshening up a bit, we head out. It’s already after dark, so we know we’re not going to cover too much ground, but we also need dinner. We get back on the U-Bahn and head to one of the central city stops. I take them around the ring to show them the areas I described above and then begin to look for a place to eat by St. Stephen’s. A person was outside one of the restaurants handing out information, and he was so nice that we decided to stop there for dinner. It was a traditional Austria restaurant. Turns out it was the oldest cellar in Vienna, dating back to the 1400s. The restaurant was located under ground and served up some of the best beer, sausages and sauerkraut. After a good meal, we headed back to the hostel for a good night’s sleep.

By now, you’re probably wondering what our ages are – our ages ran from 25 to 59. The youngest being the daughter of one of us.

Hope everyone is finding this helpful. Again, I don’t want to sound like I’m ranting, but I can’t help but include all the details. If you review the pictures, they’re in chronological order, so you’ll be able to retrace the above descriptions exactly.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about our wandering as a group in Vienna and about our journey to Budapest and our adventures when we got there, including being in a very abandoned stair well in complete darkness because the lights went out and the person who saved the day.
WorksforTravelMoney is offline  
Old Jan 27th, 2006, 03:20 PM
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Also, I wanted to thank everyone for their words of encouragement - I hope I don't disappoint!
WorksforTravelMoney is offline  
Old Jan 27th, 2006, 03:24 PM
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This is very enjoyable reading! Thank you for taking the time to share with us!
aggiegirl is offline  
Old Jan 27th, 2006, 04:43 PM
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Great report, keep it coming. Barb
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Old Jan 27th, 2006, 06:02 PM
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Hi WorksforTravel, I am so enjoying your trip report..and you have a wonderful way with words. Crisis, being in a completely dark stairwell would be my description of a crises LOL. I look forward to the rest of your report, thanks for sharing.

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Old Jan 27th, 2006, 07:36 PM
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I am so glad you enjoyed Vienna. I lived there for 2 years in the early 1980's and loved the beauty of the city. That "mountain" behind Schoenbrunn is the Gloriette and I had breakfast there on my last visit. The views from there are stunning. Of course you probably found this out when you went back with your traveling companions. You probably also learned that Schoenbrunn was actually the "summer" palace for Emperor Franz Josef and the Hofburg was the winter palace.

I look forward to reading the rest of your report!
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Old Jan 27th, 2006, 10:19 PM
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Looking forward to the next installment! Will be going to Vienna, Budapest, and Prague in mid-March with my mom, who recently celebrated her 80th birthday.
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Old Jan 28th, 2006, 08:39 AM
  #16  
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BettyK – thanks for the added info to help stress that the Palace is definitely a must see!

Katt58 – Enjoy your trip! Even though we did a lot of walking, there was plenty of above ground transportation to take in the sights if your mom isn’t up for walking too much.

Day 3 – Four women are let loose in Europe

I’ll give you a little context regarding who we are, the mother (we’ll call her Carrie) and daughter (we’ll call her Charlotte) team have traveled the world together and are very easy going when it comes to the itinerary. Another friend (we’ll call her Miranda) has travel with the mother and daughter before and is up for anything. The fourth friend (we’ll call her Samantha) has never been outside North America and loves the opportunity to travel Europe.

There have been posts in the past that talk about choosing your travel companions wisely, and I second that notion. It’s so important to travel with people who share the same interests and plans for how the trip is going to go. Most of you can probably assume that this is going to be a very fast paced trip, with little down time in each of these places, but that was made very clear when gathering the group together. Good thing was, everyone wanted to see the most that they could and appreciated that we were trying to do it on a budget.

Our little travel alarm clock rang at about 6:00am, and we were off! The hostel had a simple breakfast that cost 3E and fueled us for the morning.

Since we had walked around the ring a little last night, we decided to start with Schonbrunn Palace. This time we did take the tour – there are two options, and we took the one that went through the lesser number of rooms. We were each given a headset and could listen as we walked through. The tour was very informative and wasn’t too expensive (maybe 15E pp).

There are two other attractions that are on the grounds that we didn’t go into. There is the Schonbrunn Tiergarten (zoo) and the maze, which I am a little disappointed I didn’t do because it reminds me of the labyrinth that is in the movie The Shining.

We decided not to walk up the hill, the other three said that they’d just look at the pictures the day before, which I was sort of glad they decided that way because it really is a climb (but well worth it).

The other beautiful part of the gardens is the malls that are formed from the gorgeous trees. They also reminded me of the great mall in Central Park.

We decide to head back into the city and wander up to the Danube River. We take the U-Bahn back and walk up the ring to the river. When we arrive, we think it’s strange that the Danube is so small. So, “Samantha” takes a better look at the map, and it turns out, it is the Danube, but it’s the canal that’s formed. We all have a good laugh, and then every time we saw the Danube again in Europe, we make sure it really is the river. Lessen learned – pay closer attention the map.

We stop and have a little snack at a darling place called “Aida” – I have a picture of the sweets in the window – they were delicious. After fueling, we start walking in the direction of St. Stephen’s. We walk in (admission is free and donations are welcomed) and luck out. There is a mass in session during our visit. I have never visited a Cathedral while mass was in session, so it was an added bonus. In St. Stephen’s, pictures are allowed and there is this gate and separates those that are just visiting and those that are attending services. Because mass is in session, we don’t stay too long. The Cathedral was beautiful, the outside is very Gothic and inside it’s very simple, not too much gild or stained glass.

Because I loved Stadt Park so much, we decided to wander over in that direction. We sat on the benches for a few minutes feeding the ducks and petting dogs that were being walked through the park. Everyone we met was so nice and welcoming. After resting for a few minutes, we continued walking counter clockwise along the ring, stopping at an Internet Café to email home and set up reservations for that and the next night in Budapest. We booked at the Red Bus Hostel II in Budapest because it received high ratings on various websites and was only about 20E pp/pn. We had lunch at ParkRing Café. Those working in restaurants were also great because they would recommend dishes for us to try and were so attentive. Prices were probably a little on the high side when we think how much lunch should cost, with beers, it was about 15E pp, but still not overly excessive.

Our train for Budapest is scheduled to leave at 3:45, and because this is the first time we’ve been on a European train, we decide to be extremely cautious and get to the train station about two hours in advance (I can hear you experienced train travelers smirking out there). Before leaving the US, we had purchased 15 day rail passes and a three day Czech rail pass for about 1250 USD combined. Originally, we had thought to rent a car to do all of this traveling, as we had in Italy a few years ago, but after checking the prices and taking into consideration how much more gas costs, plus the added stress of driving on the Autobahn, we decided that the rail passes were a steal. We bought them from Eurail.com, and their service was perfect.

For those who haven’t traveled on a rail pass, the pass has to be validated before hoping on the first train and then the pass is effective for its number of days from that day on. We had our passes validated at the Vienna train station and also reserved a first class seat on the train for about 3E pp because we didn’t know how important reservations would be (turns out this was the only reservation we made, we were comfortable taking our chances on the other trains.) On a side note, I used the website, www.bahn.de to plan the entire train itinerary. I can’t tell you how helpful this site was because it allowed me to coordinate this trip successfully. I had two major concerns when I first started using this site, first, were the times listed accurate (a resounding YES) and when a train connection was needed, was the 2 or 3 minutes allotted by bahn.de enough to get from one train to the other (again, we had NO problems). Train travel was so easy and comfortable, I will never drive in Europe again.

So, we’re hanging out at the Vienna train station for the next hour. European train stations are great because there are plenty of shops, café and services available in them. Note that most likely you’ll be charged to use the restroom, so we also tried to either wait to get on the train or took care of business before leaving a restaurant.

Moving out to the platform and getting excited that we’re getting on our first train, we see the train approaching. As the train enters the platform, we keep an eye out for the cars with the number 1 on them, denoting first class cars. The train stops at exactly 3:45pm and after boarding, it leaves just a few minutes later. We were able to find a non-smoking first class compartment that seats six and had it to ourselves. Plenty of room to stretch out while we read, played games or simply watched the European countryside outside the window.

It was about a three hour ride to Budapest. The train had a dining car, but we had just had lunch, and snack carts would go by with beer and snacks. About 15 minutes into the ride, a conductor came by to check our passes. Then as we approached the Austrian border, the Austrian passport control officer stamped our passports, then shortly after the Hungarian passport control officer stamped our entry into Hungary. I love getting stamps in my passport, so this was fun for me. Most of the officers were so easy going and we didn’t have any difficulties.

We arrive at Budapest’s Keleti Pu’s train station, which is massive and definitely has the hustle and bustle of typical train station. We had walking directions to the hostel and set out. Just to warn you, we you leave the train station, you will be bombarded with requests for cabs, taxis, buses, etc. Just keep saying “no, thank you” and ignore them. If you need a cab or taxi, I would recommend going into the tourist assistance area inside the train station to make sure you get a good rate.

Since it’s after dark, we don’t get to see too much on our walk to the hostel. Traffic is definitely heavier here than in Vienna and you can feel a difference in the air because of the different culture. Nothing negative, but you can feel Budapest’s need to be a working city as opposed to Vienna’s sophisticated gracefulness.

It’s about a 15 minute walk to the hostel, but when we arrive at the location it should be, we find that it’s a little hard to know which door enters the hostel. We find where the hostel is listed on the residence board for the building, and ring the bell. No answer, and we try again, still no answer. A woman walks up from walking her dog (this darling little wiener dog that scurries in as soon as the door opens). We follow her in and inquire about the hostel. She points to the staircase to the left and says, “fourth floor”. Off we go. We’re at about the third floor, when the automatic timer on the hallway/stairwell lights goes out! At this point, we’re past the point of no return and continue up the staircase one more floor, hoping the impending sense of doom is just the extra beer we had on the train or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. We reach the fourth floor, and there is a door with a sign that says “Red Bus Hostel”. Again, we ring the bell and knock heavily. Here’s where things get weird. No one came to the door, but a light came on in the apartment next to the hostel. We hear a women speaking in Hungarian behind the door of that apartment, and somehow we figure out that she’s telling us the hostel is closed. Needless to say, we got out of there as quickly as possible.

What do we do now? Samantha suggested we head back to the train station to ask for accommodations at the tourist information place. Sounded good to all of us. We walk back to the train station and walk into the tourist assistance area and put on our best “damsels in distress” looks. The guy behind the counter was able to find us another hostel that turned out to be in an even better location for about the same price, and he gave us free transfers! I wish I could remember his name because he was our knight in shining armor. We walked back down the train platform to get to the transfer office. Hop on the bus and are taken to the Mellow Mood hostel. Deciding how much to tip the driver was fun because Hungary does not use the Euro, it uses Forints (sp?). To this day, I don’t know if Miranda tipped the guy $10 or $1, but we were just so happy to be at a place where the lights stayed on.

Again, we were able to secure a private room with four beds. After resting for a few minutes, we head out to find the Danube (not the canal). Turns out the area is only about a five minute walk from the hotel. I am so glad that we arrived in Budapest at night because the sight of seeing the castle lit up by floodlights from across the river was amazing. For those who don’t know, Budapest is actually split into Buda and Pest with the Danube in the middle. The castle is on the Buda side and the Chain Bridge is the most famous bride that connects the two sides.

We walk up and down the river just taking in the views. We are immediately impressed with Budapest and complications of the night are easily forgotten. We’re starting to get hungry and notice that there are restaurants in boats that are floating on the river. We thought that would be a special way to celebrate our arrival in Budapest, plus, the view of Buda was amazing. The restaurants have their menus posted outside and when we first review the items and prices, we think, “wow, those are high”. But, then we realize, we’re messing up the conversion and that $50 meal was really $5. So we wander into the Columbus Pub. Awesome – great food, service and comfortable setting. On the way out, the other women make a pit stop, and I wait outside the door. I notice that the sign for the men’s room really isn’t that clear, and then I also realize that the sign for the women’s restroom, isn’t clear either. But, they went into the correct one and I didn’t think too much else about it.

By now we’re a little tired and head back to the hostel. The hostel is actually a converted apartment building with this long spiral staircase (elevator is available if needed). We were on the third floor, so we got our exercise. The bar was located on the fifth (top) floor and Miranda, Carrie and I headed up there. Prices in Budapest are awesome. A large beer was only about $1.75. After having a couple while using the internet terminal, we head back down to the room. Here seems like a good place to talk about the types of internet pcs you’ll find. Most of the time, the keyboard will be in English characters, but some of the letters may be switched. Also, sometimes you’ll need help finding special characters, such as @ or “. The pcs available in Internet Cafes are usually the best, the ones we used in hotels and hostels were of varying degrees of speed and ease of use.

I’ll continue with our adventures in Budapest in the next post.
WorksforTravelMoney is offline  
Old Jan 28th, 2006, 10:23 AM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Mar 2003
Posts: 189
Hi there W! I just wanted to thank you for your trip report and especially for all the extra details you have taken the time to add! Most helpful! You've got my attention, I'm keeping notes and looking forward to your next installment.

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Old Jan 28th, 2006, 01:14 PM
  #18  
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Day 4 – Budapest

Some may be thinking wow, Vienna in two days, that doesn’t allow you to do too much, for example, we didn’t attend any operas or concerts. So, I should probably explain what is important to us when we visit these cities. First, we’re on a budget, but that wouldn’t stop us if there was a concert we just had to see, but we’re not going to go just for the sake of going. Second, probably the most important take-away from each of these cites is the general feel of them, the buildings, the culture, the people and the historical landmarks in each. Not to say other events aren’t important, but we just like to get a very general feel for these cities – plus we can always go back. 

Early morning in Budapest, the hostel provided another simple breakfast for about $2 per person and we were off. We decided to explore Pest first and then head over to the Castle district in Buda. By the light of day, Budapest surprised us that it was a clean and vibrant city. We walked around the Parliament building, which was incredible. The structure is huge and very decorated (it’s the pinkish-red and white building in the pictures). Walking along the Danube, we see the castle across the river and the fisherman’s bastion – beautiful, almost magical.

After awing at the Parliament building, we head to St. Stephen’s cathedral. We take the elevator up to the top of the dom for stunning views of Budapest. I believe the lift cost just a couple of dollars. The cathedral itself is pretty and I’ll let my pictures do the talking.

After the dom, we head down one of the most famous streets in Budapest, Andrassy. The opera house is located on this street, and it is worth a visit just for the walk down the street. When we arrived at the opera house, we learned that there is only one tour a day, and it didn’t work with our schedule. The area that we could see was very opulent, so I can only imagine what the inside of it looked like.

We headed back up Andrassy street and then south. We find ourselves in pedestrian shopping zone, which had awesome prices. Please note that I had read about a lot of tourist scams, pickpockets and other warnings about this area before we left the states, but we didn’t run into any trouble. We had lunch at the Casablanca Café at on outdoor table which gave some of the best people watching I have ever seen.

Continuing west toward the Danube, we walk up to the Chain bridge and cross into Buda. There is a funicular that transports people from the bridge level to the Castle Hill, but it was under renovation just for that day (you’ll find this is a common theme with us). So, we walk up the hill, which really wasn’t that bad – it’s not a straight shot, a lot of winding back and forth. We head toward the castle, and as we approach we feel a sense of disappointment. It’s very obviously that the castle has not been kept very well. It’s in a bad shape of repair and a look of the sculptures are in need of cleaning. We tried to imagine what this amazing castle must have looked like in its prime. There are two museums that can be visited inside the castle, but there are no castle tours.

Even though the castle wasn’t in the best shape, the view of Pest from this elevation took my breath away. Again, I have to let my pictures tell how beautiful it was. After walking around the castle grounds, we head toward the fisherman’s bastion. We stopped for coffee and a snack and the Castle Café. The Castle District is a quant area with tiny houses and shops that are painted in these vibrant colors. Really charming.

The fisherman’s bastion was quite a surprise, especially because it was much larger than we expected. The Mathias Church is protected by the bastion and the hotel (I believe it’s a Sheraton) really stands out because it is very modern.

After spending more time awing at the views of Pest from the bastion, we start heading back down the hill and cross the Chain Bridge once more. We decide that a dinner cruise up and down the Danube would be a nice way to spend our last night in Budapest. If you’re interested in taking a dinner cruise, look for a little yellow house on the Pest side about ¾ mile south of the Chain Bridge. It’s a tiny house, and only open certain hours. Because the hours weren’t what we wanted, we wandered down a little farther and came across a company that offered just cruises (no dinner). We book one for about $14 pp, and then head back to the Columbus Pub for dinner and to wait for the departure time. Dinner was great again, and Samantha decided to make a pit stop before leaving. Earlier I talked about the restroom signs not being that clear, well, she walked right into the men’s restroom! The sign above the door was James Dean Way (the women’s was Marilyn Monroe Way) and for rest of the trip, we playfully gave her a hard time and asked if she was still looking for James Dean

Time for the cruise. The boat station was called Legenda, and I highly recommend them. After everyone boarded, the crew put on this really neat show. They had about a dozen young girls working the ship and whenever something was announced in English, each girl would translate what was said into about a dozen languages. It was really cool. After all the warnings/overview, we were given a headset to listen to the tour. There was outdoor and indoor seating, and for those outside blankets were given. We sat inside but I went outside to take pictures. The cruise lasts for about 90 minutes and goes up the Danube to Margaret Island, turns around and heads back south under the Elizabeth bridge. The audio portion is good because it tells the story from the Danube’s point of view.

After the cruise, we spend some time just wandering the streets of Budapest. We find an Internet Café and email home. Then we stop for coffee and desserts. Back at the hostel, we pack to leave for Mitterfels, Germany in the morning. Why Mitterfels, you ask? We were able to secure this amazing deal at a resort there for a week, and decided to use that week as a launching point to visit Salzburg, Nuremburg, Passau, Regensburg before heading to Prague.

Overall Budapest was a charming city. It was very inexpensive and the Hungarians were very pleasant and helpful. While someone could stay in Vienna for a week and have plenty to do, I’m hard pressed to think how someone could spend a long time in Budapest, unless there was a family heritage or if someone really wanted to get a feel for the culture by visiting the baths and taking in a Hungarian concert. Also, although we didn’t use them, there were plenty of tours (walking and bus) that would cover the city for those that are interested.

Also, and this is by no means the reason I started this trip report, but because I know you wouldn’t be reading this unless you’d like to go to Budapest, I do have my Budapest DK Eyewitness book for sale ($12.99) on Amazon.com -> http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/off...Fencoding=UTF8. The seller is listed as “lynnjv”.

Thanks again for indulging me in reading this report. It's fun to re-live it by sharing it. I'll write more soon.
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Old Jan 30th, 2006, 03:44 PM
  #19  
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Day 5 – Off to Mitterfels

Our train departed Budapest around 9:30am, and we were off to Straubing, which is the closest train station to Mitterfels, Germany. The train ride was scheduled to be about seven hours.

Once we got settled on the train, again, we lucked out to get a private six person first class compartment. Around lunch time, we headed up to the dining car and had lunch on the train. The lunch was not bad, and you can’t beat being able to sit at a table and have someone bring you drinks and anything else you’d like while you watch the world pass by. Also, some of the best entertainment is in the dining car. There was the guy that was glued to his cell phone while he sent and received text messages – all the while with this very strange look on his face. Then there was the guy that had been drinking since we got on the train with his friend, and his friend had to carry him off when they got to their stop – the look on the girlfriend’s face, who was picking them up, was priceless.

Most of this day was spent on the train, so we tried to make the most of it. When we arrived in Straubing, we decided to get some groceries before heading to the resort, Mondi Holiday Mitterfels, which was about 20 minutes from the train station. Our first experience with the locals in Straubing was a good one. We were looking for a grocery store, and this nice woman gave us a ride to the nearest one. After picking up a few items, we hailed a cab and headed into Mitterfels.

After checking in, we settled into the apartment, which was a one bedroom, but had a Murphy bed in the living room. The room was a little musty, but after leaving the windows open for a while, it cleared out the smell. After all the fast pace travels, we decided to take the next day as a rest day and would just wander around the town of Mitterfels.

Day 6 – Mitterfels

Because most of you probably won’t travel to Mitterfels, I won’t go into too much detail here. It’s a cute town, but it’s not a tourist destination (I’m beginning to realize why we were able to get such a good deal…). There was this fantastic Italian restaurant that became our second home during the stay in Mitterfels.

Day 7 – Off to Salzburg

By coordinating the bus and train schedules, we were able to take a bus back to Straubing to take the train to Salzburg. It was about a four hour trip. As soon as you step off the train in Salzburg, you’ll recognize their love of everything Mozart. We hopped on a bus to take us to the other side of the Salzach River, where the Old Town is.

We had lunch at a little pub and again the service was great (and honest). One of the women noticed a dessert that had been brought out to the table next to us and was debating getting it. When she asked the waiter what the dish was, he answered that it was an Austrian delicacy that was similar to tripe! I’m so glad she asked and didn’t just order it – that would have been a horrible shock!

After lunch, we toured the Salzburg Cathedral (beautiful), the Glockenspiel (I’m disappointed it didn’t ring while we were there), the Mirabell Gardens and St. Peter’s Church and Cemetery (the graves and tombs are very tightly packed). We didn’t visit the Fortress, but I’m sure the views from up there were stunning. Also, since none of us were huge Mozart fans, we didn't want to wait in the long lines to see either his apartment or birthplace. There were also plenty of advertisements for “Sound of Music” tours, if you’re interested.

It was getting late, so we headed back to the train station to catch the 5 o’clock train. Arriving back in Straubing around 9:30 that night, we caught a cab and headed back to the apartment.

Salzburg was a beautiful city and you could feel the difference in the air – it was so clean and fresh. On a clear day, the sights of the mountains are a bonus. Tour books mentioned a café that provided great views of the Alps, but unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go to it. If you’re a Mozart fan, Salzburg would definitely be the city for you.

Day 7 – Nuremburg

Just an hour and half train jaunt and we’re in Nuremburg. I must say that I had a picture of a very industrial city. I don’t know why, but I really expected something cold and callous.

Turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. When walking the streets, it was hard to tell that this city had once been completely destroyed during the war. It definitely had its own personality and the most startling images where the pictures of what it looked like after relentless bombing, and what it looks like now. In my pictures, there is a poster board on a pillar in a church that shows what that same space looked like after being bombed. It was a very eerie feeling to stand there where the building had once been in such shape.

Nuremburg has plenty of pedestrian only streets and open markets. As we walked across one of bridges, we talked with a gentleman who had served there during the war and was visiting for the first time since. He was also moved by how much the city had been rebuilt.

We didn’t do too much touristy stuff in Nuremburg. We wanted to go to where the trials were held, but once we realized how far outside of the city the location was, we decided not to. Other than that most of what you’d want to see is easily within walking distance of the train station. Other than being a beautiful city, it also had really good shopping.

Hopping on the train, we were back in Mitterfels that evening and wandered down to our new favorite haunt.

Tomorrow I’ll write about Passau and Regensburg, a couple of other towns close to Mitterfels. I’ll also write about our first night in Prague and let you know why it’s important to make sure you have accommodations set up!
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Old Jan 30th, 2006, 04:33 PM
  #20  
 
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It's a great trip report - thank you for taking the time to write it.
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