Day 1 & 2 (Tuesday, March 18th & Wednesday, March 19th) - Toronto to Frankfurt to Budapest
Uneventful flight from Toronto to Frankfurt (except for a good jolt when an engine backfired just after takeoff) and a short layover to Budapest. Even though we were booked Austrian Airlines, our outbound flights had been switched to Lufthansa and was a little disappointed by their service, but did manage to get a bit of sleep.
Got to Budapest in early afternoon and after spending about 30 seconds at customs (gotta wonder why it takes so in Canada). Then I picked up some cash and this time my goofup was 1 too many 0's on the currency, so instead of getting ~$100us in Hungarian Forint I got ~$1,000us (so obviously didn't need to take out any more and used cash for everything, including hotels ... at least better than Nairobl where it was one to few 0's).
But that quickly help me realize how honest the people in Hundary are, as when I went to pay for the Budapest Card and the shuttle to our hotel at the Travel Information counter, I put down 10x the money they asked for and the person behind the counter picked the top 2 bills, handed me the tickets and change (which was useful for tipping our driver). Surprisingly quick drive to our hotel using the shared Airport MiniBus service.
Our hotel, Mecure Buda, was very nice and only ~100m from the Deli pu station (for both subway and the tran to Vienna). An the mall at the Deli pu station had a fairly good grocery store for snacks, bigger selection and much cheaper than the hotel.
So after unpacking, it was off to explore Budapest. And we started off with the Parliament Building area on the Pest side of the river (Budapest was actually 3 cities that merged and the previous cities of Buda, Pest and Obuda are still fairly distinct districts).
While it was already dark, the Parliament Buildings were well lit and still had a lot of decorations out from the March 15th holiday (in memory of the 1848 revolution), as well as a series of monuments for the 1956 uprising. At at the subway station we overheard someone speaking English so asked directions, turns out he was a teacher in Budapest but had gone to Carleton University (in Ottawa) and had only moved back to Budapest 3 years ago. He gave us a good overview of what to see, what parts of the city to avoid, indicated that English fairly common in the city and generally aleviated any fears about being in a forgien country.
Day 3 (Thursday, March 20th) - Predominately Buda
The day to explore the Buda side of the river, starting with Várhrgy (Castle Hill) so we jump on the subway for a couple of stops. After a few missed turns walking we end at the gates and stop at City Hall first, the oldest city all I've seen but what we soon discover many of the historic buildings as still 'working' sites.
Then the Hadtörténeti Múzeum (Museum of Military History), looks like a somewhat recent museum mostly focused around recreated (rather than restored) uniforms and articles from the 1848 revolution era and restored World War I & World War II equipment. But then I found a few rooms off to the side that had artifacts from the Roman, Moar and Turk invasions.
Next its over to the Máthyás Church and Halászbástya (Fisherman’s Bastion) two of the most famous sites in Budapest and both are amazing. From the Fisherman's Bastion we get the first panoramic view of the Danube (Duna in Hungary) and Pest, while the Danube wasn't as wide that I'd read it was bluer than I'd imagined with a fairly strong current. While there a local tour guide came by trying to sell his services for the day, while it sounded interesting we had a schedule we wanted to keep.
We then tried for the Buda Castle Labyrinth, but due to some flooding it was closed for the day.
So out of the castle area and a walk along the Danube towards the Gellért Hotel (famous for its spas), with a lot of amazing marble work going on outside. Tried to find the Citadella (Live Web Cam from Citadella) as we kept going in circles & getting lost, so eventually gave up.
Headed out to diner at the Iguana, a TexMex spot by the parliament buildings which had amazing food. After diner wondered over to Roosevelt Park. Szécheny Lanchid (Chain Bridge), main bridge & most famous one crossing the Danube, was right there so we walked across. Then the tunnel through the hill was at the end of the bridge, so walked through the tunnel and were at the corner of Krisztina Korut so only a few blocks from the hotel. So quickly realized after all of the walking, subway, streetcar and buses we were never more than a 30 minute walk from the hotel.
Day 4 (Friday, March 21st) - Predominately Obuda
Looked out the hotel room window in the morning and immddiately saw the steeple of the Máthyás Church and the walls of Várhrgy, which further verified how close we had been to the hotel in all of the Thursday travel.
The day to explore the outer areas of Budapest, so hop on the train -
Back to the Iguana for diner and the end of our time in Budapest.
Day 5 (Saturday, March 22nd) - Budapest to Vienna and touring Vienna
Took the morning train from Budapest to Vienna. Station was next door to the hotel in Budapest and had already booked the tickets through Rail Europe. A very good rail service, quick and on time with the only nuicance being that have to show passport when the train leaves Hungary & again when it enters Austria. So just under 3 hours to Vienna and about 20 minutes the Renaissance Penta Vienna Hotel on the subway (likely would have been less if we/I knew where we were going and understood the street cars). Hotel was nice, in a quiet neighbourhood and we had a pituresque view of the Russian Orthodox Cathedral from the window.
So decided to start aour tour of Vienna by going to Belvedere Palace, which was nearby. The walk took us near all of the foreign embassy's in the Schwarzenbergplatz area and there was a huge peace march taking place. But in typical germanic effency -
We did eventually get to Belvedere Palace, which in itself was very nice. However, I did get a picture of the front of the palace which proves that no matter how bad a photographer you are, if you take enough pictures a few will look good - Belvedere Palace.
Later that night, while I was exploring Vienna on my own (which further substantiated that I'm 'locationally challenged' as I got lost on every route I took, including one that was a 3 block 'line of sight' walk with no turns back to the hotel & I somehow missed 10 blocks, and almost duplicated the following night), I ran across several of the peace marchers who were still revealing in their good deeds but while they still had their flags/whistles they would at that point have had a hard time walking a few blocks or generating much noise.
Day 6 (Sunday, March 23rd) - Downtown core of Vienna
A day spent doing touristy part of Vienna. Started well by finding a little pastry shop around the corner from the hotel (which we revisited every morning). Then we went out to Schloss Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Palace). But for the rest of the day we did the downtown core starting with Stephansdom (St Stephen's Cathedral, since it was Sunday morning a service was going on, so I don't know which was tackier - letting us tourists in during the service or those who took pictures & video taped it). Followed by the historic stuff (Pestsaule - Holy Trinity Column / Plague Column a monument for the end of the plague in 1679, Peterskiroche - St. Peter's Church, Vienna Opera House, Roman Ruins, Hofberg/Habsburg Castle, Heldenplatz) as well as the government buildings (Austrian Parliament, City Hall, Court House). All very nice but way to 'touristy' compared to Budapest (or even London for that matter).
Day 7 (Monday, March 24th) - Areas around Vienna
A very mobile day visiting the outskirts of Vienna. Took a streetcar and bus to Grinzing, a suburb of Vienna. Grinzing was nothing special but we caught another bus to Kahlenberg which is on the edge of Wienerwald (Vienna Woods). From Kahlenberg we walked along a trail through the Wienerwald up to Leopoldsberg, an old fort high on a hill overlooking the valley into Vienna. Ventured off to a number of other areas, nothing that spectatular though but did find a great little Italian resturant (service was slow but friendly and food fantastic as well as inexpensive).
Day 8 (Tuesday, March 25th) - Vienna to Toronto
Have a late morning flight, so just jumped on the train at the Renweg right behind the hotel for a 20 minute trip to the airport. Quick run through the linups for our boarding pass and in my usual ability to meet people, since my passport shows I was born in Sackville New Brunswick Canada)and the security guard indicated that he was training with the Austrian military in the early '70s and they would regularly play soccer against the prisoners. It was Austrian Airlines back to Toronto, we were soon on the plane but we delayed by almost 2 hours because some passengers didn't have the proper paper work and they had problems finding the luggage to offload before we could leave. The Austrian Airlines flight had very good service, as well as a good movie selection so didn't get much sleep. Once back to Toronto it was immediately off to the office and back to work.
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