Tues. Sept. 25, 2018:
Budapest, Hungary to Vienna, Austria:
I woke up around 8am but decided to keep sleeping. We were taking the subway to the train station so we had extra time. I was careful not to sleep in too late, I wanted to have breakfast at the hotel. It was a buffet fit for a king. They had mini individual serving packages of liverwurst paste, and thankfully I was able to secure some cucumbers to make a nice little sandwich- complete with cheese slice on top. I was not as impressed with the brie and crackers, just wasn’t feeling it. I stole a sip of the sour cherry compote from Brent, it was alright but I much preferred my coffee. I even grabbed a second one on my way out in a to-go cup. This time I had a cappuccino because the machine clearly had no idea what a macchiato was. Even still, with two coffees to start the day I was quite tired later on.
The subway was fast and clean. We got to the train station an hour early and we had no trouble getting our tickets. According to Google Maps there was an H&M 15 minutes away. I had half an hour to find a replacement dress or skirt for the rest of the trip. I found this year’s version of a dress I had bought in previous years, except instead of black with white plaid it was black with white flowers. It would suffice.
We got on the train early and were able to get unreserved seats across from each other (the two window ones were reserved). At the next stop there was a lot of shuffling around as the people in those seats boarded. Between trying to stow their luggage and get into their seats there was a lot of chaos going on. In the end the ladies decided to sit next to each other rather than across from each other- minimizing the shuffling. As I listened to podcasts I tried to download some more but the Wi-Fi was unbelievably slow, the first estimate was 4 minutes… for a 1-minute episode. I couldn’t believe it.
AUSTRIA! A new country!
The Vienna train station was awesome, it had lots of shops and a sports bar- I joked that it was a husband daycare while the wife shopped. The toilets were not free and all I had was a €5 note and I was not about to break it for a trip to the bathroom. It was hard to adjust to the new currency. I had finally started getting the hand of the Hungarian one and now I had to start all over again from scratch.
It was a 45-minute walk to the hotel. Along the way I was struck by how beautiful Vienna was, there were more pretty buildings. We dropped our stuff at the hotel and walked over to Café Hawelka for lunch. On the way we walked by St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the main shopping square. We scoped out a McDonald’s for later (conveniently less than 5 minutes from the hotel and it had self-serve kiosks).
Café Hawelka is one of the more famous cafes and you could tell, the place was packed. We got one of the last free tables. The server came over for our order and we looked at him in confusion. There was no menu on the table and rather than give us one (if it even existed) he told us the options. As soon as I heard coffee I stopped him. Yes. Then he went off into a sub-menu: black, milk, cream. Brent mistakenly said milk and cream, adding to the already confused atmosphere. The guy asked us if we wanted any food. Another stare from us. Deep breath, he started reciting a food menu for us. We saved him the time and stopped after the second item: chocolate cake. I was so hungry I did not care if we ended up eating something really heavy for lunch. I needed food. The caffeine really hit the spot, the cake was perfect: not too sweet or too heavy, with a hint of apricot. Alas it was only enough food to tide me over for a while. I’d definitely be needing more later.
We walked over to the Hofbrun, aka the Imperial Palace. We got to the ticket window at 4:15pm, just in the nick of time as the sign said that last admission was 4:30pm. Except the lady did not want to sell us tickets. We had an hour to see the Imperial Apartments but according to her that was not enough time, they needed at least 2 hours to be seen. We stared at her incredulously, Brent pointed to the last admissions sign. Under her breath she muttered fine, it’s your money, and grudgingly sold us the tickets.
The first part of the museum was the Sisi Museum and it was just a bunch of stuff owned by Empress Elizabeth. It was very crowded and I had to borderline shove people to get through. These people had no concept of space. The Imperial Apartments were awesome, the walls were gilded with gold and there were big fancy chandeliers everywhere. In one of the final rooms we go to see active restoration work which was awesome because you never get to see that. It made me appreciate historical house museums all the more. It was unclear how to get to the final part of the museum, but we did not really care that we were missing the silver collection.
On the way we had passed by the National Library and according to Google it was open until 9pm. Why not check it out we thought? It was right there. It was incredible. Easily one of the highlights of the trip. There were wooden ladders to reach the higher up shelves, some of the bookcases opened to reveal secret doors. There were old globes and the world’s oldest card catalogue. Which was just pieces of paper with the information of the collection stored in a box. There was a hand-written ledger of banned books from the 18th century, displayed alongside said banned books.
We stopped at McDonald’s to grab dinner. On the kiosk we were able to browse the entire selection at our leisure and in English. It was confusing because the way it was set-up you could only order at the kiosk with the option of paying at the counter but some people mistook that for where you could order and there were people milling about and causing confusion. This was also possibly the busiest McDonald’s I’ve ever seen. There were 20+ orders on the display board being prepped. It was also a long wait and we had to rush back to the hotel.
I got the Steakhouse classic from “American series,” it had a smoky steak sauce but it was only on one half of the sandwich. The other half was really dry and not good. Brent had almost the exact same burger, also with “American” in the name, except with cheese. Instead of fries he got “American dippers” but they were jus bergonya’s, same as we had in Hungary. They failed to live up to their name because we had no sauce to dip them in. We ordered Camembert donuts (which for some reason were also on the American menu) and got hot devil sauce on the side. The sauce matched the dippers more than the donuts. In the end it was way too much cheese. I wondered if it was American because it was not real Camembert, because it was breaded or because they called it a donut?
As we ate we got ready for our evening night out. We walked over to Café Imperial but it looked like a fancy sit-down rather than a casual café so we bailed- we only had 20 minutes anyways. We were already dressed up and we had some time to kill so we wandered around the hotel a bit. It was a really fancy place and I felt weird just walking around.
At the opera we had balcony seats which looked down onto the orchestra and had a side view of the stage. We were in the nosebleeds and every time I walked down to my seat I got a touch of vertigo. It was unnerving. On the ledge in front of us we had tiny screens that would show a translation of the opera (being sung in French) so we would at least have some inkling of what was going on. At intermission we went to the bar. I had a glass of white wine and we split a rumball. There was some confusion as apparently no one knows it as a rumball and I had to just point at it. One bite and it was clearly a rumball. My hips started hurting from having to lean forward to the ledge to the see the stage during the whole show. The fact that I was wearing heels did not help matters.
We walked back through the main square. It was nice because all the tourists were gone and it was much less crowded. There were no convenience stores in sight which struck me as odd. St. Stephen’s was still open, we popped in to have a look. It was gorgeous, even if we were looking through a gate at most of it. Across from the hotel we found a souvenir shop selling drinks. Alas the selection was paltry at best. They had one type of beer in tall cans: Gosser. No coolers, no ciders. My options were hard liquor, beer or none. I chose to pass, I was dehydrated and in need of water.