Old sights and new
The experience in
Vienna in 2004 was a really good one, thanks in no small part to the
excellent accommodation chosen. The time had come for a return trip to
the capital of the Austrian empire, this time with the intention of
combining it with a visit to the Hungarian capital as well - Budapest.
wise, there was also one new item worth mentioning in particular - a
digital SLR which will from now on mostly replace my sort-of-old compact
camera. But what good is a digital SLR if you can't exploit its full
potential? Hence, the investment in a tripod was also made. Lightweight
and telescopic, it was still somewhat bulky to pack, but there's a price
to be paid to upgrade photography equipment in addition to the cost of
the items - carrying it around - and the SLR itself in its carrying bag
was a lot more bulky than my compact camera. We will see if it is worth
it in due time...
Not much of a hassle
here, getting a tiny guidebook for Budapest as well as a good city map
was mostly what was required - as Vienna was familiar territory already.
Perhaps I should include reading the manual for my new DSLR as well as
searching for information about photography on various web pages.
were made beforehand: airplane tickets with Austrian Airlines, rental
car in Vienna, 4 nights at the Austria Trend Hotel Schloss
Wilhelminenberg (phew!) as well as Radisson SAS Beke in Budapest.
Since SAS ditched
their Vienna flights, the only possibility for a direct flight was with
Austrian. They fly Fokker 100s and 70s on this route it seems, plus they
even serve a meal to travellers on regular budgets - a positive
experience. Most of the drive went without hitches, even though the
whole city had to be crossed, until it was time to choose the right
intersection to head towards Ottakring (and eventually Wilhelminenberg).
I found out after a while that I had chosen the wrong one and headed
back again, then soon came into slightly more familiar terriroty near
the Ottakring area (memories of the 2004 trip came in). Thus, the hotel
was reached in good shape and in great weather - a warm spring had
spread across the plains of Vienna (and hopefully Budapest too?)
By this time, it
was nearly evening, so the remainder of the day was spent locating a
place to eat (we had a suggestion for a chinese restaurant from the
hotel, but ended up finding one even closer to the Ottakring station).
They even served a fortune cookie and plum wine after the meal :)
for going back to Vienna was to visit places that were left out in the
2004 trip. This included the huge Prater park area, with its amusement
park as well and the 'Riesenrad' (Ferris wheel), made famous in Carol
Reed's 1949 movie 'The Third Man'. A trip with the ferris wheel was on
the program, and the view from there was excellent, even though it is
'only' 61 metres tall (exactly 200 feet, having been designed by an
Viennese day saw us taking the subway to the Karlsplatz, from where we
dropped by the cupola of the cathedral (less impressive than others I
must admit), but still with a stylish interior, passing by a huge
monument from the time when the soviets liberated the city during the
second world war, then down the adjacent street towards Schloss
The castle itself
is stylish and typical baroque pompous, but usually the gardens are at
least as big of a treat as the castle building itself, with well kept
lawns and symmetry in four directions (true baroque style). Now however,
the entire 'back side' of the castle garden area was under major
restoration work (this sounds very familiar...) and wasn't much of a
sight. The front side however, seemed to have been given the same
treatment, but was finished and thus a very pretty sight. The residence
itself used to belong to the Habsburgers, and now houses an
art/paintings museum, with famous names such as Gustav Klimt.
We walked back to
the Karlsplatz and up via several parks, like last time to the Neue
Burg, and enjoyed lunch in a local place in the nearby park. From here
past the Parliament (luckily resembling more of a parliament this time,
compared to the walled up hole in the ground in 2004), Rathaus and
Burgtheater to the Votivkirche.
The evening was
spent going via the subway towards Leopoldau but hopping out at Alte
Donau, for a short walk to the fabulously stylish chinese restaurant
'China Sichuan' (following up the success from 2004). Indeed, the meal
was great (a 3-course dinner with wine) although the duck wasn't quite
as good as I had hoped, perhaps due to it containing a lot more fat than
pure chicken filet.
2 1/2 hours
later, it was dark outside and the time had come to truly try out the
tripod and the DSLR. A few shots outside the restaurant, as well as some
in the centre of the city of the Parliament, Rathaus and Burgtheater
seemed to end up quite successful for a DSLR virgin night-time
The next day was set
aside for a walk in the forest area (or Wienerwald). As the morning
came, we discovered it had rained quite a bit during the night, and it
was still raining, but it subsided somewhat during the morning hours. By
the time we left the hotel, there was little rain but a bit cloudy.
This would prove
to be a day where the Vienna card's free transportation was used to its
fullest. After the usual bus route down to Ottakring was complete, it
was time to board the SS1 local train bound for Heiligenstadt. This went
well, and once there it was impossible to miss the Karl Marx-Hof, a
(literally) mile long building complex with small apartments (in true
communist style). Leg 3: bus towards Grinzing and Kahlenberg/Leopoldberg.
This took quite some time and after passing Grinzing, the bus (or road)
wound its way up the hillside until we were at 500 metres above sea
level. Instead of taking the (more or less) same route via footpaths
downwards to Grinzing, we ended up crossing between the two adjacent
hills without being aware of it at first. At the top of the Leopoldberg
was a small monastery/church, obviously with some traditions. From here,
the path went in sharp curves, steps and steep slopes downwards until it
headed for the small village of Kahlenbergdorf. We found out it would be
an unnecessarily long walk back to Grinzing, and instead headed over to
the shores of Donau, where we walked to Nussdorf, then boarded another
SS local train back to Heiligenstadt (thereby sort of completing a round
trip), but boarded a bus again for Grinzing and hopped off there to
enjoy lunch at a local italian restaurant, where they served a nice (and
surprisingly cheap) lunch combo-meal.
is a well known tourist area, and might seem a bit more touristy
nowadays than it used to be. It is famous for its 'heuriger', which is
the local wine harvest almost fresh from the grapes/barrels. Since this
was springtime, it was no time for heuriger. Still, I would say the
streets were cosy, with several old-style, low buildings in a row along
more or less one main street.
After lunch, another
3-leg journey back to the hotel, which brought us to a total of 8
bus/train legs for the day. I decided not to bring my camera along on
this trip, partly due to its bulkiness on a walking trip in green
surroundings, as well as somewhat unpredictable weather (which actually
turned out to be no problem - it got better and better during the day).
The trip ended up as
a full day trip, so there wasn't much more going on apart from the usual
Vienna was quickly
left behind on the motorway, and some 70 km later the border of Hungary
was approached (passing close to Slovakia's capital Bratislava as well
some 50 km outside Vienna) - a pretty simple border control was
performed (it seemed enough to show the outside of our passports), then
for the first time - east Europe!
some euros into forints as well, as euro would probably not be accepted
everywhere in the city.
The drive through
the countryside was pleasant enough, everything was green, and the
motorway was of a surprisingly good standard (in fact better than in
most countries I have been to, apart from Switzerland). With a 130 km/h
speed limit in both countries, it doesn't take very long to cover the
260 kilometres between the two capitals, but add a pleasant lunch with
some real native goulash soup, and it will be afternoon before you
arrive - and so we found ourselves entering Budapest and aiming for the
very centrally located Radisson SAS Beke in the middle of rush hour.
Thanks to a good map as well as memorising the route, the hotel was
simple enough to find, and it felt good to leave the car in the
underground garage rather than above ground in the narrow streets (which
were always packed with parked cars anyway).
The hotel itself
was great, with as high a standard as one can expect from the Radisson
SAS chain (part of the Rezidor group), an upgrade to a superior room at
a cost of 119 euro per night (breakfast excluded though). The air
conditioning was even working properly in the room (I have had various
experiences from place to place), and this was a good thing, as the
window faced the heavily trafficked (both cars, buses, trams, people and
motorcycles) Teréz Körút street - one of the major traffic boulevards in
the city. The facade of the hotel is as pompous as many of the buildings
in the city - clearly showing similarities from Vienna, thus proving the
heritage from the Austria-Hungarian empire.
No rest for the
dead - with only 1 1/2 day available to cover the (major) sights of the
city, we were off towards Heroes' Square at first - a good 2 kilometre
walk. The square was quite big and impressive, with the massive monument
dominating the far end. It has statues of the leaders of the seven
tribes that formed the nation in the 9th century as well as some other
famous characters up through the centuries. Construction of the monument
was from 1896 to 1929.
the square and across an arm of Donau, the most interesting sight is the
city park (Városliget). Covering an area of 1.2 square kilometres, it
contains several things to see:
castle, a smaller replica of an impressive castle that hungarians
originally build in Hunedoara, Transilvania, Romania.
medicinal baths, one of the many in the city as well as one of the
largest in Europe, founded in 1913
- The municipal
zoological and botanical gardens
- The municipal
grand circus as well as the Budapest amusement park
The road back
towards the hotel was a different one from the narrow one we chose to
the park - Andrassy Avenue, covered with embassies as well as the State
found a very small take-away-or-eat-here chinese style cafe where food
was pre-prepared and on display at the counter. Good enough, and
extremely cheap, although with a bit of language problems.
In the evening it was time for yet another walk
- this time to capture the night images of the most famous sights of the
city - Buda Castle and Chain Bridge. Again, the virgin photographer
considers himself relatively successful (it did take more than one try
originally a split city more than a thousand years ago. Obuda, Pest and
Buda were separate and grew independently of each other, until late in
the 19th century when the 'newer' part Pest grew so much it encompassed
the other two parts, and was declared as one city in 1867. Today, it
houses some 1.9 million people out of the country's total of 10.3
While the 'new' city
contains several interesting landmarks, some of the more interesting
sights (and viewpoints) are from the hillside along Buda castle. Walking
towards the main part of Donau, one is mostly bound to pass by the large
St Stephens' (István in Hungarian) cathedral. This one was brilliantly
refurbished, and a trip to the roof was rewarded with great views of the
city in every direction. The cathedral also houses a somewhat gross
relic, namely the mummified hand of St Stephen (István), who was the
first king of Hungary roughly 1000 years ago. Coming further south, one
of the major landmarks is the chain bridge (Széchenyi lánchíd). In 1849,
it was the city's first permanent bridge across the river. It was
considered both a major feat of engineering as well as being a
beautifully designed bridge - but the true beauty of the bridge is only
seen in the evening - more of this later.
Directly behind the
bridge lies Roosevelt Square, dominated on one side by the impressive
Gresham Palace which now houses The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham. On the
other side of the bridge is another square (heavily trafficked
roundabout) and the bottom station of the Buda Hill funicilar. Opened in
1870, it takes only a couple of minutes to climb the hill to Buda
Castle. From here, the view over the new town of Pest is excellent, the
major landmarks being the chain bridge and Parliament buildings, the
latter being one of the biggest and most impressive in Europe, with a
length of 268 metres.
The first castle on
the hill was build in the middle of the 13th century, while the oldest
parts of the current castle dates from the 14th century, while most of
its current appearance dates from both the later Habsburg area as well
as the mid-19th century, following a siege and burnout. It was again
heavily damaged in the end of the second world war, yet the medieval
fortifications were masterfully restored after this. The palace
interiors suffered a different fate though, as the newly formed
communist regime decided to destroy most of it, leaving little of
The palace interior
was not visited, but lunch was enjoyed (expensive goulash soup!) in the
pleasant spring weather at the Sissy restaurant (named after empress
Elizabeth of the Habsburg empire).
The other two major
attractions atop the castle hill, in addition to the pleasant car-free
medieval surroundings, are the Mathias church (closed due to
renovation..surprise surprise) and the Fisherman's Bastion (Halászbástya).
It was built between 1895 and 1902, and comprises seven towers
representing (again) the seven Magyar tribes founding the city in 896.
Its name and place derives from the guild of fishermen which defended
the city walls during the middle ages.
Time for the return trip..not much to write home
about, except that it was a slightly boring day. The same car ride back
(and discovering there
was an error in the Budapest map), then spending some hours at Vienna
International Airport and trying not to look too bored after some
time..in one of the shops, there was a Mozart-clad guy sharing out
Mozartkugeln..delicious chocolate, nougat and marzipan - a recommended
treat, although in small doses. Another surprise was finding Limoncello
(or something similar in the airport shop - we didn't expect to actually
find it outside Italy). It is part of the story that it didn't taste as
good as the one we found in a regular grocery store at half the price in
Rome in 2006...
The plane left at 19:50...yawn, and the luggage handlers seemed to
consider two identical hand luggage bags were different - one would fit
in, the other wouldn't. Who said logic exists everywhere?
UNESCO sites visited on the journey:
Centre of Vienna
including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter and Andrássy