Day 5 Bratislava

The second country (Hungary was the first) that I visited for the first time on this road trip was Slovakia.

I made an overnight stop to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia after departing Budapest.

Slovakia was another key player in the Hapsburg monarchy. Bratislava was actually designated the new capital of Hungary in 1536, upon becoming part of the Austrian Habsburg monarchy. The city became a coronation town and the seat of kings, archbishops (1543), the nobility and all major organizations and offices. Between 1536 and 1830, eleven Hungarian kings and queens were crowned at St. Martin’s Cathedral.

The 17th century was marked by anti-Habsburg uprisings, fighting with the Turks, floods, plagues and other disasters. Bratislava was replaced by Buda as the capital of Hungary, and much like Budapest, in 1918, its history changed, as it was broken away from its Hungarian-Austrian ties, and became part of Czechoslovakia. Finally, on 1 January 1993, Czechoslovakia was dissolved into was is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

I arrived to Bratislava around lunch time, the sky was overcast, and I wasn’t exactly sure what sights to see. Like most places, Bratislava has a castle (hrad), so that seems like as good as any place to kick things off. The woman at the front desk offered me a map, and I started making my way towards the castle.

Bratislava Castle

I ended up stopping at the Old Town Hall and St. Michael’s Gate before making it to the hrad.

The Old Town Hall as a tower, which offers a nice view over the old town. The streets in the old town are filled with cafés with plenty of outdoor sitting, restaurants and a few shops. It’s a quaint and picturesque center.

St. Micheal's gate and street
St. Micheal’s gate and street

I toured the castle, which to be honest was a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping to get more of the history of Bratislava, but instead, what was offered was a series of different exhibitions. One such exhibition, which had really nothing to do with Bratislava, was a WWI exhibition. Admittedly, one of the largest WWI exhibitions I’ve seen. Since all the countries I’d just visited were drastically changed because of WWI, I spent a bit of time reading and learning more about it.

After leaving the castle, I made my way back into the old town and kept exploring.

I ended up in the Jewish neighborhood; I wish I’d known about it prior to my trip. I would have stopped in to the Bratislava Jewish Community Museum.

Bratislava Jewish Neighborhood

I walked on over to St. Martin’s Cathedral, but unfortunately for me, there was a wedding taking place so I wasn’t able to go inside. I did however; go around the church, where I found the most amazing wall with windows filled with VanGogh’s work.

VanGogh Wall 2

At this point, I was hungry and getting tired so I grabbed some dinner and then headed back to the hotel. I took at bath in the whirlpool in my room, and called it an early night. I had a five and half hour drive the next day.

There was one sight I had yet to see, Elizabeth Church.

The Elizabeth Church, aka the blue church, which is considered one of the most beautiful pieces of Art Nouveau architecture in the world.

As it turned out, the following morning, when I took Little Man for a walk, I came across it a block from my hotel…completely unexpected. Definitely one of the most unique churches I’ve photographed.

St. Elizabeth rock sign

St. Elizabeth Church Bratislava
St. Elizabeth Church Bratislava

How About You?

Have you ever visited Bratislava? What was your favorite part?  Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Writer and Blogger here.

Day 3 Budapest: Castle District and Cruise

I woke up on Day 3 in Vienna to an overcast sky and rain. I wanted to go take a picture of the famous status of Johann Strauss in Stadtpark, but didn’t feel like getting wet, so I had breakfast and departed for Budapest.

Budapest Castle District

I spoiled myself in Budapest, starting with staying at the InterContinental Hotel right on the Danube River, and with a private guided tour of the Castle District. The Budapest Castle District is not what it seems, I absolutely advise against seeing it without a guide. My private guide, Andi, was knowledgeable, spoke good English and ensured I learned a lot.

Back of Buda Castle and ruins of former castle
Back of Buda Castle and ruins of former castle

We started the tour from my hotel, as we made our way to the UNESCO World Heritage Budapest Castle District by public transportation; she began my education about the Hungarian people. Hungarians are not European, but nomadic people from Asia who migrated and conquered their way to Central Europe. They were a successful people for centuries and fought many wars to expand their territory but eventually, they began to lose the wars and became the conquered. The Castle District holds all the stories of their history, especially the more recent history for the last 100 years. Hungary has been conquered in the last 200 years by the Turks, and occupied by the Austrians and Russians. Their independence is rather recent.

Front of Buda Castle
Front of Buda Castle

We started the tour with the 13th-century Matthias Church and the turrets of the Fishermen’s Bastion. Matthias is the last of the Hungarian Kings still beloved by his people today. Matthias Church, under the rule of the Turks was a mosque, so it is different compared to other churches across Europe. The inside is much more colorful, it’s also the only church I know which has a severed human foot displayed in a case.

Mathias Church
Mathias Church
Fisherman's Bastion
Fisherman’s Bastion

The view over the Danube, across to Pest from the Fisherman’s Bastion is beautiful. From there we walked over to the President’s house and the castle next to it. Andi had a lot to say about the Prime Minister, the current state of affair in Hungary and the role of the President. She’s not happy with the way things are and concerned with where they’re heading.

View of Parliament Day time

The castle, like much of the entire Castle District has been rebuilt over the last 70 years since much of it was destroyed during WWII.

Some of the reconstruction took place when Hungary was under Russian rule, so the Russian block building concept can be found across Budapest and a little bit in the Castle District. The Hungarian, to protect their history and architectural past, made it mandatory to use whatever former structure was still standing when rebuilding and that’s how you end up with the ugliest Hilton hotel ever. Built during Communist rule, the Hilton hotel is a mixture of 13th, 17th and 21th century architecture. Andi asked how I thought it was possible for Conrad Hilton to build one of his hotels under Russian rule…I guessed money, to which she agreed but it wasn’t just money. She reminded me of his famous, beautiful Hungarian wife: Zsa Zsa Gabour.

Hilton Hotel Budapest Castle District
Hilton Hotel Budapest Castle District

We stopped for coffee and cake and talked some more. Andi spoke highly of Sissi, and how important she was for the Hungarian people. One of the bridges is dedicated to her, and you can find status of her across the city. She said, Sissi fought for the Hungarian people while they were under Austrian rule, and spent a lot of time in Buda. Sissi was the reason Pest was able to get an Opera House. Sissi’s best friend was from Hungary.

View of Key Birdge and Pest

We headed back to the hotel shortly after that; I was quite satisfied with my tour. I highly recommended it and can be booked through Absolute Walking Tours.

Evening Cruise

I didn’t have any plans for my first evening in Budapest, but after my walking tour I felt energized, and interested in learning and seeing more so I inquired about the evening cruise on the Danube. I booked a ticket on the Duna Bella 9pm cruise from the hotel concierge and then headed out to dinner.

Buda and Pest river banks at night
Key Bridge linking Buda and Pest

I have not seen any other city look the way Budapest does at night. Paris might be the city of lights, but it pales in comparison to Budapest due to its location on the Danube River, the many bridges, the Castle District and Parliament. You must take the night river cruise to get the full sense of what Budapest looks like at night.

Key Bridge and Caslte at night

As I walked back to the hotel after my evening river cruise, I felt extremely satisfied with my first day in Budapest. I had seen a lot and learned so much. There’s no way for me to cover everything from that day in a blog post…you must go out and experience it yourself!

How About You?

Have you ever visited the  Budapest: Castle District and Cruise?  Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Writer and Blogger here.

Vienna Day 2: Hofburg and Nachmarkt

I woke up day 2 of the road trip in Vienna bright and early.

I started out my day with a run. I knew the Belvedere Palace was near the hotel…but I wasn’t sure where. I ran a short way down the road to an open gate and saw the park and stairs that lead up the back of the Belvedere Palace. I ran around, taking pictures feeling absolutely blessed to start my day this way.

Back of the Belvedere Palace
Back of the Belvedere Palace
Front of Belvedere Palace
Front of Belvedere Palace

After breakfast, I headed out and walked over to the main center of Vienna where the vast majority of museums are located, the State Opera, and Hofburg Palace. It’s also where you can buy tickets for the various tour buses and tickets for concerts at different locations across the city. There are a lot of museums in Vienna, and I wish I’d had more time to visit more of them. In the end, I decided to visit the Hofburg Palace.

Hofburg Palace

Hofburg Palace and the Habsburg Dynasty

I didn’t realize at the time, when I made the decision to visit the Hofburg Palace, which is the former imperial palace and current official residence and workplace of the President of Austria, how learning about the Habsburg Dynasty was going to play a crucial role throughout my road trip. The Habsburg Empire ruled over a huge part of Europe until 1918.

Hofburg Palace 2

I toured the authentically-furnished Imperial Apartments, the Sisi Museum and the Silver Collection. The silver collection was mind boggling. The amount of silverware, plates, the size of the center pieces, candle sticks, and other table setting items was incredible. Every castle and palace I’ve visited as fascinated me; the luxury, beauty, and magnificence of these places are an enthralling look into the lives of royalty.

Silver Collection

Center Pieces

Elisabeth of Austria, or Sisi, was the wife of Emperor Franz Joseph I, and thus Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary. She was an intriguing woman to learn about, and later in Budapest, I learned just how much the people of Hungary loved her. Her beauty was undeniable and her untimely death devastating. The American culture became a bit obsessed with her and produced many movies about Sissi. In one of her salons, she actually had workout “equipment” (different wooded apertures) which she used in order to stay slim and in shape.

Sisi Dress

The Naschmarkt

Once I left the Hofburg Palace, I got on the Hop-on-Hop-off bus and took a quick tour around other parts of the city, where I learned more about Vienna. Upon returning, it was past noon, and I was starting to get hungry. A different line of the Hop-on-Hop-off bus went to the Naschmarkt, followed by Schonbrunn Palace. It took a long time for that bus to arrive, and I was super hungry by then, so it made sense to stop for a late lunch at the Naschmarkt. I’m so glad I did. The food was absolutely delicious.

After my yummy meal, I walked around the market. The Naschmark is a must stop on your visit to Vienna, either for lunch or dinner to ensure you experience some culinary excellence. It’s also a market with 120 stands filled with fruit, vegetables, fish and meats and various delicacies from every country around the world. Even compared to Marrakesh, I’ve never seen a place with more spice and herb selection.

Spices Naschmarkt

I wanted to make it back to Schonbrunn Palace to take the tour I’d missed the night before, but it was getting late in the afternoon, and I didn’t feel I would make it with enough time to get the most out of it.

Instead, I visited St. Charles Church, which was built after a plague raged in Vienna from 1713 and 1714, killing over 8,000 people. Emperor Charles VI, took a solemn vow to build a church in the honor of his patron saint, the “plague saint” Charles Borromeo. Once inside the church, you can take an elevator and then stairs to the top tower.

St. Charles Church
St. Charles Church

I’d had a full day, so after getting some ice cream, I headed back to the hotel. A drive the Budapest awaited me in the morning.

How About You?

Have you ever visited Hofburg and Nachmarkt?  Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Writer and Blogger here.


Road Trip: Stau and Concert (Vienna)

I was excited (and so was Little Man) on Monday morning to leave home for my week long road trip.

This new adventure would take me a little over 1200 miles, through five countries, four cities and two new countries I had yet to visit. Thirty minutes into the drive, the trip took an abrupt stop because of a stau (German for traffic jam). The next four hours of sitting in traffic and being rerouted through a detour was painful. A six hour drive…turned into a 10 hour drive, and I began to worry I wouldn’t make it to Vienna on time to make my dinner and concert.

The original plan…

My original plan was to get to Vienna around 2pm, change over and head out to tour Schonbrunn Palace followed by dinner on location and a classical music concert…unfortunately, because of the traffic, I ended up getting to Vienna, making a mad dash in and out of the hotel dropping off my luggage and Little Man, jumping into a cab, and then making my way to dinner. I was about 15 minutes late, but I made it.

The traffic jam was a huge inconvenience, and I’m not proud of how quickly it soured my mood. I’ve been blessed with relatively smooth trips, ironically; only other real challenging one was also to Austria this past winter. Based on the amount of traveling I’ve been doing, there have been no real delays, cancellations, bad weather or setbacks. I’ve been spoiled – so a delay, and possibly missing a dinner/concert caused me to lose my peace and joy for the trip way too quickly. I’m grateful in the end I made it to dinner, but I realized I need to work on maintaining a positive mood, no matter what happens on my trips.

Dinner and Concert

Where, if not Vienna, do you go to to listen to classical music? So many of the great composers have lived in or played in Vienna that this is the place to enjoy their craft. As you might remember from my post on Salzburg, Mozart was born in Austria (Salzburg) and spent quite a bit of time in Vienna. Additionally, I found out Beethoven spent a good part of his life in Vienna; it’s where he composed his master pieces and befriended Haydn, another Austria born composer. Apparently, Beethoven lived in over 80 apartments while in Vienna; he was both a loud occupant and often delinquent on paying his rent.

Schonbrunn Palace with Fountain

I booked my dinner/concert package through Viator. The event is called Schonbrunn Palace: Evening Dinner and Concert. Please note: if you can’t book the tour before getting to Vienna, you can buy tickets the night of the concert. There are also tickets to multiple other concerts available for sale, throughout the city. I can’t vouch for the other concerts, but this one is definitely worth going to.

The dinner was served at Café Restaurant Residenzon on the grounds of the Palace. The food was good, the service great, but overall I felt a little disappointed. I was expecting a different atmosphere and experience.  Although, you might have to take that with a grain of salt since I arrived not exactly in the best of moods.

The concert on the other hand, did not disappoint.

It took place at the Orangerie Schonbrunn, a short walk from the cafe where dinner was served. It was an intimate setting for a concert, which I think enhanced the experience. While it’s amazing to have a full orchestra, there’s something to be said about a smaller more personal assemble. It made me think of what it might have been like to be in the queen’s court, being serenaded first hand by the great composers. (Pictures and videos were not allowed during the concert.)

Concert Hall

The first half of the concert was music by Mozart. When I sat down, I did not have a program, nor had I adequately read the Viator advertisement for the show, so I didn’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised when two opera singers appeared on stage, and performed a few pieces.

Additionally, a couple performed dances to some of the other pieces throughout the concert.

When the conductor returned after intermission, he was carrying a violin; he performed the remaining of the pieces while playing his violin. It wasn’t until the next day, during my Hop-on-Hop-off tour that I learned; Johann Strauss conducted all his concerts while playing his violin. The second half of the concerts was made up of selections from the Strauss family, to include the famous ‘Radetzkymarsch’ by Johann Strauss.

In the end, after leaving the concert, I decided I was quite satisfied with my evening.

My day hadn’t gone to plan, but I arrived safely, and while a little late, I got to partake in my evening plans.

How About You?

Have you ever visited Stau and Concert (Vienna)?  What was your favorite place? Feel free to comment below or contact Ann’s Adventure Writer and Blogger here.