September - October 2019
  • Day38

    Budapest: the last (part) day

    October 18 in Hungary ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Packing up to go home is never much fun, especially when there are a couple of long boring flights to look forward to. Our flight was scheduled for 4pm, and we had a taxi booked for 1pm to get us to the airport. We'd hoped at least for a late checkout, but the best the hotel could give us was 11am rather than the official 10am checkout. Evidently they are fully booked.
    We utilised our remaining time as best we could. After breakfast we took the ten minute walk to the beautiful Margaret Island. With calm clear weather and the autumn colours starting to appear it was a great way to remember it. At that time on a weekday morning the place is almost deserted, so we thoroughly enjoyed the relaxing hour or so before we had to head back and face the reality of packing.
    We had an anxious few minutes at checkout when the hotel receptionist couldn't find our passports which we had left with them for safe-keeping. She was worried, and we were even more so. Maybe we'd be extending our Budapest stay after all? Eventually she made a phone call to her colleague, the passports were found and order was restored.

    To all our friends and family who have been following our blog, thank you for your interest and for your comments. Way back, when we started travelling, we would keep a travel diary. Generally Mary would take the details down in shorthand and then, when we got home, we'd transcribe the notes and print them off so that we had a record of what we had seen and done on our trip.
    For the past three major overseas trips we have done travel blogs instead. Primarily it was for our own benefit and for the benefit of our daughters so that they could see how much fun we were having while spending their inheritance. We then found that more and more of our family, friends and acquaintances were also taking an interest in what we were up to,which gave us an added incentive to keep the blogs going and to try and make them interesting.
    With the first of our three blogs, we were able to get it printed as a book, which is a great souvenir of that particular trip. We often re-read it and re-live the happy experiences.
    Once we get home and do some final editing on the computer we will do the same with this blog.
    What of our second blog then , our trip to Hungary, Israel, Jordan and France in 2017? That is a work in progress but will definitely be completed and printed in book form some day soon. As many of our friends know, Brian made a huge mistake with the camera settings before we left for overseas and as a result the many photos from that trip were all taken at a very low resolution, something we discovered only after we'd got back home. That has acted as a big demotivator, but that blog definitely will get completed.
    This latest blog has presented its challenges also. Having our backpack stolen in Barcelona was devastating. Not only did we lose nearly all the photos we'd taken up to that time in Spain but we also lost our iPad and keyboard with which we were writing the blog. Fortunately we still had our passports, phone and one functioning credit card. Without them it would have been a total catastrophe. It has meant though that the bulk of this blog has been tapped out laboriously on a mobile phone screen, which isn't all that easy.
    Nevertheless, here we are at the end of our blog and the end of our trip.
    We made it!
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  • Day37

    Budapest: a religious and cultural day

    October 17 in Hungary ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    As already mentioned, we had missed out on seeing the Grand Synagogue on our first attempt because it was closed and wasn't due to reopen until 17 October. This being 17 October therefore, it remained our only opportunity to visit it before we set off for home.
    The Grand Synagogue is truly impressive, both from the outside, which we'd seen previously, and the inside. It is one of the major tourist attractions in Budapest and was certainly very busy when we arrived.
    They are very well organised, with guided tours in several major languages running every 30 minutes and included in the entry fee. We joined one such tour, with our guide being most informative about the building itself, its associated features and generally about Jewish history in Budapest during the 20th century. Afterwards we were free to wander round and take photos as we pleased. This, the biggest synagogue in Europe and the second biggest in the world, is certainly built on a grand scale and was well worth the effort to visit. Amazingly it survived the Second World War without substantial damage.
    However, the place where we spent the most time and which we found the most interesting was the information display about the Budapest ghetto, located in the basement of the building. The display contains a lot of written information and many photographs detailing the horrible circumstances leading up to the creation of the ghetto and the brutal treatment of its inhabitants by the Germans and more particularly by many fellow Hungarian citizens. It was good to see that many tourists were taking the time to visit this display and to study it closely.
    After grabbing a quick sandwich we decided to go all Roman Catholic and visit the St Stephen's Basilica. It dominates the skyline in the downtown Buda area and certainly looks very impressive from the square in front. It is the biggest church in Budapest, accommodating up to 8500 people. It is named after the first king of Hungary and one of its main claims to fame is that it holds as a relic the right hand of St Stephen himself. The hand is on prominent display in a reliquary, though unless one were told, it would be hard to work out exactly what the object was that was being displayed. Amazingly this was one place where it was possible to simply walk in without having to buy a ticket.
    Our next port of call was the Hungarian Opera House, also nearby. More bad news. Both the auditorium and the exterior are currently undergoing renovation, with a scheduled completion date of 2021. Tours were still being run, but much of the building was off-limits. As a consolation they were offering a free short concert after the tour.
    What we saw of the building was indeed impressive, though we were disappointed that we could not get to see the auditorium. Compared with the Palais Garnier, the place seemed quite small, but the explanation for this lies in its history. The Austrian Franz Joseph, granted permission for the opera house to be built, but only on condition that it was not to be bigger than the Vienna Opera House.
    The consolation prize concert consisted of three operatic duets given by a soprano and a tenor with piano accompaniment. It ran for about 15 minutes. They performed on the landing of the main staircase while the audience members stood on the upper level and watched or simply sat on the staircase.
    This was our last night in Budapest and indeed the very last night of our holiday. We spent it having a very relaxing pleasant meal with Brian's cousin Panni at an outdoor restaurant close to her place. She was having to start work early the next morning so it wasn't a late night.
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  • Day36

    Budapest: slightly off the beaten track

    October 16 in Hungary ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Each day we became progressively more adventurous. Our guide book told us that there are great views to be had from a lookout on top of one of the Buda hills and that there was a cog railway for much of the climb.
    Again, the major challenge was in decoding the excellent public transport system, but we sort of worked it out eventually. A four-stop ride on our nearby tramline delivered us to a major transport terminal then Mr Google directed us on a 15 minute walk through what could best be described as once elegant streets in Buda. No doubt, back in the day when Brian's parents were residents of Budapest the area would have been really classy.
    We reached the entrance to the cog railway only to find it closed,and a typed sign stuck to the gate. Thank goodness for Google Translate which informed us that the "machinery will not be moving between 9am and 12 o'clock." That was the bad news. The good news was that were standing near the entrance to a park which we had been walking alongside as we had approached the tram terminal. With just over an hour to kill it was an easy decision for us to spend it wandering around in the park. We had it almost to ourselves. It was so peaceful, and with the many large trees just starting to display their autumn colours it was magic. We spotted a few birds there including an eye-catching goldfinch very close to us.
    Then came a bit more bad news and the (multi-lingual) explanation for the three hour closure of the cog tram. As of that very morning the upper 2/3 of the track was closed and it wasn't scheduled to reopen until the end of November.
    Nevertheless we jumped on board this very quaint and old-fashioned tram for the 1/3 that we could enjoy. It is as much a commuter tram for the residents of the Buda hills as it is a tourist attraction, though it wasn't very busy for this particular trip,which took about ten minutes. The tram had climbed steeply as it went through a mixture of residential and scenic forested areas.
    As we left the tram we saw a rough hand-drawn sign directing us to a bus route 200 metres away. What the sign didn’t show was that it was up a hill which one would describe as very steep even by Wellington standards. We made it then jumped on a bus which took us parallel to the now-closed tram track.
    The aim of this particular morning's expedition had been to get to the summit of this Buda hill and to view the city from there.
    Apart from ourselves and a poor lost female tourist from Hong Kong, the only other people up at the almost deserted summit were a few bewildered locals who were also disorientated by the partial closure of their tram line.
    All that was fine but we still didn't have any sort of a view over the city as it was blocked by trees and buildings. One solitary sign pointed to a lookout but when we went for a wander in that direction all we could see were some large and obviously very expensive mansions. Clearly this is a classy area, but we never did get to see the view from the top.
    We retraced our steps via the various means of transport and grabbed a bit of lunch downtown.
    The weather by then had turned cooler with light rain but we decided to proceed with our plan to visit Margaret Island in the afternoon. This 2.5km long island, which is in the middle of the Danube, is very close to our hotel. Most of the area is laid out with immaculately maintained parks and gardens. One of the features, which we had discovered on our last visit is a giant fountain which is programmed very cleverly to provide ever-changing lighting and water patterns, some of it in time to recorded music. We could sit there and watch it for hours.
    With the weather having closed in most people had disappeared the place was practically empty. We really enjoyed the beauty together with the peace and quiet as we walked the length of the island.
    When we're on holiday in Europe some days are outstanding while others are merely excellent. There is really no such thing as a bad day. We may not have achieved everything that we had planned to do but we still achieved a lot. It was still an excellent day.
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  • Day35

    Budapest: move over, Paris

    October 15 in Hungary ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Both of us love Paris. In fact up to this point Mary has always said that it's her favourite city. But now it has lost that title to Budapest which for her has become number one.
    When we had last visited two years ago there was a lot of graffiti to be seen and a lot of litter lying around. Things still weren't perfect this time but we did notice a significant improvement over those two years. The work is continuing with more and more buildings being restored to what they once were.
    Budapest is now a major tourist destination, though our impression is that it isn't overrun yet with tourists to the extent that other major European cities are. That in itself makes it more appealing, though there seems little doubt that it too will be discovered by the hordes.
    Service standards still fall a little short at times. For example, when we went to pay for our meal the previous night, our embarrassed and apologetic waitress advised us that they didn't accept credit cards. Brian had to sprint to an ATM a couple of hundred metres down the road to acquire some Hungarian forints . As already mentioned, the public transport system is excellent but it is hard for a visitor to find their way around. Cities such as London and Paris do their signage much better. Budapest will catch up.
    What Budapest really has going for it are the river scenes and the spectacularly beautiful buildings. Also, for the time being at least, it is comparatively cheap.
    Our touring day started with a trip to the Central Markets. They are housed in a historic building on the Pest (ie opposite) side of the river from where we were and a 15 minute tram ride away. We had certainly made very good use of our transport passes during our visit. The markets are huge, spotlessly clean and offer good quality meat, smallgoods, and fruit and vegetables as well as other foods. Raspberries are Brian's weakness and he managed to overinfulge by eating a big punnetful in no time flat. He pronounced them to be excellent.
    Many locals seem to shop there and this very large market is also a tourist attraction. We found the upper level, which has clothing for sale as well as a lot of tacky souvenirs, to be less appealing though overall our visit to the market was very interesting.
    Directly across the river from there are the historic Gellert Hotel and its famous hot baths. We weren’t dressed (undressed?) for the occasion in that we hadn't thought to bring our togs with us from the hotel. In any case we were more interested in just having a look. As expected the foyer of this hundred year old hotel is beautiful.
    Around the corner of the building is the entrance to the famous baths. It too is very stylish. We could only catch a glimpse of the indoor pool and it looked impressive. We weren’t prepared to buy tickets so we decided to move on and visit the nearby Hungarian National History Museum. We spent a couple of hours there looking at items dating from the 11th century to the 16th century and learning more about the history of Hungary, starting with groups of warring tribes. Another whole section of the museum deals with Hungary:s more recent history but we were starting to flag so trotted back to the hotel before heading out later for dinner in the upmarket shopping area of Váci Utca. Another full and satisfying day.
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  • Day34

    Budapest: the best laid plans etc.

    October 14 in Hungary ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    There are two types of holidaying. There's the type where it's a guided tour and others do every bit of planning and organising for you. Things generally go to plan and the organisers do most of the worrying on your behalf. It has a lot of appeal. The river cruise component of this holiday was certainly like that and it worked really well.
    The second type is where you do your own organising. There's more worrying and more setbacks, but so too there is a greater number pleasant surprises.
    This day was typical, with its highs and lows. We needed to attend to some domestic arrangements, ie dealing with a half suitcase of dirty washing. Thanks to Mr Google it's dead easy these days to identify the nearest laundromat. This we did, and then headed there by tram and on foot which took us about half an hour. Even with all its artificial intelligence Google can't identify which laundromat is going to have most of its instructions in Hungarian and is going to swallow up $12 worth of your hard-earned without doing anything for you in return.
    After retrieving the unwashed items from the stubborn machine and jamming them back into our bag we walked another couple of kilometres to the next nearest laundromat. Fortunately this one was both cooperative and comfortable to wait in, but by the time we got back to our hotel the morning had disappeared. Not what we had planned.
    Our plan for the afternoon then was a visit to the Grand Synagogue, one of the main tourist attractions in this fascinating city. Panni had very kindly bought for us a really good guide book of Budapest, and this helped greatly both with our planning and our navigation. By now we were beginning to find our way around a little better and were even becoming more confident on public transport. Having the transport passes makes a big difference. If you make a mistake it's easy enough to jump back on a tram, train or bus which is heading back to where you started, and it doesn't cost you any more.
    We got to the synagogue mid-afternoon only to find that it had closed at 2pm and was going to remain closed for the next two days for what the notice said was a religious holiday. We assume this is Sukkot. In theory we should still be able to get there on our very last day, though we expect it to be busier than usual after the holiday.
    High on our list was a visit for coffee and cake to the 160 year old famous coffee house of Gerbeaud. It is up there with Maxim's in Paris, Tiffany's in New York and Sacher Hotel in Vienna as one of those really elegant places where one goes, even if it is only to say that one has been.
    As expected, it was really enjoyable, even if we were unable to snag one of the few outdoor tables on this perfect autumn day. Mary chose an Esterházy cake to go with her cappuccino while Brian couldn't resist his favourite Hungarian cake, dobos torte, to accompany his espresso. In these elegant surroundings the $A42 bill did not seem excessive.
    So far, we have described the bare bones of our afternoon activities but in truth there was much more. In our previous visits we hadn't spent any time in this area of the city so hadn't fully realised how many elegant buildings Budapest contains. Much of our afternoon was spent with Brian taking his time and composing photos which he hopes will do the place justice. It was certainly a a perfect day for photographs. In both daytime and nighttime there are so many sights that you could blindfold someone, give them a camera and get them to take pictures at random. Wherever one turns there are great views, so chances are that blindfolded person would still manage to get some pretty good pictures.
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  • Day33

    Budapest: "Poets and Cabaret"

    October 13 in Hungary ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Our first day in two weeks where we were having to fend for ourselves, and we decided to ease ourselves gently into it. After breakfast we set off on foot to explore the immediate neighbourhood while picking up a few odds and ends from the shops. Even at 9am on a Sunday the streets were quite busy with both cars and pedestrians. Budapest is a city which never seems to sleep. Public transport runs frequently and almost non-stop. Shops open quite early and close late and the traffic is constant.
    We phoned Brian's cousin Panni and arranged to meet her for lunch at 1.30pm, which left us with the morning free. Ever since we reached Budapest the weather had been perfect. Having experienced cold and rainy Amsterdam we'd worried that maybe we had left our trip until too late in the year. Certainly the current weather in Budapest and the forecast for the following few days had laid any doubts to rest. With temperatures in the low 20s,little wind and partly cloudy skies it was perfect for photography and for wandering around. Even though things were still quite busy, we were definitely clear of the peak season crowds.
    We had only recently been told about the No.2 tram route which travels from the Pest side of the Margaret Bridge south along the river bank past Parliament Building, the big hotels, Chain Bridge and many other places of interest. With our seven day transport passes it was perfect for what we wanted.
    We had the time so we decided to give it a go. The trip is only about 20 minutes from end to end and the trams run every 5-10 minutes, so it was perfect for what we wanted. This was just a trial run for our city exploration but we jumped off midway through the return trip when a particularly impressive building caught our eye. It turned out to be the Vigadó Concert Hall, a beautifully restored art nouveau building. We wandered into the main foyer which was really quite something in terms of its decor. It is up there with the best that we have seen anywhere.
    We met Panni at the agreed time and then went looking for a restaurant with an available outdoor table, which wasn't easy because everywhere was packed with diners. Eventually found a table at a restaurant serving only chicken dishes and spent the next three hours chatting away vigorously and catching up with all the family news.
    Brian and Panni have a second cousin, András Körner who has lived in the United States for most of his life. András is a retired architect and a very accomplished artist. He happened to be visiting Budapest for the launch of his latest book, his sixth. Panni had been invited and she suggested we join her for the 5pm event. Brian had met András once previously, in 1974 when he visited and his former wife at their home in New York. We have the first of his books, "A Taste of the Past," a thoroughly researched book about life and about food in the early 20th century in a rural Hungarian Jewish community. András had researched the old family recipes and tested each of them by recreating them with modern cooking methods and ingredients. The book contains many detailed pen and ink drawings of the life and times, all done by the author.
    His new book, entitled (in Hungarian) "Poets and Cabaret" is exactly about that - the early 20th century cabaret scene in Budapest and the poets and performers involved. It is a substantial book containing hundreds of old photographs, and as with his previous books, it must have involved a lot of detailed research. This particular book is being published only in Hungarian so there was no point in us buying a copy.
    The launch was held in a large bookshop in the centre of the city. It has an auditorium upstairs, created presumably for this type of event, and the place was packed with close to 100 people. Things were hectic but Brian managed to chat with András for a couple of minutes. He clearly remembered Brian's visit.
    Panni had warned us that the entire event would be in Hungarian, so we more or less knew what to expect. We were still happy to go along for the experience and to meet up with other members of the Körner family who we knew would be there. The event was very well organised though, as expected, it wasn't all that interesting for the two of us when we didn't know what was being said. It ran for about 70 minutes.
    We then retraced our steps, said goodbye to Panni, arranged to meet her again for dinner before we go home and headed off for a nice pizza Hungarian style.
    Another full and enjoyable day. We now know that there is so much to see and do in this great city that we will have no trouble filling in our time here.
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  • Day32

    Budapest: Hitting the ground running

    October 12 in Hungary ⋅ ☁️ 16 °C

    After two full weeks of interesting experiences and of being waited on hand and foot, including unlimited food & drink nobody wanted to leave the ship.
    Everything had been so well organised and coordinated during the entire two weeks. Despite there having been some 70 coach trips and 50 tour guides to organise everything had gone like clockwork without a single noticeable hitch.
    Our final day was similarly well organised. Some people were going straight to the airport to catch flights at various times to various destinations, some were extending the APT tour by travelling with them by bus to Prague. Then there were others, including us, who needed taxis to hotels in Budapest.
    All this got pre-booked several days beforehand and it all happened exactly as scheduled. The only stipulations were that we had to be out of our cabins by 9am and off the ship by 1pm.. Drinks and snack food were available the entire time. There were many fond farewells as people went on their separate ways while promising sincerely to keep in touch.
    The weather was absolutely perfect for exploring the city, so even while we were waiting for our midday cab we decided to take a nice relaxing stroll along the river bank. The lighting was perfect for photographing the buildings and other scenery of this stunningly beautiful city. It looked cleaner and brighter than when we had last visited, and there was far less by way of cigarette butts and other rubbish lying around. We managed to get some really good shots with the new camera and without the usual masses of tourists getting in the way, as had been our continuous experience over the previous five weeks.
    Our taxi arrived as scheduled and dropped us off at our floating hotel. The receptionist was most apologetic. Our travel agent had booked the first three nights but hadn't requested a room facing the river. We had booked the final three nights ourselves and, knowing how much quieter and more scenic it was to be looking across the river to the famous Hungarian Parliament, we had paid a little bit more for the river view. Due to them being heavily booked she told us apologetically that she couldn't give us a river view for the first half of our stay and that we'd have to change cabins after the third night.
    The converted river cruiser, now a hotel, is moored in a prime location. It seemed to us though to be a little more tired and shabby than when we'd stayed there two years previously.
    After unpacking we took a wander to reacquaint ourselves with the area . We wandered over the Margaret Bridge to the Pest side and brought ourselves seven day transport passes. Previously, apart from some illegal tram rides we had walked everywhere, but we since found out that the penalties for travelling without a ticket are quite severe. Furthermore we wanted to travel further afield this time so the transport passes made good sense.
    Budapest has an excellent public transport system, provided you speak Hungarian and/or know where you are going. For anyone else it is quite challenging. Despite this we did manage to get ourselves to Heroes Square where the zoo, the famous baths, the lake and the gardens are. We wandered round there for quite a while, enjoying the scenery and soaking up the atmosphere of the place. Miraculously we then managed to navigate ourselves back to the hotel via metro, tram and on foot.
    After a bit of a rest at the hotel we headed out again and grabbed ourselves a Hungarian meal. Both of us chose the paprika chicken with potato dumplings and a refreshing cucumber salad. Very enjoyable, very filling and really quite cheap.
    We then took a nice slow walk back across the Margaret Bridge. The nighttime views from the bridge would have to be among the most stunning of any city in the world. All the bridges, all the major buildings and all of the monuments are tastefully floodlit with subtle orange lights, and the overall effect is stunning.
    Now, a word of caution for the wise. If you are ever visiting Hungary then try your very hardest to stay healthy and avoid their ambulance service at all cost. We were about 100m from our hotel when a woman rushed up to us and in broken English asked if we knew the phone number of the ambulance service. She said her partner had fallen down some stairs and was injured. We quickly checked to make sure it wasn't a trick and sure enough there was a man lying on the ground obviously in pain and with some blood coming from his mouth. We rushed to our hotel and asked the duty manager to call an ambulance. Instead of doing so, he insisted on accompanying us back to where the man was lying. This got Brian a bit cross as he seemed to be doubting our word.
    The fellow then phoned the ambulance and was talking to them on the phone for ages. It turned out that they needed to know the victim's age, weight and much more, including the nature of the injuries and the circumstances of the accident before they would despatch an ambulance. Even then, it took a good 20 minutes before it finally showed up. We felt very sorry for the two people who were visiting from Italy for just a few days. The night manager explained that he knew what was going to happen and that was why he insisted on attending the scene, so that he could answer all the questions. Peace was restored. By the way, the number to call is 104. Pretty hard to guess correctly.
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  • Day31

    A very full day in Budapest

    October 11 in Hungary ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    Our very last day on the cruise and a very packed program. The buses collected us at 8.30am and took us for an orientation tour of the city, which we found useful. We stopped for an hour or so at the Castle District and Fishermans Bastion overlooking the city. On that visit in 2017 we had been highly privileged in that Zsuzsi, Brian's second cousin who is an architectural historian and has published a couple of books on the subject had given us a comprehensive private tour of the area. Nevertheless it was good to be able to see it again. The bus tour also took us round the Heroes Square area which we had explored extensively on foot during our previous visit.
    We were taken then to the old Nyugati Railway Station where our next transport was awaiting us. It was the "Grand Empress" steam train. The fully restored steam engine indeed a magnificent beast and it was towing four fully restored old carriages comprising two dining cars, a lounge car and an Orient Express style compartment carriage. It was being run this day exclusively for our tour group.

    Once we'd taken our photos and settled into our seats the four course lunch was served on vintage style crockery and with crystal glasses. Talk about being made to feel special. On the return journey the train stopped for 20 minutes for a photo opportunity and for those who wished to to climb into the driver's cabin. The whole train ride was an interesting experience. With the excellent wine and food served while travelling in luxury on a vintage steam train it kind of set the stage for our next visit - to a nearby royal palace.

    When we reached the station closest to our next port of call the buses were waiting to take us to the Gödölö Palace where we were given an extensive guided tour. The palace had been a favourite of the much-loved Elisabeth of Bavaria (Empress Sisi) one of the last of the Hapsburgs. She and her family still feature strongly in Hungarian history and our very knowledgeable guide told us a great deal about the life and times of the Hapsburgs in the years leading up to the end of the First World War. As palaces go, it was quite modest, but still opulent by our standards.

    After we had toured the palace itself we were taken to the theatre within the palace where a string quartet gave us a most enjoyable concert of light classical pieces.

    That night a team of six musicians and dancers treated us to some traditional gypsy music, which was a bit of fun.

    All the talk among the passengers was about how much everyone has enjoyed themselves and how nobody was looking forward to having to pack and then vacate their cabins before 9am.
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  • Day30

    Vienna, day 2

    October 10 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 16 °C

    The Hapsburg family ruled the Austro Hungarian Empire for nearly 650 years, which is one of the longest of any dynasty. It certainly gave them plenty of time to build palaces and other major structures. One of these is the Schönbrunn Palace just outside Vienna which they used as their summer retreat . The best-known inhabitant was Maria Theresa who spent her later years in seclusion there following the death of her husband.
    Today it is one of Vienna's major tourist attractions. Crowd numbers are strictly controlled and we were given a precise time slot when we had to be there. Our very informative and chatty guide from the previous day, Wolfgang was our guide this time too. Broadly speaking Schönbrunn is built in the style of Versailles with its palace and gardens though it is on a somewhat smaller scale. The place was one of the busiest we'd been to, though evidently this was nothing compared to what it is like in the height of the season.
    Both the palace and the gardens are impressive, and it would have been good to have wandered round for a bit longer but we were on a tight schedule.
    On the way back a few of us elected to be dropped off in the city and to find our own way back. By then it was about 1 o'clock and with the ship due to sail at 3.45pm we had no time to do anything too ambitious. In the end the two of us wandered round town for a bit, grabbed some coffee and cake then headed back to the ship via the Metro. The consequences of missing the boat don't bear thinking about and we didn't want to leave anything to chance.
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  • Day29

    Good morning, Vienna

    October 9 in Austria ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    Shortly after breakfast we headed off, initially by bus, for an introduction to the city of Vienna. Our guide warned us that we'd be madly turning our heads left and right as though we were at a tennis match, and he was right. We took the ring road which basically circles the inner city and were quickly overwhelmed by the sight of the beautifully presented buildings, the statues, the gardens and all the other features that were continuously coming into view on both sides of us.
    The bus then dropped us off near the Town Hall and our guide took us for a walking tour of an hour or so where he pointed out many of the key features of the inner city. It was quite overwhelming, being surrounded by so many beautiful things. Rather than take the tour bus back to the ship we decided to explore the inner city for ourselves then take the Metro back to base. We wandered around in a leisurely fashion taking it all in and getting plenty of photos.

    Vienna is full of museums and galleries, so our greatest challenge came in deciding which one to visit. In the end we opted for the Albertina, and that was quite something. Much of their display area is given over to the works of Albrecht Dürer. There are something like 140 of his original paintings, sketches and engravings on display. But that's far from everything. Just about every well-known artist is represented there from Renoir to Manet to Klee to Picasso and many others. After a couple of hours at the gallery we were suffering from information overload so decided to head back to the ship.
    As we'd been told, the subway was very easy to navigate and we then had an easy ten minute walk back to our ship.
    Our first day in Vienna wasn't over yet. After a light dinner we hopped on the buses for what should have been a 20 minute trip to the Lichtenstein Palace for a Viennese concert. Things started badly with the trip taking twice as long as it should have. Evidently there was a street protest taking place and one of the major roads was closed. It was raining and this caused Brian to get into a row with an officious young lady from the Palace. We'd been invited to deposit our brollies in a receptacle just inside the front door, after which we walked up the 64 steps of the grand staircase to the room where they were serving drinks and the room where the concert was to be held. One of the attendants then told Brian that brollies, including our small folding one, weren't allowed and that he'd have to trek down the stairs to leave it at the entrance. A couple of others were caught out similarly. Honour was restored when our guide found us a secret hiding place on the 2nd floor.
    What about the event and the venue? The Palace is in the rococo style which means that everything is over the top in terms of ceilings, murals, chandeliers and so on. It has been spectacularly well restored. The concert too was quite enjoyable, including pieces by Johann Strauss, Mozart and Lehar. It ran for about an hour and the orchestra was accompanied at various times by three boy sopranos, a tenor and a female soprano. Towards the end the room was starting to get uncomfortably hot so we were quite pleased that it finished when it did.
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