Saturday, September 29, 2012

Budapest, Vienna, and Venice

Location:  Currently somewhere inbetween Vienna, Austria and Venice, Italy.

I am currently sitting on an overnight train bound for the beautiful Italian city of Venezia!  The past few days have been a complete whirlwind, but an outrageously fun whirlwind.

Upon leaving Greece we made our way by plane on to Budapest harboring a few doubts in our minds as we had been told not so great things about Budapest.  All those thoughts quickly flew from mind upon our arrival as we discovered that Budapest was actually in fact gorgeous!  After some time taking buses and underground tubes we made our way to our cute little hostel, The Goat Hostel.  We arrived at a massive wooden door and buzzed our way in and found ourselves winding up a massive spiral staircase, finally stumbling in, exhausted from our travels and was shown to our room by two nice hungarian men named Steve and Gabrielle (the owners).

We laid our bags down then drew straws as to who got to shower first (besides my brother..apparently hiking for 5 months out on the AT makes you less apt to care about those :)  We cleaned up, got some great suggestions from Steve on local Hungarian restaurants and headed out.  Steve mentioned Ruben as being his favorite place to eat so we felt it appropriate, we made our way there in the brisk air, thoroughly enjoying Budapest by night.

We arrived at the restaurant and had the most fabulous meal of the trip thus far.  We feasted on whole trout (literally! It was like the cartoons, ate the meat off the bones, leaving the head and tail behind, crazy), rabbit, salmon, veal, apple strudel, creme brulee (my favorite!) and local Hungarian wine.  It was amazing and ridiculously cheap for what we ate with a wonderful cozy atmosphere.  If you ever make your way to Budapest, look up the restaurant Ruben!  You won't regret it!

Picture of the menu at Ruben (it was quite impressive as it was translated into 3 different languages!

 After diiner we decided to stroll for a bit in the brisk air admiring the massive bridges crossing the Danube River covered in sparkling bulbs lighting up the night sky.  We strolled and strolled to our hearts content, our stomachs and hearts full of both delicious hungarian delicacies and thankfulness to be doing what we were.  We finally headed back to the hostel as the night air was turning considerably chill all falling asleep within seconds having one of the best nights of sleep yet.

The next morning we checked out but left our bags behind thanks to our kind hostel owner (tip for travelers: if you checkout of a place yet aren't leaving the city for a while, always ask the hostel if you can just leave your bags behind while you go explore.  They almost always say yes and you get to unload your burden once more).  We took off eager to see Budapest by day and as I said before, it's gorgeous!  Silly people who told us otherwise.  We had a great lunch eating goulash and ciabatta's, traditional hungarian lunch food, did a little shopping for some warmer clothes, and overall thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Eating lunch

Also sidenote* Random fact about Budapest...did you know that it is actually comprised of two cities? The Danube River splits the two, one is called Buda and the other is called Pest..crazy eh? We actually stayed in Buda and only made our way into Pest when crossing the Danube River.

The Danube River by day
 One of the bridges by day
Budapest by day
First big mistake of the trip thus far:  That morning we woke up and decided we would head to Vienna, Austria that afternoon.  Our hostel owner had informed us we could easily take a bus there for only 5 euros! (Under 26 youth discount)  Our mistake however was not leaving immediately that morning to go buy the bus tickets and instead waiting until just an hour before that afternoon to head to the station..when we arrived, all but two tickets were left for the last bus out that evening, such a bummer.  We had to instead resort to a train ride which cost us each 25 euros, suffered a loss on that one..lesson learned.  We took the train and arrived safely in Vienna or Wien as they call it here.  We wandered around lost in the middle of the night until a kind stranger thankfully pointed us in the right direction.  In the midst of our wanderings we were passed by a large, loud, overly excited, drunken, group of 15 to 16 yr old kids..annoyance.

Having some fun Tebowing on the train to Vienna
The Wombat:  This was the hostel we had chosen, upon our arrival around 1am we walk in to what is seemingly a club and not a hostel..loud club music, drunken kids everywhere, dark lighting, kind of weird and certainly not appealing to 4 tired travelers, and then bonus!  The drunken kids from earlier were staying there as well.  On top of that, the people at the front desk also screwed up our room reservations and our group ended up being separated by gender.  The boys decided they would head on to bed in their own room while me and Nicole decided we'd head into this bar in the hostel and see what it was all about.  We ended up having a good time and met some cool people.  Our bartender, a nice Sicilian man, a cool South African named Luca Antonio who was a tour manager for a company called Contiki Tours (more on that later) and some hilarious Aussie chicks.  Luca sat and talked with us for a long while explaining the Contiki Tours to us.  Anyone from around the world can sign up and participate in it, they usually get people from ages 18-to mid 30's, they travel for 37 days to 18 different countries.  Luca's job was basically to be their tour guide throughout the trip, he is expected to plan their itineraries in each city and know information on each city to tell the tour.  Sounds like a fantastic job to me, I'll be looking that up at a later point, thanks for the tip Luca!

Although we ended up having a good time the hostel overall was just not a good choice, we checked out immediately the next morning and went to another called Hostel Ruthensteiner.  It was absolutely adorable with musical instruments placed everywhere in the common room available to those so inclined.  They also had a great courtyard out back, nice rooms, and a friendly, helpful staff.  Highly recommend this place.  After we settled in there, we headed out to see what we could find out about renting some bikes to tour the city.  Snagged a great deal and headed off on our cute little bikes to explore.  Best idea ever.  We made our way to the Schonnbrunn Palace, but opted out of the tour of the inside and instead chose to explore the beautiful grounds surrounding it instead.  Gardens are everywhere with labyrinth maze hedges making me feel as if I was in Alice in Wonderland or Harry Potter during the Triwizard Tournament..we came upon a wonderful fountain called Neptune's Fountain, depicting Neptune riding a gigantic conch shell pulled by half horse half fish creatures with various other characters surrounding him.   It was quite possibly the biggest and prettiest fountain I've ever seen  (can't wait for the Trevi!)  Behind the fountain was a big, giant, grassy hill with switchbacks all the way to the top.  We made the climb to a magnificent sight of the city and the palace way far below.  Quite cool.  Took lots of pictures (both iPhone and DSLR, a few of my iPhone ones are listed below), grabbed a coke and a dessert at the small restaurant then headed back to our bikes to continue our tour.

view of Vienna, Austria and the Palace below

Neptune's Fountain

Vienna is an extremely clean/environmental city that is wonderfully bike friendly.  Bike paths/trails are all over and its quite easy to travel around, if you go I certainly suggest renting bikes instead of walking everywhere.  The Nasch Market was our next destination which was supposed to be a fantastic outdoor food market, but first we came upon a small park that had big, red, hammocks hanging everywhere in the park!  We stopped of course and lounged on a hammock for a bit or two..who WOULDN'T stop for that?!  Then proceeded on to the market.  Below is a picture snapped at the hammock site.

One of my most favorite photos actually taken by Chris (props). Edited on instagram

The market was fantastic, alive and bustling with people and color everywhere!  My DSLR was glued to my hand snapping photos therefore I did not get any pics on my iPhone (sorry! You'll see them soon enough!)  We bought 3 bottles of wine for 10 euros and longingly eyed all the cheeses, meats, breads, pastries, fruits, vegetables, and spices set up all over.  I could just picture myself living in Vienna, hopping on my bicycle to head to the market for fresh ingredients to make dinner that night.  Just lovely.

That night we took an overnight train and arrived early morning to Venice.  It was mindblowing gorgeous and the coolest part to me was that there was absolutely no cars.  Everyone travels by either foot or water by the use of the canals.  You either have your own boat or make use of the water taxis which were oh so fun to ride :)  Chris unfortunately caught a nasty 24 hr bug and had to sleep it off all day in the hostel while me, Nicole, and Robbie went exploring.  Venice is certainly beautiful and eye catching but I must say it has not been my favorite.  It is extremely touristy and PACKED with people, you can't walk around without bumping and jostling shoulders with everyone you pass.  Not my thing.  Plus the city is extremely pricey..don't plan on staying here long if you're traveling on a budget.  We did get lucky and snagged a Gondola ride though for a pretty good price.  Most of the little Gondolier men were giving us a price of a 100euro for 3 people for a 20ish minute ride through the canals..crazy!!  We were able to luckily jump on board with an older couple in the same predicament of not wanting to pay that price and instead each paid just 20 euro for 5 of us.  Still pricey but worth the experience.  I also had my first gelato experience as well and it was marvelous!

We had a great dinner of lasagna, spaghetti, and pizza, and headed back to the hostel.  Robbie started feeling bad as well and seem to have caught the same bug as Chris spending the next few hours in the bathroom too.  Our train was scheduled to leave at 3am but we were left with a dilemma.  We had already purchased our train tickets but Robbie was unable to even stand.  He pushed us to go so we didn't waste all the money we had spent, we reluctantly headed out to the station yet a train never showed up..we took this as a sign our group was not meant to split up and we headed back to the hostel to sleep until the morning when we could then figure out the train situation.  We woke up hours later with Robbie feeling good enough to leave with us, we trudged back to the train station and luckily a nice Italian lady at the counter informed us we could use our same tickets from the night before on another train leaving that morning.  Turns out we were supposed to catch a bus first the night before to leave from a different train station..this was of course written in Italian and we didn't catch it..whoops.  Regardless it all worked out anyway and we finally made it to Cortona.  The worst part though was I then began to feel terrible..

For more of my iPhone pictures from the trip follow me on instagram!  My user name is carrie_pickering and while you're at it go ahead and follow me on twitter as well @carrie_pick as I try and keep that updated on where we're headed to next!

Be on the lookout for a short blog on our time in Tuscany as well as "Things we've learned in Europe"




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