Since any regular readers have become accustomed to the lateness and irregularity of my blog posts, it won’t be a surprise to you that I am only now getting around to telling you about my February vacation. (What can I say? One of my worst faults is procrastination…) However, even with the delay I’d like to catch you all up on this trip, and what’s been going on with me lately. And though I certainly could write enough about my trip to fill up several blog posts, I’ll try to keep it concise and leave everything here.
So, I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit several central/eastern European countries during my February vacation, and exciting opportunity because the furthest east that I had traveled before this was Germany. The weather during most of the trip was colder than I had experienced in France so far, which meant it felt like a real Michigan winter, minus the snow (good for me, maybe not as good for my friend Heather who I was traveling with. She’s from the south and doesn’t like the cold as much as I do.)
I began my trip in Budapest, Hungary. I didn’t know much about the town before arriving, except that it was famous for thermal baths. We had some mishaps on our arrival, in that we wandered around for several hours looking for our hostel even with google maps and once we arrived the desk workers had gone out for ice cream (oops!), but overall my experience with Budapest was lovely. On our first day, we spent the morning at the Rudas Baths. These Turkish baths were built when the Ottoman Empire ruled Hungary, and were recommended by a friend because they were less expensive and less touristy than many of the other thermal baths that Budapest has to offer. Before we went to the baths, I was skeptical as to whether or not I’d enjoy them, but overall I found them very relaxing.
After this, we had a tasty lunch and wandered around Fisherman’s Bastion a bit before taking a walking tour. We could only find one free walking tour that was run in Budapest, and thought it was a good way to see all of the sights in one go, we were disappointed by the limited information that our tour guide gave us (every other free walking tour I’ve been on has always been really informative and well worth my time). Also, because of the cold, we were feeling pretty exhausted after the walking tour, and at this point went back to the hostel and called it a night.
On our second day in Budapest, we took a tour of the Hungarian Parliament building. The building is stunning from the outside and even more beautiful inside. The architecture was based on that of the English Parliament building in London, and inside you can see the Hungarian crown jewels. This was honestly one of the most worthwhile things that we saw in Budapest, so if you’re making a trip out that way, it’s not to be missed. Later in the day, we went to the Hungarian National museum. It was interesting to visit and learn about the Hungary, from its early history, to its time under communist rule. After visiting the museum, we went to the Great Market Hall, a huge market with all kinds of fresh and prepared food, as well as souvenirs. We had goulash for lunch here (a traditional Hungarian dish) and rounded off our meal with some delicious strudel. I’ve never seen so many flavors of strudel in one place. It was heaven!
After our filling lunch, we went to visit St. Stephen’s Basilica. One of the draws of this particular church is the mummified “Holy Right” hand of St. Stephen, Hungary’s beloved King-Saint. Unfortunately, during our visit we couldn’t get the display case holding the hand and its reliquary to light up, so we didn’t get to see it properly (I was disappointed. I think reliquaries are AWESOME!). The basilica also had really interesting,modern-looking stained glass windows of some of the saints.
In the evening, our last in Budapest, we went on a Ruin Pub Crawl. The ruin pubs are famous and very particular to Budapest. There are also many of them. They are all different, and to save space trying to explain them, I’ll link to a description here. The experience was very cool and we were lucky to visit several of the city;s most famous ruin pubs, including Szimpla.
On our last morning in Budapest, we visited the House of Terror. This museum gives visitors a glimpse into life in Hungary during the fascist and communist regimes and is housed in a building that was used by them. The museum was a chilling but important look at some very dark times in Hungary’s history. After we finished at the House of Terror, we caught our train and were on our way to Vienna.
Click here to link to my photos from Budapest.
In our first day in Vienna, we also went on a walking tour to get to know the city. I enjoyed this tour as it was much more informative than the one that we did in Budapest. On the tour we got to see the opera house, Mozart’s house, and St. Stephen’s cathedral (not a typo, there’s one here too), among other sights.
After the tour we got lunch at a restaurant called Aida, where they serve sachertorte, one of the most famous desserts in Vienna (a chocolate cake with apricot jam filling). We also got to try some of the delicious coffee drinks that Vienna is famous for. If you know me, you know that I’m a foodie and I have a big sweet tooth, so this was a highlight for me.
Later in the afternoon, we went to the Hofburg Palace, where we got to see the royal silver collections, the royal apartments, and the Sisi museum. Not having known much about the Austrian royal family (apart from the fact that Marie Antoinette was Austrian royalty – most of my European history knowledge, which is very little, comes from my French classes), these exhibits were interesting. Also it was interesting to see the apartments of a royal family that wasn’t French, because most of the palaces or castles that I’ve seen have been in France. Finally we visited the Austrian National Library (gorgeous! reminded me of the library at Trinity College in Dublin) and headed for dinner.
It it interesting to mention the restaurant that we had dinner at, called Vollpension. The restaurant’s meals, especially their desserts, are cooked by grandmothers and grandfathers who use their own family recipes. The restaurant itself looks like your grandmother’s house, all decked out in knickknacks and retro dishes. There are even little old ladies to bus the tables and make sure everything in the restaurant is ok. I loved the food and cakes and the atmosphere here, and it made me miss my grandma a bunch.
On our next day in Vienna, we went to Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Hapsburgs. The palace was lovely, and the interior reminded me a bit of Versailles. Later in the day, we went to see the Capuchin crypt, where many of the Hapsburgs are buried. After, we saw St. Stephens Cathedral (the inside this time…and there were a bunch of reliquaries!) the inside and the outside of the cathedral were impressive. The church has lovely colored tiles on its roof, making it different from the ones that I’m used to seeing in France. We ended our day by visiting the Kunsthistoriches Museum (an art museum). The museum was very big and had many interesting old pieces. The building it was in was something to see even on its own. All of the rooms had beautiful ceilings.
On our final day in Vienna, we did some shopping and then visited the Albertina Museum. This museum also had royal apartments and wonderful collections of impressionist and modern art. We saw many beautiful Picasso pieces, as well as an exhibition on photography’s importance to films. After that, we got on a bus and headed to Prague.
Click here to link to my photos from Vienna.
When we got to Prague, we had a day before we were joined by several of our other teaching assistant friends. We went on a walking tour (by Sandeman’s New Europe. The best one of the whole trip!) that gave us a lot of background on the history of Prague and an overview of the important sights. After this, we wandered across the Charles Bridge to see the John Lennon graffiti wall. In the evening, we met up with our friends and had dinner.
The next morning, Amy, Sarah, Josh and I took a day trip to Kutna Hora to see the Sedlec Ossuary, a church decorated with human bones. I was really amazed by how beautiful it was. That evening, we went on a beer tour. We got to go to several different pubs and sample traditional Czech beers (all pilsners). This was a great way to end the day. We got to drink beers, while learning about how they were made and what makes Czech beer different from beer in other places.
On our last day in Prague,we went to Prague Castle. We had to climb up a huge hill to get there, but the view over Prague from up above was breathtaking. The castle was nice, but the most impressive part of the castle complex was St. Vitus Cathedral. The architecture was stunning and the stained glass windows were lovely. Another interesting part if the castle complex was getting to see the windows where the defenestrations (throwing people out of windows) that started the Thirty Year’ War happened. In the evening, Josh, Sarah and I went to see a Two Door Cinema Club gig. I was really pleased that we could see them in Prague, as they’re one of my favorite bands and I couldn’t make it to their concert in Paris on this tour. It was my first time seeing them live, and it was well worth the years that I’ve waited.
Click here for my pictures from Prague
I really enjoyed getting to visit 3 cities that I had never been to on this trip. Before we had gone, I thought that Vienna would be my favorite city to visit, and though I really liked Vienna, it wasn’t actually my favorite. Prague was my favorite city to see. The architecture there was lovely. I really liked the atmosphere of the town. The food was great, too(chimney cakes galore!).
Thanks for bearing with me in the long wait for this post. It’s been a busy around here. I’ve been trying to make the most of the time that I have left in France (just about a month!) and that hasn’t left a whole lot of time for blogging. Tomorrow, I’m off for my April vacation (yes another school break. how do they do it?) to Brussels, Dublin, and traveling around Scotland. I’m sad to be leaving France very shortly (probably a post on that later) but I’m trying not to dwell on it.
Anyway, if you want to see pictures of some of the things I’ve been up to lately (visiting to châteaux, biking to châteaux, picnics because the weather has been amazing, etc.), feel free to click here.
Blois had a Carnavale and a parade, so that was cool and there are some pictures of that, as well as some cool châteaux, there. Don’t miss the pictures from some of the museums around Blois and the really awesome light show that they project on the château here.
That’s all for now and thanks for reading!