Europe: Germany, Hungary, Austria, Czech RepublicMay 29, 2011 - June 12, 2011
Photos are here
While New Jersey isn't part of Europe, it's where our trip started. Flew here for a weekend to attend Nicole's graduation ceremony. My first time in there we did the all important thing of going to White Castle! Honestly it was a bit disappoint... However the graduation itself wasn't! Well, it was pretty good anyhow. :) The Princeton campus is nice! And they have a tasty ice cream shop too...
After a decently long, but quite tolerable, flight we checked into our hotel and then went out for dinner and eagerly consumed some schnitzel and beer -- typical German food! If we'd known just how much of this we'd have during our stay here we might have opted for more variety when we had the chance... Nonetheless our first meal there didn't disappoint and a good time was had by all. We even tried radler!
The next day we jumped on a very prompt bus and went out into the countryside to see various places: Linderhof, Oberammergau and Neuschwanstein. Linderhof was a cool small castle with some lovely grounds. I'm sure Oberammergau is a nice little town, but from my point-of-view it's a sales trip for tourists. That being said, I did buy a bunch of stuff on our stop-over there. Unfortunately I only later realizd that my major purchase there was actually made in France. Heh. Neuschwanstein however was awesome! Sitting up on a hill the castle looks like something directly out of a fairytale.
Exploring Munich itself was next on our agenda. Took the subway in to marienplatz and took in the dramatic new town hall (although it wouldn't be until later that we were there to witness the famous glockenspiel in action). After some wandering around souvenir and felt shops we proceeded to do the guide book's walking tour. This took us to various churches, the Viktualienmarkt, some Habsburg properties and finally to the Hofbräuhaus where we randomly shared a table with a Canadian couple. After dinner we wandered around the Hofbräuhaus and found some cool live music and dancing upstairs.
We came across a farmer's market the next day while walking to the sub way. This gave me a chance to practice my extrememly limited german and order apple juice, sausage sandwhiches and the intriguing elderflower fritters. This day we toured the Residenz, which is huge! We had to run through the last wing of roomsso that we could make it to the Deutsches Museum before it closed. The museum had a cool sundial exhibit as well as a bunch of math/computer exhibits (unfortuately many of the computer ones were under renovation when we were there). Even the textiles exhibit was cool as it had a Jacquard loom (which was an important step forward in computer science). Once again there was to omuch to see and ran out of time...
For our last day in Germany we did the half-day trip to the Dachau concentration camp. It was a both informative and sobering excursion. Once back in the Munich proper we literally ran to catch our train to Prague... actually, while in the train station I did find three different magazines that had Rift on the cover! :)
Prague was immediately a fun and interesting place to be in! One of the first landmarks was the old town square (or "Staromestské námesti" in czech) which is surrounded by impressive buildings, features the large Jan Hus monument and the old town hall which houses popular astronomical clock. We spent most of the morning and afternoon touring the various sites in the Jewish Quarter. While all (most?) of it was interesting, the highlights for me was the Pinkassynagogue memorial and the super ancient cemetery. That afternoon there was a brief rain shower. As the initial drops came and other tourists were running for cover, we smugly put on our raincoats and continued walking; how well prepared we were! But then the drops turned into a torrent, and by then we were not near shelter. By the time we got inside a coffee shop our pants were thouroughly soaked. We also managed to catch the last tour of the day at the old town hall, unfortunately we only realized it was the "spanish & czech" version. Our made-up translations of what the guide said might not have been historically accurate, but they were entertaining!
The next morning we rushed over the ancient Charles bridge (made in 1357!) to get to St. Vitus Cathedral before all the other tourists. Exploring the cathedral, and the rest of Prague Castle, took a few hours and then we were off to see other interesting sites: Loreto church, Strahov Monastary (and their awesome brewery) to name a couple. That night we went to see a classical music performance, a little touristy but fun nonetheless.
Our train left for Vienna in the afternoon, but we still had time to rush back over to the Charles Bridge to have a closer look. It was quite cool and we even got to rub the statue of Jan Nepomuk for good luck! We stopped in some souvenir shops on the walk back and I picked up a three-person chess set (fun to play too! Though it does require a lot of concentration).
Getting off the train station was pretty straightforward, however getting to the hotel was not. With 5 people and 5 pieces of luggage it seemed like a good idea for Charlene's parents and sister to take a taxi to the hotel with our luggage and we'd take public transit. After a they left we wandered around for a good 15 minutes just trying to find the streetcar stop. Eventually a we managed to communicate with a bus driver who indicated that the streetcar stop is inside the train station (and looks to the untrained eye like another train, which is why we didn't suspect that). We get on the train and get off at the correct stop. From there it appears that the address shouldn't be too far down the street so we start walking. The wrong way. Then we turn around and go the right way. It takes a while but eventually we get to the address. It's a bar. Hmmmm. Double check the address and I realize that I had remembered the number correctly, but this wasn't the right street. D'oh. So we walk all the way back to where we got off the train and turn onto the correct street. Now the hotel is only 5 minutes away.
Since we only have 1 day in Vienna we got up and took the train downtown (now that we've mastered it!). We decide to follow the walking tour in the book and manage to hit most of the hot spots. Started off at the old opera house, moved on to the monument against war and facism and then it was time for some famous Sachertorte -- yum! Followed that up with the imperial crypt and some shopping at Swarovski. After lunch (mmm Nordsee) we checked out St Stephen's Cathedral. Much of the outside was under renovation so I didn't get to see the old bread and cloth measures built into the wall, and the insides were suitably awesome that I was ok after all. We continued down the Graben, saw Loo's loos, the Pestsäule (Plague Column) and ended up by the imperial palace. With only a hour and a half before they closed we had to make our way quickly through the many exhibits there. After a short stop at the hotel to get changed we headed back into the downtown area for a much more touristy concert at the Kursalon. It was fun but in a 'boat cruise' kind of way.
Budapest I really knew nothing about before coming here (not that I was an expert on any of the other places). We spent the first day in Buda (they used to be two different cities: Buda and Pest) checking out the fisherman's bastion, Matthias church and Buda castle. While at Buda castle we saw a bunch of military there and they even did a little parade-type thing. After watching it go by we continued on exploring the castle and then turned around to head home. Unfortunately we found our way blocked! Apparently the president of somewhere (Tajikistan I think) was visiting and there was a ceremony going on and so they blocked the road for about half an hour. Thus us, and many other tourists, were stuck. We could kind of almost see what was going on if we craned our necks, but not really. Nonetheless I got some blurry photos of a couple presidents!
After dinner that night, we headed out on the old subway (built in 1896!) to Szechenyi baths! These were really cool. Three different pools of differing temperatures and the "fun" pool had various fountains and currents to play in as well.
The next day was pretty busy! Got tickets for the parliment building tour, then headed down to the Great Market until our tour started. There we lots of cool things here and we ended up buying som paprika and a t-shirt, but with plans to come back later to buy more. The parliment building tour was pretty neat -- it was built to for the city's 1000th birthday! Now we did some shopping and then headed over to City Park to see the Heroe's Square. While there we also checked out The Pond, some cool sculptures and a fair that was happening at Vajdahunyad Castle. Fun fun! That night we dressed up, Char in her new clothes, and went out to the State Opera House to watch Macbeth. Unfortunately it was performed in the original Italian and with Hungarian super-titles. Thus most of us were at a loss to what was really going on (luckily I had reread the synopsis before going into the play). It was still a cool experience though and the opera house was impressive. Also got to try the Tokaji wine (#3) during the intermission -- yummy!
The next day we got up super early and started our long day of travelling to get home. What a fun trip!