Our Topdeck Mega European Tour continues on this morning as we depart the Hungarian capital of Budapest and make our way through three countries today to our ultimate destination of Vienna in Austria. Along the way we will also be making a stop to the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava for a quick walk around the old city.
07 June, 2012 – Budapest to Vienna
This morning we check out of the hotel and prepare the coach for our departure for the next leg of the drive, today we have a new driver as our regular driver Deans needs to take a break due to European Union driving regulations. She will be catching a train to Vienna and meeting us there so she can get a well earned break away from us.
Along the way today we are making a stop to the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava and on arrival we parked the coach in a designated coach area, it looks like many tours stop over in Bratislava for the day so a small parking area has been set aside specifically for this. We are taken into the city centre by our tour leader who guides us around to look at some of the unique and quirky art works hidden around the place. Some you really have to keep a look out for otherwise you will walk completely past them, one of my favourite was a man coming out of a man hole cover on the corner of a road.
As we continued to wonder around Bratislava we didn’t end up spending too much time here as there isn’t too much to see and do within the short amount of time that we had before continuing onto Vienna. We looked at a few churches and were then left to fend for ourselves for about an hour when we needed to be back on board the coach. A small group of us broke away from the main group to go and get some lunch and to look at a few of the shops while at the same time making our way back to the coach. I also managed to buy myself a shot glass to add to my small collection of souvenirs, for this entire trip I haven’t really bought anything for myself watching my money closely, but thought now was a good time to start.
Once back at the coach we continued on for the short trip to Vienna, the good thing about the proximity of Bratislava is that it is right on the border with Austria and Vienna isn’t much further down the road.
On arrival into the Austrian capital of Vienna we went straight into a short driving tour with our first stop being Schönbrunn Palace the summer palace of the Austrian-Hungarian Royal Family. We were taken here as the palace is a bit of a distance out of the main city centre and it is a major tourist attraction that is well worth visiting. There isn’t enough time today to go inside the palace, but you can and you can venture back out here tomorrow on the free day if that is something you wish to do, but most people would rather opt to see other sites of the city.
We wandered around the palace for a good hour checking out the well maintained gardens and extensive grounds of the palace, it is a massive place and you could have spent a lot more time here than what we were allocated. These days the palace is mostly on show for tourists and is also used as a backdrop for many concerts with a stage just being dismantled while we were there.
After checking out the palace it was time to head back to the coach, we needed to be back at a precise time as they do not allow coaches to park outside the palace and they basically need to drive around in a loop as there is only a drop off/pick up zone for coaches. Once back on board we headed to our hostel for the next two nights with a bit of an Australian feel called Wombat’s City Hostel Vienna – The Lounge this is one of three in Vienna.
With a bar located in the basement of the hostel many people opted for a quiet night in the hostel bar, while most people decided this I thought it was a good opportunity for me to sneak out on my own and go explore some of Vienna on my own at night. I didn’t realise what a compact city Vienna is, so without meaning to do so I managed to see most of the city lit up at night within an hour or two, it was a great opportunity to get some photos of the city buildings all lit up at night.
I walked down the main shopping strip where we were staying, this then links up to the Museum Quarter a whole block dedicated to many different museums. Across the road is a square that takes you between two stunning buildings, they are the home to another museum, the Museum of Ethnology. This then links onto the Spanish Riding School and Hofburg Palace which is the old Austrian-Hungarian Royal Family Winter Palace and currently the official residence of the Austrian President which are also lit up at night. You can also walk through a section where you feel like you’re inside the building but it’s a road and cars even drive through.
From here I walked back and cut through a park passing the Parliament building which was built in a Greek style to recognise the foundation of democracy, further along is the Opera House and the Town Hall or as it is known locally Rathaus. Another block along is an old church being restored, I managed to walk down to it to take some photos then walk back past the Town Hall. While walking past all the lights of the building were turned off, so I made it just in time.
After my little mini adventure I made my way back to the hostel and decided to call it a night and also put on a load of washing as most of us were craving clean clothes and the washing machines were backlogged, so I had to get up many times during the night to check if it was free to be used.
08 June, 2012 – Vienna
Today was our free day to explore Vienna and as I had already seen most of it during the night I was playing the default role of tour guide and showing the best way to see everything the quickest. This time I can see everything as it looks during the day and we managed to get to all the same places I check out the previous night, the main difference today being that I didn’t get to see St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Along the way to the cathedral we found a small church and went inside to have a look at it. After looking at the inside of St. Stephen’s Cathedral I was really glad we saw this smaller church as I found the place to be quite tacky inside. The cathedral is lit up with all sorts of different colour lights making it feel like you have walked into a disco and not a place of worship.
The inside of the building may be distasteful but the outside looks pretty impressive, although it was undergoing renovations when we were there the main feature of the building is the impressive tiled roof. It is on such an angle that even during winter when it is snowing the snow slides off the roof so it is always on display for everyone to see. You can also climb one of the towers of the cathedral which we opted to do, from up here you can get some nice views of the city as well as a good close up view of the roof and the many colourful tiles. Just be warned that it is a long way up with many narrow stairs up a spiral staircase.
After climbing back down the stairs, when I say a lot of stairs, I mean a lot! We then started to head back to the hostel, before doing that we decided we would exchange some money into Polish currency saving us the trouble tomorrow and so we could pay for some optional extras. This also began the many jokes at the expense of the name of the currency, phrases like ‘show us ya Zloty’ and ‘how’s your Zloty’ are just some that come to mind.
Tonight our optional extra is to have dinner and to watch a classical music concert, we also had the option to go and check out a Schnapps Museum, it was really interesting to see the traditional methods explained to us on how the many alcoholic beverages are made, all the more interesting to me being an ex-barman. At the end of the tour we get to try all different types of schnapps, liqueur and even some absinth. I decided to buy a bottle of absinth to take home, preying it wouldn’t break in my luggage on the plane home, the two glasses that came with it ended up coming home in 1000 small pieces, but the bottle survived.
Tonight we have also planned as we couldn’t the previous night due to a storm rolling in to check out Prater Park, it is the location of one of the oldest theme parks in the world, so we considered checking it out after the concert.
Those of us who decided to attend tonights dinner and concert headed to the coach from the Schnapps Museum to The Kursalon where the dinner and show would be held. It is proper classical music so if that isn’t your thing you might not enjoy it, however how many times are you ever going to go to something like this is the question. Although I do like classical music at times, this wasn’t for me, but I’m still glad I went along to experience it and would most likely do so again. There is a short intermission, during this time we are served champaign and can stand outside on the balcony while we wait to be called in.
Once the show ended we all headed back onto the coach, we were all mulling over the idea of going to the theme park but most of us were pretty tired after sitting through that so we opted not to go. Meanwhile a small group of people decided that they would go, but with the park closing at midnight and it already being about 10:30pm they wouldn’t have had much time to check it out.
Tomorrow we move onto our next country, Poland and we stay for two nights in the city of Krakow. It will also be a sad day as we are taken through a former Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz.
DOWNLOAD: Topdeck Vienna City Guide