Date Added: 23.04.2008 Language:
Old sights and new sights
The experience in Vienna in 2004 was a
really good one, thanks in no small part to the excellent
accommodation chosen. The time had come for a return trip to
the capital of the Austrian empire, this time with the
intention of combining it with a visit to the Hungarian
capital as well - Budapest.
Travelling gear wise, there was also one new item worth
mentioning in particular - a digital SLR which will from now
on mostly replace my sort-of-old compact camera. But what
good is a digital SLR if you can`t exploit its full
potential? Hence, the investment in a tripod was also made.
Lightweight and telescopic, it was still somewhat bulky to
pack, but there`s a price to be paid to upgrade photography
equipment in addition to the cost of the items - carrying it
around - and the SLR itself in its carrying bag was a lot
more bulky than my compact camera. We will see if it is
worth it in due time...
Not much of a hassle here, getting a tiny
guidebook for Budapest as well as a good city map was mostly
what was required - as Vienna was familiar territory
already. Perhaps I should include reading the manual for my
new DSLR as well as searching for information about
photography on various web pages.
All reservations were made beforehand: airplane tickets with
Austrian Airlines, rental car in Vienna, 4 nights at the
Austria Trend Hotel Schloss Wilhelminenberg (phew!) as well
as Radisson SAS Beke in Budapest.
Since SAS ditched their Vienna flights,
the only possibility for a direct flight was with Austrian.
They fly Fokker 100s and 70s on this route it seems, plus
they even serve a meal to travellers on regular budgets - a
positive experience. Most of the drive went without hitches,
even though the whole city had to be crossed, until it was
time to choose the right intersection to head towards
Ottakring (and eventually Wilhelminenberg). I found out
after a while that I had chosen the wrong one and headed
back again, then soon came into slightly more familiar
terriroty near the Ottakring area (memories of the 2004 trip
came in). Thus, the hotel was reached in good shape and in
great weather - a warm spring had spread across the plains
of Vienna (and hopefully Budapest too?)
By this time, it was nearly evening, so the remainder of the
day was spent locating a place to eat (we had a suggestion
for a chinese restaurant from the hotel, but ended up
finding one even closer to the Ottakring station). They even
served a fortune cookie and plum wine after the meal :)
Another reason for going back to Vienna
was to visit places that were left out in the 2004 trip.
This included the huge Prater park area, with its amusement
park as well and the `Riesenrad` (Ferris wheel), made famous
in Carol Reed`s 1949 movie `The Third Man`. A trip with the
ferris wheel was on the program, and the view from there was
excellent, even though it is `only` 61 metres tall (exactly
200 feet, having been designed by an englishman).
The second Viennese day saw us taking the
subway to the Karlsplatz, from where we dropped by the
cupola of the cathedral (less impressive than others I must
admit), but still with a stylish interior, passing by a huge
monument from the time when the soviets liberated the city
during the second world war, then down the adjacent street
towards Schloss Belvedere.
The castle itself is stylish and typical baroque pompous,
but usually the gardens are at least as big of a treat as
the castle building itself, with well kept lawns and
symmetry in four directions (true baroque style). Now
however, the entire `back side` of the castle garden area
was under major restoration work (this sounds very
familiar...) and wasn`t much of a sight. The front side
however, seemed to have been given the same treatment, but
was finished and thus a very pretty sight. The residence
itself used to belong to the Habsburgers, and now houses an
art/paintings museum, with famous names such as Gustav
We walked back to the Karlsplatz and up via several parks,
like last time to the Neue Burg, and enjoyed lunch in a
local place in the nearby park. From here past the
Parliament (luckily resembling more of a parliament this
time, compared to the walled up hole in the ground in 2004),
Rathaus and Burgtheater to the Votivkirche.
The evening was spent going via the subway towards Leopoldau
but hopping out at Alte Donau, for a short walk to the
fabulously stylish chinese restaurant `China Sichuan`
(following up the success from 2004). Indeed, the meal was
great (a 3-course dinner with wine) although the duck wasn`t
quite as good as I had hoped, perhaps due to it containing a
lot more fat than pure chicken filet.
2 1/2 hours later, it was dark outside and the time had come
to truly try out the tripod and the DSLR. A few shots
outside the restaurant, as well as some in the centre of the
city of the Parliament, Rathaus and Burgtheater seemed to
end up quite successful for a DSLR virgin night-time
The next day was set aside for a walk in
the forest area (or Wienerwald). As the morning came, we
discovered it had rained quite a bit during the night, and
it was still raining, but it subsided somewhat during the
morning hours. By the time we left the hotel, there was
little rain but a bit cloudy.
This would prove to be a day where the Vienna card`s free
transportation was used to its fullest. After the usual bus
route down to Ottakring was complete, it was time to board
the SS1 local train bound for Heiligenstadt. This went well,
and once there it was impossible to miss the Karl Marx-Hof,
a (literally) mile long building complex with small
apartments (in true communist style). Leg 3: bus towards
Grinzing and Kahlenberg/Leopoldberg. This took quite some
time and after passing Grinzing, the bus (or road) wound its
way up the hillside until we were at 500 metres above sea
level. Instead of taking the (more or less) same route via
footpaths downwards to Grinzing, we ended up crossing
between the two adjacent hills without being aware of it at
first. At the top of the Leopoldberg was a small
monastery/church, obviously with some traditions. From here,
the path went in sharp curves, steps and steep slopes
downwards until it headed for the small village of
Kahlenbergdorf. We found out it would be an unnecessarily
long walk back to Grinzing, and instead headed over to the
shores of Donau, where we walked to Nussdorf, then boarded
another SS local train back to Heiligenstadt (thereby sort
of completing a round trip), but boarded a bus again for
Grinzing and hopped off there to enjoy lunch at a local
italian restaurant, where they served a nice (and
surprisingly cheap) lunch combo-meal.
Grinzing itself is a well known tourist area, and might seem
a bit more touristy nowadays than it used to be. It is
famous for its `heuriger`, which is the local wine harvest
almost fresh from the grapes/barrels. Since this was
springtime, it was no time for heuriger. Still, I would say
the streets were cosy, with several old-style, low buildings
in a row along more or less one main street.
After lunch, another 3-leg journey back to the hotel, which
brought us to a total of 8 bus/train legs for the day. I
decided not to bring my camera along on this trip, partly
due to its bulkiness on a walking trip in green
surroundings, as well as somewhat unpredictable weather
(which actually turned out to be no problem - it got better
and better during the day).
The trip ended up as a full day trip, so there wasn`t much
more going on apart from the usual dinner.
Vienna was quickly left behind on the
motorway, and some 70 km later the border of Hungary was
approached (passing close to Slovakia`s capital Bratislava
as well some 50 km outside Vienna) - a pretty simple border
control was performed (it seemed enough to show the outside
of our passports), then for the first time - east Europe!
Better exchange some euros into forints as well, as euro
would probably not be accepted everywhere in the city.
The drive through the countryside was pleasant enough,
everything was green, and the motorway was of a surprisingly
good standard (in fact better than in most countries I have
been to, apart from Switzerland). With a 130 km/h speed
limit in both countries, it doesn`t take very long to cover
the 260 kilometres between the two capitals, but add a
pleasant lunch with some real native goulash soup, and it
will be afternoon before you arrive - and so we found
ourselves entering Budapest and aiming for the very
centrally located Radisson SAS Beke in the middle of rush
hour. Thanks to a good map as well as memorising the route,
the hotel was simple enough to find, and it felt good to
leave the car in the underground garage rather than above
ground in the narrow streets (which were always packed with
parked cars anyway).
The hotel itself was great, with as high a standard as one
can expect from the Radisson SAS chain (part of the Rezidor
group), an upgrade to a superior room at a cost of 119 euro
per night (breakfast excluded though). The air conditioning
was even working properly in the room (I have had various
experiences from place to place), and this was a good thing,
as the window faced the heavily trafficked (both cars,
buses, trams, people and motorcycles) Teréz Körút
street - one of the major traffic boulevards in the city.
The facade of the hotel is as pompous as many of the
buildings in the city - clearly showing similarities from
Vienna, thus proving the heritage from the Austria-Hungarian
No rest for the dead - with only 1 1/2 day available to
cover the (major) sights of the city, we were off towards
Heroes` Square at first - a good 2 kilometre walk. The
square was quite big and impressive, with the massive
monument dominating the far end. It has statues of the
leaders of the seven tribes that formed the nation in the
9th century as well as some other famous characters up
through the centuries. Construction of the monument was from
1896 to 1929.
Directly behind the square and across an arm of Donau, the
most interesting sight is the city park (Városliget).
Covering an area of 1.2 square kilometres, it contains
several things to see:
- Vajdahunyad castle, a smaller replica of an impressive
castle that hungarians originally build in Hunedoara,
- Széchenyi medicinal baths, one of the many in the
city as well as one of the largest in Europe, founded in
- The municipal zoological and botanical gardens
- The municipal grand circus as well as the Budapest
The road back towards the hotel was a different one from the
narrow one we chose to the park - Andrassy Avenue, covered
with embassies as well as the State Opera.
Dinner? Hmm..we found a very small take-away-or-eat-here
chinese style cafe where food was pre-prepared and on
display at the counter. Good enough, and extremely cheap,
although with a bit of language problems.
In the evening it was time for yet another
walk - this time to capture the night images of the most
famous sights of the city - Buda Castle and Chain Bridge.
Again, the virgin photographer considers himself relatively
successful (it did take more than one try though).
Budapest was originally a split city more
than a thousand years ago. Obuda, Pest and Buda were
separate and grew independently of each other, until late in
the 19th century when the `newer` part Pest grew so much it
encompassed the other two parts, and was declared as one
city in 1867. Today, it houses some 1.9 million people out
of the country`s total of 10.3 million.
While the `new` city contains several interesting landmarks,
some of the more interesting sights (and viewpoints) are
from the hillside along Buda castle. Walking towards the
main part of Donau, one is mostly bound to pass by the large
St Stephens` (István in Hungarian) cathedral. This
one was brilliantly refurbished, and a trip to the roof was
rewarded with great views of the city in every direction.
The cathedral also houses a somewhat gross relic, namely the
mummified hand of St Stephen (István), who was the
first king of Hungary roughly 1000 years ago. Coming further
south, one of the major landmarks is the chain bridge (Széchenyi
lánchíd). In 1849, it was the city`s first
permanent bridge across the river. It was considered both a
major feat of engineering as well as being a beautifully
designed bridge - but the true beauty of the bridge is only
seen in the evening - more of this later.
Directly behind the bridge lies Roosevelt Square, dominated
on one side by the impressive Gresham Palace which now
houses The Four Seasons Hotel Gresham. On the other side of
the bridge is another square (heavily trafficked roundabout)
and the bottom station of the Buda Hill funicilar. Opened in
1870, it takes only a couple of minutes to climb the hill to
Buda Castle. From here, the view over the new town of Pest
is excellent, the major landmarks being the chain bridge and
Parliament buildings, the latter being one of the biggest
and most impressive in Europe, with a length of 268 metres.
The first castle on the hill was build in the middle of the
13th century, while the oldest parts of the current castle
dates from the 14th century, while most of its current
appearance dates from both the later Habsburg area as well
as the mid-19th century, following a siege and burnout. It
was again heavily damaged in the end of the second world
war, yet the medieval fortifications were masterfully
restored after this. The palace interiors suffered a
different fate though, as the newly formed communist regime
decided to destroy most of it, leaving little of interest.
The palace interior was not visited, but lunch was enjoyed
(expensive goulash soup!) in the pleasant spring weather at
the Sissy restaurant (named after empress Elizabeth of the
The other two major attractions atop the castle hill, in
addition to the pleasant car-free medieval surroundings, are
the Mathias church (closed due to renovation..surprise
surprise) and the Fisherman`s Bastion (Halászbástya).
It was built between 1895 and 1902, and comprises seven
towers representing (again) the seven Magyar tribes founding
the city in 896. Its name and place derives from the guild
of fishermen which defended the city walls during the middle
Time for the return trip..not much to
write home about, except that it was a slightly boring day.
The same car ride back to Vienna (and discovering there was
an error in the Budapest map), then spending some hours at
Vienna International Airport and trying not to look too
bored after some time..in one of the shops, there was a
Mozart-clad guy sharing out Mozartkugeln..delicious
chocolate, nougat and marzipan - a recommended treat,
although in small doses. Another surprise was finding
Limoncello (or something similar in the airport shop - we
didn`t expect to actually find it outside Italy). It is part
of the story that it didn`t taste as good as the one we
found in a regular grocery store at half the price in Rome
The plane left at 19:50...yawn, and the luggage handlers
seemed to consider two identical hand luggage bags were
different - one would fit in, the other wouldn`t. Who said
logic exists everywhere?
UNESCO sites visited on the journey:
Centre of Vienna
including the Banks of the Danube, the Buda Castle Quarter
and Andrássy Avenue