David and Ginna Zoellner love to travel. We live in Nice, France, half the year; the other half we live near Chicago, Illinois. We do 'home-exchanges' to explore other areas as well as taking normal trips. We'd like to share some of our experiences with you.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Budapest and Vienna, July 2004

Nice gave us a lovely sendoff for our two week trip to Budapest and Vienna. There was a big parade during the day and then great fireworks at night while we sat on the balcony sipping wine and slurping peaches. Or maybe that was all for Bastille Day?

Anyway, we left on July 15, driving to the northeast corner of Italy, in Udine in the Friuli area where they grow the pinot grigio grape. We stayed the night and then drove up through fabulous scenery to Austria, across Austria, and into Hungary, arriving in late afternoon at our hotel, The Sofitel, in Budapest. That evening we went on a Danube dinner cruise complete with entertainment. There were Hangarian folk dances, opera and show tunes, and so on. A bit corny and touristy but fun. My favorite number was from "Porgy and Bess" sung in Hungarian.

The next day we walked across the Chain Bridge to Buda and rode up the funicula to walk around the scenic Old Town. St. Matthias Church (1896) with its colorful tile roof is interesting as is the Magdalen Tower, the only part of a Gothic church that was left after the bombing in WWII. After a bit of shopping - I couldn't resist a piece of pottery, the prices were so great -we headed back to Pest for lunch. Hungarian goulash, what else? Next it was on to the sensational St. Stephen's Basilica, an enormous and fabulously decorated church, named for St. Istvan, the first king of Hungary 1000 years ago. There was a wedding going on while we were there, adding to the interest.

Next we visited the Opera House where we took an hour-long tour. It too is gorgeous, designed by the same architect as the Basilica. I sure would love to see an opera there! We had supper at one of the many outdoors places along the river, enjoying the live music and the perfect weather.

Sunday we drove to Vienna, quickly finding our home exchange on Erdbergerlaende, a wonderful apartment right along the Danube canal. We settled in and explored our neighborhood.

We were in Vienna for 12 days, so really had a chance to explore the city and the surrounding area. We spent our days on walking tours, boat tours, and in museums. Our favorite museum, of the 8 we went to, is the fabulous Liechtenstein, housing the private collections of the Prince of Liechtenstein, both for the art and the building itself. The beautiful library with 100,000 books is worth the price of entry. The upstairs Grand Hall, also, is magnificent, about 8 times the size of our Nice apartment.

That same day we had a wonderful experience for lunch. We took the subway to the very end, in Heiligenstadt, and found a terrific restaurant, the Englehardt which turned out to be advertised as the oldest standing building in Vienna, built in 1180, naturally with a few improvements since then. We ate in the garden under a horse chestnut tree. They had all the normal Viennese things but advertised that "summer is mushroom time" and we both opted for that. I had a delicious mushroom goulash while David had mushrooms done with bacon and onions. For dessert we had a sampling of all their dessert offerings which was sensational! This restaurant is next door to one of Beethoven's houses - he moved over 60 times in Vienna so they are not difficult to happen upon.

We were quite happily surprised with the prices in Vienna. Somehow I had the idea that it would be very expensive, but it wasn't at all. Lunches have tended to be around $35 for two, complete with wine.

Another favorite dining experience was in Prater Park, a huge park in town with an amusement park, tennis clubs, and lots of trails. Schweizerhaus was recommended by friends for the pork knuckle which is about the size of a soccer ball! We ordered one to split and a salad each and had enough to take home for sandwiches! But it is delicious, served with horseradish and mustard.

Another day we went by boat to the Wachau, the most beautiful area of the Danube. From Vienna, we took a train to Melk where we visited the huge Benedictine Abbey with its mind-boggling Baroque church and then boarded a boat and sailed the Danube for about 2 hours. Absolutely idyllic! Lovely towns and churches, terraced hillsides, and vineyards, including the towns of Durnstein, where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned in 1192, and Krems.

In Vienna we also enjoyed the Butterfly Museum, actually a greenhouse with plants and live butterflies fluttering around. They are gorgeous. St. Stephen's Cathedral in the center of the city is fabulous. We trammed our way out to the Central Cemetery to see the tombs of Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, and Mozart. And we tried the Sacher Torte at the fabulous Sacher Hotel - really delicious.

Near our exchange was the Hundertwasser area. This artist was a new discovery for us, so imaginative and creative. Not only an artist, he designed whole villages and redesigned building facades. He was against straight lines so the results are quite Gaudi-esque. His home houses his collection and is fascinating with its uneven floors, ceramics, and grass on the roof.

We were surprised at the hot weather - in the 90's for the first week, but no air conditioning on buses, subways, in restaurants, and so on. Then it cooled off nicely the second week, to our relief!

En route home we stopped in Trento, Italy, famous for the Council of Trent. We had been there for about an hour in pouring rain about 10 years earlier but it was much lovelier this time. (Nice weather can certainly help!) The facades of many of the buildings - mostly 15th century - are decorated with ancient murals. We sat on the Piazza del Duomo and enjoyed apple strudel and wine, listening to the Neptune Fountain and the church bells. A wonderful last stop.


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