Owen's birthday was the end of July, and since one of his "Tops in Europe" places was Budapest, Hungary (see Owen's Itenerary), we decided to go. We took an overnight train from Krakow to Budapest. It's a 10 hour ride, and I forgot the ear plugs, but oh how romantic to be lulled to sleep by the roll of a train... even if you're then awakened by the screech of the brakes an hour later. Over and Over and Over again...
Arriving in a new country early in the morning with children is a bit harrowing if you are newby travelers like us. The train station was an Absolute Madhouse, and we couldn't seem to find a Tourist Info center or an ATM anywhere. Everyone was cranky, and finally in desperation we headed out of the station. We found ourselves in the Metro with kids desperate to go to the bathroom, which they couldn't do because we didn't have any local currency, and the bathrooms were all pay-to-pee. The kids were also starving (no currency), and I hadn't had coffee (no currency). Note to selves: don't ever leave a train station again without a visit to the TI, the ATM, and the WC. Bob went back to the station while Ella chanted "I can do it, I can do it." He came back with Hungarian Forint, directions, and Metro passes, and in no time at all we were relieved, caffeinated, and on our way, with a renewed sense of self-esteem and wanderlust, "We can do it, we can do it." At our metro stop, we got off the train and found a bench. We put down all the bags, and ate our breakfast of pastry in leisure. Here was our first view of Budapest:
Budapest is famous for it's hot springs, spas, and baths, and Owen's big destination of choice was the Szechenyi Baths (se-chen-yeah). It was mostly built in the early 1900's, and it's beautiful! Owen ran straight for the swirling current pool and floated in circles for hours.
Budapest, in general, is pretty kickin'. The people are wonderful and they love their city! Ask someone a question, and they immediately become your tour guide. Our waiter helped plan the entire day when we asked him what we should see. We went everywhere -- all over the place -- which is what you have to do in Budapest. Although you could just hang out next to the Danube and wait for the light to change again... that in itself is pretty damn exciting. We used the hell out of our Budapest cards for both the discounts on tourist activities and the Metro. Happily we didn't need to use the included travelers insurance, which covered things like:
- Total loss of one arm and one foot 100%
- Total loss of one eye 40%
- Total loss of thigh (upper half) 40%
- Amputation of one toe other than the big toe 3% (personally, I value all my toes more than that!)
- And thank God, Total incurable insanity 100%.
Bob said he had an idea for financing the rest of the year if we run out of money, and we'd get to use the handicapped seats on the metro.
Towards the end of our stay we started thinking... we could buy train tickets back to Krakow, or we could buy tickets to, say... Vienna. It's only 3 hours away by train, we're so close! We booked a last-minute cut-rate Vienna hotel online during our last Happy Hour in Budapest and hopped a train the next day. I must say -- I was rather loving my life at this point.
Vienna! -- it opened slowly to us. We just kept wandering around -- at every corner we fell in love with another street. We wandered past a leafy little church at noon, just as the bells started to ring. We wandered around the Belvedere Museum and discovered that the kids really love museums, as long as there's an audio-guide. We wandered down the street from our hotel and found a charming cafe, where we sat outside and ate simple little sandwiches and drank crisp Austrian Sauvignon Blanc. We wandered past statues and buildings and fountains with grins on our faces, and forget our guidebooks completely.
We ate like Gods! Rich red goulash with buttery chunks of meat. Thin, crispy wienerschnitzel with a squeeze of lemon. Incredible sausage stuffed with cheese from a pricy little sidewalk sausage stand. We threw our budget to the wind, and went back for more. We stopped by a corner grocery and bought the best blackberries we've ever eaten. Can you tell I love Vienna? And then here's the heartbreak: on the only night that I could have attended a preformance of Mozart's Requiem we were scheduled to leave. At the last minute we added another day to our visit, but I was too late to buy a ticket. It's a lesson... don't pass up an opportunity like that. Next time I won't.
Our overnight train back to Krakow left at 10:00pm. We boarded at 9:00, made up our little bench-beds, and settled in. 6:20am the next morning found us weary and bleary, pulling our suitcases down Gertrudy Street towards home. I know it's only been home for a few weeks, but walking along the Planty, and past our curmudgeony little market, and taking the left turn at the bank onto our street without thinking, it just felt like Home, and we were glad to be back.