Europe 2002 Diary

5 [ Austria - Hungary - Czech Republic ]

This is part five, where we travel from Venice across into Austria for two nights in Vienna, then to Hungary for two nights in Budapest, then to the Czech Republic for two nights in Prague. At this point we start to really appreciate the benefits of the Euro, as we experience three currencies in six days. We also start to appreciate how bad border crossings can be.

See also parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7.


5.1 [ Vienna ]

After a week in Italy, we drove from Venice to Vienna on the 14th. After our arrival, we had a quick drive around the city with Shana pointing out the main sights, then had a group meal at a restaurant near our hotel. This was an excellent meal - beer soup for entree, schnitzel for main course, and apple strudel for dessert. During this meal I had my first one litre stein of beer. It was definately a good meal.

After the meal, a group of us went up the road to an Irish pub (as you do when you're in Vienna). We consumed more beer, then wandered around for a while looking for a salsa club (it had either closed or never existed), and then went back to the Irish pub for more beer to finish off the evening.

The following day started with a visit to Schloß Schönbrunn, the palace of the Hapsbergs from 1569 to 1916. I chose to take the less-extensive of the two available audio tours of the inside of the palace, having decided at Versailles that there is a limit to how much of this sort of thing I can enjoy. After completing the audio tour, some of us went for a walk through the gardens. And as at Versailles, the gardens were very impressive. The gardens and palace are in the photos below, the third photo shows me (at the back), Chris, Italian Dave, Fiona, Kate, and Melbourne Dave.

Gardens at Schloss Schoenbrunn
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Schloss Schoenbrunn and Vienna
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Kumuka people at Schloss Schoenbrunn
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At the top of the hill in the gardens is the Gloriette. I don't think we ever worked out exactly why it was built. It looks impressive though. You can see it in the first photo below. After our walk around the gardens, we headed back down to the front of the palace and waited for the Kumuka bus to take us to our next destination.

The Gloriette at Schloss Schoenbrunn
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The front of Schloss Schoenbrunn
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Our next destination was Friedrich Fischer Schnapsmuseum. We learnt a little about the history of the business and the different drinks that they produce, then were given an opportunity to sample the merchandise. Plenty of schnaps was consumed, including the 56% alcohol Wiener Blut (Vienna Blood) and 80% alcohol rum. Fake labels were available for those who needed to get the rum past customs. I bought a bottle of Wiener Blut and a bottle of Strawberry schnaps.

At this point the storage in my camera was nearly exhausted, so I had my photos copied onto CD. This explains why there are no more photos of Vienna. In any case, there wasn't a lot to see. A few of us walked around for the remainder of the day looking at the buildings of interest. That night we got dinner from a Chinese takeaway (very expensive compared to the prices we're used to in Australia) and had some drinks in one of the rooms at the hotel. The photo below was taken in the hotel - it shows Bee eating yoghurt with a plastic bag on her head and a face mask peeling off. I think it's a New Zealand thing.

Bee in Vienna
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5.2 [ Budapest ]

The next day was Tuesday, and we spent much of it driving from Vienna to Budapest. Crossing the border into Hungary took a long time, due to the rediculous visa requirements imposed on Australians. It was made more difficult by Phil and Italian Dave who had lost some of their paperwork. The Hungarian border guard was not happy. Border guards and customs people in Europe seem far less friendly than their Australian counterparts. Eventually we got into Hungary, had lunch at McDonald's (happily Chris and I had thought ahead and bought lunch stuff from a supermarket in Vienna), and proceeded to Budapest.

After our arrival we checked into our hotel and went on a quick tour of Budapest with a local guide named Attila. The first photo below was taken at our first stop, Hero's Square. The statues around the square show people from history who have contributed to the Hungarian nation. You can see a couple of them on each side of the photo. The second stop was the Mátyás Church, in the second photo below you can see the fantastic porcelain roof of the church. I was one of the few people who went inside the church with Attila, but most people stayed outside. The inside was brilliant, but unfortunately I didn't get any photos that worked out.

Hero's Square, Budapest
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Matyas Church, Budapest
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Next to the church is the Fishermen's Bastion, built in the early 1900s. From the Bastion there's a great view of the city, with the Danube River and the Parliament building being the most notable features. In the first photo you can see the Bastion itself and another part of the church roof.

The Fishermen's Bastion
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Me in Budapest
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Budapest
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After we finished the tour, a group of us went for a walk along the river. I attempted to take some night photos (Phil encouraged me) and some of them turned out ok. In the photos you can see Buda Castle, the Citadel, and the Elizabeth Bridge.

Budapest at Night
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Budapest at Night
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Budapest at Night
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Budapest at Night
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Budapest at Night
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The next day turned out to be a bit disappointing. We started at the markets, which primarily sold food. Some of us wanted to go to the Statue Park, but we didn't know where it was. Someone suggested which direction it was in, so we headed out towards the Citadel to look around. After lots of walking it emerged that the Statue Park was in a completely different area. We walked across Margaret Island, but there was nothing to see there. We headed back to the hotel, and found a brochure on the Statue Park that explained how to get there.

The Statue Park is an exhibition of all the Soviet-era statues that were located in Budapest. Unfortunately it wasn't as interesting as we expected. To get there we had to take two buses to the very outskirts of the city, which was an adventure in itself. The park wasn't very well presented - I guess it's a part of history that isn't fondly remembered by the Hungarian people. Even the photos didn't work out very well.

Statue Park
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Lenin Statue
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We took the bus back into the centre of Budapest, I went to an Internet place for an hour to send some email. We met back at the hotel in the evening before heading out for the day's highlight - a mediæval dinner. It was here that we invented a new game called "what meat is that?" We had huge plates of food that were shared between three people, with vegetables and six types of meat. We never managed to identify what all six of them were. There were even some actors who came around our table to liven up the meal even more. I wish I'd taken my camera that evening.

5.3 [ Prague ]

The drive from Budapest to Prague took a long time. First we had to get across the border from Hungary into Austria, which took bloody ages. It seems they were even more reluctant to let us out of their country than they were to let us in. We ate lunch at a factory outlet place in Austria, which was expensive and crappy. Crossing the border into the Czech Republic only took half an hour (again all the Aussies needed a visa).

We arrived at Top Hotel Praha fairly late, and ate dinner at the hotel. There was a cover band in the restaurant, and they sang happy birthday to me. We discovered free Internet access in the hotel's casino, which I used both nights that we were there. The rooms at the hotel were absolutely huge, always a good thing.

The next day the whole Kumuka group piled onto Prague's public transport and went into the city centre. We started with Shana taking us on a walking tour. One of the most impressive buildings in the city is the Church of Tin. I don't know why it's called that, but it's very pointy. The church is in the first photo below. One of the main attractions of Prague is supposedly the Astronomical Clock. Having heard about how brilliant it is, I took a photo while there weren't many people around and decided to return later in the day to see it moving.

Tin Church, Prague
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Astronomical Clock
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We walked through the city over to the Danube where I believe we finished our walking tour. There's a tower at the end of the Charles Bridge. Having never resisted an opportunity to pay money to climb lots of steps, some of us climbed up it. It wasn't very high, but it still gave good views. The tower itself is the first of the photos below. I never identified the building in the second photo, it may be the St Salvátor Church. The other two show the Charles Bridge looking towards the cathedral, our next destination.

Charles Bridge Tower
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St Salvator Church, Prague
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Charles Bridge and the Cathedral
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Charles Bridge and the Cathedral
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Some of us headed up towards the cathedral. On the way we came to what we assume was the Parliament building, where we saw the changing of the guard. Nothing amazing, but it was unexpected. The cathedral is close by, and once we got there we realised how hard it was. It was very difficult to make it fit in a photo. A few of us ended up lying on the floor against the wall on the far side of the square trying to make it fit. The result was pretty good.

Prague Cathedral
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As we walked down the hill from the cathedral, we stopped for lunch. I grabbed a tasty sandwich, a piece of cake, and a drink from a deli for under A$4, making it perhaps the best value meal of the whole trip. We ate in the nearby park, it was great. After lunch we continued heading down towards the city centre, and Steph foolishly commented on how warm it was. Half an hour later it started to rain. Bee, Nicky, Kim, and Steph went for a ride on a horse-drawn carriage. Afterwards, we watched the amazing Astronomical Clock do its thing, but strangely it wasn't very amazing. We couldn't work out how to tell the time on it either.

Horse-drawn carriage in Prague
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Since it was raining, we didn't do much else that day. We went and had a donut and I bought a DVD.

The next day we left Prague. We had one final stop in the Czech Republic, at a former Nazi concentration camp at Terezín. It was a bit of a sombre experience, but definately worth doing. Cells had been maintained in the same condition as they were in at the end of World War II. The accomodation for prisoners was very minimal, with large numbers of people crammed onto wooden bunks. No mattresses were available as they were found to spread disease. It was clearly a horrible place.

Bunks in Terezin concentration camp
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Terezin concentration camp
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We spend the last of our Czech Korunas on snack food, and proceeded on our way to Berlin.

The diary continues in part six.