09.04.2017 - 13.04.2017 18 °C
It's not as grim as it sounds!
We arrived at Esher railway station on the outskirts of London to be picked up by Robin, our lovely homeowner from Combloux in the French Alps. Robin had just arrived from Combloux to spend a couple of weeks with her family. She and one of her daughters, Ross, were babysitting for one of her other daughters, Nikki, while she and her husband were at a wedding. Unfortunately, Robin had a dose of the flu so we acted as reinforcements to help Ross with Ben (4) and Toby (1). It was a beautiful London afternoon and a pleasure to be able to spent the afternoon outside entertaining the boys in the garden. We enjoyed a wonderful meal and lively conversation with Ross that evening.
Robin was a little better the next morning and determined to take us to Heathrow to catch our flight to Vienna. We dropped in to see her new ‘England’ home for a quick visit, just so we knew where to go to visit her next time we were over! It was another farewell to another lovely new friend when we said our goodbyes at Heathrow’s Terminal 2, for our flight at 11.00am.
We flew Brussels Air to Vienna, via Brussels, which took around five hours. We took the option of the ‘regular’ train into the city (Station - Wien Mitte) as this was about a 1/3 of the cost of the ‘express’ and took just five minutes longer! We picked up the U4 metro line here which took us out to our accommodation.
We had organised an Airbnb apartment for three nights. We were met by our wonderful host, Monica, who advised us that we were her first customers. Monica is 77 years old with a very youthful and spritely approach to life! She apologised for not being able to spend too much time with us as she was back and forth to the hospital keeping an eye on her 89 year old husband! The apartment was very nice and in an ideal location; close to the metro, restaurants and supermarkets and also within walking distance to Schönbrunn Palace, the park and Zoo (complete with Pandas).
The next day dawned fine and warm so we donned the summer attire and started our day by walking through Schönbrunn park to the Palace and up the hill to get a view over the city.
It was then back down to the metro and into the old area of Vienna. We followed a walking circuit which took us into the centre of the city, out to the Danube River and back in around the Ringstraße (Ring Road) which circles the city.
Apart from being regarded as the City of Music because of its musical legacy, Vienna is also said to be "The City of Dreams" because it was home to the world's first psycho-analyst – Sigmund Freud. The city's roots lie in early Celtic and Roman settlements that transformed into a Medieval and Baroque city, and then the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It is well known for having played an essential role as a leading European music centre, from the great age of Viennese Classicism through the early part of the 20th century.
The historic centre of Vienna is rich in architectural ensembles, including Baroque castles and gardens, and the late-19th-century Ringstraße lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks.
Vienna is known for its high quality of life. In a 2005 study of 127 world cities, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked the city first (in a tie with Vancouver, Canada and San Francisco, USA) for the world's most liveable cities. Between 2011 and 2015, Vienna was ranked second, behind Melbourne, Australia. For eight consecutive years (2009–2016), the human-resource-consulting firm Mercer ranked Vienna first in its annual "Quality of Living" survey of hundreds of cities around the world, a title the city still held in 2016. Monocle's 2015 "Quality of Life Survey" ranked Vienna second on a list of the top 25 cities in the world "to make a base within."
The UN-Habitat has classified Vienna as being the most prosperous city in the world in 2012/2013. The city was ranked 1st globally for its culture of innovation in 2007 and 2008, and sixth globally (out of 256 cities) in the 2014 Innovation Cities Index.
High praise indeed!
By the end of the day we felt pleased with our efforts and enjoyed a drink in the sun at a local bar not far from our apartment!
Vienna is just one hours travel to Bratislava in Slovakia. They are the closest capital cities in Europe being just 70km apart. We decided not to miss the opportunity of a visit. There are several travel options between the cities (train, bus and river ferry) however we chose the most convenient for us and took the train from Hauptabanhof station, taking just over an hour directly to Bratislava Hlavná Station.
We quickly found a great coffee shop to ‘energise’ us for the day!
The cityscape of Bratislava is characterised by medieval towers and grandiose 20th-century buildings, but it has undergone profound changes in a construction boom at the start of the 21st century.
Most historical buildings are concentrated in the Old Town. Bratislava's Town Hall is a complex of three buildings erected in the 14th–15th centuries and now hosts the Bratislava City Museum. Michael's Gate is the only gate that has been preserved from the medieval fortifications, and it ranks among the oldest of the town's buildings; the narrowest house in Europe is nearby.
The historic centre is characterised by many baroque palaces. The Grassalkovich Palace, built around 1760, is now the residence of the Slovak president.
Notable cathedrals and churches include the Gothic St. Martin's Cathedral built in the 13th–16th centuries, which served as the coronation church of the Kingdom of Hungary between 1563 and 1830. The Franciscan Church, dating to the 13th century, has been a place of knighting ceremonies and is the oldest preserved sacral building in the city. The Church of St. Elizabeth, better known as the Blue Church due to its colour, is built entirely in the Hungarian Secessionist style.
Other prominent 20th-century structures include the Most Slovenského národného povstania (Bridge of the Slovak national uprising) across the Danube featuring a UFO-like tower restaurant, Slovak Radio's inverted-pyramid-shaped headquarters, and the uniquely designed Kamzík TV Tower with an observation deck and rotating restaurant. In the early 21st century, new edifices have transformed the traditional cityscape.
One of the most prominent structures in the city is Bratislava Castle, situated on a plateau 85 metres (279 ft) above the Danube. The castle hill site has been inhabited since the transitional period between the Stone and Bronze ages and has been the acropolis of a Celtic town, part of the Roman Limes Romanus, a huge Slavic fortified settlement, and a political, military and religious centre for Great Moravia. A stone castle was not constructed until the 10th century, when the area was part of the Kingdom of Hungary.
The castle was converted into a Gothic anti-Hussite fortress under Sigismund of Luxemburg in 1430, became a Renaissance castle in 1562, and was rebuilt in 1649 in the baroque style. Under Queen Maria Theresa, the castle became a prestigious royal seat. In 1811, the castle was inadvertently destroyed by fire and lay in ruins until the 1950s, when it was rebuilt mostly in its former Theresian style.
Some of the most photographed attractions of Bratislava are its sculptures in human size located all over its Old Town. Here are a couple of them.
The literal translation of the word Čumil is "the watcher.“ There are two possible explanations for its name. The first rumour says that he is a typical communist era worker who is not bothered about the work he’s supposed to be doing. According to the second rumour, he’s looking under the women’s skirts. Choose the one you like more This most photographed statue of our city attracts tourists at the junction of Laurinská and Panská Streets.
This old man is the only statue which is silver (the rest being bronze). He is also the only statue of a real existing person. His original name was Ignac Lamar and he lived in Pressburg (former name of Bratislava) at the turn of the 19th and 20th century.
After a good walk around we had a late lunch at the Slovak Pub on the way back to the train.
Our next destination was Budapest (pronounced Boo-da-PESHT – this is for you Stu Miller).
We headed back to the Hauptabanhof station again the next morning and secured tickets for the 11.39 train. This took us (in two and half hours) to the beautiful Budapest railway station in the centre of the city. We again took the metro to the closest station to our accommodation. Finding our apartment from there ended up being somewhat of a challenge! The naming convention of properties in Budapest is not necessarily ‘conventional’. After a couple of emails to our host and a little help from a friendly English speaking barista we found our very comfortable and convenient 3rd floor apartment in the University district just 10 minutes’ walk to the historic Central Market building.
András, our host, was very helpful advising us what to do with our two days in Budapest. He also endeavoured to explain the logic behind the street addresses however by this time our concentration levels had sunk pretty low. Hence at the time of writing this we actually find we're unable now to remember much! What we do remember is that the numbering had something to do with the sequence used in the 'squares' and those in the 'streets'! Perhaps the rapid numbers used in rural Southland might be just as confusing for a city dweller from Budapest!
It was now getting late in the evening so we took to the streets for a quick look around before dark. Our route to took us to the Central Market building, along the pedestrian street to the Chain Bridge and to the base of Buda Castle. We then wandered back to a small restaurant near our apartment for a late dinner.
Budapest is a city with strengths in arts, commerce, design, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, services, research, and tourism. Budapest attracts 4.4 million international tourists per year, making it the 25th most popular city in the world, the 6th in Europe.
Among Budapest's important museums and cultural institutions, the most visited art museum is the Museum of Fine Arts, as well as the Hungarian National Gallery, which is noted for one of the largest collections of all periods of European art and comprises more than 100,000 pieces. The central area of the city along the Danube River is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has many notable monuments, including the Hungarian Parliament, Buda Castle, Fisherman's Bastion, Gresham Palace, Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Matthias Church and the Liberty Statue. Further famous landmarks include Andrássy Avenue, St. Stephen's Basilica, Heroes' Square, the Great Market Hall, the Nyugati Railway Station built by the Eiffel Company of Paris in 1877 and the second-oldest metro line in the world, the Millennium Underground Railway.
Budapest is home to numerous museums, galleries, libraries, sporting events and other cultural institutions, including the Hungarian National Museum, House of Terror, Franz Liszt Academy of Music, Hungarian State Opera House, National Széchényi Library and Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
Budapest is cited as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and "Europe's 7th most idyllic place to live" by Forbes. It has around 80 geothermal springs the world's largest thermal water cave system, second largest synagogue, and third largest Parliament building.
We had purchased a book of metro tickets so combined metro travel with our usual walking to cover the sights of Budapest. We traveled the metro from our apartment to the Buda side of the river to the north of Buda’s Old Town. We enjoyed a coffee before walking up the hill through the old town to the Vienna Gate and through the streets to the Halászbástya or Fisherman's Bastion. This area provides fantastic views over the Danube and the city. After a peaceful start the tourist numbers were building!
We continued on to the Castle, down past the funicular, back across the Chain Bridge and along the Danube to the Hungarian parliament. We lunched in what looked like a ‘locals hangout’ as it had a constant stream of what seemed to be office workers from local businesses in the area. We walked slowly back through the streets to the University district where we enjoyed a coffee from the barista who helped us when we first arrived.
András our host walked by and stopped for a chat. After indicating we were keen to visit one of the Bath Houses he offered us a ride to the Széchenyi Medicinal Bath. This bath house is the largest medicinal bath in Europe. We accepted his kind offer and spent a relaxing hour soaking in the hot pools. We traveled back to our apartment on the oldest metro in mainland Europe (the London underground is older).
Our original travel plan was to continue ‘tracking’ our way down through Eastern Europe to Belgrade, Bucharest and Varna before reaching Istanbul. However after considering the logistics around travel and the time we had left we decided to fly directly to Istanbul from Budapest.
Maintaining flexibility with our travel plans continues to be a good strategy to the end!
The Woodsies xx