Intricate churches, delectable cakes, cute boutiques, magnificent gardens and luscious hillsides are just a taste of what I encountered on my fall break. Leaving Strasbourg behind, my friends and I made our way to Budapest, ready to experience what a true Eastern European city had to offer.
Immediately, I felt like I was thrown into a completely different environment, where the subway looked like something out of a movie and the complexity of the language was way over my head. The city is divided in two, Buda and Pest, by the Danube River. Several bridges cross the city making it the norm to simply walk across. At night, the view from the river edge, is amazing, buildings, churches and the Parliament building (the largest building in Hungary) are lit with the Hungarian colors of red, white and green.
On the Buda side of the river, my friends and I hiked up to the top of Castle Point, where we saw a spectular view of the entire city. We also enjoyed a nice funicular ride up to the Buda Castle where we ventured through the Hungarian National Gallery and stared in awe at the elaborate gate to the castle. A nice boat ride down the Danube gave us a great view from the river of all types of Hungarian architecture, as well as a look at the landscape of each side. We stopped at Margaret Island, in the center, a 2.5 kilomoter island, where we enjoyed a nice little tour by a local. The food in Budapest was also something to dive into. A collection of goulash, Hungarian dumplings and stuffed dumplings will satisfy any traveler who is willing to take a bite. Cheap food and necessitites are definitely an attractive quality of Eastern Europe, I must say.
Next stop, Vienna, where we began touring all of the palaces the city has to offer–The Hapsburg, the Belvedere and the Schonbrunn. Clearly the architects of these buildings, back in the 1400s, were anything but modest with their designs. Every palace is huge, with hundred of rooms and intricately decorated everything, from wallpaper to tablecloths to forks. Even more, two of these palaces were only “summer homes” of the emperor and empress. Of course, these two summer palaces are adorned with expansive, perfectly kept gardens that are spread out over acres of land. Just taking a walk through the gardens, especially with the fall colors around us, was an enjoyable afternoon activity.
We stopped by one of Vienna’s well known outdoor markets, where I felt right back at home in New York, with vendors haggling you to try there food and give you the best offer. Rows and rows of dried fruit, candy, falafel stands and local Viennese specialties lined the market. Everything looked worth buying, however, my friends and I took the option of accepting constant free offers from the friendly Austrian locals. Just walking through the Vienna streets is something to do.
I still cannot believe the beauty of that city. Although much of the central old city is covered with small, expensive shops, the overall feel of the city does not come across that way. Every large city has its touch of designer this and that, but there was clearly so much more here to offer. Historic statues are scattered throughout and one cannot forget the huge café culture that has such a large presence in Vienna. We stopped in for a delicious cake and hot chocolate at Café Demel, built in 1786, where Empress Sissi used to come and enjoy her violet sorbet. People in Vienna sit for hours enjoying their coffee and cake time. Sounds like a good idea to me.