Vienna and Budapest
19.04.2013 - 23.04.2013 18 °C
Hello again e'erybody! Time to step back into the time machine for a quick trip through April 'til some excitement at the end! Here we go!
I actually found out, while my parents were here in February and much to my surprise that I would need to move out of my old flat on the 1st of April. Apparently my roommate Matteo was fed up with dealing with the landlady who had given him trouble over the past years, and he was ready to live on his own. It left two options: for Tiago and myself to both look for a new place to live, or for us to stay and find a new roommate, as well as take over the responsibility of the flat: bills etc. Neither of us were excited about those prospects, so we decided to go separate ways and head in new directions. I now find myself living in a new flat! Hopefully in the next couple of weeks I can upload a few photos and describe the roommates and everything, but I thought it was worth a mention. Nothing like a little excitement halfway through my grant!
Ok, so April was full of getting to know the new roommates and actually I got moderately sick there in the middle, so I was really excited to get healthy just in time for the next adventure! My program, called the Whitaker Fellowship, holds a conference each year for the current grantees somewhere in Europe. This year it was held in Budapest, Hungary! The conference ran on a Tuesday to a Friday, so Ross and I planned a bit ahead to go to Vienna the weekend before, so I'll start there!
Well actually, I'll start in Barcelona before the trip begins. So I have been extremely lucky to have a salary while here, but I have still been flying as much as possible with the budget airlines that travel around Spain and Europe. However, my program is not under the same budgetary restrictions, so they booked my flight to Budapest with Lufthansa. While by no means a luxury liner, I found it to be even nicer than flights in the US now. There was leg room, and they gave be food and drink on all of the flights, including a beer on the way from Munich to Barcelona on the way home. It was so refreshing, for the next flights I peeked at what the prices would be to fly with a real airline and should have known better, really. The prices were four times as much. It's the budget airlines for me!
Ok, so I left after work on Friday, knowing that I would get into Budapest late. We were thinking that we might just go to the train station and sleep there in preparation for our early train to Vienna, but when I got off the plane in Budapest and found Ross and our other companion, Sasi, they had already scoped out some niiiice comfortable metal chairs. Since we didn't know how nice the train station would be, we stayed put. And boy am I happy we did! We found out when we arrived in the morning that the train station there is not exactly built for comfort, so we were relieved that we had made the right decision!
So before we left, Ross had told Sasi and I that he had some family friends (it will take two lines to explain all of the connections, and I'm bound to get it wrong anyway), who live in Vienna and were willing to put us up for the three nights we were there. Little did I know that we would be treated to absolutely king treatment. Wolfgang, the father picked us up from the train station directly and took us to their house, which is a flat just to the northwest of the city. When we walked in at about 9, there was a gigantic breakfast waiting for us on the table! Replete with bread, cheese, fish, eggs, stuffed bell peppers, orange juice... honestly I can't even remember everything on the table and it was like that every day we were there! Notice I am quite happy to ignore the camera!
Normally when Ross and I travel, we grab a map from the desk and wander around the sights of the city. Not in Vienna! Wolfgang's wife, Kata, had recently retired and was absolutely keen to drive us around the city and show us the sights. She explained that it was much nicer to see the sights in the car first so that we could go back and visit the special ones later. With her in charge, we had the whirlwind tour, including museums, monuments, the famous Viennese opera house, and many a gargantuan palace.
In the countries that I have visited so far, there are vistiges of conflict. The spanish Civil War took a huge toll on many cities and people, and relatively short time ago. However, in Vienna I encountered a much more publicized conflict for the first time: World War II. One image in particular I remember from one history class is the black and white film footage of Hitler standing on the balcony of a huge palace, waving a thousands of cheering people in the yard below. When I walked out into the courtyard of the Hofburg, each of us had a moment of surreal feeling that this was a place history, bad, sad history had happened.
It would be a feeling repeated in Budapest, unfortunately. The palace itself, however, is a mighty thing, housing many kings to have ruled in Austria, including the Habsburg dynasty which ruled much more than just Austria. Their reach spread even as far as Spain, so that name was not unknown to me. However, the three of us elected to go into a different palace, called the Schönbrunn Palace, which served as their summer palace, to get away from the heat and hustle and bustle of the city in the summer. It was a tough life being a Habsburg king.
The grounds were just immaculate, and although they were still planting for the spring, a few flowers could be found.
And perched up on a hill next to the palace is a monument, called the Gloriet, which was erected as a dining hall for the emperorand made for a great spot for a walk and some incredible sights of the city!
One of the other major sights in Vienna is called the Stephansdom, a huge cathedral dedicated to St. Stephens which was erected in the 1300s. They have covered the huge windows of the interior up with saran-wrap like paper to shed colorful light all over the interior, but it looked a lot like most of the other Gothic churches I have been in, so I'll spare the gory details (also I apprently don't have any photos, so that's not even an option! However, fear not...)
This is opposed to a church on the other side of the city, which is in the Baroque style, and which I found to be much more pleasing. This one is called Karlskirche, or St. Charles Church, and was erected in the 1700s by Charles VI one year after the last plague epidemic out of respect for his namesake, Charles Borromeo who was said to have healing powers.
Speaking of the plague, after fleeing from the plague in 1697, the emperor then vowed to erect a mercy column if the plague would end. Of course it did, so the city of Vienna is left with this Pestsäule, a quite stunning, intense tower in the middle of the city, with many religious figures adorning the base.
Finally, on our last night in Vienna, Kata took us out to eat for dinner at a little place that serves mostly as a winery in the hills outside of the city. There, we were treated to some incredible Viennese food (schnitzle, among other awesome dishes), and fresh wine, and surprisingly, a duo of musicians playing local and Hungarian music on the accordian and violin. Soon they were joined by a sufficiently inebriated Viennese man who added some dancing and singing to the mix. What an evening!
The entrance to the restaurant:
And the food:
And the musicians:
Kata and her brother being seranaded:
I feel like I close with this line a lot, but ya know, if it ain't broke, don't fix it! So here you go, what an unbelievable couple of days! The hospitality shown by Kata and her family was outstanding, and the city of Vienna was beautiful in so many different ways to what I have been seeing in Spain. And with that, on Tuesday morning, we were off to Budapest!
Aaand that's all for now. It got longer than I expected so I'll spare you the epic post and try my best to add in Budapest soon!
As always, hope all is well with you, stay safe!