Continued from Eastern Europe II.
"Trains run regularily from Ljubljana to Budapest." When I wrote that I was operating under some false assumptions. This time of year there is one train and it leaves Ljubljana at 2:00 in the morning. I didn't want to just kill time until the next morning so I pulled out a map. Hmmm. Zagreb isn't far away and puts me a little closer to Budapest. I also have never been to Croatia. Back to the ticket window with a new destination in mind. This makes my trip through Eastern Europe into a figure-8 from the Czech Republic into Poland down and back through Slovakia then Vienna to Slovenia and now Croatia before going up into Hungary to finish back in Vienna.
My decision to go to Zagreb was a bit adventurous. When I bought the ticket on the spur of the moment I didn't even know if I needed a visa to visit the country. (Don't worry I was only gambling 11 Euros and a few hours of travel) Nor did I know the exchange rate or even what the currency was. I had no information about the country or city and no accomodation lined up or even a list of places to try. Nor did I have a map or any idea what would greet me as I stepped off the train or where the train station was located in relation to everything else. Ahhh. Now that is travelling.
I left the central station and found myself in a very appealling city. Often the train station is located in, shall I say, not the classiest area. Here I stepped into a vibrant city of beautiful parks and facades. I also had a German Stadtplan of the city and a pocket full of Kuna. My pack was in a locker so I was light on my feet as I crossed the tramway towards the Upper Town where I figured the hostels would be. My camera was out: Zagreb. During my wandering I found Fulir Hostel right in the heart of things and soon had a bunk next to a guy from Virginia and an English bloke. A wise man once said, "I love it when a plan comes together". Before long I was typing this in a restaurant with a superb traditional veal and potato dinner and Ozujsko beer listening to horrible renditions of covers. Imagine a bad lounge or wedding singer and add in the fact that English is a foreign language to the vocalist. OMG! Now a duo is singing "West Virginia"! They love that song over here. You'll remember that I also heard it in Berlin if you have been following along closely for some time.
Although I resolved to go to bed early I was talked into one drink around the corner with a group from the hostel. Well one drink turned into several but it was such fun I couldn't leave. They were all having a really good time during their stay in Croatia and I was sorry I had to leave so soon. Eventually the bar closed and three of us decided that was enough and headed to our bunks. The others continued somewhere else. Waking up four hours later was difficult but I did it.
Budapest (pronounced Budapesht) at last! I've added Hungary back into my itinerary! I have heard so many good things about the capital you just wouldn't believe.
This arrival went very smoothly especially considering that like Croatia, I had torn out and thrown out that section of guidebook. I had a vague recollection of what to do and see but no specifics and certainly no map or place to stay lined up. After I stepped onto the station platform I was approached by a guy looking to fill his hostel. He seemed a likable sort although he looked a little rough and the hostel was just a couple minutes walk. So we got my money changed and he gave me maps and the lowdown on some scams being run downtown against tourists. Then I was in the hostel getting an Internet fix and relaxing with some cheap beer. The place is small and doesn't have the party comraderie of the last one in Zagreb but it will do. I went out a little later to orient myself, get some traditional Hungarian food, and take some night photos once the sun went down.
Today was the main siteseeing day. I left early and joined a walking tour. It seemed like a good way to get the most out of my guidebookless visit. I learned a lot of good background information about what I was seeing. Besides the usual churches and other architecure we even visited the first McDonalds in the former Warsaw Pact. Our guide had gone in when it first opened and was very excited to see what it was like "to be in America". Her friend got scolded at home for accompanying her because the father was worried that he would have trouble at the factory if it was known his daughter had gone to a western restaurant. Ah the bad old days of leftist fascism. That tour ran five hours with a break so it was after 13:00 when I descended from the Royal Castle only to hike up to the Citadella on another hill above the river. The fortifications there were a little disappointing but there was a somewhat interesting WWII exhibit in the bunker. I had about 100 photos from today but I'm not putting them all up. Photos of Budapest
Is this enough time to truly appreciate Vienna? No. Absolutely not. Just like so many other places before, I have only seen enough to know how much I am really missing. It was a relief to finally arrive after so many changes to my schedule. I'm sure Esther was relieved too. She and her daughter Miriam are hosting me, and my frequent changes of plan had created skepticism among the flatmates over my true arrival date and time. :) The three of us met in Colombia during a jungle trek to the Lost City of the Tayrona. Conveniently they live near the train station that I arrived in and depart from. Additionally it is just a short walk to the famous Schönbrunn Palace. The night air made it a cold walk between the tram stop and their apartment, but the plum schnapps helped to restore vigor. We talked well into the night.
Because I would be taking a night train to Amsterdam I had a full three days to sitesee. Although I always left the apartment late there was still time to have a full day. In fact on the first day I came back almost at midnight. I'm too lazy to write the details but here is a list of the major sites that I saw in no particular order: Schönbrunn Palace, City Hall (Rathaus), Parliment, People's Park (Volksgarten), Hofburg New Palace Museums, Treasury, Royal Silver and Porcelan Museum, Sissy Museum, Imperial Apartments, Roman foundations, Kohlmarkt (upscale shopping street), Graben (a former trench around the original Roman settlement), St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom), Danube Canal, Naschmarkt (excellent open-air market), Secession Building, Charles Square (Karlsplatz), Charles Church (Karlskirche), Upper Belvedere Palace, and Heurigen Steinschaden (wine garden) in the suburb of Nussdorf. And naturally I made sure to eat and drink the local specialities.
My photos of Vienna.
The day finally arrived. It has been quite the adventure but with my departure from Vienna this trip is finished. A comfortable overnight train brought me back to Amsterdam for a brief visit with Josje, the Hostess with the Mostest. I had a half day to repack and otherwise prepare for the 10+ hours of airtravel back to Ohio. Thus concludes Eurotrashed 2007. I hope you have enjoyed following along on my trip. I will leave you with some words from Lao Tzu (570-490 BC) that I live by to take with you on your next trip. "A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." I can't say it better myself.