Central Europe for Sexagenarians – Day 11

Posted by admin on July 14th, 2013 filed in batman, bicycles, photography, travel

Sunday, July 7th, 2013
Sonntag, 7. Juli 2013

After staying up late last night with wine, tequila, Matthew Perry and Zac Efron, Laura and I slept in as long as possible. Check out was at 10AM, so we were up around 9:15, trying to get in gear. Thankfully Mom arose early and was kind enough to sneak us some coffee from the not-free-and-mostly-bread-anyway breakfast buffet. She even fixed us an omelet in the hostel kitchen while we stayed in the room showering, prepping and packing.

After checking out and loading up the car, we went in search of bikes. In the last post, I mentioned Vienna’s wonderful – mostly free – bike program (citybikewien.at) which we intended to make use of for our remaining hours in Vienna. The problem with mostly free bikes is that sometimes it’s hard to get them.  You can reserve one in advance, but we didn’t get around to that and the two rental stations each had one bike on hold for someone else. So we started walking toward our morning’s destination, knowing we’d pass other bike stations on the way.

Our walk to the Hapsburgs’ palace (the summer one, not the winter one) took us to the “other side of the tracks” of Vienna, literally and euphemistically. We finally arrived at the palace amidst a jumble of multinational tour buses and a few firetrucks and emergency vehicles as well (though we never found out why they were there).

Bypassing the palace entrance, cafe and carriage museum, our resident tour guide (Laura) headed straight for the gardens. I expected some well-manicured lawns, maybe with geraniums, morning glories and a fountain or two, but what we encountered was mind-boggling. My first thought, when I realized the extent of the palace grounds, was “This is ridiculous. Bleeping ridiculous.”

The palace is huge, as palaces tend to be, but it is DWARFED by the gardens. Here’s a link to a rough map of the palace and gardens, but it doesn’t do justice to the impact you feel when you realize just how big the grounds are. So many conflicting thoughts arise. “Wow, this is amazing/enchanting/wasteful/obscenely extravagant/a masterpiece!” You can’t help but imagine what it would have been like to grow up as a child (regal, noble or common) or to work or reside there. It’s crazy.

We tried to find the labyrinth, but (ironically?) couldn’t figure out how to get to it. We did, however, get to hear someone within the labyrinth playing “Happy Birthday” on a glockenspiel-type instrument. They were figuring it out, but couldn’t land the last note of the first phrase. It was driving us nuts, so it’s probably better that we didn’t find the maze entrance until later. Instead, we wandered around, passing the Neptune fountain and the fake Roman ruins, then we hiked up the hill to the Gloriette for an overlook of Vienna.

After that we decided we had had enough of the opulence and went to check out some bikes which we rode back to the hostel for a snack of peanut butter and stuffed grape leaves. Vienna has numerous roads with bike lanes, but thankfully the drivers are pretty courteous even when cyclists have to ride in the road. We headed downtown, passing by an area blocked off to vehicular traffic, where we stopped to watch a pack of bicycle racers round the corner at full speed. The support vehicles that followed were pretty cool, too. We cheered them on as the cyclists came around again on another lap, then picked our way through the road blocks heading for the canal and Danube. Descending into the canal area, we passed some beautiful, very colorful graffiti and several trees with colorful, comical, knitted/crocheted trunk warmers.

Exiting the canal we came to Prater park, the long park that parallels the Danube (and was the site of the World Expo in 1873). The park has a long, wide pedestrian & bike road with several adjacent attractions including a ferris wheel (from the late 1800s), a skate park, a BMX track and a children’s train.

We eventually made our way to the Danube (which was still moving very quickly, probably from the heavy June rains) and enjoyed a quick ride along its side before returning our bikes to the nearby U-bahn station and taking the train back to the hostel. After a quick bathroom and coffee break, we saddled up and drove out of town, stopping shortly for gas, fries and our Hungarian vignette.

The Hungarian plains are beautiful. Small rolling hills covered in fields, patched with large crops of sunflowers, faces all turned the same way. There were several giant windmill farms and we drove through a couple of storms. Though it wasn’t a long drive to Budapest, the radio stations got monotonous so we turned off the radio, Mom told us a little of the city’s history and we made up some songs to pass time and keep me awake. A favorite was a modified yodeling song she used to teach to her music students. It’s about an Austrian who’s yodeling in the mountains so high but keeps getting interrupted by various things. In the normal song, I think it’s by an avalanche, a Guernsey cow, a St Bernard, and a pretty girl. In our version – altered to match our surroundings – it was a Hungarian in a valley so wide and he encountered a yak, Spiderman, a radar gun, a rain storm, an alien and one or two other things.

When we finally made it to Budapest, thanks to our great navigator it was relatively easy to find the correct neighborhood, though traffic was a little crazy. We found the street for the apartment office, and found parking a few blocks after. The apartment looked very nice online, but we had to nervously laugh when the office was next door to a brightly, neon-lit sex shop. Gino, the owner, turned out to be wonderful though. He was very helpful and the apartment was beautiful, cozy and fully furnished (down to spices and coffee in the cabinets). We settled and cleaned up, then walked around the corner to a restaurant with some great live music. The waiters were cute and entertaining, the atmosphere was relaxing, and best of all, the food was amazing, leaving us very thankful we had made the side-track to Budapest.


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