Monday, March 25, 2013

Szechneyi Baths

A 40 minute walk up to the park brought us to the Szechneyi baths. We had been going to go to another baths but this one was reputed to have the best English. Both of us wandering around in our togs trying to work out where we were supposed to go in the maze of corridors, seemed like a recipe for disaster or at least some unnecessary marital stress. It turned out to be a good decision and we had a great time.

We were issued with wristband watches that open our changing cabin and access to the facilities. There were a series of medicinal pools and saunas but we choose to spend the bulk of our time in the outdoor pools. One was heated to 34 degrees and the other to 38 degrees - it was recommended that you only spent a maximum of 20 minutes in the hotter pool.

Given the actual temperature was 0 degrees and the sun was shining it was a fun and relaxing experience.

The lower temperature pool had a circular area where jets of waters propelled you around.


After 5 minutes or so these jets would turn off and jets would come on in the main area and people would jockey to stand over the jets for a massaging experience.

At NZ$47 for the both of us to enter it wasn't a cheap swim (and this wasn't the most expensive bathing complex in town, but it may have been one of the most popular. There were no children and it was an adult outing.

Our ticket allowed us to stay all day, but 2 hours felt enough. However this was a quintessential Budapest experience and we enjoyed it.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Budapest Market

Today's main destination was a visit to the Budapest Central Market. It was Saturday and quite busy with locals doing their shopping.

However we weren't tempted to buy anything. In fact the opposite was the case when it came to the carrots on display. Here comes a dump of carrot photos and Andrew can't stop me because he isn't advanced enough with this mobile blogging program to do so...

These weren't so bad but I still wouldn't be ordering carrot soup

The state of these would make me question whether I would want to buy your eggs, Mrs Stall-keeper

Not wonderful with those sprouting ends (and your parsnips don't look up to much)

But I wouldn't be buying these with the mould growing on them! Yes big wads of mould hidden in this display

On the other hand the garlic, peppers and paprika all looked good.

On our walking we have come across a lot of street art.

One of these is real, the other is a statue




Thursday, March 21, 2013

Buda Castle .

We awoke to snow and cold temperatures.

But we didn't realise how cold until we walked across the Chain bridge to get to the Castle. The wind chill was so intense our lips were nearly numb in the time it took to get across.

After paying about NZ$9 each for a return funicular ride we were pleasantly surprised to find free entry to the Hungarian Art Museum. March 15th is Hungary National day and a public holiday.

The art museum was far, far better than we had anticipated.

There was a special exhibition of Thorma paintings, covering his painting period from about 1885 through to the 1930s. Some of his works were exceptionally good. Equally as good were the 1800s paintings which had a style we haven't seen consistently anywhere else. There were three enormous floors of works and we were justifiably tired at the end of it.

We had a warming lunch of soup and moussaka before wandering around the castle area.

Back down the hill to the Pest side and we visited St Stephens Cathedral, close to our apartment. A lovely church but not sure about how lovely the mummified hand of St Stephen, displayed in the chapel was.

It was good to get home into the warm!


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Budapest, Hungary

We took the train to Budapest. A not uncommon, but certainly out of current pattern cold snap had swept across northern Europe. There was light snow on the ground in Bratislava and it was snowing/sleeting in Budapest. But at that stage it wasn't sitting. Temperatures had dropped from a comfortable 10 degrees to sub-zero. Instead of two layers of clothing we needed four.


Getting off the train at Budapest was a mission as it continued through to Bucharest, and there were crowds waiting to get on. No one was going to make a path for us so I ramrodded my way through the crowd - someone's umbrella certainly came off worst in the confrontation with my suitcase. Andrew with his extra height did a bit of glaring and intimidating and sort of followed in my wake with his elbows taking no prisoners.

We changed a small amount of money at the railway station as it known to have the worst rates in town. On to the underground and through to our apartment. It is compact, but feels bigger. This probably due to the 7 meter ceilings and that our bedroom is a suspended mezzanine floor above the living area. The heat does go up there.

Bags dropped, we set out in the snow to find lunch and some supermarket provisions for dinner. During lunch the snow was falling much more heavily. Walking about was miserable, cold and wet underfoot and just plan no fun.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Bratislava, Slovakia

One of the odd vagaries of European trains is that often a return fare can cost less than a one way fare. Our return trip to Bratislaa, even though we were only going to use one leg of it cost only 15 euro.

It's a mere 1 hour journey between the capital of Austria and the capital of Slovakia but the economic difference is years wider. The Slovakians (once part of Czechoslovakia) left the Russian sphere in 1993 and while the country has been described as having one of the fastest growth rates in Europe it isn't immediately obvious based on our limited time in the capital. Roads and footpaths look in need of repair, there are not masses of major construction projects. It was also apparent large consumer chains have not yet arrived in droves. The only ones we saw were McDonalds, H&M and New Yorker.

Sadly this was a one night transit and we couldn't get out to the mountains and countryside the country is famous for

While the old town was nice to walk around, it simply wasnt stunning.

The Castle had been majorly renovated and spruced up. There seemed to be a bit of public art, perhaps making up for a lack of other attractions?

The thing we enjoyed most was the food.

Lunch was at the number one restaurant on Tripadvisor- Whiskey Bar 44. The waiter wore a kilt and the floor had a lovely tartan carpet. There was no English menu, but our kilted Slovakian translate the key points for us. And we had a very good 'business set menu' lunch for a very reasonable price.

Then in the evening we walked out from our hotel and saw a local restaurant, Divny Janko, packed with locals. We thought we'd chance it on the language front and were very surprised to find they had a English menu. Good hearty food for an even more reasonable price.






Monday, March 18, 2013

Vienna ...more

We had another walk today but taking in a few of the big sights we had not seen yesterday. A well timed walk through the Hofburg palace meant we caught a glimpse of the Spanish riding school horses on their way back to their stables.

We passed the Central Cafe about lunch time. Being cold and ready for a rest, it looked to be warm and inviting, and it had roast wild boar for its menu of the day - so Andrew was sold. Here, we got to experience some famous Viennese waiter rudeness. It took nearly quarter of an hour for our order to be taken. It is amazing how the waiters can manage to look through you and avoid any eye contact when they want to.

Andrew did experience some schadenfreude with the antics of a couple of tourists at a nearby table. They came in, took some photos (with their flash on - one of my pet peeves), ordered and then propped their iPad on the table. They then proceeded to watch and listen to a video with the volume turned up rather high. One, or other of us was about the go over and politely ask them to turn it down, but luckily their meals arrived and they turned it off. I'm not sure what nationality they were but the language was Eastern European. There was a problem with a second course of their order and it became entertainment for us watching her try and attract the attention of a waiter. Failing that, and with her patience was slipping, she stalked a passing waiter back to the central wait-station. The waiter, turned, looked straight through her and walked off in another direction. Princess couldn't believe anyone could do do that to her, did some waving of hands, some outraged words in her language. When no one took any notice of her, she stomped back to her table and started putting on her coat, obviously telling her husband they were leaving. Still no one talked her. Andrew had a little beatific smile on his face as he signaled a passing waiter, who immediately produced a bill and we paid and left.

Having become a little "churched-out" we hesitated to go into St. Peter's, but trusting our guide book which described it as one of their favorites in Vienna, we went in. And certainly it was well worth it in all it's Baroque glory.

For a change of pace we walked over to view the Hundertwasser apartments. Distinctive and very different from tradional and regal Viennese architectecture.

While walking over to Hundertwasser there was obviously a police operation underway, as there were police cars and sirens everywhere. They were definately searching for someone as they were even driving along the wide paths in the park we had just wandered through. As luck would have it, on our return from Hundertwasser we walked up a street and saw a police tape cordoning off a jeweler shop. Checking the local news we found that there had been a armed robbery of the jewelry store by four men with guns and axes. One had been apprehended, and they were searching for his accomplices. They were described as being the Pink Panther gang from Serbia. It turns out that when they smashed the cases, they smashed they wrong ones and had only managed to get away with some lower value watches.

On our way back to the apartment we finally popped into our neighbourhod church - the Votive church - a very impressive neo-gothic church built 1856-76 in thanks after an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the Emperor Franz Joseph was made at that site in 1853. It was one of the nicest churches we had been to and it had lots of bright stained glass windows.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Vienna backstreets

As we have both been to Vienna before (35 & 10 years ago) we set off on a self guided walking tour, focussing on some streets away from the big tourist sights. It was an excellent way to see some history, avoid the large tour groups and learn some more about the city.

First off was a gothic church Maria am Gestad, notable for the fact it is only 9 meters wide


After walking through some medieval streets we checked out the Hoher market clock, high up on an archway. Immediately beside the was a food store, like Moore Wilson in Wellington, but this was another step up. The coffee here was the best we have had in Vienna (so good, we came back again the next day) and it was a good chance to sample some Sachertort.


After walking through the Griechengasse narrow streets we wandered into an ornate Greek Orthodox Church, so sumptuously decorated.


Criss-crossing some more streets, wandering through a cluster of monks apartments (now converted for general living) we had been wandering for over two hours and lunch was calling us. We manged to stumble upon a small restaurant full of locals, which served us up Weiner Schnitzel and the requisite accompaniment of potato salad. Beim Czaak


Rested, fed and watered we headed off again for some more streets and churches before finishing the route at St Stephens. It was the 1st time in the day that we had seen hoardes of tourists.




Friday, March 15, 2013


We arrived into vienna after a 6 hour train trip from Ljubljana (1 change @Maribor )

After checking in and then going for a wander the 1st thing Andrew managed to find was a market where everyone was standing around buying glasses of wine and cheese! On the way home we stocked up with groceries for two evening meals - Austria doesn't really do Sunday shopping.

Sunday morning we headed off to our main destination of the day, the Kunsthistoriches Museum - the enormous art history museum.

We had good timing as the unbelievably good Kunstkamer had opened on the 1st of March after being closed for 10 years due to renovation and restoration. The Kunstkamer is the Hapsburg collection of treasures. A good background can be found here Kunstkamer reopening

As Andrew said " I have not seen so many wonderful things displayed so well since...(pause)...never. I've seen so many wonderful things". It was a case of room after room (20 in all) of collected wonders.

The only tiny negative was that so many other people were wanting to see this collection that there was timed entry slots. And when your time came, a wave of people would surge in. But the collection was so good you could almost ignore the number of people, the tour groups with their bleating leaders and that most annoying of species, the amateur photographer, hogging cabinets for a picture and not even really looking at the items. Yes we took some pictures, but as evidenced by their quality, they were quick captures of items that intrigued us.

The exhibition was further enhanced by the provision of tablets in each room with short videos that showed some items in more detail, or if they moved, it showed them in action.

After the Kunstkamer we progressed into the antiquities collection which was so beautifully displayed. However, in a calculated move, we didn't really give these the time they might if deserved. With a large floor of old masters to view, and the real danger of museum fatigue, we headed off to the painting galleries.

The large collection of Italians were good, but we both prefer other periods and the gallery of German Austrian and Flemish works was the highlight of the paintings for us. So many rooms of Durers, Reubens, Brueghels or Rembrandts. It was tiring work but so good.

At the end we had to return to see this painting because it was one of Andrew's favourite a, and I hadn't seen it. He described it as the painting with the children playing with crocodiles.


We did head out for a good lunch at a random place Andrew spotted. And it was a very nice find as the pizza was fantastic and very reasonably priced. Vapiano is a German chain the has branches everywhere - and it showed as it was a slick operation. You order from the chef who will cook it for you and it's all done open plan, the room was buzzing and was decorated with 2 real olive trees in the restaurant, fresh growing herbs at the table...