Showing posts from 2014

Naschmarkt, Schönbrunn Gardens, Spittelberg

Our last day in Vienna! Today we began by taking a quick peek at Naschmarket, a pleasant food market that happens to be just two blocks from our hotel. It's located in one long strip of pavement between rows of houses, so you can enter from one end of the street and just make your way to the other end. It looks small on first impression, because it's so narrow, but in fact there are a lot of stalls selling spices of all kinds, olives, cheese, meat, Greek and Turkish products, fruits and vegetables... It was packed with people, including lots of locals hanging out in the pub terraces merrily enjoying their half-litre jugs of beer at 10:30 in the morning. Was that breakfast or the apéro? I dread to think what they drink at 9PM if that's how they start their day...

Food markets are nice to look at, but there's not a lot there for the passing traveller, so we left when we got to the next tube station and went to Schönbrunn, the Habsburgs' summer palace.
When we got the…

The History Museum, Albertina, Neubau

The culture is coming out of my ears! Today, for the very first time these holidays, the weather was cold and rainy, so we took refuge in the History Museum, which is located in the same building as the Nationalbibliothek and the Ethnographic Museum (now called the Weld Museum). The building itself is grandiose and imposing, all shiny white marble, staircases, columns and vaulted ceilings.

The History Museum is a bit of an odd space with three wings: one is the Ephesos wing, with a few fragments of ancient Greek ruins (I'm sure they're archaeologically invaluable, but they aren't much to look at, especially if you've been to the Louvre and the British Museum), and then the two big wings: historical instruments, and arms and armour.

The arms and armour exhibition boasts mostly ancient suits of armour, literally dozens, chiefly from Austria or the Austro-Hungarian Empire but also from the rest of Europe and even Turkey. They have 16th and 17th century armour for knights,…

Leopold Museum, Nationalbibliothek, Prater

I'm exhausted! This was just our first full day in Vienna and it already feels like we've done three tours of the city. After so many days of walking, I get tired sooner every day...

For our first visit today we went to the Museumsquartier, a complex off Heldenplatz that houses several museums and galleries. We bought the 72h Vienna Card, which gives you unlimited access to all public transport, so we took the U-bahn there in order to leave as much walking as possible for the museum.
From the different museums there, we chose The Leopold Museum, a huge building spanning 6 floors of exhibitions by Austrian painters. They have a really astounding collection of paintings by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, among others. They were impressive, but I especially loved a small photographic gallery of portraits of Viennese stage actors and opera singers from the 1920s. Most of them were tiny photographs of the actors in costume or in character as Macbeth, Othello, Cleopatra, Cio-Cio-san,…

Arriving in Vienna

Last night we bid farewell to Budapest in style, by having dinne at the New York Café, this gorgeous classical café where everything is gilded and basically just exactly the same as it was back when it was the meeting point of Budapest's literary elite. They even had a pianist at the hotel lobby that we could hear from our table.

Today we took the train from Budapest Keleti station to Vienna Westbahnhof, a three-hour ride that got us to our next destination with a short delay. From there we took a taxi to our hotel -communication with our taxi driver was difficult as our German was as pitiful as his English... Except right at the end of the ride we found out he spoke Spanish. Sometimes I think we should wear lapel pins with the languages we speak, like hotel clerks!
The weather's nice enough in Vienna, as it has been the last few days. We're staying at the Best Western Kaisenhof, a very nice hotel a few minutes away from the city centre with spacious and luminous rooms. I&…

The Synagogue, Vajdahunyad Castle, the Opera

Today's our last day in Budapest, and as such we spent most of the time tying up loose ends and checking items off our to-do list.
Our first stop was the Great Synagogue, apparently the second biggest in the world (after New York's), a short walk away from our hotel. As luck would have it, we arrived there just minutes before a Spanish tour was scheduled to start, so we were able to join immediately. I had to don a kippah that wouldn't sit still on my spiky hair...

The synagogue is an immense and surprisingly warm building, painted in pinks, reds and golds, while the exterior has clear Arabic elements. Its most curious feature is how much it looks like a church on the inside, with naves, an altar, an organ and even pulpits. Our guide told us that it had been described as "the prettiest Catholic synagogue in the world". It looks great, and yet as a mid-19th century construction it's survived both World Wars, even being the centre of the Jewish ghetto during the …

The train station, St Stephen's, The Parliament

Okay, so very quickly: last night we discovered this little gem called Ladó Café, a small restaurant right next door to the hotel with live jazz music every night. We had a great dinner for 10€ each and the singer was great.
Today our first item on the agenda was to book our train tickets to Vienna for Wednesday. There are several connections between Budapest and Vienna, but it looks like the fastest one -3h- is the one leaving from Keleti Station, so that's where we went. Foolishly, we thought it would be quick and easy (we even knew which particular train we wanted! What could go wrong?).

As soon as we entered the International Ticket Office, though, we stepped into a different space-time continuum where nothing made sense anymore. For starters, there were 25-odd people already waiting there, and you had to pick a number, but the numbers they called made NO SENSE. They would call 197, then 732, then 230, then 195... And our number was 311, so what gives? It felt a bit like those I…

Buda Castle, the Danube

Here we go! Today the plan was to start from the top and visit Buda Castle! But only after a magnificent breakfast at the hotel, which offers a full breakfast buffet, a bit of a rarity nowadays.
We began by taking the metro, which is cleaner and looks newer than many Paris Metro's trains and stations, so well done Budapest! There are several types of transport cards, but they all looked like you need to make a lot of trips to get your money's worth, so we ended up getting packs of 10 tickets, like in Paris. That way each ticket costs about 300 forint, or 1€.
Our hotel is on the red metro line (M2), so we went straight to Batthyany Square on the other side of the river (we're staying east of the Danube, in Pest, and the castle is on top of a hill west of the river, in Buda). From there, it's a 10 minute walk to the base of the hill, where a turn-of-the-century funicular connects the top with the street level. There was a bit of a queue and the sun was beginning to glare, …

Arriving in Budapest

It's travel time again! This time I'm taking up the blog again sooner than expected. I'm going to spend the week seeing Budapest and Vienna!
It's strike season in France, so getting from Versailles to Charles de Gaulle airport took over two and a half hours -longer than getting from Paris to Budapest. Trains to Paris only left Versailles once every hour and a half, and when I finally got to central Paris I found out the previous day's announcement that "there's an RER B train every ten minutes" only applied up to Gare du Nord. Up to the airport -only one in five trains is operational, ha ha! Psych! 
I saved the lives of an entire Korean family who were hopelessly (and understandably) lost at the station and couldn't figure out what was going on. The father spoke English, so I explained to himthat the trains were on strike, and he went "Ooooh" and relayed this in Korean to his wife and two little girls, who all went "Ooooh". Then …

The Archaeology Museum, Üsküdar

My last day in Istanbul was a day for tying up loose ends. I had already visited all the "greatest hits" on my list, so to speak, and looking at what else to do there were four options: the Museum of Islamic Arts, the Kariye Museum, the Archaeology Museum and a visit to Üsküdar.

The Museum of Islamic Arts is closed for renovations and the Kariye Museum looked really far away at two or three tram transfers, so that narrowed down the list of eligible museums down to one: the Archaeology Museum, which is right next to Topkapi Palace, accessible either from the First Court itself, or from Gülhane park. It spans three buildings, the main one being a big Neoclassical construction that houses most of the collection. There's also a small pavilion with blue tiles:

I don't know if there was something in the water today, but when I got to the ticket booth the poor man and woman inside were having to deal with an old French lady who kept listing names of palaces and museums at t…

Dolmabahçe, Istiklal, Galata

My entire stay so far had been confined to the same landmass, so today it was time for a change! I hopped on the tram and crossed the Golden Horn, via the Galata Bridge, up to the district of Beyoglu, the modern, cool quarter of Istanbul.
But first I went to the palace of Dolmabahçe, which is further up north, just on the seaside. Although both Topkapi and Dolmabahçe were the residences of sultans (the former in ancient times, the latter from the mid-19th century onwards), the two couldn't possibly be more different. Where Topkapi is a shining example of Ottoman splendor at its finest, Dolmabahçe is all Western excess and Baroque garishness. If Elvis Presley had lived in the 1850s, this is the palace he would have designed: gold leaf everywhere, trompe-l'oeil paintings on every ceiling, and lots, lots of Baccarat crystal. The huge staircase in the main hall is outfitted with crystal banisters, not to mention the enormous chandeliers made entirely out of crystal, both hanging an…

The Bazaars

After the historical, contemplative visits of this past couple of days, it was time for something a bit more vibrant: I went to the Grand Bazaar!
I wasn't sure at first whether it was within walking distance or tram distance, looking at the map, so let me save you the trouble: it's a mere 15 min walk from Sultanahmet tram station. It's all the same street until Çemberlitas, the Burnt Column, and then up north for a short while.
The entrance to the Grand bazaar looks like that of a pedestrian tunnel, but once inside I found myself in a bustling, sprawling, labyrinthine network of covered streets and galleries. The only way to really appreciate the age of the place is to look at the roof, where aged and faded paintings remain from times past, because there are no walls to be seen anywhere: every square inch of surface is being used to display merchandise. It's like a Muslim Akihabara: just as seizure-inducing, except with touts everywhere.

I began by wandering around, getti…