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1 Day: 3 Countries!

I chose Vienna-The capital of Austria and Europe’s darling, as the destination for my 22nd birthday celebration. For a traveler there is no such thing as mediocrity  and keeping this in mind, my friends and I decided to do something different on this trip.. Let me introduce you to our “milestone plan”- an ambitious goal to travel across three different countries in one day, with the objective of having breakfast in Hungary, lunch in Austria and dinner in Slovakia. This may seem like an impossible feat to many, but I’am proud to say that despite several hiccups along the way, we ended up as Supernovas. Here goes how..

Vienna, Austria
Vienna, Austria

For starters, we landed in Bratislava, Slovakia amidst a snow storm. Unable to see much around we immediately took the express bus to Vienna. You can imagine our relief when Vienna came to us with sunshine and colors!

 

Ring boulevard, Vienna
Ring boulevard, Vienna

Vienna at first glance is an incredibly beautiful city. Austria as a country is immensely scenic. For the purpose of recreation, imagine “the sound of music” shot across Salzberg, another city in Austria. Vienna looks like a city that is culturally rooted and yet competitively urban.

city center, Vienna
city center, Vienna

 

The largest city in Austria, Vienna is buzzing with activity throughout the year. Picture well planned streets, colorful markets, eccentric jazz clubs, gorgeous public buildings- especially the public library and historic monuments spread generously across the city.

Gorgeous walks along Vienna
Gorgeous walks along Vienna

The city offers several photo opportunities through day and night, and has especially quaint and  well designed traditional cafes and age old pubs.

Vienna is well connected by its trams which also add to its aesthetic value
Vienna is well connected by its trams which also add to its aesthetic value

The roads of Wein are always  brimming with tourists, students, artists and performers. It is one of the few cities where you can clearly demarcate between large groups of people who are typical office goers and another group which makes its living through art! Walking around the city is easy, although there may be a language barrier for those not fluent with German. An impressive monument expressing the culture of this country is the  Hoffgurg imperial palace.

The majestic Hoffberg
The majestic Hoffberg

The architecture of the palace is intricate and traditional, and today the palace is home to the National library, war museum as well as the Spanish horse riding school.

Outside the National museum of Wein
Outside the National museum of Wein

What intrigued me the most about the Hoffberg was the museum of Ethnography, which accounted the day to day lives of kings and queens that have resided in the palace over time.

National museum of Vienna houses the war museum as well
National museum of Vienna houses the war museum as well

The ring boulevard is another beautiful spot in Vienna which offers great pictures. The Austrian parliament, an imposing building can also be seen from here. The boulevard is scenic, historically rich and home to the Natural museum and the museum of Fine Arts, majorly inspired by the Italian renaissance.

Museum of fine arts
Museum of fine arts

In the heart of the city is the gorgeous St. Stephen cathedral, a magnificent church with an extremely large roof and high tower. The church square is the main part of the city center and is extremely tourist friendly.

St. Stephen cathedral
St. Stephen cathedral

We made lots of local friends here, and even struck upon a lucrative deal with a local vendor selling Opera passes. We were later upgraded to the VIP section of the show leading to a night dipped in the glory of ancient Wein and sparkling champagne.

The Opera
The Opera

We walked past Kalskirche, the building opposite the  cathedral and then down the Blutgassen district road to the ever colorful Naschmarket! The Blutgassen district has intricate, winding roads and many hidden alley ways if you know where to look.

Blutgassen district leading to the Naschmarket
Blutgassen district leading to the Naschmarket

A foodie’s delight, the Naschmarket is like an Indian bazaar- dynamic and full of variety. We bought home a variety of spices and chocolates although a large part of the market caters to fresh meat and pork sausage stalls.

Naschmarket
Naschmarket

The anchor clock hangs proud at the city center, representing the Austrian spirit and culture. For those who love to shop, the street behind St.Stephen cathedral is a shopper’s absolute delight. Mainly a high street you will find everything ranging from Tiffany’s, Mcqueen, Prada to Ferragamo and Ferretti!

Usual sights along the roads of Wien
Usual sights along the roads of Wien

However, moving on to the traditional treasures of Vienna, the Belvedere palace and the peripherally located Schonbrunn palace are tourist delights. The Schonbrunn palace is immensely beautiful and is spread across giant acres of land. The palace provides front and back views of landscapes spread out till as far as the eye can see. We spent hours running across and exploring the snow spread grounds of the palace. The immensity of the property is awe inspiring and I recommend an entire day for this tourist spot if you really want to see every nook and corner of the schonbrunn.

Schonnbrunn palace, Austria
Schonnbrunn palace, Austria

Visiting the Schonbrunn gave us the opportunity to check out the train service in Austria as well, which was a delight owing to the scenic views of the country one gets through the journey.

The view from Schonbrunn palace
The view from Schonbrunn palace

Coming back to my personal ambition, I spent my birthday night at a high profile club of Vienna, Le Babenberger Passage- thanks to my absolutely amazing friends. This club is located under the ground and definitely not easy to find unless you know where to look.

Cosmopolitran night at the Babenberger Passage
Cosmopolitran night at the Babenberger Passage

The Passage hosts great crowds, international music circuits and interesting drink profiles, Absinthe cocktails being one of their specialties. Having spent a large part of our power trip in Vienna, we spent the rest of the trip traveling across Hungary and Slovakia! and this brings me to the goal story:

One day- Three countries

On the last day of our trip, we set out from Budapest in Hungary. We started the day early and left Hungary after a heavy breakfast from the International bus station of Budapest. Yellow buses available from here ride to Prague, Austria and other neighboring countries at hourly intervals.

Lunch in Vienna
Breakfast in Hungary

Next, we landed in Vienna, Austria at around 2:30 pm and absolutely famished, made our way to our favourite street along the city center to Akakiko, an amazing restaurant serving fresh Maki rolls and heavenly sushi! You can find the link to the restaurant in case you’re curious- http://www.akakiko.at/  🙂

Lunch in Vienna
Lunch in Vienna

Post an afternoon lavishly in Vienna, we once again made our way by road- to Bratislava! I must take  a minute here to talk about Slovakia. I had a great experience in Slovakia, especially with the incredibly hospitable hotel staff. The city center of Bratislava is gorgeous! Lit up with fairy lights and theme restaurants, this square is absolutely delightful. Aiming to end the night well with a cuisine we had not tried before, we decided to check out this fabulous Spanish restaurant called Rio.. A must try in case you’re there.

Dinner in Slovakia!
Dinner in Slovakia!

 

Bratislava is often preferred for Bachelor and Bachelor-ette parties and is commonly called the party hub of Central Europe with a wide range of clubs and services to pick from.

The gorgeous city center of Bratislava
The gorgeous city center of Bratislava

Alternatively, Central Europe is a must visit for anyone who might be intrigued by the idea of contemporary influence of art on vanishing cultures. It is especially a delight for people who may love art, music and philosophy.

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This trip made me richer by experience and ensured the birthday of a lifetime. Funny moments are always an integral part of any travel journey, and we had loads of these as well, with “Mom” fits in hotel rooms, best friend-ing locals at dingy clubs and especially this one incident where my friend Hrishi thought he was going to “die” because a taxi driver tried to zoom off before Hrishi was safely seated “inside” the taxi.  Of course, this might have been because Hrishi was infact too slow to get in and the clueless taxi driver miscalculated his entry into the taxi. Irrespective,  threw a raging tantrum only to be instantly pacified with a chocolate from the extremely apologetic taxi driver. This indeed is the story…of how hrishi and “that taxi driver Dave” became best friends.

"No matter what girls, you must never mess with a man's pocket scarf!"- wise words of the funniest guy alive
“No matter what girls, you must never mess with a man’s pocket scarf!”- wise words of the funniest guy alive

So, if you want to visit three countries in a day, or set a similar milestone for yourself- try road tripping through Europe. Having done it myself, I must admit that it will definitely be one hell of an adventure. 🙂

vienna-at-night-14

 

Budapest- The conquest of Paradise!

 

Budapest for me is a reminder of the changing dimensions of time. While the city monuments stand proud boasting of heritage and pedigree there are parts of this city which still appear broken and in shambles from a war that at one time almost killed the spirit of this country. My journey through the depths of the city’s ghettos and caves led me to discover the melting hot pot of ethnicities that Budapest actually is. It is a testimony of time that shows how beautifully it has accepted its scars and rebuilt itself to the paradise that it was always meant to be.

We choose to travel to a certain destination for several reasons. It may be because we watch a movie which was filmed there, or because a friend promises us we wont’t be disappointed visiting a country as incredible as the one they went to. Usually, most countries do not need a familiarity tag. People tend to know something or the other about most places around the world, considering how small the world has become in today’s day and age. In such a scenario, what helps me decide what country I want to see next is how little I know about it.

I can tell you now. I want to go to Paris because pretty much everyone has been there. I want to see Rome because it is, after all the city of love. I want to see Switzerland because I have grown up watching Bollywood films shot in its exotic landscapes. However, my friends and I decided to bag pack to Budapest we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into- quite literally. I traveled through Central Europe with three of my closest friends, and this is probably one of the main reasons why this trip turned out to be one of the most memorable experiences of my life!

Exotic Budapest
Exotic Budapest

Having watched the movie “Hostel” several times, I was honestly very apprehensive about travelling to Slovakia. However, having booked extremely economical return tickets from Bratislava we did not seem to have much of an option. For those flying around Europe on budget, I highly recommend RyanAir… It is a low budget airline, which I used extensively for my travels around the continent and once we obtained the Schengen visa common for 28 countries across Europe, we were set to go!

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We reached Budapest late evening and were booked into a quaint little guesthouse called the Abel Pension in the town of Buda. Having reached Budapest late at night after a tiring bus journey from Bratislava, we were exhausted but this seemed irrelevant on seeing Budapest in its full glory so late in the night. The river Danube is a dominant force in the capital of Hungary and the city is divided into Buda and Pest with more than 80% of the city’s infrastructure and architecture designed along the banks of the river. As we watched the city unravel from the damp and frost cab windows, I was amazed to see the absolute beauty of this city full of lights, magnificent bridges and a vibrant night life despite the sub-zero temperatures it was used to.

We reached the Able Pension guest house around 11 pm and in all honestly, it looked like a dark abandoned homestay from the outside and just as we were discussing if changing to a standard hotel would be a good idea the doors to the guesthouse opened and out came the couple that owned the former family home. With its woody, cozy interiors and hospitable atmosphere, we instantly felt at home. We were the only guests staying over that weekend and the blessed couple made sure we were comfortable and well looked after through-out. One of the main reasons it was imperative to stay at a family home stay was that I was keen to experience the culture that backed this city and this country I knew nothing about, except its long tryst with war and pain.

Atop Gellert hill
Atop Gellert hill

I woke up to the smell of musty ancient wood and sun streaming through sloping ceilings of my room in the Abel Pension. Budapest- I was in love! Central Europe gets extremely cold in winters and although I visited Budapest in late February when the snow was melting and the city was decorated with delicate icicles. As we walked along the wet streets of Budapest, it became increasingly impossible to ignore the magnificence of the details in architecture, as each building looked more impressive than the other. Public tram transport in Budapest is convenient, while roads are lined with vendors selling hot mulled wine and pretzels. Heaven.

One of the primary attractions in Budapest, Gellert Hill In Buda is one of the highest points of the city which is an excruciating yet rewarding climb to the top mounted monuments crowning the city hill. Personally, walking up the snow covered hill was a hilarious experience, as we slowly (but not quite steadily) made our way up battling the slippery terrain and back breaking climb.

The walk up to Gellert hill-top!
The walk up to Gellert hill-top!

We walked for about an hour and along the climb came across astonishing views of the city divided by the Danube, glorious from afar- the attention to detail hard to miss. As I looked down from the top of the world there I remember making a mental note of the points of interest I would be visiting soon after I climbed down. The bird’s eye view changes ones perspective of the city as for anyone who might have forgotten how beautiful Budapest is, this vision is the ultimate reminder. On top of the hill is the gorgeous Citadella, and this spot offers breath taking views of Buda and Pest on both sides of the river Danube.

Incredible Budapest
Incredible Budapest

The amazing thing about Budapest is that it genuinely has a lot to offer in terms of places to see and experience. The Gellert hill Cave is one such example, deep seated under the geller hill, this cave church holds way too many secrets and stories than can be touched on the surface. The hidden church tells the tales over time of peace and prayars in a time of war, historical milestones of Budapest and and the dark history of Gellert Hill itself, which was named thus after Saint Gellert who was thrown down from the top of the hill hundreds of years ago. Shaken but not broken, we walked further to the the Budapest castle- a monumental wonder! One has the option of traveling up to the castle via cable cars, which also provide incredible views of the city.

Budapest castle- Reblog
Budapest castle- Reblog

If you visit, make sure you visit the palace at the right time so you can witness the age old “guard change” routine which is a tremendous display of discipline and grit that has been a tradition in this country for centuries. The palace itself being located at a great height offers beautiful views of the city and the Bastion’s palace atop another hill a few miles away. The location is grand, and one gets immediately transported to a time away from now when impressions were massive and ways of life were magnificent.

The cable car ride, Budapest castle
The cable car ride, Budapest castle

Budapest for me is a reminder of the changing dimensions of time. While the city monuments stand proud and arrogant boasting of heritage and pedigree, there are parts of this city which still appear broken and in shambles from a war that at one time almost killed the spirit of this country. On crossing the bridge towards Pest, one can easily walk by the majestic Hungarian Parliament building, churches brimming with people and traditions, a lone standing Opera house in the midst of several general buildings and my personal favorite, the St. Stephen basilica. The basilica is centuries old, and to this day stands impressive, grand and stunning. The interiors are peaceful, yet one cannot cease to fathom the scale of the architecture. It is truly grand! Religion has no name, and on one visit one seems taken by the high levels of positive energy in a basilica as ancient as this one.

St. Stephen basilica
St. Stephen basilica

However, one of my personal favorites is definitely the Fisherman’s bastion. Located at a height, this building is spectacular and extremely beautiful.

The Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest
The Fisherman’s Bastion, Budapest

A person can view a new place of interest while travelling either through its people, or through the stories that the city itself tells through its buildings, culture and impressions. Hungary was once devastated by war, and one can see how much this pains this country even today. An ode to the innocents who cannot tell their story anymore, a tribute to the fallen who could never raise their voice is raised at the Terror Haza museum. A Holocaust museum, a sanctuary of souls, the walls of this prison saw more pain and brutality than can be fathomed. The events displayed through this building are so horrifying one cannot help but feel the chills and the sting of nerves when inside. Once upon a time a Nazi prison, the museum carefully preserves whatever body parts of Hungary’s children it could find, whatever stories of torture and gore it could express. This is where its demons hide and coming face to face with the darkness that once had its grip over this country is a terrifying and overwhelming experience.

Terror Haza museum- The Holocaust experience
Terror Haza museum- The Holocaust experience

The Heroes square, located down the road from the Terror Haza museum offers great photo opportunities and is a common hangout spot amongst those visiting Budapest.

Heroes square, Budapest
Heroes square, Budapest

As compared to Buda, Pest is livelier and more dynamic, but the real treasure is what lies in the middle of the two cities. The river cruise is a must do and one of the best things that Budapest has to offer. The river cruise gave us an opportunity to enjoy the city views by night, and the most spectacular highlight was the chain bridge, one of the 6 bridges built over the Danube but most definitely the most beautiful of them all.

Hugarian parliament house, Budapest- View from the river

While cruising along the river one gets to see several night spots, the most brilliant of all being Dream island- “- a junction of 6 to 7 dynamic clubs. There are several types of clubs catering to different types of people and from different age groups, but the best club in the area was Studio which is also the largest club in Europe. While at glamourous spots like these one gest to witness a generation which has successfully moved on from the horrors of war, along yet other party streets of Budapest one comes across several multi-cultural joints, pubs and ghettos which show the melting hot pot of cultures that Hungary actually is!

As compared to Buda, Pest is livelier and more dynamic, but the real treasure is what lies in the middle of the two cities. The river cruise is a must do and one of the best things that Budapest has to offer. The river cruise gave us an opportunity to enjoy the city views by night, and the most spectacular highlight was the chain bridge, one of the 6 bridges  built over the Danube but most definitely the most beautiful of them all.

Club Studio, Budapest - Reblog
Club Studio, Budapest – Reblog

Dream Island is the ultimate destination when in Budapest and I remember it for the madness that followed the night that we were there- Dream Island shenanigans 101. They say if you really want to get to know someone better, you must travel with them.  Traveling with friends is one of the greater joys of life..and you know you have done it right if your friends are as crazy and as spontaneous as you!

Steaming Mulled wine and cheese pretzels- A must have
Steaming Mulled wine and cheese pretzels- A must have

With this mad, mad group I ended up exploring Budapest like never before- We found Sheisha enclaves located in dingy exotic ghettos, Mexican cafes selling the best tacos you can possibly get in Europe, eccentric local stalls in the snow selling delicious pretzels with hot mulled wine and cider and refugee tram rides through-out the city. Budapest stands as a testament of time, having survived wars, atrocities and extensive damage over time. Hungary is one of the countries that was completely destroyed and built back from ruins after world war II. The country talks in numerous ways and its beauty is only surpassed by the gorgeous combination of the two cities lining river Danube.

Definitely one of my favorites. 🙂

Incredible Budapest
Incredible Budapest