By far the most interesting day of my Eurotrip was the one traveling from Budapest to Vienna. I ended the day attending my first opera but if you had told me eight hours prior I would have made it to the performance, I would have laughed hysterically. After checking out of my Budapest hotel early in the morning I asked the front desk to call me a cab to the train station while I sipped on a cafe americano. They said it would take 5 minutes and I planned for 10. The cab took 25 minutes to arrive and while I am not an anxious traveler I had zero intention of missing an international train, especially when no tickets to Austria were being sold for the next three weeks.* And I especially do not function well before my coffee has kicked in. However, when I got in the car “Give it to Me” by Timbaland with JT was playing and the driver was trying to sing along. For some reason it instantly put me at ease because it was so comical. “If sexy never left…”.
(* If you have not read about the migrant issues in Eastern Europe right now I highly recommend you do. Brandon from Humans of New York is doing a great job capturing stories from some of the people make their way in to the E.U. but a quick Google search will cover much more than I can in a hundred blog posts. Thus, I am not going to speak to this subject but just know that is what made this day extremely difficult as I was trying to leave Hungary and enter Austria along with thousands and thousands of refugees).
My train from Budapest to Vienna was the only pre-booked item on my trip that had paper tickets. Sure I had confirmations and reservations for many tours, attractions, and hotels an but they were all printed at home as opposed to the tickets RailEurope actually FedExed to NYC and I was very grateful. Old school paper tickets were easy for everyone to read, especially taxi drivers and station employees who knew zero English. The train station reminded me of a local stop in the suburbs, all the tracks were outside and none of the trains were clearly labeled, and at the designated time I got on the train along with others holding tickets for Vienna.
And then next seven hours were an absolutely nightmare. I had just gotten settled on the train and was about to start my movie when the conductor came around, read my ticket, and told me the train I was on was not going to Austria. My immediate thought was crap, I got on the wrong train. An epically long story made a bit shorter, the train I was on was supposed to leave Hungary and enter Austria through a city where they had shut the border due to the refugee situation. Instead I had to get off at the next town just 30 minuted outside Budapest, take another train to a border city, and then board a third train to go a bit further.
An hour and a half later while on the second train heading to the border town the next conductor came by and told everyone we would have to get off the train. There was construction up ahead and thus I had to get on a bus over that over the next two hours stopped in EVERY SINGLE TOWN in Northern Hungary to pick up stranded tourists at various train stations as we headed to the border town.
Since I could not control my situation in any way I decided to watch Age of Adaline on the bus which put me at ease. I loved the line, “Years, lovers, and glasses of wine these are things that should never be counted,” and thought it was a very cute move. In the Northern most town in North-East Hungary, Sopron, I then had to buy a new ticket to get to Vienna. At that point I would have done almost anything and purchased new tickets with other travelers I had met who were in the same situation – a couple from Mexico City and a mother / daughter duo from Mumbai. The two woman from India could not have been nicer and fed me snacks as we switched from one mode of transportation to another.
When we arrived in Vienna the train station was unlike nothing I have ever seen. Police escorted travelers off the train and guided us to our destinations – the tourism office, the taxi queue, or the subway – while keeping the hundreds and hundreds of migrants in their designated areas. I had arrived in Vienna, five hours later than scheduled, but I was there and in one piece. In retrospect I wish I had taken pictures but the images of those ten minutes will be forever burned in my mind – people on what undoubtably was one of their worst days and me, enjoying my vacation.
Once in Vienna I headed to my hotel and checked into a beautiful room at the Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth which was perfectly located in the heart of the 1st district. From there I got a bit of TSwift inspiration, shake it off, and rearranged my schedule for my time in Vienna after my crazy train journey. Even though the lovely bathtub had my name on it I decided to head off on a self-guided walking tour. I first visited St. Stephen’s Cathedral, as it was close to my hotel, and then began the tour of the first district at the Vienna State Opera.
From the opera house I wandered around the Innere Stadt passing many famous buildings including the Albertina Museum. This mini tour also included a visit to a very sobering monument against war and fascism literally on top of a site where hundreds had been buried alive in a WWII air raid which was paired with two massive columns the gate of violence and the opening to the concentration camps. Overall I was very impressed with how pretty the city was.
After two hours of wandering I headed to Figlmüller, one the of the most famous restaurants in the city, known for their fantastic wiener schnitzel. When you are at a restaurant with a line out the door and the menu is taken over with the house speciality, you order the house speciality. Why would you order anything else? The traditional Figlmüller Schnitzel was quite delicious and much better than the one I had in Budapest.
After dinner I went back to my hotel and changed for the opera. I opted for a black long sleeve dress, subtle makeup, gold jewelry and black pumps for the evening performance. My experience at the Vienna State Opera was nothing short of magical. The building was old world perfection and when you see a performance, I was told, you get to go places the tour does not take you. I did not attend a traditional opera, rather I saw Solistenkonzert: Leo Nucci und seine Philharmonischen Freunde, a concert of classical opera songs and translated into English the performance was called Leo Nucci and his Philharmonic Friends.
During his two hour performance Leo Nucci was accompanied by six musicians and I quickly realized I have never seen master violinist perform live. It was incredible and I was in solid rapture for both 45-minute sets. The harpist also confirmed that I definitely want one at my wedding. During intermission I took a few photos and at the end of the opera I played the I-dont-speak-German card to have my picture taken on the beautiful green carpeted stairs of the Grand Hall. And there is no better way to say it then I was feeling my outfit so to make sure it was properly documented I also took a few selfies at my hotel for good measure.
What began as an awful day ended on amazing high note
and definitely makes for an interesting story!