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Eastern European Trio: Bratislava, Budapest, and Vienna. September 2011

10 Jan 2013  What the heck? It's really nice here!
4.0 of 5 bubbles based on 2 votes

What started out as a trip to get to know my husband's family roots ends up being an unintentional history lesson about the House of Habsburg starring my new hero Maria Theresa.

We flew into Vienna and went straight away to Slovakia, which is less than 50 miles away by car. With my husband's family, we spent time in the countryside, hiked in the High Tatras Mountains, and quickly destroyed all my previous notions of Eastern Europe.

I don't know why, but when I thought about Eastern Europe, I imagined it to be dull, grey and depressing. Filled with dull, grey and depressing people. With dull, grey and depressing architecture. And dull, grey and depressing food. I guess that was my perception of what former communist countries look like.

This couldn't be further from the truth. Communism was just a blip in the long, rich history/culture that makes up this region. Here's what I actually saw: gorgeous architecture, breathtaking landscape, and a youthful population just bursting with optimism. And let's not forget the delicious food made with seasonal ingredients, desserts to die for, and coffee that is finally made just right.

I would love to go on and on about the terrific adventure we had in Slovakia, but as this was mostly orchestrated by distant relatives, I don't think I could properly dole out any useful information for anyone else. Suffice it to say, it is beautiful, cheap, and easy to get around. And if you like hiking, the Tatras are pretty sweet.

  • 1. Bratislava
    Bratislava, Bratislava Region

    Are you kidding me? This town is cute! Bratislava was the royal seat during the reign of Maria Theresa, so you know there's a lot of history to be explored here. At the same time it is much smaller than Vienna, Budapest, and Prague so there is an intimate feel about the city. With the Danube flowing through it, the abundance of well maintained older buildings, and plenty of pedestrian only cobblestone streets, I can't describe it as anything less than picturesque. We can tell it's got a quirky side as well because of a collection of bronze statues littered about the city... one looks like a man climbing out of a manhole... another looks like paparazzi hiding around the corner of a building with his camera poking out.
    This is one of those places we could leisurely walk around and just enjoy being there without the stress of having to run around and see a million obligatory significant sights.
    The main reasons to love the city: beautiful, inexpensive, generally free of hordes of tourists. And it's on the Euro.

  • 2. Budapest
    Budapest, Central Hungary

    This city is just jaw dropping when it comes to style and baroque opulence. It is over the top! The architecture, the food, it is all very rich, stunning, wonderful. I loved walking around and I must recommend Rick Steve's walking tour. This is THE place to do some upscale shopping, or at least upscale window shopping in our case.
    If you have done any research on this at all, you will know that the city divided by the Danube and the smaller Buda sits on one side, while the city center Pest sits on the other. We spent most of our time checking out the sights in Pest, but Castle Hill in Buda is not to be missed.
    One thing to mention is that the ONLY attraction Rick Steves give 3 triangles (his highest rating) to in Budapest is the Szechenyi Baths. We are huge fans, but even we were little skeptical of this advice. Public baths aren't really our thing. We managed to put our doubts aside, trusted in Rick, and these baths became the highlight of this city! No, really!
    p.s. You think you know what apple strudel tastes like... until you try it here and then you are going to be ruined for life.

  • 3. Vienna

    By far the most touristed and the most expensive city of this trio, Vienna is just dripping with history. This is the city of Mozart and Strauss. We had a lot more on our "to do" list here than in the previous two locations. Luckily, most sights sit along the Ringstrasse and are therefore easily accessible by streetcar. One slightly out the the way attraction is Schonbrunn Palace, which is the pinnacle of excess. It is lovely and ridiculous at the same time. The grounds are obviously well maintained and extensive. The palace itself has a whopping 1,441 rooms. Enough said.
    We were lucky enough to be in Austria during the fall, and could therefore take part in the Sturm wine festivities. It is essentially new, not yet aged wine. Tastes like sparkling grape juice, but does have a low alcohol content to it. We found many random (to us) squares where festivals were set up for strum wine and food tastings. What can top a bratwurst and a mug of strum wine?