Abby Abroad: Vienna & Budapest
I'm back from my two-week hiatus to update you on my recent travels (all is well, just really busy!!). Week three has come and gone and school is in full swing, so writing blog posts, traveling and keeping up with work is something I am trying to balance. I'm really enjoying my classes, but each class assigns about 100 pages of reading a week, along with other projects, so it's not all fun and games!
This week, my Italian Cusine class made homemade Florentine steak (a specialty in Florence!) with a balsamic vinegar reduction and a side of radicchio trevigiano al forno, which is a type of salad. For dessert, we made biscotti with mascarpone cream (SO delicious & will definitely make again!).
In Wine Studies, we had a wine tasting at Signorvino, a local wine bar near school, where we learned how Tuscan winemakers make red and white wine. Honestly, my favorite part of the winetasting was the charcuterie board :)
We visited the top of Palazzo Michaelangelo which overlooks the city of Florence.
Over the weekend, we traveled to Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary. While on the tram to the airport in Florence, our travels quickly took a turn for the worst. The tram ticket inspector checked our tickets and moved on. When the inspector checked our 4th roommate's ticket, he told her that her ticket wasn't validated. With our stop quickly approaching, I made my way over to her to see what was wrong. The inspector asked to see my ticket again, only this time, he told me my ticket was also not validated correctly. What we didn't realize is that we accidentally punched the wrong side, but the ticketer was not understanding, so what was supposed to be a one euro trip to the airport turned into a 50 euro ride...
The rest of the trip went smoothly once we landed in Vienna late on Thursday night. After a quick dinner run, my roommates found Schnitzel, a classic Viennese dish, before turning in.
The next morning, we took the train to Schönbrunn Palace to explore the grounds and stopped at a food stand in Schlosspark to share a giant Nutella pretzel. The palace grounds had a beautiful greenhouse called Palmenhaus, where a botanical and desert garden grew. I took a few photos of the flowers inside, and I can only imagine what the outdoor gardens look like in the summertime! We also toured the palace which was once the summer residence for the Habsburg dynasty.
Afterward, we took the train back into the city center to eat at Cafe Central, which once served some of the greatest poets, philosophers, and storytellers. Over coffee, cake and cigars, regulars such as Sigmond Freud and Peter Altenberg, frequented Cafe Central. The menu has many classic Viennese dishes; I ended up ordering a Viennese stew and the ever-popular hot chocolate because it was so cold out (I seem to already be used to Florence's 55 degree winters, as I thought Vienna's 30 degree days were cold!). Since Vienna is known for its pastries, particularly, Sachertorte, we had to try all the desserts! Four girls and 7 desserts later, we left Cafe Central to explore the downtown only to find stores close around 6 PM per Austrian law.
We decided to book a last-minute bus ticket to Budapest, Hungary the next day. We woke up early to catch a 3-hour bus ride, and just like that, we were in Budapest! At first, I wasn't sure if I wanted to go, but I was so happy that I did. We only scratched the surface, and I would definitely go back to see more of the city.
We took a tram to the city center, and I immediately noticed the language barrier. The signs and tram recordings were all in Hungarian- a language that sounded so unfamiliar to my ear. This was the first time I've traveled somewhere where English was not as commonly spoken. Austrians mainly spoke German and Hungarians spoke almost exclusively Hungarian, so both countries felt very unfamiliar in this sense. While there were English speakers at touristy spots, I almost missed the Italian chatter as I walked down the streets because it felt more familiar.
Budapest is known for its spa culture, which was just as relaxing as it sounds. The city has more thermal-water baths than anywhere in the world, so we had to check it out to see if it was worth the excitement. Hungarians routinely bathe in the mineral-rich waters, and most doctors recommend a trip to the spa to their patients.
While we thought we were walking to the Gellért Spa, we actually hiked up Gellért Hill while following the crowds of people making their way up to see the postcard views. Not only were the views of the Danube River beautiful, but there were also little Hungarian shops and cafes at top of the mountain.
The Gellért Spa only cost $20 for a day in the thermal baths, which was not terrible if you compare it to spas in the States. They had 7 indoor and outdoor thermal baths open in the winter, which were all around 101° F. We ate lunch at the Gellért Spa cafe, and I had chicken stuffed with feta cheese and salad. I could have stayed in the pools all day, but we also wanted to walk around the downtown before our bus left for Vienna.
Before leaving, we walked along the Danube River and crossed the Liberty Bridge overlooking the Parliament building at sunset. We visited the Parliament building before taking the tram back to the bus stop. While we waited, I ordered a small Hungarian pastry at Sósperec Pékség bakery, but the baker didn't know English, so we had to point at which pastry we wanted.
Our last day in Vienna, I woke up congested and coughing. Everyone in my program was sick or becoming sick, so it seemed to be only a matter of time before we all caught the bug. We packed up and took the train to St. Stephan’s Cathedral for mass in German. I think the 'Our Father' was about the only part I knew what was really happening, but after mass, we were stopped by a kind old man who noticed we were students and introduced himself as a former political science professor at Notre Dame. He was very proud to tell us about his published book on U.S. politics which he wrote in German and encouraged us to check it out...too bad I can't read German.
Our last few hours in Vienna were spent at the Belvedere museum, which was another Hapsburg palace that displays The Kiss and some paintings by my favorite artist, Monet. We ate dinner at Leto Cafe, which was a Mediterranean restaurant and not at all traditional Viennese food, but we all wanted a break from pasta. Before leaving, we had to stop at the famous, Café Sacher, which was home to the original Sachertorte!! I would say the Sachertorte is a little overrated, as it is a drier chocolate cake made with apricot jam and not as sweet, but it was cake nonetheless!
I hope to catch up on Week 4 soon to share my travels to Venice, Italy during Carnival-- stay tuned!