Buda Castle Budapest Hungary

August 26, 2009
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing

Europe 2009 – Beautiful Budapest

I did manage to get up early and figure out my game plan for the day in Budapest. I had to check out of the hotel. So I needed to take my backpack up to the train station for safe keeping during the day. Also, I need to do something about my shoes. I have worn out the insole on them and if I don’t do something about it my feet may disown me.

One more jump in the shower before heading out to explore Budapest. I won’t have another chance to clean up until I’m on the train (if it has a shower, I hope it does). I double check that I have everything then make my way to the office to turn in my key and get my 10 euro deposit back.

Budapest Western Rail Station

Budapest Western Rail Station

The walk to the train station is just long enough that it’s a pain (literally). The lady at the baggage storage area doesn’t speak any English. So I don’t quite understand what she is saying or asking. Eventually she pulls out a schedule and shows me the storage rates. I pick one that should be enough time and get my ticket to retrieve my bag later.

Now to the foot issue. I passed an outdoor outfitters store on the way over.  If anything, I can get a new pair of shoes. I see some that I like and that aren’t too expensive (it’s hard to tell though, I haven’t quite worked the Florent exchange rate out), but everything I like they don’t have in my size. I see a display of shoe inserts and ask if I can just buy one of those to replace my old ones. He grabs a couple of types off the rack and lets me see. The ones that feel the best are the most expensive (about 40 euros), but at this point I just don’t want my feet to suffer any more. So I make my purchase swap the old ones out and toss them in the trash.

They do feel better. This should help a bit.

I came to the conclusion last night that I don’t want to walk a lot today. So I start looking for the “Hop Off and On” tourist shuttle. It cost 4500 Florents, but I think it will be worth it. It makes a big circle through the city with stops at major sites.

I definitely think it was a good decision. I first take it to a park at one end of the city. There is a museum and the opera house. There is also a castle like structure with many attractive buildings inside. After taking a bunch of photos i head back to the bus stop.

My timing was good, because the next shuttle showed up shortly after I get there. This time I am staying on until I get to the castle district on the other side of the river. There is no way I can walk that far and still have feet for tomorrow.

Once there, I’m starting to feel a bit hungry and start looking for a place to eat. I stop at a little cafe and first order a coke and start studying the menu. Everything looks so expensive, but when a coke costs 500 Florents everything starts looking expensive.

I wave at the waiter that I am ready to order and he acknowledges me. He then seats a few more people, gives them menus, walks around a little bit and then takes their order. I wave at him again, once again he acknowledges that I am ready to order and gives me the sign that he will be with me shortly. He then delivers some food, drinks and takes a few other orders around the restaurant.

This is getting tiresome. A young lady that works there walks by and I ask if she can take my order. She says she will get my waiter. So I watch him service the other people around and finally I see the girl again and just ask if I can pay for the coke. She brings me the bill, as I said 500 fl for the coke but there is a 70 fl charge on there also. So I grab the bill and find the guy who was supposed to be serving me and ask him what that is. He explains it is a service charge. I ask if it is to cover the service I received and he say yes. Then I explain how I don’t feel I received any service and won’t pay that. He says no problem and takes me to the manager to have it removed from the bill.

I hate to play the “How it is in America” card, but if you received as crappy service as that you wouldn’t even be expected to pay for the coke and they would probably offer you a free meal for the inconvenience. But this guy doesn’t even want to talk about it. He just wants the 500 and to get me out of there. It’s amazing how something like that can really make you think twice about a destination.

After leaving (still hungry), I wander down the street some more and spot a sign for “Home baked pastries”. I turn down this small passageway and find this little bakery shop. The girl speaks English well and helps me select a few items to eat. When she gave me the total it was less than the coke I purchased at the (crappy) cafe and there was no hidden service charge with it. On top of that it was pretty good. They have a couple of benches in the passage way for patrons to eat at, so I sat down and had my lunch.

After that I walked around and took some shots of the buildings and of the view of the city. I am up fairly high now and can get some good shots. After a bit more wandering and picture taking I find the bus stop and wait again.

My timing is excellent today, because it’s only a couple of minutes before the bus arrives again. I think it arrives every half hour, but I still think I’m lucky today.

The next stop on the bus is at the Citadel, which is even higher up on another hill. It takes a bit to get there, but when we arrive they say the bus will depart again in 10 minutes. So, I can take my pictures and get back on this bus or wait 40 minutes for the next one.

I’m not in a huge rush today, but I don’t think there is 40 minutes worth of things to do up here. So I take my photos and purchase a small souvenir and then get back on the bus in time for it to head out again.

Budapest Hungary Parliament

Budapest Hungary Parliament Building

It makes a few more stops before reaching the Parliament Building. It is the largest building in Hungary (according to the voice on the headset) and looks impressive. So I will get off here for a few photos. I also find a bench to sit on and relax and catch up on my journal.

I get back on the bus and get off at the next stop so I can see the Catholic Church. It’s another nice one. I also manage to find a pay toilet near the back corner of the church. I wouldn’t usually, but since I don’t have a room to go back to I’ll have to give it a go. You have to wait after the last person leaves so it can go through a cleaning procedure. Interesting.

I head back to the bus stop again. I’m about ready to head to the train station and wait for my train. So I get off at the stop closest to the station and start walking.

I realize that the light lunch is already starting to wear off. So I stop at a Burger King for some grub and Wifi. It’s pretty much like at home. Not bad, not great. The wifi is not so good, but it allows me to check my mail and upload some photos to my Facebook account.

I finally get to the train station and retrieve my backpack. I start looking at my ticket and the name of this station and realize I am not in the right place. I ask the lady at the information booth where my station is and she takes my map and shows me where we are and where I need to be. It’s not a terrible distance. But if I had been a little more observant I would have saved myself a lot of trouble. The other station was a lot closer to my hotel and now I have to hike to it.

I tried to get a transit ticket, but both machines would not work. There is actually a sign in English that says “If the machine can’t give you a ticket than it will return your coin”. And that is exactly what both machines did.

Keleti Train Station

Budapest, Hungary – Keleti Train Station

I wasn’t too concerned about getting there on time. I had well over an hour and as I said it’s not that long. I finally did make it and had plenty of time to spare (more than I thought actually).
It took forever for them to announce the gate number and when we all got to the gate, there was no train. Over the speak system I could faintly here a woman’s voice saying the Bucharest train would be late departing. It finally pulls up and I get to my cabin. Unlike the last time I am not alone, I have a cabin mate above me. Also, this cabin is not nearly as nice as the one from Amsterdam to Prague. That car had running water and electric outlets I could plug my stuff into. This one has a couple of bunks and a place to put your bags.

We finally started to pull out at 7:39, about 26 minutes late. It’s ok, I’m not in a huge rush. I will still be too early to check into my apartment. But at least the air conditioner is working (oops, spoke to soon, it just stopped).

It started again after a few minutes and within an hour there was a slight chill in the room. I watched a bit of a movie on my laptop and after a while we turned the lights off and tried to get some sleep. My roommate said in a few hours we would be stopping for passport control.

August 25, 2009
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing

Europe 2009 – A Trip Down the Danube to Budapest

The rubbish trucks follow the same schedule here as they do in Vienna. At 5:30 I heard the engine as it pulled into the parking lot outside my window. Then there was that clanging and crashing sound of glass being dumped. It lasted for almost a minute. I tried to sleep a little longer, but ended up getting up and started my preparations to go.

The boat to Budapest doesn’t leave until 10:30am, so I have plenty of time. I am going to head out a little early so I can take my time getting to the river. It’s not a long walk, but when you have a big pack on your back it’s not a bad idea to take a breather every once and a while.

I stopped at a small sandwich shop near the river that had some breakfast sandwiches. I’m not sure what the food will be like on the boat but I’m sure it will be expensive. I had time to sit and eat, since I already have my ticket and just need to wait for the boat.

When I got to the dock I found a seat and started my wait. A couple soon joined me and we struck up a conversation. They are from Perth (second people I met from Perth) and are on holiday for 5 weeks. I can’t imagine being gone that long. But considering where they are coming from, you want to make the most of the time it takes to get to and from there.

Just about the time a huge group of priests and nuns are walking thru the waiting area, the captain comes in an announces the Budapest boat is ready to board. Both myself and the couple are disappointed to see how small the boat is. There is no outdoor deck, so photos might be a little difficult.

Inside it is like the interior of an airplane. Of course the windows are larger, but they are all scratched up from years of traveling up and down the Danube. It’s actually pretty full, most of the people got on at Vienna.

They come by with a menu and I am glad I ate before I boarded. It is pretty pricey.

Because it is a small boat, it’s not as smooth as I expected. It’s a little hard to type and read the screen on my laptop because my body is shaking around. Also, the seats could use a little more padding. I think my ass will probably be numb by the time we arrive.

There is a WiFi connection, but it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. It would have to be a satellite link with motion tracking to work and even then I don’t think it could hold a signal, considering how much the boat is rocking.

It’s not as bad as the ocean, since I’m not getting sick (at least not yet). But I don’t think I want to try and watch a movie. That might not work well and I would miss what scenery I can see.

Suddenly you could hear the engine noise change and feel the boat coming to a stop. Up ahead I can see what I imagine is a lock. From looking at maps in the past, I knew that there had to be a lock to go through because of a dam on the river. We had to wait for a while to actually make it into the lock. Once inside they opened up the upper observation deck and I managed to go out and take a few pictures. It was pretty amazing how fast and far the water dropped. They said it would take 30 minutes, but it seemed like it wouldn’t take that long.

Bobbing up and down and watching the walls rise around me was a little nauseating. Hopefully I won’t toss my breakfast. Probably not and I have some tonic water in my bag to help ease my stomach. We finally reached to low mark. The next step is to open the large door ahead of us. I’ve never done anything like this before. It is a lot more interesting than the train.

There is a door on either side of the boat that is open during the trip. So, when there is something that deserves a photo you can go to one of them. Of course about a dozen other people want to do the same thing and the doors are only big enough for two people at the most. There were a couple of times that I had to go get in line to take a picture.

They had a GPS system on a screen that updated where we were. For most of the time we had Slovakia to the left and Hungary to the right. On occasion the border would move one way or the other and we would be fully in Slovakia or Hungary. The border follows the river slightly. But it’s not like it is the line determining the border. At some point we started to move more south and Slovakia slipped off to the north.

It was an interesting selection of people. Americans, Germans, Canadians and some I’m not quite sure. The guy in front of me was working on a presentation for when he went back to work. It turns out he is an FBI agent and specializes in finding corruption in public offices.

Once we actually entered Hungary I noticed the architecture became a lot more interesting. There were a lot more cities built right up against the river, with the churches right there on the edge. Of course that may be because there are high hills on either side and they can’t really get to far from the river.

We finally started to approach Budapest and they ask everyone to take their seats. There is a huge church on one side of the river and some people just have to get up to take a picture. We manage to make our way to the dock and in a short time we are deboarding the hydrofoil.

They took all the bags up for us. That will save me a few hundred yards of lugging my backpack. After I find it, I make my way past all the people waiting on a taxi (which is pretty much everyone) and study my map one more time to verify I am heading in the right direction.

I’ve already located the street that the hotel is on. It’s not too far and I should be able to walk it with no problems. It takes me a little time to get to the street but not that bad. I didn’t write down the actual address, so I have to pull out my notebook to call up the directions. I am standing next to a Burger King. On the directions it says “Turn on the street with the Burger King and you are here”. Considering it is another block and a half, that is a little misleading.

I find the entry to the hotel and press the call button to be let in. The reception is on the 1st (what we call 2nd) floor and in a small office off the main hall. Since I made my reservation online, there are only a few extra things to write down for them. I’m not really sure why they need the city I was born in, but whatever.

It’s not so much a hotel, but an apartment building for travelers. I have a kitchen with a fridge and I even have a clothes washer (if I hadn’t already washed my clothes in Bratislava).

I take a small rest before I’m back out on the street heading to the train station. I need to make my reservation for tomorrow’s night train to Bucharest. There are two of them, one at 7pm and one at 11pm. I originally thought I would take the later one. But I just don’t want to sit around the train station that long. I would rather get to Bucharest a little early and take my time finding the best way to the apartment and do some other exploring.

I also find the baggage lockers, since I will have to check out in the morning and I don’t want to lug my Backpack around all day.

Now that all that is out of the way, I need to exchange some Euros, do a little exploring and get something to eat.

I can’t imagine why you would want a currency where a 10,000 (yes that is ten thousand) is a common bill to carry around. But, hey when in Budapest…

Next on the agenda is exploring and food. This is a parallel operation and I am checking everything out. I remember passing a pedestrian zone on the way up and figure there has to be some touristy Hungarian restaurant in there somewhere. I am not disappointed. I find a place that has it all: Hungarian food, Beer and Wifi. I have it back at the hotel also. But you can never check your facebook enough.

I ordered a goulash to start with and then a small steak with mushrooms and potatoes. Of course it is in some sauce with paprika in it. The steak is a little tough, but all in all not a bad meal. That and a couple of beers added up to a pricey meal. But it’s the first real expensive meal I’ve had so far on this trip.

I’m going to head back before it gets too late. If I were with someone else I might be willing to stay out a bit. But being just me, I think it’s better to get back before dark. Besides my feet are already hurting.

I discover when i get back that I have worn a hole in both socks. Considering I purchased them just before the trip will tell you how much walking I’ve been doing. I’m going to keep my eye open for a shop that might have some new insoles for my shoes. The ones that are in there now are as thin as a cracker and that probably has a lot to do with why my feet hurt and why I wore a hole in my socks.

Before I made it to the hotel I stopped at a market next door and bought some provisions for the morning and a couple of beers for the evening. After making my way back up to the room, I get myself cleaned up and relaxed with the beers and prepared for sleep. I wanted to get an early start the next day.

August 24, 2009
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing

Europe 2009 – Revisiting My Past

I woke up today around 5:30. I fell asleep a lot sooner than usual with the help of the beers. I didn’t have anything to eat and wasn’t quite ready to head out, so I just had to suffer through it for a while.

After my shower I had one smaller batch of clothes to wash. Mainly my jeans and a few things I missed last night. While they were cleaning I checked the drying rack and was able to pull most of the small items off of it and reposition the others for better drying.

I still had some time before the washer was finished, so I thought I would take a look at the internet problem again. There is a DSL modem and a Cable modem. The cable modem doesn’t even seem to have power. It looks like the wall wart power supply is dead. But, it is the same voltage as the DSL so I give it a shot. It shows signs of life and the lights are showing green. So, I plug the computer into it and get a little somewhere. After a while of fighting I get online. So, now I can check my email and maybe even chat with a few people without having to find a cafe with Wifi.

It works well for a while, but then it starts resetting over and over again. Maybe that is what burned up the power supply to begin with. So, I unplug it to let it rest. I will check it again later.
The washer finally finishes and I hang the new damp cloths on the rack. Now it is time to head out and revisit Bratislava.

My first goal is a little lunch. I remember a Greek place on the walkway toward the Presidential Palace. I remembered correctly and stop and get a gyro. It’s pretty good and they have a chili sauce that they put on it that gives it a bite.

I get to the Palace and catch the guards doing their on the hourly routine. My next stop is the little outdoor church I found on my last trip. I know the basic direction; I’m just not exactly sure which streets to take. But with not much effort I recognize the road that leads to it. After a while it stops being a road and becomes a path. Then you just take the first fork to the right and follow that trail up to the church.

Once I arrived I found a woman and a small boy already there. The last time I was here there was a woman sitting in the church. I don’t feel right taking a lot of pictures while someone is praying. So I sit and wait. Not only does the woman not leave, but a man shows up also. He starts going around cleaning up old candles and putting out new ones in their place. So, I don’t think I’m going to have a chance to do this. Maybe it’s fate.

While I was sitting I can see some of the bricks that line the walls. They all have prayers or just words of thanks. Most in Slovak, but I can also see Italian, Latin, German, Ukrainian, Russian and even some English ones.

I do manage to get the GPS on my phone to work so I can mark the spot and I leave it on to trace the route back to the Palace so I can find it easier next time.

I guess I’ll head up to the castle now and see what is going on up there. It is being renovated and will be that way until 2012 according to the website. They started last year (2008) so that will be a long renovation.

When I get to the top, it already looks pretty different. Apart from the scaffolding around parts, the exterior is very white and smooth. I guess it’s a good thing. But it starts to look more like a Disney creation than a real castle. There is working going on all around the castle also. So you have to watch out for the small bulldozer hauling dirt back and forth around the grounds.

Since there is not much else to see up here I start heading down the stairs that lead to the old town. I’m not really sure what I want to do now. I’m really just in the mood to relax. But I should do something.

I see the bus depot under the Novy Most (New Bridge) and remember the bus to Devin Castle is down there. I don’t want to tour the castle again. But there are some good views of the Danube and some quiet cafes’ to hang out at for a while.

The bus ride is about 20 minutes, but your choices of tickets are 15 minutes and the 60 minutes. You would think they could come up with a 30 minute ticket in there somewhere. I go ahead and purchase 2 60 minute tickets so I don’t have to worry about getting one on the other end. The last time I took this trip, it was in the morning and there were a lot of people traveling for work. This time the bus is pretty much empty except for maybe 6 to 8 other people.

Once we arrived I took a few shots of the castle exterior and then head to the park along the river. They are building a new flood wall here and you have to use a temporary wooden bridge to get over the construction.

Once I’m down at the river I can see how much lower the river is compared to the last time I was here. It’s probably a good 3 meters lower. The Danube still looks like it is flowing fast, but I see a few boats on it and they aren’t fighting as much as the ones I saw last time. There are a few more boats this time also. I think they shut down a lot of the river traffic last time because of the conditions.

I’m glad it’s not as bad, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to take the trip to Budapest on the river. I could do the train, but the boat will be interesting.

After a bit of roaming I head back to the castle to grab a beer and rest a little. The first time I visited there was only one place. Now there are two to choose from. One serves Heineken and the other Starobrno. So it’s a pretty easy choice. I don’t think I would choose Heineken even if I was in Germany.

I sit down and wait for a while but then learn that there is no waitress and you have to go in and purchase your beer at the bar. So in I go and am pleased to learn that a beer is only 1 euro here (and it’s not a tiny little glass). I may stay here a while. The bus only comes once an hour and as I’m half way through my first beer I’ve still got 45 minutes. I finish the first and go back in for another.

There are three German people trying to get a drink at the bar. The woman in the group keeps asking for a coffee. When the girl says all she can make is espresso, the woman repeats that all she wants is a coffee. I’m kind of relieved to see that it’s not just American tourists that can be a royal pain in the butt.

It doesn’t look like I will have enough time for a third cheap beer. The bus will be here in about 15 minutes and it only comes once an hour. So I pack up and head over to the bus stop.

This trip is a little later in the afternoon and I guess some people are off work early. The bus is a little more packed and there is someone at each stop and it just gets fuller as we go. Still not that bad and it is a short ride.

I guess I should look at souvenirs. Not so much for me, but I would like to get some things for people at home. I just don’t know where I will put them in my backpack. I contemplated going by the post office and look into shipping my jacket back. I certainly won’t need it (if I ever really did) for the rest of my trip. Especially since my last two destinations are further south than I am now. I was looking at the weather for Bucharest and it is in the high 80s.

I end up not buying anything. I just don’t see anything that I think is worth the effort. I can’t think of anything else I want to get done today, so I head over to the Tesco to get a couple of brews and then off to the pizza place I used to pass on my last trip.

I got a pizza with pepperoni and sliced peppers on it. Pretty spice and good. The cheese has a smoky flavor to it.

I hook the cable modem back up and am able to get online just long enough to check my email. Then it starts cycling off and on again. Very frustrating.

No interesting movies on tonight (at least not in English). So I watched one on my laptop. I finish the beers that I purchased earlier and just like last night they help me drift off into sleep.

August 23, 2009
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing

Europe 2009 – Off to Bratislava

I’m just going to give up on the alarm clock. I always wake up around 6am. Not much to do this morning but get ready to take the train to Bratislava. I could catch the 10:30am train, but that would put me there 2 hours before I could check into my apartment and I would have to lug around my backpack. So instead I will leave it with the hotel for the morning while I do a little more exploring and get something to eat.

Sunday is even worse than Saturday when it comes to places being open. Even the little shop in the passage is closed. But I am determined to find some food. I hadn’t thought about it until I woke up that I didn’t actually eat anything for dinner and only had the one sausage at the castle and a small sandwich for lunch. That would explain why I am so hungry.

After a bit of walking I notice a cafe with people drinking coffee. So I asked the waitress if they are serving food. She kind of understands and says “breakfast?” and I confirm that is what I’m looking for. She then tells me they have ham and eggs. That actually sounds great. I haven’t had a really big breakfast most of the trip and, as I said, I am starving.

It works out to be very good indeed. Three eggs sunny side up on top of a big, but thin, slice of ham along with bread and some sliced vegetables. I tried not to eat too fast. One: I wanted to enjoy it and two: I had plenty of time to waste before heading to the train station.

At one point I started hearing a voice on a loud speaker. I couldn’t tell exactly where it was coming from, but soon I saw parents and children heading to the other side of this small structure across the street. After a while I figured it must be a puppet show of some kind. But since I was eating I couldn’t get up and investigate just yet. Once I was finished and paid for my meal (much cheaper than I expected), I headed around to see what was going on. I was correct, it is a puppet show. I could follow it a little. I hung around for a while watching and then decided to move on.

I wandered around checking out the things in the windows of the shops. I saw a book about Trencin that was in Slovak, English, Russian and some other language (I think Polish). I wish I had noticed it the other day when the shop was open. Oh well, one more thing to come back for some day.

It wasn’t really time to head to the train station, but I had wandered enough. So I stopped by the hotel and grabbed my backpack and headed to the station. After I purchased my ticket I found a seat and started to wait. I had 1.5 hours until my train departed and there is not much else to do but wait. It gave me a little bit of time to catch up on my journal and maybe watch part of a movie.

Trencin is in the middle of the run to Bratislava. The problem with that is there are already a lot of people on the train and there are not any places to sit. For some reason they use the cars with separate cabins for the trains to and from Bratislava. So there aren’t as many seats per car as you would find on the regular transit trains. After a couple of stops I saw a group of people leave one cabin and was able to grab one of the seats.

The ride back to Bratislava always feels faster than going to other cities from it. I guess that is because it is pretty obvious when you get to Bratislava and you don’t have to concentrate as hard on where you are in the trip.

After arriving it was a simple walk down to the tram station. I bought my ticket and waited for the tram to arrive. I know the people at the apartments are trying to make it as simple as possible, but they make you go a long way on one tram just to head back in almost the same direction. They could have said get off at “This” stop and walk across the street to the “Next” stop. “This” and “Next” being whatever the names of the stops are. Instead they find one stop further down the line that both lines use. I understand it, but it would have saved some time the other way.

I got to the apartment just as the lady was leaving. I guess she didn’t believe me when I told her I had to wait a few minutes for the tram to arrive when I called. I’m glad I got there when I did or I would have been standing around for a while probably. After she let me in and showed me around she took off because she was late for another appointment. I looked around and saw the wireless internet box. So I wanted to check and make sure it worked. It didn’t. So I’m back on the phone to ask what is up. I’m informed that there is a problem with the internet at that apartment. I comment that the reason I chose this one over the other they offered was because of it had an internet connection. She said she would come by and see what she could do. Unless she is a networking expert I can’t imagine what she could do. But I will give her a chance.

She told me I didn’t have to wait for her and that is good, because I have a lot of things I need to take care of. I must get some detergent so I can do laundry tonight and I’m not sure how late the Tesco stays open on Sundays. Also, I wanted to make my reservation on the hydrofoil to Budapest today. I’m not sure how crowded it gets, but they recommend making it at least 48 hours in advance.

So I head out to the Tesco. I pretty much know the direction I need to go, but I will need to work out the short cut. It was easy to find what I needed (a small box of detergent) and I continue on to my next challenge.

When I get to the Danube I am a little shocked and disappointed. They are rebuilding the flood walls. It looks like they are adding a couple of meters to the height. The last time I was here the water came close to cresting and it did crest a couple of years earlier. So it was probably needed. But it just screws up the views of the river with the big construction fence in the way.

I found the transportation dock pretty easily and the reservation desk was open and there was no line. When I started to ask about making a reservation the girl looked a little worried. I think she thought I was asking for today. Once I explained it was for Tuesday she started typing on her computer and within a few minutes I was booked and walking away with my ticket. All I have to do now is show up and get on the boat.

I decided I had a little time before I would to try and get something to eat. It’s only 4:30pm and most of the restaurants don’t start serving until five at the earliest. So I head to the square in front of the concert hall to see if it still has internet. It does, but it’s about as fast as I remember, which is not very. I can at least check if my last reservation request in Bucharest went through.

After a bit of walking around I pretty much came back to where I started in the square and picked a restaurant that had some pasta on the menu. I also saw snails on the appetizers list and ordered those also. They weren’t bad. Not much to them. I’m still curious how they would be in a place like Paris where they really know how to prepare them. The spaghetti was ok. It wasn’t great but filling. At least the beer is good and cold.

Earlier I saw a huge line waiting at an ice cream shop. I used to stop there on my last trip so I figured it must still be as good as last time. I went and got a couple of scoops on a cone. Now I can begin to see the money difference since my last visit. You pay by the scoop and the last time I calculated it was about 20 cents a scoop in US dollars. This time it was 50 cent Euro per scoop. This would make it close to 75 cents US. I was shocked that a couple of scoops would be that much. I strolled past a couple of other stands and they are all the same price.

I needed to get back and start doing laundry so I won’t have to worry about it the next day. On the way I stopped at the Tesco store again to grab a couple of cold beers to take back to the apartment. I bought some Gorgon beers. They are 10% alcohol, so they pack a bit of a punch.

I got back and the wireless router was now sitting on the table in the room. There was a note on it to try using the cable. I did and no difference. I guess I’ll have to rely on the Wifi hot spots in the square.

I started my first load. I wish they would include some instructions for the washer. I pushed a few buttons until it started running. I’m just not sure if it is doing exactly what it needs to. I started playing with the TV and finally found CNN and DW-TV. It’s nice seeing a few more English broadcasts.

I found the drying rack in a closet. This apartment doesn’t have a balcony, so I set it up in the entry hall. Once the washer finished I started loading up the rack and then put another load in the washer. It’s pretty small so I can’t do a lot in one pass.

I started flipping through the TV channels again to see if there was anything I missed. I was lucky enough to catch the very beginning of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. It was on a channel that I saw earlier in another language. It’s probably not easy to translate a movie that is mostly singing and keep the story straight. They did have captions. I watched them for a while and realized they were not Slovak, probably Hungarian. Bratislava is very close to the Hungarian border.
It was time to pop open one of the beers. I found a glass and poured myself a drink. It’s very smooth for a high alcohol beer. But after I finished the first one I could definitely feel it. The movie was coming to a close and so were my eyes. I fought it for a while, but gave in and went to sleep.

August 22, 2009
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing

Europe 2009 – A Fine Day in Trencin

Since I didn’t go to sleep quite as early as I have the past couple of nights, I was still a bit tired when the sun woke me up. Also, there is a disco across the street from the hotel that goes until way past 2am and the people and the music are quite loud. So my sleep wasn’t as restful as i would have liked.

I got online to check email and facebook. After a while I sent Lucy a text about what happened the previous evening. That is when I discovered the communication error and the fact that her work was in a completely different city and she would be taking a train to Trencin later in the day to see me. I felt better knowing she was ok and that the language translations just got messed up.

So, I headed out to see the castle. I went through it the last time I was here. But it was raining then and I couldn’t get as many pictures as I wanted. It is cloudy today, but for the moment it is not raining. We’ll see how long that holds out.

When I got to the ticket window (which is half way up to the castle and it is quite a climb) the lady showed me the schedule for tours. There is an English tour at noon. They didn’t offer that on my last trip. So I will hang out for a while to do that one.

They have a little snack shop at the castle. I purchased a sausage and coke (great breakfast) and had a leisurely snack and caught up on my journal entries while I waited for the tour time to arrive.

There were only 3 of us on the English tour, me and two ladies from Canada. When the guide started talking I became worried that this would be an extremely boring tour and maybe I should have just taken the Slovak version. He was doing the looking in the air and rocking back and forth routine that people do when they have said a speech a hundred times and don’t even have to think about what they are saying.

As the tour progressed he became a little more involved in what he was talking about. Also, one of the ladies asked a lot of questions and he had what sounded like reasonable answers. The paintings and rooms were pretty much how I remember them, but now I had a better explanation of what the subject matter was. There are English descriptions on the paintings, but very limited at the most.

At the end of the tour you are on your own to climb the main tower to get the bird’s eye view of Trencin. It is an extremely narrow stair case and it gets more so towards the top. Luckily there are landings with little displays to give you a break from climbing and to allow people to get out of each other’s way.

I had noticed, on the times we were outside moving from building to building, that the clouds were getting thicker and darker. By the time I made it to the top I was once again faced with a cloudy view of the region. Maybe someday I will get a clear day on the tower. The next time I probably won’t do the full tour and just the tower.

Once I came down from the tower I wandered around the lower castle area. Since it wasn’t raining, they had several activities going on. There were falconers, a blacksmith, an antique rifle demonstration and archery. Because of the archery setup, you couldn’t get a close look of the prison tower on one corner of the castle. They described an oubliette, but also stated there is no documentation or stories of anyone every being put there to die. Mostly it was a deterrent to anyone that might think about disobeying the head of the castle.

I think I’ve seen everything and taken a lot more pictures than my last visit. So I’m going to head down and see what’s to eat. Of course, since the tour started at noon, it’s already 1:30pm. I’m not that hungry, since I did have the sausage before the tour. On my way down I find the covered staircase that was mentioned during the tour. Originally the only way into the castle was from the forest side. But in later years the stairs were added.

I also stopped to take a few pictures of a church and I found a small gate that led to a forest park on the back side of the castle. I thought about exploring it, but wasn’t sure I wanted to spend a lot of time just making myself more tired. I guess it’s another excuse to come back here in the future.

Once back down in the old town, I discovered that many of the shops and restaurants are closed on Saturday. At least they are at this time of day. Maybe it will pick up later on, as long as the weather holds off. I found a covered cafe and had a beer. I can hear the thunder in the distance. I really don’t want it to rain today. I was hoping for a nice night to walk and talk with Lucy. We’ll have to see what happens.

I didn’t want a big meal, so I stopped by the little shop in the passage and grabbed a premade sandwich and a coke. Just about the time I made it to my room the rain started. For a while it was pretty hard and it didn’t look like it would stop any time soon. But eventually it slowed to a small sprinkle.

I just stayed in at this point. I’ve seen the city in the rain and didn’t need to experience it again. Later on I received a text from Lucy that she was about 1 hour from arriving. So I started getting ready for a night out.

It was still sprinkling when Lucy made it so we opted to go to a local pub and just sit and talk. There was a small loft with a couple of tables and we found our spot there. She is a quiet girl, but after a while she started to open up and talk more about many things.

We sat up there for a few hours until it was time for her to go. She is working north of the city at a camp for physically disabled children and it takes almost 2 hours to get there. So she needed to get over to her parents home for some rest before getting up early for the return trip.

We walked back to my hotel and took a few pictures of our time together and then said our goodbyes. I’m sure I’ll return to see her and Slovakia again. I’m just not sure when.

After returning to my room, I got cleaned up and laid down to sleep when my phone started buzzing to let me know I had a message. It was Lucy texting me that she was home and going to sleep also and she thanked me for the evening. She is a very sweet girl and so considerate. I returned her message and went to sleep.

August 21, 2009
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing

Europe 2009 – On a Slow Train to Slovakia

Once again I woke up before my alarm. Almost exactly at 6am instead of 7am. I’m not sure if it’s the noises from outside or the sun coming thru the window. I grabbed my sleeping mask and tried to get another few minutes before I had to go.

My only real complaint about the hostel is that it is on a busy street for being back in a neighborhood. There are cars and motorcycles racing up and down it all night long. And I do mean racing. People have two speeds around here, stop and accelerate as fast as possible. There are also the garbage and recycling trucks that came the previous morning. My next form of lodging will be a hotel. So I imagine it will be a little quieter (I imagined wrong, you will see later).

I got packed and checked the room a few times to make sure I didn’t forget anything. After dropping off my key at the front desk I began the hike back to the station I arrived at the other day. It didn’t seem quite as far, now that I knew where I was going. The ticket machine here had a lot fewer choices. So it was easy to find the one I needed. I had already studied my path back and new which train I needed to get on. One arrived shortly and I got on. I thought it would be heading the other direction. I guess I was all turned around because as we pulled into each station I could see I was going the right way.

One transfer and a few more stops brought me to the Sudbahnhof station. This is where you go to catch the train to Bratislava. The ticket is only 14 Euros. They only sell the round trip ticket and it is good for 2 weeks. There were a few people at the hostel that had come from Bratislava and were trying to sell their return ticket. One guy was asking 15 Euros. I already knew what the price was, so I passed on his offer.

I had to wait a little while for my train to arrive. There was one leaving almost immediately for Bratislava Pertzalka. But that is on the south side of the river and not where I wanted to go. I am going to the Hlavne Stanica (main station), because I need to then get a ticket for Trencin. It is north of Bratislava near the base of the Tatra mountain range. I’m going to visit my friend Lucy.
The train to Bratislava was slow, but I got to see some of the countryside between Vienna and Bratislava. Not much to see, but it’s still enjoyable. Once I arrived, I purchased my ticket to Trencin and found a place to sit and rest while I waited for my train. I sat outside where it was a little less stuffy and watched the people coming and going.

As it got closer to the time for my train to depart, I went back inside to keep an eye on the schedule board to see which track my train would depart from. Just about that time, a group of people in monk robes entered the station. One of the monks was being treated with much more reverence than the others. They looked Tibetan, but I can’t be completely sure about that.

My train finally was posted on the board and I made my way to the platform. I was able to recognize most of the stops leading to Trencin. They don’t make any announcements on the train, making it a little tricky for non-local people to understand completely when to get off. I also remembered being able to see the castle well before the train stops at the station. So, I kept my eyes looking forward.

The weather is beautiful in Trencin today. The last time I was here it was raining almost constantly. The weather tomorrow looks like it could be bad again. I hope not. I was really hoping to get some shots from the castle while it was sunny.

I am staying at the Grand Hotel. It’s a good hotel, I don’t know about grand. I am on the top floor which is basically built into the roof of the building. I ran into the manager in the elevator and when he saw I was on the top floor, he commented that those rooms don’t have A/C and was wondering if everything was ok. I’ll admit it’s a little warmer than the last time I was here. But it’s still not that bad and will get a bit cooler in the evening.

At least I have internet in the room and can finish the reservations for the rest of my trip. I still need to decide where I will stay in Bucharest. I am covered everywhere else.

I got cleaned up and went out to explore the city. I’ve been here before but it has been a few years, so I need to re-acquaint myself with the old town. I recognize most everything, but just like everywhere else I’ve been there is some major construction going on at one end of the old town area. Maybe that is their form of a stimulus package.

I was a bit hungry, but it was only 2:30 and I didn’t want a big lunch. So I found a little sandwich shop and ordered up a spicy salami sandwich. I also noticed that they had Dr Pepper in a chiller behind the counter, so I ordered one. The girl looked confused and when I pointed to the bottle she said “Ahhh, Dur Pepper”. I smiled a little and started to explain that the Dr is short for “Doctor” in English. But I figured that was pointless. In America when you get a sandwich they put shredded lettuce on it. Here they put shredded cabbage. Same concept, just slightly different texture.

After my long morning hauling my backpack to and from the train stations, my back is starting to hurt a little again. I see a sign that looks like it might mean pharmacy. Actually, they are selling makeup, hair care products and other toiletry items. I try to explain what I am looking for and the girl points down the street and says “Lekaren”. I thought she was telling me to go to the liquor store, but that must mean pharmacy in Slovak. Because when I get there, that is what I found.
The woman in the shop doesn’t speak English. She asks if I speak German, I tell her (in my broken Slovak and Russian) that I don’t but I do speak Russian. So, we start trying to communicate about what I need. She finally pulls out a little box and I see ibuprophen on it and know that is what I need. As I was leaving I heard her yell to someone in back that I could speak Russian but not German. I’m sure they don’t get too many Americans who can do that.

I saw a few shops selling water in the passageway next to the hotel. When traveling I prefer to drink bottled water, just in case. So I stopped and grabbed a large bottle. I should have bought 2 because I finished that one pretty quickly.

I texted my friend Lucy earlier and she responded that she could get off work in the evening to meet up with me. I decided to get some rest and clean up before she arrived.

I ended up going out and looking for a place to eat dinner while I waited for Lucy. I wandered around for a while but ended up back at the hotel cafe and had grilled vegetables over pasta. It wasn’t bad and the vegetables were very fresh tasting. I had one beer and then sat and listened to the end of the Boy George concert they were playing over the speakers. I’ve noticed that things are still a little cheaper in Slovakia than the rest of the places I’ve been. Not as cheap as the last time I was here, but still not bad.

I went up to my room again and watched CNN and waited for Lucy. After a while I started to wonder if she was ever going to arrive. Unfortunately, there was a slight communication error. I found out the next day that she thought we were to meet the next evening. For the moment I didn’t know this so I just went to sleep thinking maybe she would call.

August 20, 2009
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing

Europe 2009 – Vienna Sights

I was awoken by the pleasant sound of the refuse truck dumping bottles from the recycling bin. This was about 6:30am. Not a bad time to get up, just not what my body wanted.[more] I laid around for a little while and then got up to do a little laundry. I’m down to my last pair of socks (Maybe I shouldn’t have left those other socks back in Prague). No big deal though. I just cleaned the rest in the sink and hung them up to dry. By tomorrow they should be fine and I’ll be set until I get to Bratislava, where I should have a washer in the apartment.

The mini-mart mostly sells fruit, meats and cheese. Not much for ‘On the Go’ eating. But I did grab a bottle of water. Luckily just another block down I found a bakery that had a great selection of pastries. So I got one berry filled item and a juice to go. There was a little park across the way to sit and enjoy my breakfast.

Heading off again I realized I forgot to grab my map of the sights. I guess I’ll just have to find them the old fashioned way. I headed in the direction I remembered the palace to be. I found it and the garden park behind it.

I would describe everything I saw here. But, to keep it short, everything is beautiful. There are monuments everywhere and great buildings with beautiful architecture.

My only problem is, just about everywhere you go they are remodeling the exteriors of the buildings. So you see a lot of scaffolding and protective mesh around the structures. Sometimes the mesh has an image of how the structure did look, sometimes how it will look and then, mostly, advertising.

I did find the main church in Vienna. It is huge and the inside is amazing. You can walk around most of it for free. There is a section in the middle you have to pay to go into. There is also an elevator up one of the bell towers. I paid the 4.50 Euros to check it out. You get a great view of the city and some up close looks at the architecture of the church itself. The bell is big, but not much else to see on it. I was up there at the top on the hour and I heard many other bells ringing around the city. But that one didn’t. I guess they don’t ring it while people are up there. I would imagine it is quite loud.

After leaving the church I wanted to try and find an internet connection. I found one outside a hotel. But there wasn’t anywhere to sit. So I just used my phone to update my facebook status and moved on. In the distance I could see a large fountain with a tall monument behind it. When I got closer I realized that all the writing around it was in Russian. It turns out to be a memorial to the liberation of Vienna from the Germans during WWII.

I could read most of it, but still need to look up a few words to understand everything it is talking about.

I then returned to my quest for internet and maybe a bite to eat. The only place I could find that had both was the Scottish hamburger place (McDonalds). I was really trying to avoid eating there but I wanted to check my email. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to make up for it with a real dinner.

In my quest to find different places I often just point myself in a direction and walk. I did that again after lunch and this time I think I went too far. I just kept walking in one direction until I realized I had been heading that way so long I really wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get back.

It took me about an hour to get back to an area I knew. I’m still about 15 minutes from the hostel and its 2:30pm now. I needed another break. So I sat myself down at a beirgarten and had a tall one.

I think I may have pushed myself a little hard today. My back is aching and my feet feel like I might be starting to get some blisters. I will need to stop at the drug store on the way back and see if they have any pads to put on my feet. The last thing I need now is to not be able to walk. As far as my back is concerned, I just need to rest it for a little while and it will probably feel better. I will have a good rest tomorrow since I will be on trains for a good part of the day heading to Trencin, Slovakia.

I got back to the hostel and laid down for a little nap. I was just starting to sleep when I heard this funny song playing. In my sleeping daze it took me a moment to realize it was my phone ringing. I missed the call, but recognized the number as one of my clients. I waited for a voice mail, but instead received a text with their problems. Dudes, I’m on vacation and you want me to give you international tech support. I called them and after a 10 minute (I can only imagine what that is going to cost me) conversation I convinced them that there was nothing I could do from my end and they just needed to do a little more troubleshooting before calling me back.

It was probably good that they woke me up, because if I sleep too long now I won’t get any sleep tonight. Since I can’t get Wifi in the room, I headed down to the commons room to see if any of the PCs are available. They weren’t, but one of the guys was heading to Bratislava the next day and I talked to him about the city. He was from Perth, Australia and said he had run into a few other Texans on his trip. Not too surprising. This is the best time of the year to get away from Texas. I imagine the population drops quite a bit in July and August.

When I finally could get online, I set in motion my reservations for Trencin and Bratislava. I hope I’m not too late with the Trencin hotel. I didn’t think the internet would be so scarce here in Vienna. I guess I got spoiled in Venlo and Prague. I’ll have to check before I leave to make sure I’m all set.

It’s time for my last real meal in Vienna. Once again I’m heading into the great unknown to see what I can find. The best part about just going out and searching is you’ll never know what you will find. I saw a sign for some passage through a building. I went in and found it was this old tunnel between two streets. It was lined with antique shops and at one end there was a fountain inside an atrium. Not something in the usual travel books I’m certain.

I headed back through the passage to where I was going originally. I passed what looked like a circus tent. But it looked like there were TVs inside. Continuing on I came across a cafe serving various Austrian/German dishes. I sat down and ordered the roasted Bratwurst and (of course) a beer. It was all very good as usual. But, I don’t know if I could ever get used to the European style of service. I appreciate not being asked a hundred times if everything is ok like in the US. But when my beer is empty I would think it would be obvious to ask if you want another and not wait for me to wave the waitperson down. It’s the same thing with the bill. I could see people waiting for tables. You would think they would want to get rid of me since I wasn’t ordering anything else. But I guess it’s just a culture thing that you have to get used to or grow up with.

After I finally paid my bill, I wanted to go see what was showing at the film festival. But other parts of my body were telling me I needed to sleep. So I headed back to the hostel to clean up and get rested before I head out again.

August 19, 2009
by Alan (Travelin' Al) Stiebing

Europe 2009 – Moving on to Vienna

I ended up not needing the alarm. I set it for 8am, but woke up at 7am on my own. The hostel is not a bad place, but you can hear everyone coming and going through the night. At about 3am some people started making a lot of noise. Laughing and talking. Luckily I managed to fall back to sleep quickly.
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