Sunday, June 07, 2009

buda pest wien wachau along danube

Okay, finally we shall talk about my 10 day trip to central Europe. The purpose is archiving and not entertainment :P. First stop was Budapest where the conference was held. And yeah, the conference was awesome. Well, it is the most important conference in my field and this time I had some proper papers to present :D. And one of my papers got nominated for the best student paper award. Of course that paper has nothing to do with my PhD. Of course, we didn't win. The results were announced during the banquet (which was on a boat cruising along the Danube river ;) ) รก la the Oscars or something. Also, my work got noticed by most of the bigwigs of the field. Yeah, they all know me, and my research pretty well now :P. And it was funny when I looked back and realised that I had applied for a phd under some of these profs back then. And now, they discuss my paper with their students in their group meetings and all :P. So yeah, pretty good conference. My room in the hotel was not just a regular room. I was staying at the conference hotel itself and had booked a single room just like the others. But some of us (including me) got a single apartment instead. So, it had a huge living room, a big bedroom and a well equipped kitchen as well!

Buda + Pest:

A city with quite a character. Almost all buildings in the centre are grand and majestic in some sense. And they are interspaced with grey, dull, communist era towering blocks. The Danube river divides the city into Buda and Pest and hence, quite a few bridges around. The sights across the river are the best. Definitely a city to visit. The hilly part i.e. Buda has the castle and really tall green hills while Pest is crowded like a any big city is. Pest is where most of the action is.

If you go out to dinner in Budapest, it will end up taking you 3 hours. Food wouldn't arrive for at least an hour after you order. True, this is valid in any restaurant there, guess it is an Hungarian policy or something! And when the food does come, it is huge. Really really huge portions. And very very heavy as well. The size of the starters there will easily beat the main course sizes in UK or rest of western Europe :P. Apart from the local language, German and Russian seem to be as or even more popular than English, going by the language in the menus. The nightlife there doesn’t end until late morning :P. Everyone seems to drink and smoke a lot. The most known hangout place is this placed called Godor which is an open area that was to have been the foundation for a big building. But the building plan was scrapped and it ended up being the centre of the nightlife there. There are some islands on the river as well which are also mostly abuzz all 24 hours of any day! By the way, the city also seemed to contain the most good looking girls in comparison to the other places in Europe that I have been to! Eastern European exoticism I guess?

Of course, English is not common there and Hungarian is bewildering to comprehend :P. Tickets for buses, trams or underground can only be bought from some ticket centres around and it is not easy to buy them. Ended up travelling ticketless for most of the bus and tram journeys ;). Also, the currency exchange is ridiculously confusing with 1£ > 300 Ft, so we were carrying notes each worth 20,000Ft and so on! The escalators of the underground system must be the fastest ever. The underground is pretty deep under the ground as well :P. In addition to general sightseeing, went to one of the famous 'baths' there. The really hot 80-90 C saunas are a very interesting experience. Especially when you jump into cold 16 C water immediately after that. It is supposed to be good for the skin, though it felt more like a shock+awe venture :P. Budapest also contains the second largest synagogue in the world in addition to other attractions.


From Budapest, two friends (call them S and K) and me went to Vienna (or Wein as it is called by the natives :P)! Why you ask? Because, it was the closest must-see city. Skipped Bratistlava in favour of spending more time in Vienna. And it is worth it. Awesome city in many senses. Cultural centre, it does seem to be, with lots and lots of events happening and museums and theatres etc. around. Every building in the centre of that city deserves to be photographed. Amazingly grand architecture with rich carvings everywhere. Even the roof in a Burger-King place is artistic! Transport is easy with the really simple and modern underground system along with the trams. Too many tourists (like me) everywhere though. Some of the area around the Danube has been converted into a tropical island atmosphere with even an artificial beach! Also visited what might be one of the most famous apartment buildings in the world. It is quite unique looking, designed by a well-known artist claiming harmonious living with the nature and so on.

Austria is famous for its cakes and desserts and deservedly so. Did the standard touristy thing by having this cake at the hotel of the person who invented it 170 years ago! Ice cream shops are abound. Maybe, they have a rule that every person should be able to be within 5 mins walking distance to an ice cream, you know, something like a fundamental right! Dinner here is served much quicker :P. Managed to have the dish called cheese fondue which is basically bread that is to be dipped into melting cheese and consumed :P. Actually, next to the place where we had this, there was a 'Cafe Coffee Day' !! One of the few franchises outside India. However, it called itself 'Coffee Day' by ignoring the 'Cafe' part of the name.

Went to the opera in Vienna! I guess, there can't be a more fitting place to see an opera than the grand opera house of Vienna. It is after all the centre of all such artistic things! We paid just 4€ for our tickets while the highest priced tickets range around 300€ ! Of course, with these cheapest tickets, which are sold only 80 minutes before the show which you need to queue up for, we get no seats. So, we actually stand and watch. We went in mainly with the idea of seeing the opera house from inside, see what an opera is all about, and leave in half an hour instead of staying for the whole 3 hours of the opera. But we stayed till the end! The one we watched is called Don Giovanni, one of the most famous ones and it was awesome. Hilarious, entertaining and lots of fun. Thankfully, we had English subtitles to read as there were small, personal screens displaying the subtitles in front of every person. Now, I know what opera is all about :D. A tick mark against one of the things to do in life, I guess.

Wachau valley:

Went on a day trip to nearby area which is popular for its vineyards and fantastic views of hills along the Danube. First, visited a vineyard + wine making facility where they gave us a tour explaining the whole process and some wines to taste. After that we had a plan to take the ferry from that place along the river to a town farther away, but we missed the ferry due to this vineyard experience. We were then recommended to hire some bicycles and ride all the way to that town along the river, cross the river and ride back from the other side. Sounded great and so we set off at 5pm. We had to return the bicycles at 8pm. We went leisurely, stopping too often to take pictures of the beautiful scenery and visiting souvenir shops on the way etc. And thus, by the time we arrived at the other town and crossed the river, it was 7pm! So, we had to cover the return journey in half the time. And so, it was disciplined cycling with just one break in between. The cycle path was very convenient and extremely well marked.

We returned exactly at 8, just in time to hand back the bicycles before the place closed and before the driver's license of S was lost forever (he had to give it as a security deposit for the cycles). The cycle trip was 35 kms in total. I guess that is equivalent or more than all the cycling I might have done since coming to Hyderabad 13 years ago!

Dead exhausted, we were walking back slowly to the station to catch the train back to Vienna. On the way, we stopped at the tourist information centre which was closed, but with a free phone outside to call hotels/hostels for booking accommodation. S mistakenly dialed a place while playing with it and was not able to cancel the call. So, the people at the hotel picked it up and S just innocently asked them what time the last train back to Vienna was (It helped a lot that S is German). And they actually searched online and replied! The last train was in 10 mins and we were quite far from the station! So, we ran and ran and caught it, again just in time. And given that we were already exhausted, it wasn't an easy task at all. Just the fear of missing the train kept us going I guess.

The adventures of the day didn't end there. We reached Vienna at 10:30pm and were famished. But what places serve food at that time? Almost none! We had to scour the city centre for an open place and found one at 11:25pm. It was supposed to stop taking orders at 11:30 and close at 12. So we had one of the quickest dinners ever. Yeah, we could have gone to some McD kind of place but we wanted some nice proper food after all the hard work we had put in for that day! And after the hurried dinner, we had to somewhat rush to catch the last underground train back to the place where we were staying. Actually, we weren't in a hotel, we rented a furnished apartment for those 3 days as it was coming to be cheaper and better than a hotel.

Danube is an impressive river, quite blue and fast flowing. I enjoyed the trip a lot but it did come with a price— contrary to expectations, Budapest is not cheap at all and Vienna is expected to be expensive anyway.


Turbo said...

Nice fun trip!

Vandana said... you proved me wrong...btw, I didn't read it :P. and how come this post has sooo many capital letters?

Aam admi said...

Who had even asked u to write this?

Ankur Handa said...

Quite an adventerous trip!

Sagar Rastogi said...

Very cool...

thread said...

why have the interesting bits been omitted?

skp said...

Read the first para.

Felt immensely jealous.

Now cursing you in my customized-gujrati regional language.

C ya on chat. adios

the-think said...

Whoo hoo! Congratulations!!
Nothing makes me happier than a happy academic :)

mythalez said...

@turbo, :)

@vandana, this post has been written using a word-processor .. so it is part of the exception list...

@aam-aadmi, this has been written for other 'mango-men' like u :P

@ankur, :P

@sagar, :P, ./restart blogging?

@paccha, coz they r too hot to handle? :P

@skp, [ignores the indecipherable murmurs]

@persephone, woo hoo .. this means u have blogged!! :D

obelix said...

this one i definitely read.

must have been a sloppy ent connection - that explains the missing witty and wise comment