Topdeck Hungary, Austria and Poland
Trip Start Jun 05, 2013
16Trip End Dec 07, 2013
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Today we traveled to somewhere I knew absolutely nothing about: Budapest in Hungary! I knew very little about this former country of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, so it was going to be interesting to learn some new history. And what a terrible history it was. Like many of the countries that fell under Nazi occupation during WWII, Hungary and in particular Budapest suffered through a pretty terrible history, especially the Jewish community. Hungary fell under two periods of occupation during and after WWII, with the Nazi's occupying during WWII, and the Soviet's occupying post-WWII. As a result of these occupations, the people of Hungary suffered many brutal atrocities. In particular, the Jewish community suffered as the Hungarian government colluded with the Nazi's in deportation and extermination of the Budapest Jews, including creating a ghetto in Budapest
After a quick orientation tour of the city including a photo stop at Fisherman's Bastion overlooking the city of Budapest we checked into our hostel The first night we had a meet and greet dinner with some newbies that were joining the group, at which I had the most massive schnitzel I have ever seen in my life, and probably will ever see again! I swear it was at least half a pig! I had to have a little bit of help, but we managed to polish it all off! After dinner we headed out to a 'ruin' bar, something Budapest is famous for. Ruin bars are basically bars with junk all over the walls: stuff you would see either in hard rubbish collections or on a trailer destined for the tip. It was pretty cool, though albiet creepy with all the crazy dolls and old children toys. Being pretty tired, a few of us decided to head off home to be ready to explore Budapest the next day!
And what a long day it was! On a tour of this length you always end up hitting a wall where you don't want to sight see or even particularly want to hang out with your new friends so much, and unfortunately Budapest was my day
We then set off on a continuation of our sight seeing adventure, heading across the river to the Buda side of Budapest to the Citadel, which afforded panoramic views over Budapest as the sun started setting. Back down the hill, we jumped on a boat cruise included with our bus tour along the Danube. It was from this vantage point that we really got to appreciate one of the most spectacular buildings in Budapest, the Parliament building, at a time of the day when it is probably at it's glory, sunset
After such a long day it was time to head back to the hostel for some much needed shut eye before another day on the bus!
Tour days 39 - 40:
We have reached the last ten days of the tour! How did time go so impossibly fast? Today we headed to Austria, via Slovakia for lunch! We stopped in Bratislava for some traditional lunch at a restaurant that seemed to have a predilection for pictures of women with very large breasts. We then continued on our merry way to Vienna! What a beautiful city! We started off with a driving tour to help us get orientated to the city, before a tour of a traditional Schnaps factory! We got to taste all sorts of delicious Schnaps, from traditional apricot, to chilli, absinthe, bitter herbs, and one filled with gold flakes for really special occasions! We all left there with a little fire in our bellies and a little less money in our wallets, as after sampling we could not help but buy the wares! After checking into one of the worlds hottest hotel rooms (whoever thought one little fan in a huge attic room was a good idea obviously wasn't a thinking man) we headed out for an included group dinner at a local restaurant
Never mind! The next morning we still managed to scrape ourselves up at a reasonable hour to head off into the city of Vienna to do some exploring! After a spot of breakfast (in my case, apple strudel with hot vanilla sauce...who says you can't have dessert for breakfast!), we poked around a record store before heading into the center of Vienna to see all the beautiful old buildings, including the Succession Museum, the Opera House, Museum Quarter, the Parliament Building and the Winter Palace. After getting our fill of photos, a couple of us dug our novels out of our bags, lay down on a nice patch of grass under a shady tree in one of the gardens attached to the Winter Palace, which are always open to the public, and had a read and a snooze. A beautiful way to recharge the batteries. Later, the rest of our buddies caught up to us, so we headed back into the main shopping district to find a schnitzel house that had been recommended, and had a rather delicious schnitzel for lunch, before heading back to the hostel to get all glammed up for our night at the Viennese Orchestra
Days 41 - 42:
Luckily none of us had hangovers that were too bad, because today we headed into Poland, and on our way to our final destination of Krakow, we headed to the former concentration camp of Auschwitz. What an atrocious place it was to visit as well. The local guide was spectacular, imparting all the information with dry confidence with no skimming over any of the nasty details: simply telling it exactly how it was. There were actually three concentration camps that made up the Auschwitz complex, namely Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II - Birkenau and Auschwitz III - Monowitz. The first camp was the main administrative camp, the second was a death camp, and the third was a labor camp
After such an afternoon, we were all in need of a drink once we arrived in Krakow! We were staying quite a distance out of the city, so we had an included dinner at the hotel before having some drinks in the corridor while we all tried to use the terrible wifi! The next day we headed into Krakow itself, visiting the town square, the Wawel Castle and the Schindler Museum, which detailed some of the facts about the man the movie Schindler's List was based on. By this stage we were so mentally drained from all the information about the Holocaust we had heard in the last few days that it was time to treat ourselves in the best possible way: traditional Polish dumplings followed by a chai latte. It was then back to the hotel for an early night before heading off to Czech Republic!