Monday March 5, 2007
Location, Location, Location
In the morning, we're up early and out to the closest metro to catch the subway to the train station. We didn't end up buying our tickets in advance, so we want to get there early for the 9:10 daily train to Vienna.
Upon arrival at the metro station, we wander a bit before we figure out that the international ticket counters are upstairs. More wandering and we finally find the ticket room which is under construction.
We ask for two one way tickets to Vienna and the agent says she will give us "a special price". What does that mean? We really have no idea what these tickets will cost since it's impossible to find out what they are online. Someone on Fodor's had told me they would be about $40 each for 2nd class.
Turns out the "special price" is for non-refundable tickets and for two, were 6770 ft. That's about $35 total for two 2nd class tickets. It´s much less than I expected. Maybe it's because we bought them last minute, but who am I to complain? Unlike many of the people in the service industry here, this woman is incredibly nice and patient.
Between us, we have about 11,800 forint left. I set out to spend the 800 ft in change (which cannot be exchanged) and two waters, an inedible langos (fried dough), one coffee, and one cream filled donut later, I have only 3 forint of the change left in my pocket. I take the 11,000 to a change window in the train station (yes, I'm sure the rate was horrible) and exchange it for 42 euro.
We board the train, and our carriage is made up of 6 seat compartments. There is an older gentleman already in our compartment eating a very fragrent salami sandwich. He graciously helps us get our bags up on the luggage racks (another reason I'm glad we packed light). After a few moments, he realizes he's in the wrong car, and leaves. We end up with the compartment to ourselves for the entire trip. It's very comfortable and has 2 -220v plug outlets for laptops. It's nice to watch the countryside roll by and I spend most of the time writing about our last day in Budapest and looking out the window.
At the Westbahnhof train station we decide to buy our tickets to Prague before we leave so we don't have to come back before Thursday. These tickets are substantially more than the other ones, and end up costing 47.90 Euro each (incl. a 3.50 reservation fee) for 2nd class. That's more than the other two combined. Yes, it's a longer ride, but wow, I guess the Budapest-Vienna ticket was "special". Unfortunately, the woman behind the counter was nowhere near as nice as the one in Budapest; she was clearly irritated at having to deal with non-German speaking tourists all day.
Next, we try and figure out the transportation pass system. There are computer kiosks in 4 languages selling all manner of passes. Unfortunately, it's unclear what all the passes are. What's a "shopping" pass? Single rides are 1.5 euro, a day pass is 6 euro and a 72 hour pass is 12 euro. We figure it will be good still on Thursday when we have to go back to the train as it will still be less than 72 hours. Eight rides and it pays for itself.
We take the U-Bahn (subway) to the town center, Stephansplatz where the St. Stephan's Cathedral is. Pension Pertschy is only about 4 blocks away. Talk about "location, location, location". We are right in the hub of things here and I can't be happier. There are restaurants, shops, sights. One of the things I did not like about the Hotel Victoria in Budapest was that there was nothing close by, not even a shop in which to buy a bottle of water. But the view was spectacular.
The Pension Pertschy is a block below the famed Graben walking street and we are there in minutes. It's located in an old building with a central courtyard. When checking in, we are offerred our choice of two rooms, 317 or 318. The first is bright and cheery, with a window to the exterior, but with a view of nothing but the building next door and a small stall shower. The latter has windows on the couryard (meaning people can see in as they walk past) but we take it because it is larger. There is a slightly faded air about the place, but it is charming.
For 105 euro a night including breakfast it's a fantastic deal for the location. There is also a single computer with free access in the lobby area. It's set inside an old upright piano with the center piano keys missing and a keyboard installed in their place. I've seen this place recommended quite a bit on the Fodor's board.
St Stephan's Church
We set out to walk around and get our bearings. It's a lovely day, chilly but clear and the city appears beautiful at first glance, filled with pastel colored baroque buildings. We go back to St. Stephan's and go inside. Unlike the church of the same name in Budapest this place was quite crowded with both tourists and devotees. It's stunning high gothic and the level of sculptural detail is incredible. There are two massive pipe organs, one above the entrance and one to the right of the alter.
Hungry, we walk over to the much touted Trzesniewski for sandwiches right off St Stephan's square. This place is very popular with both locals and tourists. It's famous for it's open faced little sandwiches. There is a card with English translations, or you can just point to what looks good. They offer 21 different 3"x4" sandwiches, ranging from plain egg salad to liverwurst, tuna, pepper, herring, etc. each costing .90€. Order your drinks at when you pay for your food and the cashier gives you a little rubber token to hand to the bartender. The place is very tiny inside and you may have to stand, but the sandwiches are really tasty.
From there we walk to the Hotel Austria where we'll be for the following two nights. It's about 6 blocks in the opposite direction. By now it's mid-afternoon and time for our daily coffee and apple strudel. We stop in Cafe Diglas but leave after a few moments because it is ungodly hot and smoky inside (later we discover this is not the same famous cafe mentioned in the guidebooks-it must be a smaller offshoot).
We end up at a large cafe which seems to be famous for it's gelato since every other person walking down the street is eating ice cream. We sit outside under a canopy with heaters and have our coffee and strudel.
I am on the quest for the perfect strudel and have yet to find it. Only the one in the market in Budapest fresh out of the oven seems to be close to perfect. Most others have been over-refrigerated or over-microwaved. I'm seriously considering calling this "Kristina and Sharon's Amazing Apple Strudel Advenure". Hmmm...maybe not.
We figure we have to see something else for the day and opt to go check out the famous Naschmarkt. This place has been somewhat maligned by the foodies on Chowhound.com as being too "sterile". I've seen "wet" markets all over the world and yes, this is not one with pigs heads on display or fish blood dripping on your shoes, however it is probably one of the most beautiful displays of foodstuffs I've ever seen.
The market is outside, on a center island between two busy streets. There are two rows of permanant stalls/shops with the one on the Linke Weinzeille side appearing to be primarily restaurants and bars. The one on the Rechte Weinzeille side however has all manner of produce, cheeses, flowers, fruits, meats, spices etc. What makes this so impressive however is the sheer beauty and color of the vendor's displays. Everything looked good.
There is an amazing stall selling nothing but small batch vinegars of all flavors. These were so tasty, I wished I could have bought some, but then we would have check our luggage going home.
We walk and walk and finally break down and buy olives, apples, and tangerines
Back to the hotel and rest before dinner. Then we go to a place called Augustinerkeller am Albertinaplatz which is below the Albertina museum and close to the hotel. It supposedly has good traditional Austrian food and wine.
We start dinner with a couple of glasses of Austrain white; Gruner vetliner DAC 2005-2.9€
Weinviertel Schrattenberg Trocken and Sauv Blanc 2005 -Weingut Ipsmiller Weinviertel Schrattenberg Trocken-2.90€
Mom has the "menu" which at 15€ consists of;
Leberknödelsuppe-beef consome with liverwurst meatball, very tasty.
Hirsch deer in Rahmsauce mit "Seewinkler Spirlnudeln" und Preiselbeeren
I have 1/2 Hintere Stelzegegrillt mit bratkaroffel (grilled pork shank with roasted potatoes)
With another glass of wine it's 36 euro total. This place is ok, but afterward I find myself wondering if dinner might not have been better (and cheaper) to have wurst at one of the local stands.
Like most places here (shops, cafes, restaurants, internet cafes) it must be over 80 degrees inside. I know it's chilly outside, but why do all the interiors have to be superheated?