Europe day seven (Sept 14): The Long Way To Budapest

After breakfast, I walked around near the hotel a bit.   I passed a window with some art on display.   One piece really caught my eye.  A high-heeled shoe made from spent shell casings and part of a revolver.


I had to grab a subway to go the three stops to the main train station.

The train taking me from Vienna to Budapest was scheduled to leave at 08:12.  I arrived at the train station on time.   I look on the departures board to find that my train had been cancelled.   In fact all trains to Budapest had been cancelled.  I wouldn’t have minded a few extra nights in Vienna, but I had already checked out of my hotel.   Also, my departing flight was from Budapest.   I went to the ticket office, thinking about what I’d do if I were stuck.

I’m here at the time of the Syrian refugee crisis and certain borders have been closed to try and contain the mess.

My tickets were purchased over a month in advance.   They were no longer selling tickets for these particular trains.

The ticket office handed me a revised schedule.  Language was a barrier, so I received little information.   I found the platform number on the ticket and headed there.    There was a small band of us who were figuring it out together.


A small commuter train pulls up at the appointed time; there were no train staff around.   We decided it was our train and we all boarded.    The group consisted of myself, an Australian couple, and a Cuban couple from Miami.

The original train itinerary  had me scheduled to  pass through Hegyeshalom, Hungary.   The revised itinerary had me changing trains in Sopron, Hungary and getting to Budapest via Györ.

The trains were fairly slow,  but I got to see a lot of small towns and the countryside.

There was a conductor on the train who was both empathetic and helpful.  He was explaining to me that once we got to Sopron that we had two minute to change trains.   I wasn’t scheduled to go through Sopron and so my ticket wasn’t technically legal.   He said I wouldn’t have time to purchase the amended ticket and that he would let me on anyway.

The train from Sopron to Budapest was cancelled, but they had busses.   I purchased a bus ticket from Sopron to Györ for 1680 forints (approx $6.10).  The bus wouldn’t be leaving for an hour.   I started wandering the area.   I found a grocery store and an ATM.   I had Euros, Dollars, and Cz Crowns, but no local currency.   I withdrew 25,000 forints ($95) and went shopping.   I bought beer, water, peanuts, and crackers.

I told my new Cuban friends (Mani & Mary) about the market and they went and bought more beer and sandwich fixings.

Mani and Mary were both helping out a group of people from Argentina since they spoke Spanish.

We drank beer, had sandwiches and snacks, and had a reasonably good time.

Makes for a lot better story than, “I took a high-speed train to Budapest”.


Europe day six (Sept 13): Vienna. Subway, Picasso, and Lunch on the Danube

Sunday was a slow day in Vienna.   Another early morning and great hotel breakfast.   I then set out to walk around the city.  I had paid for a three day transit pass and figured I’d take the train to where the line ended.  I grabbed the line that went out to Stadlau.   This was an opportunity to see the countryside.  I passed over the Danube and made a mental note of the area.   Once I got to the end-of-the-line, I walked around a bit.  It was surprisingly undeveloped.  I was trying to find a coffee shop, but saw nothing in the area.  I ran up and down the stairs while waiting for the train.

I boarded the train and just enjoyed the ride back to the city.

When I arrived, I went to the Albertina museum.  They had a Picasso and Monet exhibit.   Was worth the admission price.

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I walked around a bit afterwards and went by the Vienna Opera House.   Impossible to photograph.   Between the immense size and the traffic, it was hard to do it justice.


There was a street fair happening near my hotel.   I ran by and it was pretty good.   I particularly liked the zip-line for kids.  I can’t imagine this kind of thing in the over-protective US.   There was a live band.

There was a line of stores I saw in all three countries named, Spar.   I dropped by there in every country.   I like having fruit and beer in the room.    I found an interesting beer:


As both a beer and AC/DC fan, how could I possibly resist.   It was pretty good and named after their latest album.   It had the track listing on the can.

After leaving the museum, it was time for a late lunch.  I really couldn’t handle the idea of eating in a tourist area.   Remembering the Danube exit on the train, I headed over there.   I was thinking there’d be a bunch of restaurants.   What I found was more my speed.   It was an open-air stand on the river.   I ordered a beer and a hot dog with fries.   The lady asked me if I wanted one or two.   I was thinking about the type of hot dogs you get at a stadium.   I agreed to having two.  What came out was foot-long bavarian sausages on big rolls.    I was able to eat one, but could only manage the meat on the second.


Europe day five (Sept 12): Vienna. Swap meet, Gypsies, Museums, and Classical Music.

I woke early and went walking around the city.  I had no specific destination in mind; I simply had time to kill while waiting for the Museums to open.

I happened upon a large swap meet and just went browsing.   I travel light and don’t ever buy much as I have no where to put it.   I also hate tacky souvenirs.

I went over to Museum Platz and was wandering the grounds before it opened.   I was approached by a gal.  I should have just ignored her.   I didn’t understand at the time, but learned later that she was a Gypsy.  She approached me and gave me a rose.  She was asking for change.  I offered her the few Euro coins I had in my pocket, but she wanted a 5.

In retrospect, what I did next was stupid.  Up to this point, I had been being very careful.  I had my wallet in my front pocket, and was carrying the bulk of my cash in a money belt.   What I shouldn’t have done is open my wallet in front of her.  She took the five and grabbed a 10 too.

I learned later that they often work in pairs.   One distracts you, usually with children, while the partner picks you clean.   €15 Euros was spent educating me.  It could have been much worse.

The museum I was interested in was the Kunsthistorisches.  They had an exhibit on Ancient Egypt.  The admission price was €14.

The exhibit on Ancient Egypt was one of the best I’ve seen.  They had a lot of artifacts as well as mummified people, cats, dogs, alligators, and snakes.

There was also an exhibit on Ancient Greece.   Other notable exhibits were artifacts from the Hapsburg rule and a coin collection which included coins from Israel pre-dating Christ.
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Across the street from the museum is the Hofborg museum.  In it is a hall where Mozart used to preform.   I bought a ticket for €55 for a 7:30 show.

I went to lunch and the back to the hotel to rest.

I walked through Museumsquartier on my way to the performance hall.   I stopped at a pub in the square and had a couple of weiss beers with a German transplant, named Thomas:

The concert covered the works of Mozart and Strauss.  There was a full orchestra and four opera singers.  It was worth doing just because it was in such a historic building.

IMG_3808ProgramFrontProgramBackPerformance 1

Europe, Day Four (Sept 11): Train from Prague to Vienna

One thing I find the GPS instructions provided by Google and Apple lack is local knowledge.    This morning, I caught a tram near my hotel to go to the train station.   I got off of the bus and couldn’t find the station.  I was using both Google and Apple maps and had some odd routing instructions.  I walked around for about a mile.  I finally ended up back at the bus stop.  I asked someone who spoke a little English.   Turns out the train station was right there, but through a park.  It’s partially my fault because I over rely on those instructions.   I should have been doing a better job with map reading.

The train station (Praha hlavní nádraží) was very large and very confusing.   I finally went down to the ticket office and found someone to help me.  It turns out, I needed to monitor the Odjezdy (Departures) board 20 minutes before my scheduled departure time to find out which platform my train was leaving on.

Other things to know for the train is your car number and seat assignment.   I was in car 25, seat 16.

The train ride was just over four hours and pretty relaxing.   There were some gals, dressed like country girls, who were handing out free samples of hard cider.

The Vienna train station was larger than the one in the Czech Republic.   I don’t speak much German, but I do better with the signage than the ones in Czech.

I only had Czech Crowns and needed to get some Euros.  I could not find a currency exchange.   I settled for an ATM and withdrew €200.  I should have taken either €180 or €220.   The reason is that the ATM dispensed two €100 notes.   Not the easiest thing to break.   I needed a subway pass and a €100 note won’t work.   I also needed change to use the restroom (I found this peculiar).  The only coins I had were Crowns.

I had heard that there could be problems using a credit card, in Europe, that wasn’t chip-and-pin enabled.  The half-assed solution U.S. banks have is chip-and-signature.  I gave up trying to use it in the Czech Republic.

My credit card did work for a subway pass.  I bought a 72 hour pass for €16.5.  Had the card not worked, I’d have had to get in a long line for the ticket office.  I really needed to pee and I had no euros to pay with.

I used my physical map (Streetwise brand) to figure out which train and which stop.  I made it to the hotel without issue.

I went out looking for a restaurant/pub.  I went into a place and had veal wiener schnitzel.  It was a very large portion and was very greasy.  I didn’t like it much.


I came back to the hotel and took a nap.

Once I got up, I went out walking around the area.   Vienna, like Prague, is a tough city to accurately represent in pictures.   The Vienna Opera House is like the Grand Canyon.  It’s impossible to photograph either in a way that accurately represents their beauty.

Europe, Day Three (Sept 10): Prague, Czech Republic

As often happens when I drink too much the night before, I woke very early, around 05:00.   I try to go back to sleep, but it’s usually hopeless.   I put my sleep mask on and did deep breathing exercises, but nothing helped.

I had a medium-sized hangover and didn’t make it to breakfast until after 09:00.  I specifically avoided anything fatty as it doesn’t help a hangover.   I really started liking the Muesli.  I’d also have fresh fruit with Nutella.
From there, I went and walked around the city.

While walking around Wenceslas square, I had someone ask me if I wanted to support charity by buying a painting a brick for a new center being built to house adults with mental disabilities.   It cost me 150 Czech Crowns.

I ended up at the main square, where the astronomical clock is.  I toured the “Sex Machines” museum.   A bit overpriced, but kind of fun.

I went and found a Czech version of a microbrewery named Novomestsky Pivovar (Pivo is Czech for beer).  I had lunch and a 1/2 liter.


I did some other random walking around the city, taking a few photos of things I found interesting.

One is called Dancing House (


Other things I liked:

I was tired from the lack of sleep the night before and all of the walking so I went back to the hotel.   My feet were in bad shape, so I did a 15 minute cold soak.   From there, I went to take a nap.  I woke up six hours later.  It was almost 22:00.    Because of this, I couldn’t sleep until 02:00.   I had to be up by 06:00 to get ready, check out, and catch a tram to the train station.

Europe, Day Two: Prague, Czech Republic

Jet lag had seriously messed up my internal clock.   People who know me well know that I already struggle with a normal sleep schedule.

I was up at 03:30.   I went down to the hotel breakfast at 07:00.  The spread was much different than the usual U.S. Continental breakfast.   There were meats, both cold and hot, scrambled eggs (with and without vegetables), a variety of breads, muesli, and yogurt.  There was also an espresso machine.

I headed out of the hotel and just started walking around the city.   I spent a good hour walking through a large park.  I wanted to see Prague Castle, The St. Charles Bridge, and the Astronomical clock.   I was also looking for any kind of micro brewery.

Sunrise in PragueView of the Danube 1

From the park, I walked down to the St Charles bridge.  I went from there up to Prague Castle, which contains a Cathedral.   For lunch I had a Pilsner Urquell and a chicken wrap.

Prague Castle from Distance

Nice view

Nice view

St. Charles Bridge

St. Charles Bridge

Cathedral inside castle walls

Cathedral inside castle walls

Inside Castle walls

Inside Castle walls

Cathedral one








Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral

I walked down to the main square, exchanged dollars for Czech Crowns, and had a couple of pints at a downtown location.

0.5 liter beer (pivo)

0.5 liter beer (pivo)

Czech Koruna (Crowns)

Czech Koruna (Crowns)

After walking 11.5 miles that day, I was exhausted and went back to the hotel to rest.

I found out that the beer in the hotel was overpriced.  97 crowns for 1/2 liter.   Away from the main tourist attractions, it was 35-40 crowns.  The exchange rate was about 23 crowns to the dollar.

That night, I went to a nearby restaurant.   The beer was so cheap, a drunk like me is bound to overdue it.  I had had 4 0.5 liter glasses.   I met a local, named Ihab   We proceeded to drink a couple of more beers and some shots of some local liquor.   We ended the night at a pub called “Ferdinands”.  The beer was good, but the tobacco and marijuana smoke was thick in the place.  Fortunately, I didn’t stay long.

Fortunately, all of the beer was about 4% ABV.  if it were the 6-9% stuff I’m used to in San Diego, I’d be in real trouble.

One thing I learned was not to tell the locals how cheap the beer is.  It’s cheap to westerners, but not necessarily to them.

Travel Day (Sept 7, 2015). San Diego -> Dulles -> Brussels -> Prague

I love traveling, but hate travel day.

My flight out of San Diego was Sept 7 at 06:40.   I was up at 03:45 to be ready.  I had just over four hours of sleep.

I took Uber to the airport.   A friend was over on Saturday.   He swore he’d get me to the airport on Monday.  I explained what time he’d have to be up.  Still he insisted.   When my Uber driver pulled up, I told him “you look nothing like my friend who was going to give me a ride”.

I flew from San Diego to Dulles,  Dulles to Brussels, and Brussels to Prague.

I had been to Dulles before, but had never transferred from the domestic to international terminal.   The vehicles they used for transport wouldn’t look out-of-place on the battle field if they were painted in camouflage:


I’m not able to sleep on planes much.   By the time the taxi had dropped me at my hotel, I had been awake for 24 hours.   Factor in the four hours of sleep the night before and I was exhausted.

I went straight to my room and slept for five hours.     I took a shower and went down to the hotel bar for a few of the local beers.   Pilsner Urquell was everywhere.   It was hard to walk two blocks without seeing a pub serving it.   I drank a fair amount of that and another Czech beer called Kozel.

The hotel bar was charging 97 Czech Koruna (about $4) for a 1/2 liter bottle.   I didn’t realize until later, I was paying too much.  40 Crowns ($1.65) was what I paid in non-tourist areas.


From the hotel bar it was back to the room and in bed by 22:00.  I woke at 03:30 and just stayed awake.  I’m not normally one who sleeps a lot and the combined 10 hours felt like enough.