Date: 9 November 1999
Subject: Vienna
Romania was so wonderful and Vama was like a dream. But we had to leave, unfortunately. The whole time we were there we were wishing for snow. The Boca family kept telling us that it was very unusual to not have snow at that time of year, they expected it any day. The village has a horse drawn sleigh for rides on snowy evenings... that would've been dreamy. I think we will go back to Vama someday!!

As we drove to the train station Tuesday morning it was snowing lightly. We got on the train and found our seats, in a compartment with 4 other people. One, across from me was a young looking clean cut kind of guy, there was an old man in Romanian dress and two early twenty guys in baggy pants and so forth. One of the baggy pants guys had a personal stereo with the volume turned up so loud it was echoing throughout the compartment. It is always strange to see people listening to very loud dance music and sleeping! It was very annoying. We were just hoping that the batteries would die soon, since that kind of volume through headphones tends to kill batteries.

The batteries died after about 15 minutes, but we were disappointed to see him pull out a box of 24 batteries... he was set for the ride. He changed batteries constantly. I put in earplugs... actually soon after I put in the earplugs his friend made him turn it down, but it kept going back up again.

When we arrived in Cluj where we had to change trains I asked the guy across from us a question and he spoke English... I was disappointed that I hadn't started a conversation with him several hours before!!! Our connection was pretty tight... just time to buy some more bread and cheese and a real Romanian map before jumping on the next one... Our border crossing was uneventful, which was a bit disappointing after our wonderful experience going into Romania... we were alone in the compartment the whole ride. We left Vama at 9am and arrived in Budapest at 11pm. We had booked a hostel ahead of time and since we knew our way around it was a snap to get there and get checked in.

The hostel was nice, nice people and all, but very smokey. In the morning we got up and moving -- we were really in town for two reasons and the first was errands... we went and bought our Train ticket and mailed some things back home. We tried to do email at the two free places, but both were booked up. My palm top computer has no way to save data other than the memory and I REALLY need a 1 or 2 mb memory card for it. We shopped for that a bit with no luck and ran some smaller errands. We were also, despite warnings it was impossible, able to change our Romania Lei (Only about 150,000) into Hungarian Forints -- which paid for our train seat reservations! That was the first time we had been to a money changer -- so far everything has been ATMS... very easy, very convenient and very cheap!!!

Then we settled in for the main reason we were in Budapest: The Baths!

We went to one we had not been to before -- Szenchenyi, in the City Szenchenyi Baths Park. At first it looked a bit sterile, and there were only 2 pools, but as we explored we discovered more and more pools... it was a maze! Beautiful architecture and great pools for soaking and steam rooms... but then we discovered the OUTDOOR POOL!

We soaked in the pool, 37 degrees, 5 degrees outside and raining! It was wonderful!!!!! What a great place THAT would be in the snow! The following morning we packed quickly and went back to Lukas Baths for a few hours before our train. Lukas is quite wonderful, dimly lit and very steamy... it feels very real and the hot pool is 40 degrees!!! (40 C is about 104 F!)

We caught our train just before noon and were in Vienna by mid afternoon. Why Vienna? Well we have discovered an interesting phenomenon... Tickets for trains that cross borders are really quite expensive, but if you get a return ticket, the extra money is waived, so that our ticket from Bonn to Budapest would've cost 689 DM one way, but only cost 471 DM for a return ticket! So we often buy return tickets and have that extra return that we don't plan to use. We used that ticket to get to Vienna, so it was, in a way, free!

We got out of the train station ok, but the hostel we were staying at took a bit of finding... when we got there the clerk was very nice and the room was amazing... this was more like a hotel. But it also was VERY expensive! The best thing about being back in the Germanic area was going out and getting really good milk and yoghurt, both in returnable glass!!

The following day we bought a day ticket and headed into the Old City in the center of Vienna. This was just a brief stop, so we were planing on doing the quick tourist thing. That didn't take long, in fact we found we were a bit bored with Vienna... perhaps it was just after being in Budapest, it was no big deal.

Near the city hall they were setting up a huge christmas market and we wandered through there a bit. We found an amusing Internet kiosk on a street corner that allowed us to email photos of ourselves to friends.

We were also looking for a way to catch up on email, since the Budapest places didn't work out... when we finally found one that was affordable (free, actually) it had only touch screens and was a pain to use... BUT I discovered at this point that my email was repaired! I had been unable to receive email for a couple of weeks because of a glitch in the system and when I logged in I had a TON of email and it was all working.... I was very happy, even though I couldn't respond to it at that point! We also bought our ticket to Dresden, another of those weird cheaper return tickets that was also going to allow us to get to Praguaccordioniste and Bratislava!!!

Then we ate at a natural foods cafeteria (we've found a bunch of these!) and sat near the center of the old town and listened to an accordionist play jazz standards like Take 5.... it was cool. As we were sitting there we noticed lots of people with buttons and signs and flyers and flashing red lights on their coats walking past us... when we got up to wander we found ourselves in the middle of a giant political demonstration. (One of those things that the travel books always tell you to avoid!!!) After looking around a bit it became clear to us that it was about racism, but we couldn't tell if it was pro or con!!! Finally we got brave enough to ask a person and they told us it was an anti- racism rally to counter the upswing in racism in Austria recently.

We would've stayed around for a while, but there were literally hundreds of police and dozens of ambulances parked around the square and we decided that if THEY thought there would be trouble (a visit from skinheads?) that we would clear out. We walked the alleyways of Vienna's old town for a couple of hours and then went back to the hostel and to bed.

We had not yet contacted the people we were staying with in Dresden, so we weren't sure if we were supposed to be there Saturday or Sunday. So in the morning we packed up & checked out. We stopped in the lobby of the hostel to try to call again (no luck) and took two trams to the train station. Once there we went to call again and discovered that I had left my computer on the phone at the hostel!!!! I panicked but Cheryln kept her head and immediately got the number and we called the hostel. Before I had the words out, they said, YES, they had it. We would not be catching that train in 25 minutes!!

So we called Annette in Dresden and she said that Sunday would be a good day to arrive --- we had another day to spend in Vienna. We bumped into Mark and Cheryln a woman in the train station who told us about a hostel she stayed at so we went and checked in to it. It was very very strange, just someone's apartment with about a dozen people in one room (but it is the only place we have gotten a double bed!) and very smokey! So we got another day to explore Vienna and the huge Hapsburg palace! As we took the trams around we passed a couple of spots I remember from being in Vienna 10 years ago with Samantha.

The following morning we had to wait two hours before someone showed up to take our key and return our deposit... during that time we talked to this American... we have found that we rarely meet Americans, but when we do, they are almost always oblivious idiots! This guy, who was about to head home after a month on the road, didn't know how to make a train reservation and kept loosing his key. He was heading home early because he accidentally spent all his money on beer. He argued for 2 hours that smoking wasn't dangerous and all the "propaganda" that said it was bad was some kind of plot. I named him bullethead, but Cheryln pointed out that he wasn't sharp or quick enough for that name!

Then we headed out to catch our train to Dresden... back to the same station as the day before.

        Old town, 1 Prauge, Czech Republic 


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