To finish out my semester full of travels, I headed to Budapest, Vienna and Salzburg to get a deeper taste of east-European culture. Having visited Berlin earlier in the semester, and knowing how great of an experience I had there, I was sure that Hungary and Austria would be great! My friends and I planned the trip for the last weekend in November, in order for us to also visit the famous Christmas markets in Austria. So, we made our way on our cold, yet exciting, trip!
I was incredibly excited for this last trip of mine. However, there were a few circumstances that lessened that excitement. For one, I did not have a winter jacket, as I left it in America so as to not waste weight and space in my suitcase. I had been narrowly getting by in Florence by layering up, but it was fully winter in both Hungary and Austria. In fact, I had borrowed my friends winter jacket when i visited London and Dublin, but I didn't have that same opportunity for this trip. Luckily for me, I volunteer at a clothing and food drive, and the program manager allowed me to take a winter coat for the weekend I would be gone!
The other factor that was lessening my excitement was my clear and utter exhaustion from traveling all semester. Hungary and Austria would be the 11th and 12th countries that I would be visiting while studying abroad, and all of that traveling was catching up to me. Simply the process of packing, riding buses, boarding planes and all the other works that comes with traveling began to wear me out. So, with me knowing this was my last trip, I was stretched a little thin, but also excited to be finishing out my travels strong.
After a long and uncomfortable 12 hour bus ride, we made it to Budapest! We dropped our bags at our hostel and then made our way on a walking tour of the city. On that tour I learned a bunch of interesting history and fun facts. One fun fact I learned was that Budapest is actually split into the Buda side and the Pest side, and they are separated by the Danube river flowing through them. We also learned that our tour guide is a stunt double for popular HBO shows when hes not enlightening tourists with the history of Budapest!
After the tour we made our way to a local market where we got some traditional Hungarian food. I had beef goulash with rice and it was nothing short of amazing. We strolled through the market looking at trinkets and souvenirs before returning to our hostel to warm up. Did I mention how cold it was? It was well below freezing, as it was a whopping 30 degrees Fahrenheit while we were there. I think living in the south has definitely weakened my ability to deal with the cold!
Once we had properly warmed up after spending hours outside in the cold, we made our way to the famous thermal baths! It was such a cool experience! The dynamic of being in a hot communal bath while it was incredibly cold outside was so different than anything I'd ever experienced. But it was relaxing, almost like being in a huge hot tub! After the baths we cleaned off and went to an all-you-can-eat dinner at a local restaurant. With traditional dishes and inviting staff members, we truly had a great time. We finished the night by getting a chimney cake, a dessert made of roasted dough with sugar on top. All in all, Budapest was great. People were friendly, the food was amazing, and I can't wait to return some day.
After getting some sleep in our hostel, we woke up early the next morning to make our way to Vienna. Once there, we briefly walked the city, passing though the historic streets of Vienna. We then made out way to the long-awaited Christmas markets. With tons of vendors, Christmas decorations everywhere and lots of smiling faces, I was ecstatic to be there. The first thing we had to do was taste the food. Our tour leader recommended a kasekrainer, which is a cheese-stuffed sausage, wrapped in a baguette and topped with mustard and ketchup. Yes, it was as amazing as it sounds, and even writing about it right now is making me want another. We washed it all down with some traditional mulled wine, which also helped to keep us a bit warm, and then we strolled the market looking at all the products being offered.
We briefly stopped back at the hostel to freshen up and again warm up after being outside for hours before heading back to the Christmas market for more food and to see all of the Christmas lights. It's beautiful in the day, but it's even more gorgeous at night. We listened to Christmas songs played by local artists, watched the lights flicker in the night and enjoyed more traditional food and drinks before returning to the hostel to rest for our last day.
Our last stop on our adventure was to Salzburg, which might ring a bell to fans of "The Sound of Music." The classic and famous movie was largely filmed in Salzburg, and I got the opportunity to take a tour of some of those well-known sites. Admittedly, I had never seen the sound of music until the bus ride to Salzburg. How that is possible, I'm not quite sure, but I'm glad I was able to see where such a legendary movie was filmed. We saw the gazebo where Liesl and Rolf sang to each other, the lake where Maria and the kids fell into the water, the house where the von Trapp's lived and much more. We even got to go inside the church where Maria and Captain von Trapp got married. The church was located in a quaint town where we had some of the best apple strudel with vanilla sauce. I even got to enjoy another kasekrainer at this local towns's Christmas market. It was a rainy and cold day, but it was a heart-warming experience.
All in all, this was one of the best trips I have been on. Even given the cold temperatures, it was an experience of a lifetime. I'm glad this was my final trip as I ended my travels on such a high note. With friends, good food, lots of culture and memories galore, Hungary and Austria were a great way to end my semester of travels, and I can't wait to make my way back.
A presto! (Talk to you soon!)