Tag Archives: Trains

The Sound of Music

The hills are ALIVEEEE with the SOUND of MUUUUSIC!

I couldn’t help but replay the Sound of Music soundtrack in my head all day as we spent the day touring Vienna. Granted, Vienna may have been far from the idyllic estate of the Von Trapp family, but I think the breathtaking beauty of this Austrian city deserves only the best Rodgers and Hammerstein soundtrack to accompany its endless gardens, stately palaces, and towering churches.

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This morning, Alex and I arrived to the train station at the crack of dawn in Budapest—lugging our suitcases through the metro as many people were still coming back home from the night before. We had bought our tickets online several weeks prior through a very confusing Hungarian website—I ended up on the 7:10 train, while Alex ended up on the train the hour before at 6:05.

So, after Alex got on his train, I waited around an hour for my own—buying a chocolate croissant and a “cappuccino” that was really powder and hot water in a cup from the stand at the station.

Once on my train, I almost immediately fell asleep, only waking up periodically to hand my ticket to the conductor to be stamped. Soon enough, I arrived at the train station in Vienna, reunited with Alex, and headed on the metro to meet up with our Airbnb host for the weekend.

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We quickly set our bags down, and then headed out into the city. To make the most of our time here, we had planned our itinerary the night before—today, we planned to conquer most of the major sights in Stephanplatz and visit the Hofburg Palace, which served for many centuries as the palace of the Hapsburgs.

The clouds and rain of the afternoon did little to obstruct the beauty of the city. We couldn’t stop exclaiming at every corner our shock at how the palace grounds just kept stretching on and on—palace next to palace, garden next to garden. More than once, we wandered around a corner to find a new church, then peeking inside for a jawdropping glance at the soaring ceilings and lavishly decorated interiors.

Vienna, or Wien as it’s called in German, is the capital and largest city of Austria, with a population of over 1.75 million. (In fact, it’s the largest German-speaking city in the world after Berlin.) For centuries, it has served as a major political, economic, and cultural center for Europe, as it was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Today, it’s a beautiful and vibrant city, often topping the charts of various quality of living indices. (For example, Vienna has one of the best public transportation systems that I’ve ever been on, with strikingly clean and modern stations all available for a simple 48-hour pass.)

At the Hofburg Palace, we purchased our tickets and began with a tour of the imperial silverware collection. We toured an exhibition on the life of Empress Elizabeth in the Sisi Museum, and finished with a tour through the apartments of the imperial family.

The Hofburg Palace has served as a documented seat of government since 1279, and was used the principal winter residence by the Hapsburgs. Over the years, more wings and buildings were added to form the mini city it is today. Today, in addition to the museum, the complex also houses the official residence of the president of Austria, as well as most of the offices of government ministries.

(Unfortunately, no photos were allowed past the Silverware Collection.)

Afterwards, we continued our stroll around Vienna.

We couldn’t get enough.

At one point, we wandered into the Votive Church, where there had live baroque organ music playing.

For dinner, we met up with Matt, who also arrived into Vienna in the evening by bus. Taking our host’s recommendation, we had dinner at a traditional Austrian restaurant, where the servers even dressed up in lederhosen and they served all types of wiener schnitzel.

Tomorrow, we’re getting up early for another round of palaces—the Schonbrunn Palace and Belevere Palace—then seeing how many other places we can fit in. Time to get some sleep!

Ticket to Ride

There’s something magical about trains. You don’t have to worry about ridiculous long security lines; you always have plenty of legroom; and they even have an entire car dedicated to feeding you. On a train, travel doesn’t happen in a vacuum-sealed chamber of screaming babies and persnickety passengers. Travel passes before your eyes—the patchwork of farms and pastures, the small town centers, the trees with their changing colors—so that your journey becomes more than a passage from point A to point B but instead a way to experience the country as you travel through it.

I said goodbye to my parents in Prague this morning to board EuroCity 171 to Budapest, where I was meeting my friends for the rest of the fall break. After a relaxing breakfast at the hotel, I arrived at the train station with my printed out ticket in hand.

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It turns out, my train was running a full 30 minutes late—a condition that wasn’t too much of an inconvenience but made me internally freak out as I convinced myself that I was reading the departure information wrong and the train most definitely left without me. But around 20 minutes after the scheduled departure time, they finally posted the platform number for my train and I practically ran to platform 3S in my antsy anticipation.

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Shortly, my train arrived—an old hunk of steel called the Hungaria, with its faded red utilitarian exterior straight out of the 1960s. I was able to find a window seat in a row by itself, stretching out my feet on the chair directly across from me, with its unique combination of brown carpet and yellow pleather upholstering.

I quickly settled in for the 7-hour journey ahead, catching up on blog posts and tearing through chapters of my book. The train slowly made its way through the Czech Republic and into Brno, then entering Slovakia and passing through Bratislava. By the time we entered into Hungary, it was dark.

At this point, hardly anyone was left on the train, which made it eerily silent as the lights flickered overhead. Maybe it was because I was 6 hours into my ride—or maybe it was because it was suddenly dark outside—but the creepiness factor of the train increased suddenly. Repeatedly, the train kept stopping on the tracks for no apparent reason.

I was incredibly relieved when the train finally pulled into the Budapest-Keleti station, where I found a taxi and gave them the address to the apartment. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to find my friends since I was almost an hour late for our meeting time, but luckily Alex and Matt were still waiting outside.

I dropped off my stuff at the apartment, an entire two-bedroom flat that looks straight out of an Ikea catalog. I had found the place for super cheap through Airbnb, which connects owners to short-term tenants.

We went out to dinner at a Hungarian restaurant nearby (which honestly isn’t too different from Czech cuisine), before heading back to the flat to get ready to see all of Budapest in a day. Bring it!