Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Budapes(h)t and Wien part 2

As I mentioned before, getting to Vienna was easier than I could have ever hoped for. The bus station was just a few stops down the metro line, and the bus even had wifi. I didn't really take advantage of the technology though, choosing instead to PASS OUT for three hours straight. Sleeping is one thing I do quite well.

It was lightly snowing and loads colder than I had thought so I headed straight for the hostel upon arriving. I stayed at my MOjO vie for three nights, and it was seriously the nicest hostel I've ever had the pleasure of staying in. I mean, look!

Awesomely decorated
Anyway, I head out as soon as I got my bearings and some idea of a plan for the next few days. Vienna has a nice layout. Most things worth seeing are within a nice ring so once you're in the center of the city getting around is pretty easy.

The Opera was amazing. I stood in line a couple of hours before Fidelio started one evening, and after paying just 3 euro I was in! If you're interested in doing this, check out the blog Likely Impossibilities. Amazing resource! Anyway, most tourists left after 30-40 minutes of the show, so I had a lot of room up in the gallerie, as well as a screen with subtitles (in English!) in sight. It was an incredible show, and I cried. Don't miss it.

Asked someone to take my photo, hooray!
Waiting to get into the galerie
Other favorites were the museums, especially those with a sizable Klimt collection. I went to the Upper Belvedere, home to The Kiss and Judith among other works, and the Leopold in the MuseumsQuartier, which is famous for having "the largest Schiele collection in the world." Both great museums!

My snowiest day, at the Belvedere

I also made my way out to Schönbrunn on my one and only sunny day. The palace was nice, but I honestly liked Versailles and the Palacio Real in Madrid much better. The gardens and the Gloriette were really pretty though, even in the snow and general dead of winter.


Coffee and strudel break at the Gloriette

I also went to the Naschmarkt for lunch, a street market stretching for several blocks with fresh food and loads of restaurants. I picked a general Asian place that was pretty packed and had the best bento box in recent memory.

8 euro for all this. Yum!

I really liked Vienna, but I think overall I prefer Budapest. I felt really overwhelmed in Vienna with just three days. There are so many museums!! It was also pretty expensive, especially after having just been in Budapest. But the food and the coffee house culture were amazing.

Favorite food.
 Unfortunately as I was packing up at 5am to return to Budapest, I found out my grandpa had passed away. It was really hard and shocking to hear the news on the road like that, especially alone, but honestly there's never a good time to hear that kind of thing. I know he hated his condition towards the end, how he wasn't as mobile and strong as he was just a year before, so I think it's for the best.

Cheers to you grandpa. I love you!

Last time I talked to him, on his 89th birthday!

Laughing about something or other! This past Christmas.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Thoughts on Solo Travel

My recent trip to Budapest and Vienna was the longest trip I've taken on my own. I was just gone for a week, but I really learned a lot about solo travel.

It's amazing to think how nervous I was before leaving! I traveled on my own in Brazil before, so this trip wasn't an entirely new experience. I can't really explain my anxiety. It disappeared as soon as I got going though. Starting is always the hardest part.

I wanted to make a list of pros and cons about traveling alone, and then you can tell me if you agree!

Things I like about solo travel:

1. You can do whatever you want, whenever you want, however you want. Want to sleep past noon? Done. Want to get up at 5am to stand in line for some palace? Great! Want to stop for a coffee every other hour? Perfect. It's your decision, as you are your only company.

I had lots of coffee and pastries...

2. You're forced to think more. When traveling with others, sometimes people just go along with what others want to do. No planning required. You just join another group and follow their lead. When alone, however, you have to do all the leg work involved in planning a trip (ie tons): accomodation, transportation, budgeting, things to do/see... you name it. And, since you're the one doing all this work, you learn a lot more about where you're going!

3. You make friends. When most people picture a person traveling alone, they really focus on that second word: ALONE. Honestly, you're alone as much as you want to be. On my trip, I was pretty much on my own during the day as I had a lot of specific museums and things I wanted to check out. At night though, I met a ton of people thanks to a couple of great hostels (check out The Loft and Bubble in Budapest and my MOJOvie in Vienna), so I always had something to do if I felt like being social. When people travel together, normally they're content with the company they already have. There's no real "need" to reach out to others. But, when alone, I found myself talking to anyone who would halfway look at me.

Things I don't like about solo travel:

1. There's no one there to tell you when to stop. So, sure, you can do whatever you want. It's your time and your vacation. No need to compromise with a second party. Because of this, strangely enough, I found myself pushing myself to the limits of what I could do each day. Walking for miles upon miles, seeing tons of museums, just really trying to do as much as possible. And while I did see a ton of things, towards the end of my trip I got really exhausted. I think if I travel longer term in the future I'm going to have to settle into a calmer pace so I don't burn out.

2. Going out can be awkward. So what happens when the sun goes down and you haven't met anybody? I have no idea! One night after going to the opera in Vienna, I really felt like going out to get a drink. Except I had no one to go with. I went up to several neat looking bars, peered in the window, and ended up walking away sheepishly. At least I got a lot of sleep that night.

One of the nights I did go out I was the first to arrive home, quite early, at 4:30am...

3. The transience of it all.  As amazing as it is meeting new people everyday, it's pretty tiring. There are always people coming and going. While the constant flow of people provides great insight into the larger world around you (always good), it's still easy to think, "if I died over here in this dark alleyway, no one within 200 miles would give a damn." Some nights I met 10 new people. I stopped trying to remember names after a point unless I made some personal connection. It's just too hard! So, by the end, I really started to miss genuine friendships and my family. While being a stranger can be liberating, in the end, I'd prefer the company of those who really love me.

4. Having to ask to have your picture taken. It gets old. And I suck at those handheld self-portraits (see below). Believe me I tried.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Budapes(h)t and Wien part 1

This past week I went on my longest solo trip to date. I was gone a week and went to see Budapest and Vienna. It was amazing. Hands down. And since I have so many cool photos and things to say about the trip I'm going to divide up the entries. Easier that way.

To start, I took a bus from Valladolid to Madrid at 4am on Saturday March 30th to catch my RyanAir flight at 9:30. Despite the bus breaking down, I got there with time to spare! Small miracles. I arrived in Budapest and made my way using public transportation to my hostel. It took about an hour to get from the airport to the city since I had to first take a bus and then the metro. I had written out all the directions beforehand though, so I arrived at The Loft hostel without any problems.

Hostel building

The hostel was on the top floor of an old apartment building and, true to its name, featured lofted ceilings. It was a really unique, small place, with murals on all the walls and lots of personal interactions with the staff. I met a lot of people there, which was great for my plans to see Budapest's "ruin pubs" and general nightlife.

Did I mention I paid 12 euro a night?

I set off pretty soon after arriving to ambitiously walk the 2+ miles (didn't realize it was so far!) from my hostel up Andrassy Avenue to get to the Szeechenyi baths. On my way I stopped at the Terror House museum, a building where the Hungarian Nazi party and later Communist party imprisoned, tortured, and killed many people. Seeing that alone in the rain made for a pretty heavy experience, so finishing up my night relaxing in the baths was a perfect plan.

This pool had a whirlpool current in the middle which was really fun to get into, if hazardous for those around you. Sorry old man!

My next two days in Budapest consisted of sightseeing mostly on my own in the rain. My favorite things to see were the Parliament, Matthias Church, Vajdahunyad Castle, the sculptures of shoes along the Danube, and the new Helmut Newton exhibition at the Fine Arts Museum. On my one sunny day I went on a free walking tour that focused on Budapest's communist past. Really interesting!

Terrible handheld self portrait in front of the Parliament

I found lots of things to see rather haphazardly. While I was strolling around the Castle District waiting for the Matthias Church to open (see photo below), I stumbled across the labyrinth of Buda Castle. Knowing how much I love caves, of course I went in. It was really creepy and dark, and it turned out that Dracula had been imprisoned there for years! No wonder I found that place. Good to know that my old love for vampires still governs my subconscious...

Matthias Church is now my favorite church.

Memorial to those killed by the Arrow Cross
 I came back to Budapest after spending a few days in Vienna. When I bought tickets, it was cheaper to fly out of Budapest from Madrid. I paid 150 euro round trip! And getting there via bus was easy, quick (just 3 hours), and cheap (um, 15 euro round trip?). I spent the day seeing that Newton photography exhibit and strolling around the city looking for second hand shops.

Amazing exhibit featuring his private work, self published magazines, and editorial fashion work

I liked Budapest so much! It was mostly pretty cheap thanks to the Forint (300HUF about 1 euro), and I was told by the hostel owners to not pay more than 500HUF for a beer. The food was good, people were very nice, and I just loved the spirit of the city. It was kind of old and run down but at the same time incredibly beautiful. And with people creating innovative spaces out of once abandoned buildings, I thought the city had a lot to offer! I'd go back tomorrow if I could.

More to come about Vienna... in the mean time, have some more photos. :)

Fisherman's bastion and Matthias Church

Restaurant for dinner one night

Vajdahunyad Castle