I am returned from the 10 days in Central Europe! They were wonderful and frustrating and rewarding and fun and challenging and ugly and beautiful all at the same time! It was the first time that I had ever really travelled in a non-English speaking country on my own (Iceland, where 99% of the population speaks fluent English doesn't count) and I managed safely through three of them. One thing, however did make me feel guilty. In the back of Rough Guides, they print the Traveller's Code, which suggests that you use your guidebook only as a starting point, but to interact with the locals for the most part, as a better guide to travelling. Now, I'm not a particularly outgoing person in day to day life and I have profound issues with going to someone else's country and expecting them to communicate in my language, so I didn't really do this at all. Which was probably bad, but I suppose I'm still technically a baby traveller (especially compared to the crowd at one of the hostels, where the person who was on the road for the next shortest period after me was on a three week trip...what is it about the antipodians that they travel for 9-12 months?!?).
Right, quick rundown, since I'll do a proper post with uploaded photos later. The best thing in each city was realizing that I'd get there, be cranky and tired after travelling and have to force myself to put my stuff down and get my butt out the door to start exploring, but that at some point there would be some magical moment that would force me to stop feeling sorry for myself and start embracing the new city. Happily, this happened every single time. :-)
Salzburg:I have to admit that this was the only city where I was rearing to go at the first instant, but that's probably because it was my very first stop. The bus ride to the hostel was so dull that I was starting to think: "This isn't like the movie at all!" *pout* But, then I started wandering around, toward the town center and suddenly, down a street, I could see this big steeple. Keep in mind that steeples in this area, especially in Salzburg, are not the straight kind that we often think of as proper steeples, but the ones with little bulbs and are shaped a little like a tiered wedding cake. And then I was just like: This is perfect! This is what I thought Salzburg would be! And for those of you who have seen The Sound of Music (and who hasn't), the amazing thing is that Salzburg actually still looks like that. It was Baroque and cute and surrounded by real, proper mountains (which I'd never seen before...remember that Indiana is flat, flat, flat). I absolutely loved wandering around the town and the area around it!
Vienna: I'd had a hard train ride to Vienna. No one in my Harry Potter-like compartment spoke English, so there were four hours of happy conversation in which I had no role and no idea of what was going on. It was really disorienting, although in retrospect I should have made an effort to join in, and I was feeling so entirely foreign. I wandered around central Vienna in a bit of a grump (it had also been freezing cold and raining heavily when I first arrived, which hadn't helped). My solution to the language trauma was to go to the movies, to see Narnia (not bad, if the battle was too cliched. Liam Neeson can be Aslan or have my children any day) and to not think about being in another country for a few hours. Afterwards I was trying to head to a new U-Bahn station and ended up on Kohlmarkt, a pedestrianised, very shwanky shopping street. At the end of it is St. Michael's Square, with the gate to the Hofburg (the Hapsburg's Vienna palace). I didn't know that was what it was at the time, but there was suddenly this massive, domed, Baroque gateway to something. I walked through it and found palace on the other side! (I'd already read my Rough Guide, so I figured out what it was eventually, but that didn't detract.) Massive palaces are so far out of my daily experience that they still amaze me and it was just lovely, lovely. Outside the palace is Vienna's ring road, the Ringstrasse and more massive public buildings. I loved it from the moment I found the Hofburg and even more when I took full advantage of the so-called coffee culture. I swear, you can eat nothing but cake and hot chocolate (the best ever!) in that city and be a very, very happy puppy!
Budapest: Regular readers might be a bit confused now, because Budapest wasn't orginally on my list. I sort of was sitting over a sachertorte and realized that had four days scheduled for Bratislava, which seemed like a lot from my reading and talking to fellow travellers. So, I was looking at the map, got excited when I saw how close Budapest was and how many trains there were and took off the next morning. (I later figured out why I was so excited and it wasn't because I was Hungary once in Model UN. It was because this wonderful friend of my mom's had gone to Eastern Europe 7-8 years ago and gotten me a Hard Rock Budapest shirt, which I thought was just about the coolest thing ever. If I don't still have it, it only went in the last round of clothes redistribution. And BTW, there's no Hard Rock Cafe in Budapest, they just sell lots of the shirts.) To be honest, Budapest was a bit manky, although a fascinating study of post-Communist Eastern Europe (not too many generalizations here after only two days, of course). After almost half a day, I was a bit disappointed. Then, steps from my hostel, I found the most wonderful Christmas market! The ones in Austria had been big, but very commercial. The one in Budapest was much more like a craft fair and the food was sooo much cooler and more interesting. Add the exchange rate and I really ended up buying several things for myself and for presents and I wandered around that square more times that I can say! The first night they even had folk music. I felt so much better after that (and dinner, to be honest) and the next day was also beautiful!
Bratislava: I hadn't been sure what to expect of Bratislava. My friend Megan is Slovak and when I had excitedly told her (via e-mail) that I was going to Slovakia, she responded that I shouldn't judge the whole country on that basis. I'm not sure what she meant now. Bratislava is beautiful and fascinating (although, to be honest, I was mostly in the stare mestro (old city) and a bit beyond) and I sort of fell in love with that first pink building and the steeple on the town hall (wedding cake, again). I was also really glad to have gone to Hungary, because it gave me something to compare to, in terms of new EU members/old Soviet bloc. I'm a massive fan of going back to both countries, because I'd like to explore their non-capital city areas.
Is that enough for now? I think so!