austria: a bicycle wine tour in the wachau valley

Saturday, September 30:  This morning, we leave our hotel early to get to our Pedal Power Wachau Winery Bike Tour.  We take metro to the Vienna Opera, then walk 10 minutes to the Pedal Power office.

Heading to Pedal Power in the early morning

We arrive early, where we find the doors of Pedal Power closed.  We return to a cafe near the metro stop, where we have an espresso and croissant and use the restroom.  Because we stopped for this treat, we arrive exactly at 8:15, the appointed meeting time.  One of the Pedal Power guys who is checking people in gives us some good-natured grief for not arriving early: “When you fly somewhere do you show up right on time?  If you did that, the plane would leave without you!”

As a group, we take the metro to the U-Bahn stop, where we see an incinerator whose patchwork façade was designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau.  The waste incineration plant is one of three thermal waste treatment plants in Wien Energie.  The plant represents the second largest producer in the district heating network of the city of Vienna.

Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau

Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau has almost as unusual a façade as the Hundertwasserhaus that we visited the first day we arrived in Vienna.

Verkehrsstation Wien Spittelau

From the metro stop, we take a double-decker train for an hour and 10 minutes to Krems an der Donau.

Giovanni and Mike at the train station

Giovanni from Sicily, our fabulous tour leader, shows us a map of the area where we’ll be biking.  We’ll start at Krems an der Donau, stop at a small private winery, stop for lunch in Dürnstein, and then ride to another small winery in Weißenkirchen in der Wachau.  From there, we’ll take a ferry across the Danube and bicycle back along the south of the Danube to the bridge near Krems an der Donau, cross over, then take the train back to Vienna.  It’s to be a 26km bike ride altogether.

map of Wachau Valley
on the train

When we arrive at Krems an der Donau, Giovanni unlocks a small storage room and equips us all with bicycles.  We have sixteen in our group, ten friends who went to Loyola University Maryland together, four Brits, one of whom is a swim coach, and us.

Mike on his bike at Krems/Stein
me on my bike

We ride a while along the main road in Krems an der Donau, with Giovanni in the lead.  We have to cross a number of intersections with traffic lights, and some people get held up by the lights.  Mike has taken it upon himself to keep an eye our for stragglers.  I’m up in front behind Giovanni. At some point, we make a right turn off the main road onto a cobbled street.  I’m looking around for Mike and some of the others are looking for their friends, who have disappeared.  We wait and wait, and still the rest of the group doesn’t catch up to us.  Since we have turned off the main road, I’m worried that the rest of the group has gone straight on the main road and has no clue that we’ve turned.  Giovanni goes back to search for the rest of the group while we wait.

I call Mike on his cell phone and luckily he answers.  He says, “One of those guys doesn’t know how to ride a bike! I finally gave up trying to wait around for him.”  I ask him where he is, and by his description, which doesn’t sound familiar, it seems he has overshot our turn.  He eventually makes his way to where we’re waiting.  He tells us when he arrives that one of the guys in the Loyola group doesn’t know how to ride a bike.  “He rides a few feet, then puts his feet down on the ground and stops and then rides a few feet again. He’ll hold up our whole group.  He can’t come along with us!”

Some of the Loyola friends start complaining.  They imagine it’s their friend Kyle: “He’s been a freaking pain on this whole trip!”

How ridiculous!  Why on earth would someone come on a bicycle tour if they don’t even know how to ride a bike? Not only is it common sense, but the website for Pedal Powers says specifically: “Although we bike at a leisurely pace, you should be able to ride a bike!”

waiting for the lost bikers

We’re waiting for some time at this spot, while Giovanni figures out what to do.  During this time, I walk up and down the street at Krems an der Donau and take some pictures.

I find a beautiful church with frescoes on its façade at Krems an der Donau, as well as a fancy statue.

church in Krems an der Donau
statue in Krems an der Donau

Finally, Giovanni returns.  He tells us he took Kyle back to the storage room and put his bike away.  He then gave him instructions on how to catch a bus to meet up with the group for lunch in Dürnstein.  I guess poor Kyle will have a lot of waiting around to do, as well as having to catch various buses to meet up with us at points along the way.

Our first stop is a small private winery in a rural area in the midst of vineyards.  Giovanni has a key to the winery though the owners are nowhere in sight. It’s pleasant to be in a winery where there aren’t hordes of other people around.

approaching the private winery

Inside the first winery, Giovanni pops a cork and gives us our first tasting.

Inside the private winery, a cozy kitchen area occupies the main floor.


Giovanni grabs a couple of bottles and brings them out behind the winery, where we taste several other wines while admiring the garden and the views of the vineyards.

Outside at the winery are some pretty gardens and seating areas.

outside at the first private winery

We leave the winery, and on the way to Dürnstein, pass through bucolic countryside with lines of vineyards flanked by low-lying mountains.

Wachau Valley
another wine cellar
vineyards in the Wachau Valley

When we arrive in Dürnstein, we park our bicycles and head to a gasthaus for lunch.

I enjoy a dish of roasted vegetables in Dürnstein.

lunchtime in Dürnstein

We have about an hour in Dürnstein to do whatever we want.  Mike climbs to Burgruine Dürnstein, also known as Kuenringer castle, a ruined medieval castle perched on a rocky outcrop at 312 metres (1,024 ft) above sea level, while I wander around the town.

There are so many cute cottages and inviting shops in the town.


On one street, I can see clearly Burgruine Dürnstein above the town.  The castle is known for being one of the places where King Richard the Lionheart, returning from the Third Crusade, was imprisoned after being captured near Vienna by Duke Leopold V of Austria. He was held there from December 1192 until his extradition in March 1193 to Emperor Henry VI, who imprisoned Richard at Trifels Castle (Wikipedia: Burgruine Dürnstein and Dürnstein).

view of Burgruine Dürnstein

In 1663, Conrad Balthasar of Starhembery purchased the castle, which is still owned by his heirs to this date. From 1679 on, however, the castle was no longer habitable and was abandoned. Today, the fortress is part of the “Wachau Cultural Landscape” UNESCO World Heritage Site (Wikipedia: Burgruine Dürnstein).

Burgruine Dürnstein above the town
cute yellow house
converted pigeon roost
Burgruine Dürnstein above the town

I love the window boxes with cascading pink flowers and the metal wall creatures (which remind me of the south of Spain) throughout Dürnstein.


From the town, we can see the cruise boats plying the Danube.

view of the Danube from Dürnstein
view of the Danube from Dürnstein

When our appointed meeting time arrives, we hop on our bikes and leave Dürnstein, bicycling through the Wachau Valley on our way to Weißenkirchen in der Wachau.

Wachau Valley
Wachau Valley
Wachau Valley
vineyards in the Wachau Valley

Upon arriving in Weißenkirchen in der Wachau, we park our bikes and climb a steep hill to the next private winery.

Weißenkirchen in der Wachau
climbing steps to the winery at Weißenkirchen in der Wachau

We have magnificent views of the valley, Weißenkirchen in der Wachau, and the Danube.

view of Weißenkirchen in der Wachau from the winery

What a pretty little town!

view of Weißenkirchen in der Wachau from the winery

Again, Giovanni has the keys to the winery, where he gets out several bottles of wine.  We sit on the terrace of this winery for quite a long time; the views are gorgeous, the weather is lovely, and the wines are fabulous.

entering the winery

Inside the winery at Weißenkirchen in der Wachau is a seating area and the typical cellar. Again, we have the place all to ourselves.

I take a short walk above the winery, where I find a charming house.  A woman comes out and chats with us about our wine group, asking where we’re from and where else we’re going on our travels.  She knows Giovanni from his many visits to this winery.

From above, I look down on the winery, with some of our touring group on the terrace, and vineyards, the town and the Danube below.

view of the winery terrace and our group from above

Weißenkirchen in der Wachau is the last town we’ll visit on the north side of the Danube.

Weißenkirchen in der Wachau
view of Weißenkirchen in der Wachau from the winery
view of Weißenkirchen in der Wachau from the winery

We make our way through the town of Weißenkirchen, where we just miss the ferry and have to wait a while for it to come back across the river.

Weißenkirchen in der Wachau
Weißenkirchen in der Wachau
Weißenkirchen in der Wachau

The ferry between Weißenkirchen and Sankt Lorenz is powered not by motor or sail, but by rudder set against the river current, anchored to a cable above the river. The ferry carries passengers, bicycles, motorcycles, and automobiles.

As we approach Sankt Lorenz, we see a strange nostril sculpture, called the Wachauer Nase,  on the shore.

approaching Sankt Lorenz

On the south side of the Danube, we ride along several long stretches of roads and through a couple of small towns until we come to a little camping area where we have fabulous views of Dürnstein from across the Danube.

view of Dürnstein from across the Danube
view of Dürnstein from across the Danube

The ride back on the south side of the river is shady, cold and windy, and we all are pedaling fast and hard to get back to warmth. By this time, my behind is killing me!

On the train back to Vienna, Giovanni distributes Drunken Apricots to all of us, which we enjoy! Apparently, Krems is the primary producer of Marillenschnaps, an apricot brandy.

When we arrive back in Vienna at around 7:00 p.m., we stop at an Italian restaurant which is so crowded that the maître d asks if we’d like to share a table with two British ladies, Jill and Liz. They are exuberant and chatty.  They met each other 36 years ago when they worked as au pairs for Vienna families and came back here on holiday to take a trip down memory lane.

I enjoy a dinner of tagliatelle with tomato and mozzarella and Mike has lasagna with Bologne sauce, accompanied by wine.

What a fun but exhausting day! This has been one of our favorite days on our trip.

Tomorrow, we’re heading to Český Krumlov in Czech Republic.

Total steps today: 14,725 (6.24 miles) + ~ 26 kilometers (16 miles) by bicycle. 🙂


vienna: the hofburg imperial palace, nachshmarkt, the belvedere and a cheesy show at palais palffy

Friday, September 29:  On our second day in Vienna, we stroll past fragrant flower shops and bushels of gourds, pick up coffees to go, and study the baffling foreign headlines in a newsstand, somehow keeping aloof from the world at large.

street scene near our hotel
Vienna squashes and gourds
Vienna flowers
Mike at the coffee shop
newstand in Vienna

We feel dwarfed by the lavish Hofburg Imperial Palace, where Emperor Franz Joseph and the reclusive and eccentric empress “Sisi,” ruled their sprawling empire.

Hofburg Imperial Apartments

Among roses at the Volksgarten, we encounter Greek gods and nymphs spitting water, and temples to mythical kings.

Triton and Nymph Fountain at Volksgarten
Theseus Temple at the Volksgarten

We are greeted by fine specimens of sculpted muscular men at the Hofburg Imperial Apartments, and we dream of being escorted like royalty through Vienna’s streets by horse and carriage.

statue at Hofburg Palace on Michaelerplatz
horse and buggy in Vienna

As we wander through the Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection at the Hofburg Imperial Apartments, we imagine we are attendees at huge elaborate dinner parties with painterly plates, fragrant flower arrangements, floral and gold-leaf soup tureens, crystal goblets, and napkins folded in the shape of swans or flounder. The tableware collection is opulent and overwhelming all at once.  The royals apparently entertained up to 800 guests at a time.  If we had attended, we would have undoubtedly been overlooked. The collection we see is intact, as this area was never bombed during WWII.

Oh, the excesses of the royal Habsburgs.

a plate from the Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection
the Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection
a soup tureen from the the Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection
Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection
multiple me with the Imperial Porcelain and Silver Collection

Click on any of the images below for a full-sized slide show.


We walk through the Sisi Museum, where we see paintings of the narcissistic and mysterious Empress Elizabeth, wife of Franz Josef, as well as her jewels and gowns.  Sisi was reclusive, a child of the Bavarian countryside, and she loved writing poetry and riding horses. She also spent much time maintaining her beauty, obsessively dieting and applying potions to her skin.  She loved the Hungarians and traveled extensively: to Britain, Eastern Europe, and Greece. In 1889, Franz Josef and Sisi’s son, Prince Rudolf, after venturing into drugs and sex, apparently killed his lover and himself in a suicide pact; this tragedy, known as the “Mayerling Affair,” caused Sisi to withdraw further from public life.  Nine years later she was assassinated in Geneva by an Italian anarchist who hated royal oppressors and craved notoriety.  She was the longest-serving Empress of Austria at 44 years.

Sadly, no photography is permitted in the Sisi Museum or the Hofburg Imperial Apartments.

We then walk through the Hofburg Imperial Apartments: the Audience Room, where citizens could meet privately with the emperor, and the attached Waiting Room, where the commoners waited. We pass through a Conference Room, where the emperor discussed policy, and his Bedroom, where he apparently had mistresses, while photos of his wife Sisi watched over his shenanigans.  We enter a Large Salon for royal family gatherings and a Small Salon, created in memory of the emperor’s brother, Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, who was overthrown and executed in 1867; this salon was used as a smoking room.  We continue our walk through the Empress’ Bedroom and Drawing Room, and her Dressing Room/Exercise Room, where servants worked on her famously long hair for hours each day while she studied Hungarian.  She also exercised and got massages in this room.  We see Sisi’s copper tub and towel-warmer in the Lavatory.  Next, we go through the servants’ rooms, and then get a parting shot of the Empress’ Large Salon, painted with Mediterranean landscapes.  The Small Salon shows Crown Prince Rudolf, mentioned above, the royal couple’s only son (Rick Steves: Vienna, Salzburg & Tirol).

We take a tram and long walk to visit Naschmarkt, and on the way, we find the  Third Man Tour stop, surrounded by ornamental grasses.

Third Man Tour stop

At one end of Naschmarkt, we find the Secession Building, an exhibition hall built in 1897 as the architectural headquarters of the Secession movement. Secession artists explored art outside the confines of academic tradition. They hoped to create a new style that owed nothing to historical influence.  Rebel artists, in effect, seceded from the long-established fine art institution.  The motto of the movement, inscribed in German, is “To every age its art, to every art its freedom.”  The building is apparently nicknamed the “golden cabbage” for its gilded rooftop of laurel leaves.

The Secession
The Secession
building across from The Secession

Naschmarkt is a food market and flea market.  Walking down the length of it, we find Turkish butchers and spice vendors next to Polish sweet shops. Austrian and other foods can be found here in abundance: regional wines, honey products, aromatic oils and vinegar, chocolate, cheeses, breads, and paprika stuffed with cream cheese.


We are enticed here by dried fruits, fresh fruits, flowers and vintage goods such as handbags, glassware, silverware, linen, and decorative items.

Mediterranean and Asian restaurants and snack bars are interspersed with Viennese cafés.  After we walk up and down quickly, we stop for lunch at an Asian restaurant.

Hot and sour soup and mushroom soup warm us up, accompanied by mango juice and hot tea.

hot soup at Naschmarkt

After lunch, we explore Naschmarkt at a more leisurely pace, finding baklava and other desserts, as well as warm winter hats.

Stuffed dates, grape leaves, and stuffed peppers, called paprika here, entice us.  We even buy a sample of some of them which we take with us on the tram, along with the dried mango that we bought before lunch.

stuffed peppers at Naschmarkt
stuffed peppers at Naschmarkt
buildings surrounding Naschmarkt

Before long, we’re at the Vienna Opera, where we get on another tram toward Schloss Belvedere.

Vienna Opera

Schloss Belvedere includes two Baroque palaces (Upper and Lower Palaces) the Orangery, and the Palace Stables. The buildings are set in a Baroque garden landscape.  The grounds are set on a gentle slope and include decorative tiered fountains and cascades, Baroque sculptures, and majestic wrought iron gates. The palace complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy.  Though the prince was short and unattractive, he was well-loved for his successful battles against the Ottoman Empire.

Schloss Belvedere – Upper Palace
Schloss Belvedere – looking toward the Lower Palace

The Upper Palace is now a museum that houses an impressive collection of Austrian art dating from the Middle Ages to the present. At the heart of the displays of “art around 1900” is the world’s largest Gustav Klimt collection.  Sadly, we don’t take the time to stop in; I regret we didn’t have time for this.  This is our last day in Vienna proper, and we use our time to walk around the grounds, quite expansive, instead. Luckily, we have a beautiful day today.

Schloss Belvedere – Upper Palace
Schloss Belvedere – Upper Palace
Schloss Belvedere – Upper Palace

The Upper Palace and the reflecting pool is quite impressive.

An elaborate gate leads us to the Alpengarten, or Alpine Garden.

gate at Schloss Belvedere
bamboo in the Belvedere gardens
Mike and friend at Schloss Belvedere
Looking at the Upper Palace from the Baroque-style gardens
the Upper Palace

We make our way down the slope and past the Baroque fountains, heading for the Lower Palace and the exit.

fountain at Schloss Belvedere
side view of fountain
view from the gardens
gardens at Schloss Belvedere

The Lower Palace leads to the exit, where we’ll catch a tram back to The Opera.

Lower Palace

When we get off the tram, we walk past the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum) and Maria Theresa Square.

Naturhistorisches Museum

Maria-Theresien-Platz is a large public square in the Museum District. Facing each other from the sides of the square are two near identical buildings, the Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum) and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum).  Sadly, we don’t have time to visit either one.

statute of Maria Theresa

We want to take a little break, so we stop for beers in the old world Cafe Eiles.

Cafe Eiles
Mike has beers in the cafe

We are going out to a Mozart and Strauss Concert at Palais Palffy tonight, so we mosey on back to our hotel, check in, and relax for a short bit before going out to dinner at Fromme Helene.

At Fromme Helene, we enjoy wine with our dinner.  I have Homemade Pierogi (filled with spinach and feta cheese) with melted garlic butter.  It’s no wonder, with all the gnocchi, spaetzle, pierogi, and other pasta I’ve been eating on this trip, that I manage to gain back a few of the pounds I lost in Japan.

me at Fromme Helene

As we walk down our street, we see the city as the lights come on.

We take a tram to the Opera, where we get off and walk to Palais Palffy.

Mike taking the tram

We have a little time to kill before the concert, so we stop for dessert at the Guesthouse Brassiere.

We take our seats inside the small and overly heated Figaro Hall in the 14th century Palais Palffy, where, in 1762, Mozart gave a concert at age six with his sister.  Later, in 1786, Mozart performed his opera, “The Marriage of Figaro,” to a private audience here.

We sit in very uncomfortable chairs and watch and listen to the Mozart & Strauss Konzerte.  Each concert consists of two parts: First Mozart in historical Baroque costumes, then Johann Strauss in historical Biedermeier costumes.

This is most definitely a tourist-only venue, and the performance is fairly cheesy.  The real Vienna citizens I’m sure are at the Opera or some other fancy venue.

We do get to enjoy a beverage midway through the concert.

On our way home, we admire the steps of the Albertina Museum.

steps of the Albertina

Tomorrow, we have an early start for our bicycle wine tour of the Wachau Valley.  This turns out to be one of our favorite days on our trip. 🙂

Steps today: 16,419 (6.96 miles)

vienna, austria: the ringstrasse, st. stephen’s cathedral & hundertwasserhaus

Thursday, September 28:  This morning, we enjoy a lovely buffet breakfast in the Pannonia Hotel in Sopron, Hungary.  Then it’s time to pack up our stuff and head to Austria.

breakfast at Pannonia Hotel in Sopron

After breakfast, we catch a ride with Comfy Tour to Vienna, Austria. It’s only about an hour drive, and we probably should have taken a bus for a cheaper journey, but it is certainly hassle-free and convenient.  Our young driver, Joe, is easy-going and talkative, telling us of his love of travel.  He and I share a love of Sintra, Portugal and Cappadocia, Turkey, where we both took sunrise balloon rides over the moon-like landscape. He also loves Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, a place I long to visit.  He is heading to Barcelona soon, another favorite of mine.

We arrive at around 9:45 a.m. and leave our bags at our hotel, Cordial Theaterhotel Wien, where it’s too early to check in.

Cordial Theaterhotel Wien

We immediately head out to explore Vienna, as we have only 3 days here, and one of them will be spent on a bicycle wine tour of the Wachau Valley.  Of course, we have to stop for coffee and a pastry.

Mike in a Vienna bakery
Our street in Vienna

We are using the Rick Steves book Vienna Salzburg & Tirol to be as efficient as possible with our time. Our plan is to first take the Ringstrasse Tram Tour, a self-guided tour using the book.

The first thing we do is buy the two-day transit pass for about $27; we put the tickets in the machine the first time we use them for a time-and-date stamp and then keep the tickets with us the rest of the time we’re in Vienna in case someone asks to see them.  Apparently, if officials ask to see your ticket and you don’t have one, they can fine you a large sum right on the spot.

We start the Ringstrasse Tram Tour in front of the opera house.

Vienna State Opera
Vienna State Opera

We get on tram #2, heading against the direction of traffic, and follow Rick Steves’ advice to sit on the right side of the tram.

The Ringstrasse Tram

There are a lot of sights to see on the Ringstrasse, created when Emperor Franz Josef tore down the city’s medieval wall and replaced it with the wide boulevard in the 1860s.  It circles nearly three miles around the city’s core.

Tram #2 doesn’t go the full circuit; we must transfer to tram #1 at the Schwedenplatz stop.  We do so, and continue around the circuit.  As it’s difficult to take pictures from a moving tram, I don’t bother, so if you want to take the tour and see the sights, you’ll have to visit Vienna on your own! 🙂

From tram #1, we get off on the northwest part of the circuit to see the Neo-Gothic “votive church” sitting across a small park; it is currently under renovation.  This type of church was built to thank God for his help, “in this case when an 1853 assassination attempt on Emperor Franz Josef failed,” according to Steves.

votive church

Back on the tram, we continue around the circuit, ending up back in front of the Opera House. Here, we begin the “Vienna City Walk” from the book.

The tram

Vienna is a very polished city, maybe a little too polished for my taste. The architecture is stunning though: Neoclassical, Neo-Gothic, and Neo-Renaissance. I find some beautiful tiles as we begin our walk.

tiles in Vienna

The Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper), built in 1869, is one of the world’s premier concert venues.  Typical of Vienna’s 19th century buildings, it is Neo-Renaissance in style. On May 25, 1869, the opera house “opened with Mozart’s DON JUAN in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth,” according to Wiener Staatsoper: History.

The years 1938 to 1945 were a dark chapter in the history of the opera house. Under the Nazis, many members of the house were driven out, pursued, and killed, and many works were not allowed to be played.

On March 12, 1945, the opera house was devastated during a bombing, but on May 1, 1945, the “State Opera in the Volksoper” opened with a performance of Mozart’s THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO. On October 6, 1945, the hastily restored “Theaters an der Wien” reopened with Beethoven’s FIDELIO. For the next ten years the Vienna State Opera operated in two venues while the true headquarters was being rebuilt at a great expense.

Vienna Opera House

As we cross over to the opera house, among statues and fountains, we’re approached by a young man in costume trying to sell tickets to a Mozart and Strauss Concert at Palais Palffy.  We’re not sure about buying tickets from someone on the street, but he offers to walk with us to the venue’s ticket office to prove he’s legit.  We buy tickets for a concert for Friday night. What we find so appealing about these tickets is that we don’t have to get dressed up to enjoy a concert in Vienna.  We don’t really feel like doing the whole opera thing and we don’t really have the clothes to get all gussied up.

statue at the Opera
fountain at the Opera

As we walk with the costumed ticket salesperson, we walk past Cafe Sacher, home of the 1832 “Sacher torte: two layers of cake separated by apricot jam and covered in dark chocolate icing, usually served with whipped cream,” according to Steves.  We don’t partake because we already had breakfast in Sopron and a pastry near our hotel, and now it’s almost lunchtime.

We also walk past Albertinaplatz, a square in the midst of the Hofburg Palace and the Albertina Museum.

Right across from the concert venue, Palais Palffy, on Josefsplatz, is where a scene from the 1949 black and white film noir, The Third Man, was filmed. In the movie, American Holly Martins is offered a job in Vienna after WWII by his friend Harry Lime.  When Holly arrives in Vienna, he finds that Lime is dead from a traffic accident. Martins meets with Lime’s acquaintances to investigate what he considers a suspicious death.  The scene we see today is the spot where Harry was hit by a car.

We see a lot of horse-drawn carriages in Vienna, which add to the city’s royal charm.

horses in Vienna

As we walk back through Albertinaplatz, we pass The Monument Against War and Fascism, which memorializes all victims of war and “commemorates the dark years when Austria came under Nazi rule (1938–1945),” according to Steves.  You can read more about it here.

Monument Against War and Fascism

We continue our walk up the pedestrian-only street, Kärntner Strasse.  Though a shopping street today, it is the same road Crusaders marched down as they headed to the Holy Land in the 12th century, according to Steves. Fragrant flower shops adorn the street.

flower shop in Vienna

Under the Capuchin Church lies the Imperial Crypt.  Austria’s once powerful Habsburg royals lie buried here in pewter coffins, including Franz Josef and Empress Sisi.  According to Wikipedia: Capuchin Church, “the bodies of 145 Habsburg royalty, plus urns containing the hearts or cremated remains of four others, are deposited here, including 12 emperors and 18 empresses.”

Capuchin Church

Neuer Markt is one of the oldest squares in Vienna, although many of the buildings around it were built after WWII.  Churchill made it a point to bomb Vienna’s inner city as he found the Austrians to be too enthusiastic over the Nazis.

The Baroque Donnerbrunnen Fountain, also known as the four rivers fountain, shows Lady Providence surrounded by figures that symbolize the rivers that flow into the Danube. This fountain was featured in the 1995 film, Before Sunrise, starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.  In the movie, two young people, Jesse and Celine, meet on a train in Europe and end up spending one night together in Vienna.

Empress Maria Theresa found the sexy statue offensive and formed commissions to preserve her city’s moral standards, according to Rick Steves.

Of course I have to stop at a shop to add to my scarf collection, while Mike waits patiently on a bench.

After stopping for lunch at a modern cafe in which about 30 priests are congregated, we find ourselves at Stephansplatz, the square where the Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral sits.

Around Stephansplatz, we find the Aida Cafe and other impressive buildings.

Aida Cafe

The cathedral’s massive 450-foot tall south tower is its highest point and a dominant feature of the Vienna skyline. Its construction lasted 65 years, from 1368 to 1433.  The highlight is its ornately patterned, richly colored roof, covered by 230,000 glazed tiles, according to Wikipedia.  There is no special symbolism to the zigzag tiles, which are purely decorative.

After already climbing so many steps in numerous cathedrals in Hungary, we decide to forego this one.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

It is the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vienna and the seat of the Archbishop of Vienna.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
St. Stephen’s Cathedral

We circle the entire cathedral before going inside.  We find more pretty flower shops behind the cathedral.

The Capistran Chancel, the pulpit which sits outdoors to address crowds too large to fit inside, is where the Franciscan friar and Catholic priest St. John Capistrano and Hungarian general John Hunyadi encouraged a crusade in 1456 to repel Muslim invasions of Christian Europe.

Capistran Chancel at St. Stephen’s Cathedral

We continue our walk around St. Stephen’s Cathedral, some of which looks a little soot-covered.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral, it is dark and crowded and much of it is blocked off to visitors. The nave is nine stories tall and as long as a football field, according to Steves. The main part of the church contains 18 altars, with more in the various chapels.

inside St. Stephen’s Cathedral

The Wiener Neustädter Altar at the head of the north nave was ordered in 1447 by Emperor Frederick III, whose tomb is located in the opposite direction.

After our tour of St. Stephen’s, we get back on the tram with a plan to visit the Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment complex designed by painter and environmentalist Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000).

the tram

It’s quite a long walk from where we exit the tram.  First we pass the Kunst Haus Wien Museum with its checkerboard facade.

Kunst Haus Wien Museum
Kunst Haus Wien Museum

We walk past the museum, still heading for the apartment complex.  There are so many colorful and beautifully designed buildings in Vienna.

pretty green building

Friedensreich Hundertwasser advocated natural forms of decay in architecture. He advocated for forested roofs, “tree tenants” and the “window right” of every tenant to embellish the facade around his windows.  He wanted harmony between man, nature and architecture.  You can read more about the architect’s philosophy here.


Within Hundertwasserhaus, there are 53 apartments, four offices, 16 private terraces and three communal terraces, and a total of 250 trees and bushes. It has become a part of Austria’s cultural heritage (Wikipedia: Hundertwasserhaus).


The Hundertwasser Village was built both inside and out by the concepts of artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser during the years 1990 and 1991. The building was used as car tire factory before that time.

Hundertwasserhaus Village
inside Hundertwasserhaus Village
inside Hundertwasserhaus Village

Hundertwasserhaus was built between 1983 and 1985 and features undulating floors, a roof covered with earth and grass, and large trees growing inside the rooms, with limbs extending from windows. Hundertwasser designed the house for free to prevent something ugly from going up in its place (Wikipedia: Hundertwasserhaus).


Hundertwasserhaus is certainly a colorful and unusual place to see in Vienna, especially compared to the city’s classical architecture.

me at Hundertwasserhaus

On the way back, we stop in briefly at the Kunst Haus Wien Museum, where we admire the artist’s work in the gift shop, on the patio, and on the bathroom doors.

Kunst Haus Wien Museum
Kunst Haus Wien Museum

After the long walk back, we take the tram again, getting off near the Burg Theater to walk the rest of the way back to our hotel.  The Burg Theater was created in 1741 and has become known as “die Burg” by the Viennese population. It is one of the most important German language theaters in the world.

Burg Theater

Across the street from the Burg Theater is the Neo-Gothic City Hall, or Wiener Rathaus. Built from 1872 to 1883, it houses the office of the Mayor of Vienna as well as the chambers of the city council and Vienna Landtag diet, the representative assembly in German-speaking countries.

City Hall, Vienna
City Hall, Vienna
City Hall, Vienna

We walk back to our hotel as the sun goes down, stopping at a grocery store to get some light cheese and crackers for dinner.

Steps today: 13,338 (5.65 miles).

a stopover in sopron, hungary

Wednesday, September 27:  Early this morning, we pack our bags and head out to the tram stop on a main road in Budapest; from there, we take the tram to Budapest Keleti Railway Terminal and buy our tickets for the 9:10 train to Sopron, Hungary, on the border of Austria.  The ticket salesperson doesn’t tell us to which platform we should go, so we stand with a crowd of people studying an electronic board, all in Hungarian, trying to make sense of things.  As we’re waiting, we run into John, the jolly Irishman we met in Esztergom when we took the cruise up the Danube. He has been staying in Budapest for a week and taking day trips out to the countryside, and today he’s going to a town we haven’t heard of.  Since he’s taken the train already, he helps us figure out the proper platform.

We say our goodbyes to John, thinking what a pleasure it was to have met him, even if only briefly.  We board the train, settling into seats #85 and #86, on car #142.  We take off at 9:10, hoping we’re on the right train.

At one stop not far along the line, some local folks come to our compartment, looking at us questioningly and pointing to their tickets. The conductor comes along to resolve the issue and we find we should be in car #141 rather than 142.  So we pull our bags from the overhead and lug them to the next car, where we take our seats among a group of friendly ladies.

There’s an electronic board in the compartment that lists the stops along the way, and Sopron doesn’t show.  We have some discussion of this with a friendly Hungarian woman who speaks English.  She and her mother, wearing dark glasses, are returning to their home in Sopron after the mother had cataract surgery in Budapest.  She assures us we’re on the right train, even though the board doesn’t list it.  After a bit, she seems to wonder about our destination herself, and she asks the conductor about it when he comes by.  The story is that the train will split at some point, and some of the cars will go to Sopron and others will peel off in an unknown direction.

This nice lady walks out of the Sopron train station with us when we arrive at 11:38 a.m.; she directs us down one of the main streets in Sopron, Malyas Kiraly; she points and tells us to keep walking until we find the Pannonia Hotel, our lodging for the night.  It’s nearly a mile walk, but before long, we find the hotel.  It’s too early to check in, but we store our bags and head out to the Inner Town to find Forum Pizzeria where we can eat lunch.

looking down Szent Gyorgy u. to the Firewatch Tower
Church on Szent Gyorgy u.
church on Szent Gyorgy u.

At Forum Pizzeria, we enjoy a pizza and a glass of wine.  Mike has a beer.  I don’t often drink wine in the afternoon as it makes me sleepy, but we feel in a celebratory mood having successfully navigated our way from one town in Hungary to another.

After lunch, we make our way to the main square, called Fő tér.  Along the way, we pass some interesting doorways, flower boxes, Roman ruins, bookstores and colorful cafes.

We return to the Pannonia Hotel to check in and we also check out the spa, which we hope to visit later.

Pannonia Hotel

We decide we’ll make a quick detour outside the Inner Town to visit a ruined Orthodox Synagogue and Holocaust memorial.  The synagogue is boarded up and in disrepair, but I love ruins.

Construction began in 1891 according to plans by Janos Schiller.  Until 1944, it was used as a house of worship.  Then it belonged to the local ghetto.  According to Lonely Planet Hungary, a plaque says that “‘1640 martyrs’ were taken from here to Auschwitz on 5 July 1944.”  We don’t see that plaque ourselves.

In 2004, it was declared a historic monument.

Synagogue ruin east of the Inner Town

The Holocaust Memorial, a sculpture of jackets with the Star of David and a pile of shoes, was built in memory of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust from Sopron.  The work of Laszlo Kutas symbolizes the undressing room at the entrance to the gas chambers, according to a plaque we do find near the site.

Holocaust memorial

Returning to the Inner Town, we make our way to the main square and the Firewatch Tower.

curved buildings in Sopron
Firewatch Tower in Sopron
Firewatch Tower in Sopron
Cafes near Storno House

The Goat Church, on the south side of Fő tér, is a mostly Gothic church originally built in the late 13th century.  It gets its name from a legend that the church was built thanks to the treasure dug up by a goat.

In front of the church is the 1701 Trinity Column, an example of a “plague pillar” in Hungary, erected by two Sopron residents to celebrate the end of the plague at the end of the 17th century.

Fő tér and the Goat Church in Sopron

The church has a mostly Baroque interior with a red-marble pulpit in the center of the south aisle.  It dates from the 15th century.

inside the Goat Church

We walk a bit more around the Inner Town, admiring the colorful architecture and the fancy carved doors.

If it were a nicer day, we’d certainly be enticed by the outdoor cafes along the way.

cafe on Fő tér
Sopron Town Hall

We then go inside the Firewatch Tower to climb the 60 meters to the top.  The tower guards watched the area and signaled a fire’s position with lanterns at night and colored flags in daytime, according to

Lonely Planet Hungary says it was used by trumpeters to warn of fire, mark the hour, and watch for salespeople trying to smuggle in non-Sopron wine. The 2-meter thick square base was built on a Roman gate from the 12th century and the cylindrical middle and Baroque balcony are from the 16th century.

The Firewatch Tower is the symbol of allegiance from 1921, celebrating a referendum in which Sopron and eight neighboring villages expressed their wish to remain part of Hungary (instead of Austria), according to

Firewatch Tower
yellow building on Fő tér

When we finally climb the 200 steps to the top, we have a tremendous view of Sopron and the Lövér Hills to the southwest.  Supposedly, one can see the Austrian Alps to the west, but we can’t see them on this overcast day.

Fő tér from the Firewatch Tower
Sopron from the Firewatch Tower
Sopron from the Firewatch Tower

Near the Town Hall, we find the love locks that seem to be present everywhere these days.

love locks in Sopron

Behind the Town Hall are the Roman ruins.  Sopron was once an important town along the Amber Road, the ancient trade route for the transfer of amber from the coastal areas of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean.

The most important sights of the mosaic-like “Archeological Park” in Scarbantia are the town fortifications, Roman roads, the Forum and the Amphitheatre.

Roman ruins

The Forum of Scarbantia was completed according to typical Italian patterns in the mid-2nd century A.D. during the time of Emperor Antoninus Pius (138-161), although the stone buildings were made under Traianus (98-117) and Hadrianus (117-138).

Roman ruins

We walk a bit more around Sopron’s Inner Town, a great deal of which seems to be under construction or renovation.

Sopron’s Inner Town
Sopron’s Inner Town
Sopron’s Inner Town
Sopron’s Inner Town

Our last stop is the Old Synagogue, built at the end of the 12th century and the beginning of the 13th; it contains two rooms, one for men and one for women.  According to the Soproni Muzeum website, it was a tabernacle, an assembly hall and a school also. The Jews living here dealt with trade and finance and were not really rich people although they managed to build up this Gothic-styled synagogue, which is fairly unique in Central Europe.

According to Lonely Planet Hungary, the Jews were evicted from Sopron in 1526 after being accused of plotting with the Turks.

The two centers of the synagogue are the Torah niche and the pulpit, or “bima.” The niche is richly decorated with bunches of grapes and leaves in natural colors on the stone frames and pediment. The stained glass windows around the top of the room seem oddly out-of-place. The inscriptions on the walls date from 1490.

Finally, we walk back through the Inner Town to rest in our hotel a bit before finding a place for dinner.

While relaxing in our room, Mike researches a good restaurant and finds one outside the Inner Town called Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem.  It’s a long walk southwest, past the train station.  The reviews are so good that we decide we’ll take the trek.  We pass through the parts of town where the locals live, enjoying the flower shops and parks along the way.

Our walk takes us past churches, parks, colorful buildings and statues.

church we pass on the walk to the restaurant
Deak ter
statue in Deak Ter
statue in Deak Ter
orange bicycle

We finally arrive at Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem, or Hunting Horn Guest-House and Restaurant, a pension and restaurant run by a husband and wife, Mr. And Mrs. Bausz.

Mike at Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem
Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem

We are the first ones to arrive and Mr. Bausz greets us warmly, speaking fluent English.

We enjoy our meal here so much!  Not only is the food delicious, but the owner is super friendly and attentive to our every need.  He also keeps bringing us wines to taste, and by the end of the meal, we have tasted at least five wines from the Sopron Road of Wine.  The whole time, I’m needlessly worried that we will be charged for these numerous wine tastings, and with every glass he pours, I imagine Hungarian Forints being added to our bill!

For appetizers, Mike orders the cream soup of the day, and I get stuffed cabbage.  At least I finally get my stuffed cabbage before leaving Hungary, and it is spectacular! Mike has Pike perch fillet with parsley potatoes and I have chicken paprika with home-made gnocchi.  Each bite is like heaven.  We both enjoy delicious pastry desserts with ice cream.

When we get our bill, we are shocked, but NOT by its exorbitance.  I can’t believe after ordering one glass of wine each, appetizers, desserts, and dinner, plus tasting five different wines, our meal is only 31.96 euros, or about $38!!

This restaurant is a two-person operation, with the wife doing all the cooking and the husband serving.  After dinner, we ask the wonderful owners of Vadászkürt Panzió és Étterem if we can take a picture of them.  They are happy to oblige.  I am still in shock over the bill and I tell them they need to charge more money!!

Mr. And Mrs. Bausz

Walking back to our hotel, we pass a playful SOPRON sign.  The church is all lit up.

church lit up

When we return, we have just enough time to squeeze in a half-hour visit to the spa before it closes.  We sit in a hot tub with a couple going to town kissing and rubbing against each other.  I’m thinking, “Get a room!”  But it is quite entertaining.

Tomorrow, we’ll head to Vienna.  It’s only an hour away, but this time we’ve arranged a driver.  After our easy and cheap trip to Sopron this morning, we should have had more confidence and just taken a bus or train!

Steps today: 16,851 (7.14 miles).

budapest: terror house & szimpla kert

Tuesday, September 26:  After leaving the Hungarian State Opera House, we continue up Andrassy ut to the Terror House, instantly recognizable by the TERROR spelled out on its rooftop overhang.  It contains exhibits related to the 20th century fascist and communist regimes in Hungary.

Terror House

The first thing we encounter is a threatening tank in the central courtyard and a giant wall of victims’ photos in black and white.

According to the House of Terror Museum website: [The museum is] a monument to the memory of those held captive, tortured and killed in this building. The Museum, while presenting the horrors in a tangible way, also intends to make people understand that the sacrifice for freedom was not in vain. Ultimately, the fight against the two cruelest systems of the 20th century ended with the victory of the forces of freedom and independence.

Victims of terror

The museum also contains exhibits related to Hungarian organizations such as the  fascist Arrow Cross Party, a national socialist party led by Ferenc Szálasi, which led the Government of National Unity in Hungary  from 15 October 1944 to 28 March 1945. During its short rule, ten to fifteen thousand civilians (many Jews and Romani) were murdered outright, and 80,000 people were deported from Hungary to various concentration camps in Austria. Called Hungarism by Ferenc Szálasi, the party’s ideology encompassed extreme nationalism, agriculture promotion, anti-capitalism, anti-communism, and militant anti-Semitism, conceiving of Jews in racial as well as religious terms.  It was more racist, and more economically radical than other fascist movements, advocating workers’ right and land reforms, according to Wikipedia.

Victims of the Holocaust

An interactive map shows Europe as it falls to the Nazis; there is also a collection of black and white photos and highly disturbing videos of Nazi victory, with huge crowds yelling and doing the Hitler salute in unison.  The salute was performed by extending the right arm from the neck into the air with a straightened hand. Usually, the person offering the salute said, “Heil Hitler!” (Hail Hitler!), “Heil, mein Führer!” (Hail, my leader!), or “Sieg Heil!” (Hail victory!) (Wikipedia: Nazi salute).

To me, these videos of thousands of people doing that salute and yelling “Heil Hitler!” is the most disturbing thing in the whole museum.  It seems entire nations were brainwashed, being led like sheep to the slaughter into the devastation of World War II.  It is sickening to watch how people became mindlessly caught up in such hateful ideology.

Urgent dramatic music plays throughout the museum and we see personal effects of people who were deported.


The museum also features exhibits about the communist ÁVH, or State Protection Authority, the secret police of Hungary from 1945 until 1956.  An external appendage of the Soviet Union’s KGB, or secret police forces, it gained a reputation for brutality during a series of purges beginning in 1948, intensifying in 1949 and ending in 1953.

In the Terror House basement, we see examples of the cells that the ÁVH used to break the will of their prisoners.

In the room called Everyday Life, contemporary posters and objects reflect the communist workaday. The mind-set suggested by the crudely garish posters was just as mendacious and miserable as the ideology behind it, according to the museum’s website.

mishmash of the times

It feels a relief to get out of the dark and loud Terror House and into the sunlight.  Outside, we’re greeted by buildings on opposite corners signifying Japanese and Chinese influence.

Quite by accident, we come upon some white-clad mannequins on a balcony.  I’m not sure what they’re supposed to represent, or if they’re simply there in good fun.

figures on a balcony
figures on a balcony

On our way to our Airbnb apartment, we stop for our last Budapest dinner one more time at Két Szerecsen Bisztro.  This time we eat at the sidewalk cafe.

Két Szerecsen

Tonight we share a platter of vegetable tapas, including aubergine spread with flat bread, roasted goat cheese with green apple purée and honey walnuts, oyster mushrooms in a Parmesan and spring onion sauce, and Patatas bravas. We also order the spinach with cream and Serrano ham that I enjoyed so much our first night here.  This time, the ham is a bit chewy, so I don’t care for it. The food simply doesn’t match up.

I tell Mike one should never return to the same place twice as it’s sure to disappoint on the second visit.

After dinner, we walk back our same route home, past a pretty church, shabby architecture, the Elisabeth Residence, and the park with the mural background.

church in Budapest
Budapest streets
street art in Budapest

We stop at Szimpla Kert, the oldest of the famous ruin bars that line our street. The ruin bar phenomenon arose in Budapest in 2000, when entrepreneurs found a ruined or abandoned building in Pest, rented the cellar or ground floor, and encouraged artists to paint murals or decorate in some bizarre fashion. The bars emanate a ruined, shabby feeling, but they’re popular nevertheless.

Mike at Szimpla Kert

After ordering a beer here, we walk around the place, checking out all the strange things.

Me at Szimpla Kert
art at Szimpla Kert
ruin walls at Szimpla Kert

Szimpla Kert has every imaginable artist expression on its brick walls, from industrial decor to graffiti to strange murals, to bicycles and guitars hanging on walls and ceilings, to hookah pipes, human figures made from pipe fittings, tire seats, stop signs, life buoys, old clocks, scales, naked mannequins, butterfly mobiles, t-shirts, lanterns, vintage signs, and rabbit and other creature figures.

There is even a ruined car whose insides have been gutted and installed with bar seats and a table and squeezed under a set of metal stairs.

car at Szimpla Kert

There are numerous small bars in nooks and crannies all over Szimpla Kert, but I guess we’re early enough that it’s pretty deserted this evening.

ceiling at Szimpla Kert
shabby chic Szimpla Kert
Szimpla Kert
character at Szimpla Kert
mannequin at Szimpla Kert
rabbit brigade

After hanging out here for a while, we walk across the street to our Airbnb, where we start packing for the next leg of our trip.  Tomorrow morning, we’ll take a train to Sopron, Hungary, on the border with Austria, where we’ll stay one night before heading to Vienna.

Total steps today: 15,721 (6.66 miles).


budapest: great market hall & the hungarian state opera house

Tuesday, September 26:  After leaving Elizabeth Bridge, we get back on Váci utca heading toward the Nagycsarnok, or Great Market.  Once inside, we wind our way through the crowds in search of lunch.  The lower level has fruit, vegetable and meat stalls, but the upper level has Hungarian dry goods and hot food stalls. All the food stalls, which have enticing food such as stuffed cabbage rolls, are fronted by long lines, and all seats are taken.  It will be a long wait to get any food here, and even when we do get some, there will be no place to eat it.

Regretting those missed cabbage rolls, we go back out to Váci utca, where we find the Old Street Cafe.  Here we stop and sit outside in a patch of sunlight.  I ask the waiter what the man next to me has on his plate, and he tells me it’s a Stuffed pancake Hortobágy style, a pancake stuffed with chicken and covered in gravy.  I order that.  Mike orders Tuscan tomato soup (Pappa al Pomodoro) with celery and a cucumber salad.  He’s certainly being more healthy than I am. 🙂

After lunch, we go back into the Great Market Hall, the largest and oldest indoor market in Budapest.  It was built and designed by Samu Pecz around 1897.

The Great Market

The Hall’s colorful roof is covered in Zsolnay tiles from Pécs, Hungary’s fifth largest city.  I love these tiles, found in so many places in Budapest.  The 10,000 square meter building has a Gothic Revival entrance gate and is covered by a steel structure.  Completely damaged during the World Wars, restorations brought the market back to life in the 1990s.

The Great Market
The Great Market
rooftop of The Great Market

On the ground floor, we find a folk group playing some lively tunes.

musicians at The Great Market

We wander around the ground floor first, among the stalls of produce, meats, dairy products, pastries, candies, spices, and spirits.  We see local salamis, cheeses, Hungarian paprika, foie gras, caviar and garlands of dried peppers and garlic.  We find spirits such as Tokaji (wines from the Tokaj region), and local snacks such as Túró Rudi, a bar with a thin chocolate-flavored outer coating and an inner filling of túró, or curd.

salamis and meats at The Great Market
fruit at The Great Market
fruit at The Great Market
dried chili peppers at The Great Market
fruit extravaganza

The basement contains butcher shops, the fish market, and picked vegetables including the traditional cucumber pickles, as well as cauliflower, cabbage, beets, tomatoes, and garlic.  However, we don’t visit the basement as we find plenty on the top two levels to keep us occupied.

Click on any of the photos below for a full-sized slide show.