Travel Journal #8 — Winter Wonderland

Budapest BathsI never could have imagined that I’d take my backpack and get on a plane with the intention of seeing four central/eastern European cities in just five days. When Ellie and I planned the trip it sounded a bit insane, but it was the kind of adventure we were looking for. Our escapade took us to Budapest, Vienna, Bratislava, and Salzburg.
After a 7 a.m. flight to Budapest, Ellie and I began our journey. After finding the hostel where we’d be staying, we decided to start exploring the area. We walked to the main street near our hostel and were immediately taken by all of the Christmas lights. Then we strolled to St. Stephen’s Basilica where we found a Christmas market. Even though I was the coldest I’d ever been, we stopped and sampled a traditional Hungarian pastry called kürtőskalács (stove cake), which originated in Transylvania. It’s a piece of dough that is wrapped around a wooden cylinder and baked on an open fire. Our pastries were dipped in sugar and chocolate which was caramelized. After eating our goodies, which were a deal at just 800 forint and totally worth the wait in the cold, we went back to the hostel for some much-needed rest.Salzburg Xmas market & Bratislava Castle
The next day was definitely one to remember. We woke up early in the morning and took the subway to Szechenyi Baths — one of the most famous baths in Budapest. First, we got into the outdoor swimming pools which were pretty warm. It looked as though they were steaming because it was so cold outside. One of the pools had a fast current that carried you around in a circle. Then we tried to figure out how to get into the thermal baths. We went into the sauna for several minutes and then ran back outside into the cold. The sauna had warmed and dried our skin enough that it was tolerable, so we experienced a few of the thermal baths. Finally, we reached the room that contained the medicinal baths. The water is from a natural source and contained quite a bit of algae. Once we got in we didn’t want to get out — we stayed in both of the extremely warm baths for a long time.
After leaving the baths, equipped with sweaters, fuzzy socks, not very warm shoes, and backpacks, we hit the trail again. We jumped on the subway and visited the Danube River. The view across the river was breathtaking — the architecture of Budapest was the most unique I’ve seen. We crossed the famous Chain Bridge and made our way to Castle Hill. The path was long and icy but we made it to the top. The river was even more beautiful from the top of Castle Hill where we saw the Royal Palace, Vienna Gate, Fishermen’s Bastion, and Matthias Church. After getting some lunch at a food stand near the palace, we made the trek to the subway station. After a five-hour delay, we were finally on our way to Bratislava, Slovakia.
We were expecting to arrive in Bratislava around 6 p.m., but we got lost trying to find the hostel with just directions and no map. Since it was snowing heavily when we got there, we took the bus to a stop that was close to our hostel. We arrived just before midnight — so happy to finally be at the hostel!
Ellie and I were a bit skeptical about how much we would have to do in the city of Bratislava. So we got up early the next day to see what we could find. Since we had arrived so late the day before, we had to do all of our sightseeing in the morning. We left the hostel and started walking towards a castle. It was still snowing — a real winter wonderland. For breakfast we had (much needed) espressos and croissants, and then continued sightseeing. First we went to Bratislava Castle, which we had seen in the distance when we arrived the night before. The path to the spectacular building was quite snowy, but we hiked our way to the top of the hill to see the castle. We were the only people, much less tourists, in sight. The castle, as well as the views of the Danube River from on high, were stunning.Merry Xmas sign in Vienna
After seeing the castle, we walked back down the hill to the Old Town. Here we saw the opera, several beautiful churches, and a Christmas market. At this point we were famished, so we ate lunch at the Christmas market. We had sandwiches that contained tender grilled chicken, mustard, and caramelized onions — absolutely delicious! We walked around a bit more then decided to head off to Vienna. Overall, Bratislava really surprised me. It was a vibrant and beautiful city that I enjoyed immensely.
Vienna was just a short train ride away. We decided to do most of our sightseeing that afternoon and evening so that we’d have plenty of time in Salzburg the next day. We walked down the street near our hostel and headed to Museum Quarter and the Ring Tram which encircles most of Vienna’s famous sights. On the way, Ellie and I bought giant pastries from a street vendor. Then we quickly made it to Museum Quarter and found a Christmas market near the Natural History Museum. It was big but we weren’t expecting to see what we would find next.
We saw lots of lights in the distance so we decided to keep walking. I think we’ve become professional Christmas market finders because we stumbled upon the largest and most famous Christmas market in Vienna — Wiener Christkindlmarkt. It was right in front of the Rathaus, which serves as the seat for the mayor and city government of Vienna. It was gorgeous — my favorite sight of our entire trip. We spent quite awhile there. I had roasted cashews and apfel punsche in a cute mug, while Ellie ate some roasted potato wedges. It was definitely not a balanced dinner, but it was very tasty!
After enjoying the Christmas market and everything it had to offer, we continued exploring the area. We saw some amazing theaters and churches as well as the parliament building. We were tired after sightseeing and traveling all day, so we headed back to the hostel. The next morning we stopped at a cafe for bagels and lattes. After our quick breakfast we walked to see Schonbrunn Palace, one of the most famous sights in Vienna. We walked around quite a bit. After an amazing day and night in Vienna, quite possibly my favorite city, we boarded the train at 9:40 a.m. and embarked on our journey to Salzburg.Schonbrunn Palace
After sleeping and resting on the three-hour train ride to Salzburg, we arrived at the birthplace of Mozart. After settling in at our hostel, we rode the tram back to Mirabell Gardens and explored the place. This was the garden where the song “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music was filmed. It was very snowy but extremely beautiful. After that we decided to follow the walking path that the hostel had suggested. It led us all around the city of Salzburg. We saw lots of beautiful churches and stopped in a Mozart candy store (where we bought Mozartkugeln — I can’t say I’m a fan). Some of my favorite things in Salzburg were the views from the bridges crossing the Salzach River, where you can see all of the stunning architecture as well as the beauty of the city in the winter. Fortunately, we were able to find the cutest Christmas market and spend some time there.
Eventually we got so cold that we decided it was time for dinner. The map from the hostel had a few suggestions so we chose one of them, Paste e Vino, an Italian Restaurant. Even though we had to sit right in front of the door, it was a very charming restaurant. We had homemade pasta complete with a cream sauce, pumpkin, and bacon. We finished off the meal with a delicious tiramisu. Since we had survived our entire trip, we splurged on our last night. It was definitely worth it! Afterwards we walked back to the hostel and went to sleep before heading home the next morning.
The following day, we took the tram to the tiniest airport I’d ever seen. We flew from Salzburg to Koln, Germany, then to London Stansted, and finally back to Glasgow. After a week of traveling around four fantastic cities, I was happy to be back in the Scottish city that I knew and loved so much.
by Julie Springate ’14, currently participating in the Centre-in-Scotland study abroad program. Learn more about study abroad in Scotland.
PHOTOS (top to bottom): The Szchenyi Baths in Budapest, an outdoor Christmas market in Salzburg, Bratislava Castle, a “Merry Christmas” sign in Vienna, and posing for a photo outside Schonbrunn Palace.

By |2012-12-13T16:04:58-05:00December 13th, 2012|News, Study Abroad, Travel Journals - Scotland|