Today started in a bustling Hungarian metropolis and ended in a quiet Austrian village. Along the way we had a few surprises.
By 8:30 am we had showered, eaten breakfast, and were on our way with Majella driving. It was necessary to cross the Danube on our drive to Austria so we did get to Buda briefly. On the way across the river we had a closer view of the palace from a different angle but then we were into suburbia and away across the rolling countryside toward the border. As we got further from the city we passed several areas with large clusters of wind turbines.
Around 10:00 am we stopped for coffee at a highway service centre. After paying for that I still had a bit more than 5000 forints (about $25) left so, rather than lose on conversion to euro, Majella used it to buy some items that might be small gifts or souvenirs.
At the border crossing we were stopped. Passport check was no problem but we had failed to buy the vignette required for driving on the Hungarian motorways. We had seen signs about tolls but my checking on the web had failed to clarify the mystery of how the system works beyond that it used identification of registration numbers. There were no visible toll booths or other obvious invitations to pay. That was a slightly expensive lesson since driving on the motorway without a vignette attracts a fine. The total cost to get away from the Hungarian border point was a bit more than 14000 forint (about $70). That compares to less than 3000 forint (about $15) to buy the vignette for 10 days. I wonder if keeping it low profile is a more lucrative source of funding than encouraging purchase by foreigners.
The Austrians have a similar system but are more visible about it. To get out of the border crossing we had to drive past a sales point for an Austrian vignette. I bought a 10 day vignette for 9 euros. As Majella drove on I did some checking and discovered that the Czech system is similar so we will be buying their vignette tomorrow.
Our reason for going via Austria and Vienna rather than Bratislava in Slovakia is that Majella wanted to visit the Belvedere Palace in Vienna. We had visited Vienna with Joel in 2008 when I attended EdMedia Conference while Majella and Joel played tourist. We had walked in the grounds of the Belvedere one afternoon but was closed and Majella was unable to see the works by Gustav Klimt and other artists on that occasion. This was our chance to close that gap.
The GPS directed us to the area of the Belvedere but, as is common in large cities, parking is a challenge. We drove around the large block that the Belvedere sits on, missed one parking station, and found a space in a street where others seemed to be parked. I would have opted for a standard parking station where, even if it cost a bit more, I would have flexibility with time. Majella asked somebody in the street and found that parking permits could be bought from a tobaccanist store. The first we tried did not sell them but sent us on to another where she was able to buy a 2 hour permit. I was not at all confident that we could walk to the Belvedere, negotiate whatever queue might be there, see the artworks, and return in that time.
My iPhone gave walking directions for a kilometre or more but we had seen signs a little way back and a look at the map suggested we could shortcut through the botanical gardens. We did that, with Majella asking more directions along the way, and arrived to find the queue for the Belvedere tickets mercifully short. We saw the iconic kiss by Klimt and a variety of other works by him and other artists across the centuries. Artists represented included Monet, Manet, and van Gogh as well as a host of less well known, at least to us, painters and sculptors.
The Belvedere building is large and a work of art in its own right. We spent a few minutes debating whether the ceiling in a large central room was purely trompe-l’oeil (deceive the eye) or had some real components. I argued for trompe-l’oeil but it took a few minutes before Majella would agree with me.
We walked back to the car with enough time to spare to go and eat lunch in a local cafe. After that Majella walked back to the car to ensure we were not clamped like the one a few metres down the street from us while I went to replenish my stock of euros. I’d been cleaned out when I paid the rent in Budapest but the 100 euro notes I got from the ATM will not be popular with retailers.
From Vienna we drove on an hour or so to find our lodging in Sitzenberg. We arrived at Gasthaus Schmid to find no sign of action. There was a sign indicating a midday break from 2:00 to 4:00 pm so we waited a while since it was just 4:00 pm. The bell brought no response so I called the number I had from Booking.com. Herr Schmid answered, seemed to be expecting us, and came out. His English was as limited as our German but I think the gasthaus was out of action for some reason and he was sending us to another. Majella followed as he drove a bit more than a kilometre to a house that advertised zimmers (rooms = bed and breakfast).
We were introduced to Alicja, our host for the night, who made us welcome and discussed arrangements for breakfast at 7:30 am. We established that she had come from Poland and were pleased that her English was better than what Herr Schmid seemed to have. Alicja asked about dinner and restaurants and then suggested that we go to a local place that was part of the heuriger tradition of Austria where a local winemaker serves new wine and food. We agreed to that and after her husband, Robert, had returned she drove us out at 6:00 pm. He had better English and we had some conversation with him before we left.
I had assumed that Alicja, and probably her husband, would eat there with us and then we would return. Instead she sat us at a table with a couple she did not know and suggested an item we might order for the menu. Then she said she would be back to collect us at 1 o’clock. Her English was better than my German but she meant in 1 hour rather than some time after midnight.
We sat, introduced ourselves to Ottmer and Miriam, and had drinks while making conversation as best we could with our very limited German and their slightly better English. Food arrived, cold meat, cheese and bread, and we enjoyed that. At some point I thought to pull out my iPhone with Google Translate and invited Ottmer to speak into it. I had 3G at the time and it did a reasonable job of translating. We managed some interesting conversation with limited German, English and Google. It turned out that Miriam was from Slovakia and worked as a cook. We thought that Ottmer worked in aged care. They invited us for drinks at their place but we were reluctant to run off before Alicja returned since she was our only way home other than following guidance from my iPhone to our parked car.
Alicja returned about 30 minutes later than she had suggested and some discussion ensued between her, Majella, and Ottmer. Eventually Alicja must have provided Ottmer with directions to her place and agreed that they would get us home. She left, we finished our drinks, and headed off with Ottmer and Miriam. By this time I was wondering what had gotten into Majella, other than the second glass of wine she had. Interesting possible scenarios played out in my mind and soon after we arrived at their place I had my iPhone calculate walking directions back to our parked car in case we should need to walk the 2 km home.
Ottmer and Miriam were delightful hosts and we enjoyed seeing their home and the renovations that were in train. He pulled out a bottle of local white wine that had won a gold medal and we drank that while sharing photographs of Majella’s quilts to compare with the knitting that Miriam produced. Ottmer’s hobby is gardening and he generously gave me some chili rated at 1.2 to 2 million Scoville units and bread to eat it with.
After we had consumed their bottle of wine we thought it was time to head home. Off we went but they made a detour to the tavern of Family Winter, another heurigen venue, where some of us had another glass of wine before heading home. Ottmer got us close to our abode for the night and I managed to fine tune that using my iPhone to navigate to our parked car.
We are home safe and sound after a much more adventurous evening than we had anticipated and at least one new Facebook friend. What will tomorrow bring?