June 28, 2016
Vienna (Wein), Austria
(Continued. Note: This is an excerpt from my journal entries, which were written during my travels.)
Such a delay in writing–and surely for no reason other than laziness and relaxing into the pace of being here.
When I left off, I did indeed eat at the buffet. The owner, a portly, middle-aged woman (thought EU portly, not US portly) helped me through the process, handing me a tray and pointing to silver. I selected a slice of bread, roasted pork, potatoes and a mixed salad of tomatoes, onion and cukes. So good! And so satisfying–I wasn’t hungry for hours and hours.
I wandered toward a domed church in a direction I had not yet gone, walking on a pedestrian path. I took so many photos, then with the heat being incredibly oppressive (88F according to my iPod, though it felt hotter and very humid), went to a grocery store with a large K on it, for air conditioning and to explore. I bought a small seed bun from the beautiful array of breads, instant coffee packets for my train trip, hard sweet candies and water. And I stopped in the pharmacy for some aspirin. The pharmacist asked what it was for, I said headache–nearly crippling for three days, though I did not mention that. I’ve been assuming it is related to dehydration due to the crazy heat and getting too much sun, but now in retrospect it could be caffeine withdrawal? Or perhaps both.
I observed people dining at the “grill” outside the grocery: tall tables, no chairs, people eating sliced sausages with a toothpick. It was served with a small amount of mustard on the side. They seemed to have cevapi, grilled sausages which I remembered from travels in Bosnia, but there was a line and I wasn’t hungry, so I continued on. I saw a mall or plaza in the distance and headed there with dreams of aircon and maybe a movie theater–which seem to be housed in these behemoths in Europe! I was in luck! But first, I used some free mall wifi to check messages…all good on the homefront.
I bought a ticket to the only show available at that time slot: Secret Agents. It was in English with Romanian subtitles. So surprisingly funny! I ate my seed bun and drank water during the show, then took 1/2 of the crazy aspirins. Afterward, I checked wifi again, then headed back toward the Old Town area. I took a shower to cool down at the hotel, chatted with the female owner and told her via Google Translate that I needed a cab to the “treino” at 3:45 a.m. Though there was a language barrier, we broke through it (Thank you, Google Translate!!!) and she set up the cab for me, good woman. She’d been watching television, sitting at a table in the restaurant which was otherwise empty, eating peaches or nectarines out of big silver bowl. Snacking in Romania.
I showered and cooled down, and having finished my book, strode to the Old Town with thoughts of dinner. I settled on a place called The Mustache–had pork schnitzel with potatoes/fries, and a mixed salad of shredded cabbage, cukes, and slices of some of the best tomatoes ever, and red peppers, topped with vinegar and oil.
All was delicious! I took a lactose pill just in case the batter had milk. Oh, and I had a single mug of Ursus beer. It was fun to people watch.
I went back to the hotel and packed everything up so that I would have minimal work to do in the morning: just change clothes and grab my stuff. I zonked out and two seconds later, it seemed, the iPod alarm went off.
The taxi arrived on time, and the driver spoke no English. I had spent a good amount of time worried about whether to get extra Romanian dollars. The taxi on the way to the hotel had been something like 26 lei. But there were so many x-factors! Was it peak rates? Would there be a surcharge for an early ride? Would he take a slightly longer route? I didn’t want to withdraw more lei, knowing I was leaving the country. So I crossed my fingers and hoped. The rate came up as T2, assuming for off hours/night and the total was virtually the same. Whew. I tried to give him everything I had: 32 lei, but he refused the 2 lei tip, so I left the country with the equivalent of 50 cents in my pocket, U.S.
Note the that the Baia Mare train station is foreboding at 4 a.m. No homeless, only travelers. Still. It reeks of urine and is covered with graffiti, and it’s dark. It seemed safe, though it looked sinister at the early hour. Just be aware.
The train arrived to much musical fanfare over the loudspeaker–it made me laugh out loud, which I am sure drew some stares. It just seemed to incongruous in that grungy, graffiti-covered, pee-stinking station, at 4 a.m. with four or five of us standing in wait.
The staffer on board was clearly just waking: puffy-eyed with thick eyebrows and a big smile. He and I chatted as best we could with help from Google Translate, as neither of us spoke the other’s language. He told me he had a farm and a family, a wife and two kids. He’s 48. He showed me video of his goats running around, jumping on cars and dancing as goats do. So wonderful! I thought of my dear friend Beth and her love of goats.
He pinched my cheeks twice. I think he took a liking to me! Eventually he had to work–people came aboard in Satu Mare and his day of checking tickets was in full swing. He disembarked at the border without a word. I did get a photo of us when it was still early, still dark.
By Satu Mare the day’s light had crept in and I could again see the fields of sunflowers and corn and the funky water towers–like a ball on a stick, looming, concrete-looking things. We stopped again at the dodgy, rundown train stations of Romania. Romantically shabby. I watched a horse-drawn trailer turn down a dirt road in one town, as people disembarked and walked with their humble bags toward home.
In Satu Mare, a distinguished-looking gentleman joined me in my car. He carried a soft sided briefcase with wording on it, rather official looking with a seal imprinted upon it, and a suit bag. He asked me something and was delighted that I spoke English as it gave him an opportunity to practice his.
He was a violin instructor for 10-year-olds, and a customs agent. He lived in Hungary but was visiting his mother in Satu Mare, Romania. At the border he presented a card, and the agents all made a sound like surprise or recognition or wonder when he presented it to them. He was so nice, translating as others joined us in the car. He simply could not believe I was traveling through Europe alone. It blew his mind.
Later I found that this would be very rare for Hungarian women (as told by my Austrian host, Balazs). Women there simply do not travel alone.
I transferred in Debrecen, Romania and we parted ways. I was sorry to see him go and got to shake his hand and tell him it was a pleasure to meet him. Some people you meet on the road you wish you had the chance to know better; but it is a part of the journey to meet them, share with them, and then, let them go.
I switched trains successfully, and sat across from a blonde, middle-aged lady wearing pearls, who read the whole way. Young teens next to me plucked on their iPads and iPhones. A model-handsome male teen with shocking blue eyes rode with someone who appeared to be his mother. I watched the world go by outside my window, as well as the world within the train.
I disembarked at the North Train Station in Budapest, (Nyugati Palyaudvar) then took the subway to the train station across town (Keleti Palyaudvar). I had an hour or so to wait, so busied myself with food. I had no Hungarian currency and was just passing through, so I considered the hard boiled eggs I’d cooked up before I left Hungary initially–and tossed them. A waste, but my American sensibilities would not allow me to eat them as they’d been cooked and unrefrigerated for days. I ate an apple and almonds instead as I waited for the platform assignment for my Railjet train to Vienna, Austria. I checked email via wifi, there wasn’t much going on, which I suppose is good. I got the go ahead to board, the floors freshly mopped on the train (!). Found I had been assigned a car and seat–located those and settled in. OMG the most uncomfortable seats since the buses from New York’s Chinatown to Boston. The base came up mid-thigh with arm rests that were equally as short…no foot rest…and head rests that scoop forward. I was terribly uncomfortable for 2.5 hours. With a rider next to me, it was very tight.
Police walked through the train, back and forth throughout the trip, three and four of them in gear, walking in a row, checking on what everyone was up to. My Vienna host said later that the police are watching for Syrian refugees.
I listened to my iPod and checked wifi with better success than on the previous trains. Blonde twin girls in matching pink dresses and their older brother played with plastic horses on their tray table, then disembarked before Vienna.
I began to get nervous when the train seemed to be running late or that I’d missed my stop, as we were well past the expected arrival time. Then I noticed my iPod had not yet updated for the time change from Romania to Hungary. So I still had 40 minutes left to suffer in the stylish, but uncomfortable train.
My host, Balazs, met me at the train station, gave me a map of his neighborhood and a subway map, helped me buy a ticket and got me on the right train before he headed to work to continue his 12-hour day. So nice. He really went out of his way for me.
I found my way to the flat with no issues–scenes of Vienna flying by. I was hot and sweaty and surely smelly from the twin perils of travel and unwashed clothes. I was ready to shower. I found the apartment and had to peek around to find the bathroom and my bedroom, which was so chic and beautiful! White walls, black and white decor, pink bedding and photos of New York. Lovely!
Got my bearings, showered, changed, and went in search of a grocery. I walked several blocks past cafes and businesses, then found a little mall. Stopped at a store called Billa, picked up a seeded baguette, broccoli, san marzano tomatoes, fresh mushrooms, wine, sausages and a dark mars candy bar. It came to just over $20 Euro. Toto, we aren’t in Romania anymore. Went back to the flat, but since I’d been up since 3:30 a.m. Romanian time, I was pooped.
Decided to eat bread and nuts and drink wine rather than cook. Wise choice!
At long last my host returned from work. He cooked a beautiful stir fry and salad, both with cheese, and poured himself a glass of wine. We chatted for a long time–he is so fascinating! He offered recommendations and at last I had to go to bed. Slept like a baby!
Got up yesterday morning and took a while to get going. My frenetic pace has slowed knowing I am staying here several days. I made myself some instant coffee; they have a water kettle like ours at home. I cooked one of the sausages, with broccoli and tomatoes and had that for breakfast. Figured it would carry me through sightseeing. Downloaded Rick Steves’ walking tours of Vienna, plotted my subway journey and headed out.
Had difficulty finding the Opera, as I was staring at a building I *thought* was the Opera, and the walking tour was to begin there. In reality, the tour began blocks away. Ugh. Was lovely exploring, but so very frustrating. At last I found the starting spot and walked the tour, which included the Opera House, Cafe Sacher, (Rick Steves pronounced it like “soccer” but it is more like “sazhah” according to Balazs, who had a good laugh over it.) Had the famous Sacher torte–chocolate cake with apricot filling, a side of whipped cream and a double espresso. Lovely. Worth the lactaids, but the price tag? $12 Euro plus tip.
Continued down the pedestrian boulevard Kartner Strasse, where expensive shops, touristy kitch and street performers meet. Missed a turn or two in the tour, but found my way to Stephensplatz, where a beautiful cathedral stood. Stepped inside–there were no lights, but the art and the cathedral itself were very pretty. Stepped to Kohlmarkt where the highest end stores live, then Michaelerplatz. The square looks upon Hofburg Palace with four statues of Hercules wrestling with his greatest challenges. Roman Vienna peered through where the ground had been cut away–fascinating.
I walked through the Hofburg Palace grounds, then beyond, to a plaza where a hippy-esque man in a ponytail made bubbles with two sticks tied with strings. For tips. It struck me as an odd way to make ends meet. But, who am I to judge?
(More to come on Vienna and the rest of my journey throughout Eastern Europe! Stay tuned.)
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to her clients.
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.