Sunday, August 30, 2015

2015 Vienna Vacation

This was a difficult year with more health issues than usual and a lot of work that left us tired and in no mood for adventures, so we decided to go somewhere close and familiar. We chose Vienna. We had been there before, but it was a short stay and I felt we could have used more time to see more.

Based on our past experience, we tried to schedule our vacation as early in August as possible to ensure we’d have good weather. With the unusually hot summer we had this year, things looked promising when we booked the apartment several weeks in advance. There was one cold week all summer, and it turned out that was the one we picked. Bummer. At least we didn’t get rained on, but more on this later. The apartment we stayed in the last time wasn’t available any longer, but we found one even closer to the Ring on the east side, right next to the Belvedere Garden. But more on this later, too. 

So here we were, the usual suspects (we'll keep their names secret to protect the innocents, hehe): my mom (MM), my dad (MD), little brother (LB) and yours truly. The same car, plus one GPS and the roof box, and a trunk full of food. As usual, these are random thoughts about our vacation and the places and things we've seen, non-edited (editors, stay away!), and most likely politically incorrect. :P OK, let’s get on with the show!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

It must have been a record as we managed to get into the car and be ready to go by 9 AM. Granted, MM had the previous week off and I had scheduled our departure for Sunday on purpose for MD to have the Saturday off so we could all be ready on time.

We followed the usual route – Pascani, Tg. Neamt, Toplita, Reghin, Cluj, Oradea – curious to see what had changed since we skipped a year. The scenery is nice and the roads aren’t too bad, except for the segment between Cluj and Oradea that used to be full of holes and now is full of patches which isn’t an improvement as big as it might sound.

LB drove the whole way and did just fine. We stopped in Reghin to buy cakes and then we made a pause to eat. Another stop in Cluj to get more cakes and drinks. It was hot and the A/C worked on and off, but it wasn’t as hot as I had feared it would be. The sun was still up when we arrived to Lyra Hotel in Oradea. The only problem was our music selection turned out to be too short. Well, it would have been longer if LB had copied the musicals I had on the list, but he skipped those without adding anything in their place.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Our car had been beeping for years with no obvious reason, but MD choose this day to worry so he and LB took the car to the service for a checkup in the morning. Some part was replaced and then they returned to have breakfast together. The lady who used make a mean omelet wasn’t working there and since the prices had doubled since our last visit (the hotel is listed on now), we decided we wouldn’t return there.

Because of the rainy forecast and not wanting LB to drive through rain for his first time on a highway, we didn’t go through Debrecen but through Szolnok. Nevertheless, we still got caught by the rain – it always seems to happen when we cross Hungary – and for about fifteen minutes it was so bad we could barely see the car in front. LB claimed he didn’t mind. By the way, the car still beeped despite the repairs.

We stopped at a rest stop to eat, and the GPS lost the signal and failed to get it back for quite some time. Since we were early and had announced our arrival time for 18:00, we made another stop at Pandorf, the commercial center we kept talking about checking out for years but kept missing the exit. It was sunny but windy so we froze in between stores. We weren’t blown away by the prices and we didn’t really have time to check everything, but LB did find a perfume for himself. We headed back to the car when the army of black clouds caught up with us.

The GPS started working when we left the parking lot, and we made it to the apartment without a problem. The problems began after we got there. The elevator broke just when we entered the building so we had to carry our luggage up three flights of stairs. The boys hurried to take the car to the Erdberg P + R Parking since we couldn’t leave it in the street, and MM and I called the building manager and reported the problem. The mechanic came and fixed the elevator, and we were unpacking our stuff and preparing to fix dinner when LB called to ask for directions because they got lost on the way back. We had the wi-fi password, but I discovered I didn’t know the passwords for neither the laptop nor the tablet, and I didn’t know where the maps were packed. In the end, they found their way back on their own.

And so we started our first feast with instant soup. We never eat that at home, we prefer homemade food, but always seem to crave it while on a trip. The apartment was nice, big, with lovely dark-red parquet and colorful prints on the walls. The mattresses were only moderately okay, and it got really hot at night, but when sleeping with the windows open, it got really noisy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Dark and rainy and surprise, surprise the elevator wasn’t working. The guy who did the cleaning in the building – also a Romanian – told us it had been like this all weekend, so after calling in to report it (one rude lady dare to hung up on me when I explained our problem) we took the stairs and went out.

It started to rain and stopped before we reached the Ring, but I got to wear my Amsterdam bought raincoat for ten minutes or so. No rain after that, but it was cold enough to be unpleasant while not quite freezing. MD had forgotten to pack his jacket so he had to borrow one of LB’s coats. I borrowed MM’s jacket as it fared the wind better than mine.

We stuck to the Ring for the first day, revisiting the old sights. Stephansdom looked much better. It used to be mostly black and dirty, but now most of the walls had been cleaned up and the roof looked new and shiny. Bonus, the square has stopped smelling of horse manure as the horses have been relocated near the Hoffburg.

I had feared I would find everything looking aged, but the buildings were well preserved and still looking good. Many of them were undergoing repairs – they have work there for decades and more. We walked on the two pedestrian streets, Kartner and Graben, and explored the border of the Danube.

We returned to the apartment cold and tired, and of course, the elevator wasn’t working. We called again, and after much debate, we were offered an apartment on the first floor. It meant packing up everything, including the soup, and moving, but one flight of stairs was better than three despite the spiral staircase remaining a nightmare.

The new apartment was a little smaller but similar in layout and furniture. The entertainment factor had increased tenfold as we were window to window with a gym. So we turned our chairs and watched people work out while we ate.

Too tired to go out again, LB and I watched a couple of episodes of Falling Skies season 3 – not really impressed with the way the story is going – while MM and MD rested then LB had the third floor apartment all to himself for the night.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Dark and cloudy on a rainy morning. No working elevator. We waited for the rain to stop and then went out to visit Vienna International Center. We had seen it before but in a hurry and at nightfall. We debated taking the metro to get there, but MM insisted we walked. It only took us a little over an hour, and I don’t recommend crossing the Danube by foot during strong wind. New buildings had been added, and it looked really good. I wouldn’t mind living there. :)

While the boys took photos, MM and I entered a Bipa and Billa store to warm up. Then we walked farther to Donau Center. A bit of shopping, MD found a suit and LB a jacket, and we had no more strength to go farther than that. I voted for taking the train back, and the rest weren’t unhappy with it. The elevator leading to the platform wasn’t working so I got to use the escalator for the first time in years. We rode to Stephanplatz and from there we walked home.

More soup, gym, and Falling Skies in the evening.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Still cold so we decided to spend a couple of hours in a museum until it warmed up a little. We did one museum per day during our previous stay in Vienna which meant there weren’t many that would interest us left. On the way to downtown, we entered Belvedere Winter Palace – really nice entrance hall though a little busy – took one look at the stairs and turned around, preferring the sun that was just coming out.

We did visit Albertina Museum – elevators’ heaven, starting with the one outside, the three-door one inside, and the small ones in between mid levels. One thing we forgot, it’s usually cold inside museum and not warm, but I was bundled up like going to the North Pole so I didn’t mind. I didn’t care that much for any of the current exhibitions. I truly liked maybe a Cezanne, a Miro, and a Renoir. And I decided I really didn’t care for Klee’s work. I did like the entrance hall, the museum as a whole, and my favorite part were the Hoffburg Staterooms. I felt like in an Alexandre Dumas novel. Those should not be missed!

We walked some more around downtown, and then we wanted to visit the Belvedere Gardens since the weather was turning nice. Unfortunately, we entered the Schwarzenberg Palace’s yard first, and by the time we figured out there was no way to pass through to get to the other side and walked around to the real gate, it got too late and the gardens closed so we went home a little disappointed.

Dinner plus watching the activity in the gym – MM kept commenting on how one particular instructor had no idea what she was doing – we finished watching Falling Skies, and then I did some reading as I had brought along a couple of Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga books just in case.

Friday, August 21, 2015

From this day on, the weather improved and the elevator worked. Since we really enjoy open markets and we check them out everywhere we go, we went to Naschmarkt. Interesting market laid in the middle of the street, with the Secession building on one end and Majolica House on the side. One aisle with restaurant and terraces, one with foods, and clothes on the side. Next to a kiosk, on a board it was written “No free wi-fi. Talk to each other. Call your mom.” Many seeds, dried fruits, and teas – their smells overpowered everything else.

We walked along Mariahilffer Strasse all the way to the train station and a little past that. If we had continued that way for another thirty minutes we would have made it to Schonbrunn Palace, but we didn’t think about it. We entered a few stores but didn’t buy anything as usual. No, wait, LB found two pairs of sunglasses. Good timing since his broke later that day. I liked the glass elevator. :) On the way back, it had gotten hot enough for an ice cream. Then while walking along the Ring, we checked a couple of souvenir shops. Unfortunately, the one displaying Rosina Watchmeister cat statues in the window was closed.

This time, we didn’t miss the Belvedere Gardens. We entered by the gate on our street and went all the way to the other end. The garden between the palaces looked unkempt and had fewer flowers than we remembered. The garden from the big entrance looked better. We rested on the steps until the sun went down and then headed home.

We took Capoeira lessons from our neighbors, and then I read some.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Best weather, I didn’t have to wear a sweater. We went back to Naschmarkt and crossed it to get to the flea market at the other end. I’m sorry to say it, but it was the worst flea market we had ever been to. LB and I went ahead, and once we were done checking all the tables, we waited outside. In the sun, it was too hot, but in the shade, it was too cold, so we ended up calling MM twice to hurry.

Grumbling because of the long wait, we returned to the Ring and raided the souvenir shops to get gifts for people at home. With our backpack filled, we entered downtown to check out the biggest souvenir store and the two Swarovski stores.

Next on the list were the two Hundertwasser Houses. The one with a lot of black on the façade still looked ok, but the colors were faded on the bigger and prettier one. It’s seriously time for some restoration work to be done.

We hurried back to find a grocery store open and get ice cream and apple strudel while there was still time because the stores were closed on Sunday.

Capoeira at home during dinner, we had enough food left for one more day, and then we went out again.

This was the only day we went out in the evening, and it was great. A walk on Kartner and Graben, sitting on a bench near the horse and hussar statues at sunset, and then we went to see the Rathause and the lights. Or at least this was the plan. While we moved from one street to the next, attracted like moths by the light, and checked out passages and galleries, we took a wrong turn somewhere because instead of reaching the west side of the Ring, we ended up by the water in the north-east – quite embarrassing for veteran tourists like us!

By then it had gotten late so we postponed the Rathause for the following day. It was the best day of the whole trip as far as I’m concerned.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

What do Viennese people do on Sunday? The old city was deserted at 11 AM, and hungovered tourists appeared only on Kartner and Graben. We took no chances missing the Rathause so we went to the Danube and from there returned south on the west side of the Ring.

The Rathause looked a little darker than I remembered. It will probably turn black in a decade or so, but some walls were undergoing repairs so there’s still hope for it. Bleaches were installed for some music and film festival, and we sat for a bit until the strong wind chased us away. Despite being sunny and not the coldest day, it did feel so because of the wind.

We continued south along the Ring, passed by the Parliament – it still looked good – and then entered Museum Quartier. MM and I worked on our tan on some plastic benches while the boys checked out an architecture exhibition.

MD got hungry so he bought some terrible triangle sandwiches. Another tourist passing on them should have tipped us off, but I wasn’t there when MB put them in the basket. We ate them plus some really good chocolate covered biscuits on the Hoffburg steps because there were no unoccupied benches in Maria Theresien Platz, in between the two big museums.

We spent the rest of the day walking inside the Ring, I think we learned every little corner by heart, one last trip to the Danube where we enjoyed the sun for a bit. And then the wind sent us away – that and the adolescent couple putting on an X-rated show on a bench nearby.

At the apartment, we packed our luggage, looked for places to spend the night back in Romania, and turned in early.

Monday, August 24, 2015

While LB and MD went to bring the car, MM and I brought our stuff downstairs. We loaded the car and took off at 9 AM. The GPS worked only until we left our street. After that we had to pay attention to the road signs, which made LB panic a little since he was driving.

We were all fed up with the road between Oradea and Cluj, so MD and MM insisted to take another route since we weren’t going to stop in Oradea anyway. Instead of Szolnok, we passed by Szeged and headed to Arad. I didn’t see the point of driving 100 km extra on our roads, but I didn’t mind going through some towns I hadn’t seen before.

Around 4 PM, we crossed the Romanian border and discovered we did have a bit of highway. We drove on it until Arad, so that’s still something, I guess. The GPS woke up and took us to what it claimed to be the city center, but it clearly wasn’t. We didn’t have time to look for it so we continued our trip. What I did see of Arad, I didn’t like.

We made a lunch break on the side of the road, and a beggar came out of the woods to search through the trash bins. When MD gave him some money, he said he was hoping for food because he slept on a mattress in the woods – he wasn’t lying – so MM make him a sandwich and gave him one of our water bottles. We couldn’t help with the cigars as none of us smokes.

Deva I did like with its Dacian fortress up on the hill that could be seen from anywhere in town. Most roads were undergoing repair works which was great for the locals but not so great for visitors.
I also liked Alba Iulia, the little we saw of it anyway.

We stopped for gas and there were still a couple of hours of light left so we decided to keep going.

Teius is a nice village, and I remember thinking the locals must be rich since all the houses looked so good.

We passed by Blaj, I don’t remember anything worth mentioning there, and once it got dark, we started looking for a place to stay. We made it as far as Tarnaveni. There with the help of the GPS and the phone, we located two hotels, Iris and Trei Brazi. We tried Trei Brazi first, way up on a twisted narrow street, but the place looked and smelled bad and there were stairs so we tried our luck at Iris. We had to circle the block twice to find the entrance, but it had a guarded parking so we didn’t have to unload the car, and miracle, we even got rooms on the ground floor.

Rustic furniture so not exactly my style, but it was clean and the rooms were big. I had to cut our dinner short because my lower lip suddenly doubled in size. I suspect it was an allergic reaction to a new brand of humus (LB’s really into it, me not so much) combined to dehydration and chapped lips because of the wind.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The lip was fine in the morning, but we had slept poorly on the bad mattresses so we were still tired. After a quick stop to buy something to eat, we started on our last leg of the journey.

Really bad roads after Tarnaveni for several villages. Praid looked popular, lots o places to stay there. Bad roads again in the Gheorgheni area. It’s a shame because it’s a nice area otherwise. Things got really complicated when we entered the mountains. The twists and turns seemed like they were never going to end, and after a day spent sitting in the car, everything hurt already.

Lacu Rosu (The Red Lake) and Cheile Bicazului (a narrow pass between tall mountains) is a spectacular area, lots of tourists. Oddly enough, the only radio station working there was the church radio so we turned it off, feeling we exceeded our prayer quota each evening while heading to the apartment and hoping the elevator would work.

Good roads after that. I liked Piatra Neamt, we got a little lost there, and then we were on familiar territory, passing through Roman and arriving to Iasi where grandma was waiting for us with French fries. We had been longing for those.

Final thoughts:

I was miffed about the weather (I had a bag full of short sleeve blouses I didn’t get to wear, and in all photos I appear wearing the same sweater, pah!), the stupid elevator (we never had such a bad luck before, and especially in Vienna where I was so taken with the metro elevator the first time around, it even inspired one of my stories), and losing the initial apartment (we should have asked for a discount, but we didn’t think about it).

All these put aside, Vienna remains gorgeous no matter what, and we had a good time. I’m glad we didn’t spend so much time using the metro or staying inside museums like we did the first time and we got to see more of the city instead. My only regret is that we didn’t get to visit Salzburg the way we had initially planned, but the weather and the elevator conspired against us. Well, another time…

No idea where we’re going next year, but you can count on another vacation diary for sure. See you then!

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