Weekend Trips

Weekend Trip: Vienna

Posted by Strainu on May 09, 2013
From Bucharest / 2 Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road

Map

Many of the Romanians that go to Austria for ski or other forms of tourism choos to go by car. From Budapest to Vienna you only make about 3h on the highway, and from Bucharest to Budapest a maximum of 12 hours. It takes roughly the same ammount of time by bus.

You can also choose the train. The journey takes 20h and you have 3 trains every day: one direct trains and two trains via Budapest.

We chose the third way, the plane. Austrian has 5 daily flights and Tarom 1 or 2. That means you will find decent prices even with a few days before the flight. The flight time is 1h45 – less than the ground checks (as you know, airlines recommend arriving at the airport 2h before the flight).

Even if the trip is a little long by car or train, the diversity is a good thing, earning the route a good score.

Rating: ★★★★½

Accommodation

Vienna has a huge diversity of hotels and even more flats you can rent. In past visits here I chose low-cost hotels near the railway station, but this time, we rented an apartment from govienna.net, one of the two from Quellenstrasse.

The apartment has scores pretty much OK on the Internet, but for us it was a disappointment. The building was in the Turkish neighborhood, but there were no issues except on the New Year’s Eve, when people were still throwing firecrackers at 3 or 4 A.M. when we returned from the city.

The exterior of the building looked decent, but the stairs were in really bad shape and the apartment had a weird smell. There was enough furniture for 4 people, but there were some weird stuff, like the window above the entrance door or the toilet which was separate from the bathroom.

Rating: ★★★½☆

What to see

St. Stephan’s Cathedral

Stephansdom is The Cathedral in Vienna. There are other churched in town, but this is by far the most interesting and probably the biggest.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The entrance is free and so is photography (but without flash). The interior seemd a little darker than other cathedrals from Europe, probably due to the fact that we went in winter. Still, this was helping to underline the beauty of the stained-glass windows.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Some details from the interior:
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

After finishing with the interior of the cathedral, we decided to pay up 4€ to clinb the south tower. Although the panorama is interesting, the horses from the place look much more interesting 🙂
Viena 2011-2012

Talking about the panorama, let’s look to the Prater…
Viena 2011-2012

…and then to the bells of the cathedral (can anyone translate the inscription?).
Viena 2011-2012

After descending from the tower, we stick around the cathedral waiting for noon. Why? We wanted to see the Anker clock.

The Anker clock

It was built between 1911-1917 and it is both a figurine clock, but also a bridge between the two parts of the Anker building. The 12 figurines move at 1/hour, except at noon, when they all go through the window in 10-15 minutes.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

We then went on for a stroll downtown, admiring the different monuments of the city.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

For lunch, we couldn’t miss the famous Wienerschnitzel:
Viena 2011-2012

Haus des Meeres Vivarium

Although recently returned from the Asia trip , where we saw a lot of zoos of all kinds, we thought it couldn’t hurt to compare them with the European zoos.

We weren’t going to visit the actual Vienna zoo untill the last day of our trip. Until then, we went for an evening visit to the Hous of the seas, a huge aquarium spreading on 7 floors.
Viena 2011-2012

As a matter of fact, they were not only hosting marine animals, but also species one would see in the desert or the jungle. Unfortunately the name of most of the species have slipped my mind.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

They had all kind of turtles, from the small ones like the one below to the huge, 100-kilos and 100-years-living ones.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The primates had their own artificial jungle spreading on 3 floors on one side of the building. Impressive!
Viena 2011-2012

Big turles…
Viena 2011-2012

The view from the roof.
Viena 2011-2012

The Opera

The Imperial Opera is another one of the buildings that every touristic guide recommends. The size is not really impressive, but the architectural details make up for that.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Interior

The really interesting part is the visit inside. The guided visits start around noon every dai, take about an hour and cost 6.5€ for the adults. The guide is avalable in multiple language, including, of course, English.

We started with the main hall. Note the 3 rows of loges. The first thing that attracted our attention was the scene: fortunately there were no rehearsals (hard on the 31st of December), so we would have full access to the backstage.
Viena 2011-2012

Detail of the concert hall.
Viena 2011-2012

My mom used to tell me that the really cool part of a theater is the stage, but I didn’t believe her. I changed my mind when I arrived on the Vienna Opera stage.

Imagine 5 floors of scaffolding, pulleys and ropes, all with a precise role in the movement of the stage elements. It was like being in a huge building site, the only thing missing being the workers on scaffolding whistling at the ladies below. 🙂

Viena 2011-2012

The rest of the buildng was not bad either, with ceilings comparable with the most beutiful palaces. Perhaps because the opera was one of the favorite pastimes of nobles from past centuries?

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The technical museum

As beautiful as old buildings may be, I still prefer technical stuff (professional bias, probably). I was very happy that the group I was with agreed to visit the Technical Museum. Ironically, it was also hosted in a huge Hapsburg palace, but with an entrance made of steel and glass.

Viena 2011-2012

Right after the entrance there was an area dedicated to interactive experiments meant to explain some simple physical fenomena. Unfortunately I was too busy playing so I took no pictures, but I should mention that this section had the same size as the whole Bucharest technical Museum.

We then went to the railway section. Unlike other technical museums I’ve seen, in Vienna the locomotives were not just shown, but they were cut open and illuminated in order to illustrate the various components.

Viena 2011-2012

The image below shows that Romania is much better off than 100 years ago: at the time we barely had a few steam locomotives, while Austria already had electric locomotives in service.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

One of the “hands-on” exhibits: a miniature solar park fueled by a lamp illustrated the energy you could produce.
Viena 2011-2012

Followed the factory and industrial products’ section.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

These bulbs are light-years away from LEDs 😀
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The last floor hosted the plane and car exhibition. Unfortunately, due to the lack of time, we went really fast through that floor.

We still saw some Steyrs…

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

…a Mercedes racecar (I think it was produces also by Steyr-Daimler)…
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

… and a beetle (I don’t remember the producer, but it seems another Steyr)
Viena 2011-2012

Below we have a Gräf și a few angines, all manufactured in Austria.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Prater

I don’t think the Praterul needs an introduction. In case you haven’t heard of it, you can start exploring from the Wikipedia article.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The City Hall

For the New Year’s Eve we went to the park in front of the city hall. I’m sorry I haven’t had the chance to visit the interior, but if you’re interested, you can find information about guided tours on the website.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Happy new year!
Viena 2011-2012

Schonbrunn

The last day was dedicated to Schonbrunn, including the park and zoo. Although the winter views are much less impressive than the palace in a sunny day, I still liked it better than Versailles, which apparently (I’m not 100% convinced) is the original inspiration for this palace.

Unfortunately, photos were forbidden in the palace, so I only have a few outside shots.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

The picture below is in fact from the Zoo, but the building was in the same style as all the other buildings from the gardens.
Viena 2011-2012

The Vienna Zoo

The Vienna Zoo is the oldest zoo in the world that is still functional (established in 1752). It hosts over 4600 animals from 480 species, including pandas and other endangered species.

In the late 80s it almost went bankrupt, but it was “privatized” (actually, a company owned by the city was created to administer the zoo) and with a smart private manager, it was saved. Sounds a lot like what is happening to some Romanian companies, expect for the “saved” part…

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

It was the first time we saw a Koala, even if we had hunted it throughout Asia.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Apparently not all marine animals were at Haus des Meeres.
Viena 2011-2012

The elephants were a little thin, but not as sad as the one from Bucharest (when it was still alive).
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Rating: ★★★★½

Food

You can try pork chops with beer, some ribs or even Chinese food. In this trip we trusted the recommendations found on the Interned ad we did not regret it – even if some restaurants are true food factoreis, with clients coming and going like on the assembly line, they don’t give up quality and keep the prices decent.
Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Viena 2011-2012

Alternatives

Any City Break in Europe will be exiting if you’re going there for the first time – just find a cheap plane ticket and go for it. Closer to Bucharest you have Budapest or Bratislava. If taking a plane, go for Prague, Warsaw or even Lyon and London.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

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Weekend Trip: Budapest

Posted by Strainu on March 06, 2013
From Bucharest / 1 Comment

Versiunea în română aici.

The road

Map

I thought I should start a series of trip reports from Central Europe with some pictures from a city-break in Budapest on December 1st (which is the Romanian National Day, making the date a bit ironic if you are a Romanian). There aren’t too many pictures because my camera passed away while being there.

Since WizzAir stopped serving the OTP-BUD trip, airline prices went up, so we decided to go by car. The trip takes about 11-12 hours unless you catch some big queue at the border crossing. We left at about 3 a.m. on fog and we arrived in a sunny Budapest, just in time to catch the afternoon rush hour. The queues were bigger that in Bucharest, but everybody (drivers, pedestrians and cyclists) was much more disciplined.


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr
Notă: ★★★★½

Accomodation

Usually, when going through Europe I search for hotels based on recommendations or I go with the big hotel chains, which offer virtually the same services no matter what country you’re in. This time, since we were 2 pairs, we thought it was more convenient to go with a 2 room rental apartment. We chose Lord Appartments, right in downtown Pesta, 3 minutes away from the Opera. The price was 120€/2 nights (+30€ for parking). The picture above is from the street we stayed on.

If you think the parking fee is expensive, you should know that throughout downtown Budapest you have to pay for parking, and rpices are quite high (up to 430 HUF – about 1,5 €/h). Once we got there we found out that parking in weekends is free, but given that the Lord parking was covered and guarded, I’d say it was worth paying for it.

Rating: ★★★½☆

What to see (in a day and a half)

After leaving the car at the appartment, we went for a stroll in Pesta.


Troleibuz Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr

Having enough of “road food”, we went on to teste some traditional Hungarian food in Liszt Ferenc square.


Gulaș Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Ceva mai puțin tradițional by strainu, on Flickr

Afterward, we went for the Christmas market in front of St. Istvan’s (or John) basilica.


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr

From there, you can quickly reach the Danube…


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr


Budapesta 2012 by strainu, on Flickr

The next day, due to the cold and the limited time, we decided to take one of the many tourist bus lines. Since we wanted to pay by card, we got a “bonus” walk to the company’s headquarters in the inner court of a beautiful Art Nouveau building.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012
Opera din Budapesta by strainu, on Flickr

The bus leaves from the center on Andrassy st., the ex-central boulevard of Pesta, then reaches the Millenium square. The audioguide is available in 20 languages, including a very good Romanian, much over other audioguides I’ve used.
Budapesta 2012

Piața Millenium Budapesta 2012

We were feeling courageous, so we went to the (uncovered) top floor – and freezed badly 😀

Budapesta 2012

After half an hour, we crossed one of the bridges to Buda and we were getting near the Fisherman’s Bastion…
Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

The look from below is cool, but the panorama from the Bastion is much more attractive. The curch in the back is called St. Stephen and it deserves the detour, even if it’s not comparable to the churches in other imperial capitals of Europe.

Below you can find some images from around the Castle.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

The initial plan was to also visit the inside of the castel, but it was already getting pretty late so we decided to move on. The buses’ course would go on to the Citadel, a fortification used during the Second World War. Today you will find a wax museum inside.

Budapesta 2012

You could get on the cannons from the yard and even look through the optical targeting system. Pretty cool, no?

Budapesta 2012

At the far end of the Citadel there is a huge statue visible from the whole city of Pesta.

Budapesta 2012

Back in Downtown:

Budapesta 2012

An interesting church, build on a street corner:

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

And a detail:
Budapesta 2012

The last few hours of daylight were dedicate to a small cruise on the Danube. The ticket was a combo with the panoramic bus, and the cruise has several stops from where you could visit various parts of the city. We wanted to see the Margaret Island, but the winter schedule meant that we only caught the last cruise of the day. At least we had the chance to catch some nice puctures at sunset. The camera was beginning to fail, so between pictures I had to warm it up under my jacket.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

We had our diner at a medieval restaurant called Sir Lancelor. It looked much like the Excalibur restaurant from Bucharest, except it was bigger and it had much more entertainment (theater, fire eaters etc.). The effect of the entertainment on the slightly drunk tourists was quite funny, but I guess it was also pushing them to more eating and drinking.

The food also felt less medieval than in Bucharest. The menu contained plates such as bananas with meatballs in a doughnut-like shell (no idea what they’re called) which would have been difficult to prepare in the Middle Ages.

Amenajări Sir Lancelot

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

Sunday morning we went back on Andrassy str. and on the the eastern exist of Budapest. The neighborhoods further from the center have been very much influenced by communism, looking very much like their counterparts from Prague or Bucharest.

Budapesta 2012

Budapesta 2012

On the way to Bucharest we stopped in Deva to eat at the Ceapa Roșie (“Red Onion”) restaurant. The last time we were there we were impressed with the service and the food and we were eager to share this “secret” with the friends that accompanied us. Unfortunately we were bitterly disappointed this time – the food was terrible and the waitress seemed bored to an in inch of her life. If you have other recommendations from the area, please leave a comment – we would love to knon a good restaurant in Hunedoara county.

Budapesta 2012
Rating: ★★★★½

Would I go back?

Definitely! As a former imperial capital,Budapest has those dignified looks of the 19th century that make one want to explore it for much more than an weekend.

Alternatives

Any City Break in Europe will be just as good – find a cheap plane ticket and go for it. Closer to Bucharest you have Vienna or Bratislava. If taking a plane, go for Prague or Warsaw.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

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Veliko Tarnovo Sound & Light Show

Posted by Strainu on October 14, 2010
From Bucharest / No Comments

You HAVE to see it if you go through the area…

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Extended weekend: Băile Tuşnad

Posted by Strainu on September 12, 2009
From Bucharest / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

The quality of the roads are very different. Until Braşov the DN1 or DN1A are pretty good. So is the road from Braşov until Sfântu Gheorghe, although this portion has an unusually noisy overcoat. After that, there are plenty of potholes and the average speed is very low. The trip takes 4-5 hours by car.

By train, the trip takes 4.5-6 hours. There are a few direct trains from Bucharest, but most of the trains getting to Tuşnad leave from Braşov.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Accommodation

There are plenty of private homes that offer accomodation, both in Băile Tuşnad and in neighboring villages. Most of them offer mediocre quality, but there are some good places to stay. There are also a few hotels left from the communist era for the most picky clients.

Rating: ★★½☆☆

What to see

There are a number of tourist trails from Tuşnad and the neighboring villages. You can go to the Sfânta Ana Lake by foot (3.5-4h) or to a sightseeing tower (15-30min.) from where you can see the whole Olt valley. There is also a cross you can visit, but the trail is pretty steep, so make sure you’re fit before going there.

In the city you have the Tuşnad sources, famous for their healing capacity and the Ciucaş Lake, which is little more than a poorly-maintained park with a pond in the middle.

Lacul CiucaşLacul Sf. AnaPe drumul dinspre Lacul Sf. AnaValea oltuluiTurnul

(Pictures made by Cathy and used with permission)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Alternatives

  • Sighişoara is a little further, but better known than Tuşnad.
  • In the same area, you can visit any number of hungarian towns or Târgu Mureş

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Weekend Trip: Transfăgărăşan and Bâlea

Posted by Strainu on October 04, 2008
From Bucharest / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

The fastest way to get to Bâlea from Bucharest is through Piteşti, Curtea de Argeş and Transfăgărăşan (DN67). However, we wanted to go all the length of the Transfăgărăşan, so we went through Braşov, then on DN1 to Sibiu, and we turned left on DN67 near Cârţişoara.

To return from Bâlea, we continued over the mountains to Curtea de Argeş, Piteşti and finally Bucureşti.

The roads are all right, if we ignore the never-ending works on DN1 between Braşov and Sibiu. DN67 is in excellent condition considering the fact that it’s a mountain road closed for 5 month a year.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Accommodation

If you want to sleep at Bâlea, your best chance is to bring a tent with you and hope it doesn’t rain. If you’re not the nature type, there are 2 cottages at the lake and 1 hotel at the waterfall.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

What to see

Some of the trails can be dangerous, and some are closed during winter. You should always have proper equipment and respect the warnings signs. It’s for your own good! If you need help, you can call 0-SALVAMONT (0725826668 – the mountain rescue HQ) or 112 (emergency services).

If you come from DN1 like us, you can leave your car at the Bâlea Cascadă hotel (you can’t miss it, there are lots of cars around). From there you can go to the lake by foot (only if you’re in good shape) or by cable. The ticket is 15 lei. By foot, there are 3 different routes: 2h30, 3h30 and 4h30 long.

Once you get to the top (over 2000m), you can admire the glacial lake and the impressive mountains around it. If you still feel up to it, you can go on another trip, for example to the Capra (Goat) lake.

When you’re done exhausting yourself, you can continue through the tunnels to Muntenia. If there is still time, you can stop in Curtea de Argeş to see the remains of the first capital of Valachia.

BaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBaleaBalea

Rating: ★★★★½

Alternatives

From Râmnicu-Vâlcea you can go left in DN67 to Târgu Jiu and visit some monasteries and some caves.

Overall Rating: ★★★☆☆

Links

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Weekend Trip: Sibiu and the Olt Valley

Posted by Strainu on September 23, 2008
From Bucharest / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

The road
Map

To get to Sibiu from Bucharest you need to follow the A1/E81 to Piteşti (115km), pass on the newly built ring road and continue on the E81 to Râmnicu Vâlcea (68km), Cozia (17km) and finally Sibiu (90km), for a total of about 200km. The road is quite good, except for some parts of Dealu Negru where the road has collapsed and is currently being rebuilt. From Cozia to Sibiu there are another 100km of not-so-good roads. There are also some sections where the circulation takes place on 1 lane, controlled by traffic lights.

The trip takes about 4 hours without speeding. You could probably do it in 3h15-3h30 with a radar detector.

If you go by train, the trip takes about 5h30 and costs from 45 to 60 lei.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Accommodation

Accomodation in Sibiu is expensive and quite bad. I can’t really recommend any place, except the Old Town Hostel. It would be much better if you searched for hosting in the villages near Sibiu. You could try getting some hosting from Antrec, the Romanian branch of Eurogites.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

What to see

The pedestrian area of Sibiu is interesting. You can see numerous old houses from the 16th and 17th centuries. Piaţa Mare and Piaţa Mică (The Big and Small squares) are linked by small streets and stairs. In the same area you can find the famous Podul Minciunilor (The Liars Bridge).

All the city’s museums are there: the Bruckental Museum, the historical museum, the Lutheran Church, etc. The Towers and citadel, which limit the old town are also nice to visit.

If you’re in town for a little longer, you might want to visit the Astra Museum, near Sibiu.

DSC04763DSC04755

DSC04760DSC04754

Rating: ★★★★½

Alternatives

From Râmnicu-Vâlcea you can go left in DN67 to Târgu Jiu and visit some monasteries and some caves.

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

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Weekend Trip: Lyon

Posted by Strainu on August 21, 2008
From Paris / No Comments

Versiunea română aici.

Transport
Map

There are TGV trains from Paris to Lyon every hour or so. You also have planes and a highway between the two cities.

Rating: ★★★★½

Accommodation

There are many low-cost hotels in the city, including in the city center. Because we were three, we chose one of the low cost hotels (Premiere Classe or Etap). With the city tourism fee, this got as to 22 euros/person for a modern, air-conditioned room in downtown Lyon. This solution has only one disadvantage: one of the three beds is above the other two.

Rating: ★★★½☆

What to see

The first thing to see is the Fourvière hill, part of Unesco’s World Heritage Sites. You can take the funicular to the Roman amphitheater or to the XIXth century cathedral. At the bottom of the hill you have the Old Lyon (Vieux Lyon) – famous for its traboules (small passageways between buildings). A guided tour could be useful here, because you can easily get lost or miss some cool traboules.

Near the old city there is the Presqu’île, home to the shopping quarter, the city hall, opera and some museums.

Another hill worth seeing is the Croix Rousse, home to the world famous painted walls. If you are at the right distance, you might even mistake them for a real street. There is an interesting story about respect between taggers and the painters who made the walls. In one of the walls there was a real postal box that integrated in the painting. After a month from the inauguration, the box was full of graffiti, but the wall was clean – and it still is. It’s a good example of how modern art can prevent degradations in the modern cities.

If you have time, don’t miss the Film Museum – Lyon is the city were the Lumière brothers projected the first movie over 110 years ago.

If you want more info on what to see and where you can find good food, check out the second link below.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Alternatives

Think Bruxelles, Toulouse, Marseille or Strasbourg.

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Links

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