Train to Budapest

Budapest station
QBB, Austria's rail service provider

 

 

 

 

 

Budapest paradeSantas on parade in Budapest

 

 

 

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Budapest

Vendors

Carrots

Peppers

More fruits

More

Market

Balloons

Market

 

Stained glass window

Man with food

 

Budapest Train station

 

 

 

 

Countryside
En route to Visegrad

Steeple

Overlook

Snowy path

 

Bar
Villa Regina, Kosice

Market

Huts

Stars

CHURCH

 

 

 

 

 

Dining car
Dining car on board

 

MARKET

Trencin

 

Trencin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bratislava
Bratislava's main shopping street

 

Bratislava

Bratislava

Streetcar

 

 

Hot chocolate
Hot chocolate on a cold day

Cute angel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rails to Bratislava


RAILS TO A EUROPEAN HOLIDAY
continued

Snow on the cathedral
Matthais Church, Fisherman's Bastion, Budapest

TRAIN TO BUDAPEST
My next train was calling, and it was the 9:01 a.m. to Budapest. This nearly six hour ride came with lunch on the train in a first class coach. My seat was roomy and comfortable, and there were no security checks, seat belts or turbulence.

Hungary, the size of Indiana, is one of Europe's oldest countries, and I was itching to see what the Budapest Christmas Market was like. I had been to many German markets, but not to one in Hungary. I also was eager to explore other attractions in this city of 1.7 million people.

After checking in at the newly-opened four-star 80-room Hotel Nemzeti at Jozsef Krt. 4, I inspected this 19th century building that first opened its doors as a hotel in 1896. It has
just been renovated, and I learned from Manager Edit Vaszily that I was one of their very first guests.

Budapest

During a dusk walking tour of Budapest's Castle Hill District, the snow began in earnest, and the area around Matthais Church and Fisherman's Bastion high above the Danube became a winter wonderland, especially if you like photography. With nearly all visitors gone, floodlights illuminating the castle spirals and church towers in this district, and the puffy white snow lazily falling from the sky, I snapped away and snagged a prize Christmas card photo to send to friends.

Budapest Castle district
Castle District in the snow

Dinner at the warm, cozy home-style Hungarian kitchen, Pest-Buda Bistro at Fortuna utca 3, helped me revive after the walk and I read over my itinerary for the next day.

TAKE IN THE HIGHLIGHTS
Budapest's Great Market Hall brims with colorful fruits and vegetables, fish and hams, and all sorts of other meats, nuts, flowers and spicy paprika. On the upper floor, vendors sell souvenirs, clothing and hard goods.

Great Market Hall

Fruits

Hungarians

The Hungarian Parliament building along the Danube is worth the sometimes hassle to get in. Plainclothes guards make sure you stay with your group, and changing of the military guard
(guards with swords watch over the country's crown jewels), if you time it right, is worth a few frames on your camera.

Statue
Hungarian Parliament

Budapest

Budapest

I'd been to Budapest before, but never stepped into the Szechenyl Bath, located in Pest's City Park. The hot springs contain a significant amount of fluoride andmetabolic acid, along with calcium, magnesium, hydro-carbonate, sodium and sulphate: it's said to be effective for degenerative illnesses of joints, as well as chronic and semi-acute arthritis. It was relaxing and soothing in the 90-degree water, and I saw the
proverbial large Hungarian men playing a game of checkers in the baths.

One of my side trips from Budapest was to Visegrad, a fairly short distance via train. It's here that the seat of the royal court was located before it moved to Buda in 1347. The early Renaissance palace of King Matthias Corvinus sits atop Castle Hill outside of town, with a great view of the Danube below; in the lower castle down the hill, it's said Vlad Tepes (aka Dracula) was imprisoned between 1462-74.

Path
Upper Castle, Visegrad

Castle
Royal Palace, Visegrad

After visiting the upper castle, come down the hill into town and have a medieval lunch at the Renaissance Restaurant where you can "suit up" in 15th century costumes while you enjoy food and drink from earthenware. 

Train

Countryside

EUROPEAN CULTURAL CAPITAL

But my train was calling again, so I boarded the 9:58 a.m. from Budapest's Keleti station to Kosice, site of the 2013 European Capital of Culture, and second largest city in Slovakia. The town boasts the East Slovak Museum, which is said to contain the largest gold treasure, including a hoard of gold coins, in Europe.

Charming hut
St. Elizabeth's Cathedral

Check out the town's St. Elizabeth's Cathedral, considered to be one of the most beautiful Gothic structures in the world - you won't miss it, as it anchors the city and is smack in the middle of it, with city streets arching around it on either side, marking its dominance. It was built between 1378 and 1508 and is the city's oldest architectural landmark. The main altar features three oversize statues and 48 panel paintings, and the side altars, Gothic wall paintings and sculptures add to the church's significance.

Kosice

Before the Holocaust, Kosice had one of the biggest and most prominent Jewish populations in Slovakia. In 1930 it was home to more than 11,500 Jews, who made up 16% of the
city's population. The city of Kosice offers historic walking tours which are available in Slovak, English, German, Hungarian, Russian and Spanish.

Be sure to check out the local craft workshops here; I purchased some spectacular pottery for gifts with top-rate Slovakian workmanship. For a bit of evening fun, stop by the wine bar called Villa Cassa (the early name of this city, by the way). Host Vladimir Čuchran will entertain you with his delicious wine selections; he can show you more than 800 Slovak and international wines from every major wine-producing region.

The Christmas market here is a beautiful affair, lining the town's main street with colorful overhead lights, decorated wooden vendor stalls, music, foods of all descriptions,
heart-shaped lebkuchen and a large town Christmas tree with a bright star at the top. It looked like this town knew how to have holiday fun.

Trencin

TRENCIN'S ROMAN HISTORY
The next morning train #604 to Trencin, Slovakia, pulled out right on time, and about 4-1/2 hours later I arrived, and was in the Vah River Valley, surrounded by the Strazovske
Mountains. My hotel (Hotel Elizabeth), featured a walkway that led to a viewing area into the Trencin castle rock which contained a Roman inscription, a memorial to the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius in A.D. 179. The town, located near the Czech Republic border, was originally a Roman military post.

Trencin castle

Trencin at dusk
Trencin at dusk

It's a bit of a hike to the top of fortified 11th-century Trencin Castle - third largest in Slovakia - but you'll gain excellent views of the river and town below. At dusk, the setting sun from the top provides exceptional picture possibilities. There are several other unique castles nearby to visit as well, such as Beckov and Cachtice, if you have the time.

More trencin

Trencin's small but intimate Christmas market in the main square was dominated by a very large Christmas tree, covered with hundreds of lights. A hot pork, potatoes and vegetable dinner at Hotel Pod Hradom that evening hit the spot.

RAILS TO BRATISLAVA

Another fairly early morning train, at 8:15 a.m. to Bratislava, was on tap the following day. At the Mercure Centrum Hotel in Bratislava, a Eurail Group partner hotel (which means a
25% discount to Eurail pass holders), I dropped my luggage in the room and began a walking tour of town, first passing a regal-looking private palace with uniformed guards at Hodžovo
namestie. It was Grassalkovich Palace, built around 1760, now the residence of the Slovak president.


Slovakia's Presidential Palace

Bratislava has a long history - it has been home to the Celts, Romans, Germans, Hungarians, Jews, and Slovaks, and therefore the city has an impressive range of architecture, languages and cuisine. The handsome homes of the Austro-Hungarian noble families who built palaces here dot the city, and many of them are now open to the public as
museums and galleries.

Bratislava

Skewers

Stopping in at the Christmas market - located in the pedestrian zone - I found a vast array of goodies to try, including sauerkraut soup, bread with lard and onions and
"Gypsy Liver" pork burgers. I pretty much stayed with the sausages and mulled wine, but noted a number of booths that offered gifts made from natural materials such as
wood, glass, leather and beeswax. It was a lively crowd that gathered for a noon hour lunch and a beverage around the more than 100 stalls.

Market

Sausage griller

OTHER BRATISLAVA HIGHLIGHTS
Other highlights of this city are the Galeria Nedbalka which displays contemporary art, Slovak fine art and turn-of-the-century art. The gallery is open daily except Monday
mornings. A visit to the Bratislava Castle is a must; the castle dominates the hill above the old town, and was first written about in 907 in association with a battle between Bavarians
and Hungarians. Since that time, it has seen a number of reincarnations, and today it houses the Slovakian Parliament and the Slovakian National Museum.

Bratislava
Bratislava Castle

Park bench
Bratislava Castle grounds in snow

The imposing Soviet War Memorial at Slavin, all dressed in a fresh layer of snow when I was there, is visible from much of the city. On a hill overlooking the castle, it commemorates
the city's liberation by the Red Army in April, 1945. It is also a cemetery for 6,845 Soviet soldiers who died during the battles for the city and the surrounding region that took place
in the final weeks of World War II.

Bratislava's train station
Bratislava train station

My time for traveling up, I took the train back to Vienna, just about an hour's travel time. It had been a rewarding trip, with great and varied food experiences, lots of unique sights and historical attractions to experience, warm and friendly people, the lively, colorful Christmas markets, and the fast-moving trains.

Oh, yes, then there was the gluhwein, too.



IF YOU GO...
The Eurail Global Pass, like the one I used, is the original classic Eurail Pass, allowing travelers to explore as much of the continent as possible, valid on the national railways of 24 participating European countries.

The Eurail Global Pass is valid in 1st class (for adults and children) with Saver and youth (2nd class) discounts available. Child fares (for children aged 4 up to and including 11) are
half the regular adult fare. There are two types of validities for this pass: customers can opt for a certain number of travel days within a two month period, or for a pass which is
valid until the expiration date. Note that certain trains may pass through countries not covered by the Eurail Global Pass.
An additional ticket must be purchased to traverse through those countries.

Here are some links that may help you plan a similar trip:
Eurail: www.eurailgroup.org
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines: www.klm.com
Hotel Nemzeti, Budapest
Mercure Centrum Hotel, Bratislava
Hotel Am Konzerthaus, Vienna
www.austria.info
www.gotohungary.com
www.slovakia.travel
www.visitkosice.eu/en
www.salzburg.info/en

 

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