June, 1993

When I found out that my railpass worked in Austria and it was basically in between Budapest and Prague, I once again changed my ’93 trip itinerary to include a stop there. However, paying 1993 prices in Poland and Hungary had not prepared me for the reality of Western Europe.

After a futile search for a YMCA hostel, I realized that I had combined two numbers in the evil Let’s Go (for once, not its fault) and stayed at a USD 40 per night hotel, where the bathroom was down the hall and the shower was on the next floor. Now, it was clean and the proprietor spoke English, but for that I was used to paying USD 5 in Poland. Welcome to reality, Sandy.

So I spent the afternoon being a Japanese tourist and taking extra photos to make up for the lack of actual time I could spend there. A Coke from the machine was USD 3 or thereabouts. I did have a great stop and tried out my phrasebook German on a very nice lady who ran a truly delicious sweet shop–and Viennese torts are all you’ve heard about and then some.

Unfortunately, this being near the end of my trip, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was in the West to peruse my then-favorite ethnic cuisine, Mexican. Big mistake. The “sangria” was some koolaide-esque wine with apples floating in it, and the meal was something bland with beans. I hate beans–that’s why I can’t become a vegetarian. They have to get some real Mexicans over there before I’ll trust that cuisine…on the other hand, I did a bit better in Germany.

In the evening, I happened across a film festival of classical concerts based on Mahler and Bernstein. Perhaps it’s the Viennese tradition that Budapest has absorbed–concerts just pop up like mushrooms after a rain. It was a very pleasant experience, and I got to hear Mahler’s third symphony.

The next morning I found a bookshop and picked up an overpriced copy of the evil Let’s Go (not having wised up yet) and headed out of town before my money was gone. Next stop, Prague.

April, 1996

In 1996, I returned very, very briefly. On my trip to Croatia and Slovenia, we ended up returning through Vienna to change trains–Ljubljana to Kraków in one shot! My first memory in Austria that time was talking in Polish with a Japanese girl while eating overpriced Austrian food and paying in Slovene Tolars. Truly international. We were late getting into Vienna, however, and we had a 10 minute connection. Suffice it to say, even though I had us ready to burst out of the train, I should’ve had us at the front of the train–because we had only 90 seconds. We ran the entire way, with rather heavy luggage. We had to detrain, find the platform for the train to Poland, and get on in that time.

Of course, the rush caused my American-Polish friend to lose track of his ticket, and we had to argue loud and long with the conductors to get him time to search for his ticket. But that was nothing compared to the standard hassle we got from the bloody Czechs…

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