One of the many perks of studying abroad in Europe is that it's the perfect place to be for Spring Break! The London College of Fashion gives us about 2 and a half weeks of break, and within those 17 days, 5 are spent on a class trip to Paris! I'll be heading to Paris at the very end of my break, but I kicked off my holiday with a vacation to Budapest and Vienna!
On Friday, I flew to Budapest with my friends Tiffany and Shelby. We stayed there for three days, and in that time, we pretty much covered the entire city (or cities, did you know Buda and Pest are technically two separate places?)
Upon arriving in Budapest, we checked in to our Air BNB and began to explore the city! Budapest was not on my list of cities to visit while abroad, but I am SO glad I did because this city is beyond beautiful. Our flat was on the Pest side (the more metropolitan and urban part of the city) so standing alongside the river that splits the two sections of the city in half gave us a magical view of the historic buildings of Budapest. Upon crossing the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge and taking a funicular to the top of a hill, we explored Buda Castle and St. Mathias Church. As the sun set on Budapest, the sky turned to a royal blue, and the magnificent white buildings of the city made for a truly breathtaking landscape. It was unlike any place I've visited before.
On our second day in Budapest, Shelby (a brilliant tour leader) created a full itinerary for us! We climbed to the top of St. Stephen's Basilica to get the best aerial view of the city. It was 364 steps to the top, but the hike was more than worth it.
We then headed over to the Parliament building, where we took a tour of the interior. We got to see the original crown jewels of Hungary, as well as some fun historic features of the parliament building. The room in which Parliament actually conducts its business is quite interesting. There are several rules on who is allowed to sit in and listen to different proceedings, but on voting measures, they have a system where they use buttons on each chair that allow members of parliament to vote to either pass or reject a measure, and the responses are then posted on the screens in the chamber as the result is calculated.
After our visit to Parliament, we visited the Grand Market. This is a must see while in Budapest, especially if you're a foodie. This two-floor indoor market is filled with meat, produce, and dairy vendors on the first floor, as well as several paprika sellers (Budapest is quite famous for its paprika!) On the second floor is where the real action happens, as it is filled with traditional Hungarian food stands. I've been using the opportunity of living in Europe to help me expand my palate, and as of now, Hungarian food is looking to be the best I've tried yet. Those who know me well know that I am never enthusiastic about eating anything with meat in it, but I couldn't leave Budapest without trying one of their famous wrapped sausages.
Lángos is a popular Hungarian snack. It is round fried dough, and it can be topped with savory or sweet food! (Think of it as a Hungarian-style crepe!)
After our visit to the market, we walked to Margaret Island, which is on the water between Buda and Pest. This beautiful island reminded me a bit of Central Park in Manhattan. It was filled with locals strolling with their dogs, and it even had a zoo right in the middle! Afterwards, we went to the Széchenyi Baths, the most famous of Budapest's thermal baths. Going into this trip, I knew next to nothing about Budapest, so I was surprised when Shelby instructed me to pack a bathing suit the day before we went! As it turns out, Budapest has quite a few outdoor thermal baths (who knew I'd be wearing a swimsuit in Iceland and Hungary this year??). The bath in Budapest was quite different than the one I visited in Iceland; it was more commercial and a much larger complex. We had a blast warming up in the 100°F water while outside it was about 30°F.
After the bath, we ended the night by visiting Szimpla Kert, Budapest's most famous ruin pub. This giant bar and club is constructed within a crumbling, partly destroyed building, and each room has a different theme (for example, one room was a wine bar, another was a cocktail bar, another featured a live performance of folk music, and another was dedicated to smoking hookah). We arrived a bit early in the night, and the crowd was incredibly diverse. People of all ages were relaxing, enjoying the novelty of being in Budapest, and having fun! By the time we left for the evening, there was a line wrapped around the block to enter the bar!
On Sunday, we set off for our next stop: Vienna. By way of train, it only took us about 2 hours to cross over to Austria. We checked in to our air BNB upon arriving, where we met our wonderful host, Daniel, who gave us some great recommendations of things to see and do in the city!
We visited the Museum of History, where we saw a lot of lovely art by many renowned artists. Then, we headed over to the center of the city to see St. Stephansdom, a famous cathedral. The building itself is so magnificent, as is every building in Vienna, but we were lucky enough to sit in on a church service as well, which was quite interesting! Daniel recommended a traditional Viennese restaurant for dinner, Figlmüller, so we dined there and enjoyed some famous wienerschnitzel, which is essentially just fried veal with lemon (wow that sounds horrid in writing but I promise you it was delightful). This particular restaurant is known for their mastery of the dish, and they make them in massive portions. I made a sad attempt at finishing my plate, but it was truly delicious.
... and after.
On our second day in Vienna, we walked around to see some more of the famous Viennese architecture. It's a really aesthetically magnificent city, and as you walk around, you can't help but wonder what kind of offices and services are housed within these massive buildings. Everything seems SO important just by the way it looks!
We took a quick detour to see the Vienna butterfly house, and then we went to the Albertina, a famous art museum! We were lucky to be there while some exceptional exhibitions were being displayed. On the ground floor was a fascinating look at contemporary art, which was full of color and unique styles of art. The middle floor showcased the history behind the palace in which the museum is housed. It was once home to King Louis XVI of France, and many of the original wallpapers, furniture, carpeting, and other pieces of decor are still in tact! For the grand finale, we ventured up to the top floor to see the headliner collection at the moment: Monet to Picasso. Imagine all of the most famous artists within that timeline, and you can bet they were on display here (Degas, Chagall, Klee, Gauguin, Matisse, Magrite, Kandinsky, etc.) All were in attendance at this truly wonderful gallery. I was blown away by the curation.
We then walked to the Naschmarkt, where we enjoyed fancy cheeses (who doesn't love that?!) and viennese sausage (again, sampling the local food is a MUST). Visiting this market was a bit of a culture shock: Shelby, Tiffany, and I stuck out quite a bit as we are all Americans and dressed like fashion students, but at this market our blatant "foreignness" was definitely a novelty to the locals.
So. Much. Cheese.
Our next stop was the Belvedere palace, where we again enjoyed some of Vienna's best artwork, including one of Gustav Klimt's most famous works: The Kiss. I've been fascinated by Klimt's work since I saw Woman in Gold (the movie) a few years back (throwing this a big shout out... it's a must see for lovers of history, art, and Ryan Reynolds). I saw the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer at the Neue Galerie in Manhattan two years ago, and I was taken away by the absolute brilliance and mastery of Klimt's work. The Kiss conjured up the same reaction. Klimt truly stands out among other artists of his time. His works communicate, at least to me, a certain air of mystery and admiration at the same time.
We went back toward the center area of the city to visit Demel, a famous bakery. My grandmother recommended I go here as she said it is home to the most delicious chocolate cake she's ever had, and it most certainly did not disappoint.
For our final event that evening, we visited Vienna Ice World. Shelby is truly a rockstar for finding this!! During the month of February, Vienna converts the plaza in front of the Town Hall into a giant village of ice rinks. Locals and tourists can enjoy the stunning sites of Vienna while skating along to music from all parts of the world! We had an absolute ball, and I might even go as far to say that this was the highlight of abroad thus far (seriously, it was THAT fun!). Shelby and I only wiped out on the ice once (we're only human) but Tiffany, a former ice princess/trained skater, was able to hold her own on the ice.
On our last day in Vienna, we visited some of the souvenir shops, where I picked up famous Mozart marzipan candies (sooo yummy).
For our final meal, we dined at a cafe atop the Justice Building, which was an odd but fun experience. A woman who worked at Rathaus, Vienna's town hall, recommended that we dine here. To do so, we had to pass through security as if we were at an airport. We were also without a doubt the only people dining at the cafe that didn't work in the building, but we had a fun time anyway! Since the cafe is on the top floor of the building, we got to enjoy the beautiful sights of Vienna one last time before heading home to London!
My next stop for my spring break is Sorrento, Italy, where I will be meeting my friends Jessa and Alex on Friday. But first, I'll be spending the next few days catching up on homework and spending some much needed time at the gym!