Our Grand Tour of Eastern Europe continues this week as we made our way to Vienna.

Arguably one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, with its storied and gilded past coupled with its beautifully architected buildings make it a must see on any European trip.

I tended to spend time criss crossing the city on foot or taking the subway and getting away from the crowds.  Vienna has a lot to see and do, especially away from the main walking/shopping street.

Unfortunately August is the least best time to come to Europe as many of the locals take the month off for vacation, now add that to the already heavy traffic and you have the makings of an overcrowded and painful experience. The sheer beauty will only take you so far if you can’t get get into the things you want to see or activities you want to do.

That’s why its so important to plan well in advance for any trip, particularly in the summer months and more specially August, I always encourage anyone I know who’s coming to Europe book in advance as much as possible to avoid disappointment. Fortunately, both Zach and I like to travel in a similar fashion in that we only have two or three things that we each want to see or do in any city, with lots of free time to explore and see what we can discover as we go, off the beaten track.

This strategy makes for a less hectic, more relaxing experience.  We always have breakfast together, and maybe spend an hour or two together first thing in the morning before we split up and do our own thing. Now some of you might think this is a little strange coming all this way and not spending time together.  Actually its quite the opposite.

We always meet late in the afternoon back at our hotel or AirBnB, shower, change and then head out for dinner around 7:00 pm. Part of the experience is also finding small local restaurants to eat at so that we try the local fare, generally recommendations from the hotel are the best.  I always ask them “where would you go with your family for some local dishes?”  I haven’t had a bad recommendation yet!

We then spend the next couple of hours chatting over beers about our collective days experiences, the best thing that happened usually is a great lead into a story or two, which sets us off on all sorts of discussions…usually laced with history, politics, sex, religion….yeah the full gamut of topics.

We’ve gotten into our traveling groove and can honestly say I love traveling with Zach – he’s easy to be with, and look forward to our conversations each night with relish!

In Vienna would definitely recommend eating at Stadtboden (Krugerstraße 8) a great little pub that features lots of local cuisine and cold beers tucked away in a side street near the main old town.

After a few days in Vienna we headed to Bratislava. Such an interesting little place, not really a big city nor particularly crowded as its not on the main tourist routes of Europe, situated on the Danube its the capital of modern day Slovakia since separating from the Czech Republic in 1993.  It’s historic old town (where we stayed) was eclectic in its architecture but as Zach put it “provincial” in its feel.  True, it felt more like a country town than the capital, although across the river there were a few modern office buildings but still trying to find its feet as a true capital city.

As I write this weeks story I’m on the train from Bratislava to Budapest in Hungry, just watching the endless sunflower fields roll by along with the Tatras Mountains far to the east.  It reminds me more of what you might find in southern Australia in terms of the topography and farms that stretch into the distance.

Picking up the story from Budapest after a couple of days exploring.  How do I put this nicely?  There aren’t too many places I’d say that I haven’t liked in all my years of traveling, but Hungary is not on my list to visit again.  Glad I visited but definitely won’t be back.

The city itself is beautiful in its own right with the bridges connecting the two ancient cities – Buda and Pest.  With the Buda side providing some spectacular views from the mountain heights overlooking the Danube and the Pest side of the river with the vast majority of the cities buildings.  The city is a hodge podge of architecture, with a mix of Baroque and a lot of cold war era buildings…all bunched together.

I personally found the local Hungarians to be a cold and unfriendly bunch, with rules that didn’t make sense (felt like they made them up as they went) quick to take advantage of travellers at the drop of a hat.  Case in point was that we went out for dinner last night, and when I asked for the bill I went to pay with my VISA card.  Sorry, we don’t accept this card…only AMEX, local Forints or Euros.  Okay, it would have been nice to know this going into the meal…

Now I didn’t have my AMEX card with me, nor did I have enough of their local currency ($1 CAD = Ft 205), so you’re always dealing in thousands or tens of thousands for any item.  The waiter was also kind enough to say that they would prefer USD if I had them, I paid in EUROS but because it wasn’t in local currency then there was a special surcharge…  I mean WTF?

Few people speak English and taxi drivers refuse to take any credit cards even though they have the machine in the cab. My personal experience was marred by the feeling that I was always being taken advantage of in some way which left a very bad taste in my mouth. Now, clearly this is my own personal experience and I would still encourage you to visit, but just so you don’t have any surprises – be prepared and take EUROS!

There is no question that it is a pretty city, but still has a long way to go to provide the sort of experience that most European cities provide the traveler.

Next stop Munich!