If It's Thursday, This Must Be Vienna and Budapest
Story and photos by Tom Weber
1969 there was a popular adventure-comedy movie about a group of tourists
who race through 9 European countries in 18 days on a bus: If It's
Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium.
My "band of merry media" and
I have been cast in a similar, real-life, no-laughing-matter calendar
cruncher as SERIOUS guest journalists and photographers of Insight Vacations
(Insight) on its six-night abbreviated Bohemian Rhapsody journey
through the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary.
So, if it's Thursday, which it is, this
must be Vienna (by day) and Budapest (by night).
Back on board the motor coach, we're off
to see a little 1,441-room "cottage," as Holy Roman Empress
Maria Theresa once referred to it when her small family of 16 children
and virile hubby, Emperor Francis I, summered there on the outskirts
of Vienna: Schönbrunn Palace.
A UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and
one of Vienna's most-visited attractions, Schönbrunn Palace is
a must-see stop on anyone's bucket list and a "signature"
moment when led around by one of Insight's expert art-historian guides.
For centuries, the "cottage"
was the property of the House of Habsburg with its rich art and exquisite
furnishings symbolic of the power and influence this royal lineage wielded
around Europe from the end of the 17th to the early 20th century.
Due to restrictions on interior photography
of any kind (I HATE when that happens), you'll have to take my word
for it: Schönbrunn Palace is one of the most impressive and well-preserved
examples of Late Baroque (Rococo) you will ever experience.
Outside, it's a different story, as photography
is permitted all across the massive and impressive gardens and grounds
that happen to house the world's very first zoo, Tiergarten Schönbrunn,
founded in 1752, along with the Great Parterre and its 32 sculptures,
Neptune's Fountain and the Gloriette on top of the hill.
Lens caps off, let's see what we can capture
in the 15 minutes we have left on this stop before the Insight Express
leaves the station.
Quicker than you can say fahrvergnügen
(German for "driving pleasure") we're back on the motor coach,
cruising down the renowned Ringstraß towards our next hop-off
points-of-interest: Maria Theresien Platz (Maria Theresa Square), the
Burgtor Gate and Heldenplatz (Heroes' Square), where the Hofburg residence
and world-famous Spanish Riding School are located.
We've got 20 minutes people. So, GIDDYUP!
With the clock closing in on high noon,
Neira, Insight's chatty tour director-slash-storyteller, informs the
peanut gallery that we'll break for lunch, on our own dime, around the
Central District of the city.
We dismount the motor coach near Kärntner
Straße, Vienna's trendy pedestrian-friendly street and THE place
for shopping, dining, and people watching. I'll have the bratwurst
mit pommes frites and an Edelweiss Weißbier, bitte.
My tank now pegged on F, I've got a few
minutes to walk off lunch and see what I can see around the Kärntner
before heading back to the motor coach. Care to join me?
On the road again, we put Vienna
the second ranked, most livable city in the world for 2013, according
to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) index and the 22 hours
we spent here in the rearview mirror, but not out of our minds.
From the imperial splendour of the Habsburgs
and the classical notes of Mozart and Strauss, to the charm of its coffee
houses and the mouth-watering strudels, schnitzels and Sachertorte (chocolate
cake), it's awfully hard not to like Vienna, a gem of a metropolis that
bridges Central with Eastern Europe.
In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger,
the Terminator-Governator from Graz, I'll be back!
With the GPS now set for Budapest-or-bust,
we recline in our business-class legroom seats for the 2.5 hr. drive.
Along the way, Neira, our chatty tour director,
does her best to keep us awake by peppering the ride with her now legendary,
For instance, did you know that Harry Houdini,
the illusionist-escape artist, and Bela Lugosi, the silver screen's
first Dracula, hailed from Hungary? That the ballpoint pen was invented
by Laszlo Biro of Budapest and that Vitamin C was discovered by Hungarian
scientist Albert Szent-Györgyi de Nagyrápolt? Did you?
After a quick 40 winks sorry Neira,
I just couldn't keep my eyes open I'm off the bus, in the elevator
and heading up to my sixth floor temporary abode at the Sofitel Chain
Bridge Hotel, Insight's signature address in Budapest that's in clear
sight of, you guessed it, the Chain Bridge and the Blue Danube that
flows underneath it.
I linger long enough to splash cold water
on my face and, in Houdini-like speed, change my clothes, dash out the
door and climb back on board the motor coach. Insight is treating us
to an "Intro to Budapest" like no other: a dinner cruise down
Truth be told, the iconic river's nighttime
reflections steal the show and actually trump the bigger-than-big, tasty
buffet of Hungarian delights. And, that's awfully hard to do when free
food and drink, on a boat no less, are offered to this "band of
For complete information on Insights' premium
and luxury-escorted itineraries, including the Bohemian Rhapsody
and 100 other journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE,
or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you at first light when we'll start
the day in Buda and end it around the dinner table in Pest. In between,
we'll make strudel from scratch and hang with the Great Communicator,
Ronald Reagan. I kid you not.
Rhapsody: Austria; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Český Krumlov; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Prague's Watering Hole; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Prague's Old Town Square; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Jewish Quarter; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Crossing the Charles Bridge; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Storming the Prague Castle; Bohemian
Rhapsody: Na Zdraví! (A Brewery and A Wine Cellar)