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Steampunk fairytale greenhouses at Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna.

We spent two weeks blasting our way through the former Austro-Hungarian empire and it got quite intense as far as logistics go, but if there’s anything I took away from that experience, it’s that Vienna sure is grand.

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The Hapsburg dynasty built an opulent city, but modern Vienna sets the bar for great modern places to live in, with its progressive politics and appreciation for enjoying life.

We stayed with Aaron’s friend from high school, Dave, and his wife and two kids.

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Dave’s son, Gabe, runs among the grapevines overlooking Vienna.

Dave works for the International Atomic Energy Agency and he took us to the United Nations for lunch. That was a real highlight of our trip so far.

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Thanks for showing us a good time, Dave!

He also took us on a wonderful bike ride along the Danube River through the Austrian wine country that was adorable and charming.

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Can you spot my husband in the castle where Richard the Lionheart was held captive?

I’ve become fascinated with the Hapsburg empire – a royal dynasty that some historians have lauded as patron saints of Vienna’s golden age of art and culture.

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Vienna is jaw-droppingly grand at pretty much every corner.

After a week of cramming sightseeing into the mornings, and working and babysitting in the afternoons, we were pretty exhausted but still trucked on for four days in Budapest.

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A full moon rises over the Hungarian national gallery.

Budapest is a crumbly, Communist version of Vienna – a grittier, more faded grand.

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Budapest has a Disneyland tourist district amid the castles and old district, but the city is dominated by Soviet aesthetics, with apartment blocks and that eastern European grit. 

We loved both cities. They’re like the super successful lawyer and his plumber brother who’s also got some money in his own right, but has a beer belly and five o’clock shadow.

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Diners enjoy a meal overlooking the Danube and the stunning Parliament building.

The clock keeps on ticking, don’t it. Since we want to spend a month at the end of our trip in Greece and Italy, we had to stop the clock on our 90-day visas and leave the Schengen zone immediately – so we hoisted our packs and got on a tiny bus to Romania. To Transylvania!

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Written by Ada Kase (Kulesza)

Ada Kase is a freelance journalist and photographer from Philadelphia. AJKTravels is her personal travel blog documenting her adventures with her husband, journalist Aaron Kase.

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