We did it again. We gathered up strollers, suitcases, booster seats, our passports, and, oh wait, yes, our kids and flew to Vienna. The kids were great on the plane. After traveling with babies and toddlers, I am grateful for their flashes of reasonable-ness, their ability to watch in-flight entertainment, and *not* sit on my lap the whole time.
From Vienna, we took an hour train ride to Bratislava, Slovakia, where we planned to spend a couple of days getting over the acute phase of jet lag. Experience has taught us that an affordable, urban place is best for this purpose. You can always find late night food in a city and no one blinks an eye at sleeping in.
This wasn’t our first time in Bratislava. This is an advantage since we know the pivo place next to our hotel has good, traditional food and is kid-tolerant. We know, too, that the zoo is worth returning to.
Once acclimated to Central European time, we bought snacks, sticker books, and beer and boarded a train for Budapest, Hungary.
The train was so crowded that, at first, Tim was stuck in another car with our luggage. A fellow passenger told me there was a kid section on the train so the girls and I struggled along looking for it. Every compartment we passed was stuffed with people. The walkways were nearly impossible to get through.
Eventually, we ended up in an area intended for bikes and wheelchairs. Vanessa and Zara gamely plopped on the floor while I anxiously hoped Tim, who had all the tickets, would find us before the ticket master. Miraculously, he did, and not only that, he managed to talk the ticket master into kicking out the college age guys taking up seats in a kid compartment. I spent the rest of that trip extra grateful for the seats we had.
Tim booked us a lovely room at the Intercontinental Hotel overlooking the Danube River. Sitting on the bed, you could look up and see this view.
For dinner, we went to a nearby restaurant along river and had goulash two ways. Goulash is so good even Vanessa likes it.
Budapest is a beautiful, friendly city. We were there during an air race, which added an additional thrill to our visit. It also added a lot of extra noise and walking but if I could choose again, I’d take the airshow.
The small planes would speed by, roaring past exquisite historical buildings lining the Danube, doing loops, banking through large cones and ending in an exhuberant release, disappearing off into the sky. Loud speakers announced times and penalties (too much G, not enough smoke).
On our first full day in Budapest, we walked to Margaret Island, Margitsziget,
formerly royal hunting grounds and now a large park with gardens, musical fountains, an aqua park, a petting zoo, bike rentals and more.
You could use the toilets for a fee. A modest fee, I’ll admit, but it poses a problem when your four year old only lets you know she has to go after it becomes an emergency and you have no foreign money on you. The cost also adds up when someone has a pea-sized bladder.
One of the things we anticipated visiting in Budapest was the baths/pools. It’s a thing here. The aqua park was relatively empty, probably because it wasn’t a hot day. The girls had a blast–they don’t care if they’re starting to turn blue from the cold. Personally, I wasn’t quite as eager.
Eventually, we found the warmer pools, which were great until the time came to get out of the water. Then it was all that jittery “I’m cold, I’m hungry!” type of talk.
Budapest Castle was almost directly across the river from our hotel but the nearest bridge was closed during the day for the air race. This was a bummer since we’re pushing two kids in strollers and I have a bad right ankle. Tim looked up how we could take public transit to the castle but it would take a long time and it was such a beautiful day, I wanted to walk anyway.
It was quite fun to walk the long way around, we enjoyed the racing planes, the gorgeous clouds, and the other people around us. At one point we stopped for a beer. Later we stopped for coffee and cake.
Tim and Vanessa wanted to explore the labyrinth under the castle. He’d read that there were kid tours at a certain time and we ended racing up the seemingly never ending steps, strollers in hand, trying to make it on time. Tim is a vigorous walker and I find myself often–ok always–falling behind.
Luckily both girls were willing to do the stairs themselves because I, for one, had enough trouble hauling myself and the stroller up the hill and it would have been so much harder to carry a 40 pound kid. I almost felt like Cinderella for a minute as I looked around between breaths.
Unfortunately, we never did find the kid tour for the labyrinth but we had a blast exploring it on our own. Some sections were completely dark, some had low lighting and “fog,” and all of it had creepy music. We read about how Dracula had been inprisoned there and it had been a shelter during the second World War.
Vanessa got a little unnerved at certain points but overall the girls were impressively brave. I overheard two teenage girls using them as examples of why they should be able to handle the dark. “See, that four year old isn’t scared…”
After all that walking, I loved taking the funicular down the hill from the castle.
We finished the day at a beer festival on top of a mall–guess who’s idea? There was casual food, lots of beer, of course, and a playground for the kids. The World Cup has been going on and Europeans are watching it everywhere we go. It adds a fun element to the trip and I get to sit down!
Next up: Taking an eight hour train ride to Belgrade, Serbia. Will we have seats this time? How long do we have to wait for passport control at the border? Did we bring enough snacks? Will someone in our group have a meltdown? Check back to find out.