We'd originally signed up for a guided group tour. But as it turned out, nobody else signed up for the week we did. So we chose the self-guided option. We were initially apprehensive since neither of us speak German or Hungarian. However, all the apprehension was unnecessary. The self-guided option was grand! We had the freedom to do what we wanted on our own timetable and the benefits of pre-planned hotels, routes, and luggage transfers. We could pick our own departure times each day, skip lunches when we weren't hungry, and take detours when the urge struck.
As for the language issues, it wasn't a problem very often. Both Austrians and Hungarians are quite accommodating to English speakers. Western Hungary tends toward German for its non-Hungarian default. The closer we got to Budapest, the more English there was to be found. The only times the language was truly an issue was when we were lost, and that only happened a couple of times.
I'm going to blog each day with photos and text, dated for the actual days of the trip. But here's the overview:
September 4: This was supposed to be our travel departure day: Burlington to Washington Dulles to Vienna. Instead we spent it all in BTV due to mechanical issues with the airplane. We were rerouted, but the flight never left BTV. We ended up sleeping at home and trying again the next day. Not fun.
September 5: Departure day! Our new route was Burlington to Chicago to Frankfurt to Vienna. All the connections worked and were on time. But it was a long and grueling travel day. Being on United instead of Austrian meant no free alcohol and really bad food.
September 6: Arrival in Vienna. Jet lag. Naps. Sightseeing.
September 7 and 8: Fun times in Vienna.
September 9: Vienna to Hainburg (51.4 km/32 miles) - beautiful cycling along the Danube in a nature preserve
September 10: Hainburg to Bratislava to Mosonmagyaróvár (60.4 km/ 37.7 miles) - sightseeing in Bratislava, long afternoon of cycling
September 11: Mosonmagyaróvár to Györ (44.4 km/27.8 miles) - Györ was very charming once we found our hotel!
September 12: Györ to Tata (76.25 km/47.6 miles) - lakeside dining
September 13: Tata to Esztergom (57 km/35.5 miles) - hills and chills
September 14: Esztergom to Szentendre to Budapest (83 km/53 miles) - long day cycling in the cold, wind, and rain; ferry boondoggle; arrival in Budapest without getting lost!
September 15 - 17: Budapest sightseeing and evenings with friends. Stamp museum! Wine festival!
September 18: Train to Vienna.
September 19: Homeward bound: Vienna to Washington Dulles to Burlington.
We'd been to Vienna before, and it was as delightful as the other trip. It's a city full of richness and diversions that cannot be seen in just a few days. We always leave wanting more time there, which is better than leaving feeling bored already. (Incidentally, the user pic for this post is of us from the first Vienna trip back in 2006.)
Budapest was a delight. It has a very Parisian feel to it: Urban, high energy, youthful, lots of interesting things going on. At the same time, it is also a bit run down, disorganized, and poor-feeling. That mix, for us, meant that there were lots of things to see and do, and none of it very expensive. The wine scene there is vibrant, varied, and mostly unavailable in US markets. We ran out of time before we could fully explore the museum and shopping options. And, yes, we left wanting more time there. Again, a good thing!
If you want to see every picture we took (minus the really bad ones), they're all here without any descriptions; but they are all in chronological order.