6 countries in 1 week

Information below courtesy of the American Spouses of Brunssum Travel Information Guide – used with permission

Hungary, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Italy, Austria in One Trip

First off, what were we thinking? This many countries in one week? YIKES! And, if we are visiting this many countries, what do we visit in each one to make it worthwhile? Well, that one was easy for us. My son (International Politics Major) wanted to visit the capitals of countries. So that was our goal. We did not always make that goal, but we tried. Let me tell you right now, that in some of the descriptions below, I am quoting from literature we picked up along the way. I have pictures of everything but the descriptions that they provided were much better than what I could have written on my own! J

Where to stay? We decided to stay in Sopron, Hungary. We booked our room through www.afvclub.com. Our room included a full kitchen, one bedroom with two twin beds that we pushed together, and a living room with a fold out couch. It cost $249.00 for the week. The room was very clean and it was adequate. We took some food with us, so ate breakfast there each morning and pack lunches for our adventures. We tried to eat one meal in each country. My son complained that the bed was too small but he’s 6’3” and had to sleep sideways on it. The website for the town we stayed at is: http://sopron.ohb.hu/index.en.html.

Itinerary:

First day Saturday: travel. We drove to Hungary. We used www.viamichelin.com (this is the only website we found for the Eastern European countries) for directions. It stated that it was a 10-hour drive. We actually did it in 9 1/2 and that was with a stop of about ½ hour on the road for an accident. We only stopped when filling up with gas and would get a bite to eat at this time too. We used our gas coupons all the way until the Austria border (gas station about 15 miles from the border). Then the rest of the trip, we used cash. Please keep in mind that we drive an Explorer and got about 17 miles to the gallon. Arrived on Saturday evening, checked into the hotel, got a bite to eat there at the hotel (good CHEAP food) and then took off walking to get a look at the city.

Sunday Second day: Bratislava (capital of Slovakia) – This was about a one-hour drive from the hotel. Website is: http://slovakia.eunet.sk/bratislava.html. The first thing we saw as we entered Bratislava was the castle. It sits high above the Danube and was breathtaking. One of the towers is accessible from the historical museum, and from it you can get a great view of the city and the Danube. One of those views is of the Novi Most tower bridge with the Kaviaren Bystrica restaurant and vista on top. The elevator ride only costs 10 koruna (about 30 cents) and the view is fantastic.

About a quarter of the original city walls still exist. It covers almost a square mile, and is loaded with pubs, restaurants, shops, and embassies. The Slovaks are very proud of their new nation, and their flag flies everywhere in Bratislava. National pride also shines in Bratislava’s various architectural wonders. The National Theater and National Museum near the Danube are absolutely gorgeous buildings, as is the Primiatalpalais. Also, when you see the Residence building, go around to the back – often it is open to the public. There is a large enclosed park that contains numerous interesting sculptures from Slovakian artists. Adam and I sat here for a while when Ron was getting the car (also please keep in mind that my foot was broken during this wonderful week of walking all around!)

Finally, there is one very hard-to-find monument that is clearly visible from most of the city. Sitting at the highest point in the area, you will see the 40-meter-tall Slavin World War II monument. It honors the Slovaks and Russians who gave their lives on the eastern front.

Monday: Third day – Sopron, Hungary – we decided we liked the town we were in and wanted to check it out. And boy were there things to check out! Sopron is the town of museums. Since Sopron is the second richest town in monuments in Hungary, it received the Golden Medal of European Monument Protection Award in 1975. We visited the Fire Tower (served as the north tower of the city wall from the 13th century), the Storno House (a castle-like Baroque corner house), the local history exhibition (though the fight against the Turkish and the Habsburgs was the main characteristic of the 17th century, it was one of the golden ages of Sopron. Five Parliament sessions and three coronations were held then), the Fabricius House (a Roman bath was discovered by archaeologists in the basement of the building and there are many headstones … dating all the way back to 1541, altar stones, monuments and sepulchral urns; and there are several-meter high sculptures of the Capitolium Gods here), the Goat Church, the Apothecary House, the Scarbantia Forum (one of the border stations of the one-time Roman Empire’s Pannonia Province), the Medieval Synagogue, the Central Mining Museum, the Forestry Industry and Land-Surveying Historic Collection (maps from 1656, land surveying and cartography from the 18th century), the National Lutheran Museum (story of the Lutheran congregation with its past of centuries is dated from the time of the Reformation in Hungary), the Collection of Roman Catholic Holy Art, the Soproni Horvath Jozsef Collection (Great painter of Sopron), the Zettl-Langer Collection (painter from 1852-1917), the Baker Museum, the Ethnographic Exhibition, the Karoly Lookout Tower, the Mining Museum, Stone Quarry, The Szechenyi Mausoleum (the most sacred place of pilgrimage for Hungarian people), the Fertoszeplak (ancient home of the Szechenyi family until the end of the 18th century) and finally the Esterhazy Castle which is third in size among the most important building complexes in Hungary.

Tuesday Fourth day – Zagreb (capital of Croatia website: www.zagreb-touristinfo.hr) this was about a four-hour drive from the hotel. And there are two things that I very distinctly remember. We had a hard time finding the center of town and they REFUSED to let us get 2 of the same scoops of ice cream. All three of us tried and they refused! If we only wanted one flavor, we only get one scoop! Oh well, I had kiwi and watermelon and it was WONDERFUL! Don’t remember what hubby and son got but they really enjoyed theirs as well.

A good first stop in Zagreb is the city Tourist Information Center at Trg Bana Josipa Jelacica 11. The tourist office has a useful booklet called “Zagreb Info A-Z” which provides names of restaurants and other kinds of facilities. You can also pick up English brochures, maps and a walking tour plan. They also sell a Zagreb Card, a 72-hour card, which allows visitors to use local transportation and provides discounts at museums, galleries, restaurants, shops and clubs.

We took the city walk which lasted several hours and took us by St. Mark’s Church with it’s brightly colored, tiled roof with coat of arms, the stone gates (the year 1760 engraved about the northern entrance documents the last reconstruction of the gate) which are mentioned in the Middle Ages, Catherine’s Square, the Gallery of Contemporary Art and too many things to mention. All told we spent only about 6 hours here (walking, eating, taking in the sites) and then started our 4-hour ride back to the hotel.

Wednesday – Fifth day: Vienna (capital of Austria – website: http://www.vienna.com/touren1.php?lang=en) First thing I HAVE to say is that there is NO way to get enough of this city in one day. My college age son was so excited; he wants to bring his college buddies back here next summer. Vienna was only about ½ hour from our hotel so it made for an easy drive (my husband was very thankful!) There is just so much to see here that I don’t think I can even begin to go into it! One think I do HAVE to mention however, is while we were at the castle 2 men changed right in front of us into running gear (They were TOTALLY nude!) We were amazed, and tried to convince my son that “While in Vienna…” but he wouldn’t fall for it. While we were there, we saw the Opera House, Burgtheater, the Prater (Ferris wheel … no we didn’t ride it), the Karlskirche, the Schonbrunn, the Kunsthisisches Museum, the Stephansdom, the Belvedere, Café Central and Museums Quarter. And NO, we did not spend enough time there, and some of those we just drove by and took pictures. We could very easily spend a week there!! We could have spent a whole day just at the Schonbrunn Palace and Gardens. I can NOT say enough about the beauty in this town. When we go back, and we will, I want to go see the Vienna Mozart Orchestra in period costumes and wigs in Vienna’s biggest and most famous concert hall, I want to cruise down the Danube to Budapest, I want, I want, I want. Lucky for me, my husband and son agree with me that this city will take some time!

Thursday – Sixth day – Severe thunderstorms forecasted for the entire day for the whole area. Lucky for us, we brought our DVD player and watched 6 James Bond movies one right after the other. It was REALLY nice to relax for one day. We had been planning on going to Budapest today and Slovenia tomorrow, so we needed to decide which we were going to give up. We decided to go to Slovenia tomorrow because lots of tours go to Budapest but none to Slovenia. And looking at the map, Italy is only about 45 more minutes from the capital of Slovenia, and since I had not made it yet to Italy, we decided we would throw that in as well.

Friday: Seventh day – Ljubljana (capital of Slovenia … with a side trip to Trieste, Italy – website: http://www.ijs.si/slo/ljubljana/). Looking at the map, as I stated before, I saw that Trieste, Italy was not too far from Ljubljana, and we decided to go there first. It was about a 5 ½ hour drive to Trieste from the hotel. Overcast day but the scenery was WONDERFUL! Slovenia is a beautiful country. We made it to Trieste about 11:30. It was a nice little town. Not very touristy (at least what we saw) but we ate lunch in my very first Italian Pizzeria. And it was great! We walked around a bit, saw the Adriatic Sea and then headed for Ljubljana.

According to legend, Ljubljana was founded when Jason sailed into the Ljubljana River while fleeing King Aites and slew the horrible Ljubljana dragon. Today’s bridge dragons are surrounded by a mix of Baroque monuments, art nouveau facades, and high-rises. One of the ways to see the sights is to meet in front of the city hall for a 2 hr. walking tour given in English and Slovenian. June – Sept. meet daily at 5 p.m.; July-Aug. also on Sundays at 11 a.m. Cost is 25 € per person. We decided to go on our own. One of the first things we saw was Ljubljana Castle. The castle’s existence was first documented in 1144 but most of the buildings are from the 16th and 17th century from renovations following the 1511 earthquake. The Virtual Museum inside the castle uses computerized presentations to illuminate the story of Ljubljana’s past. The presentation was good but it left you hanging at the end. We all felt like “What happened then?” It was like the story got cut off. Next up was St. Nicholas’ Cathedral. It is so absolutely exquisite that it would take many visits to absorb all of its beauty. Other things to visit include Triple Bridge. The architect modernized the old Spitalski Bridge by supplementing the stone construction with two footbridges. The Triple Bridge now provides a great entrance to the Old Town. There are remains of Roman walls, a cultural center, Parliament, parks, universities, and the Slovenian Academy of Arts and Sciences. If you are looking for museums, the is the National Museum (Archaeology, culture and Slovenian history from the Middle Ages to the present and upstairs the Natural History Museum showcases a paleontological exhibit and geological and mineral collections from around Slovenia), the Plecnik Collection Architecture Museum and the National Gallery (includes works by Slovenian and European artists from the Romantic through Impressionist periods and religious icons dating from 1270). All in all, this was a beautiful town, in a beautiful country!

On Saturday, our goal had been to start home but to stop and see Mad King Ludwig’s castles along the way. We figured we would get half the way home and then come home on Sunday but we were tired. Adam had never been to the castles (but we had) and he said he would prefer to wait and see them when he wasn’t so worn out. So we ended up just coming home.

Things you should know: Hungary had a thing for stamping our passports. We got 14 stamps from Hungary! They stamped it going in, they stamped it going out … at first I thought it was great but then I was concerned that they would use up my whole passport! Austria was the only other country that stamped it, and that made me sad! I wanted Slovenia, Slovakia, Croatia to stamp it and they just weren’t interested! L

One other thing … you have to get highway usage stickers for most of the countries. Just stop at the borders. I don’t think they cost more than €10 each. The countries that didn’t need it, charged tolls on their roads. Just look at the signs where entering the countries.

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