Tag Archives: castles

Budapest weekend

Budapest is an easy drive for a weekend getaway from Vienna. The downtown area is chock full of restaurants, and after dark, becomes quite the hot spot for nightlife.

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Both sides of the Danube river provide beautiful views.

Everything is available by the light rail and easy walk.

Some parts will be appreciated by the kids because of the resemblance to Disneyland, or is it the other way?

More photographs can be seen at my travel website.

 

 

Hrad Karlštejn

Hrad Karlštejn is a castle located in the village of Karlštejn, which is about a 40-minute drive from Prague. It is open to visitors daily except Monday; exact opening times vary by season. Entry to the castle is with a guided tour only (CZK 270/$13.75, kids under 6 years free), and English language tours are available. Once you complete the tour you are free to wander around the castle walls, etc. at your leisure.

The castle.

The castle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The courtyard of the castle contains a snack hut that sells hot drinks and a few basic snacks, and there are a few stands set up where vendors sell Czech specialties such as honey products (including honey hot cocoa – yum!) and smoked cheese. In early afternoon a trio in medieval costume also set up shop to play some old-fashioned music, but I do not know if this is a regular thing. And yes, the castle does have clean, indoor WCs available to use for CZK 10.

Castle courtyard

Castle courtyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When you arrive in the village there is a parking lot with a few souvenir shops. You have to park here and either walk the 2.5 km path up to the castle, or pay for a taxi or horse-drawn carriage to drive you up. Since I was 8 months pregnant when we visited, I insisted we pay the 400 CZK ($20.25) for the taxi to take us to the top. We walked back down, however, and I can report that the path is an easy walk: it is paved, the incline is not so steep, and it is lined with souvenir shops and restaurants so you have many opportunities to pause and rest.

We opted to have our meal at Restaurace U. Karla IV, which is the last restaurant that you come to before you reach the castle gate. We chose this one because it accepted credit cards, but it turned out to be a fantastic choice. First, it had a children’s play area complete with an IKEA play mat, table and chairs, and toys. Second, it had a “dungeon” (what looked like an old kitchen, but it was recessed in the wall and gated off), which kept our childrens’ imaginations going. Third and last, the food was terrific. Long story short, I ended up racing to eat my food because both my kids were also eating my lunch as fast as they could. And normally we have to coerce our kids to eat their meal!

Overall, this was a great day for our family. The castle was in very good shape and the tour was so interesting that even our 4-year old son was engaged. The tour guide was super-friendly and not bothered at all when our son started peppering him with random questions about the castle. The kids had a lot of fun exploring the castle walls after the tour, and the walk back down to the village was actually quite nice. I highly recommend this as a day trip from Prague.

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Travel guide – Sopron

Reviewed by Mary: My family and I have taken a couple day trips to Sopron, Hungary, but thus far our activities have been limited to what is outside. I’ve included links to some of the city’s museums, but we’ve not visited them (yet!) so I cannot speak to them first hand.

Driving to Sopron from Vienna:

Sopron is an easy, one-hour drive from Vienna along the A3. I know that you need a Hungarian vignette to drive on their major highways (i.e., if you were headed to Budapest), but once you cross the border into Hungary you are on a secondary/non-highway road. We have thus never purchased the vignette for our excursions into Sopron and we have not experienced any problems. (But if someone reading this knows for a fact this is wrong and you do in fact need a vignette, please correct me!)

We have always parked at the parking garage by the Petőfi theater on Petőfi tér: it is very inexpensive, and an easy (less than 10-minute) walk to the historic city center from here. As a bonus, if you walk to the city center from the garage along Széchenyi tér, you will pass by a bakery offering all manner of tempting sweets at a very low price. The staff at the bakery speak German as well as Hungarian, and will accept payment in Euros.

Things to do:

As you walk towards the Firewatch Tower, whose gate leads into the old inner city, you will see remnants of the city’s old defensive walls. My children spent a large amount of time running along the walls, imagining they were defending the city. As we were following them along the wall, we noticed three interesting things: multilingual signs along the wall that explained the history of the city and the remaining structures; the open air museum of reconstructed Roman walls and remains of some Roman buildings, and; the walking path that leads you around what remains of the city’s perimeter wall.

Along the city wall

Along the city wall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open air Roman museum (behind the gate)

Open air Roman museum (behind the gate)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As soon as we are sure that Sopron is safe from “the bad guys,” we spend the rest of our time in the city eating and exploring the city’s historic center.

Street leading to Firewatch tower

Street leading to Firewatch tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Main square

Main square

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sopron also boasts a pharmacy museum, bakery museum, and chocolate factory.

Restaurant Recommendations:

1. Fogas Étterem, located on Előkapu. As I mentioned earlier, we follow Széchenyi tér into the old part of the city, and this restaurant is located right before you get to the church and fire tower. The restaurant is very family-friendly: there is a play area in the back of the restaurant where the kids can play as you wait for your food. The bartender (?!?) kindly made our children hot chocolate, though it was not on the menu.

The restaurant’s specialty is seafood, but there are other hearty offerings. We had a platter that consisted of five huge pieces of various grilled meats situated atop a mound of fries. It was enough to feed our entire family, and it was very inexpensive. The restaurant accepts payment via credit card, Forint (the Hungarian currency), or Euro. The staff did not appear to speak English, but they did speak German.

2. Corvinus-Generális Étterem, Fő tér 7. Another location where you can get a large portion of hearty Hungarian fare for a very low price, payable in either Forint or Euro. The staff were very friendly, and I really appreciated how they greet you with a bowl of Erős Pista and a basket of warm bread.

Last but not least…

There is a Tesco Hypermarket located on the outskirts of Sopron. Tesco is a large British grocery store chain, and the one in Sopron is more akin to a Super Wal-Mart in that it sells household goods as well as groceries. We find the prices there to be lower than those in Vienna, so we always bring a cooler and stock up on grocery staples before we leave Hungary. And beer lovers, save space in your grocery cart for a case of the local Soproni beer.

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A Weekend in Krakow

Last weekend we made a quick trip to Krakow, Poland. By “quick,” I mean with several detours!

So, my first piece of advice if you are thinking about driving up is to check the route carefully. Don’t depend on GPS. While ours did function in Poland, it seemed pretty confused!  But, the main problem was in Austria. There is a big piece of highway missing between Vienna and the Czech border, which means a lengthy detour on local roads. Once we got into the Czech Republic, the roads were great. Then, soon after crossing the Polish border, we got diverted again, and the roads were not all in good shape. I would say the trip took  at least an hour longer than Google Maps had predicted.

On the way back, we headed due south at Brno toward Bratislava, then jogged over to the main highway on local Austrian roads. This worked much better: though we couldn’t do highway speeds, the roads were smooth, there were no traffic lights, and the scenery was beautiful. So, I’d recommend that route rather than going straight north. And, invest in a map!

Anyway, we stayed two nights in Krakow at the lovely Hotel Senacki. It is not the cheapest place, but very comfortable with a good breakfast (included) and right in the middle of the old town. And, there was a fully-functional air conditioner in the room.  Parking is not available at the hotel, but there is a discount at a Radisson parking lot about three blocks away. Once you leave your car, you won’t need it again. The tourist areas are very walkable.

Krakow is really cool. It reminds me very much of Prague before it got all fixed up. Beautifully renovated buildings are interspersed with shabby older ones. Because of the tourist economy there is also lot of good food and drink around. In fact, it’s a bit of a party town, like Prague, with some groups of Brits and Germans who were clearly there for the cheap beer. But this is not too out of control (yet). Cracovians are also very friendly.

Nightlife in the market square.

Nightlife in the market square.

In general, while we were not actually seeking out kids’ activities, since ours are grown, I’d say it’s a destination more for adults and older kids than for small children. While there is plenty of park space, I did not see one playground the entire time I was there, for example. In fact, I didn’t see very many kids at all! Only a few streets are pedestrian-only, and even those have a lot of horses and bikes on them. The market square would be a good place to hang out with kids, but that would depend on the weather, of course! And even then they’d have to be content with ice cream and people-watching. There was no entertainment specifically for kids that I saw.

Wawel hill from the castle tower

Wawel hill from the castle tower.

Wawel Castle has a large open plaza and a cafe serving sandwiches, hot dogs and ice cream in the middle, but the rest of it is not stroller-friendly at all. There are lots and lots of stairs and things that can’t be touched. In fact, children under 14 are banned on some tours–which is just as well, because they’d be very bored on them!  (Check with the castle staff ahead of time as to which tours allow children and which do not.) Also, most exhibits have timed entry, which could be a problem if your rugrats need to eat, sleep, poop, scream, or whatever at the wrong moment.

The tower--worth the climb for the view!

The tower–worth the climb for the view!

That said, older kids–maybe 6 and up–might like the castle a lot.  There is a big tower to climb up (no elevator), probably the most interesting exhibit of medieval armor and weaponry I have ever seen (no, really, this is very cool!), an underground part where you can see the original foundations of the castle, and a tiny, spooky spiral staircase that leads from the castle down to a rather damp and nasty “grotto” called the Dragon’s Den.

For adults, I’d recommend the tour of the state rooms and especially the guided tour of the private apartments. We had a very knowledgeable and entertaining guide who told us lots of fun facts about Polish history and the castle. I usually avoid guided tours because they can be tedious, but this one was really interesting.

Allow most of a day for the castle and the adjoining Basilica of Saints Stanislaus and Wenceslaus.

Musicians on the market square playing Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on the accordion. They were good!

Musicians on the market square playing Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on the accordion. They were good!

The 13th century market square is lots of fun. We just happened to be there on what was probably the nicest day of the year, and there was so much going on! There are cafes all around, food and drink vendors in the square, and also lots of stalls selling not only the standard tourist goods, but flowers, and some pretty nice crafts at good prices. Street musicians and performers of various kinds provide entertainment.  Inside the Draper’s Hall, there are yet more souvenir stalls, and a city museum which we were not able to visit because the tickets are also timed entry (this seems to be a thing in Krakow).  Maybe next time.

Pierogies at Miod Malina. YUM.

Pierogies at Miod Malina. YUM.

We had two excellent dinners on Grodska street in the old town. Pod Aniolami is a very traditional places with lots of hearty meat dishes. The staff is very proud of their “traditional homemade lard.” I was not a big fan of the lard, but everything else was very good. Miod Malina is more upscale, and serves both Polish and Italian food. We ordered salads and a big plate of assorted pierogies to share and left stuffed and happy. Definitely make a reservation well in advance at Miod Malina. It is very popular and was jammed by 7:30 p.m.

Chedar (prayer house) in Kazimierz.

Chedar (prayer house) in Kazimierz.

The last morning, before driving back to Vienna, we visited Kazimierz, the old Jewish Quarter. This was really interesting. Krakow’s Jewish population was basically wiped out by the Nazis, but the diaspora–primarily American–have poured resources into preserving the history of the place. There is a Jewish museum in the Old Synagogue, another medieval (still active) synagogue with a partially restored cemetery, and a nice square with restaurants serving Jewish food. Kazimierz is also home to a Jewish cultural center and an international Jewish festival. It is clearly an important part of Krakow’s history. Check out jewishkrakow.net for more information about Kazimierz.

This area is stroller-friendly, although probably not very interesting for young children. Older children may get something out of the visit, though, if you are prepared to explain the Holocaust to them and they are prepared to be properly respectful in the synagogues and cemetery. The Holocaust is not the entire focus of the area, but of course it is a large part of it, with plaques and memorials everywhere, and Nazi destruction still clearly in evidence. The presentation is very forthright (and entirely in both Polish and English, which is helpful). After the relative silence of the Austrians on this subject, we thought this was very interesting.

Interior of the Remuh Synagogue.

Interior of the Remuh Synagogue.

Note that the synagogues are conservative. Women must cover shoulders and legs (my capri pants were apparently OK, though) and men must wear yarmulkes. Definitely do go inside, though, they are very different from Baroque churches!

We finished up with a lovely lunch at Klezmer Hois, a Jewish hotel and restaurant on the square, very happy that we made it to Kazimierz before leaving town.  My only regret is that we didn’t schedule a longer visit, because there is more that I would like to see!

Mailberg

My in-laws were so interested in our overnight stay at a castle for my daughter’s birthday, that I arranged for us to stay overnight at a different castle during their recent visit. This time we stayed in Mailberg, a village in Austria’s Weinviertel about an hour north of Vienna and very close to the Czech border.

Schloss Mailberg

Schloss Mailberg

There was a decent-size playground a two-minute walk from the castle’s property, which is where we began our visit. After the kids ran out their excess energy, we walked around the town. The town was small and the walk didn’t take long, but it was interesting to see what an old wine-making village looked like. The village was surrounded by vineyards, and between the sunshine and the newly-bloomed flowers it was a beautiful walk.

Mailberg

Mailberg

We had lunch at Weingut Hagn, which served the wine it produced along with some exceptionally delicious food. The outside patio was at the foot of their vineyards, and the kids had fun running through the vineyards and checking out things such as the old wine press. We finished our day by walking on a path that began on the outer perimeter of the castle’s wall, then continued through a small wood and the open fields. It was a great, relaxing day.

That night we ate at the castle’s restaurant, Schlosskeller Mailberg (here is my description of what I had to eat there). The restaurant was located right outside the church, whose door was open for evening mass. We ate delicious food and washed it down with local wine while being serenaded by the boys’ choir. A great way to end the day!

The cost of the overnight stay at the castle included breakfast and a castle tour. When I made the reservations I mentioned that our German wasn’t great, so the staff arranged for us to have a private tour of the castle in English. The tour conveniently ended in the castle’s vinothek, where we could purchase any of the local wines featured on the castle restaurant’s menu.

Vinothek at Schloss Mailberg

Vinothek at Schloss Mailberg

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