A Return to Europe: Vienna and Budapest

A few years ago, I resolved to do more international travel. I had the means and the opportunity, so why not? In 2017 I spent several weeks in Southeast Asia (research for my recently completed book). In 2018 I spent six weeks in France (including a writing retreat at VCCA France). In 2019 I made two trips to Europe: one to Prague in late summer (hot!) and one to Barcelona in late fall (perfect!). I was looking forward to making at least one trip abroad per year, but then came 2020 and the Global Pandemic.

Fortunately, things began to change in 2022. Though fully vaccinated, I came down with Covid in the summer. Then I got the latest, Omicron-specific, booster, and I decided I was comfortable with the idea of flying again. But where should I go?

There are so many places I haven’t visited yet. And there are many places I’d love to return to. When I was in Prague in 2019, several people I met were planning to cruise down the Danube to visit other Central European cities such as Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest. Since I didn’t manage to see those cities on that trip, they were high on my list. So, when?

My thinking on the timing may seem a little random, but there’s a young Canadian classical pianist whose work I have been following since I discovered him on YouTube a year or so ago. (Jan Lisiecki–check him out.) He was a child prodigy (a descriptor no former child prodigy likes, I suspect) and is still only in his 20s, but records and performs extensively all over the world. In interviews, he seems completely charming and grounded. I happened to look up his tour schedule and he was going to be performing with the Vienna Symphony in November, on dates in the window for travel that was open to me. That seemed reason enough to make my decision, so I began setting up the trip.

A friend got wind of my travel plans and offered to meet with me to share his experiences in the region, and that was very helpful. I picked up the Rick Steves guidebooks for both Vienna and Budapest, and made a list of the must-see sites.

Booked: flights to and from Vienna, train to and from Budapest, AirBnB accommodations, various tours and experiences in each city, a day trip to Bratislava, and, importantly, a ticket to the Vienna Symphony concert.

Everything worked pretty much according to plan. I went to countless museums, ate and drank a lot, and generally wore out my shoes walking around each city and generally exhausted myself being a tourist. Plus, the concert was great, and I got to have a very brief conversation with Lisiecki. (I’m listening to his recording of the Chopin Nocturnes as I write this.)

I should mention the literary side of the journey. In Vienna, there is a wonderful English-language bookstore, Shakespeare & Co., and I visited there to pick up some European reading material. I bought two books by Annie Ernaux, one of which I read immediately, and one by Austrian Thomas Bernhard. In Budapest, the English language store BestSellers was recommended to me and there I bought books by two Hungarian writers, Laszlo Krasznahorkai and Jeno Rejto. (The bookseller was impressed that I had already read one of his other recommendations, The Book of Fathers by Miklos Vamos.) I carried with me on the trip another novel, by American writer Arthur Phillips, which is set in Budapest (though confusingly titled Prague). Still working my way through that one. (One more note here: other than the books I bought and the pictures I took, my only souvenirs from the trip are two kinds of Hungarian paprika.)

So, mission accomplished, and I can begin planning my next trip. Where to?

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  1. Ok, you are right. I am going to send some of your books to friends. Good idea. I am having to be just where I am and must be happy with that, but I could order the books.

    Good travels to you.

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