My “band of merry media” and I have been cast in a similar, real-life, no-laughing-matter calendar cruncher as SERIOUS guest journalists and photographers of Insight Vacations (Insight) on its six-night abbreviated Bohemian Rhapsody journey through the Czech Republic, Austria and Hungary.
So, if it’s Thursday, which it is, this must be Vienna (by day) and Budapest (by night).
Back on board the motor coach, we’re off to see a little 1,441-room “cottage,” as Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa once referred to it when her small family of 16 children and virile hubby, Emperor Francis I, summered there on the outskirts of Vienna: Schönbrunn Palace.
A UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site and one of Vienna’s most-visited attractions, Schönbrunn Palace is a must-see stop on anyone’s bucket list and a “signature” moment when led around by one of Insight’s expert art-historian guides.
For centuries, the “cottage” was the property of the House of Habsburg with its rich art and exquisite furnishings symbolic of the power and influence this royal lineage wielded around Europe from the end of the 17th to the early 20th century.
Due to restrictions on interior photography of any kind (I HATE when that happens), you’ll have to take my word for it: Schönbrunn Palace is one of the most impressive and well-preserved examples of Late Baroque (Rococo) you will ever experience.
Outside, it’s a different story, as photography is permitted all across the massive and impressive gardens and grounds that happen to house the world’s very first zoo, Tiergarten Schönbrunn, founded in 1752, along with the Great Parterre and its 32 sculptures, Neptune’s Fountain and the Gloriette on top of the hill.
Lens caps off, let’s see what we can capture in the 15 minutes we have left on this stop before the Insight Express leaves the station.
Quicker than you can say fahrvergnügen (German for “driving pleasure”) we’re back on the motor coach, cruising down the renowned Ringstraß towards our next hop-off points-of-interest: Maria Theresien Platz (Maria Theresa Square), the Burgtor Gate and Heldenplatz (Heroes’ Square), where the Hofburg residence and world-famous Spanish Riding School are located.
We’ve got 20 minutes people. So, GIDDYUP!
With the clock closing in on high noon, Neira, Insight’s chatty tour director-slash-storyteller, informs the peanut gallery that we’ll break for lunch, on our own dime, around the Central District of the city.
We dismount the motor coach near Kärntner Straße, Vienna’s trendy pedestrian-friendly street and THE place for shopping, dining, and people watching. I’ll have the bratwurst mit pommes frites and an Edelweiss Weißbier, bitte.
My tank now pegged on F, I’ve got a few minutes to walk off lunch and see what I can see around the Kärntner before heading back to the motor coach. Care to join me?
On the road again, we put Vienna — the second ranked, most livable city in the world for 2013, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) index — and the 22 hours we spent here in the rearview mirror, but not out of our minds.
From the imperial splendour of the Habsburgs and the classical notes of Mozart and Strauss, to the charm of its coffee houses and the mouth-watering strudels, schnitzels and Sachertorte (chocolate cake), it’s awfully hard not to like Vienna, a gem of a metropolis that bridges Central with Eastern Europe.
In the words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Terminator-Governator from Graz, I’ll be back!
Along the way, Neira, our chatty tour director, does her best to keep us awake by peppering the ride with her now legendary, fun-filled footnotes.
For instance, did you know that Harry Houdini, the illusionist-escape artist, and Bela Lugosi, the silver screen’s first Dracula, hailed from Hungary? That the ballpoint pen was invented by Laszlo Biro of Budapest and that Vitamin C was discovered by Hungarian scientist Albert Szent-Györgyi de Nagyrápolt? Did you?
After a quick 40 winks — sorry Neira, I just couldn’t keep my eyes open — I’m off the bus, in the elevator and heading up to my sixth floor temporary abode at the Sofitel Chain Bridge Hotel, Insight’s signature address in Budapest that’s in clear sight of, you guessed it, the Chain Bridge and the Blue Danube that flows underneath it.
I linger long enough to splash cold water on my face and, in Houdini-like speed, change my clothes, dash out the door and climb back on board the motor coach. Insight is treating us to an “Intro to Budapest” like no other: a dinner cruise down the Danube.
Truth be told, the iconic river’s nighttime reflections steal the show and actually trump the bigger-than-big, tasty buffet of Hungarian delights. And, that’s awfully hard to do when free food and drink, on a boat no less, are offered to this “band of merry media.”
For complete information on Insights’ premium and luxury-escorted itineraries, including the Bohemian Rhapsody and 100 other journeys throughout Europe, just click HERE, or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you at first light when we’ll start the day in Buda and end it around the dinner table in Pest. In between, we’ll make strudel from scratch and hang with the Great Communicator, Ronald Reagan. I kid you not.
Jó éjszakát! (Good night!)
©The Palladian Traveler | ©Tom Palladio Images