A New Year’s Fantasy…
Sunday concerts conducted by Hikmet Şimşek hold an important place in our generation’s childhood memories. Colorful memories of the same period include the funny philharmonic concerts conducted by Danny Kaye, which gave me and my peers a taste of classical music. Even though I’m not a real classical music fan, I’m quite familiar with it. Therefore, when my usual traveling companion Melike shared her dream of going to a New Year’s Eve Concert in Vienna, I said “come on!”
Of course, it doesn’t work like that… Vienna is an expensive destination in every respect. But Melike is a hardworking and determined woman even more than me! In summer, at the peak of hot July, when the airlines announced promotions, she immediately called me! During the previous campaign period, international tickets were not on sale, so we had consoled ourselves with Antalya and Konya tickets. This time the bite was big, so we attacked from both sides. Melike was successful again. Tickets to Vienna were out of reach, but we bought two return tickets to Budapest. And she had also looked up the Budapest – Vienna train schedule. Therefore, our plan was ready about 6 months before new year, at the height of the summer heat. We were going to fly to Budapest, taking the train to Vienna, staying here for a short time and enjoying the famous New Year’s Eve concert, and then returning to Budapest on the first day of the year for two or three days, hitting two targets with one flight.
Of course, time flew by… When the beginning of December came, we were a little sad that we did not reserve the accommodation in advance. Because the places were full and the prices had doubled! Fortunately, we and Melike’s sister, who decided to join our trip, attacked from three directions and found suitable accommodations for our budget. Moreover, the airline’s revision of flight schedules gave us the right to change the date of our promotional tickets free of charge. Thus, both the traveling group and the duration of the trip was expanded as 3 days in Vienna and 3 days in Budapest.
Before Going to Cold Lands…
Of course, winter can be harsh everywhere, but we had difficult moments of the cold in central and northern European cities before. Especially if you intend to wander the streets in the middle of winter like us! Also, if you do not have much luggage allowance on your promotional flight and will be traveling with only a cabin bag, planning is essential.
We carefully considered and discussed the things that should and should not pack for an efficient travel suitcase. We acted with the following notes:
- A lightweight and long (certainly below the knee) fluffy coat that is resistant to all kinds of cold and rain – I bought a long, side slit, black on the outside and bright orange on the inside, which looked good in the photos.
- Boots that will keep you warm, comfortable on long walks, and stylish enough for night parties (important point: no extra shoes) – I chose medium-sized snow boots with zippers.
- Heaviest clothes should be worn on the road – I wore jeans and my fluffy fleece
- A woolen shawl – I wrapped a blanket-type woolen shawl that matches the colors of the coat.
- Thin underlayers for everyday and 1-2 spare sweaters – I brought 2 sweaters, but one with the fleece was enough.
- A stylish option for New Year’s Eve – I couldn’t decide and brought two alternatives, but in the end I chose the comfortable one. So there is no need for the second one; decide up front.
- As for the bags; a cabin type rickshaw suitcase, a comfortable but stylish medium-sized backpack instead of a shoulder bag and a small shoulder bag inside it.
- Important note: If you don’t have specific shopping goals, don’t think ”I’ll buy it there if I need it”. Both Vienna and Budapest are expensive for shopping!
New Year’s Concert…
We had heard that the our dream (especially Melike’s) tickets for the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Eve Concert were very expensive. But we had also learned that the concert was broadcast live on giant screens in the city square and the festive streets. That’s why we didn’t bother with the concert first. But as the date approached, we wondered if we could find affordable tickets. Again, thanks to my friend’s determination and effort, we found a wonderful opportunity.
One of the small palace buildings in the city center of Vienna was converted into an event area for concerts and receptions. Small concerts were held in halls that looked luxurious inside and out. Apparently, city residents and tourists dressed up and enjoyed this splendor. The name of the place is Kursalon Hübner. And for New Year’s Eve, we bought a package for a concert between 22.00-23.30 and a fireworks show from the palace terrace with a glass of champagne at midnight for approximately 90 Euros per person.
Indeed, when we arrived at the event area around 21:00, we observed with astonishment that some of the guests came in evening dresses and tuxedos that would suit red carpets. Of course, there were also those who did not care for the atmosphere and came in their daily comfort clothes; some of them tourists. The majority of guests were dressed elegantly like us, but they were not posh like “the bride’s sister” at a wedding. It was very nice that the majority was Viennese of all ages who came to have a pleasant New Year’s Eve.
Unfortunately, the concert hall was not as huge and ornate as in the pictures. The area had probably been divided into concert, dining and dance sections. We confirmed this later when we had the opportunity to see other parts of the palace. Still, the stage was sufficient for the performance of a group of 9-10 musicians and 2 dancers or soloists. The seating consisted of chairs that were not very comfortable, but it was not unbearable. The entrance to the hall was through a single door, after a long wait, under the guidance of elegant ushers who did not rush at all.
The concert program was planned as a potpourri of popular classical music. It was compiled from pieces starring Vienna’s pride, Mozart and Strauss, that could appeal to all kinds of ears. Moreover, the accompanists who appeared on stage from time to time were exquisite… A tenor and a soprano opera soloist sang short arias, separately and together. A young ballerina and her slightly pot-bellied senior accompanist offered visual feasts of dance from waltz to ballet. The abundance of fun and rhythmic pieces did not tire the audience. After all, it was all very enjoyable. We laughed at the seniors in the audience who wanted to share the moment, because they were filming the back of guests rather than the performance. We considered it an advantage to be at the back of the hall and scored all the evening dresses.
After the concert ended half an hour before the new year, the guests were taken to the terrace in front of the hall in an orderly manner. Since we weren’t the only smart ones, we had to wait a long time in the cloakroom line before stepping out into the cold night. But we took our place in a secluded corner on the terrace with our champagne glasses in our hands before midnight. Thanks to our view overlooking a large park in the middle of the city, we had the opportunity to watch several firework shows in a row. Following the serial countdown of our presenter, a short but sparkling show took place right in front of us.
As the terrace got less crowded, we thought the guests were slowly dispersing. It turned out that there was another disco-lit hall with a dance floor and a small stage next door. We were excited to see people of all ages enjoying the music. We accompanied the evening dressed couples for a while. Our sweetest moments were watching the aunts and uncles dancing cheek to cheek, arm in arm wşth their shiny outfits.
Vienna Impressions & Warnings…
While traveling around a city in Europe, every tourist has different approaches… Some are museum lovers, some are gourmets; some wander the streets, some shop. Some people like to play from every tune and visit the most famous venues of the city. There are now many blogs, travel guides, and tour programs online. That’s why I won’t tell you to see this and don’t miss this in Vienna. It is very easy to do a little research on the internet and make a choose-like model. And that’s what we did… But I can share a few tips that made it easier for us in our short three-day program:
- You can easily mark the places you want to go on the map. This way, you will save time and it will be easier to spontaneously determine the closest route.
- You can download your map, which includes the places you have marked, accommodation and transfer points, to your mobile phone so that you can use it offline. Thus, you can access it whenever you want.
- Like us, you can get a virtual sim card by sacrificing one of you, so you can share the internet service in the group with an affordable budget. The only thing you need to pay attention to is that this data sharing is a bit battery consuming.
- If there is a museum you definitely want to go to, try to buy your tickets in advance. Tickets sell out quickly in many famous museums in Europe.
- Since we are interested in cultural heritage and thanks to Melike’s passionate curiosity, we specifically targeted the museum where the ruins of Ephesus are exhibited. It may not be at the top of the popular museums, but it’s central and it’s easy to buy tickets at the door. Unfortunately, they are displaying the magnificent Artemis in a way she does not deserve. It was a little heartbreaking to see the treasures of Ephesus in a doorway, at the bottom of the stairs, without proper lighting or backdrop that revealed their charm. At least they wrapped up the topic with an exquisite site model and excavation photographs.
- The city is quite crowded, especially during special times such as New Year’s Eve or even long weekends; There can be many queues everywhere. Consider waiting in line for restaurants and cafes or going to less popular places.
- In some places, the staff may act as if they are from the palace aristocracy and are doing you a favor. Don’t get angry or just keep it to yourself. Most of the time, the service fee is added to the account. Walk away slowly, pretending that you didn’t leave a tip.
- Yes, apple pies and schnitzels are amazing! Don’t leave without eating some. The city’s most famous schnitzel restaurant has two branches. One is bigger and you have a better chance of getting a table by waiting in line without making a reservation. We went on December 31, 15 minutes before it opened, at 11.15. We waited for about 20 minutes and ate at a wonderful table. Viennese schnitzel has pork and veal options here. The pork one is more famous and delicious. Portions are very fulfilling; you can even feed three people with two portions or order both for diversity. Do order the recommended potato salad on the side. But the cranberry sauce may not appeal to everyone; I liked it.
- The streets were beautifully decorated for New Year’s Eve… Lights, food and drink kiosks, security corridors, music points; everything was planned perfectly. It was very enjoyable to spend time on the streets before and after the concert. Mulled wine, punch and various drinks were sold in mushroom-shaped mugs with the Vienna commemoration logos. You could keep it as a souvenir; so I carried one of them home.
Ultimately, my impression of Vienna is this…
You have to see it once; but is it an exciting destination for the heart? No. First of all, it is a cold city with a cold style. I think the most important reason is the scale of everything. All is disconnected from the humanist scale; everything is huge… Roads, buildings, palaces, columns, ceilings, buildings and the city is mostly in neoclassical style. This style seems very insincere and superficial to me. It’s like a pretentious imitation of the legacy of ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia and Anatolia. They look great from a distance but lack the real majestic beauty. If you are interested in 18th and 19th century art, crafts and architecture this will be satisfactory. But if you are from the motherland of these fake Corinthian columns and wall reliefs, it doesn’t impress that much.
But if you are an art lover, Vienna is a museum paradise. It does not contain as much as cultural capitals such as Berlin, London and Paris. But if Klimts, Renoirs and Picassos suit your taste, there is a very satisfactory collection. So, if I ever go to Vienna again, I can stay one or two more days and feed my art-loving appetite.
What about Budapest…
Again, it was very easy to travel around Budapest with the targets previously marked on our map. Important tourist locations are not too far from each other. I am listing the tips and suggestions with comments:
- I recommend staying in a central location; you can go everywhere on foot. We stayed here; the encrypted key box, easy instructions, the quiet location in the most popular spot of the city and the comfort were satisfactory:
- Public transportation is very easy. We used buses a few times; There are ticket vending machines with English menus at almost every stop. Payment can also be made via credşt card for the transfer between the airport and the center.
- Again, I think you should buy your tickets to big and popular museums in advance, famous painters have many adorers.
- The National Hungarian Museum is a treasure that can be overlooked… We went early in the morning without buying a ticket in advance. There was still a queue but we got in easily. The treasury section is particularly impressive; located in the library section of the palace and the interiors were as impressive as the rare displays. In the divisions about Hungarian migrations, one could argue that “they are definitely Turks” 🙂
- The Opera House is world famous and has exquisite shows. Tickets are sold out very easily; we couldn’t find any. They also sell a limited number of standing tickets at 18:00 for every night, but that sells out too quickly too. If you go early and wait in line, it is worth the experience for the wonderful acoustics and the magnificent hall:
- If you want to visit the famous bridge, I recommend sunset time. The sun sets behind the hills, but if you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to wonderful colors with the Danube river. Moreover, if you walk across the bridge to the Buda side at this time, you can see the wonderful illuminated view of the city and the parliament building. It is possible to see a better view from the hilltop by taking the cable car; definitely worth the wait.
- We thought we could shop for souvenirs easily in Budapest but we were wrong! In my opinion, Hungarian embroidery and all tourist items were more expensive than their worth. It was obvious from a distance that some of the embroidery is machine work. We can already find everything in Turkey and our defeat against the Euro is very sad… We even had difficulty finding something to buy in the largest market in Budapest. However, if you would like to see all kinds of souvenirs and delicatessen in one place:
- Red pepper sauce called Paprika, one of the hallmark flavors of Budapest, is very popular. It is sold everywhere; you can buy a more affordable one from the market. It’s not a very different taste for us Turkish people, but it has a nice nuance that lingers on the palate. Moreover, it can also be a nice gift.
- If you love shopping or are especially fond of vintage stuff, then the hidden gems of the city will make you happy. There are multiple stylish vintage and second-hand stores in the centre. There are a variety of products, from quality used clothes to fun socks, leather bags and fur jackets. We lwere particularly happy with this:
- We found a shop for original Hungarian products in the center on our last hour.. Horn cups and ornaments, embroidered jewelry and clothes, leather bags and other decorated items made beautiful last-minute gifts with both their designs and inexpensive prices. It’s not exactly marked on the map, but it’s around here:
- There is a place that offers almost all varieties of street food… You should try:
- One of the best tastes we had was Artizan Bakery, a bakery-cafe that makes everything. The soup on the lunch menu, the sandwiches/salads that came with it, and the desserts were delicious. Careful because if you’re just as hungry as we were, there’s a risk of over eating:
- The city is famous for its bars located in abandoned buildings. The most famous, largest and most entertaining one:
- One night, we went to a sweet bar on our way… There were sweet waiters who gave you a deck of cards and directed us to choose among many cocktails from various flavors. This was a very fun experience; the venue was also very beautiful:
Budapest was a more humane, fun and enjoyable travel route for me. In the center of cold Europe, there are huge buildings, huge streets and huge squares still; but both the architectural features and the city as a whole envelops you with its more humane scale. Especially its sweet roof tiles and shapes, tiny shops, detailed, intricately crafted facades like Hungarian embroidery and exquisite lights. The Danube river, decorated with its resemblances, does create a lasting impression.
Walking through these streets makes you feel like you are in a distant land. But more like being part of an exciting adventure rather than a frightening or disturbing experience. In fact, it feels quite like a fairy-tale to watch people skating from the bridge on the huge ice ring, set up on the edge of the giant square or to walk through the old gate in the city’s largest park and wander among the romantic buildings. Ultimately, in Budapest, even if I did not feel like I belonged, I felt like I belonged to the moment.
The Furry Country…
So you may ask “what’s with the fur?”. From the moment we set foot in Vienna, we noticed plenty of people wearing fur; women of all ages and some gentlemen too. Initially the classic models preferred by older women caught our attention. Then we realized that young girls were also wandering around in furs. First we thought it was probably due to the cold weather. But gradually we concluded that fur was making a comeback in fashion
It didn’t take long for us to realize that every major store had at least one fur on display. When we met a huge fur section in the vintage shop in Budapest, the heart began to want what the eye saw! A variety of second-hand fur clothes, from colorful vests to retro jackets, adorned the hangers.
I must admit that I have mixed feelings about the fur issue. Most of it is thankfully fake fur anyway. But slaughtering a living creature just to look beautiful is not my thing. The moral evolution of our civilization is already at this point too. On the other hand, fur was once essential for a sustainable healthy life with local resources in very cold climates. It may still be valid in some special cases. My real dilemma is what will happen to the furs of the past… For example, the ones made before fur became a moral impasse. And eventually, what should I do with the fur stuff I inherited from my aunt?
My trip to Vienna and Budapest led me to ask these questions once again. The stylish and elegant fur coats seemed more impressive with the cold weather. Finally, I decided to buy a vintage faux fur vest. I was happy, the shop owner was happy and my conscience remained clear. Moreover, I looked fabulous! There is a saying in Turkish from an old joke that tells the story of how looks can be deceivingly powerful even if fraudulent… “Eat my fur!”