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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Confessions of a Europhile in Thirteen Volumes: VOLUME IV

The travel trio united once more on New Year's Eve in Paris for a fun-filled night of getting all dressed up, having our asses grabbed on the metro, watching the Eiffel Tower light up at midnight the same way it lights up year-round, finding all bathrooms on lockdown on the Champs-Elysées, and miraculously hauling a cab after a strenuous two-hour effort. Memories . . .

The Gateway to Eastern Europe

January 1st: new year, new travels. We decided in October that we would spend the latter half of our Christmas vacation in a winter wonderland – Austria. We took a flight to Vienna and settled in at our cozy little hilltop hostel surrounded by snow. We were charmed.

Once settled, we wasted no time in hitting the city, which lived up to its reputation of grandeur and elegance.

Come nightfall, however, we glanced at a map of Europe and felt stupid for booking five nights in Vienna when we had never been closer to Hungary! At the train station the next morning we promptly bought tickets to Budapest for January 5th. We would spend two full days in Vienna and two in Hungary. In between, we would take a day trip to Salzburg where we could ponder the eternal question: “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” (If that reference eludes you, please watch Sound of Music now. Like right now.) As it turns out, a trip to Salzburg would cost us over 70 euros, while an hour train ride to Slovakia came in at a mere 14! Bratislava had never sounded more appealing.

The excitement of "a mere 14 euros" quickly gave way to the dread of "a mere 19 degrees F., minus windchill." My fellow travelers from Boston and Toronto happily trotted along as this Miami girl prayed Hail Marys to distract her freezing mind. Looking at the photos now, I think, "that was pretty!" At the time, however, I was half conscious.

Freezing temperatures make me delirious, at which time I begin speaking to statues.

I began to recover my marbles as we headed to Budapest, where the snow was melting. This means we were spared the bitter cold but greeted by icy slosh, which doesn't feel great when seeping through your faux suede Payless boots. Trust me. We spent most of our two days trying to navigate through the rain and taking hazy pictures of city views through foggy bus windows.

The highlight of our Hungarian adventure, though, was our decision to take a dip in the famed thermal baths of Budapest. As none of us considered bringing a swimsuit to Hungary in January, a trip to the local H&M became a priority. Running through the frigid Eastern European winter air half naked would have been worth it had the water been hot rather than lukewarm. Turns out, as we were kindly informed by a local, that the "hot" pool was the other one – over there! Running through the frigid Eastern European winter air half naked and wet is even worse. Troopers that we are, though, we lived to tell the tale.

I am eager to visit Eastern Europe again, particularly Prague, but next time I'll be sure to book for spring or summer. This trip marked the first time I fully experienced snow. Although I had watched it fall a few times before, I'd never seen it "stick." It's as pretty in person as I had envisioned, but – and I know this is obvious – it's freaking COLD. It also gets your socks and feet all wet even if you bothered to buy thick rubber-soled, faux fur-padded boots in a hardcore "outdoors" store in Paris. In the battle of Cold vs. Me, Me holds her own, but Cold wins hands down.

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