Walking Tour of Vienna

When on a short city break, it can sometimes feel like you are trying to cram everything in. One of the best ways of seeing a lot in a short space of time is to take a walking tour.

Luckily, on our trip to Vienna, the hotel was offering a free walking tour of the city and we decided to make the most of it. When picking a tour, I like to look for ones that don’t just visit the popular tourist spots; I can do that perfectly well on my own. Instead, I like to pick tours that offer something a little different, usually places that are just off the beaten path. The free tour we joined was just the ticket as it was centred around the Jewish quarter and surrounding areas, slightly out of the main shopping areas.

We spent a couple of hours hearing tales of historical sites down the twisty streets next to the Danube. The architecture was incredible, often showing glimpses of the changes made to buildings across the years: Art Deco, Baroque and Gothic in places, splattered with an array of Roman style statues.

Stories of bar tenders who were so drunk they were mistaken for Plague victims and thrown into mass graves, visits to the places Mozart studied and incredibly ornate churches behind plain wooden doors: the tour was excellent and gave a sense of Vienna’s history.

As this tour took place on the coldest day of our trip in Vienna, we rounded off the morning with a hot drink in a toasty café. Once we’d suitably warmed up, we were off again; this time making up our own little tour locations as we found out way back towards the Danube.

Road Trip Pit Stops

Often when we travel, if there are a few of us, we’ll hire a car to get about. The flexibility it gives us is well worth the money and allows us to see things that are a little off the beaten track. It also means that if we see something interesting, we can just pull over and investigate – on a bus or a train that’s much harder to do!

This weeks post is dedicated to some of those little pit stops, sights and experiences we’ve had that were unplanned but added to our adventure.

Sea Lions on the Big Sur

Driving down the stunning coastline of the Big Sur, we spotted a group of sea lions hanging out on the beach. We pulled over for about half an hour, watching them from a safe distance.

Ghost Town Near Vegas

Much of the surrounding area of Vegas is rock, dust and highway. To break up our long and dry drive, we followed a road sign to a small ghost town – an abandoned town rising out of the dust. It was one of the smaller towns and I’d love to go back and check out one of the larger ones at some point.

Model Town Near Zion

Stopping for a much-needed loo break, we pulled into a store which had a large scale model town outside. It was certainly pulling in the visitors and the inside of the store was also really cool, with lots of interesting trinkets.

Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara was one of our best finds. We needed somewhere to pull in to take a rest on a long trip from San Francisco to LA and Santa Barbara was it. It was beautiful and I could have stayed for so much longer. You can read more out our stop in Santa Barbara here.

Boulder

Boulder was an interesting stop over. After a long day driving, we stopped at a hotel in Boulder before continuing our route the next day. With not much around, the stand out feature of Boulder was the sunset – although the Shining-esque hotel corridors were a big talking point – we spent the night listening out for echos of ‘Redrum’!!

Cliffs Overlooking San Francisco

This was one of the most beautiful pit stops I remember. Heading out of San Francisco, the winding roads stretching out before us, we pulled over to the side of the road to check out the views.

The cliff edges floated out into misty nothingness and it felt like we were standing above the clouds. We could hear the water below and glimpses of the stunning drops peaked through the clouds.

Where has been your best unscheduled pit stop?

The Colosseum, Rome

The Colosseum is easily one of the most recognisable landmarks in Italy. Outlined against blue skies, it looms over Piazza del Colossel, imposing and inviting in equal measures. Home to gladiatorial games, the Colosseum’s history is steeped in blood.

The amphitheater is a huge structure, capable of holding around 50,000 – 87,000 people and widely known for displays of public combat and slaughter of gladiators and animals for public entertainment. It’s one of those places that you absolutely have to visit if you are in Rome and Wandering Beeb’s love of all things resembling Roman ruins meant that it was one of the first places on our hit list when we arrived in Italy.

We had booked on to the evening tour in advance and paid the extra fee to take a trip down to the bottom floors, which aren’t always included on the standard visit. It’s well worth booking ahead as you get to skip some of the line (which can be fairly long) and are guaranteed a place on the limited evening tour.

One of the lower floors of the Colosseum

Inside, the structure feels bigger than its outside appearance and it’s much easier to make comparisons to more modern arenas, imagining crowds of people gathered to watch the latest entertainment.

From the bottom of the arena floor, looking up created a feeling of dizziness as each layer of the structure twisted away towards the sky. The layers underneath the main performance area were a warren of corridors, lined by the ruins of the cages where fighters and animals were held until their time on the arena floor. It was a very different view from the top of the arena, with huge arches creating a stunning silhouette.

The underground section for fighters and animals at the Colosseum

We learned on the tour that they flooded the arena on occasion to stage boat shows and battles – something I wasn’t aware of. It must have been an incredible site to watch – imagine that happening in an arena in today’s time – it would take huge mechanics to make that happen!

The tour was well organised and gave us plenty of time to wander round the ruins. Standing on the top floor, we could see over to the ruins of the Roman fort, giving a helicopter view of the site.

Inside the Colosseum

Today, the arena is sometimes used for concerts and opera performances. Unfortunately, on the day we went, there were no performances taking place, although it’s something that we’d definitely go back to see.

Tickets into the Colosseum can be booked here. An entrance ticket and the underground tour usually cost around £25 per person.

From the Banks of the Danube River

An alternative view of Budapest

Whilst in Budapest, one of the main things that we wanted to do was to spend some time on the Danube. As Europe’s second longest river, we wanted to take some time to explore properly.

The River Danube

We had travelled to Budapest with a group of us, but had split up for the night to allow some time for the other two people in our travelling party to have a romantic meal out. Therefore, we found ourselves hopping on board a night boat to take a stunning trip down the Danube before meeting back up with our group for a trip to the ruin pubs.

Shoes on the river Danube

The day before we had strolled down the riverbank in the Pest side of the City to take a look at the ‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’ memorial. Sixty pairs of shoes, made from iron are lined up on the river side to commemorate the massive loss of life of 3,500 people (mostly Jewish people) who were shot in 1945. After being told to remove their shoes and being shot, their bodies fell into the river, being swept away by the current. It’s a terrible reminder of the worst of humanity and seeing sixty pairs of shoes lined up along the river gives a sense of the scale of the atrocity.

Sculpture memorial for thee lives lost in 1945

The nighttime boat ride was a very different view as we passed the Hungarian Parliament buildings. Brightly shining against the dark night, it was an imposing building, full of grandeur and twinkling lights.

Hungarian Parliament buildings

Chain bridge was magnificent to see in the dark and the sounds of the water rushing past us added to the experience. Illuminated gargoyles standing out in the darkness created a gothic edge to the views.

Gargoyles rising out of the darkness

It was a beautiful way to see a different view of the city and travelling by river always feels much more exciting and exotic than by road.

Have you visited Budapest? What were your favourite experiences?