Where to even start after an amazing four days over the Thanksgiving Holiday! We stayed in Sopron, Hungary to see a new country while traveling inexpensively and also being central to Vienna Airport and Bratislava, Slovakia. After four Christmas markets in four days….in three countries…we certainly maximized our weekend and had a wonderful time! Some of the trip highlights included:
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna, Austria
The quick flight from Frankfurt to Vienna gave us time to explore Vienna the first day and we visited the lovely Christmas market at Schönbrunn palace. Sarah had played drums here in high school and was looking forward to visiting again. The scene was incredible and crowds were down given it was mid day on a Wednesday when we arrived. With only about 60 booths it is not a huge Weinachtsmarkt, but the shopping and food options were still great. We enjoyed a loaded baked potato, pasta dish, and some kartoffel creme soup. Drink options are so many at the markets, with dozens of hot drink varieties, each coming in a very cool souvenir mug to keep (or return for €2.50 but seriously?). We didn’t tour the castle but did stop in the gift shop to pick up some souviners.
From our vacation house in Hungary, Bratislava was just an hour 20 minute drive which we did Thanksgiving day. Intresringly, both in Slovakia and Hungary there are toll requirements on Autobahns, but instead of a vignette you must pay and give your plate number at any gas station after which you keep the receipt with your car.
Bratislava was such a nice place to visit, starting with dramatic and out of this world entry to the city. Crossing the Danube you pass under a Soviet era UFO structure while seeing a mix of medieval, communist era, and modern tech structures. We easily found available parking right in old town at the parking garage and set off to see the capital of Slovakia.
The Old town of Bratislava was small, historic, and full of embassies. Indi loved seeeing the Flags and we saw the US, France, Greece, Japan, and Spain to name a few. We visited two separate Christmas market areas, one in the main square and one along a park towards the Danube. FOOD was the main attraction here, especially the Lokše (potato pancakes) and Cigánska pečienka (meat sandwich). Both of these are both incredibly tasty and messy. We also checked out the Chocolate shop in the main square which has a nice second floor sitting area and view of the square. Indi really loved Slovakia with all the flags and really wanted a scarf to take home, which she proudly wore the rest of the day!
Forchenstein Castle, Austria
We found this amazing gem only by reading a brochure in our vacation house. The castle is not open this time of year except for this particular weekend which was the Advent festival. The cost was only €3.50 per adult (kids under six free) which was actually cheaper than the normal entry fee! Both the castle and market were simply amazing, and probably my favorite in three years of experiencing the markets in Europe. There was just something for everyone – a kids art and crafts area, live music, castle museum with original art and artifacts, tons of shopping, and of course food and drink. There was even Austrian ORF TV filming and we think Dagny maybe made an appearance.
Sopron’s market (pronounced Show-pron we learned) was just setting up this weekend and we visited it on Saturday, our last day in town. Much smaller than the others on our trip, it had about 40 stands with mostly shopping and some food vendors. We bought a few ornaments and souviners before heading into the old town to explore.
The Old town of Sopron is very nice with the fire watch tower looking over the town square. We climbed the tower which gave a good view of the city and also served as a museum with photos and history of the town. Interestingly with the Proximity to Austria the town even had a german name at one point, and we noticed town signs in both languages on both sides of the border. Following WWI, Sopron voted to join Hungary over Austria, and the Fidelity gate which passes under the Fire tower commentates that 1922 vote. We did some shopping in the town and then headed to the Harrer Chocolate factory outside of town for dessert, highly recommended!
Some other interesting observations about the area…
- Hungary is cheap! They use the Forunt which was trading at 295 FNT to one dollar, so the math is tricky. Meals ranged from as little as $13 dollars to $30 for us two adults and two kids for lots of good food
- We liked the goulash and cucumber salad. We also had garlic cream and fish soups and stuffed pancakes which were all delicious.
- Many people did not speak English and we reverted to lots of pointing at times in shops and restaurants or using our German which is far from perfect. The language is very different and difficult as Hungarian has 46 letters in the alphabet.
- Watch out for pedestrians! Lots of crosswalks and people coming out with out looking. It’s interesting seeing the differences in something simple like crosswalks within Europe. Hungarians take theirs very seriously!