Monday, July 17, 2006

Out of My Comfort Zone---Part 2

Actually, thinking back about it, our trip went amazingly well with no hitches at all. Even our very last morning, we hoped our Taxi driver would be at our Vienna hotel to pick us up at 4:30 AM. The charming man who took us to our hotel after we dropped the rental car off at the airport---the one who had given us an earful about Bush---promised he'd send somebody to pick us up two days later even though it would be terribly early. You just kinda have to have faith in these situations. Sure enough, our last morning as we sleepily and quietly hauled our luggage to the lobby, a nice man was there to help us with it all and to transport us to the airport. Getting up at 4 AM is way out of my comfort zone.

Back to Lake Balaton. I was comfortable there. The weather finally cooled off. We had our cute little cottage and we'd found a wonderful grocery store. The lake was lovely to swim in and there were plenty of sights to see in the villages all around the lake. It was pleasant but BudaPest was an hour and a half away by car and we had to take a day trip to see BudaPest. How could we not??

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Our Village, Balatonszarszo train station and walking from the beach park.

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Benedictine Abbey at Tehany, Lake Balaton

1. Day trip to BudaPest. I kept saying to my family that BudaPest is a huge European city with traffic and narrow streets. You do not just decide to drive to BudaPest any more than you would just drive into New York City. I have to admit my husband has driven a car in New York City, LA, Boston, London, Rome, Edinburgh, San Francisco, Seattle every day and usually without problems but still! You need to have a plan especially when Rick Steves says--do not take your car into BudaPest. The train from our village took too long so we decided to drive to a suburb of BudaPest and park at a train station and take the train to the heart of the city like we did in Venice. Naturally, as we are driving down the freeway (after we realized via Rick Steves we had been driving illegally requiring a detour into a gas station or two until someone finally sold us a freeway sticker) those plans went out the window. We had a map so Lucas and Dave decided we'd drive into BudaPest afterall.

"Breathe, just breathe!" I stated out loud to myself. "I am just along for the ride. Just get me to BudaPest. We had a plan but....how soon you two have forgotten about the Hungarian gas station where we tried to call Miklos before we arrived in Lake Balaton. Do you remember how no one spoke English and they sold us a phone card to make a call on a phone that only spoke Hungarian? And they laughed at us? Or the sticker you just tried to buy? They are not very helpful in Hungarian gas stations! What if we get lost?"

"Ah, no problem!" says my sometimes over-confident husband. "Lucas has the map." Like that solves every single variable that could arise. They had decided to drive right into BudaPest and park at one of the BudaPest train stations. Immediately, we got lost and pulled into a BudaPest gas station--where no one spoke English. I sat in the back seat of the car breathing with an "I told you so" look on my face.

My husband and my son were not about to let me be right so I have to hand it to them---they got us out of that gas station and within a few minutes, we were parked at a nice parking garage at a BudaPest train station within walking distance of Castle Hill. It was great. Mom was happy indeed and I congratulated them for not making me be out of my comfort zone for very long.

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Castle Hill, BudaPest

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Chain Bridge, BudaPest, and me with Rick Steves in hand!

2. Driving to Vienna. The last two days of our trip had arrived. We left our little cottage by the lake for the three and a half hour drive to Vienna, Austria. The plan was to drop off the car at the airport and of course, figuring out where and how to do this was my husband's assignment. You would think after 33 years of marriage, I would realize he doesn't worry about some of the same things I do and he has a tendency to be impulsive---I call it running around like a chicken with its head cut off. My family would tease me about my comfort zone but I dished right back about my husband and his chicken without a head times. Both of my kids are able writers and I sometimes cringe at the thought of books they may write some day--fiction or not--with details about eccentric parents. It would all be true.

My son wanted to take a detour for lunch in Bratislava, Slovakia. I wanted to get to Vienna and I was a little concerned about the car drop off. He wanted another pin in his map. After Croatia, I said no. "But Mom, Croatia turned out just fine. Are you afraid of leaving your comfort zone again?" he asserted in a mocking tone. "Besides, Rick Steves says it is a great place for a lunch stop."

"Give me that book. I do NOT believe that is what Rick Steves says. See, you took him out of context, Lucas. You conveniently forgot the parantheses," I remarked.

"If you are passing through anyway, and have time to kill, Bratislava just barely merits a sightseeing sprint. The city is worth only a few hours---making it a rewarding stretch-your-legs stopover going between...Budapest and Vienna. (Though frankly, I'd rather skip Bratislava altogether to spend more time in those other two capitals.)" Emphasis mine.

As soon as I read this outloud and reminded my family that Miklos explained to us about how Slovakians still hate the Hungarians and if you drive there from Hungary, your car can get smashed up, my hubby said we'd pass on Slovakia. Plus, I think he was wondering about his directions for the car drop off.

Where I had notebooks full of detailed directions and people to call on how to reach our accommodations, Dave had a skimpy mapquest map with a purple line that made a circle to the destination for car drop off. Here we go again! The exit we took dropped us into the middle of an industrial section of Vienna. Yes, there was a gas station. Hopefully, Lucas's French and German would help us in Austria. I still do not understand what Dave did but this was not the place to drop off the car and the gas station guy thought we were completely nuts and he spoke no common language with us. Why oh why do we think gas stations will be any help at all?

Lucas finally said to his father that this was not the airport nor near the airport and since Lucas had been to the Vienna airport before, he redirected his father back to the freeway and to the signs for the airport. Forget the stupid directions Dave had come up with. Certainly, the airport will have a place to leave this car. There may have been a Budget Rental Car business somewhere in that industrial district but luckily there was a place to return the rental car at the airport---once we figured out (after three or four times around the airport) the international picture sign for "rental car return".

So we made it to Vienna. Certainly, my comfort zone would not be challenged again. Oh wait. Yes. My husband jumped onto a tram in the middle of Vienna without the correct change for four tickets---and Austrian people stared at the American family trying to figure out what in the world they should do.

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Hofburg Palace, Vienna.

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Sacher Torte at the Sacher Cafe near the Opera, Vienna (recommended, of course, by Rick Steves)