It was very hard to leave Vienna, knowing that we had so much more we wanted to see and counting down the hours until we said farewell to the group, with all of us going separate ways. Dale and Rachel have a couple more days in Budapest in and apartment and then hope to make their way home via Africa, security problems in Nairobi allowing. Crystal and Soheila will fly home on Sunday morning, back to work and probably madly saving for the next trip. Dan and Caroline have plans in Budapest, Raf flies home to Krakow, while Leigh, Kimberley, Laura, Bev, Bruce, Gail and Barry hook up with the second half of the tour and some new companions.

The trip from Vienna to Bratislava was just the right length, and so was the stopover. I wasn’t impressed by the city, and even the old quarter was very small and only took an hour to walk around.

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The Cathedral was an exquisite miniature, and the memories of the holocaust ever-present, as indeed they have been throughout the trip, but Paula and I ended up walking off the street and into an “Irish” pub for a cosy and quiet lunch by ourselves.
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Raf, who has good-naturedly put up with a lot of ragging about his transport timetable — the -ish factor — copped the lot on the way to Budapest, because we had to change trains as the hotel was too far from the main station, Keleti. There we were, on a deserted station that looked like a hangover from the Second World War, Raf with no Magyar, one train cancelled and the demountable toilets looking like they had been invaded by the Soviet Army and sacked for good measure. Berlin 1945 in miniature! Miles from anywhere, in a town still an hour from Budapest, and when the announcement finally came, all these Hungarians appeared, climbing over tracks and springing up from nowhere. If we ended up in the wrong place, at least we would have lots of company!

Off course, Raf’s plans were good as they mostly have been and we ended up walking through the Budapest evening towards the Cotton Club Hotel. It was fairly clear that the Soviets had used it for target practice during the 1956 uprising, judging by the facade, while the comfort and size of the rooms couldn’t disguise the rather dodgy operations in parts of the extensive cellars. A burlesque show there certainly was, and a gambling den, but Paula became convinced that there was something rather more based on an hourly rate going on down there as well. The sense of proximity to a den of vice was certainly was the only exciting thing about breakfast!

On the other hand, our dinner was a triumph (I will have to track down all the restaurants from the trip, good, bad and blah), as Raf had handed over selection to a friend who lived in the town. We had great food and good wine, a birthday cake for Gail and a fitting end to the trip. Our walk back to the hotel and our rather-grandly described Marilyn Monroe suite (complete with art-work that gave her thighs like a weightlifter) was by a rather less-circuitous route than Raf had chosen on the way, and we realised that Budapest was a wonderful town, with the floodlit cathedral receiving some admiring comments from those in the group who had decided not to accompany Soheila on her search for a going home hangover.

Next morning saw Crystal and Soheila gone, Raf on his way and the rest of us planning separate excursions around the town.

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