As you probably already know, I visited Vienna and Budapest last week, both for the first time. I'm used to European cities, having been to a number of them. Crooked streets, often narrow; old buildings, often many large, ornate ones; domed churches and tall cathedrals; long, continuous histories, with much drama and changing of hands and governments; royalty, revolts, rebuilding. So why did I like Vienna and Budapest?
Why Budapest is the easiest to answer: The river. The Danube (Duna in Hungarian, Donau in German/Norwegian). A dramatic hilly west bank (Buda) meets the flat Hungarian plains on the east bank (Pest), and the ribbon of water passing under many bridges past large, elaborate buildings (like the Whitehall-inspired parliament) creates a gorgeous and exotic scene:
Why I like Vienna is harder to nail down. Perhaps it's the city's combination of being both old, charming and Austrian. Or its more compact city center and narrow streets, some mere passageways, like in Bergen.
Budapest had much wider streets, longer blocks, and so didn't have that compact city center that many western European cities have, and which I am used to. The Hungarians love space and the flatness of the plains make it easy to build wide boulevards and large town squares, which is characteristic of the Pest side of Budapest. All the space in the picture below is just the entrance to a Metro station.
Also, the walk from our hotel in Budapest to the river/shopping district was typically city (Budapest is a bit larger than Vienna, too). The walk in Vienna from our hotel to the downtown area was partly along the U-bahn and now channeled Wien river (which reminded me of Los Angeles' river) and Naschmarkt (open air market), so walking in Vienna had a different feel.
I felt very comfortable navigating Vienna by myself, and less so in Budapest. Being baffled by Hungarian probably played a part. However, I do want to see both cities again, and one way that I think would be great is to travel by boat on the Donau between them, like in the old days. I wouldn't mind starting in the port town of Passau, in Germany, just across the Austrian border:
So what captured my fancy? Buildings. Buildings, buildings, buildings. Like this one, two blocks from our hotel. It is the Eastern train station and where the Orient Express stops.
Even though I live in an old European city, Norway has had a poor past, which shows in our buildings. Many buildings in Vienna and Budapest are huge, elaborate, no-expense-spared memorials to a glorious, powerful and rich past - a joint past until World War I, illustrated by this street scene in Vienna:
Sightseeing also means looking up. From atop what I believe is the winter palace in Vienna:
Walking back from shopping in Budapest, I happened to look up at these looking down on me:
And to answer Alice: Oh, yes, Hundertwasserhaus was wonderful! I enjoyed the whole area and took lots of pictures. Here's one of the building; the glass, trees and terrace are all part of it: