Our journey had taken us to the city center of Vienna where we admired the Hofburg Palace in the rain, and later that day the Schoenbrunn palace in the blazing sun.
The Schoenbrunn, the Hapsburg royal family’s former residence palace, has a strict no photos rule. Feeling fearless after our bus adventure, I decided to ignore this rule (do not follow my example).
We perspired our way through the gilded rooms while I surreptitiously took photos behind my paper guide, which doubled as a fan. Suddenly a palace worker sprung up from somewhere beneath the floorboards and whipped a fan in from of my phone while shouting “NO PHOTO” in a thick German accent. All the dead Hapsburgs adorning the walls glared at me as I walked on eggshells through the rest of the palace. I was half expecting the palace worker, Sashca (which means “defender of mankind” in German and is also not her real name) to bludgeon me with her fan at any moment.
Events took a turn for the weirder later that evening at the Vienna State Opera House where we had standing room tickets for Elektra, written by Richard Strauss. We knew we were in for an interesting evening when the curtain rose and almost all the women on stage were naked. Apparently, the stage directions said “clothing optional.”
We struggled through an hour and 15 minutes of Elektra prancing around stage with various weapons, singing in German about spilling blood from the throats of 1,000 men, before we called it quits. Honestly, I do not know what took us so long. Suffice to say, I would not recommend Elektra if you are looking for a cultured evening at the opera.
We enjoyed the next morning swimming in the Danube before leaving the city. The stage direction again read clothing optional, and scantily clad women lounged on the banks of the river as we splashed around in the algae-green water.
Our journey (or more accurately, another lime green bus) then took us to Bratislava, Slovakia. Bratislava is a charming city. It has the storybook feel of Prague but is quiet like a small village in the countryside, with just enough going on in the city to keep things interesting. The three of us agreed, not long after arriving, that Bratislava would be a great place to hide if any of us ever became international criminals, and from that point forward regarded everyone wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses with suspicion.
We walked down quiet tree-lined streets and admired the colorful, ornate buildings. Somewhere off in the distance, I heard jazz music, so naturally we headed in that direction. The music lured us to a small park outside Old Town Bratislava. When we stepped through the iron gate, we felt we’d traveled back in time to 1945.
Everyone in the park was dressed (yes, dressed!) in their Sunday best. The men wore suspenders and newsboy caps, and the women were done up in pin-up curls and red lipstick, sporting pleats or polka dots with t-strap shoes. Fat’s Jazz Band played classics like “Sing, Sing, Sing” while couples swished and swayed to the Charleston on a platform before the band. Vendors sold lemonade and pastries while families sat on blankets enjoying an evening picnic. The whole scene looked like something out of Photoplay.
I could not believe my eyes. I have always wanted to go back in time and, in that moment, it truly seemed as though I had. We watched the revelry until deciding time had come to return to the 21st century. The same gate that transported us to 1945, spit us back into 2017. The jazz faded as we sauntered home, but a few quiet notes followed us all the way there.
Fittingly, our weekend ended under an overpass, during a rainstorm, awaiting another lime green bus. Mercifully, this one arrived and we rode through the Slovakian and Hungarian countryside back to Budapest.