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Trip Report 2 wonderfully cool weeks in Austria and Czech Republic!

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Hello Fodorites! Thanks so much to all of you for your help in planning our Cental European adventure. We had such a great time! I'm already harking back to the cool weather and beautiful snow-capped mountain views as we begin our triple-digit summer here in TX...

This was our itinerary:
5 nights in Salzburg
4 nights in Vienna
1 night in Cesky Krumlov
5 nights in Prague

We are fit 30-somethings interested in beautiful views, historic sights, Klimt, Art Nouveau, and great food. I think we succeeded in experiencing all that and more :)

Here's how it went:

1. *Salzburg*

-TRAVEL: home->MUC->Salzburg
Flew into Munich, took subway then train to Salzburg (Bayern ticket, purchased at automated machine at subway stop in airport). Very easy to find each, and didn't have to wait long for either. Gorgeous views to greet us into the Salzkammergut! There was a dog show going on when we arrived in Salzburg - it was so funny to see sets of identical dogs of all sorts :)

- HOTEL: Haus Arenberg. Nice room, comfy bed, AMAZING Alps view from balcony (we were in room 4 on the top (2nd) floor)). Breakfast was good - assortments of teas, cereals, cheese and charcuterie, breads, fruit, juices, savory garnishes and spreads. Boiled eggs and coffee provided on request. Location: quiet and elegant neighborhood, but a looooong, uphill climb every nite! Took the bus some nights, but only cut the climb in half.

- FAVORITE ACTIVITIES:
. city views (day and night) from across the river and high above on the trails by the castle
. Augustiner beer garden
. a couple fun little shops in the "alleys" off the main streets (o/w shopping was tacky tourist junk)
. Mozart dinner concert at St. Peter Stiftskeller (the two opera singers had a great sense of humor)
. marionnette show (Magic Flute)
. trumpet player on the Konigsee boat (which was otherwise kind of boring)
. daytrip to Werfen: Hohenwerfen views on drive/hike up to Eisriesenwelt, amazing ice cave [VERY scary cable car ride, but over in 90sec or so - whew!]
. Hallstatt (WOW - as beautiful as you've heard, even in pouring rain!). Drove past Sts. Gilgen and Wolfgang; the lake was beautiful, but we found no reason to stop in the tiny, sleepy towns.
. Strobl luge - amazing view of Wolfgangsee while we sledded! I couldn't stop giggling while being tugged backwards up the mountain :)
. views from the Jennerbahn lift (only got halfway up due to weather) [FYI for those of us scared of heights/tight spaces: it was kind of a scary ride, and the 2nd half is much steeper; I was glad to get off halfway!]

- FAVORITE FOOD: spaetzle at Zirkelwirt, tea and coffee at Tomaselli, raspberry sundae at Cafe Sacher

- NOT SO GREAT:
. Mozart's residence (Wohnhaus), supposedly the best Mozart site, was very sparse and uninteresting; luckily it was free.
. Berchtesgaden salt mine, supposedly the best, wasn't worth the time (just a couple slides and a little boat ride).
. lots of rain, thwarted some of our plans (Schafberg cog train at St. Wolfgang, summit of Jennerbahn, Hellbrunn castle, SOM bike tour), so we were kind of bored the 5th day; spent it doing laundry. 5 days would've been just right if weather had cooperated.
. not so easy to find laundromats - our B&B hostess said Austrians don't use them much. Had to go all the way to the train station, not very convenient.
. buses to Berchtesgaden were fairly straightforward but we were still a little confused and felt they were time-consuming. We think we could've done Jennerbahn, Konigsee boat, and salt mine all in one day if we'd had a car. Glad to have car for Strobl, Werfen, and Hallstatt. We don't like spending our vacation standing around in the hot sun ;)
. Renting an automatic car became quite a nightmare - Gemut took almost 2 weeks to make our reservation (had to pay international rates to call and clear it all up after we were already in Austria); Avis in Freilassing (the only one with an automatic) couldn't find our reservation once we got there and the clerk didn't speak english. The only happy thing about the experience was that AutoEurope persistently followed up to make sure we eventually got our car, including having a German-speaking rep call the Avis office directly. Next time we will go straight through AutoEurope, skipping Gemut. Also, we will try to learn to drive standard to save money and hassle!


2. *Vienna*

-TRAVEL: Salzburg->Vienna
Took the Westbahn train to Vienna. OBB (understandably) unwilling to help us figure out where to buy tickets; found them at a Tabak. Could've bought them onboard, it turns out. Much cheaper than OBB; trains clean and fun :)

- HOTEL: Pension Suzanne. AWESOME location, just around corner from opera. Festival going on with opera projected on screen outside each night, so we relaxed in our hotel room and listened to opera wafting in through the windows! A bit noisy at night (had to keep windows open for cool air), but OK with earplugs. Beds comfortable, furnishings a little threadbare; really appreciated the full tub for soaking tired legs. Breakfast included whole fruit, softboiled eggs, cheese and charcuterie, cucumbers and tomatoes, cereals, juice, tea, and coffee. Staff very friendly and accommodating.

- FAVORITE ACTIVITIES:
. ballet (Don Quixote) at the opera house
. watching/listening to operas projected outside the opera house
. watching pastry chefs at Cafe Demel (but NOT eating here - really horrible, slow service!)
. desserts at Cafe Sacher (again, listening to projected opera out on the patio)
. AMAZING music at Augustinian church 11am Sunday mass (FYI, you can sit ALL the way in the front, behind the altar)
. seeing the Klimts at the Belvedere (the gardens were a little disappointing; definitely not worth the trip just for that part)
. shopping for gifts at Cafe Demel's chocolate shop and all the booths around St. Stephen's
. caught a glimpse of the Lippizanner horses going to their show, and that was plenty for us
. got enough of St. Stephen's outside the iron gate, without paying entry fee
. Melk to Krems boat ride down the Danube (very amused at 1-car train to get from St. Polten to Melk! Melk Abbey was ok; Krems not very interesting at all, esp. since most of it was closed for a holiday - VERY long walk from dock to train station, consider taking the shuttle)

- FAVORITE FOOD: Danieli Ristorante (visited twice; tired of meat and potatoes already), cheap seafood sandwiches at Nordsee, desserts at Cafe Sacher (great service)

- NOT SO GREAT:
. got enough splendour and Hapsburgs with Hofburg Palace, could've skipped Schonbrunn (since not as easy to get to)
. kahlenberg/heurigen - views just OK; we only found Sirbu and one across the street, otherwise just a lot of downhill walking, lol
. Karntnerstrasse and St. Stephen's area mobbed with people
. Hofburg Palace "gardens" are really just a park. A nice park, but not formal gardens. Schonbrunn has formal gardens, but it was all foliage (no flowers) when we were there.
. for some reason we had a hard time figuring out where to buy tickets for the Hofburg; it's a huge complex, and our little legs were already very tired from walking! The ticket booth is at St. Michael's square, in case you're wondering :)


3. *Cesky Krumlov*

-TRAVEL: Vienna->Cesky Krumlov
took the Westbahn train to Linz, then Sebastian shuttle to CK. Drove through pretty countryside to CK; chose this combo b/c didn't want to be in a mini-van for 3 hours plus got us into CK before noon. As it turned out, we had more than enough time in CK; we moved our departure up by 6 hours the next day, as we'd already seen all we wanted by then. I think we would've been fine doing this as a daytrip from Prague.

- HOTEL: Castle View Apartments. WOW! HUGE, even by American standards. Comfortable bed. Didn't actually have a castle view, but right in the center of town. Breakfast was served at nearby hotel.

- FAVORITE ACTIVITIES:
. baroque theatre (at first we were disappointed, but after we went under the stage we appreciated it much more)
. comically painted ballroom in castle; bear rugs everywhere (former moat residents - ewww)
. views of the town from the castle tower
. shopping at traditional gingerbread and chocolate places
. canoeing around the town!

- FAVORITE FOOD: traditional roast pork and dumplings at Na Louzi with Eggenberg beer and ZON cola.

- NOT SO GREAT:
. tour guide at castle/theatre. Spoke excellent english but with such a thick accent, we could hardly understand her.
. we hurried to the castle as soon as we arrived to get our timed tickets, but we accidentally went to the wrong ticket booth and bought tickets to the tower and museum instead, lol!
. tried to take RS's "short" sunset walk up above the town (Krizovy Vrch) - not short at all, and all uphill! Took too long so missed sunset and didn't get all the way to the top so missed the views too (too dark).
. an adventure trying to find the bus station on foot with all our luggage; station itself was just a rundown old building with bus stalls out front, kind of disconcerting but we found the right bus and made it to Prague just fine.


3. *Prague*

-TRAVEL: CK->Prague
Student Agency bus to Prague: clean, smooth, VERY cheap, no problem. Toilet was "only for emergencies", didn't see one at Prague bus station, so had to make an emergency stop in a nearby restaurant when we arrived ;)

- HOTEL: Dum u velke boty - beautiful, quiet, comfy beds, great hosts, good breakfast (eggs any style, swiss cheese and ham, cereals, yogurt, fruit, juice, coffee, tea); however, it is a long uphill climb to the hotel after a long day of sightseeing. Also not a lot of non-touristy restaurants nearby. However, easy access to the castle since already halfway up the hill!

- FAVORITE ACTIVITIES:
. old town square (so many interesting buildings to look at)
. city and river views day and night, everywhere you go!
. jewish quarter (esp. the spanish synagogue and the holocaust memorial)
. municipal house (Obecni Dum - wow!!)
. art nouveau on Na Prikope st.
. Latin mass at St. Vitus (surroundings more appreciated in that meditative environment than when we'd toured it with throngs of tourists the day before)
. St. Vitus: amused at the lack of uniformity and symmetry in the cathedral's many gawdy decorations - like a heavily tattooed person, each new decoration crammed in wherever it fit, in whatever style the new patron selected
. terezin: a little tricky to figure out how to get the right bus (you can buy tickets on the bus, btw), and had trouble finding the sights once we got there (though once we found it, we wondered why it was so hard to spot before), and the town itself is sad and lacking in good food. still, a moving experience all around. I think a bus tour would've been better if it's not too pricey.

- FAVORITE FOOD: first-off, the low prices were such a relief after expensive Austria!
. awesome goulash and licorice-flavored Twist Cola at Malastronska Beseda;
. desserts, becherovka, and special 'carrot menu' at cafe louvre;
. orange moon (thai/indian - we were so tired of meat and potatoes we ate there twice);
. Cesky Kuchenye cafeteria was an interesting experience even if food was so-so

- NOT SO GREAT:
. Infant of Prague. It's a Baby Jesus doll in a dress.
. Havelska market (same tourist junk you find all over old town square)
. Strahov monastery (they charged me how much for a quick little peek at an old library?)
. more rain
. mucha museum (loved his art, but entry fee too high for such a small exhibit)
. Wallenstein garden - just foliage
. crepes and trdelnik in old town square - supposed to be their specialties, but just so-so
. Indian Jewel restaurant: a RS rec., but overpriced and just OK
. castle: "old royal palace" is just a big empty hall. St. George's is a little interesting but the nice painted front wall was covered with scaffolding. We found that St. Vitus was the only thing of interest to us, so we wished we'd just gone to a mass for free instead of paying for the full castle complex ticket.

-TRAVEL: Prague->home
left out of Prague airport. Easy to get around, but bizarrely thorough in all their security - didn't have to wait in any long lines, but it still took a long time to get through the first check, then again at the gate, because they were so thorough! Also, very annoying that the x-ray/security check happens right at the gate, so you can't bring in any water or drinks you might've purchased while waiting for the flight. There was a small vending machine at the gate, but nobody could get it to work with CZK or Euros, whether bills or coins. Unsure whether a sealed duty-free bag of water bottles could've gone through security; might be an option.

-----------

Overall thoughts:
. Church decor: We were amused that the old baroque and roccoco churches had very modern 1970s altars that clashed with the rest of the gawdy decoration. We noticed that the old Austrian churches were decorated in the white-and-gold style, and the Czech churches in black-and-gold. Both very gawdy ;)
. Pine tree effigies: We saw strange tall poles topped with pine trees in the old towns' squares in both Austria and CR - turns out they were maypoles, but by early June when we were there they were looking like gruesome warnings to other pine trees.
. Blankies: Funny, but a nice touch, that patios in prague restaurants provide blankets for the patrons in case you're cold :)
. Cash vs. credit: surprised how much we relied on cash for food and other purchases; other countries we've visited in Europe we used credit almost exclusively.
. Water at restaurants: why won't any of the waiters bring plain ol' tap water? It was so tiresome to buy 3-euro bottles of water everywhere we went (cheaper in CR, at least). We had no problem getting tap water in restaurants on previous European trips.
. Language: Got by on the tiny bit of German I know, but Czech is HARD. Didn't find as much English as we've experienced on other trips (Italy, Paris). Not that I expect everyone to speak my language, of course, just an observation.
. Pace: We should've paced ourselves better; each stop found us bored with one day still remaining before the next move. Our legs were very tired, though, and appreciated the downtime even if we feared we were "wasting" our vacation, lol.


Thanks again for all your help in planning yet another memorable vacation!
- M

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