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Trip Report Austrian Air/hotel package Prague/Vienna/Bud trip report

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We (2 couples 60ish) got back yesterday from 10 days in Central Europe. We bought the Austrian Airlines air/train/hotel package. A great trip! Though we're all pretty well traveled, none of us had been to any of these 3 European cities.

Austrian Air treated us well - flights fairly on time, plenty of adequate food, and free drinks. Cheerfully colored plane interiors - not to mention flight attendants in red from neck to toe (red stockings! red shoes!). In addition to the air/hotel package, we bought (separately from them) transfers to from train/hotel/airport. Would probably have been cheaper to arrange our own cabs etc, but, since we were 4, the extra expense seemed worthwhile/convenient. Half of us liked Prague best and the other half preferred Vienna. Budapest would have been a better contender had it not been cold and damp all 3 days we were there.

We considered upgrading our hotels, but in end didn't. They were the Hotel Victoria in the Zizkov neighborhood of Prague, Hotel Savoy Garni in Vienna, and the Gran Hotel Hungaria (Best Western) in Budapest. The Savoy was the nicest of the 3 - a charming little place that was very well located and had at least one terrific desk/employee (Claudia?). Can't say about others, as she was the one we talked to during day when we needed info. Our rooms were probably their least desirable as they were in a tight corner on the first floor just off the small common area. (there are 3 of them there #12, 13, and 14). Nevertheless, they were quiet, large, and lovely. We didn't see any other rooms. Hotel Victoria was smallish and basic, but clean and just fine. Nothing particularly charming about it though. We grew to like the Zizkov nabe - it's right on a tram line. It had a bit of a bohemian flavor to it - lots of younger people, a nice casual reasonably priced restaurant right next door, and several other cafes, bars nearby. We were a short uphill walk from the TV tower (fun to see) - through a nice residential area. Hotel Hungaria was a big sterile Best Western, very busy with tour groups. Rooms were motel standard, but nice enough. Neighborhood was dreary though. You can see it from the Keleti train station. Near a busy intersection - lots and lots of graffiti. . . Nothing very interesting in immediate vicinity. Convenient to Metro though (it's under train station). Big restaurant for free breakfast - which was a large buffet that included fruit, vegetables, breads, cereal, eggs, French toast, yogurt.
The other hotels had smaller breakfasts - meat/cheese, breads, yogurt, cereal.

We're all urbanites used to doing lots of walking/public transport - so we did a lot of both every where. All 3 cities have great public transportation, well marked/easy tickets. We took only one taxi the whole time and that was in Prague.

We had warmish dry weather in Prague, much cooler dry weather in Vienna, and cold and damp weather in Budapest. Weather last week was colder and wetter than normal most places in Europe so it seemed. We were all prepared with our layers though, so just kept piling more on as the trip wore on. Alternated wearing jeans and black cotton pants with assorted long sleeve Ts and scarves (lots of nice ones to be had at Vienna market and elsewhere) under light leather jacket. The last 2 days in Budapest I broke out the long underwear . .. and gloves. All this fit in carry on bag. We were so smug.

In Prague we enjoyed visiting the aforementioned TV tower (those babies are wild!), a short cruise down the river, all the buildings in the castle area, and old town. Old Town and Castle area were jammed with tourists. Some American friends living in Paris joined us for the Prague portion of our trip, and they made us all a dinner reservation at Celeste Restaurant (the new one on top of Gehry's Dancing Building).
Everything was excellent - especially roast venison that a number of us had. But on a Friday eve, the place was less than 25% full. It's quite expensive and perhaps a just a bit too precious. .. Nevertheless, it was fun to see the building - and have a look out over the city from the top. We had a great lunch at one of the cafes in the castle district - sitting out on porch that overlooks the city. Fabulous lentil soup and toasted cheese sandwiches. Another dinner was at a place called Bohemia (I think) in Mala Strana. Heavy local fare and nothing to write home about. But we really liked both the little restaurant next to our hotel (copious great food and cheap) and the cafe around the corner - sorry never looked at the names. We also visited the Mucha museum in Prague - small, but interesting - and we watched well done video on Mucha. And of course we walked over the bridge (later in the day when pedestrian traffic was at least moving). Bridge repair is still in progress - so half the bridge is closed.

We did a lot of art museums in Vienna - the Leopold, the Albertina, Belvedere, and the Kunst. .. all beautiful places. We followed precise advice from Fodors (tripadvisor?) to get standing room tickets at the opera - which was La Boheme. Lined up 90 minutes before the performance. It was all very orderly, well managed. Got probably the last tickets for the parterre area (first floor) and had great standing/leaning area - at the back of the congested space - husbands leaned against back wall, wives leaned on railing, and we switched a couple times as well. Subtitles available in English. It was a very good performance - didn't knock my socks off - but I'm glad we did it. We also went to one of those Vienna Walzer concerts at the Palffy Palace. Though I'd read all the stories/warnings here, I still allowed myself to be convinced to pay more for less .... . by not asking enough questions of the charming/engaging fellow promoting the concert on the street. We bought the highest level seats for something like 59 EU. Well the concert hall only seated 100, so any seat would have been good. Group was 4 strings (violins and cello) and a piano. Music was quite lovely and professional though. Also included a soloist and "pantomime" Soloist was good - but we all could have done without the dancers. We never made it to any of the fancy restaurants I had on my list for Vienna. Had such a good time at the Belvedere brewery that we just ended up eating there one night. There were two pubs near our hotel that we enjoyed as well.

We loved the train rides between Prague and Vienna and Vienna and Budapest. Quiet and relaxing time out from racing around the cities! We ate breakfast on one train and lunch on another – really enjoying being in a real “dining car” - an experience that none of us had had before.

We did a quick tour of the history museum when we got to Budapest. Lots to see in there, a pretty nice museum – lots of info in English. We learned a lot.
The weather was so rotten we decided to just have dinner next door at the Museum Restaurant (it was recommended in Lonely Planet). We went in with zero expectations and had a wonderful dinner there. It’s a large old charming place. We spent our 1st whole day in Buda on the castle grounds. Signed on for a very thorough tour in English at the gate. Very knowledgeable guide talked nonstop as we moved from room to room – full of info. Tried but failed to see a couple sites recommended in our books – the house of wine and the catering and commerce museum. House of wine was closed for unknown reason and Catering and Commerce museum had disappeared altogether. Stopped in a few giftie stores. Had a very brief and very expensive “tour” of the one room synagogue. Suited back up, took funicular back down hill and struggled back across bridge to Pest (oh those crosswinds, added to damp . . .). Made a beeline to closest building across bridge – the Four Seasons Hotel – a beautifully renovated historic building. We all had ridiculously expensive coffee drinks and enjoyed the warmth/opulence. Then we were off on an adventure - looking for a restaurant that had been recommended Szlovák Söröző. The kind and articulate waiter at 4 Seasons located it on map for us and gave us some directions. No sooner were we off the main drag along the river than we were lost in a maze of small name changing streets. A young British ex pat took pity on us and directed us as far as the correct neighborhood. But still no luck. We fell into the Irish bar there and asked again. Though the guys there had never heard of the place, they looked at map and told us it had to be just in back of them. . . and so it was! We were definitely the only tourists in the place. The very kindly waiter made some recs (one should have been to share dishes) and we ended up with enormous quantities of interesting food. Husband and I couldn’t resist ordering “The Transylvania Wooden Plate for 2” which turned out to be sausage cut as flowers, two pieces of thin grilled beef, and two pieces of breaded fried pork supported by a huge mound of fried potatoes and rice. Also had a sweet/sour salad of cucs and bibb lettuce, and their speciality Sztrapacska, which translates to pasta with cottage cheese. Walked back to our hotel as penance. Spent our second day on Andrassy Street. Walked all the way up to the park, stopping in places of interest along the way – the Liszt museum, etc. Just enjoyed looking at the architecture. Spent quite a bit of time at the Turner exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, where we also had lunch. Tried to go to the Agricultural Center, but it was closed. Decided to go over to the zoo (of all places) if only to see the promoted Secessionist Elephant and Palm Houses. Actually we had a great time at the zoo. We’d just been a few weeks ago here in DC and the place was MOBBED. In Budapest by contrast we had the whole place to ourselves. Got great looks at the orangs we like, for example, as well as tiger and leopard. Hiked back down Andrassy for final night dinner at Klassz, which I saw recommended on chowhound.
Great meal there – terrific waiter who was knowledgeable helpful and totally straight up.
Food was wonderful and reasonably priced. Glad we got there early on Friday night, as it’s a small place that quickly filled up.

It was a great trip - way too short for any of the cities of course – but what can you do except go back! It was also fun to be reading “The Historian” while traipsing around Central Europe too, enjoying author’s descriptions of Hungarian language, food, history. . .

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