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Trip Report The sore foot tour - Budapest, Austria, Venice

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Warning ' I tend to write long ' let me know if I'm including too much detail!

Back in February, my 2007 trip planning was rudely interrupted by a car accident (totally not my fault) and I was grounded by a broken ankle. It took months of recovery and physical therapy before I could think of traveling, and then only cautiously. I thought of the trip I was planning as a test - would my ankle hold up well enough for me to reasonably consider Central Asia for next year?

I decided to take things slowly, relying as usual on trains and public transport, but staying in European cities and not doing anything very energetic. My itinerary looked like this:
Revisit Budapest (6 nights), revisit Vienna (6), Graz (3), Kufstein (2), revisit Innsbruck (5), first real visit to Venice (6), leaving the U.S. October 15th - I didn't want to get to Venice until the hotel rates came down on Nov. 5th.

After due diligence on the net, I bought tickets on American for RDU-LGW (I wanted the miles) connecting to British Airways for LHR-BUD for essentially no more money, and flying VCE-LGW on Easyjet for one night in London on the way home. I printed off my packing list, dug out my luggage, bought gloves and a warmer coat, and started getting excited.

After falling in Switzerland in 2005 (broken wrist that time!), I followed my chiropractor's advice and bought over-the-ankle hiking boots for my 2006 trip to Greece and Eastern Europe. Even though I planned no equivalent of the 15 km hike down the Samaria Gorge this time, I took the boots, and a new pair of black flats for evening ' I figured it would be too cold to wear sandals for dinner - but I left my hiking stick at home.

Oct 15-16 - Actually Getting There

I had seven hours to get from Gatwick to Heathrow, ample time, I thought, for plane delays, M25 traffic jams, security lines and a cholesterol-laden British breakfast. I reached the gate at RDU early, but then the departure time on the monitors changed from 18:35 to 20:00. What??? When the gate agents showed up they announced that the inbound plane had landed with a smoking engine and would need a valve replaced.

I have to give credit to American for how they handled this. The gate agents kept us informed, helped with rebooking, and handed out meal vouchers. One, saying I needed a minimum of four hours for the transfer to Heathrow, booked me on a flight leaving Gatwick at 18:30 as a backup (bear this in mind next time an agent insists you can make that connection in two or three hours!).

I hope that when renovations at RDU are complete the restaurant selection will improve. I will say only that my chicken taco gave me indigestion. A ridiculously expensive glass of wine in the bar went down better, helped by a chat with a couple headed to Croatia.

The flight did actually take off at 20:00. With many people making other arrangements, I had an aisle as well as a window seat, and managed some sleep, even in cattle class. Since we landed exactly at 10:00 I decided to try for the 14:00 Heathrow flight, instead of taking a nap in the new
Yotel and flying out of Gatwick.

By 10:50 I was on a coach leaving Gatwick (using my UK passport got me a faster immigration line), and by 12:00 I was checking in at Terminal 1. I noticed that while security at RDU had been interested in my shoes but not my liquids, here it was the other way round. Breakfast at LHR was not as good as that at Gatwick South, and the flight also left late, although it landed only 10 minutes behind schedule.

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    I found Budapest's airport small but efficient, with an ATM beside the luggage carousels. (I was still using my Wachovia bank account, despite its 1% foreign conversion fee, but carried a brand-new Capital One Visa card, with no conversion fee and 1% cash back.) However, I had to wait quite a while to ride the Airport Shuttle ‚

    The first time I visited Budapest I stayed in a sobe, a good-sized room in an apartment overlooking Andrassy ut, but for this trip I wanted more privacy. I still wanted to stay in Pest (on the east bank of the Danube), livelier and with more restaurants than Buda (on the west bank) and when the Leo Panzio didn't answer my emails I chose the more central City Hotel Matyas over the Radio Inn.

    Cheaper than a taxi, the shuttle would still deliver me to my hotel, but gave me a more exciting ride than I expected. The driver seemed to think he was in a sports coupe, not a van, and the local sitting next to me told me all about the riots that had erupted in 2006 on the anniversary of the 1956 uprising. I confess it was chance, not planning, that had scheduled my departure to Vienna for Oct. 22nd, the day before. I asked the local and his wife about downtown restaurants, only to be told that they were all too expensive. Aside, perhaps, from those in the market hall.

    Fodors lists the Matyas, but I'm not sure why. I had booked through Ibusz, which got me a discount from the rack rate, but even at 72 euros/night I thought it overpriced. My single was spartan, although it did have plenty of storage space and hot water. Things that were broken, like my TV remote and their Internet connection, remained broken.

    It was already dinner time, so I ate in the hotel's tourist-trap restaurant: stained glass ceiling, "medieval" wall paintings, heavy wood, and a small group of musicians in fancy costumes. Blackberry soup - excellent, but overlarge dollop of cream. Trout - a bit salty and dry. Parsley potatoes - way undercooked. House red wine - forgettable. I collapsed into bed at 22:00, only to wake at midnight and turn the AC on!

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    Oct 17 - Pest

    Breakfast at the Matyas didn't improve my opinion of the place - watered orange juice and weak coffee. I was soon walking north past the Marriott, admiring the views of Castle Hill across the Danube. After picking up a transport pass, and failing to find the T.I., I stopped for coffee at the Cafe Gerbeaud, highly recommended in all the guidebooks. I disagree. The toilets were fine, but a small cup of coffee cost twice as much as a large cup at other coffee houses, and the ambiance wasn’t twice as good.

    After tracking down a travel agency to buy my onward train ticket, I took the metro over to the West End mall. Not a place I’d usually visit, but for a second time I had managed to bring the wrong adapter plug (blush). I found the Media Mart at the far end, past loads of shoe and dress shops, and bought a remarkably pricey universal adapter plug. (The same error last year, rectified in Thessaloniki, was less expensive.)

    I passed up TGIF (Level 1) and the Leroy Cafe (sushi, Level 2), for the Karma Cafe on Level 3 (www.karmabudapest.com). Sour cherry juice - good. Duck breast - dry. Quince in wine sauce - delicious. Potato scones - fine. After enjoying the decor (fake Turkish) and the bonsai window boxes, I checked out the local fashions - jeans, leather, blacks, and browns. Long straight hair seemed popular, and the painfully pointed high-heeled shoes ubiquitous in 2004 had mostly been replaced by more practical footwear.

    I took advantage of the sunny day to visit Heroes Square and the City Park. I'm a fan of Art Nouveau and I wanted to see the elephant house at the zoo. I can't recommend the zoo itself - the buildings and sculptures were fine, but I felt too sorry for the animals, stuck in 19th century quarters. I preferred the buildings along Andrassy ut, still in multiple stages of (dis)repair. I saw one for sale, one just converted to luxury apartments, one being readied for conversion - a good time to buy?

    By now I had been on my feet most of the day, and while my ankle was happy the soles of my feet were complaining. So I stopped to cool off and rest up at Menza on Liszt Ferenc. Rather bizarre decor but good coffee.

    With unhappy feet I stayed close to "home" for dinner, revisiting the Central Kafehaz I had enjoyed on my first visit. I loved the atmosphere - old wooden floors, very high ceilings, elaborate rosettes supporting the chandeliers, huge windows separated by mirrors and decorated panels, comfortable green leather banquettes, marble-topped tables, elegant bud vases. House red wine - not quite rich enough for the meal, but definitely drinkable. Pork with wild mushrooms and fried potatoes - quite good. (Stay tuned for a later bad experience with a rip-off waiter.)

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    Oct 18 - Museums

    Today I took Fodors’ advice, walking across the Chain Bridge to reach Buda, and then riding the charming little funicular up the hill. Despite the haze, the views were indeed worth the exercise. However, I found the Museum of Art closed for the day.

    At the Historical Museum I appreciated the Pre-history to Romans section on the top floor, with good English labels, but the sequence in the medieval section was hard to follow. Further along the hill I found the outside of St. Matyas church covered in scaffolding, but loved the lavish interior painting.

    Back outside I decided to escape the tourist hordes and the strong wind, retreating by bus and metro to Pest and the Govinda restaurant, recommended by a poster on fodors.com. Unfortunately, I wasn’t impressed with the food – edible but unexciting – and was rather taken aback by a young couple engaged in a lengthy PDA.

    Finding that I really did need a ticket ahead of time to visit the Parliament building, I chose instead to visit the Ethnographical Museum right opposite, where the ground floor was full of fascinating photos from the World Press Photo ’07 exhibition. The permanent exhibition reminded me a little of Ukraine, although nothing matched the Hutzul woodwork I admired there last year.

    Since my feet were once again complaining, I stopped off at the Central Kafehaz for coffee and cake. This time my waiter handed me a hand-written bill on a scrap of paper, instead of machine-written one, and I only realized after I left that he had overcharged me. While I love the coffeehouse, I can only recommend eating there if you pay close attention to the bill!

    For dinner I took the metro to the Soul Café (www.soulcafe.hu) on popular Raday ut. So-so raspberry soup was decorated with excellent lemon sorbet balls, but the chicken in yoghurt sauce with mushy jasmine rice disappointed – except for some welcome green beans. The German man at the next table had just returned from a business trip to Serbia, about which he found nothing good to say.

    Oct 19 – Wintry weather

    Cold enough today that I dug out my ear muffs for the walk to the Jewish quarter. I had admired the Dohány Street Synagogue so much on my previous trip I wanted to see it again, and the interior was just as lavish as I remembered. I much preferred it to St. Stephens Cathedral, which although well-provided with marble, gilding and tourists, I found rather gloomy – the light from the cupola fell on the middle of the aisle, rather than on the high altar. I also revisited a favorite lunch spot, Duran (www.freeweb.hu/duran/rendeles.html) for three luscious open-faced sandwiches – caviar, smoked salmon, mushrooms, yumm!

    Back on the Buda side, I tried to ignore the complaints from my feet, and took Fodors’ recommended walk along the back side of the hill, enjoying some sun, but finding the views not especially photogenic. The view from the Korona coffee shop was better. The Art Museum was open this afternoon, but also disappointed – the altar pieces may be High Gothic, but not, I think, high art. What did not disappoint (along with a glass of wine in the Hilton’s subterranean wine bar) was the evening light – the views from the Fisherman’s Bastion were extraordinary. No-one seemed to be charging for access, either.

    By dinner time the temperatures had dropped so much I shivered in my warmest clothes, even on the short walk from the tram stop to Salaam Bombay (www.salaambombay.hu/body_eng.swf). (The Matyas is very close to a stop for the tram that runs along the riverfront.) Again, I wasn’t particularly impressed by the Indian food – very good pulao rice, good lassi and chutney, but the Murghai chicken was sweet rather than spicy, and the pappadums turned soggy under their load of tomato and onion. I should wait until London for Indian food…

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    I'm also enjoying your trip report - mostly because I'm in the process of planning a trip for next summer which will include Budapest and Vienna - and because I am at the moment in somewhat bad physical shape - so your title "sore foot tour" really grabbed me. I usually walk a minimum of 8-10 miles a day in European cities, and climb every tower, lookout, etc that I can find. But at the moment I have a pinched nerve making walking difficult and stair climbing extremely difficult. So I am very interested in your take on how easy it is to enjoy these cities while keeping walking to a reasonaable amount. Were there lots of stair? Did you find alot of places had escalators or elevators? Any tips in the "walking wounded" department will be very much appreciated. (Although I certainly hope to be better way before next summer, but I'm going anyway so would rather be prepared.)

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    Thanks Fermi! Next installment tomorrow, I hope.

    Isabella - basically, I limped, very slowly, a lot! I'm usually one of the fastest walkers, but on this trip I wound up being overtaken by little old ladies with canes. I did make a lot of use of public transport - I suppose I could have used taxis too. Discussing it with my chiropractor when I got back, we concluded I needed more padding underfoot - although my ankle was playing up for the last part of the trip, too.

    Stairs - you should make sure your hotel has an elevator. The Matyas in Budapest did not, but I wouldn't recommend it anyway. The Pension Nossek, where I stayed in Vienna, was extremely central, and had an elevator, but you might do better to stay closer to a metro or tram stop. Otherwise, I don't remember a lot of stairs - just getting down to the wine bar in the Budapest Hilton, and most of the museums.

    Note that just standing can also be a problem - my feet hurt much worse after I stood for over an hour to watch the Lipizzaners in Vienna.

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    Oct 20 - Godollo

    During my first trip to Budapest I did the river trip to Szentendre (verdict: boring stretch of river, very pretty town but overrun with tourists), so this time I decided to go inland, to the palace at Godollo. But first I visited the Market Hall. I’m a fan of markets, and found this one, in a big iron and glass building, with meat and veg downstairs and souvenirs upstairs, crowded but worthwhile. And downstairs at the back I found what looked like temporary stalls, offering several different kinds of mushrooms. They all smelt wonderful. Nearby wall cases showed which kinds were safe and which not!

    Following Fodors’ directions, I took the metro to the end of the M3 line at Ors Vezer ter. I found the subway to the HEV station quite easily, but I didn’t find anywhere to buy a ticket for the suburban train. I boarded the waiting train with my fingers crossed, and luckily no inspectors showed up. However, shortly after a crowd of school kids boarded we stopped at a station, an announcement came over the P.A., and everyone got off. Turned out we had to take a seriously overcrowded bus the rest of the way to Godollo.

    As I’m not a fan of baroque, and as the Godollo palace is definitely baroque, I had been more interested in the trip through the countryside than the palace itself, but I quite enjoyed it anyway. – particularly the gowns belonging to Sisi (Empress Elizabeth, the Austro-Hungarian Princess Di) and a big chapel with a glass-enclosed viewing gallery. However, only coffee and cake were available for hungry visitors – no lunch.

    The helpful woman in the T.I. booth at the palace told me I could walk into town and catch a regular train back to Budapest. Since I was limping rather slowly at this point, the 1 km took longer than the advertised ten minutes, but I enjoyed the quiet, almost rural, back streets. The regular train, unlike the HEV, was pretty decrepit, but I was able to check out the distance from the platforms to the metro at Keleti station, and realized I would need a taxi the day I left.

    I lunched at Duran again – can’t pass up a chance at cheap caviar and smoked salmon – before tackling the Fine Arts Museum at Heroes Square. I started at the top - lots of stairs and no elevator – dedicated to painters you’ve never heard of who were active at the same time as painters you have heard of. But the next floor offered several interesting Breughels and an arresting study of a head by Raphael.

    Still looking for a replacement for the Central Kavehaz, I tried the Duncarlo, on the riverfront near the Marriott. I loved the view across to Buda, and braziers helped somewhat with the cold (I sat outside), but I wouldn’t think of eating there.

    I tried to get my hotel to make me a dinner reservation (this was a Saturday) at the Biboros, also on the riverfront, but they couldn’t get through on the phone. I found no trace of the restaurant at the address in Fodors, but I did have a choice of Greek or Italian nearby. (I see that the website guide still lists this restaurant, even though I gave feedback that it has closed.) I picked the Trattoria Toscana, and since I had arrived very early the friendly staff gave me a choice of two tables, provided I left in either one or two hours. I opted for the two hour table, and then watched several other hopeful diners turned away.

    Good choice! Thick, porcini mushroom soup was followed by duck breast in a wine and berry sauce with tasty, well-drained sautéed spinach, and accompanied by a glass of a good house wine. With the bill came a choice of complimentary grappa or limoncello. Ironically, this was my first taste of limoncello, and I immediately fell in love with it.

    I finished a good day at the Spoon Café. Last time I had taken, and much enjoyed, the evening boat ride on the Danube: this time I settled for a boat moored to the bank. No seats outside at this time of year, but the view from inside wasn’t bad.

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    Oct 21 – Gods? Goths? Oh – Guards

    In the past, my feet have complained at the beginning of a trip, but when they realized I wasn’t going to pay attention, they settled down and performed. This time, they’re still hurting, and I started thinking about slowing down, although I’m not sure that revisiting the Applied Arts Museum really counts.

    I actually prefer arts and crafts museums (think V&A) to fine arts (think National Gallery), and Budapest has a good one (www.imm.hu/angol/index.html). This time I enjoyed a display of treasures from the Esterhazy collection (tinyurl.com/359n4h), including elaborate metalwork, a millennial exhibition with some nice Art Nouveau pieces, a truly wonderful display of Galle and Tiffany glass, and a roomful of oriental rugs. And a ham and cheese sandwich in the ground-floor café.

    A visit to the Gyorgy Rath Asian museum was less successful – good thing it was free. I headed back to Andrassy ut, thinking of visiting the other Asian museum, Ferenc Hopp, to find the road filled with men in black vests and red and white neckerchiefs, drawn up in military formation behind big red and white flags. I asked a nearby man who these were. The answer sounded like Hungarian Gods. Or perhaps Hungarian Goths.

    I tried another spectator, and learned they were actually the Hungarian National Guard, and that the U.S. and the Western press and CNN all misrepresented them… I edged away from the lecture and started taking photos – of the Guard and of journalists taking their own, posed, photos. I walked up to Heroes Square, to find a big crowd and more flags. I decided that there would either be a lot of speeches I wouldn’t understand, or some form of mayhem I’d prefer to avoid. Back on the metro, headed south, I saw more trains than usual headed north, packed with burly men in khaki.

    I retreated across the river to the House of Hungarian Wines (www.magyarborokhaza.hu/index.php?selectlang=EN). Two hours and 22 wines to taste at your own speed. What fun! Aside from a couple of dessert wines I can’t say I found any wines I particularly wanted to buy, but I certainly enjoyed tasting them, and despite using the spit buckets almost all the time I still got a buzz. Not as big a one as the young Australians I met part way round, of course! We shared travel stories, and found that while I had loved Slovakia (visiting in June); they had hated it (all shut down off-season).

    For my last meal in Budapest I finally ate goulash soup – at the Café Vian (www.cafevian.com/en%20menuoldal.html) on Liszt Ferenc. The soup was recommendable, but the goose liver pate was to die for. I went back to the Matyas to pack, happy with my second visit to Budapest.

    Note: Some things from my first visit that I can recommend – the House of Terror, the Opera House, the evening Danube river cruise, eating in the Jewish quarter.

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    Thanks, I’ll keep going.

    Oct 22 – On to Vienna

    My taxi (arranged by the hotel) was waiting for me at 8:30. Although it dropped me near the front entrance to Keleti station, I still spent five minutes limping down the platform to reach my compartment. The second class EC seats were clean and comfortable, with plenty of leg room, and I boarded early enough I found room for my convertible backpack on the floor between two pairs of seats.

    Although Hungary has joined Schengen, border guards for both countries came through the train after Gyor. The countryside looked wintry, the fields fallow, and the last of the autumn leaves hanging from the trees. I also noticed wind turbines on both sides of the border.

    I recognized Westbahnhof from previous visits, and crossed the road to the Ubahn station where I bought my transport pass (using my Visa card in a machine). In Budapest, despite warnings in the guidebooks and on the boards, I saw ticket inspectors only at the entrances to stations on the M1 line, but here an inspector boarded my very first train.

    My first visit to Vienna I stayed out near the Westbahnhof, but this time I decided to spend (a little) more money to stay right in the center. I reluctantly passed up the Hotel am Stephansplatz (www.hotelamstephansplatz.at/en/home/index.html), as the prices have gone up since its renovation, and picked instead the Pension Nossek (www.pension-nossek.at). I turned down the offer of a large en-suite room with view of the Graben at 90+ euros/night, instead taking a small single with shower and sink, but toilet down the hall, at 60 euros. Over six nights the savings added up, and while the single was short on storage space it came with a comfy chair and a luxurious bathrobe.

    I ate lunch (creamy vegetable soup) in what would become my favorite Viennese café, the Griensteidl, just down the street on Michaelerplatz. Reading the (free) International Herald Tribune and drinking (poor) cappuccino I felt happy to be back in Vienna, although my feet were still complaining.

    Back outside I shivered in a chilly wind, and after finding a bookstore with English-language novels, getting a map and list of events from the T.I., and failing to find the Internet café recommended by the pension, I retreated to the comfortable chair in my room.

    I spent some time with my restaurant lists picking a nearby place for dinner, but was disappointed with Kern’s Beisl (recommended by Eyewitness). I approved of the chestnut soup, but the suckling pig was just roast pork, and the dumpling, potato and cabbage uninspiring. The place was full of tourists, too.

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    Thanks for keeping going, I'm definitly reading and enjoying.

    The hotel in Vienna - when you say toilet down the hall, do you recall how many rooms shared it?, was it clean? did you need to wait for it often? I also ususally go with ensuite, but have lately tried the shared toilet route and been happy. Any other hotel details? I'm putting it on my list.

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    isabel - if anyone else was sharing the toilet, it was only one person (based on the room map on my wall). I never had to wait, and I never saw anyone else when I walked down the hall to use it either. More hotel info in the next post.

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    Oct 23 – Vienna

    Breakfast at the Nossek was a considerable improvement over the Matyas, except that OJ cost an extra €2.50. Outside, rain had been added to the cold and wind, and I limped as fast as I could back to Michaelerplatz to see the Lippizaner (www.srs.at/index.php?id=265 ) rehearsal.

    Fortunately, I asked whether the line I found was to buy tickets, and was sent inside for one. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a seat. Normally I would have been fine standing against a column at one end, but this seemed to be the final straw for my feet. Instead of the soles, both the arches and my supposedly-healed broken ankle now hurt. It felt like both feet were trying to break in half.

    Don’t believe the guidebooks that tell you the rehearsal is a good substitute for a Lippizaner performance. If I hadn’t been a horse fan (I used to ride regularly as a teenager), I’d have been bored after the first half hour. Each rider just takes his horse through the paces he thinks need practice. And the horses aren’t all white, either.

    Having found in the T.I.s lengthy list of events that I could see ballet at the Opera House, I stopped off there and bought a ticket for a seat at the front of the balcony (after walking the wrong way round the building to find the ticket office, and avoiding all the guys in costume trying to sell concert tickets).

    I spent most of the rest of the day at the MAK, the Applied Arts Museum (www.mak.at/e/jetzt/f_jetzt.htm). Even without a reservation I was able to eat lunch in the well-reviewed restaurant by sitting in the bar section (www.wien.info/article.asp?IDArticle=14753). The lunch special, goulash, was heavy on potato and light on sausage, but had plenty of thick and tasty sauce.

    I divided my time between the wonderful exhibition of French and Brussels lace from the 16th to 18th centuries, the grotesques in the paper room, the bentwood chairs, the Turkish carpets (not as good as those in Budapest) and an interesting display in the basement – Chinese porcelain turned to show the bottom of the pots and plates instead of the top.

    I decided against the Bein Csaak for dinner as I didn’t have my German dictionary with me, and tried the Plachutta on Wollzeille instead (www.plachutta.at/index.php?id=21). Again, I needed a reservation for a table, but was seated at the bar. Both the salad bar and a glass of merlot were good, but the pepper steak was excellent. (I passed on their specialty, boiled beef.) The steak came a little on the rare side, for medium-rare, but was accompanied by a good pink peppercorn and cognac sauce, divine fried mashed potatoes, and al dente veggies. My black clothes must be helping me to fit in, as one waiter thought I spoke German.

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    Hi thursdays - just found your excellent trip report-I too love the details.

    I'm particularly interested in Vienna as it is high on our to-do list for 2008/9. if you could have afforded the hotelamstehpansplatz, would you have stayed there? apart from the seemingly excellent position, why choose that one? and how much - thier web-site seeems to indicate that it's completely booked forever!

    looking forward to more,

    regards, ann

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    ann - considering the Hotel am Stephansplatz was all about the location, although it does look comfortable. I thought it would be cool to be able to look out my window at the cathedral (although a single might not get that view, of course!) I also thought it would be cool to be on the Graben, which is why I wound up at the Nossek, although the HaS is much closer to the metro stop.

    I did enjoy being on the Graben, but also enjoyed being on the Mariahilferstrasse last time. I would say the most important consideration, unless you especially want to be in the center of the center, is to be close to a metro or tram stop - the public transport is excellent. Buy a transport pass and you'll be all set.

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    Oct 24 – Vienna

    Breakfast at the Nossek is generally a very quiet and sedate affair, but this morning I had an interesting chat with a young couple from California, currently based in the Czech Republic. Afterwards I revisited the Imperial Treasury – I didn’t feel a need to revisit the rest of the Hofburg, but I had thought the Hapsburg crown jewels easily outshone the British (and I grew up in Britain). With the audio guide it took me a good two and a half hours.

    I lunched at the Griensteidl again, this time on an omelet and very good French fries. With no IHT available, I read the London Times – and found Murdoch’s hand much in evidence. I was interested to see that London is planning to allow cars only for officials and competitors for the 2012 Olympics. Wonder if already-gridlocked Beijing might try that?

    The rain had stopped, so I made the mistake of following one of the Fodors’ walking tours. My feet were not up to it, and the day was too grey for the buildings to show to advantage. I did find a good Internet café (at Schwedenplatz), and spent some time catching up my reports for my email list.

    I looked in vain for a restaurant on the Judenplatz that I remembered from 2004, and ate instead in a pub on the same square. The music was louder than I like, and the four kids at the bar looked too young to drink even in Europe, but the staff were friendly, and I can’t imagine the Weiner schnitzel could be improved on. Two big, thin pieces of pork, perfectly cooked, hid a plateful of crisp French fries.

    With dinner so cheap, I stopped for coffee and Cointreau on the way home. The Café Korb had modern décor, but a journal rack and formally-dressed waiters just like the older cafes. However, my luck with waiters seemed to be completely out this trip. Mine handed me three instead of four €10 notes in change! When I called him back, he shrugged, said what sounded like “oh, yes” and went off to fetch another €10. (Since Austrian waiters generally carry their change around with them, the fact that he needed to get the money from the till seemed odd.) I was not amused…

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    I haven't been checking up on Fodor's very much this week, but am very glad I saw your trip report! We'll be visiting Budapest in May, and it sounds like we share a lot of your interests, including museums. Your comments are interesting, helpful and funny. Please continue!

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    Oct 25 – Belvedere and ballet

    I had originally planned a day trip to Sopron in Hungary (much closer to Vienna than Budapest) and another to Semmering, for a narrow gauge railway and hiking. Between my miserable feet and the miserable weather I gave up on both trips. Instead, I set off to visit the Klimt paintings in the Belvedere (www.belvedere.at).

    The Belvedere is close to Sudbahnhof, the station I would use to leave Vienna. I took the shortest route, Ubahn to Sudtiroler and Sbahn to Sudbahnhof, only to discover that changing trains required a lot of walking. Forewarned, I would leave town by Ubahn to Westbahnhof and tram to Sudbahnhof – longer but easier.

    I also walked more than I wanted getting from the Lower to the Upper Belvedere. Or was it the other way round? I am STILL confused as to which is which. Anyway, I arrived at the wrong one for the Klimt paintings, but the woman on the ticket desk kindly told me how to retrace my steps by tram. The grounds, in October, were not worth seeing, as the fountains were dry and much was torn up for renovation and replanting. I did note, with interest, three groups of tourists from a Viking river cruise, wearing labels. I had been considering a Viking river cruise, although the single supplement is fierce, and you don’t get nearly enough time in “port”, but this was distinctly off-putting.

    Once in the right building I saved the Klimts for last. Finally, I was in a museum with an elevator, and I started on the second floor, enjoying plenty of not-at-all-bad Austrian artists. Back downstairs, I was surprised to find that up close the “Kiss” appeared more aggressive and less romantic than in the reproductions. “Judith”, however, looked great.

    I can’t recommend the cafe – my spinach and feta strudel contained almost no feta. Since I have borderline hypoglaecemia, I need protein at every meal, and I worried that starvation might set in. (Not a pretty sight, believe me, if you have this problem!)

    After lunch I took Tram D back to the Hofburg, to find most of the open space taken up by tents and a display of military equipment. I dodged round the tanks to locate the Ephesus Museum, but felt it wasn’t worth the effort. I appreciated the audio guide, but the exhibits were limited (see Ephesus itself instead!). The Collection of Ancient Musical Instruments looked to be much more extensive, but since I’m virtually tone deaf I skipped it.

    Back on the Internet, ready to confirm my next hotel, I was horrified to realize I had made the reservation for November, not October!! Perhaps I can blame my confusion on the day-month (Europe) vs. month-day (U.S.) difference? Instead of a confirmation email, I sent a plea requesting a change to my reservation.

    I “dined” on a chicken baguette from Meinl’s take-out (www.meinlamgraben.at/meinl.aspx), practically next door to the Nossek, as this was ballet night. I had toured the Opera House on my first visit to Vienna, now I wanted to enjoy the sweeping staircase and red-and-gold auditorium as a spectator. I had even planned to buy a standing room ticket for a brief look at opera, but a full ballet would be a real treat.

    My balcony seat (€60) gave me an excellent view, my neighbors (U.K. rotary group on my left, river cruise guide on my right) were fun to talk to, the Opera House all I could ask, but the ballet (Coppelia) was a little disappointing. I had been thinking Royal Ballet, but not so much. While the troupe had more members than my home-town ballet company (www.carolinaballet.com), the costumes and sets were more pedestrian, and the performance standard much the same. Still, a great evening.

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    Ah, cliffhanger! Ready and waiting to find out what happened with the hotel researvation! Wonderful trip report. I am finding it informative and educational for solo traveling. Many thanks!

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    scotlib - It certainly felt like a cliff-hanger at the time, lol! Although I found several other options available, they were all more expensive. But, an advantage of traveling solo – recriminations and apologies were at a minimum! I just resolved to be more careful next time.

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    Oct 26 – Fine Art and fine food

    After breakfast I waited a while to use the Nossek’s expensive Internet connection, to find out whether I needed to spend the morning looking for another place to stay in Graz. Good news! Yes, I could have a single for the three nights, although apparently not the double-for-single-use I had originally reserved.

    I had decided to pay the pension early, as they required cash, and I didn’t want to find out on a Sunday morning that my ATM card was giving trouble (I had been spending euros left over from my last trip to this point). I had no difficulty with the ATM right across the street, but then discovered that today was a holiday!

    Because it was a holiday, the Fine Arts Museum – properly the Kunsthistorisches Museum (www.khm.at/homeE/homeE.html) - was packed. Still, audio guide in hand, I enjoyed myself. Lots and lots of good “Netherlandish” paintings including a roomful of Breughels and some lovely Rembrandts, took up the morning. Then I lucked into a table in the crowded dining room and rested my feet while I enjoyed soup, a ham and cheese croissant and a quite drinkable white wine. And after lunch I visited the special “Late Titian and the Sensuality of Painting” exhibition, which included multiple versions of the same scene, along with X-rays showing how they had been developed. My only regret was that the Kunstkammer was closed and I didn’t get to see Benvenuto Cellini’s gold salt cellar.

    Later, I again lucked out, ducking into the Café Mozart as rain started, and grabbing a table ahead of the crowds. The café did not displace the Griensteidl in my affections, however.

    I had reserved a table for dinner at the Palmenhaus (next door to the disappointing Butterfly House). Aside from the fact that I liked the idea of eating in a former conservatory, I still remembered a meal there from 2004: goat cheese remoulade with mango and pumpkin on assorted lettuce leaves, followed by guinea fowl breast with potatoes and curried fennel.

    The menu (www.palmenhaus.at/frames.htm) had changed completely, but the meal was still memorable: the only possible complaint about the smoked trout with a slightly lemony cream with red caviar on one side, and a vermillion horseradish foam on the other, would be “more, please!”, and the butterfish in an orange sauce with kumquats was divine – although the accompanying Jerusalem artichoke mash was a bit too mushy. The wine, the house Gruner Veltliner, was only O.K., and the service a little abrupt, but I’d be very happy to eat there again.

    I finished a good day with a grosse brauner, Cointreau and the London Times in the Griensteidl.

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    Oct 27 – Art Nouveau and aching feet

    This, alas, was not a particularly good day. The weather was still cool and grey and damp, and a visit to the Nachtmarkt resulted in way too much walking. Because of the holiday on the 26th (celebrating the withdrawal of post-WWII occupying forces in 1955), many of the stalls were closed, although I still had trouble navigating through the crowds. I did get photos of the Art Nouveau (Secession) buildings on Linke Wienzeile, but by the time I got back to Karlsplatz my feet were absolutely killing me.

    The Museum Café near Karlsplatz didn’t live up to its billing - I found its green stripes and dark wood dingy – but it did let me sit down while I decided on a nearby place for lunch. The Una, listed as such by Fodors, turned out to be on the Museum Quarter maps as the cafeteria, leading to confusion and more walking than necessary. Tackling the all-German menu, I ordered what seemed to be pork. What arrived were slivers of well-cured ham over a very thinly-sliced root vegetable in vinaigrette – delicious but not very filling.

    Rejecting the idea of more museums, I took a tram over to see the Hundertwasserhaus (www.hundertwasserhaus.at/1st.html) - quirky, cute, but totally out of context - and then rode Tram N across the river into Districts 2 and 20. While the buildings in this area are not in quite as good shape as those in the historic center, they certainly weren’t bad, and displayed an interesting mix of periods.

    Although I don’t have a sweet tooth, I couldn’t leave Vienna without eating at least one piece of cake, so I visited the Griensteidl yet again, and indulged in Esterhazy torte. While delicious, this does seems mostly to be a device for delivering amazing amounts of cream.

    By now I was getting quite worried about my feet. I had progressed from limping to what could only be described as hobbling, and I still had over two weeks to go. Accordingly, I looked for a very nearby place for dinner. The first I tried was full, the second too pricey, but then I found the Immervoll, on Weihburggasse, a cellar-like place that let me in without a reservation. Good choice! My calves’ liver and onions came in a nice sauce with properly cooked potatoes, and a glass of house Merlot made a good accompaniment.

    I staggered home to pack, remembering to set my clock and watch back – the Nossek had posted notices about the change from daylight savings’ time, and I looked forward to an extra hour of sleep.

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    The Treasury at Kunsthistorisches Museum is still closed? It was closed last Oct. as well. I wonder when it will open again.

    I think that section of the museum sent (at least) two amazing pieces to the Baroque tapestry exhibition at the Met.

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    yk - yes, I really like Vienna - great place for museums and food. There are still a number of interesting museums I can visit next time! (Although I don't understand why Budapest makes the Danube its centerpiece, very successfully, while Vienna turns its back on the river.)

    111op - according to the website the Treasury is indeed still closed, with no indication as to when it will reopen. A real pity, as an applied arts fan I'd intended to spend the rest of the afternoon there.

    Treesa - thanks! Good to know people are still reading.

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    Oct28 – Getting to Graz

    It took me 353 steps, in the rain, to get from the Pension Nossek’s front door, at one end of the Graben, to the top of the Stephansplatz’ metro stop’s escalator, at the other end. Yes, I counted. It helped me keep moving. Fortunately, reaching Sudbahnhof by way of Westbahnhof worked out well, and the Sudbahnhof had a cross between a moving pavement and an escalator to get me up to my platform.

    The train to Graz had old style compartments: for much of the way I shared with a family whose two kids couldn’t stop talking. (Memo: buy an MP3 player before the next trip!) But the constant chatter didn’t spoil my appreciation of the scenery around Semmering, where the craggy, steep hills had been a major challenge to 19th century railway engineers. The misty weather looked distinctly cold, though, and I was glad I hadn’t tried hiking there.

    After the family left, I talked with the young woman in the opposite corner. A native of Graz, she told me that the town used to have snow every winter, and that one year she had even skied down the main street, but that these days they got no snow. She also told me about a place where I could enjoy a massage and a swim.

    I bought another transport pass (got to love them) at a tobacconist in Graz’ Hauptbahnhof, and took a tram to Lendplatz and my next pension. Lonely Planet spoke well of the Gasthof Pension Zur Steirerstub‘n (www.pension-graz.at) and I agree. It’s on the "wrong" side of the river Mur, but there are two tram stops nearby. Although my room – all white walls and pale wood – didn’t have English-language TV (I actually watched a snooker tournament!!) it was comfortable, with a small but full bathroom, plus the staff were helpful and friendly, and the breakfast buffet lavish.

    I had bought a sandwich near the entrance to the Sudbahnhof, so I didn’t need to go out for lunch. Instead I wrapped an Ace bandage round my left ankle, put my heavy-duty Thai ankle brace on the right one (the one I had broken) and propped both feet up on the folded duvet. Aaaah. Seemed my right foot was swollen, though - after a while my toes turned blue and I had to switch the brace and the bandage.

    With a whole new town to explore I just couldn’t bring myself to stay indoors after the rain stopped. I limped past some good-looking buildings and across a narrow pedestrian bridge over swirling waters to the man-made "island" in the middle of the river and a good cup of coffee. Then I rode the funicular (included with my transport pass) up the Schlossberg to admire what I could see of the view through the clouds. It quickly became clear to me that I’d have to take the funicular back down, too. And after a quick first look at the buildings around the Hauptplatz (www.graz-hauptplatz.at/) I retreated to the pension, where I had reserved a table for dinner.

    My salad came dressed with the regional specialty, black pumpkin-seed oil, but my taste-buds must not be refined enough – I really couldn’t tell the difference from olive oil. I could, however, appreciate the pork cutlets, potato croquettes and actual green veggies (sprouts and broccoli) that followed. I also appreciated the fact that only one flight of stairs separated me from my room and the snooker tournament.

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    Hey thursdaysd, still really enjoying this! You've inspired me to meditate on making Austria part of my trip I'm planning for spring break.
    Quick ? if you have time--do you find language to be a problem in your travels? I speak French and my German is rusty (and now quite Hessian-influenced, thanks to my friends & sojurn in Michelstadt). Seems like you got by quite well, though!

    Keep it comin'

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    Hi Sheepie - if you have rusty German you're way ahead of me. I can manage my standard six - hello, goodbye, yes, no, please, thank you - which I try to learn for every country (except for tonal languages like Mandarin and Thai!!)- but not much more. Generally, I find that you can get by in a lot of places with English, sign language, a phrase book and a good attitude. Some areas - Eastern Europe and Russia - are more difficult than others. Menus tend to give me trouble, too - I can decode an Italian newspaper (based on schoolgirl Latin) better than an Italian menu.

    Definitely consider Austria, but not just Vienna - do get out into the mountains. On my last trip I loved Hallstatt and Zell-am-See. And the next piece here will recount how much I liked Graz.

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    Oct 29 – Loving Graz

    I had picked Graz because it was in a part of Austria I hadn’t visited before, and because I hoped the weather would be better than in Vienna. The weather thing didn’t work out so well, but I found myself regretting I’d only scheduled two full days. While it doesn’t have the mountains that make Innsbruck special to me, it does have circling hills, and the River Mur, and lots of interesting old buildings. And parks. It seemed there were parks and fountains everywhere.

    I didn’t see as much as I had planned, thanks to my feet, but I saw enough to put the place on my revisit list. This first morning I headed back to the center and the T.I., where a friendly young woman gave me a better bus map than the one I had, and told me where to find an Internet café. Then I lucked into a great lunch place, a deli/wine shop/cafe with more lovely open-faced sandwiches. Very popular with the locals, for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, I didn’t write the name down, but I’m pretty sure it was the Frankowitsch (www.frankowitsch.at).

    I did my tourist duty by visiting the Burgh and the cathedral, and then was seduced into walking through the Stadtpark by the beautiful autumnal display of golden leaves. Then I rested my feet by riding a tram out into the suburbs, to find even the tower blocks looking well-cared for, and the crowd of school boys boarding for the ride back to town remarkably well-behaved.

    Dinner was less successful. I posted earlier about my experience at Fodors’ recommended Altsteirische Schmankerlstube, (fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=35092693) so I’ll only say I certainly wouldn’t eat there again!

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    Oct 30 – Pampering Time

    By now I was seriously worried about my feet, and decided I simply must plan some down time. They have to function in Venice! So I tracked down a big English-language bookstore and bought some books, as there was a limit to how much German-language television I could handle. Since I won’t travel with more than I can carry, and books weigh heavy, I usually suffer from a shortage on the road.

    I lunched at a vegetarian restaurant, Mangolds. The salads were good, but the hot food was pretty disappointing. However, the restaurant was very close to the Spa zur Sonne (www.spazursonne.com), where I had an appointment for a massage. This place even has its own bus stop, called Bad zur Sonne.

    On the advice of the woman on the train I had opted for an ayurvedic massage, and although a lot less oil was involved than with ayurvedic massages in India (not necessarily a bad thing!) I found it wonderfully relaxing. I sent grateful thoughts in the direction of my unknown informant. Then I spent quite some time in the Tea Room, drinking green tea and reconnecting, before trying out the pool. Several people were swimming laps, and I really just wanted to float, so I didn't spend long in the water, but I thought the whole complex - I also noticed an exercise room, and a dimly-lit lounge room - a great find.

    For the second night I picked a restaurant on the basis of how close it was to a tram stop, but this time the results were better. The non-veg thali at the Taj Mahal could have been spicier, but the three curries, rice, naan and yoghurt dip were really quite good.

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    great report! Thursdaysd, do you think a week-10 days in Vienna would be too much? I am planning a trip with my husband and daughter who will be about 1.5yrs old at the time for 7-10 days. We are looking for a single destination (with possibility of day trips) as too much hassle to pack up and move all the baby gear.

    Keeping in mind that we don't get to see as much with a baby in tow, do you think that a week or so is too long for Vienna? We are very interested in art, shopping, just wandering around. Probably won't get to go to many concerts or shows with the little one.

    You probably weren't focused on this but did you happen to notice any children in restaurants or were they more formal?

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    Hi sally,

    I know I'm not Thursdaysd, but I have travelled a lot with my kids [and must have done something right as aged 17 & 20, they still want to come with me!].

    staying in one place is definitely the way to go with kids. you could rent an apartment and take lots of day trips, which would make Vienna a great place to centre on.

    Although I haven't made it there yet [top of list for 2008/9] I gather that there is plenty to see in the city, lots of parks, boat trips, buses, and trian trips out along teh Danube.

    alternatively, split your holiday between 2 centres - 4 days in vienna, plus 6 somewhere in the countryside - the area south of vienna looks very intersting and spectacular.

    as for being "family friendly" virtually everywhere I've ever been in nicer to families than the UK. germans definitely like kids, so i expect that austrians do too.

    good luck with your trip,

    regards, ann

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    Hi Sally,

    I've now been to Vienna twice, for nearly a week each time, so I don't think 10 days would be too much for me. I still haven't made it to all the museums and art galleries (have to make it to the furniture depository next time), so if that's what you like you'll do fine. Plus, as Ann says, it's a good base for day trips. Certainly plan one day for Melk and Krems and the Danube, and as I wrote, I had intended to go to Sopron and Semmering this time. Better in good weather though!

    I think Ann is a better guide than I am when it comes to whether kids are welcome. I'm now 60, and traveling solo. I did notice that there were kids in the cafes, but don't remember seeing any in the restaurants I ate at. That may just mean they were all very well behaved! Kudos for planning to travel with an infant! BTW, if you opt for an apartment rather than a hotel, you'll have a great excuse for buying food at the Nachtmarkt, or Meinl. There's also a place on Mariahilferstrasse that I didn't get to this time that has great open-faced sandwiches.

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    Oct 31 – Train to Kufstein

    My feet seemed a little happier after the slow day in Graz – I was back to limping instead of hobbling. Plus, I couldn’t do anything but rest on the 31st, since I spent most of it on a train. I had decided to break up the long trek from Graz to Innsbruck, but I should really have chosen somewhere nearer the half-way point than Kufstein – maybe Zell-am-See, which I had found to be a great base for day trips in 2006.

    I shared my compartment with two young women, one traveling all the way to the Swiss border to visit her boyfriend in Bregenz, the other, a piano student, going home to North Italy (Sud-Tirol) to spend the upcoming holiday with her family. Yes, Nov 1st was another holiday – All Saints’ Day. The piano student planned to stay on in Graz after graduation, and I remembered that the woman on the train from Vienna had mentioned that a lot of Germans were doing the same thing.

    The train journey was enlivened by conversation with the women, and with the elderly Austrian man who shared my table in the restaurant car, and by the scenery, which got progressively more magnificently mountainous the further west we traveled. And the further west we went the further behind schedule we were, finally reaching Wörgl 30 minutes late, and after my connecting train had left. However, I knew that the Wörgl-Kufstein leg was on the main line to Germany, and didn’t stress out. In fact, I only had a 20 minute wait, which I spent talking with a woman who worked for the Kitzbühel tourist office, who was upset to learn that I hadn’t even considered staying there because I thought it too expensive.

    There’s not a whole lot to do in Kufstein itself – I had picked it because it sounded pretty, and because I had planned to hike. A castle crowned a steep hill beside the River Inn, with the town clustered at its foot. My hotel, the admirable Auracher Löchl (www.auracher-loechl.at) sat just across a bridge from the railway station, right under the castle.

    I don’t understand why Fodors recommends a Best Western on the outskirts of Kufstein, and not the Auracher Löchl – it was central, with a wonderful view, provided an elevator and free Internet access, and had friendly staff and a killer breakfast buffet. And it was cheaper. My very comfortable single faced the view, and had a nicely tiled en-suite bathroom. The hotel even had a parking lot, although I think you might have to drive an otherwise pedestrian street to get to it.

    I had arranged for half-board, since I didn’t know how the holiday might affect the town’s restaurants. (Not at all, from the look of it.) That meant I just had to cross the pedestrian street to reach dinner. This first night I had some of the best fried mushrooms ever – lightly breaded and lightly cooked – and crisp-fried chicken with a green salad and potato salad. I even ate dessert, since it was included with the meal – ice cream with cream.

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    thursdaysd:
    I, too, was in Budapest for two days recently, early November to be exact with a tour group. I was also a "limper", dealing with arthritic knees, but I gave it my best shot. (I won't plan another trip, though, until I get these knees fixed.)

    We arrived in a snow storm and toured the city as if looking through a snow globe on our coach, a fairy tale sight. That evening was a cruise down the Danube and by that time the weather was as clear as a bell!

    Our tour guide was so well informed and told us of the hand made "magic boxes" in many different sizes to be found at the Market Hall. I was able to buy six of the smaller wooden boxes for about $100 (I bargained) as holiday gifts for the younger kids in the family. Each box was an unusual color (ruby, teak, emerald, etc.) with "Budapest" carved in the top and a beautiful lacquered finish. there's a key hidden inside and it's a real challenge to figure out how to open it (written instructions provided). Be on the lookout for these to bring home, as they are a real find.

    Our guide also advised us to buy paprika in the sealed packets, not in a cloth bag, since the sealed holds the flavor in longer. Although the cloth bags are much more colorful and make a prettier souvenir, you're better off with the other. If the packet has an "e" on the end of the description that means it's the spicy, hotter version, so be aware of that.

    We were ripped off by a restaurant in the old section of town, Can't remember the name but it was "subterranean" something, basement level, with girls out front handing out fliers, looked like a bomb shelter/bunker inside. The food was good, but a high price for what we got and service was slower than molasses.

    I, too, loved the Dohaney Street Synagogue and bought my grandson a yalmuka there, made by the ladies of the congregation.

    Our group took the subway from our hotel to St. Stephen's Cathedral, walked to the Synagogue and then to the shopping area. We had a refreshment stop at the coffee shop with the "bee" logo (can't remember the exact name) for a delicious lunch and pastry (pricey but good). We then subwayed back to the hotel getting off at the Octagon stop. It was great fun and such a memorable experience.

    Venice was fantastic. Such a beautiful city where I had gotten a ticket a few months earlier to a Strauss opera -- Arabella -- at the Vienna Opera House. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I loved every moment of it, having had a Loge seat overlooking stage right.

    A concert at the Schonbrune Palace was an optional activity of our Venice itinerary, and I was so glad to have chosen it. Granted, it was touristy, but with very talented musicians, in the L'Orangerie section of the palace and of course, The Blue Danube was performed superbly.

    I have posted my trip report under Germany, (as I started out in Berlin) in case anyone should want to take a look at that.
    Travelchat

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    Thanks travelchat - sounds like you were in Budapest soon after I was. Sorry I missed the snow, it sounds beautiful. (But cold!) I'll have a look for your report. And good luck with the knees! I have a friend who recently had both knees replaced, and she's much happier, but it does sound drastic.

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    Nov 1-2 – Kufstein

    I did do some walking on All Saints’ Day, but not much. Certainly no hiking! I admired the buildings in the compact town center, and enjoyed the view from the castle, which I reached by yet-another-funicular. I wasn’t much impressed by the displays in the castle, though. Mostly I rested up – between the views, the books I had bought in Graz, and free Internet access, I didn’t get bored.

    I lunched on goulash in the inaptly-named Hell Café on the waterfront, and ate a second dinner in the Auracher Löchl’s restaurant. This time I started with salad, followed by excellent pork medallions in mushroom sauce, with tiny, multi-colored “butter-pasta-drops”. And dessert. Home-made chestnut ice cream with fruit… Staying too long at this hotel could be really bad for your waistline – the breakfast buffet included brie and blue cheese alongside the sliced meats and cheese, as well as squeeze-your-own OJ and boil-your-own eggs.

    I drink a fair amount of wine, and had been highly skeptical when I first heard the theory that the taste of wine could be affected by the shape of the glass. Sounded like a great sales technique, but could it really be true? Well, yes. A few taste tests were all it took to convince me, and I now own two sets of Riedel glasses (www.riedel.com), so when I discovered that the factory was in Kufstein, I planned to visit. Although closed for the holiday, it reopened on Nov 2nd. Following my hotel’s directions I walked over, but it was far enough that I waited for a bus to get back downtown!

    I have to say, once you’ve seen one glass factory, no need to visit another. I had taken the VIP tour of the Edinburgh Crystal factory back in 2004, during which I actually got to briefly blow and cut glass, and just watching from the balcony at Riedel didn’t measure up. Nor was their Sinnfonie “experience” particularly interesting for someone already a convert. Of course, there was always the shop, with deals like eight glasses for the price of six.… (But I figured the savings would be eaten up by the shipping charges. And did I really need eight more glasses?)

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    Hi Thursdaysd-- I am enjoying your report! I love Vienna and the Austrian countryside, and would love to visit Graz and Kufstein.

    I feel for you with your feet-- I have had that problem too and it can really take some fun out of the trip. I admire your fortitude; you don't seem to let it slow you down too much.

    Thanks for all the details!

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    We will be in Prague, Vienna and Budapest in August and were wondering about the currencies.

    Thursdaysd, you mentioned that you had been using Euros, does that mean you were able to use the Euro in Budapest too? I thought they weren't accepting that yet.

    Great report and I appreciate all of the links!

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    Hi again, thursdaysd

    thanks for posting the link to the hotel in Kufstein. I'm definitely adding it to my possibles for our "eastern"europe trip, though it's looking more and more as if it'll be 2009 before we get there.

    do i gather that if you go for "half board" you can eat "a la carte" ie total choice from the menu? or have I misunderstood. it looks a steal, if so.

    SAlly - my experience of travelling with young children is obviously a little! out of date so you might want to check my ideas against those with younger kids. one idea is to eat out at lunch-time in a decent place [they are likely to be less formal then, and cheaper] and then to eat in in the evenings. this helps to keep the little one in his/her routine; obviously this is easier in an apartment.

    thursdaysd - loving the report - keep it coming!

    regards, ann

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    italianart - that's three posts and only three from you, all saying the same thing. Looks a lot like advertising to me. Suggest you reread the part about no advertising in the agreement that you just signed.

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    modglila - yes, you're right, Hungary is still using forints. (wikipedia says: "Hungary's government has all but dropped plans to adopt the euro by the original date of 1 January 2010.") I used an ATM in the baggage claim section of the airport, and saw another in the main hall.

    ann - sorry you won't get to go until 2009, but I always enjoy the planning phase too! I seldom do half-board, so don't know the usual drill, but in Kufstein I definitely got to order off the menu! I thought the hotel was a great deal all round. Now I think about it, I did half-board in Castlerotto (the Cavallino d'Oro) in 2006 and they had a separate menu for half-board people (everybody in the restaurant, I think!) with choices that changed every day. You made your selection at breakfast.

    Surie - thanks! Glad to "meet" another Austria fan. Definitely also consider Zell-am-See, as a base for visiting the Krimml waterfall and the Grossglockner road if you haven't been there yet. (My photos of both are at kwilhelm.smugmug.com)

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    Nov 2-4 – Innsbruck, Room One

    I know a lot of posters here don’t like Innsbruck, but I had spent a week there, staying in a Youth Hostel with family, and fallen in love with the setting. What’s not to like about a town surrounded by mountains, with plenty of pretty buildings? Also, I wanted to repeat the train trip through the Brenner Pass.

    Again, I went for a “center-of-the-center” hotel, and looked forward to staying at the Weisses Kreuz (www.weisseskreuz.at/index.php?lang=en) on pedestrian Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse – I figured that a place that had been a hotel since 1465 must be doing something right! Unfortunately, the hotel told me that they could only give me an en-suite single for the last three nights, with a convention in town I’d have to settle for a shower down the hall for two nights.

    I took a very local local train from Kufstein – I hadn’t previously realized how many villages had been built along the Inn valley, and I think we stopped at all of them. But I loved the scenery – snowy north-facing mountains, and south-facing mountains just outlined in white. I picked up another transport pass at Innsbruck station, along with directions on which tram to take, and despite a complaint on tripadvisor, I had no difficulty finding the hotel.

    My first room was bigger than I expected, with a built-in desk, and with a bathroom but without a shower, but it looked out on an air shaft, and needed higher-wattage bulbs. I found it gloomy, and not particularly welcoming. Also, renovations were in progress, and while the notice on my wall said that the shower was on the fourth floor, I eventually located it (with help) on the second, along with reception and the breakfast room – a rather public location.

    I took a get-reacquainted stroll, finding the town’s setting as beautiful as I remembered. I also tracked down a reasonably-priced Internet place, and what became my favorite café, the Munding (www.munding.at). In addition to coffee and cakes, they served a very good ham and cheese on toast with salad – basically a Welsh rarebit with ham – that made a satisfying lunch.

    For my first dinner I reserved an upstairs table at the Cammerlander – for the view across the river. The salad had a nice selection of greens, but too much dressing, and while the salmon with leeks was very good, it took so long to arrive that I actually finished my book before I finished the meal.

    November is not the best time to visit Innsbruck – the hiking season is over and the ski season hasn’t started, and all the lifts are closed, along with some of the hotels and restaurants. Places just outside, like Igls, shut down almost completely. The buses and trams still run, though, and I used them to check out the views outside town. The best view in town was from the 360 Café on top of the Rathausgalerie mall. The view from inside is as close to a full 360 degrees as you can get, and if you choose you can sit outside to admire one section of it.

    For Saturday night dinner I tried Thai Li, which Fodors assured me served authentic Thai food. I wish! Maybe the reviewer hadn’t actually been to Thailand? Maybe the restaurant has since toned the food down? My coconut soup, while appropriately sour, wasn’t at all hot (as in spicy), and the crispy beef strips were perfectly cooked, but again, NO HEAT!!! None! Words fail me…

    Next morning I packed my bag and left my key at the front desk, ready for my room change, before taking a bus up to the Alpenzoo. This proved a bit of a mistake, as it was built on the side of a mountain, and while I was doing better on the flat, I was having trouble going up and down stairs and slopes. Still, I took some good photos (I think they’re good, at least) of bald ibis, ibex and a brown Siberian bear. The snakes were sensibly hibernating, and I couldn’t see any of the otters - do they hibernate too?

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    hi thursdaysd,

    shame about the Thai food. perhaps you were lucky though - on Dec 22nd [dangerously close to Christmas DAy] we went out to a local Thai restaurant [there are about 4 in Cornwall and this is one we've been to loads of times] and i had a really good sour and spicy soup to start. By the end of the meal it was having a CERTAIN effect on my insides, and i only just got home in time.

    :S-

    I know it was the soup cos I was the only one to eat it, and everyone else was fine. LOL.

    to think people PAY to achieve the same effect - no need for colonic irrigation with that stuff around.

    glad you enjoyed Innsbrusk - we've only ever been in the winter as a day off from skiing - did you get to Maria Theresa's palace? I have a recollection of large draughty rooms with inadequate stoves in every corner. and the goldenes Dackl of course.

    regards, ann

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    ann - you live in Cornwall? Lucky you!!

    I live in North Carolina these days, and we have a shortage of good Thai restaurants, which is why I was excited by the mention of "authentic" Thai food. We also have a shortage of good Indian restaurants, despite a thriving Indian community. (Temple, grocery stores, dress shops, hair salons...) I do miss chicken dhansak and lime chutney, my standard Indian meal when I lived in England. (I even made it myself - one time!)

    I don't think I went to the palace, certainly not this time, not sure why. Too much baroque already, maybe. I did enjoy the folk museum, though.

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    Nov – 4-7 – Innsbruck, Room Two

    Wow, what a nice surprise! I opened the door to my new room to find it was one of only two (besides the breakfast room), with a bay window overlooking the street. Bright, with a squeaky-clean bathroom looking like it had just come from the renovators’ hands, it might have been a little small for two people, but made a wonderful single.

    And I was delighted to find, flanking a table, two window seats, both long enough for me to prop my feet up. From one I looked directly at Innsbruck’s signature Golden Roof, from the other I looked straight down Maria Theresien Strasse, the main shopping street. And looking downwards, I could watch townsfolk and tourists, hurrying about their business or standing and staring, cameras at the ready, oddly foreshortened by the distance. It felt like I had strayed into a painting. And when the clouds weren’t down I could gaze at magnificent mountains in both directions. Between the views, my novel, and English-language TV, I had every reason to rest.

    I only had a short distance to go for dinner on the 4th, as I had a reservation at the Goldener Adler, just up the street. Now, I have eaten fairly cheaply the Adler, sitting outside in the summer, but this was my Innsbruck splurge. I tried an Adler Royal while I read the menu, sparkling wine with blackberry liqueur, but I’m really not a fizzy wine fan. The food, however…

    First course: a triple soup sampler – baby tureens holding one clear game soup with liver dumpling, one thick with puff pastry, and one a chestnut puree. Second course: quail with tiny, tiny mushrooms, an apple and foie gras stuffing, kohlrabi, broccoli and potatoes. I did not need dessert!

    I did spend some more time riding buses around town, taking a look at the “suburbs”, and noticing the crowds at the Olympic Stadium, which for obscure-to-me reasons appeared to be a tourist attraction. And I did revisit the Tiroler Volkskunstmuseum (www.tiroler-volkskunstmuseum.at/en/), making sure to take a look at the collection of Nativity scenes, since Christmas was closing in. I noticed that one scene had the baby Jesus descending a piece of cloth, held at the bottom by Mary. Since this implied that Mary was never pregnant, I found the theology distinctly suspect! The museum provided portable stools, a thoughtful touch, but that didn't help with the stairs.

    I also watched a crane carefully positioning the town’s Christmas tree beside the Golden Roof building. At five stories tall it easily dominated the street, even without decorations. But mostly, with Venice up next, I gave my feet a rest. My other meals, at nearby restaurants, were not particularly memorable, although on my last night I stopped for coffee and Cointreau at a café with a modern, Asian theme, next door to the Weisses Kreuz that looked worth investigating for a light meal.

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    Nov 7 – Venice, At Last!

    For my first visit to Italy, during my RTW trip in 2004/5, I decided that between the heat, the crowds and the prices, the end of June was no time to stay in Venice. Instead, I day-tripped to Ravenna from Ferrara (nice town!) and spent just three hours in Venice between trains, to decide whether I needed to return. Enough time for a vaporetto ride down the Grand Canal to St. Mark’s Square, back to the Rialto Bridge for lunch, and back to the station. More than enough time, of course, to fall in love with the place.

    So I was looking forward to my six nights in Venice, and to the train ride over the Brenner Pass to get there. When I took the same route in 2006, on the way to Castlerotto, I had been impressed by the views, and also by the restaurant car on the train – all starched tablecloths, gleaming china, well-trained waiters and three-course meals. This time the views were still magnificent, but the restaurant car more resembled a down-market café, with a limited menu and one surly waiter. The train also ran behind schedule, but as with the Wörgl-Kufstein leg, I didn’t worry - there’s no shortage of Verona-Venice trains.

    After considerable thought and calculation I had ordered an Orange Venice card before I left. I needed the transport pass for six days, and I calculated I would visit enough churches and museums to make the rest worthwhile, given the discount for booking over the Internet. I hadn’t calculated on losing a day to a transport strike, but I appreciated the convenience.
    What I did not appreciate was the difficulty of actually collecting it when I arrived in Venice. I expected to do so in the train station, but no. I had to trek across the plaza to the vaporetto ticket offices, and then the one I needed was closed. Once it re-opened and I acquired the card I had more trouble getting to my hotel, La Calcina (www.lacalcina.com). One of the docks was being repaired, and I had to take a vaporetto, a land bus, and another vaporetto to get to the Zattere stop. With my luggage.

    I know that a number of posters here really like La Calcina. That’s one reason I was looking forward to staying there, and I suppose what I say next will count as heresy to some people. If I go back to Venice, and I hope I will, I won’t stay at La Calcina again. (More room for those who love it, of course!) See my next post for the reasons.

    Happily, the recommendation I followed for dinner worked out better. I ate at the Riviera (www.ristoranteriviera.it), up the canal a bit at the S. Basilio vaporetto stop. A bit pricey by my standards, although not so much by Venice standards, but well worth it. After I agreed with the waiter (a charmer) that if the carpaccio was octopus I might well want to order something else, he brought me a “taste” of it with my appetizer. The taste was a fair amount, surprisingly good, and I would never have guessed octopus. The appetizer, a big plate of mixed seafood, included a cylinder of chopped raw tuna, and sardine in various forms. I followed it with a pretty purple risotto with scampi that smelt great and tasted better.

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    My reasons for not staying at La Calcina next time:

    1. Location. Maybe in June staying on the south side of Dorsoduro is a welcome relief from the crowds, but in November the area is deader than a doornail after dark. After dinner my first night I wandered around to get a feel for the place, and found it positively creepy.

    2. Location. I takes a while to get anywhere from the Zattere vaporetto stop. If I hadn’t been limping I might have been more inclined to walk through to the Accademia stop, but it’s hardly convenient.

    3. The staff. True, I had just come from the very friendly Weisses Kreuz and Auracher Löchl, and maybe I was spoiled, but it took the front desk staff at La Calcina until the FIFTH day before they actually seemed to recognize me as a guest when I walked in.

    4. Hotel policies. The room rate, in November, was reasonable, but I felt that the hotel was trying to get extra money out of me. The food and drink prices were high for what I got (note – the "cafeteria" by the Zattere stop has cheaper prices and friendlier staff, and just as good a view). The waiter absolutely refused to serve me tap water with dinner, claiming it "wasn’t allowed". Then, a notice in the bathroom announced in four languages that it was "forbidden" to do laundry or ironing in the room, you must use their laundry service. Two euros for socks or underwear? Six euros for pants or tops? I pay less to get silk dry cleaned! And since the bathroom showered with me, they could hardly object to the floor getting wet.

    5. My room. On the one hand, I expected a "private" bathroom, and instead it was en-suite. On the other hand, this was about the smallest single I’ve seen outside London, and it had a severe shortage of horizontal surfaces. Plus, the "side view of the canal" was only visible if you stood (not sat) at the far left hand end of the balcony.

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    Nov 8 – S. Mark and S. Giorgio

    My first morning in Venice I took a vaporetto to St. Marks Square. Coming in from the Guidecca Canal I had much the same view as seaborne visitors in the days of Venice’s power – very impressive! Unfortunately, the flocks of pigeons somewhat spoiled the effect, although crowds of tourists (yes, even in November) didn’t show up until later.

    Since I had started early, I encountered only a few tour groups in the Basilica. I love mosaics, so I had a wonderful time there – I actually preferred it to St. Peters in Rome. Despite still having to two-foot stairs, I made it up to the roof, and the view was well worth the effort.

    I didn’t finish admiring the mosaics until lunch time. Pushing through the crowds, I followed Rick Steves’ directions to the cafes just round the corner for a sandwich and a toilet stop. Then I visited the T.I. in search of a better transport map, and learned that there would be a transport strike the next day! So much for my intended expedition to the islands.

    I figured I’d better make the most of the vaporettos while they were running, so I took off for the far side of the Guidecca canal, visiting the Chiesa del SS Redentore (tinyurl.com/35qss3) and San Giorgio Maggiore (both rather austere), and finished an ecclesiastical afternoon at Santa Maria della Salute. Happily, I was able to enjoy the sweeping views from S. Giorgio’s bell tower by taking the elevator!

    I had hoped to eat dinner at the Tavernetta San Maurizio, after reading Tiff’s description of their risotto (www.fodors.com/forums/threadselect.jsp?fid=2&tid=34758287) even though, when I stopped by after lunch, the menu didn’t list risotto, and I was told "we don’t take reservations". Showing up early for dinner, I found the place mobbed, with a number of people waiting outside. No hope of a single, the waiter said.

    Since I had crossed the Accademia Bridge to get there, I was a bit miffed – two-footing that many stairs takes a while. I crossed back over the bridge, and found the Taverna San Trovaso (www.tavernasantrovaso.it) mostly by accident. They gave me a table upstairs, where I had a pleasant chat with a British couple who told me about their love of South Africa, where they owned a house. I approved of my starter, gnocchi with four cheeses, but the grilled sole with artichokes wasn’t as good.

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    Nov 9 – Doing Dorsoduro

    With no vaporettos running, I spent the day exploring Dorsoduro on foot. After their rest in Graz and Innsbruck my feet and ankle were functioning better on the flat, but climbing up and down stairs and slopes remained difficult, and I crossed bridges very slowly.

    My Venice card included the Chorus pass (tinyurl.com/3y5gkg), and gave free access to a number of churches and museums. I started with Santa Maria del Rosario - the Gesuati (tinyurl.com/2mprhw) - and San Sebastiano (tinyurl.com/2v6xtp) before walking across to Ca’ Rezzonico (www.galleriacarezzonico.com). All that stone struck a bit chilly for November, although I imagine that would be appreciated in the summer.

    Ca’ Rezzonica had been high on my must-see list, and I wasn’t disappointed. I loved seeing how Venice’s upper-crust had lived, and was blown away by a roomful of absolutely fabulous carved furniture. While I thought the art on the top floor eminently skippable, the apothecary rooms were worth the climb.

    For lunch I made the mistake of following Rick Steves’ advice and eating at a pizza place by the Accademia Bridge. I should know by now to use him as guide for museums and art galleries, but to avoid his restaurant picks! This place certainly had a great view, of the bridge and the canal, but while the pizza can’t have been improved by being consumed outside in the cold, it wasn’t very good to start with.

    I spent much of the afternoon in the Accademia itself. I think I may have appreciated the wonderful ceiling in the first room, all gold leaf and angels’ faces, as much as the art! I did discover that I don’t like Tintoretto (probably for the same reasons I don’t like Rubens – too overblown), so I would be able to skip “Tintoretto’s Sistine Chapel”, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco.

    Then I went for a wander round the eastern part of Dorsoduro, winding up at the Guggenheim. I’m totally not a modern art fan (I quit around the Surrealists), so I didn’t go inside, but I did window shop the nearby glass and art stores.

    I ate dinner at La Calcina, finding, as I noted above, that my waiter refused to serve tap water. My first course, scampi with haricot and sage cream, tasted good, but I wasn’t sure whether it was supposed to be soup, or not. The lamb chops and artichoke (singular) seemed decidedly skimpy – I worried that starvation might set in later. The tiramisu, on the other hand, was probably enough to send me into sugar shock!

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    Hi thursdays,

    yes, i can imagine that Venice can be a bit! of a pain with hurting feet. last time I went [in november 2006] i bought some really comfortable shoes [2 pairs, so i could ring the changes] just beofre I went and I was sooo pleased that I'd done so.

    we are going to Venice at Easter so I'm keen to read more.

    keep it coming,

    regards, ann

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    Hi ann - glad to know someone is still reading! Hope you have a wonderful time in lovely Venice - I'll look for your trip report, lol!

    Nov 10 – More Venice

    With the transport strike over, I was able to reach the Rialto fish market by vaporetto, changing at St. Mark’s and shivering outside on the way up the Grand Canal so I could take photos. I’m afraid I wasn’t overly impressed by the market – maybe I’ve seen too many over the years - although I did get one shot of a sword fish tied so as to keep its sword in the air that I quite liked.

    Even traveling in the off season, I found the crowds on the Rialto bridge, and in the narrow streets lined with souvenir shops on the east side, hard to deal with. Arriving in the wide open space of the Campo S. Polo, I felt like a cork popping out of a bottle.

    While I dutifully admired the wooden roof in the Chiesa di San Polo (tinyurl.com/3xbbwa), the Frari (tinyurl.com/3xmayv) was far and away the highlight of the morning. Properly, the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? And it lives up to every syllable.

    After admiring Titian’s spectacular altarpiece up close, I walked back up the center aisle to find exactly the right spot to see it perfectly framed by the choir screen. I preferred Canova’s tomb to Titian’s, but I spent most of my time examining the elaborately carved wooden choir stalls.

    I limped back towards the market in search of lunch, thinking to try either Naranzaria or Banco Gira. I was amused to find these were just off a quiet square right on the Grand Canal I had found by chance during my three-hour Venice “test” visit. Naranzaria (www.naranzaria.it/eng-home.htm) gave me a table upstairs by a small round window, and I enjoyed a little sushi, followed by thinly sliced goose breast over salad with a small branch of tart red berries – red currants, maybe - a bit pricey for lunch, but very good.

    I borrowed a guide book from the young British couple seated next to me, to check whether I should visit Ca’ d’Oro. Deciding that Ca’ d’Oro was more about the façade than the contents, I went instead to Ca’ Pesaro, and encountered rather more stairs than were good for my still-complaining feet. As I’m not a modern art fan, the draw for me at the Ca’ Pesaro was the Oriental art. In fact, I liked the Japanese displays so much I moved the country further up my “must-see” list!

    This was a Saturday, and I had planned a cichetta crawl for dinner, but I really didn’t think my feet were up to it. No point in having my pleasure in the food spoiled by unhappy feet. Instead I set out early (since I had no reservation), to check on the restaurants around the Campo S. Barnaba. The menu at the Ai Quattro Feri seemed to be all spaghetti and fish, and although my notes said it would be packed by 7:30 and I should arrive early, at 6:45 the place wasn’t yet open. Next door however, at the Enoteca e Trattoria La Bitta, I liked the look of the menu, and after a little pleading they gave me a table, provided I left by 8:00.

    Drinking house wine here meant that I got a whole new bottle, and was charged based on how much I drank. (I couldn’t help wondering what happened to the rest – served at the bar, maybe?) I started with a leek, potato and gorgonzola soup – basically a jazzed-up hot vichyssoise – that could have used a little more gorgonzola, but avoided becoming gluey. I enjoyed the soup and the goose breast with celery enough to make a reservation for Monday night.

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    Hi Bailey!

    Thanks for asking... Of course, as soon as I got home and started driving instead of walking, my feet were much, much happier! I think part of the problem may be that I do my getting-in-shape walking around the indoor track at the Y, and that has a lot more "give" than pavement. Could also be that I hadn't done ENOUGH getting-in-shape walking!

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    Nov 11 – My first (mini) GTG

    I spent the morning at the Doge’s Palace. While I had read plenty of recommendations for the Secret Itineraries tour, I was worried that it would involve too many stairs, and besides, my Venice Card got me in for “free”. The card also meant I could skip the quite lengthy line to get in, although it didn’t let me bypass the Japanese tour group waiting to use the toilet. (Coffee seems to go right through me. The first time I went to China I gave up coffee, so I wouldn’t need to use the (probably squat) toilets so often in the morning, but I just love the stuff too much to stay off it.)

    The palace was clearly designed to overawe, and did quite a good job of it. I admired the Titians and skipped the Tintorettos, loved the elaborate ceilings and spent a lot of time in the map room. I’m still hoping to make it to Central Asia, and so I followed Marco Polo’s route with interest, noting all the places I wanted to visit. I did take a look through the windows of the Bridge of Sighs, but didn’t venture any further into the prisons.

    When I tried to find out from one of the attendants how to get out of the palace without going through the prisons (I seemed to be traveling in circles), I think we had a communication failure, as I could have managed the stairs. Instead, I got to ride down in the elevator with a man in a wheel chair. I’m not sure how he was managing in Venice, but I really admired him for trying.

    For lunch I again went round the corner for a sandwich and coffee. I decided to skip the Correr Museum, as it sounded like more of the same, and headed instead for the Jewish Ghetto. I realize that I’ve been writing a lot about museums and churches, and I should say that for me the absolutely best part of Venice was just wandering around, preferably away from the crowds and the shops (although I certainly spent time admiring the glass and the masks). Just as in London, where you never know what might be round the next corner or down the next alley, in Venice you might walk behind a palazzo or beside a narrow canal and find a tiny garden, a bright window box, a child’s toy, a quiet square, a hole in the wall in use as a boat garage, a quirky door knocker… Venice never bored me, and I found beauty everywhere.

    I walked from the train station towards the Ghetto up Rio Terra Lista d. Spagna, alongside many people with suitcases and past many tourist-trap cafes and shops, but after I crossed the Cannaregio canal and turned off to the north, things got whisper quiet. It might still have been the Jewish Sabbath rather than a Christian Sunday. I paid my respects to the memorials in the main square, but didn’t wait for the museum tour. I’ve seen several Jewish museums, and they tend to remind me of my emotionally devastating visit to Auschwitz.

    I spent most of the rest of the afternoon wandering around, camera at the ready, on foot and by boat, before fetching up at the café by the Zattere boat dock. Here, instead of my usual coffee, I tried my first spritz, with bitter (Campari). As with limoncello, I promptly fell in love with the stuff (what IS it with these Italian drinks?).

    I haven’t been hanging out here (fodors.com) all that long, and I live in North Carolina, so I haven’t been to any GTGs, but I like the idea, and I thought that there might well be other fodorites in Venice in November. So, I posted a query, and this evening I was scheduled to meet up with “Bailey” (otherwise Linda) and her sister for dinner.

    Unfortunately, I had deleted the wrong email, and so arrived late at the Vini da Gigio (www.vinidagigio.com). Linda and Gail kindly overlooked my faux pas, but the hostess/owner didn’t look so happy. (In fact she seemed in a permanently grumpy mood – don’t believe that smile on the website!) I had a great time talking travel, and hearing about the sisters’ recent experiences in Tuscany. After nearly a month of solo dinners (even with some interesting conversations with neighbors), I really enjoyed having company, especially such good company. I later found out that Linda is a talented photographer – for some beautiful shots of Italy (and more), visit baileyzimmerman.blogspot.com. I also learned that they were renting a wonderful apartment by the S. Toma vaporetto stop. Next time, even though I enjoy solo travel, maybe I’ll have to look for a travel companion so I can afford their find! (Details on Linda’s blog.)

    Oh, the food? Pasta with gorgonzola, very good. Duck breast, quite good.

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    thursdaysd - I am also enjoying your report while I sit in my shoe boot which hold my broken foot - fifth metatarsal....

    I've been in Venice briefly and would also like to visit the other cities you saw on your trip.

    I certainly hope that I can be traveling eight months from now :)

    Thanks for sharing!

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    Wow mara - so sorry to hear about your broken foot! All my sympathy... Is that an air boot? I got one of those after I saw the doctor (not from the emergency room) and it let me take some of my weight off the crutches - what a difference!

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    Thanks for your concern, thursdaysd. :)
    No, not an air cast. It's like a frame made of hard plastic or some type of material with three velcro straps that you adjust to fit. There is a fleece type inner wrap thingie you put on the foot first. It's pretty heavy too but not as bad as the cast I had for the first four weeks. ;-)

    I hope you are feeling okay now and will be able to do Central Asia by next year!

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    Hi thursdaysd

    yep - still here. it's no hardship!

    thanks for the restaurant links, especailly the Naranzaria - I've been trawling loads of sites for recommendations, and this was a new one to me.

    as we'll be staying near the rialto - [for the same reaons that you found dorodosso rather deserted in november, I thought the same might apply at easter, so i went to the other end of the spectrum!] -i'm very interested in places nearby, but off the beaten track. this looks as if it will fit the bill.


    and of course I'll be doing a trip report. eventually.

    :S-

    regards, ann

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    Thanks everyone!

    Alas, I gave up on Central Asia for 2008 around the end of the second week. My trip report to my email list was titled "My Feet Fail Vienna"! The Golden Road to Samarkand will remain a dream for another year. Instead I have three months to get into shape for Naples, the Amalfi Coast and Sicily (including a group tour in Sicily that I'll have to keep up with).

    ann - happily there are no penalties for late reports on the Europe board as there are on the Asian! My report is hardly timely...

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    Hi suze - nice to see you!

    Nov 12 – Islands

    Despite threatening clouds, I used this day for my deferred trip to Murano and Burano. I didn’t have any choice, if I wanted to visit them, as it was my last day in Venice. (Sob.) It turned out that it takes a very long time to get there and back from the Zattere vaporetto stop. Rick Steves advises walking to the Fondamente Nuove stop, but I wouldn’t have considered doing that from La Calcina even if my feet had been happier.

    I got off the boat to Murano at the Colonna stop, and limped past a lot of glass shops on my way to the Glass Museum – where I found another boat stop! (Memo, look at the map as well as the guide book.) I thought the museum worthwhile, but I realized that I don’t really like Venetian glass – most of it is too fussy for my taste. I did buy one piece while I waited for the boat to Burano, a partly-coiled snake (nice and compact for travel), as a present for friends who collect fish and lizards and such.

    I preferred Burano, with its pretty painted houses, to Murano. Unfortunately, a large tour group (British, I think) boarded the boat at the same time I did, and then filled a large table at the restaurant I had picked for lunch. Once the leader started making birthday announcements, I decamped for a quieter place, the Ristorante al Vecio Pipa – a little pricey for lunch, but good. An excellent beef carpaccio with rocket was followed by an OK angler fish with equally praise-worthy French fries.

    Along with photographing the street scenes (Monday is clearly still washday here, and no problems with drying your laundry outside), I looked for lace for my younger sister. I would meet up with her in London, and it seemed like a good way to get another piece of Christmas shopping out of the way. But she actually makes lace herself (bobbin lace), and I didn’t see anything for sale on Burano that I thought significantly better than her own work.

    The evening before, Linda and Gail had invited me to join them at a slowtrav GTG, so I started back at 3:00. It took me all of two hours to reach Zattere, just in time to catch the group. I enjoyed another spritz, and some more conversation with well-traveled people, some of whom were staying in Venice for months!

    My last dinner, at La Bitta, featured excellent food and some impromptu entertainment. I started with a raw artichoke salad – slivers over greens – and then had a signature Venetian dish, liver and onions. I happen to like liver (maybe growing up in England has something to do with it?), and I enjoyed both dishes, along with a quite-acceptable house Merlot.

    The “entertainment” was involuntary. A very large and flustered American man was seated next to a young Asian-American couple across the room from me, and proceeded to tell them all about how Rick Steves had changed his life, and how he now made his living from travel. Apparently he wasn’t a very good pupil, as he had managed to get lost in Venice accidentally, rather than on purpose, and he clearly hadn’t paid attention to the advice to Americans abroad to keep their voices down!

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    Nov 13 – Food and Family in London

    I left before breakfast to make sure of catching my Easyjet flight to London. I had a little difficulty finding the airport bus stop at the big parking area at Piazzale Roma, but that was largely my own fault. I should have slowed down and paid more attention to the map perched at the top of a pole at the edge of the area. I suspect I should also have bought a ticket there, instead of hoping that the ride was covered by my Venice Card. For some reason, the bus driver did not ask to see the tickets of the people already in line to board when he arrived, but he did send people who came later off to get tickets.

    The ride to the rather basic Venice airport took only 20 minutes, and I found the Easyjet check-in already open, even though I was early. A warning – I had paid extra for “speedy boarding”, but this turned out to mean only that I got on the bus to the plane first, not the plane itself! Don’t fall for this!

    I think we must have been relegated to the absolutely most distant gate at Gatwick, because we had a very long trek in, and my ankle made it clear that it was unhappy. (I had started wearing an Ace bandage instead of a sock on my right foot some days earlier, but I had switched back to a sock for the flight.) The line for passport control also seemed very long, and my bag was already circling the carousel when I reached the claim area.

    I was horrified to discover that a coin is now required before you can use a luggage cart at Gatwick. Admittedly, you get the coin back if you return the cart to the right place, but what if you don’t have the right coin? A free luggage cart has always been the hallmark of a friendly airport to me. (I suspect this change is to save on the salaries of the people who used to collect them from distant parts of the airport. Then, some people call me cynical.)

    Easyjet had sold me a return ticket for the Gatwick Express at a discount on the plane, which was a nice surprise. I had tried to get a reservation for this night at a B&B near Gatwick that I had used before (www.springwoodguesthouse.co.uk), but no luck. In fact, I had no luck finding a single-shared-bath near Victoria either. The en-suite single I settled for proved tiny, with an even tinier bathroom. Although I called it a hovel, it had been thoughtfully designed. In the bathroom the sink was low so you could sit on the toilet without hitting your head, and although the shower only had a curtain, the floor was sloped and grooved so the water stayed where it belonged. Plus, the young man on the front desk moved me from the fourth floor to the first when I told him about my bad ankle. We had a nice chat about India and Indian food while he got his laptop working for me.

    I have visited all the main sights in London more than one, escorting an American husband, and have visited several “second tier” sights on my own (see wilhelmswords.com/faq/index.html – You Saw a Rickshaw Where?), so with just half a day in London I was settling for some nostalgic eating and some family time. Both my sisters still live in England, and one of my nieces recently got a job in London, close to the British Museum. I would meet her, and my younger sister, there after they finished work.

    I stopped first at a Prêt a Manger (www.pret.com) for a crayfish and rocket sandwich. Happily, the McDonalds’ takeover hasn’t altered the quality of the food at this chain, but I don’t understand why I can’t have at least one Pret a Manger at home, since we have seven McDonalds (for a town of 125,000).

    I had thought about moving on to the Orangery (tinyurl.com/3daxho) for afternoon tea. Last year it had been an escape from the heat wave enveloping the city, but this year the cold and wind made Kensington Park seem unwelcoming. After emerging from the tube on Kensington High Street I chose instead the cafe (www.caffeconcerto.co.uk) immediately opposite, where the "tea" (I had coffee) was actually better and cheaper, if not quite as atmospheric.

    I had kept the Oyster card from my last visit to London, as I hadn't used all the money I had put on it. I hadn't previously registered just how much walking is involved in riding the tube, not to mention the stairs. But although I enjoy riding buses in London, none of the ones on Kensington High Street seemed headed in the right direction, so I went back underground to make my way to the British Museum.

    I went in the back entrance, and spent some time with an Islamic display I hadn’t previously seen. (I had not tried to reserve a ticket for the very popular Terracotta Warriors exhibition, having seen them twice in situ.) After we all met up at the front entrance, Gill (my niece) led the way to a nearby wine bar, Truckles. For dinner we moved on to the Masala Zone (www.masalazone.com) in Covent Garden and a good Indian thali. A great evening, but the early rising and time change caught up with me by the time I got back to my hotel.

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    Nov 14 – Going Home

    Once upon a time, when I first started crossing the Atlantic, flying was fun, and exciting, and even comfortable in economy class. What a difference these days! (That was the seventies…) I had a 12:40 flight time, and just caught the 9:00 Gatwick Express, a good thing, since it took me almost an hour to make it from the train to the departure lounge.

    American Airlines had only two security people for the whole of economy class, who were taking 5-10 minutes a passenger before clearing us to actually check in. I was very glad that my early start had put me near the front of the line, which rapidly lengthened behind me. Going through airport security, I encountered a separate shoe check after the main X-ray stations, unlike Heathrow, where shoes hadn’t been checked at all.

    I took my time eating a quite good English breakfast in Garfunkels, followed by a cappuccino. However, after I limped down a long spiral ramp, and out to the further reaches of the terminal, I was pulled for yet another security check at the gate. Apparently a requirement of the U.S. government for U.S.-bound flights, this included a pat-down, shoe removal, and removal and examination of everything in my carry-on. But the two screeners, one male and one female, were simply pulling the next same-sex passenger when they finished with the current one. All it would take to defeat that is one person with a cell-phone to let a co-conspirator know when the checker was busy!

    The flight was a typical flight. Need I say more? But because of the way RDU is configured, once we cleared immigration and customs we had to recheck our bags and go through another security check, as we had to walk through the terminal to get to baggage claim. I get bored on boats, but really, a Cunard crossing or a trans-Atlantic repositioning cruise is looking better and better.

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    Viszontlátásra!, Auf Wiedersehen, Ciao

    Thanks for traveling with me! Although I spent essentially the whole trip limping on hurting feet, I had a great time. As I posted above, I gave up on the idea of a Central Asia trip for 2008, and instead will be heading for southern Italy in the spring, and likely Japan and Taiwan in the fall.

    I would be happy to revisit any of the places on this trip, but especially Graz, which I feel I shortchanged, and Venice, which was just as magical as I had hoped. Kufstein would make a good day trip from Innsbruck, although then you’d miss out on a good hotel. But I would recommend avoiding Innsbruck in November, unless you need a rest!

    Instead of my usual Lonely Planet guidebooks, I did this trip with Fodors for Budapest and Austria, and Rick Steves for Venice. The maps in LP are good enough I don’t have to take any others, but this time I bought Streetwise Budapest, Vienna and Venice, and needed them. (I just bought Frommers for Naples and the Amalfi Coast, and will be choosing between LP and Rough Guides for Sicily.)

    If you enjoyed this report, you can read my previous trip reports at wilhelmswords.com, and see my photos (although not yet for this trip) at kwilhelm.smugmug.com.

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    Hi, thursdaysd,

    thanks so much for taking so much trouble with your report.

    i really enjoyed it, and look forward to your next trip, particularly if your feet aren't behaving badly.

    regards, ann

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    Hi thursdaysd,
    Thanks for such a wonderfully detailed report! DH and I will be visiting Vienna for the first time in early May and I am bookmarking your report to reference for restaurants and other suggestions :-) I hope your feet continue to recover!

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    Thursdaysd, thank you for the great trip report. I am bound for Vienna for a 7 day stay in Feb. My daughter and I will be doing the museum and churches at a leisurely pace so i really appreciated reading about that part of your journey.

    I wrote down your resto/cafe suggestions.
    thanks for the time it took to share so much...lynda

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    Have fun in Vienna, people! Maybe visit Cafe Griensteidl and say "Hi" for me.

    I'll be looking for your trip reports (lol!) - I enjoyed revisiting my trip while I wrote this. Now, all those photos....

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    thursdaysd -- I just came across this, such fun reading the details and great info, makes me want to go this year! Hope your ankle heals well for your next trip -- Central Asia, good luck!!

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    Shanghainese - thanks, nice to "see" you here! Alas, no Central Asia this year, but S. Italy in the spring, and I'm thinking Japan and Taiwan for the fall. I'm noticing that all those companies that do tours to China don't seem to do tours to Taiwan. I don't think I need a tour there, but was wondering whether this was some PRC requirement on the companies?

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    You are right, the better known tour companies that focus on China don't list tours to Taiwan, not sure if that's PRC involvement. If you Google, you'll see lesser known companies offering tours, it's a small island and definitely do-able on your own.

    Taiwan is aggressively pushing tourism, for transfering travelers at the Taipei international airport, the tourism bureau offers 1/2 day city sightseeng trips for free.

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