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Trip Report: Austria, but mainly Vienna

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We went from SF to Philadelphia to Munich where we picked up our leased car. My wife swears that we will never fly US Airways again, less for the going over than the coming back. In both cases, the food is particularly bad, and as with many airlines, drinks are no longer free and they are overpriced. Leasing the car in Munich was a luxury that allowed us to see Austria. If saving money was the object--and I would have done so had I really thought out the logistics ahead of time--is would have been better to do the first two weeks by train (Vienna, Venice, Bologna, Ravenna, Faenza) and then pick up the car in Milan. The train would have been cheaper than the $32 per day for the car, the cost of fuel, plus about $50 parking fees in Italy.

The car was a 206 Peugeot 2.0 diesel with AC. Diesel prices were the cheapest in Austria and French supermarkets (Leclerc, Intermarché, Champion, etc.) A liter in Munich cost 98 euro cents, while the price was between 79 and 82 in Austria. This represents a 30+% increase for dollar users over last year, half of it because of the drop in the value of the dollar. There is something called Biodiesel in Germany which sells at about the same price as regular diesel in Austria. However, some cars use some type of "plastic" for their fuel lines, and the biodiesel corrodes these lines. This probably is not a problem for you if you rent or lease a car for up to two or three months, but I would not use the stuff without the manufacturer's approval if you are bringing the car back to the States. The car was quite fuel efficient, going 800 km. before requiring 39 liters of fuel, but with little city driving and no high speed driving. I think that I should have stuck with the Clio like last year. The trunk is deeper, although not as high, and it probably is more fuel efficient since the engine is smaller (I recall going 950 km on a single tank of fuel). The Peugeot trunk is such that we had to figure out how to put two 22" suitcases in. We had to place them back to back on their side, with one bulge against the seat and one facing the outside. Then there is room for some smaller luggage next to the two suitcases. To lock the trunk when traveling you must lock yourself in the car, which I suspect is true of all Peugeots and Renaults.

So we got to see some of Austria on our way to Vienna. Our first night stop was in Ried simply because I was too tired to drive any farther. Not much to the town, we had dinner in a local tavern; the hotel near the central bus stop is very acceptable. The town was not a planned stop, and need not be. I had planned to see Kremsmunster to revisit the library but the Michelin guide gave a higher rating to Wilhering, so that's where we went. After our visit we decided that we preferred Kremsmunster to Wilhering, but we may be having faulty memories as we saw the former in 1975. We drove through Linz, stopped in Grein (pretty central square) and bought ourselves a picnic lunch, had it sitting by the Danube, and then went to Melk. Visited the monastery, which is impressive and jammed with tourists. I recall a greater freedom of movement in 1975, when there were fewer tourists. Crowds tend to create institutional restraints, which is a good reason to dislike them; but how can we complain when we are part of the statistics. We then drove along the Wachau valley--the drive is very pleasant-- and when reaching the highlights (Krems und Stein) as defined by the Michelin guide, we decided that it was less than expected, had dinner and went on to Vienna after checking with our host if it was OK to arrive a day early.

We had been in Vienna three years ago, so this trip had some specific goals. We wanted to see the Leopold collection of modern Austrian art (mainly from 1900 to 1950), I wanted to revisit Schönbrunn and see the Schatzkammer. Schönbrunn was Melk in spades, with the added change that no photographs are allowed inside, but no slides of the inside are available for sale (I am still on slides). I really dislike fighting my way through the slow tour group or being engulfed by the one behind. This was the case in late May; I hate to think of what it is like in July and August. In my opinion, the Glorietta is not worth the price of the climb to the top of the building. You get almost as good a view from the terrace in front, which was a view of Vienna behind Schönbrunn with scaffolding on half its facade plus a huge outdoor performance tent on the parterre when we were there. Similarly, the French garden next to the palace itself is not very impressive, but it costs extra to see it. When arriving at the palace, there is no way to know that the only thing worth paying for are its interiors. If going to Vienna, save your money by not visiting the French garden and climbing to the top of the Glorietta and buy yourself an extra beer or a glass of wine at a heurige, or even at the Glorietta's café. For a better overall view of Vienna than from the Glorietta and a nice view of the Grinzing vineyards, drive up to Leopoldsberg or take the bus up to the Kahlenberg.

The Leopold collection is a must for anyone who likes early 20th century Austrian art. It rivals the Upper Belvedere in its holdings, although the Upper Belvedere has more Klimts and the Leopold has more Egon Schieles (which I prefer). The building is absolutely modern and perfect for exhibiting art. It is not a statement in itself like the Guggenheim in Bilbao--there is a tape à l'oeil element to Frank Gehry buildings. The Schatzkammer in the Hofburg is an absolute must--an incredible collection of imperial finery and appurtenances (capes, crowns, etc.) that are impressive for the handiwork that they are.

We stayed with a friend, so I can't talk about accommodations. But we needed to do a laundry and he claimed that laundromats do not exist in Vienna. You must have it done at a laundry (5 kg 8 euros, I believe, washed, dried and folded). The one he led us to was on the D streetcar line, corner of the Seegasse or within one block of it. He may have known that one because he used to live in that area. But along the D line, beyond the gas works, unmistakable because redesigned by Hundertwasser, and the Franz-Joseph Bahnhof we parked for free on the street. We parked right opposite a long building called the Döbling Clinic. Getting to the car from the Ring was no problem at all.

Eating: On the Seegasse there is a very good restaurant, what I would call an upscale bistro, where we had perhaps a better than expected meal because our host knew the owner/cook. It is called Stomach and features a modified cuisine from Steier (to get there take the D to the Seegasse and walk a couple of blocks east). The wines are also from that area, and because we got into a discussion of comparative value between California, Alsace and Steier wines, I got to taste a range of wines from that area's vineyards (the range was from fresh grape juice to a dry wine to a sweet wine to a grappa), plus a wine from a "wild" grape that has the foxy taste of Concord grapes--I will not touch anything with Concord grapes, but this wine held my curiosity. The restaurant is on the ground floor of an old two story building stuck between apartment houses, with low ceilings and a ceramic stove in the middle of the room to provide heat in the winter. I highly recommend the place, especially if you can get the owner's attention, but reservations are a must. We also ate at a brewery on the 38 streetcar line which had good beer and good but simple food, and wine for non beer drinkers. Other friends took us to a heurige that was tucked between fancy villas of Grinzing, away from all the tourist hoopla--good wine and plain food served buffet style. Three years ago we went to a Turkish restaurant called Kent which is a few blocks off the OttakringstraBe, beyond the outer ring. On a balmy evening the garden dining is very pleasant even if crowded and noisy and the mixed grill is very cheap.

From Vienna we went to Villach, stayed overnight and on to Venice. We did not buy a vignette for Austria and enjoyed driving across the country without using the autobahn.

If you are interested in seeing photos from this trip and Vienna from 3 years ago, give me your e-mail address by replying to this posting.

the name of the heurige is "zum Weihrauch" - http://www.zumweihrauch.at/essen.html

the name of the brewpub is Fischerbräu - http://www.fischerbraeu.at/

the name of the restaurant is Café - Restaurant Stomach en détail tel. (0222) 31 02 099 1080 Wien, Seegasse 26. It is open from 16h to 23h Wed. to Sat. and 10h to 22h on Sundays, but the kitchen only opens at 18h.

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