A month in Europe: a live trip report

Mar 23rd, 2011, 05:40 PM
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A month in Europe: a live trip report

This is my third trip to Europe. After the first two trips, I attempted a trip report. The first one I finished, but it was six months after the trip, and I felt like it was missing something. Last year’s trip I didn’t even finish.

So, I am going to try to do this as I go, hoping that this will add some freshness to it. I can’t promise daily updates, but I plan to post pretty regularly. There should also be some pictures along the way (not in the thread itself of course, but links)

In deciding whether or not you want to follow along at home, a few specifics:

Where: Amsterdam, Berlin, Brugge, Cologne, Munich, Paris, Vienna (not necessarily in that order )

When: That would be now. Total trip length including transit to/from Europe - 33 days

Sightseeing priorities: Art (pre-20th century), Historical sights - Basically I will probably hit most of the big tourist spots in the places I am going, with hopefully the occasional alternate activity mixed in.

Day trips planned: Dachau, Potsdam, Versailles, Keukof Gardens, Ghent, Antwerp (or Ypres), Brussels, Salzburg, Rhine

Cultural Performances booked: Vienna Philharmonic, Concert in Sainte Chapelle, Netherlands Opera (Don Giovanni) , Spanish Riding School

What you will not hear much about: Fine dining, wine, modern art, sitting in cafes watching the world go by.

Prologue: As mentioned above, this is my third trip to Europe. The first was to London (two weeks), and the second was to Italy (three weeks). I enjoyed both trips, but... at that rate, I was going to run out of life long before I got to see everything I wanted. So, I came up with a more ambitious plan. One month covering 7 cities in 5 countries (not counting day trips).

Anyway, as I write this, I am at the airport waiting for my flight, so I think I will go pass through security now. Afterwards maybe a few details about the planning process while I wait for my boarding call.
glenmd is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2011, 06:09 PM
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We'll be following along...waiting for the next installment. Sounds like a great trip. Have a blast!
michele_d is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2011, 06:41 PM
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Sounds good... I'm along for the ride...
ParisAmsterdam is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2011, 07:10 PM
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Passed through security - total time from entering the line to leaving the security area to look for my gate - six minutes. If it could only always be that painless.

Sitting in the departure lounge in Vancouver, looking out on a magnificent view of the North Shore Mountains as the sun goes down, I did have a brief moment of, “Why I am spending ,000’s of $ to leave this behind again?”, but I got over it.

The planning for this trip started as a trip to France and the BeNeLux, was supposed to be 2.5 weeks. Then I started talking to people who suggested than outside of Paris, a lot of areas in France weren’t so easy logistically without a car. So, I thought I would add a few places. So I thought, maybe I will hit a couple cities in Germany... the next thing I knew, my trip was 3.5 weeks. Then I started looking day trips out of Munich, thought Salzburg would be cool... then I saw Vienna on the map.

Having settled on an itinerary. I started picking up guidebooks. Frommer’s for Vienna, Fodor’s for Germany and Paris, and the Lonely Planet guides to Belgium and the Netherlands. I also picked up the Michelin Guide for Paris. All of them were fine, except maybe for the Lonely Planet’s. I like my guide books to clearly prioritize the main attractions. It is all well and good to say, “Well, you decide for yourself”, but never having seen any of these sights (hence the need for the trip), it is very difficult to evaluate which locations will be more interesting.

I ended up picking up Rick Steves Amsterdam, Brussels and Bruges book. Whatever can be said of the quality and style of Rick’s writing (and there is quite of bit that could be said, most of it not flattering), he is not afraid to prioritize. And he seems to do a good job on the practical details.

The Hotel Hunt - I was looking for inexpensive (something less than 80 Euros a night), well-reviewed, and reasonably central. I learned my lesson about reasonably central from last year, where I spent a week in Rome at the hotel (the Eco Roma), that was about a 50 minute to an hour bus ride from the historic centre. I used Venere.com, combined with Booking.com and Tripadvisor to find places. For all the stories about abuses of Trip Advisor, mostly the reviews were similar in quality to Booking’s and Venere’s, but since there tended to be more of them, sometimes you would get a little more insight.

Mostly it was painless, except for Paris. I spent more time looking for an acceptable hotel in Paris than I did for the all the other destinations put together, and ended up paying almost 90 Euros a night. I will talk about specific hotels as we come to them.

The key to sifting through reviews is to figure out what you need from a hotel, and read the reviews with that in mind. I encountered many reviews where people complained about things like room size or meals served in the Hotel restaurant, neither of which concerned me at all. Or sometimes I would read a negative review where the person who wrote it seemed so difficult or unreasonable that I was instinctively siding with the hotel.

After assembling a list of sites in each place that I want to see, I used the Community Walks website to place them on a map, and start to evaluate how best to group sites by day. Also at the this stage I did a lot of trip report reading.

Ok, I am talking way to much here. I have about an 30 minutes to go before boarding, I will go and stretch my legs while I still can.

See you in Vienna.
glenmd is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2011, 07:38 PM
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A couple of shots of a small piece of the skyline from the airport. It is actually much bigger that what is shown. Mostly this was just a test of using Picasa Web.
glenmd is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2011, 09:55 PM
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I'm along for the ride too, wish I was going back to Vienna !
nz101 is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2011, 09:58 PM
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This should be interesting.
kerouac is offline  
Mar 23rd, 2011, 10:02 PM
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Would love to read about it! I want to know what places are worth visiting the most since I obviously can't visit all of europe..
VOGUEx is offline  
Mar 24th, 2011, 05:09 AM
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waiting to see how it all unfolds!
denisea is offline  
Mar 24th, 2011, 05:26 AM
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I'm following too. Sounds like fun.
cw is offline  
Mar 24th, 2011, 03:43 PM
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I can't wait - this is great!
willowjane is offline  
Mar 25th, 2011, 10:16 AM
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I have arrived in Vienna. Actually I got in almost 24 hours ago now, but I had some challenges around my wifi access. Very tired at the moment, but if I don't finish a description of last 2 days before I decide I need to sleep, I will post it in the morning ( I am an early riser anyway, so that is probably more likely to happen than tonight).

Thanks for the encouragement, having listeners is always good.
glenmd is offline  
Mar 25th, 2011, 04:38 PM
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Day 0/1 - travel day
Well, I have arrived in Vienna in one piece. Flew KLM from Vancouver, connecting via Amsterdam. Flights both came in ahead of schedule, and were largely uneventful. I did spend my YVR-AMS flight sitting next to a young woman who was very fond of talking, and who decided she didn’t like my actual name and so she was going to call me Calvin for the entire flight. I would have preferred Hobbes, but otherwise she was rather pleasant. AMS-VIE was a 2 hour flight and the seat next to me empty!

Oh, a word on flying on KLM’s MD-11’s. Don’t pick a seat in the row immediately behind Economy Comfort. The seats in EC have extra recline, which means if they recline, they will be right in your face.

While getting ready to board in Amsterdam, I realized that I had left all my daily itineraries at home. Each day had it own page with details of the opening hours, costs of the scheduled activities, written on the back of a Community Walks printout of the area of the city I was going to be. It also included details on how to get to each hotel.

Fortunately, the reservation confirmations for hotels, e-tickets for trains and concerts did make the trip

Plane landed in Vienna at about 7:30 PM. I picked up a Vienna card (which is basically a 3-day transit pass with SMALL discounts on most of the major attractions) for 18.50€. Since I had no checked baggage and had cleared passport control in Amsterdam, I was able to walk off the plane and straight to the subway. There are a couple of options to get into the city centre, 1) CAT (City Airport Train - roughly 10 € (9 with Vienna Card), takes 18 min, and 2) S-bahn, which takes 24 minutes and costs 3.60 € (1.80€ if you use the Vienna Card) Both in theory run every 30 minutes, at least during the timeframe of my scheduled arrival to Vienna

Well, having decided that 6 minutes was hardly worth spending 5 + € for, so I bought my subway ticket, only to discover that there was a problem with the subway and that I would have to wait nearly an hour. Sigh, I was very tired by this point. While waiting, I also remembered that the city map I had purchased didn’t cover the area of the city I was staying in. This wasn’t so bad, as I had the address of the hotel, knew which U-bahn stop I was headed to, and had a visual image in my head of the route to the hotel. Well, the walk from the stop to the hotel, which actually takes about 3 minutes, took me about 25, but I got there and checked in.

Tomorrow: Jetlag, Liechtenstein Museum, and a hike through wine country.
glenmd is offline  
Mar 25th, 2011, 05:25 PM
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Reading along with interest.
cw is offline  
Mar 25th, 2011, 05:38 PM
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Glad you made it there with no problems.
michele_d is offline  
Mar 25th, 2011, 10:48 PM
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Day 2 - the day I wondered how stupid I would look carrying around a woman’s compact.

In spite of not having slept in 33 hours ( I refuse to dignify the brief periods of having my eyes closed on the plane as sleep), I slept poorly, only got maybe 4 hours. No idea why, the bed was fine.

The combination of absent itineraries and no internet access posed some small challenges, however my plan for the day after arrival was pretty simple: Liechtenstein Museum in the morning and a hike in afternoon.

Since I had no online access, I decided to make a stop at the Staatsoper to confirm when they were offering guided tours in the next few days.

As I walked towards the ticket office I had this feeling that I was the only tourist in Vienna. Obviously, this is absurd, but surrounded by morning commuters, I did feel wicked conspicuous. There was none of that feeling I had in Venice or Florence last year of being in a theme park rather than an actual city.

Liechtenstein Museum - the highlights for me were of couple of still life’s (one by Chaesz?), of couple of lavishly decorated cabinets (one covered with pieces of tortoiseshell) and the most decorated beer stein I ever seen. Granted I haven’t been to Munich yet, but still it was made entirely out of ivory with with very elaborate patterns carved into it.

There were also some large ceiling murals decorating the stairs and the Hercules Hall on the second floor (it’s named after the ceiling mural, which depicts events from the life of Hercules.) As I understand it, the mural were reconstructed in the last 10 years. So how much they actually resemble the originals from the 17 century is unclear. At this point I was thinking how helpful it would be to have a portable mirror to carry around to examine the ceiling without straining my neck

I took tram D to the last stop going North, and started walking. The city of Vienna has more than a dozen marked trails on it’s outskirts. The one I picked goes through wine gardens and has some nice views overlooking of the city. I hoped that the hike would help me get a good night’s sleep.

I quickly lost the trail, but as this is not exactly a remote wilderness hike, I equally quickly stopped caring, just generally following the route that took me uphill. I saw this building with lots of glass windows on the top of a hill in the distance and decided one way or another, this is where I was going. I passed many fields full of sticks holding up what I would assume are grape producing plants. As I continued to climb (and increasingly feel the effects of jetlag and the fact I had only eaten a Ham and Cheese croissant all day) I began to wonder about the wisdom of trying to reach the top of that hill.

Then I ran into a nice woman with a dog, who described a circular route I could take would lead be back to where I started from. I followed her route for awhile, spotting some deer along the way, until I came a junction, which gave me a choice between continuing a flat course back towards the city, or heading up in the direction of my original destination. Tired and hungry, naturally I chose to start climbing again. This was the only section of the route I took that resembled a hike as I would understand it - a section of switchbacks leaving ever upwards towards my goal, which I eventually reached. I bought something to eat and continued all the trail, for whatever reason I had no difficulties staying on the trail on the second half of it, and saw lots more wine fields with some excellent views of the city. Arriving, I discovered a chain of fast food kind of places called Anker, which I suspect will my second home while in Vienna. Fresh pastry, pizza - mine kind of place.

In Karl Marx U-Bahn, there is a pay toilet that plays Strauss all the time. It’s called the Opera toilet. No, I am not making this up.

OK, tomorrow (well, actually later today now) will include the Hofburg, including a visit with the horsies; and a tour of the Staatsoper.
glenmd is offline  
Mar 25th, 2011, 10:52 PM
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Oh, a few pictures from my first day:

glenmd is offline  
Mar 26th, 2011, 06:09 AM
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Can't wait to follow the rest of your adventure!
jmgriffith is offline  
Mar 26th, 2011, 06:52 AM
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Nice to find another European trip report as I've not been there in a few years. Thanks for sharing and keep posting!
emily71 is offline  
Mar 26th, 2011, 08:01 AM
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Nice report - just a few comments--
The toilet you mention is by the Oper stop U-1 ( Opera)
by the toilet steps take you dirctly up to the Ringstrasse and of course the Opera House.

No Karl Marx - it is Karlsplatz - this at the other end of a long passage from Oper - for U-2 and U-4 -

often some drunks or druggies about - this station has its own police station to keep this under control.

The Karl Marx name is just found in a early 20th century huge apartment complex built by the government - you passed this on the right side of the Streetcar D on the way to the vineyards before Nussdorf.
The wine gardens look like sticks now as they have been severely pruned back during the winter to promote better growth and grapes for the coming year.

Most have not even begun the budding and growth process yet - this comes later in April - thus not a great look now - much nicer through summer and fall.

Most all the ceilings you saw at the Leichtenstein have been restored to their original look during a major renovation some years ago.
These not recent additions or new works .

Those in the stairwells had been covered over sometime in the past . During the renovation work , these were re discovered , restored taking a long time to do it well.
The Palace had re- opened and this pains- taking work still continued for some time by the stairs. Today you see the results of this work.
To my knowledge the restoration returned most all of them to former look.

Some times during such restoration , much research is done and also work to make the coloring as before - often using small old fragments to find the old colors.

Liechtendtein is very nice- they have sunday concerts there too for visitors.

Enjoy your time in Vienna.
molker is offline  

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