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Overdue trip report Amsterdam, Prague, Austria

Overdue trip report Amsterdam, Prague, Austria

Old Sep 7th, 2018, 06:48 PM
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Overdue trip report Amsterdam, Prague, Austria

After receiving much helpful advice on the forums I finally got myself to sit down and write a report on our trip in mid/late May of 2017. Details will be sketchy in places because of the time since our trip, but I thought the overview might be helpful to some anyway. Travelers were my husband (59 at the time) and myself (58). We had been to England about 8 years ago for a friend's wedding, and Austria for our honeymoon back in the dark ages.
We flew in and out of Amsterdam because of a great deal on flights with TUI airlines. They work through a third party in the US, and my nerves were shot by the time I had everything confirmed, charges deducted from my account and so forth, but there were no hitches - other than the fact that we did NOT get the extra leg room seats we had paid extra for (hubs is 6'4"), and the flight attendants said they could do nothing because the flight was full. We fully intended to complain and request a refund for the price difference when we got back home, but we never actually did, what with getting back into life...

Anyway, the trip: We used carry-ons only, which made all our travels easier for sure. It was probably silly to book in/out of Amsterdam for cheap fares when we really wanted to see Prague and Austria, and had to buy plane tickets within Europe (about $200 each, all told). However, we did enjoy seeing Amsterdam. We arrived in the morning and I realized that I had not asked for directions from the airport to our hotel. This cost us some time as we had to stand in a line at the train station to ask for help, which was provided. However we still managed to turn the wrong way while walking; we figured it out but not before being caught in a rain shower. Okura is a nice hotel next to a small canal, with tram stops and places to eat in walking distance along a fairly busy road. After checking in (they helpfully stored our luggage for us) we turned left out of the hotel and quickly found a nice cafe offering healthy choices. I loved my soup, and we loved the fact that everywhere we went, cozy throws were available on the seating. But what struck me was how tall many of the people we saw were. I've never seen to many tall women in one place! I'm 5'10" and I felt like I'd found my tribe, lol. Walking back to the hotel we enjoyed flower displays in front of many stores. (The annual flower show was, alas, just over.)
After a nap, we took the tram down to the central station to walk along the canals. We enjoyed the iconic view of the beautiful station building, as well as the houses leaning over the canals. We had a nice dinner at an Irish (!) restaurant on one of the side streets. It was the last day of Eurovision and the restaurant's bar area was quite lively. (We were treated to some very enthusiastic if drunken singing on the tram later.) We had been told that it stays light quite late and this was true - too true, since we didn't realize it was past 9 until we discovered the canal boats weren't running any more. Oh well, we consoled ourselves with a crepe and walked around some more. I liked the lovely roofed arcades you saw in places running between one street and the next.
The next morning we went to the Museumplein by tram. We hadn't reserved any museums because of our short time frame. The Van Gogh was fully sold out but the Reijksmuseum was open and we had no trouble getting in. We loved this museum! The architecture, the displays, even the cafe. We had an early lunch in the cafe and later (we spent hours here) we had a late lunch at one of the many food stands outside the museum. There is a kid's play area outside, as well. Am I the only one who thinks the IAmsterdam sign out front spoils the lovely architecture of the building? (Sorry if this offends.) Getting back to the street, I was wondering what that ringing was that I was hearing, only to be nearly run over by a poor cyclist who'd been trying to warn me I was in the middle of the bike path! (Sorry, cyclist!)
Then it was easy tram, train, plane and off to Prague!
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Old Sep 7th, 2018, 07:29 PM
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Prague

On our first morning after a very nice breakfast we walked across the small square to a convenience store to buy 3 day transport passes (and some yummy baked treats which seemed homemade, something you won't find in convenience stores in the US). Up the square to our tram stop and off to the castle. We walked through the gardens and the stag moat, all of which offered a lovely atmosphere for relaxing, then bought a tour of the cathedral and castle. The tour was very interesting and St. Vitus's Cathedral is lovely. While we waited for our tour time, we saw a couple having wedding photos taken in the castle area. After our tour there was a lot of commotion, people were gathering and it turned out that we were there on the eve of St John's feast day (his importance had been explained during the tour), and a mass was to be celebrated in the cathedral. After leaving the castle and wandering around Mala Strana for a bit, we went down to Charles Bridge in time for the festival honoring the saint - and what a festival! There was a live orchestra situated on the river, and skydivers with suits that produces sparkling trails behind them made flames or sparks, and later fireworks. The first skydiver actually landed in the river, presumably (?) to commemorate the fact that St. John was thrown into this same river, for angering the king and refusing to change his position despite being tortured. The bridge was thronged with people. Despite St. John's martyrdom, the atmosphere was festive. It was so fun to have lucked into this local event - one of those serendipitous occurrences that can make travel even better than expected! I made sure to rub the plaque on the statue of St John Nepomuk (being honored that day - there are 2 St Johns represented on the bridge), which is supposed to ensure that those who do will one day return to Prague. We had a long walk back up the hill to our hotel, stopping at McDonald's since it was the only thing open. There were other restaurants that let us come in and sit down, but then advised us that they were no longer serving hot food.
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Old Sep 7th, 2018, 07:44 PM
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Prague

The next day we took the tram to Old Town and waited to see the astronomical clock. We didn't make it as early as we'd hoped, and by the time the clock did its thing at 10 am the square was quite crowded. I loved the clock but the hubs didn't think it lived up to the hype and the crowds. I bought a snack from the only grouchy person we ran into; I'm not sure what made her grumpy but I think it might have had to do with changing my euro. Afterward we walked around Old Town, shopping a bit and lunching at an outdoor table at one of the many cafes. I was disappointed to know that the Klementium library was closed for refurbishment (reportedly the most beautiful library in the world!). That evening we had tickets to the opera at the Estates Theater, which was beyond thrilling just to be in that beautiful and historic place (not to mention the cheapest opera tickets ever)

The next day we set out for Castle Vyserhad. This is a great, get-away-from-the crowds place. There are only the fortress walls, the church, and a couple of other structures (including underground, which we skipped), not what I think of as an actual castle. Roman remnants can be seen here, as at other places in Prague. We spent quite a lot of time there, wandering through the lovely and rather Gothic cemetery, paying our respects to Smetena and Dvorak and admiring the gorgeous decorations on the resting places of the more well-to-do. The Basilica of St Peter and St Paul was very pretty, and we liked walking along the ancient walls enjoying the river views. That evening we found the funicular up to the top of Petrin Hill and walked around the lovely park land, then treated ourselves to dinner at the restaurant in the park, offering great views over the city. The meal was pricey but delicious! Others were just sitting outside enjoying a drink and a view. Upon returning to our "home" area, we lingered over dessert at the Strahov monastery next door to our hotel (which in fact used to be part of the monastery), drinking up the glorious views of the castle and the city below. I could not stop taking pictures; I wish I could link them but the iphone refuses to give them up.

Next stop: St Gilgen
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Old Sep 8th, 2018, 01:28 PM
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St. Gilgen
We sadly left our home in Prague and took a tram and then a train to Salzburg, then a bus to St Gilgen. I've never had much difficulty with trains or planes, but I must say I am bus schedule challenged. Our next 3 days consisted partly of me panicking over thinking that we were on the wrong side of the street, or that the bus had come and gone already. Fortunately the hubs had no difficulty and we got where we were going every time!
Bus trip to St Gilgen was fine, but when we alit at the St Gilgen stop, we could see our B+B but had to figure out how to walk down to the lower streets to get to it. The Hotel Pension Falkensteiner was a fine choice for our stay - close to the bus stop but only a 1-2 minute walk to the nearest restaurant and 5-10 minutes from anything in the town, including the waterfront. The hosts were lovely and their recommendations for dinner that first evening were great. Wish I could remember the name. We ate outside and enjoyed venison and Kaisershmarrn (sweet shredded pancake dessert. Back to our very clean room for a good night's sleep. (We didn't have noise issues; some reviewers have mentioned this but I guess our room was well situated, facing the town.)

The next day: Hallstatt! I was stressing over weather predictions for rain later in the day, hence the anxiety about whether the bus was on time. (I really try not to stress over things when on vacation, but the Hallstatt photos were what drew me to this area in the first place.) I needn't have worried as the weather was lovely most of the day! We took a bus to Bad Ischl, a train to Hallstatt, and a ferry across the lake for the gorgeous sight of Hallstatt from the water. The town was fairly crowded but we didn't spend long there, as we wanted to take the funicular up the mountain. It was a great ride with really far reaching views of the lake, the town below, and the mountains around. . We didn't take time for the salt mine tour, nor did we have time to venture further abroad to see the Five Fingers (I had been under the false impression that they were closer than they were). We rode the funicular down again, and had a nice meal of lake caught fish at a waterfront restaurant. Did a little souvenir shopping (they sell a lot of salt lamps and so forth but I settled on a scarf and some postcards), then it was boat, train, bus back to St. Gilgen, a walk around this lovely town, and another lakefront meal.
This was a perfect day, except for the fist fight between the bus driver and a passenger upon stopping in St Gilgen again. Hubs got in between them after they'd separated and appeared to want to close again, and got the bus driver some ice for his broken jaw, and we waited for ambulance and police to arrive. Very scary and I hope they caught the passenger, who had walked away. I don't know what the fight was about but I was glad it didn't end worse! This was the only time in our whole trip we saw any bad behavior, and I gather it is NOT usual.
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Old Sep 8th, 2018, 01:36 PM
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Yes bad behavior could be anywhere but rather shocking incident - anyway reading along - thanks for getting back.
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Old Sep 8th, 2018, 02:31 PM
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Hi PalenQ - Iíve appreciated your advice on my other threads very much! Heading out for dinner now to celebrate my 60th.
Vienna report coming next!
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Old Sep 8th, 2018, 04:32 PM
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Reading with great interest as I've just booked a five night stay in St Gilgen for December.

Have to say I wasn't expecting to read about fist fights though.
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Old Sep 8th, 2018, 05:01 PM
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Great report. I have not been anywhere as crowded as Charles Bridge. Lovely spot though.

Good for your husband for stepping in.
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Old Sep 8th, 2018, 05:16 PM
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I'm enjoying your report and looking forward to more.
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Old Sep 8th, 2018, 06:29 PM
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Meinq8, you will love St Gilgen! Don't worry about the fight; I'm sure it was an outlier from the general experience. From what I gather the public transport personnel are generally treated with respect.

xcountry, Charles Bridge was extra mobbed due to the festival, but in this case that was part of the fun. When were you there? I had read that the only way to get it to yourself is to get up at the crack of dawn, and we didn't do that.
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Old Sep 8th, 2018, 06:39 PM
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I wrote a post about our hotel in Prague but it seems to be missing. Must give a shout out to the Hotel Questenberk, which we absolutely loved. Not fancy, but it had a charming old world feel (at least to us from the US), with a warm hospitality as well as great views from the breakfast room. And it was right next to the Strahov monastery and just up the hill from the Charles Bridge. There was some noise one morning which we believe was the trash pickup service, but that could happen anywhere. It was just along the square from the tram stop, with a convenience market on the way where we could buy our transport passes. They offer laundry service (not cheap, but we had no basis of comparison) and even picked up a bungee cord from a store for us when Clark needed to do a jury-rig on some broken luggage, saying that they could go there as easily as tell us how to find it. We will be back one day, if we have anything to say about it.
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Old Sep 8th, 2018, 07:16 PM
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Oops, before Vienna I almost left out our last St Gilgen day. This was mostly taken up with a ferry or water taxi ride across the lake to Wolfgangsee, another cute town which also offers many lodging choices. There is much debate on line about the best town to stay in for this area. I thought St Gilgen was fine, but it may depend on your priorities for the trip and your transportation preferences. Anyway, Wolfgangsee's main draw for us was the cog wheel rail trip up the Schafberg mountain, reportedly 1750 meters high at the top of the line. This involved buying tickets which indicated the time for the ascent as well as the descent, allowing time for photos and lunch (if desired) at the top. Lunch was fine and the views were spectacular. Some people allowed more time for hiking but we just walked a bit and took lots of photos. The ride up and down were beautiful too. At the bottom, we did some swan watching at the lake, walked the town a bit and then took the boat back to St Gilgen (the scenery from the boat was no slouch, either). If I remember correctly, the boat had both a toilet and a small bar for hot drinks. One last waterfront dinner and off to bed.

As is probably obvious, we take our time when travelling; we did cram several cities into this trip but in each place we tended not to do too many "big" things in one day. We could have tried harder, for example, to fit in the 5 Fingers. However, we did enjoy the time we spent. We like to enjoy what we're seeing instead of worrying about what we didn't' get to see. Sometimes hubs can be a bit "too" relaxed about it, because i'm the one that likes to research and plan the trips, so I know what we're missing more than he does! This can lead to my feeling that I'm in Disney World with a 5 year old: "Yes, dear, this fountain is great. But you haven't seen Cinderella's castle!"
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Old Sep 8th, 2018, 09:54 PM
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I am enjoying your report.

The Strahov Monastery library is so beautiful-- I didn't even know about the one you said was closed. We didn't make it to Castle Vyserhad. It sounds wonderful.

​​​​​​​
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Old Sep 8th, 2018, 10:39 PM
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Enjoying your report, and looking forward to your impressions of Vienna. (In our six years living in Austria I can not say that I have ever seen a fight between a public transit operator and a customer, but who knows what may have gone wrong.)
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Old Sep 9th, 2018, 05:26 AM
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5alive, we didnít get to go inside the Strahov, but the pictures Iíve seen looked beautiful. Sad to have missed that, being right next door.
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Old Sep 9th, 2018, 05:52 AM
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Fourfortravel, that is what Iíve been hearing.

So, Vienna:

We took the bus (new driver) to Salzburg and then train to Vienna. Leaving Salzburg out of our itinerary was a painful decision, but we had spent a day there during our Zell Am See honeymoon years ago, so decided tto allow more time for Vienna. We took the metro to our hotel (Wien One Prater) which would have been great if we wanted to go to the amusement park, but I wish we had stayed closer in to the city center. On the plus side, we were close to some cafes, as well as a chemistsí to get help for Clarkís blossoming cold. Since he was very tired, we just went into town for a get-oriented tram ride around the Ringstrasse and dinner at a cafe over the river. This was in a more developed rather than picturesque area, but we didnít feel like searching further afield from our metro stop.

My time line recollection starts to blur a bit here. Highlights of the next couple of days included the Staatsoper, a tour of Schonnbrun palace, and a concert inside St James (?) cathedral.

Details next.
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Old Sep 9th, 2018, 12:09 PM
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Carolmom - we were there just before Easter three years ago - late March into early April. I think there were some early Easter arrivals looking to enjoy the long weekend. We arrived by overnight train from Krakow at about 6:30 am and our hostel was right at one end of the bridge. So we first visited the bridge at about 7:15 am. Almost deserted.

On a more ominous note I would not want to be on that bridge if any form of panic occurred.
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