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Trip Report: 17 days in Switzerland, Austria & Czech Republic

Trip Report: 17 days in Switzerland, Austria & Czech Republic

Old Sep 5th, 2008, 08:48 AM
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Day 9: Saturday, Aug 9: Salzburg:
We needed to laundry our clothes, as we had completed 8 days of travel by now. The hotel staff offered to do it for us, for a small fee, which was welcome. We left all our soiled clothes with them, had a hearty breakfast, and left by 8:15am. We bought Salzburg cards for both of us from the hotel, which gives free access to all museums and attractions in Salzburg, plus all transport, including the somewhat expensive furnicular ride up to the fortress.

Although the hotel was a bit away from the main town, there was a bus-stop just outside, from where we boarded a bus to Alstadt. Walked first to the Horse Trough, and went into the ticket office nearby for the Salzburg Festival (which was on during that time), Managed to get two tickets for the Marionette Theater for the evening, for only 15 euros apiece. We had really wanted to experience this famed Marionette theater of Salzburg, but for months in advance the show was displaying a "sold out" sign on the net.

We had been forewarned about rain in the morning hours today, and it started to rain heavily now. We walked to the Festungbahn, and rode the furnicular up to the Hohensalzburg fortress. Took an audio-guide for the inside tour, and visited the State Rooms and various small museums inside. By then the weather had cleared, and we enjoyed the great views of the city from the top, especially the winding Salzach river.

Came down by the same furnicular, and entered the cemetery of St Peter's church, which was lovely. I think the final escape scene of "Sound of Music" was filmed here. Wandered around the large cemetery, and ventured into the Catacombs. Gave up halfway, as there were too many steps to climb. Then walked to the Altermarkt area, where we took a pavement table at Cafe Tomaselli. Very classy cafe, and lovely atmosphere. Had a "Tomaselli coffee" which had some licquer inside, while DW opted for a fancy fruit tea. Had our first experience of having to pay to use the toilet, which was going to become a regular feature for the rest of the trip (never happened in Switzerland !).

Took a stroll to Residenzplatz, then Domplatz and then Kapitelplatz. Went inside the Dom cathedral and also into the St Peter's church. Ambled by the Franziskaner church and the University church. Loved the atmosphere of the old town. Had a festive feel. Horse-drawn carriages everywhere. Wonderful make-shift shops on Altermarkt. Lots of stages being set up everywhere, presumably for the ongoing Salzburg Festival. The Altermarkt area was particularly lively, with buskers abounding everywhere.

Walked to Getreidegasse, advertised as the narrowest shopping street in Europe ! Had expected to find flea-market kind of shops there, but we were surprised to see very chic shops everywhere. The iron-grilled shop signs were lovely, and the McDonalds on that street must be the prettiest McDonalds in the whole world ! Did a lot of window shopping everywhere, particularly at Swarovski.

We walked by Mozart's birthplace on that street, but did not go inside. It was getting to 2pm, and we were hungry. We boarded a bus to the Augustiner Braustubl, of which we had heard so much of. On reaching there at 2:15pm, we discovered that it opened only at 2:30pm. Waited patiently for 15 minutes, alongside quite a crowd that had begun to gather there.

As it opened, the regular patrons walked briskly inside, and we followed suit, watching what they were doing. You first walk up to a wall of beer-mugs (all made of stone, in different sizes). Pick up a beer-mug, of whichever size you wish. Next you walk up to a fancy multi-spouted fountain, where you rinse the mug in ice-cold water (they say it helps make the beer more frothy). Then you go to the cash register, where you pay, amount depending on the size of your mug, after which the barman will fill up your mug with draught beer straight from the barrels. Next you carry your beer to a series of food stalls, and buy whatever food items you may desire (a huge variety was available). You have a choice of sitting in one of the many lovely beer-halls indoors, or in a very large shady beer garden outside.

The whole process was a lot of fun, and we had never experienced anything quite like it. At the food-stalls, we selected Gemusekrapfen (a huge fried something, stuffed with peas, carrots and tofu) and Knodel (a large dumpling in a gravy). Sat in the beer garden outside, and enjoyed a wonderful meal. Went for beer refills. Later, purchased one of their stone mugs as a souvenir (about half the price as compared to souvenir shops outside). Would highly highly recommend this place to any traveler visiting Salzburg. A must-see place.

We rode the bus back to Altermarkt area, and did some souvenir shopping from the pavement shops. We really liked this part of Alstadt. Then walked to Judengasse, and visited the "Easter in Salzburg" shop, which was simply amazing. About 150,000 real hand-painted eggs of all shapes and sizes (from hen's egg to ostrich eggs). All beautifully painted in an array of dazzling designs and colours. They ship to any part of the world !

Next we crossed the Salzach river, and went to Mozart Wohnhaus, the place where Mozart grew up. The tour inside was extremely interesting, and the audio-guide contents were enthralling. We really enjoyed the visit, especially the Mozart music that kept coming on the audio-guide; it was captivating. Was persuaded to buy a CD of Mozart's "Magic Flute". Also tried those Mozart-ball chocolates - great stuff.

We then walked to Schloss Mirabell. The palace was closed, but we really enjoyed the gardens. The weather was extremely clear by now. The gardens were very artistically laid out, with superb color combinations of flowers. Lovely statues everywhere. Excellent place to spend a few hours, which we did. Then we walked back to our favorite place, Altermarkt, where we sat at a pavement table of Cafe Konditorie Furst, and feasted on some wonderful pastries.

It was time to head to the Marionetten theater for our 7:30pm show. It was a premiere night for a puppet play (Kontinent Sciarrino 3), about a Count who murders his flirtatious wife, after being possessed by the devils. The locals had turned out in their finest attire, but there were many tourists like us in casual dress, so we did not feel embarrassed. We were expecting an English synopsis of the play to be handed out, but the only thing available was an English translation of all the plays being staged during that month, which was quite expensively priced. The lady at the ticket counter was sweet, and she let us borrow her copy for some time, so that we could read the English translation of the particular play that we were about to see. This was extremely helpful, and immensely assisted our appreciation of the evening's performance.

We thoroughly enjoyed the theater and the performance. The theater is quite small, and our seats were right in the middle, so being towards the rear did not matter at all.It was a great show; puppetry, combined with voice-overs, classical music, operatic singing. A unique experience.

The show got over at 9pm, and we went looking for a Restaurant Arlich on Wolf Dietrichstrasse, which had been highly recommended on this forum, but could not find it anywhere. Must have disappeared. All other restaurants in that area had also closed down by then. The frequency of buses servicing our hotel area was not too great at that hour, so we decided to skip dinner and took a bus back to our hotel, reaching at 10pm. The hotel restaurant had also closed by then, but the sweet hostess fixed us some sandwiches and wine, which was great. Very nice of her. We finished our packing, and went to bed. We were extremely satisfied with the hotel, and our room. Very well appointed, spacious, and clean.

It had been a great day at Salzburg, and we had managed to pack a lot in. We were due to leave in the morning, and we wished we had budgeted another day in this wonderful city.
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Old Sep 5th, 2008, 09:07 AM
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Hi worldclass. Thanks for your appreciation.

Staying at Interlaken and confining yourself to the Jungfrau journey, is in my humble opinion, the wrong way to see Switzerland. This is what the tour groups do, who try to pack 10 countries in 14 days ! Although the views from the Jungfrau are unique, they offer a very small slice of the beauty of Switzerland.

Since you have decided on visiting the Bernese Oberland area (good decision), I would strongly recommend that you stay at either Lauterbrunnen or Wengen, or even Grindelwald depending upon your preference. Each of these villages are but a very short ride away from Interlaken, and closer to the Jungfrau and the other scenic spots. They have the true Swiss charm about them, and are so peaceful and scenic. Interlaken by contrast is just a bustling ritzy town, with no authentic Swiss feel about it.

You must have often heard the cliche that "happiness lies not at the end of the road, but along the way". I think this is particularly true in Switzerland. The final destination of each day's travel is not half as beautiful as the beauty you will see along the way, if you choose to hike. And we are not experienced hikers at all. However, the hikes that we chose were suitable for novices like us, and most scenic in nature, finalized after countless recommendations from this forum. Since you have only 3 days, I would urge you to definitely do the Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg hike, enroute to Jungfrau; another easy and highly recommended one is the Grutschalp to Murren hike. There are so many others; this forum is full of advice. There is also a listing of hikes (with walk-time durations) on jungfraubahn.ch, the web-site of jungfrau railways. Just be sure to check the timings of the last lift coming down from high altitudes, as most stop operating after 5 or 5:30pm.

Enjoy Switzerland the right way; you will never regret it !
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Old Sep 5th, 2008, 06:49 PM
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thanks indiancouple for your advice. i will take your advice and stay in Lauterbrunnen. like you, my husband and i are inexperienced about hiking. the only hiking, if you can call it that, we have done is the 30 mins on the treadmill.

i will be re-doing our plans in switzerland with our base now in lauterbrunnen and doing at least 1 relatively easy hike.

which relatively easy hike would you recommend (we like great alpine, nature scenery), we are in relatively good health in our mid 40s (me) and late 40s (husband).
with 3 nights and maybe 3.5 days in switzerland, is it worth going up the jungfraujoch considering that we might be devoting 1 whole day for this excursion?

thanks for your insight.
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Old Sep 5th, 2008, 07:21 PM
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worldclass, I think you have made a sound decision to stay at Lauterbrunnen, which I think you will not regret. There are not too many hotels at Lauterbrunnen to choose from, the better ones being Hotel Staubbach, Hotel Oberland, and Chalet Homer. We stayed at Staubbach and loved it; other posters have had pleasant experiences at the other two hotels also.
Of the three hikes that I have mentioned in my report, the easiest and best (in terms of beauty), is the Mannlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. For that, you have to board the train from Lauterbrunnen to Wengen. At Wengen, instead of continuing on the train all the way to Kleine Scheidegg, get off and take the lift to Mannlichen. From Mannlichen you can hike to Kleine Scheidegg (its hardly a hike, more of a steady downhill stroll, which is very easy on the legs). From Kleine Scheidegg, you board another train which takes you to the top of Jungfrau. On the return journey, you can train it all the way back to Lauterbrunnen, stopping wherever you wish on the way.

I do recommend that you go up on top of Jungfrau, if the weather forecast is clear. If it is cloudy, you will probably see nothing.

From Lauterbrunnen, the lift to Grutschalp takes only 4 minutes. From Grutschalp you have the option of either taking the train to Murren, or walking it. This hike is very marginally more tiring than the Mann-KS one, but nothing to sweat about. I am sure you can do it in a breeze. The train from Grutscalp to Murren has a request stop at Winteregg (which is the half-way point), so if you wish you could even hike just half the distance (either from Grutschalp to Winteregg, or from Winteregg to Murren). From Murren you can even ride the cable car to Schilthorn (which we did not do), which is also supposed to be almost as awesome as the Jungfrau.

When are you going, and in Switzerland are you traveling around by train or renting a car ? Have you looked at the rail passes available, and decided which one suits your needs the best ?
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Old Sep 5th, 2008, 08:16 PM
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indiancouple, we are flying in to zurich on Oct 17, staying in lauterbrunnen (after reading your TR) for 3 nights, then take the train to munich (5 nts) we are hoping we can stop at liechstenstein en route. i still have to research how or if we can do it. your input on this is appreciated. pick up rental car in munich. while basing ourselves in munich we will be driving to innsbruck, the ludwig castles, etc.
drive to salzburg and stay there for 3 nights, then drive to rothenburg for 2 nights then fly out of frankfurt. drop off rental car at frankfurt airport.

what do you think? your suggestions are more than welcomed.
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Old Sep 5th, 2008, 08:25 PM
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Thank you so much indiancouple for your amazing report, we too have made alternate plans to stay in Lauterbrunnen (Hotel Oberland) rather than Interlaken which I initially booked after the wonderful reviews from fellow fodorites. From your report sounds like I've done the right thing. We will be visiting in a months time and hoping to do the Murren journey and Kleine Scheidegg hikes too. So excited!!!
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Old Sep 5th, 2008, 09:53 PM
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worldclass, you have not mentioned what time you get into Zurich. I presume it is early in the morning. I would suggest that you take the train directly from Zurich Airport (the train station is below the airport baggage claim area) to Lauterbrunnen. You will of course have to change trains at Interlaken, and you may also have an additional change enroute to Interlaken, depending upon the time of the day. You can check all train schedules at sbb.ch, the site for Swiss railways.

It would probably be close to noon by the time you reach Lauterbrunnen. So you should plan on a short journey for the first day, perhaps to Murren, or maybe just explore Lauterbrunnen. Keep a full day for Jungfrau,including the Mannlichen ride and the hike to KS.

You should explore the possibility of buying a Swiss Pass for 4 days. A second class pass is fine, as anyway there are no 1st class coaches on the mountain trains. You will get a 15% discount if 2 or more people are traveling together. The Swiss Pass will cover all rail transport all the way from Zurich to Lauterbrunnen, and further on till Murren, Wengen and Grindelwald. Beyond Wengen, you get a 50% discount on mountain lifts etc, and only a 25% discount on the KS to Jungfray trip. You can also use this Pass on the 4th day for your travel from Lauterbrunnen to Lichtenstein.

Of course there are other rail passes available, and you may want to study all options before you decide on which one is most suitable for you.

Enjoy !
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Old Sep 5th, 2008, 09:57 PM
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mariebut, you are the second person to be persuaded by our trip report to abandon Interlaken in favor of Lauterbrunnen. I am sure you will thank me when you get there, like I mentally thanked all the fodorites who had persuaded me to take a similar decision.

It makes it all the more worthwhile to take the effort to write this report, as one realizes that through this we could be having a positive influence on the vacations of others !
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Old Sep 5th, 2008, 11:15 PM
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indiancouple,thanks again for your valuable suggestions. i am taking notes from here to make the most of our 3.5 days in Switzerland. you're right about our plane arriving in zurich early morning, around 7:45 am. we're heading directly to lauterbrunnen.

for our 3 days in OB, which rail pass would you recommend. there's 2 of us and will probably take the same trains and lifts you took during your visit there.

couple questions: 1)is there a train from lauterbrunnen to liechstenstein? is liechstenstein worth the trouble of breaking the trip to munich? 2) where did you book the 3 hotels you mentioned in your TR? i couldn't find hotel oberland, staubbach and chalet homer-i checked the usual sites i.e. expedia, hotels.com, orbitz, etc.



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Old Sep 5th, 2008, 11:40 PM
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Thanks for the trip report. It's very interesting.

We are also planning to visit Lauterbrunnen soon and had planned to do some of the walks which you did.

I have read that proper walking boots are required but did you find this on the short walks which you did? Will runners suffice, do you think? We don't want to cart our boots around for the whole holiday.

Thanks for the advice.
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Old Sep 5th, 2008, 11:54 PM
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worldclass, I think all the hotels I mentioned have to be contacted directly. Just do a google search on Hotel Staubbach at Lauterbrunnen, and you will come up with their site. Similarly for Oberland. I just tried it. You can do an onlike booking at their respective sites.

Since you will be doing a fair amount of train travel, from Zurich to Lauterbrunnen, continuous travel during your 3 days in B.O., and the return journey to the Swiss border, I think you will find the 4-day Swiss Pass (saverpass since 2 people are traveling together) in 2nd class to be your best bet. It will cover most of your travel free of cost. You will only have to pay 50% for the lift to Mannlichen, 50% for the lifts from Grindelwald to First (if you take it), and discounted tickets while going from KS up to Jungfrau. You get get all the fare details of the mountain lifts etc at jungfraubahn.ch ; the Swiss Pass will also cover any lake cruises you may choose to have on Lake Thun or Lake Breinz from Interlaken.

As for trains from Lauterbrunnen to Lichtenstein or Munich, remember that you first have to come to Interlaken Ost (20 minutes from Lauterbrunnen) and change. I am sure that from Interlaken Ost you should be able to find connections to either Lichtenstein or Munich. Sorry, I cannot advise if Lichtenstein is worth it, as we have not been there.

You should buy your Swiss Pass through the net or from a travel agent before you reach Switzerland. You just need to get it validated before boarding your first train (at Zurich Airport). I just checked the schedules from Zurich airport at sbb.ch ; there is a train leaving Zurich Airport at 8:39am in the morning, which gets you to Lauterbrunnen at 11:25am, with changes at Bern and Interlaken Ost. Of course there are trains leaving every 15 minutes or so, so that is not a problem.

When boarding the train from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen, remember to sit on the front carriages (they are clearly marked). Halfway through the journey, the train splits into two, with the rear carriages going to Grindelwald !
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Old Sep 5th, 2008, 11:58 PM
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dreamer55, we had the same question as you before our trip started. If you are doing the kind of gentle hikes that we did, there is absolutely no need for heavy hiking boots. Any good pair of Nikes/Reeboks would suffice. Actually the term "hike" is more of a misnomer for what we did; it is a long stroll on clearly marked gravel paths.
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Old Sep 6th, 2008, 02:31 AM
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Lovely report Indiancouple. We are staying in Wengen for a few days in July next year, it's hard to decide - either Hotel Baren or Hotel Alpenrose, whichever has the best views for that price range. At the Jungfraujoch, are there regular times for the dog sleds? I am a bit of a scaredy cat, are the snow disc rides steep? We hope to go up first thing in the morning. Also, a silly question I know, but do you see lots of cows with bells on the Mannlichen-Klein Scheidegg walk? We are going with our teenagers who arent too keen on a lot of walking (normally never even see the light of day before midday on the weekends)so I'm trying to arrange our excursions for maximum impact. We are from Australia and have never seen snow! Thanks for your advice, it is invaluable.
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Old Sep 6th, 2008, 06:50 AM
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toni, thanks for the compliments. In response to your questions:
1. Yes, you will see a lot of cows with cowbells on the Mannlichen - Kleine Scheidegg hike, as you would on just about any hike in Switzerland.

2. The snow disc rides are not scary at all; suitable for a 5-year old too. No chance of getting hurt at all.

3. We were told that the dog-sled rides stop at 2:30pm in the afternoon. Don't know if that will still be valid till July next year. You could always ask your hotel to call up in advance and check the exact timings when you reach Wengen.

4. To help you decide between the two hotels at Wengen, suggest you look at the reviews of tripadvisor.com ; you may also want to post a question in this regard at this forum; you will get plenty of good advise.
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Old Sep 6th, 2008, 08:33 AM
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Day 10: Sunday, Aug 10: VIENNA:
We had breakfast and checked out of our hotel in the morning. Called a taxi, and reached Salzburg Bahnhof by 9am. We were using the 2nd day of our 3-day Austrian pass for today's journey to Vienna. Boarded the train at about 9:30am, and retired to a comfortable snooze.

We reached Vienna Westbahnhof on schedule just before 12:30pm. First went down to the ticket counter and made reservations for our Vienna to Prague journey for Day 13, utilizing the last day of our 3-day pass. Then took a taxi to our hotel, Hotel Austria. A word about this hotel. Its location is hard to beat. It is in the heart of the city, halfway between Stephansdom and Schwedenplatz (about a 5-7 minute walk from the former, and a 3 minute walk from the latter). It is very reasonably priced, has a good lobby, a decent breakfast spread and everything. But its rooms are tiny. It was really difficult to fit our suitcases into the room. We had booked an economy room, which did have a private shower and WC, but both were outside the room in the corridor, and in opposite directions ! The only saving grace was that we were not sharing the shower or WC with anyone else. I guess you can't ask for everything in a large city like Vienna at such low prices, but I just wish the rooms were a wee bit bigger.

We bought 24-hour transport cards from the hotel reception (these cards are valid for 24 hours, not the calender day), took maps and left. Walked 5-10 minutes away to Stubenring, where we had lunch at Cafe MAK. Not many eating establishments are open in Vienna on Sundays, and this was amongst the few that were operating that day. We sat at a lovely garden table, and were served by a very sweet waitress. Had Iced tomato soup, some traditional Viennese square pasta with caramelized cabbage, and wonderful dessert of strawberries and blackberries with cream. Everything was delicious, but a strange cover charge of 5.50 euros was added to the bill.

The weather was warm and sunny throughout the day. We boarded Tram # 1 to Schwarzenberg Platz, and changed to Tram D to the Belvedere Palace. Bought tickets for the Oberes Belvedere only, and went in at about 4pm. The building was most impressive, both from outside and inside. The art collections were well laid out, and the 1st floor collection was the best, with works of Gustav Klint (incl. his famous "The Kiss") and Schiele. The gardens between Oberes and Unteres Belvedere were worth a peek. The statues both inside and outside the palace were wonderful.

From Belvedere Palace, we walked to Sudbahnhof, and took Tram 'O' to Radketzy Platz, from where we walked to Hunterwasserthaus, and the Kalke Village across the street from it. This is a row of funky buildings designed by the controversial architect Hunterwassert, who believed that a straight line was a sin ! Very interesting decor, colors, and architecture, especially in the toilets at Kalke Village. We bought some coffee and sat and admired the most unusual buildings.

At about 7pm, we took Tram N from there to Schwedenplatz, where we rode the underground to one station away, Stephansplatz. This is the Time Square of Vienna, and the place had a real carnival like atmosphere in the evening. Very lively and fun place to hang around.

After loitering there for a while, we walked to Judenplatz, where we had dinner at Bio Bar Von Antun, an organic eatery that had been recommended by some websites. Had veg cream soup, veg wienerschnitzels with organic white wine. Interesting food, reasonably priced, but not the tastiest.

Walked back to Stephansplatz via Graben, the chic shopping street. The shops were closed, but the street was full of life. From Stephansplatz, we boarded the underground to Prater amusement park, where we rode the famed Riesenrad (ferris wheel) of Vienna. We were extremely disappointed with this much hyped attraction. Extremely slow movement, and for a total ride of just 12 minutes, it was outrageously priced. We strolled in the Prater for some time, deriving vicarious pleasure by watching the other gut-wrenching rides; wild horses could not persuade my DW to get on any of those fun rides !

Finally we rode the underground back to Stephansplatz, and slowly walked back to our hotel, stopping for a great gelato at Zanoni & Zanoni.

There was a wonderful gentleman at the hotel reception desk in the night, a Mr Vasilius, who was extremely helpful and friendly in answering all our queries. Checked our email and went to bed.
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Old Sep 6th, 2008, 09:20 AM
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Day 11: Monday, Aug 11: VIENNA:
We woke up late at 8am, and took it real easy. Another bright and sunny day. Had a nice breakfast, and left the hotel at 9:45am.

Walked first to Julius-Raab Platz, and took the Tram # 1 all round the Ring, returning to where we had started. Awesome architecture on a grand scale everywhere. Then rode Tram # 2 in the opposite direction, and alighted at Rathaus Platz. The Rathaus building was very pretty, and there was a festive atmosphere, as a Film Festival was going on every evening. There were lots of food stalls there for the festival, which were operative throughout the day. Saw a stall of an Indian restaurant called "Tandoor", where we snacked on a good samosa, along with a Double Espresso coffee from a coffee bar. Decided to return in the evening to experience the film festival.

From there we walked to the Parliament building nearby, which was fabulous. After some photo clicking, we continued walking along the Ring towards the Kunsthistoriches Museum, and crossed the street to enter the Hofburg complex. Walked through the palace complex, admiring the architecture, and bought tickets for the Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury). The visit inside was well worth it. Excellent collection of cloaks and dresses of kings of a bygone era. The jewels were jaw-dropping : a 2680 carat emerald, a 450 carat aquamarine ! And an unbelievable collection of religious relics: a nail used in the crucification of Christ, a thorn from Christ's crown, and a fragment of wood from the real cross ! A fabulous royal crown on display, studded with huge precious stones.

Exited the Hofburg from the Michaelertor, which itself had very impressive architecture. As we sat down there to rest our feet, we found people selling concert tickets for the evening: a performance by the Vienna Mozart Orchestra at the Musikverein. The lowest priced tickets had been listed as 39 euros, but they were selling discounted tickets for 19 euros, for rear seats in the side balcony. We are not much into western classical music, and really wanted to just get a feel of such a performance in Vienna, so these tickets suited us fine. The seller advised us to show up with these stubs at the box-office just before the start of the performance (not too much in advance), if we wanted to be seated in the best seats. Decided to go for it.

Saw the Loos Haus across the Michaelerterplatz, and walked on to Kohlmarkt (which was a far cry from the original "coal market" of old !), and sat down at the fashionable Cafe Demel for lunch. Had a gazpacho soup, followed by a superb salad of Chanterelles mushrooms, which are special to Austria. Yummy. And good wine too.

Continued walking along Kohlmarkt, and turned into Graben, to do window-shopping, and to see the "Pestaule" statue. Went past the Loos-designed American Bar. Reached Stephansplatz; walked around the cathedral, and went inside. Beautiful Gothic architecture, and lovely tiles on the roof. Not to miss the reflection of Stephans cathedral in the ultra-modern Haas Haus mirrored building adjacent to it. Any time of the day you go past Stephansplatz, it is bubbling with activity.

We continued our walking tour of Vienna by turning into Kartnergasse, for some more window shopping. Entered Swarovski where DW bought a pair of earrings, burning a nice hole in the wallet. Then walked to Hotel Sacher, and sat down outside to have their famed Sacher Torte. Have to admit, it looked as beautiful as it tasted. Delicious. Then walked past the fabulous Staatsoper building, and on to Albertina, then past the Palmenhaus into Burrgarten, where we relaxed on a bench, and watched teenagers somersaulting around the place.

Slowly we retraced our steps to Stephansplatz, where we bought another set of 24-hour transport cards. Took the underground to Schewedenplatz, dropped off our shopping at the hotel, and went for dinner at the Indian restaurant "Tandoor" on Salzgries. Had a good dinner of Chana Masala, Dal Makhani, Raita, Naan, Parathas etc. Got really stuffed.

At about 7:30pm, we rode the underground again from Schwedenplatz to Karlplatz, and walked to Musikverein, crossing the beautiful Karl's church. Musikverein is supposed to be one of the top concert halls of Vienna, and it was really pretty from outside, and very ornate from inside. As advised by our ticket-seller, we showed up at the box-office with our stubs just 10 minutes before the show started. I guess by then all the rear side-balcony seats had been exhausted, and we were rewarded with tickets in the 49 euro enclosure (for which we had paid just 19 euros !). Superb seats; couldn't have asked for anything better.

I am no great judge of concert music, but we really enjoyed the performance. A 30-member orchestra in traditional attire with wigs and everything, giving a flavor of every aspect of Mozart's repertoire. A bit of symphony orchestra, some operatic sequences, an excellent flute recital. Loved every minute of it.

Took the underground back to our hotel, and crashed out in bed at about midnight. It had been a very enjoyable day, spent entirely walking around in the Inner Ring area.
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Old Sep 6th, 2008, 09:40 AM
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hi, i-couple,

just found your report today - it's made a great read for a wet afternoon. my only experience of the B-O was skiing when we stayed at Wengen's answer to Fawlty Towers which has rather put me off.

i think you're encouraging me to go back.

looking forward to more,

regards, ann
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Old Sep 6th, 2008, 09:57 AM
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Day 12: Tuesday, Aug 12: VIENNA:
Once again we woke up late, and left our hotel after breakfast at about 9:15am. Took the underground from Schwedenplatz to Schonbrunn, and reached the palace gates by 10am.

There was a long line for tickets. We opted for the Imperial Tour (the shorter tour), and were given tickets with an entry time for 11:10am. After a longish wait, it was time to go in. Picked up audio-guides and toured the palace. Impressive, but almost identical decor in all the rooms. By noon we were out, in the Schonbrunn gardens. Walked around the huge gardens, admiring the fountain, the flower gardens, and the leafy walkways. Then went to the "Maze", which was a lot of fun negotiating.

We left the palace complex at about 1:30pm. It was another warm sunny day, and the sun was getting hot. We boarded the underground to Neubaugasse, where we went to "Govinda" restaurant for lunch. Another Indian restaurant, which had received good reviews in guide books, but turned out to be a real let-down. Very sub-standard meal.

Slowly walked to the Kunsthistoriches Museum and went in. Only toured the 1st floor collection, where the best works were supposed to be. Especially liked the Bruegels collection which was fabulous, and also the Rubens paintings. From there we went across to the Museum Quartier, but our feet were tired from a full day of palaces and museums. We soon boarded the underground to Karlplatz, and visited Naschmarkt. Very interesting place, where we sampled a lot of fresh juices. However, exhaustion was overcoming us, and we were not enjoying anything. So we returned to our hotel and had a good rest and nap for over an hour, which perked us up a bit.

We were stuck with some 500 euro notes, which we were finding difficult to change to smaller bills. Surprisingly, even Schonbrunn Palace had refused to accept them, and so had the Kunst museum. We were very surprised, as we never knew this would be a problem. Our hotel desk advised that our best bet would be to try at Zanoni & Zanoni, where we headed. Thankfully, they were very helpful, and changed all our 500 euro bills. We were relieved, and celebrated with a round of gelato !

Did some souvenir shopping and walked to a Heuriger called the Esterhazykeller. Sat outside and had one of their fresh white wines, served in a small beer-mug ! Portion was large, delicious, and went straight to the head.

We then walked over to Rathausplatz to see the Film Festival. What a crowd there, and great atmosphere. Went to a Thai food stall and had a dinner of some Thai green curry, downed with Mojitos. The Mojito really hit me in the head. Got some seats in the crowded place, and sat down at the film festival for about an hour. They were exhibiting a B&W film on the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra's 1959 Tokyo tour. The film was not particularly interesting, but the atmosphere was enjoyable. Finally, we departed at 10pm, having some more snacks from the Indian food stall.

Our Austria tour was in its final moments, and we decided to make the most of it. We took Tram # 2 (which was going in the opposite direction of our hotel), so that we could go completely round the Ring again, and see it at night, which was a magical experience. Beautiful changing lights everywhere. Finally reached our hotel stop, and reached the hotel shortly before midnight. Packed and went to sleep.

Austria had been nice, but I think we had enjoyed Salzburg more than Vienna. I wish we had spent an extra day at Salzburg, and maybe a day less at Vienna. The Inner Ring area of Vienna is very nice, but an overdose of museums and palaces is not quite our cup of tea.

Some passing observations on Austrians and Austria:
1. They do not seem to have air-conditioning in trams/metros/museums etc, which makes public places quite stuffy.
2. They seem to love painting their buildings with yellow color.
3. They are a bit more reserved and aloof as compared to the Swiss. This may be an unfair observation, based on such a short travel, but that is what we felt.
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Old Sep 6th, 2008, 10:00 AM
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hi annhig; we had interacted a fair amount with you last year when we were touring Spain and Portugal, and had posted our Trip Report.

happy reading !
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Old Sep 7th, 2008, 06:17 PM
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Day 13: Wednesday, Aug 13: PRAGUE
We had a 6:08am train to catch to Prague; so we had to get up by 4am, get ready, and check out of the hotel by 5:30am. Mr Vasilius at the reception insisted that we consume a glass of OJ each, and he had a packed breakfast ready for us, and a cab waiting. Reached Sudbahnhof in 20 minutes, and boarded the train.

We were very excited about Prague, as the photographs we had seen had really enchanted us. The moment we got into the train, we felt as though we were already in Czech Republic, as the train was run by Czech Railways, and they had an all-Czech crew. The moment the lady ticket-checker came by, we were struck by her beauty. Same happened in the restaurant car, when we interacted with the waitress. An initial observation, which was to get reinforced during the days ahead - Czech Republic has the most gorgeous looking women on this planet.

Had a nap on the train, as we had the cabin all to ourselves. The train reached Praha Holesovice about 30 minutes behind schedule, at 11am. Our hotel had sent a taxi for us, which was waiting. We had arranged this in advance, in response to numerable posts here about taxis fleecing you in Prague. The ride to Smichov cost us only 340 Kc.

We had booked an apartment at Aparthotel City 5 in the Smichov area, and the host Gastone had displayed his friendly and helpful nature over emails. He was helpful as ever, and gave us a largish apartment, which we were very satisfied with. Freshened up, and left the hotel by 12:30pm.

We changed currency at a nearby bank, bought metro tickets, and boarded the metro from Andel to Republiky namesti (the metro stop was two minutes' walk from our hotel). On getting down, we went straight to the Municipal Hall, and booked tickets for their guided tour in the afternoon at 4pm. The cost was 190 Kc each, i.e. 380 Kc for the two of us. However, if we had a child with us, all 3 would have entered for a total of only 290 Kc ! I couldn't understand this logic, and protested to the young ticket lady. I mean a child going in free is understandable, but here we were being penalized for not having a child with us ! She suggested that we find a child on the street, and she would happily give us the discount !

The Municipal Hall itself was outlandishly beautiful from the outside. We walked through the Powder Gate, on to Celetna, towards the Old Town Square. Lovely shops on the way, selling exquisite glass items. As soon as we reached Old Town Square, we were completely overwhelmed by the spectacle that we saw. Too beautiful. The Old Town Hall, Lady of Tyn church, St Nicholas church, House at the Minute, House at the Stone Bell, Goltz-Kinsky Palace, and so so many other fabulous buildings. Each so different, and meriting a detailed admiration in its own right. And the imposing Jas Hus statue in the middle of the square. One of the prettiest spots we have been to in all our travels.

We were hungry, and could not locate the restaurant that I had listed to visit in that area. So we quickly sat down at some obscure restaurant, and had an average tasting pizza, with excellent black beer. The Czechs sure know how to brew this stuff ! After lunch we just kept wandering all over Old Town Square. As it neared 3pm, we gravitated towards the Astronomical clock, along with thousands of others. As the clock struck 3pm, we watched the fun and games unfold before us. The skeleton inverting his hourglass, and ringing the bell, the parade of apostles at the window, the cry of the cuckoo; it was too much to observe in one time. And this clock was manufactured in 1470 !

Walked to Male namesti nearby, and saw the nicely painted V J Rott building, and clicked our photos with vintage sightseeing cars standing there. Then walked back to the Municipal Hall for our 4pm guided tour. We normally abhor guided tours, but for Municipal Hall it is mandatory. And it was well worth it a must see. The building is even prettier from inside, the Smetana Hall, the four Ladies' Rooms, the round Mucha Room. Fabulously decorated with pastel shades and superb artistry. And so much history has happened here.

By the time the tour finished at 5:30pm, it was too late to visit the Jewish museums at Josefov, which closes at 6pm. So we wandered to Our Lady before Tyn Church, and sat at Ebel Coffee House located in a courtyard. Had the most delectable almond-flavored coffee, with Czech honey-plum pie and fig cakes. Yum.

Sat down on a bench at Old Town Square, and kept admiring the scene. Could not get enough of it. The view seemed to change with the angle of the sun. Tried our hand at test-driving a segway, which was fun. Went back to the Astronomical clock and watched it clock 7pm. The clock is not adjusted for DST, so it understandably was registering 6pm !

Slowly walked on Karlova towards Charles Bridge, and popped into many interesting shops on both sides of the street. Then stopped at the famed Czech pub: U Zlateho Tygra (At the Golden Tiger), where President Vaclav Havel is supposed to have brought Bill Clinton, to show him what a real Czech pub looks like ! It was an experience. Totally quiet outside, and real noisy and boisterous inside. Full of locals, with no tourists in sight. You only have to say "dark" or "light" to the waiter - he knows what you are there for. A 500ml portion of dark beer was quickly brought for me (costing just 40 Kc). The waiter keeps an eye on your glass. The moment it reaches one inch from the bottom, he refills it. When you have had enough, you place your coaster on the glass. Did take their permission to carry some coasters as a souvenir.

Reached Charles Bridge and walked slowly across. It was getting after 8pm, and the lights were not yet on. Buskers and artists everywhere. By the time we reached the other end and turned back, the lights came on and the Bridge became very romantic. We walked to the large terrace just south of Charles Bridge on the Stare Mesto side, and got a waterfront table with fabulous views. Had white wine for myself/ mojito for DW, and enjoyed the views of Prague Castle all lit up at a distance.

Walked back on Karlova to Old Town Square, crossing many beautiful churches and buildings. Sat down at a pavement restaurant on Old Town Square, called Cerny Liska. Had an eggplant foam (which was decent), with a gnocchi in paprika sauce (which was average). It was 10:15pm, but the place was full of activity. The Church of our Lady before Tyn looked majestic at night with its lighting. We reluctantly walked back to Republiky namesti, boarded the metro to Andel and reached our hotel at about midnight.

We had had an excellent day. The weather had been clear and pleasant all day. And Prague was really special !

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