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Trip Report: Vienna, Graz, Bad Ischl (where?) and Vienna again

Trip Report: Vienna, Graz, Bad Ischl (where?) and Vienna again

Sep 20th, 2009, 03:30 PM
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Trip Report: Vienna, Graz, Bad Ischl (where?) and Vienna again

Once Around Austria

This Trip Report unfolds in four acts: Vienna, Graz, Bad Ischl, Vienna again. It comes from the viewpoint of two who always ask for a Senior Citizen discount -- sometimes available in Austria, sometimes not.

Act 1: Vienna
We flew into Vienna in warm, late-August sunshine after a trip across the pond with a change at Heathrow. On a Travel Talk tip, one of many, we skipped the more expensive and slightly faster CAT train and took the S-7 train on the opposite platform, which deposited us at Wien Mitte near the Ringstrasse in about 25 minutes. For either train you exit the terminal, turn right, then left to a big black box of a building and the elevator downstairs to the train platforms.

It was a short taxi ride from Wien Mitte to our hotel, the Konig von Ungarn, just steps from the Stephansdom. The KvU claims to be the oldest hotel in Vienna, part of a building in which Mozart wrote "The Marriage of Figaro." Today it's a 33-room modern hotel with comfortable traditional decor. Our standard room had plenty of space, two sinks in the bathroom, very quiet, looking out on the Domgasse, a little-traveled street going nowhere.

We are crazy walkers, and by dinnertime felt we had already seen half of Vienna. Time for a wiener schnitzel! We went to nearby Figlmullers, thought by many to be the best in Vienna. The many were there, but we got in. We ordered. The schnitzels arrived. Our jaws dropped. Each schnitzel overlapped its large plate. We outdid ourselves -- best schnitzels we've ever had -- but at the end the waiter looked down at the remainder and said chidingly, "So! You don't like our schnitzels, eh?" Some say that if Figlmuller's is crowded, go around the corner to its other place, with the same name. We did that on our last night, but it was also crowded and the schnitzel, while good, was not quite up there with the original.

Next day... Oh, forget about the next day and let's talk about Vienna. Tips: Rounding off the bill is still acceptable but a bit behind the times. Ten percent is generous, especially in cafes and restaurants where a service charge already is on most bills, though not all. Credit cards are accepted in most places, but not nearly all, much less than in Germany and most other places. Have cash handy. Smoking: Austrians haven't yet gotten the message, although some places have a non-smoking section. By the way, we never encountered an unfriendly waiter; in fact, the Austrians we encountered in Vienna and elsewhere were unfailingly polite. Nearly everyone speaks some English.

Many of the eating places we liked were recommended by Fodorites. They included Figlmullers, Cafe Diglas, Zu den Drei Hacken, Buffet Trzesniewski and Cafe Oberlaa, especially the latter, where we ate delicious tortes mit schlag (whipped cream) or an eisbecher (ice cream sundae) four times. It's a small chain, with about nine outlets around Vienna. "Ours" was at the Neuer Markt just off Kartnerstrasse, a main pedestrian shopping street. We ate only once at the recommended Aida chain. Aida is cheaper than most, but our cake was disappointing.

Down the block from the Oberlaa at Neuer Markt is the Kapuzinerkirche (Capuchin Church), whose basement contains nearly 200 ornate sarcophagi of the Hapsburg rulers and their kin, including Franz Joseph, Maria Theresa and the unfortunate Emperor Maximilian of Mexico. Worth seeing, whether or not you're interested in the Hapsburgs.

Most tourists may not know the Dorotheum, a famous auction house on (appropriately) the Dorortheergasse, just off the Graben, another main pedestrian street. Aside: We would be cautious about staying in anything overlooking the Graben, Kartnerstrasse or the Stephansdom. All are thronged all day and into the night, and are under construction to boot. All of Europe is under construction. Back to the Dorotheum: Ask at the desk for the Freiverkauf areas on the main floor and two others. Here, great and not-so-great items that didn't sell at auction from jewelry to furniture to antique pepper mills, are available at surprisingly good prices. Makes for interesting browsing.

Before we left Vienna for the first time we attended a mostly Mozart performance (with some Strauss) at the Musikverein, the gilded hall where the New Year concerts take place, the ones Walter Cronkhite once hosted. Musicians were in period dress, and the performance was excellent. The hall was almost full.

More about Vienna when we return in Act IV.

Act II, Graz
No, we did not visit Arnie's birthplace. Rather, we rambled around the medieval center of Graz, at only 250,000 the second largest city in Austria and a World Heritage site. We went because we had read the city is enjoyable and attractive -- right on both counts.

Another good hotel choice: The Schlossberg. Right on a main street, though overlooking the River Mur in front. We had asked for a quiet room in the back, however, and got a nice, large one. While our room was in rustic style, the public areas are filled with modern art. It's an easy five-minute stroll, lined with shops, to the medieval center. Downtown is cozy and colorful, with the swift Mur running through it. One day, in brilliant sunshine, we took the next-door cog railway to the top of the Schlossberg (the hill, not our hotel at its foot) to enjoy a simple wurst and a superb view over Graz. You can walk up, but take your cardiologist. There's an elevator also.

Downtown again, when we finished our Ertzhog Johann torte -- best on the trip -- the waitress presented the bill to the lady. We'd first encountered this in Vienna, then we noticed women always got the bill. Our waitress in Graz said, "I think it's stupid, but it's the new thing."

Our favorite dinners in Graz were at the Altsteirische Schmankerlstube, "schmankerl" meaning a snack. Warning: snacks can be meals. One evening we had pork medallions breaded in almonds, a baked dish with spaetzle (noodles), leeks and bacon and a tossed salad with the famed local pumpkinseed-oil dressing. Some snack!

Wish we could tell you all the exciting things we found in Graz, but the city, or at least its medieval center, is just what we wanted it to be: An attractive, easygoing place for wandering. One thing: Don't miss the Landeszeughaus (armory). As long as 400 years ago Graz was the main supply depot for Austria in wars against the Turks and others. When fighting simmered down, Maria Theresa told Graz to send everything to a depot in Vienna. Graz protested and the queen relented. As a result, Graz has the largest medieval armory in the world, with a mind-boggling array of weapons and armor for the lowliest foot soldier to the noblest knight, including hundreds of full suits of armor.

We were glad we went to Graz. Moving on to our next act: Bad Ischl. Where?

Act III: Bad Ischl
Bad Ischl is about 25 miles east of Salzburg, in the Salzkammergut region of Austria. If you've seen "The Sound of Music" you've seen the Salzkammergut. Not craggy peaks, but among the most beautiful small mountains, lakes and valleys in the world. We traveled there by train, as we did everywhere, and the ride was part of the reason we went to Bad Ischl.

The other is that while still back home we decided we wanted to take the cog railway from St. Wolfsburg, about 10 miles from Bad Ischl, to the top of the Schafberg, a peak from which there are 360-degree views over the Salzkammergut, including seven lakes. Problem: If the weather is not ideal all you might see is fog. Related problem: Weather at the top can change in minutes and the cog railway might not run. The whole shebang takes about half a day. This, coming all the way from the U.S. to Vienna, to Graz and on to Bad Ischl, tacking on a 20-minute bus ride and 30-minute boat trip and, at the end, 45 minutes up the mountain and 45 down.

Result: A perfect day. Bright, sunny, with staggering views; one of the sights of our lifetimes. We had lunch and spent over an hour there. Even pouring rain on the way back through St. Wolfgang didn't dampen our spirits. St. Wolfgang, by the way, looked wonderful from the lake, almost as good as Hallstatt from the train, but up close it felt touristy. We'd stay at the Weisses Rossl, though, if we could. Right on the Wolfgangsee, it looked classy and expensive.

Bad Ischl is a great spot for taking short trips around the region by train or car. It's more of a real little town than the tiny, cutesy villages. Many residents there and elsewhere wear traditional regional clothing, including lederhosen for the men and long dresses (dirndls) for the women. Kaiser Franz Joseph liked it so much he spent summers there, where he met and became engaged to his young future wife, the beautiful and famous -- at least in Austria and Germany -- Sissy (Elizabeth). Her image in Bad Ischl and most of Austria is more prominent than that of the old man. Bad Ischl has a very good small museum, worth a visit.

Bad Ischl is also home to one of Austria's most famous pastry shops and cafes, the Zauner. Franz Joseph especially liked it, and no wonder. Its "kaiserschmarn" -- a fluffy, chopped-up pancake with rum-soaked raisins and powdered sugar -- was a treat.

Act IV: Vienna again
Scenic train trip along the Traunsee back to Vienna with one change, unfortunately into a hot, stuffy compartment with drowsing young travelers. That reminds me: If you travel by train from Vienna you can buy all your tickets at the big Visitors Information facility across from the Albertina museum. Far better than going to the train station. Then you can just go to the station and jump on your train. Our 2nd-class tickets were good on any train on a given day. Cars are marked with their class (1, 2, etc.) and whether smoking or non-smoking. We almost always travel 2nd class in developed countries.

Our last three days in Vienna were spent mostly shopping and wandering around. Two stops are worth noting: We spent several enjoyable hours in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, with our main objective being the Bruegel paintings, of which the museum has more than any other institution in the world, and two of the most dramatic: Hunters in the Snow, our favorite, and the great Tower of Babel.

Afterward we visited a sharply different cultural phenomenon, the Hundertwasser house. We were glad we went, even though it was a long slog through "the people's Vienna." (Aside: We've found that seeing "where the real people live" usually entails passing lots of grocery stores, Radio Shacks, Kentucky Fried Chickens and gray apartment blocks.)

The Hundertwasser house is an apartment block, but hardly gray. It's a riot of color and crazy angles, as artist Hunderwasser abhorred straight lines and convention of any kind. Remarkably, the complex is public housing. You can see it only from the outside, but that's well worth a visit. Even the roof looks like the Vienna Woods, with trees growing there in profusion -- others even grow out of apartment windows. It's impossible to describe.

It was a great trip. Twelve days over the end of August and early September, only two with rain, the rest with beautiful, warm weather. Three quiet European hotel rooms -- is that a record? Interesting cities, excellent food, especially the tortes mit schlag and the schnitzels!
parkhill24 is offline  
Sep 20th, 2009, 03:51 PM
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Enjoyed your report, parkhill24! Thanks for posting.
yk is offline  
Sep 20th, 2009, 03:53 PM
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Although I have not been to Austria I am enthralled with your trip report, parkhill. I rather felt like I have travelled along with you two. A truly information, interesting and fun report! Thank you for sharing and wishes that you two have many more wonderful trips.
LoveItaly is offline  
Sep 20th, 2009, 06:52 PM
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Thanks, parkhill24, for your very interesting and informative trip report. We are in the planning stage of a trip to Austria for next fall, and appreciate all the information. I am bookmarking for future reference!
blh is offline  
Sep 20th, 2009, 09:48 PM
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Really enjoyed reading your report and hv taken notes.
You mentioned the Hundertwasser houses and I am eager to go to the area. Wondering if it would be hard to reach there from central Vienna? How did you go?
Also what kind of souvenirs did you shop for? And advice, tips or stuff I should not miss.
Planning to go in Oct, so this is so very timely and handy.
ileen is offline  
Sep 21st, 2009, 01:12 AM
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For those interested, within minutes of the Hundertwasser house is the Hundertwasser museum.
Michael is online now  
Sep 21st, 2009, 08:30 AM
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Thanks for telling about Hundertwasser museum. Added it to my list.
What are the highlights of this museum and would you know if there is an entrance fee. OP wrote about senior discounts, wondering if you can get this privilege at museums too.
Thanks, again.
ileen is offline  
Sep 21st, 2009, 08:52 AM
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The museum contains a collection of Hundertwasser's original paintings from which the familiar prints were made. It turns out that I prefer the prints because the metallic quality of some of the colors are more effective in the prints. It also contains maquettes of his suburban town designs. The building itself was renovated by him so as to have as few straight lines as possible. Pictures 71-73 are of the museum (no pictures allowed in the galleries themselves) http://www.photoworks.com/members/sl...543&key=mksfca
Michael is online now  
Sep 21st, 2009, 09:13 AM
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the metallic quality of some of the colors is more effective in the prints
Michael is online now  
Sep 21st, 2009, 10:26 AM
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We flew into Vienna in warm, late-August sunshine >>

rats. double rats. we spent a similar amount of time in Vienna and on st. Wolfgang in june/july this year but encountered mostly rain. so much rain that the Danube overflowed and the roads between Vienna and Salzburg, apart from the autobahns, were closed. we could just of easily gone at the same time as you, but decided the end of June woudl be better.

although we made the best of it [stiff upper lips were much in evidence] I can't help thinking that we'd have enjoyed the area more if we hadn't had to see it through a curtain of rain.

glad you had such a good time, and I enjoyed your TR very much.

regards, ann
annhig is online now  
Sep 21st, 2009, 10:45 AM
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Thanks for your great report. We leave for Vienna in two weeks and unfortunately are staying at the Ambassador right on Karntnerstrasse.

Is the noise from the construction akin to jackhammers or is it more the trucks and commotion? I think this hotel backs up to Neuer Markt which is under construction as well, I've read.

Can you or anyone recommend which streetside of the Ambassador I should request to minimize the effects of the construction?
arindasue is offline  
Sep 21st, 2009, 10:47 AM
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I want to add that I'm afraid if I stress wanting a quiet room that we'll be placed in a dark windowless interior one!
arindasue is offline  
Sep 21st, 2009, 11:00 AM
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Parkhill24, we were in Bad Ischl over the weekend.

We have been on vacation in Germany and Austria since September 7th. We arrived in St. Gilgen last Friday. This is our second visit to SG. In 2007, we also stayed there and did the steam train ride from St. Wolfgang to Schafberg. We also rode on the old steam paddlewheeler from St. Gilgen to St. Wolfgang, which I believe was called the Franz Joseph. We also had great weather and enjoyed the beautiful views.

Anyway, back to Bad Ischl. A friend of ours who lives in Vienna took the train to Bad Ischl to spend the weekend with us. We met her at the station around 1 PM Saturday and walked over the to Zauner Cafe for lunch. We actually ate at the newer, larger Zauner on Esplanade right on the Ischl river. Food was good and we had some of their famous Zaunerstollen as well as apple strudel for desert. My friend ended up buying me one of the large Zaunerstollens as a gift to take home.

We also visited the grounds of the Kaiser Villa. It was too late to do the inside properly so we settled for the grounds. This was Franz Josef's summer residence, but is more like a hunting lodge I believe.

Ann, to make you feel even worse, it has been very warm and sunny in Germany and Austria since our arrival. In fact, I wish I had packed more short sleeved shirts. I now have several long sleeve teeshirts and a fleece vest that are just taking up space in my suitcase! We had only one day or so of cool weather when we were in Mittenwald. We still have one week to go, so maybe it will still get cooler before we leave but we have had no rain to speak of!
bettyk is offline  
Sep 21st, 2009, 01:45 PM
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It's gratifying to have all the nice comments on my Trip Report. Thanks to all, and to those who might reply in the future.

Arindasue, I have no clue on the Ambassador situation. Yes, there was construction at the Neuer Markt, but it didn't appear to be heavy. I hope you get an on-the-spot report from someone. I share your concern about being exiled to a dark interior, "quiet" room. I think I'd call the hotel, ask questions, and make your preferences clear. I wouldn't worry too much; you'll enjoy Vienna.

Annhig, I read your earlier, rainy trip report and really enjoy your writing. As you know, the weather is all a matter of luck. We took went to Germany in late June (specifically chosen for good weather) several years ago and found record heat in Berlin, sleet in the mountains next day, and so cold in Dresden we had to jump on a bus to get warm. We just got lucky in Austria, although, Bettyk, we did see the Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl on one of our two days of rain.
parkhill24 is offline  
Sep 21st, 2009, 01:48 PM
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"We took went to Germany.."
That's what happens with careless editing and worse proofreading.
parkhill24 is offline  
Sep 21st, 2009, 01:49 PM
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parkhill24, you pays your money and you takes your chances with the weather in Europe. We use to travel mainly in May and have had heat waves and freezing cold. We find it to be a little more consistent in September but think our next Fall trip will begin a little later in September so it might be cooler. At least we are happy that we haven't had much rain.
bettyk is offline  
Sep 21st, 2009, 05:49 PM
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Ilene, I overlooked your question about how to get to the Hundertwasserhaus. We walked, but it's a pretty good hike from the center. We went through the Stadtpark after visiting museums on the Ring. Unless you're a big walker, though, consider public transportation or a taxi at least one way.
parkhill24 is offline  
Sep 21st, 2009, 06:35 PM
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There is a streetcar which stops close to the Hundertwasser apartment house.
Michael is online now  
Sep 22nd, 2009, 03:24 PM
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lol bettyk, the decent weather has consistently started here in cornwall at the beginning of September except this year when is was about a week late! so if that were repeated elsewhere in europe, you'd be arriving at a warmer time!

I'm so glad that you're having such a nice time. we didn't spend much time in Bad Ischl as it was a bit too wet for us to bother with.
annhig is online now  

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